The red and blue lights created an almost holiday-like atmosphere, but this was no celebration. Despite the holiday decor that surrounded them, miles and miles of rescue vehicles joined with miles and miles of civilians lined the roads today as a firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty was laid to rest today. This is far from a rare event. First responders pay for our safety every single day and every time an outpouring like this passes by me, I weep.

As you might expect, I am crying for the loss of a life and for the family and friends who have been left behind. But I’m also crying with feelings of overwhelming gratitude for those who are willing to offer up their lives every single day to protect the rest of us. 

Now, to be fair, I might be a little biased as I have stepsons who have been or are currently in positions where they are protecting the very liberