TRAVELING THRU A JOURNAL OF CONTENTMENT  By Lori A Alicea

He never changes.

He is just, faithful, loving and we can count on him to be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
(Hebrews 13:6-8)

Yes, God never changes.

God is always faithful.

He is our security blanket to curl up in when the winds of change are unrelenting.

God’s unchanging promises is a place of contentment I have drawn peace from my entire life.

I discovered this contentment in my own words, a dusty old journal unearthed from a box of books taken from the storage unit we have begun to purge.david storage

Over the course of my life, I regret not keeping a journal from the joy and sadness of my sixty years. You think you’ll remember but how quickly you forget the details, the emotions, the everyday thankfulness that begs to be remembered in our written words.

So you could imagine what a joyful discovery, an old dusty journal from fifteen years ago; a thirty day time capsule I barely recall writing. Yet, in opening to the first page of my journal, I began travelling down the road of my contentment, my life’s movie replaying while I sat with a cup of coffee to re-live.

Lord, thank you for allowing me to discover these memories I took the time to remember.

Just thirty days of writing and then I stopped, but a month of memories highlighting the faithfulness and contentment of God in my heart.

A few days from April, 2009…

Thursday, April 9, 2009
I woke up at 2:30 am to catch a 4:30 am train into the city to care for my future daughter ‘n law who was having surgery.

Being away for three days was a sacrifice in itself as being away from my husband causes me great sadness. Our love for each other swells our hearts so that to be apart is like breathing without air.

The sweet blessing came later that evening after arriving to the apartment following a long day at the hospital.

My son decided I needed some Christian music to listen to while I cooked in the kitchen. This was such a reminder how God touches hearts.

Later that night, my son bought me a fancy coffee and took me out to see the sights and lights of the city.

Saturday, April 11, 2009
My favorite moment of the day came when the train rolled back into the station at 3:00 pm sharp, only to see my handsome husband waiting to pick me up.

After fifteen years of marriage, I’ve never grown tired of seeing David’s face. He gets more handsome with time.

Our reunion hug was worth the time apart.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Today is tax day and though our taxes were filed early February, this is a day to reflect on God’s faithfulness. May 30, 2008 David lost his job of thirty-one faithful years. Starting over as an older man would prove to be a mountain David faced to climb, but nothing impossible for God.

Emotionally, having David home this last year has been the honeymoon we were unable to have as a newly blended family. While immensely thankful for a full house, returning home from a three day honeymoon to four kids after getting married didn’t afford us the time alone to be newlyweds.

This year together has been an unexpected gift to our marriage. Early morning walks and sipping coffee under the tree. Afternoon bicycle rides through our country neighborhood and savoring David’s famous BBQ’s.

Financially, I am amazed at what God has done to provide. The world views provision through a man’s job. Yet, it’s God’s provision thru a man’s hardworking hands that gives us hope to rest in when your earthly provision is gone. God’s comforting reminder a good father doesn’t allow his children to beg bread.

God has used so many circumstances to show his faithfulness.

Shortly after David lost his job of 31 years, he received a small inheritance. What to do with this inheritance? While unemployed, spending this money on needs sounded logical, though investing in the Kingdom which pays the best dividends was wisdom.

This outpouring came at just the right time and David’s inheritance was sown for God’s purposes.

God is so good.

Though unemployed, our bills have been paid and on time, with enough food to eat.

We do need a new vehicle though. Our van has 390,000 miles and looks like it. The kids want us to pull the plug and get the poor thing out of hospice. But God has a beautiful truck with a big red bow waiting for my most deserving husband when the time is perfect.

We thank you God for reminding others thru our finances that you are in complete control.

Friday, April 17, 2009
Today God, the weather is breathtaking and all consuming. Who could deny your existence?

I love when I can open the windows and hear the birds singing. This is music I can listen to all day long.

Pulling the curtains back to reveal the breathtaking view of country living, we take in the quiet and crisp fresh air thru open windows; although not so fresh when the pigs are out.

But today God, it was all about you. You stopped me with this beautiful day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009
I’ve never boasted a green thumb in my life and with two acres of land; one might imagine a flower or two blooming around the trees or fence line. So last fall I decided to plant pink tulips in honor of my two sisters living in heaven and much to my amazement, beautiful tulips opened up in full bloom today.

What a miracle to me. You plant a seed from which new life comes. How dare we ever think our efforts go in vain?

My sisters would be proud of their tulips.
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Sunday, April 19, 2009
Today, I stayed home from church with a bad cold. Something I don’t do often.

Having a personal worship service at home with God, I was taken back to the pews of my Southern Baptist roots when gospel greats were sung from the old fashioned hymnals.

The days of my youth when mom and her six kids sat together worshiping God. Though I wonder how much worship took place in the passing of notes back and forth.

But surely God moved on our pew row of kids as mother raised us six to serve Him. A few of mother’s kids have deeper testimonies than others as they took the road more traveled than less. But a road we all met again down the journeys of our lives.use Church directory picture

Saturday, April 25, 2009
Been home all day alone and while this isn’t my favorite plan for a Saturday, I’ve been left behind with my coffee and thoughts and a time of reflection of how blessed I am for the “noises of the house” and for those that make them.

I’m reminded when the house is quiet, how life could change in an instant, leaving the house forever in silence. This gives me pause to appreciate those who make my life complete.house wheeler

Monday, April 27, 2009
There are a few jars to fill; a few bags of frozen strawberries from the summer before. Together they will be a jelly gift from my hands to the table of those who have blessed me.

I’m giving a jar of my childhood memories when mother and her five daughters gathered in the kitchen to put away fruit for a cold winter’s day.

While kitchen art might be a thing of the past, it’s the best part of my summer and couldn’t imagine skipping this mid-year tradition I’ve enjoyed my whole life.

Great is Thy Faithfulness
By Thomas Obadiah Chisolm

Great is Thy faithfulness
Great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning, new mercies I see
All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Closing the journal I am reminded from its cover,

It is never too late to be what you might have been.
George EliotIMG_7832

Thank you Mr. Eliot for your encouragement, your words of inspiration for me to begin keeping a journal, even in this autumn season of my life;

To keep in pursuit of my writer’s dream while keeping in perspective of time,

Day one or one day.
Michelle Parlos

 

MOTHERS LOVE, When it Hurts  By Lori A Alicea

Buried in the fine print of loving others,
Spells out the risks we take when giving our hearts away…

In parenting…
In friendships…
In families…
In marriage…

That to be a parent, a friend, a family member, or spouse,

We’re vulnerable to
The “what if’s”,
The risks,

When sharing a piece of our heart with another.

While playing my hand safe in most areas of my life, I’ve always taken the risk and jumped off the deep end into relationships, giving the best of me while learning to swim when I found myself in waters way over my head.

Looking for a lifeline when a twenty-one year old version of myself, rocks her first child in the middle of the night. A newborn helpless and dependent on me for everything, I had to get this mothering thing right for his sake and for my daughter who is born to us five years later.

21 CANDY JAKE 010

In over my head I’d risk it all for two children who’d be waving me good-by in eighteen years for a life of their own.
a family cumbee family2019 england jake graduation 20

Mother’s don’t read the fine print of parenting; she willingly risks the tears of her heart through her children’s scrapes, their falls, their fails, their challenges, their growing up, and yes, their leaving because:

Mothers love when it hurts.

My mother loved this way six times over through the lives of her son and five beautiful daughters.

In over her head and floundering for a lifeline, a sixteen year old mother pacifies her newborn son in the midnight hour.

A mother, in some ways still a child herself; starts swimming the best way she knows how to stay afloat, risking it all by giving all of herself to a child surviving in the life preserver of his mother’s arms.

Back in the lonely days of early child-rearing, there wasn’t a village to assist my mother and her young son and soon to be five daughters who’d be born within a year or two between themselves.

Easter with siblings and outfits

Diapers weren’t disposable, and babysitters weren’t affordable. Mother leaned on God for inner strength while she flailed in the deep waters of parenting. Without sisters or the helping arms of an overworked and young husband himself, mother sowed the remains of her teenage years into the garden of her children, cultivating them in the admonition of the Lord.

A woman who gave all didn’t read the fine print of mothering; she willingly risked the tears of her heart through her children’s scrapes, their falls, their fails, their challenges, their growing up, and yes, their leaving for lives of their own because:
siblings family photo (2)Mothers love when it hurts.

Buried in the fine print of loving others,

We’re vulnerable to
The “what if’s”,
The risks,

When sharing a piece of our heart with another.

Mother faced
The risk,
The “what if”

My child leaves me for Jesus,
While I’m still alive to face this painful good-by.

Mother attended the funeral for two of her young adult daughters,

siblings belinda mary

Mary's Headstonedavid at gravesideWho left behind children of their own in their leaving.
funeral 2siblings mary christina brittany
“Mother’s should never have to bury their children”,
My mother lamented.

Grief hovered as a dark cloud over my mother’s life for years until sunshine broke through in her daughter’s memories.

My mother gave her heart away because;

Mothers love when it hurts.

Sunday, May 9, 2021 this daughter will celebrate the first Mother’s Day without her mother.

Mother’s Day crosses another milestone of firsts that we as her remaining family, navigate life through the maiden year without our matriarch.

Love hurts in good-by.
a flowersa family alicea family
Love hurts in the empty seat.

empty chair TABLE Mom Picture Sweater

Love hurts in the conversations you long to have.

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Love hurts in the empty arms.
mom and grandkids USE
Love hurts at her graveside.

mom's headstone

But grief which lingers as a dark cloud will one day be clear skies when sunshine breaks in our mother’s memories.
IMG_9345Always finding comfort, peace and joy in our loving God,

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves the crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

Yes, love hurts.

But…

“Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.”
Alfred Lord Tennyson

SHOWERS OF BLESSING  By Lori A Alicea

Ahhh…

Crisp fresh air wafts through the kitchen window slightly opened this early morning while I drink my first cup of coffee.

Serenading my soul is a choir of birds rehearsing a new selection of songs in a neighboring tree.

Waiting to debut their spring collection of May flowers, are blossoms that hold out their cups thirsty for a drink of April showers.

Here I am before the Lord, rejoicing under the umbrella of His showers of blessings, humbled and thankful for a generous God whose blessings are a continual rain poured from the windows of heaven.

We are taught as little children to…

Count your many blessings
Name them one by one.
And it will surprise you
What the Lord has done.
By Johnson Oatman Jr.

How revealing these simple words of encouragement;
Just begin to count your blessings.

You’ll be surprised and soaked in His showers of blessings,
Before blessing number two is even uttered.

Outside the window from where I sit, I eavesdrop on a music session practicing thru a personal playlist I imagine God selected just for me.

From their innate being, this choir was created to sing for their Creator.

Surely, we were created to sing a joyful song for our Creator also…

“Every blessing you pour out I’ll turn back to praise.”
By Matt Redman

Yes, just start counting and it begins to rain.

We are a blessed people to call each other family.
We are rich in treasures not weighed from the scales of the world.

We are an imperfect people yet rich in love
Because of a perfect God who loved us first.

Look no further than the front door of home to find daddies who love their daughters.

And mothers who love their sons; and vice versa.

Cousins are writing their legacy chapters watching movies together past their bedtime, riding bicycles in their pajamas, swimming in their underwear, and making breakfast memories at their weekend sleepovers with their grandparents.

Cousins are learning to serve and serve one another in the smallest acts of kindness. A Godly trait that will find them one day serving a lost people desperate to find their way to Jesus.

Cousins and even sisters are forming friendships that will follow them down the by-ways and interstates of their life.

In the sisterhood of cousins there are celebrations of your sassy self, your princess self and fancy self; a safe place where dreams are encouraged and let you find your voice.

Families that play together, stay together.

There is never a shortage of kisses in family.

The family portrait is framed in their parents love for each other that lives on in the generations beyond them.

Families are not without challenges.
Some challenges only God can fix.

Our families biggest hurdle to cross over are the miles that separate our addresses. As the years keep climbing, so does the painful miles and mountain of our hurdle.

Cousins on one side of the hurdle don’t get to grow up together, share clothes or make milestone memories on weekend sleepovers; they only hear about these Friday nights together over the internet; braving the best smile they can in their watching.

The miles are never your friend, but somehow you make peace with the pain of distance, embracing the light left on in the window of home for each other.

That the miles and smiles of those homes who keep the candle burning for you in the midnight hour are always worth the journey, however you have to get there.

The birthdays are getting away from us and there’s no time to waste a single minute of the family clock that God has given.

God is about the unexpected, and families are to be on the continual lookout for the next rainfall from heaven, His showers of blessing for us.

Life is brief.
Life is but a mere breath of opportunities
We are either embracing them or bidding them a sad good-by.

April Showers are bringing forth May flowers all year round in our lives.

Sometimes we must be still to hear the choir playing “your song” outside the kitchen window.  We only need to count to one before God surprises you for all that He has already done.

The inner child must never forget getting wet at those grandparent sleepovers.

To remember being a child of God during those April Showers which spring forth our May flowers of blessings;

Rejoice under the umbrella of His showers of blessings,
Humbled and thankful for a generous God
Whose blessings are a continual rain poured from the windows of heaven.

NOW THEY ARE FOUR…By Lori A Alicea

A week and a childhood into adulthood of memories ago they were five;

Five chairs and five dinner plates around the table;
Five pair of muddy Converse’s piled at the front door.
Five twin bed’s half-hardheartedly made some of the time.
Five wrestling opponents; one or two champions at best.
Bicycles to fight over; possibly never five.
Five hungry appetites;

Five sharing telephone numbers.
Five believing in God;
Five believing in each other.
Five attending five weddings.

Five brothers never imagining one without the other.

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But now they are four.

A team of five brothers they were.

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Maybe not on the same baseball team together, as one loved the WWF more while the other preferred his cars.

But five brothers shared a passion for life, for living on the edge of laughter, for having your back, for locking arms on your behalf.

david and alicea brothers dancing at raquels weddings

A team of soldiers “leaving no man behind” when he’s down.  A team of five hearts loving one mother and father.

DAVID BROTHERS NATE JAKE 025

A kitchen full of boys fighting for the last helping of rice.

A stove big enough for every son on the team to learn from a living cookbook the family recipes.

To learn beside their mother’s apron the magic of family meals and memories.

To remember to pass her legacy and love for the kitchen down through the generations.

DAVID BROTHERS NATE JAKE 015

Five brothers who value family; five godly men who honor the blessings of those seated next to them on Sunday afternoons at their mother’s table following church.

To share a meal and a cup of coffee together.

To enjoy a conversation about music, the White Sox and maybe their mother’s Cubbies; well maybe.

A team of seekers hungry for a mighty move of God.

DAVID BROTHERS NATE JAKE 016Then they were five.

The team witnessed Number Five marry a woman living in Puerto Rico with him in Indiana; a love story whose pages could only be written by the hand of God.

A handsome man all dressed up would be introduced to a woman visiting her uncle in Chicago, both attending the same gathering which God had secretly orchestrated.

An old fashioned relationship of hand-written letters began and continued for over two years. Authored from the heart and penned onto paper, the words of Ruben and Carmen’s love story were intimately being written by God.USE HAND WRITTEN LETTER

Significant of this long-distance romance, Ruben crafted a miniature red mailbox for Carmen, with a letter equally as small addressed to the love of his life in Puerto Rico.

Ruben’s heart poured out to Carmen as a sonnet,

When I give my heart, I give it completely.
If I fall for you, will you catch me?

After seeking a father’s blessing for his daughter’s hand in marriage, Ruben proposed to the love of his life with Niagara Falls as the backdrop to their picture perfect moment.

A smile that beamed from an overflowing heart thru the windows of her eyes,
Carmen said yes and they were married in Puerto Rico on a beautiful day,
June 19, 1988.

An old fashioned relationship of hand-written letters
Brought them to the steps of a holy altar;

Sacred marriage vows to:
Love and to cherish
For richer, for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
Unto death.

Ruben and Carmen loved each other for a lifetime.
Ruben and Carmen were committed to their vows of promises for thirty-two glorious years.

Their vows of
In sickness and in health
Unto death

Was their living testimony, a God centered example of marriage to that difficult fork in the road called Unto.

Woven into the remaining moments and days Carmen shared with her beloved, she reminded him how forever grateful she was of the Godly man that had faithfully served her, a servant whose greatness was witnessed in the little things; grocery shopping, meal preparation, finances.

Carmen reminisced Ruben’s Hallmark store of greeting cards he sent her, being mindful of the man she loved so dearly, mindful of a husband’s details that remains hidden in a place recessed in her heart, reserved only for him.

Carmen celebrated the songs Ruben dedicated to her, music which always takes her back to their place, their life; their scrapbook of memories.

Carmen thanked her romantic husband for that hidden garden he must have been secretly tending to, that special place just for her where he picked the prettiest bouquets of flowers for his wife most deserving.

Even in Ruben’s darkest hour, he was still found loving his wife; still keeping his God ordained post to inquire of any concerns, to encourage his beloved wife in the Lord, leading her to stand on the word.

The steps of a righteous man enters into praise as his teammates sang over him, keeping a soldier’s promise, “leaving no man behind.”

Pushing through excruciating pain, Ruben’s groaning’s of praise wafted to heaven a sweet fragrance to God,

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…

4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalms 23:1, 4, 6 (KJV)

Ruben sent one last letter, hand-written from the pen of his heart-felt love and addressed to his siblings,
“Please tell all my brother’s I love them.”

On February 27, 2021 that morning, the brother’s shared a “last call”, a final moment on the field honoring team member No. 5, a text message at six-thirty am that morning rejoicing as Ruben finally received his eternal reward.

Moments of silence flowed into rivers of tears.

Tributes to Ruben’s life were noted in part on social media…

Pastor and Nephew Jeremias Alicea – Ruben was a godly man, a pioneer in his church, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ. He always had a heart for people and I think it was, in part, because he understood the struggles of those who were marginalized. I am so glad he is no longer suffering and that he is rejoicing in heaven with many who have gone on before.

Niece Raquel Clay – Death is a beautiful thing when suffering is on the other side! I am grateful that my uncle is no longer suffering, but is fully healed and with his mother again in heaven! I rejoice in the memories of my uncle and hold onto the truth of what’s to come. Death is only the beginning, not the end!

Over the last two weeks a team has been planning to honor one of their own.

But the singing has already begun.
When We All Get to Heaven
By Alan Jackson
When we all get to heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be.
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory.

The family rejoices for the streets of gold their brother walks.

The team rejoices for the heavenly reunions already taking place.

The celebration of five brothers 

Now becoming four 
In letting go their brother who has just seen Jesus.

No. 5 has been retired to the Brothers Hall of Fame.

Around the dinner table there still remains five chairs and five plates;

The emptiness of one chair and one plate speaks loudly to a family’s loss and void.

Five brothers never imagined one without the other.

Memories never leave or abandon the heart.

But embracing the loss of being five is most difficult.

Niece Raquel Clay said it best,
Death is only the beginning, not the end!

We rejoice for you, our brother Ruben.
We promise to take care of your beloved Carmen.

The team will never be the same without you.
We find comfort and hold near your last words on earth,
“Stand on the Word.”
And
“All I know is that He redeemed my soul.”IMG_8128

Where once they were five, Now they are four.

But we will all see Ruben again one day.
Who knows when that one day will be?

But there’s comfort for all of us to think about that one day we will see Ruben again.

It’s like that reassurance Carmen had for thirty-two years when Ruben kissed her good night before sleep and a husband’s voice could be heard in the dark,
I’ll see you in the morning.

 

LOVE FOR A LIFETIME  By Lori A Alicea

Consider it simply amazing.

Consider it an unearthed treasure.

Consider it a lighthouse to guide the generations beyond their life.

Consider it another Wonder of the World.

Consider love for a lifetime.

That’s what Bill and Gloria considered their first day of marriage throughout their sixty-six wonderful years together;

Love for a lifetime.

bill and gloria on valentines

To have and to hold,
From this day forward.
For better, for worse.
For richer, for poorer.
In sickness and in health.
To love and to cherish.
Till death us do part,

According to God’s holy matrimony,
In the presence of God we make this vow.

And that they did, for sixty-six years.

Never wavering their commitment when times were lean.
Never considering giving up in worse.
Holding tight to each other in sickness.

Bill and Gloria,
According to God’s holy matrimony,
Cherished one another before their children.
Cleaved to each other in the eyes of their grandchildren.
They preferred one another in the presence of God.

They embraced a love for a lifetime.

A legacy to leave;

Something God would have us all to consider.

Bill and Gloria

Gloria Ann left her Bill for heaven on November 30, 2015;
a sad day for us; a glorious day for Christ and Gloria.

The first time I ever saw them apart.

Even though a vacant seat remains at the breakfast table where Bill and Gloria once shared a few pieces of toast and coffee prepared by Bill each morning;

I never see one without the other,
As the love Bill still carries for Gloria illuminates his eyes.

bill and gloria by river

The love this couple shared together has been passed down four generations thus far; a love story to be told and recounted over and over during bedtime stories to the grandchildren present and beyond.

jill and kids

Gloria’s love spilled over as a teapot being poured into the cups of her daughter’s and granddaughter’s life.

bill and gloria's girls

bill and gloria tea setThere is always enough love and room at the table in Bill’s heart for his special girls also.

neese wedding

Bill and Gloria passed their legacy of love for a lifetime to their children, their grandchildren and those beyond their natural eyes to see.

Their love for a lifetime,
A love only known in Christ,
Stands as a lighthouse to guide through the darkest days,
The roughest and uncharted waters,
Reaching and safely continuing another day as man and wife.

bill and gloria family

Adopted into our hearts, Gloria held the honor of matriarch alongside the other pillars in our family. We only knew her as nanny, as love will do that.

bill and gloria mom bonnie

bill and gloria and david
Bill carries the torch of patriarch and is only known to us as papa; whose family added new branches to reach our family tree, by sharing themselves with those not sharing their DNA;

bill and brad

Being nanny and papa to so many not related by blood, but knitted together in true love.

bill and gloria picnic all our family

The sun is going down in papa’s eyes as his longing for that one he
Loved for a lifetime is winning.

Sitting side by side along the water’s edge will forever be “their place”.

The cool and calm of the river still ripples between two hearts, whose devotion to the other never parted them, even unto death.

bill and gloria by river

Bill and Gloria’s sixty-six years together is an unearthed treasure, a treasure map, an adventure to discover true love in your wedding vows.

Consider it simply amazing.

Consider sixty-six years together another Wonder of the World.

Consider love for a lifetime.

Bill and Gloria did.

Countdown To A Christmas Miracle By Lori A. Alicea

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the year of 2000, and the holiday spirit couldn’t be any more exciting. The stores are bursting with shoppers and the smell of Christmas is in the air. Bell ringers are everywhere and Santa is taking orders from all the good little boys and girls. Holiday music is playing on the radio, and everyone seems to agree that Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Looking through the fantasy eyes of a child at Christmas is so amazing. They still believe the unbelievable. They hold out hope for the impossible. They just know that somehow when Christmas morning arrives, all their dreams will come true. Of course when they wake up to their presents under the tree, they scream because they know that Santa didn’t forget them.

vintage-christmas-cards-for-family-and-kids

How priceless to have a childlike faith at Christmas. Why does growing up cause us to lose the faith of a child? If only we as big kids could still believe the unbelievable. If only our hearts could hold out hope for the impossible. God has never forgotten us. He showed up on that first Christmas morning with His Son lying in a manger. And with every magnificent sun rising in the morning, God displays his unending faithfulness to show up. But why do we still doubt the Faithful one?

This particular Christmas I was having the most marvelous holiday season. For the first time in fifteen years, I wasn’t working and now enjoying my new professional title, “stay at home” mom. If dreams really do come true, I was living the dream of a lifetime. My wonderful life felt richly full, like a well springing up, spilling over and over. I couldn’t contain my happiness.
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Though Christmas for me was tremendously ecstatic, I couldn’t ignore the sad faces of the others in the family. Minus my income this year, Christmas would arrive without us being able to afford presents for the children. What mother couldn’t feel sad about that? For just a moment I wallowed in guilt, wondering if I made a mistake about my job. But I decided that choosing my family was the best choice and that God would have to take over during this holiday season.

As a child I remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas show. While all his friends thought that Christmas had to be great lights and fancy ornaments, Charlie knew the true meaning of this holiday. That a baby boy was born in a humble stable; that three wise men traveled far following a bright star leading to this child lying in a manger. How this little boy was born with nothing, but would soon grow up to give everything. This is what Christmas meant to Charlie. This is what Christmas should mean to us all.

I decided that baby Jesus in the manger would be all that mattered this Christmas. I would count my blessings and name them one by one. I would begin to celebrate the joy of my family. And I would allow God to give us back our childlike faith by believing in the impossible. Whatever happened this year, Christmas was going to be the best ever.
MANGER USE

Though nobody was in the mood, I prodded that Christmas should continue and we should do all that we could to make this season special. So, with holiday music playing, hot chocolate simmering, it was time to trim the Christmas tree. Though we didn’t have money for a fresh tree, we did have a small artificial one to place in the bay window. I brought out all the ornaments that the children made during their early years of school. I loved looking at these works of art when my children’s hands were small. We hung lights around the window and lights around the tree. We decorated this miniature spruce with love as if it was real and when we plugged in this magical display, it looked as magnificent as a store front in Chicago on Michigan Avenue.

The advent calendar says it is now four weeks until Christmas. It seems strange not to be participating in all the holiday stress of planning and shopping. I really didn’t know what to do with myself during this time. But I do know the birth of Jesus was constantly on my mind. As Christian radio stations played Christmas music around the clock, a celebration of true Christmas resonated in my heart.

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One morning, my husband David and I were having coffee, talking about Christmas. He said he was so sad that he didn’t have any gift to give me this year. But a smile beamed from my face as I shared that he gave me the best gift ever, he gave me back my home. I meant this if I ever meant anything. Of course then we talked about gifts for the children. What would we do for them? I remember the Lord entering our conversation at that moment as he said, “Ask of me”. At that moment David and I looked above our dinner table as a plaque hung there for our reminder, “With God, all things are possible”. We stared at each other, got excited and begun to have the most childlike conversation. If we could give anything to the children, what would it be? Dreaming big, I declared I wanted to give the gift of memories this year. For my girls, I would give the gift of hope in the form of a hope chest. For my son, I would give the gift of promise with a diamond ring. And if God had any money left, I wanted to sew a quilt for each of my kids.

I always wanted my daughters to have a cedar-lined hope chest with the upholstery seat to pack away special things for their future. I thought it would bond my girls and me as we shopped for dishes and silverware, planning for their marriage someday. This chest would represent hope for a husband, dreams for a woman and a heritage passed from a mother to her daughter.

Our son was turning seventeen two months after Christmas. I wanted him to wear a gift of promise for this pivotal birthday. For the past year, our son had been on dating review, proving to us that he would honor and respect the girl he wanted to date. I tried to explain that this girl was somebody’s daughter and more importantly, God’s daughter. If he didn’t honor her during dating, a mother and two fathers would be hurt. Not to mention that he could emotionally wound this girl for life. But come his seventeenth birthday, if actions established trust, our son was free to date with our blessing. So, for this Christmas, I wanted to present our son with a diamond ring, representing his promise to God to honor him during his dating years until marriage.

After that morning of “ask and receive” revelation, David and I waited with bated breath to see what God would do. Sitting with our hands folded as Christmas inched closer, tested a husband and wife’s faith tremendously, but God has never failed in the past. Why start believing otherwise now. The advent calendar says it is just three weeks until December 24th.

Going to the mailbox has always been exciting to me. You just never know what surprise might be waiting. That Christmas, so many holiday cards of thoughtfulness arrived. If presents didn’t decorate the bottom of the tree, we at least had glittered cards to ring in the Christmas cheer into our home.

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I remember one particular afternoon, unusual excitement built as I made that walk up the hill to the mailbox. What did the mailman bring to us today? As I pulled down the door from the bright red mailbox, I reached my hand to grab what was inside. As I began to walk back down the hill, I sifted through the mail. Bills and junk make its way to the pile as usual, but oh, something different, a card from the Ladies Ministry at my church. Those ladies are so sweet to think of me. I couldn’t wait to open the letter, so I just ripped it apart like a little kid. Inside I found inspiring words of peace and good will. But as I finished reading the card, my eyes soon watered while my shaky hands held the faithfulness of God, a check for $150.00.

What three powerful words to live by, “God never forgets”. When the road gets rough with no place to go, when the night is so dark you wonder if you’ll ever find your way, when life becomes a puzzle that you just can’t put back together, remember, God never forgets. That Christmas afternoon, God’s promises became alive in my heart. God showed he cared enough to be there for me even in the small things.

I held that seed offering in my hand and marveled at God’s provision. While $150 in the natural surely wouldn’t cover the cost of two hope chests and a diamond ring. But I thought if Jesus could feed the multitude of five thousand with one small lunch and still have twelve baskets left over, what do I need to worry about? Who had time to worry anyway, the Christmas clock was ticking and power shopping was calling my name.

With two weeks left until Christmas, I had to move quickly. First on the list was finding two Lane hope chests lined with cedar wood, topped with an upholstery seat. I looked everywhere. I scanned the newspapers, checked out antique and resale shops, looked at naked furniture and even searched through bargain basement stores. But finding a hope chest within my price range became a futile effort.

With the hope chest search halted for the moment, I decided to shop for my son’s diamond ring. Like before, I searched the newspapers, visited resale shops and all the local jewelry stores. But as with the hope chests, I couldn’t find a diamond ring affordable.

At this moment, I had to admit that despair began to overwhelm me. I remember praying to the Lord while coming home from my last effort of shopping, “What am I to do?” I know the Lord didn’t put all of this on my heart for nothing, but it is now one week until Christmas and I still didn’t have two hope chests and a diamond ring.

While stopped at the light, waiting to make a final turn to my house, I’m thinking about the diamond ring I wanted to find for my son. While starring at the oncoming traffic, I couldn’t believe my ears when God began to speak as clear and audible as if he was sitting next to me in the flesh. God answers the question in my mind, “Where is this ring?” He said to me in His kind and gentle voice, “Don’t you remember? You always wanted to give the wedding band from the hand of your son’s father (my first husband), to him whenever he started dating”. With these words, tears overtook my eyes, because the voice of God just spoke. He shows up just like He always said he would. God never forgets.

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Since I had packed away this wedding ring many years ago, I had forgotten what it looked like. Finding the box was even more of a challenge, as I had moved three times since, but once the treasure hunt was over, I was excited to see this hidden surprise. When I slowly opened the box, sparkling on its velvet lining was a beautiful ring encircled in small diamonds. Who could have ever imagined such a priceless gift? Only God could have ever imagined. Immediately I took this ring to the jewelers to have it sized and cleaned and then wrapped for Christmas Eve. One gift down and two remained. The advent calendar says it is now four days until December 24.

By this time the tension is mounting, but my kitchen plaque still reminded me that “With God, all things are possible”. Miracles are always a moment away, even four days before Christmas. I was sitting back at the table where my husband and I made our original Christmas requests. In my heart I knew God was sending me a miracle, and that miracle came when the telephone unexpectedly rang. On the other end was a woman from my care group. She said she overheard me talking about my gifts of memories. She said that in her house was an old hope chest that wasn’t being used anymore. With a little bit of sanding and staining, it could look good as new she said. So, with this she wondered if I would be interested. Just as with the diamond ring, God overwhelmed me once again. If God pours His blessings from the sky, flood season was in high gear. In response to this generous woman, I said I would be honored to receive this gift.

As my husband and I were driving over to pick up the hope chest, my husband reminded me that we needed two hope chests instead of one. By this time my faith had swelled, ready to burst that doubt just could not enter in my mind. So I slowly looked over at my husband and simply said, “God doesn’t forget”.

I was so excited to arrive at this generous woman’s house to see the gift that God wanted one of my daughters to have. When we got there she first offered me some tea to share with her. As I am sitting at her table, I noticed many baskets hanging from her kitchen ceiling. At that moment I was reminded of the twelve baskets left over from the multitudes meal, all starting from a little boy’s lunch. Then I thought of the seed offering given to me in the afternoon mail; how it was yielding more than one mind could conceive.

After drinking tea with this friend of mine, she took me to the room where the hope chest sat. Just as she said, it needed the touch of a loving hand. But if love rested in the eye of the beholder, surely, I could see the love God wanted to give through this chest. After seeing my gift, I gave my friend a hug, coming from a truly grateful heart. Words couldn’t express my joy.

Just when I think it’s time to pack the chest and leave, my friend stops me and takes me to one more room in her house. Just as God says he is our God of the unexpected, I was not expected to see what I was about to see. Way in the corner of this room, underneath the many boxes that lie above it, sits another gift of my request, hope chest number two. But this time I felt I needed to go to heaven and give God a hug in person. How could one person take in all of this generous love from the Father? But that is how loved our Father wants us to feel all the time.

With four days until Christmas, two hope chests need to be sanded and 3 nosy kids at home, how could my husband be able to refinish this furniture without anyone suspecting. Of course God steps in once again as my sister calls to ask if the kids could spend the next 3 days with her as she has been missing them. What a mighty God we serve. He even organizes the babysitting.
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With the kids taken care of at my sisters, my husband and I rush to the store to buy sandpaper, stain, upholstery fabric and lots of coffee. Surely the next few days will be all nighters. After we pay for the needed items for the hope chests, I realize one final miracle has occurred. God had money left over to purchase material for the quilts I wanted to sew for the children.

With Christmas approaching in just hours, our house sounds like Santa’s elves working at the North Pole. The sander is blasting in the garage, the sewing machine is zooming in the kitchen and the cat is wondering what in the world is going on. If David and I ever bonded in our marriage, it was during this holiday season when Christmas was on God. How could love ever be more evident?

Christmas Eve has finally arrived and what joy is to be. I look at these Lane hope chests and can touch the love of the father’s hands that refinished them. I hold the quilts that will wrap around my children’s arms on a cold morning and can touch the love of the mother’s hands that made them. I hold the diamond ring that my son will wear and can feel the love of the father’s hands that once wore it. Christmas Eve has finally arrived and I can feel the love of my Father who went out of His way to show His unending love for me.

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HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS  By Lori A Alicea

The Alicea house is officially decorated for Christmas.

Every corner of every room has been kissed by Christmas, and the warmth and love of our hearts for friends and family is on display, welcoming everyone into our new home for the holidays.

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I can’t wait to pour that first cup of coffee served with homemade cookies baked from my mother and mother ‘n laws recipes, while seated around the table with those we have cherished throughout the years.

KTEA SET

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I must confess though, the grand-kids have scarfed every last cookie I keep for them in the freezer, so I’d best get baking again before that unexpected caroler or shopper shows up during our Alicea Holiday Open House.

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Yes, our sweet elves get to enjoy a decorated tree set up just for them to enjoy in their room when they visit. Although I secretly enjoy these ornaments more as the mother they were crafted for from the hands of my children when they were small.

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And yes, our grandchildren’s stockings have all been hung with their excitement in mind, knowing their socks will be filled and full by Christmas morning.

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But make no mistake, the little girl in me is overcome with excitement from the festivities of lights, music, decorations and all the wonderful things she is blessed to do for her family.

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This little Christmas girl finds joy in the smallest of details.

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While peering through the windows of each other’s homes during the holidays can stir the same delight as a child flipping through the pages of a Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog, the December merriment’s of 2020 though for most have been diluted in the cups of our holiday cheer.

Holiday travel to our loved ones has been curtailed or cancelled.

Traditions we have come to look forward to have been removed from December calendars.

Family gatherings will be smaller around the holiday table.

Loved ones have gone on to be with Jesus this year.

Isolation from family, especially during the holidays, stirs up deep loneliness.

The list goes on and on.

But even in our aloneness, God is always awake to hear our prayers.

He never leaves us alone.

Never will never I leave you; never will I forsake you. Hebrews 13:5 NIV

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Thankfully, we can gather in his presence to pray, to call on His name and be still and know that He is God, in all situations; especially the lonely ones.

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I’m always encouraged remembering that first holiday home of our Lord Jesus, a humble beginning in a barn, a bed of straw for our Savior, a birth met in the loneliness of the night, yet a glorious “missed opportunity “ for those who looked for the Christ Child in the grand, a royal place instead.

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Lord, keep me from “missed opportunities” of witnessing your hand in my life and those that I love during this holiday season.

Lord, for those who walk through the doors of our home during days of December, may they feel at home because you are at home here also.

Lord, take me back to humble beginnings, to remind me that even if you are our only gift this Christmas, if you are the only one seated at the dinner table with us, our hearts are full because you are more than enough today and every day, especially during our home for the holiday.

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THE EMPTY CHAIR By Lori A Alicea

Honoring those families,
those loved ones not taking their seat at the holiday table this year.
We celebrate you, we miss you, we honor you this season of change,
The Empty Chair.

We welcome in the holidays,
Festivities begin.
November to December end,
These days are penciled in.

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The list of things to do is long,
With many meals prepare.
And tables set to celebrate,
Those seated in each chair.

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The holidays, they dare to change,
In subtle ways appear.
When looking back the portrait of,
The family then last year.

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Emotions indescribable,
Without you seated there.
Your smile and sweater worn remains,
Our mother’s empty chair.

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So many tables set for us,
Remember all you do.
Our mom who gave us memories,
In turn, we gave to you.

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When gather for a family meal,
Remember what we share.
And treasure those we’re seated by,
Who occupy each chair.

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Because the portrait might just change,
From what we’ve always known.
The table set this holiday,
Could find one all alone.

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Forgive us if we tend to stare,
Our mother’s empty chair.

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And see her with a deck of cards,

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Or love her grand-kids there.

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Another table has been set,
Another home reside.
Though missing you this holiday,
With Christ you sit beside.

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Mere words or thoughts could dare convince,
Her absence us prepare.
How much we miss our mother’s chair,
And see her sitting there.

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OUR ANGEL TREE Angel  By Lori A Alicea

Thanksgiving is still a week away yet Christmas made its debut appearance weeks ago unveiling its new holiday line on store shelves of businesses everywhere.

Strands of Christmas lights, wreathes and decorations of all kinds usher an early season’s greeting to the small town we live near, where many in the community have given themselves permission to break rank with the holiday calendar order and take part in these “tree trimming” festivities inside their own homes.

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For this “kid at heart” who secretly embraces a Christmas spirit year ‘round and can be caught red-handed playing holiday music in July, the kickoff of December albeit before Thanksgiving, delights the little Christmas girl in me who refuses to ever grow up.

As magical and undeniable that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year to many, there are others facing great challenges, hardships, and pain where Christmas can’t leave soon enough; many of their stories depicted as angels on Angel Trees everywhere, presenting an opportunity to bless mere strangers disguised as a chosen angel.

Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.
Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.

In the hustle and bustle of shopping on strapped wallets for most, it’s easy to walk by and pretend we didn’t notice the Christmas needs of strangers hanging as angel ornaments on an Angel Tree strategically placed in store entrances to inspire a heart-felt connection of generosity. I confess to be that passerby of numerous Angel Trees over the years.

But this particular December, an Angel Tree stands in the corner of our family living room decorated with only one angel to select from. Our Angel Tree angel keeps us up at night in our thoughts and prayers. I dare not be a passerby this year.

Our angel’s Christmas list is short, one item to be precise; a list requiring a miracle from the hand of God; a Christmas miracle we can still believe in as all things are possible with Him.

Our Angel Tree angel isn’t asking for much.

Our brother just wants

To Live.

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Like a bad dream we wished we could wake up from this terrible nightmare; no doubt our brother wishes the same.

Every next breath for my brother is a dear gift yet an agonizing struggle for him as well.

Our brother’s health crisis is beyond our understanding as growing up, we’ve only known and loved our “big brother” as one watching over us five sisters with eagle eyes, protecting us with strong arms and yes, even scamming us from time to time over chores and allowances as brothers do.

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Nothing ever changed in our relationship with our brother moving into adulthood.

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Whenever the family faced a challenge, albeit financial, health or an emotional kind with our parents or one of us, Our Angel Tree angel could always be seen walking through the door with answers.

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Regardless that a thousand miles and months between his visits stood in the way of a mother embracing her son, a mother never took for granted an Angel Tree angel’s love whenever he came into town.

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Our Angel Tree angel was honored in the final act of his military father, who bequeathed a son back the gift a father’s country bestowed upon him for his military service.

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Our Angel Tree angel has been more than an angel to two little girls who grew up in the arms of their uncle; a man who loved them more as the children he never fathered, and gave them everything a daddy’s heart could pour out into their lives.

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This Angel Tree angel was more than a bright light in our sister’s eyes during their final year this side of heaven, as they struggled with their own Angel Tree angel request

To Live.

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A “big brother” driving a thousand miles to pick up our sister for one last homecoming with us, then taking her fishing before dropping her off on the journey back, remained a sister’s dearest memory of her Angel Tree angel.

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Our baby sister never felt more loved and safe when she was rescued and brought into the home of her Angel Tree angel where her daughters and siblings never left her side until heaven came for its newest angel that day.

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Our Angel Tree angel has loved only one woman since their holy day of matrimony decades ago.

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Still to this day, you never see one without the other.

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When the minister declared on their wedding day that “these two have become one”, Our Angel Tree angel’s wife remains in this battle with him, fighting and helping her angel

To Live.

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Our Angel Tree angel’s wife fights in hope, fights with God’s Word, fights to help him breath with all the love she has for her Angel Tree angel; to help him Live as he has requested.

Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.
Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.

These thousand miles between us are bridged by a sibling’s love for their Angel Tree angel only a close knit family can understand.

We pray that Jesus will be the best gift, the only gift you’ll need this Christmas morning.

We pray that one shake of a holiday snow globe brings back irreplaceable memories of Christmas mornings we shared together as children, never forgetting you’ll always be
Our Angel Tree angel,

with us now wanting to be the same for you.

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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
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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
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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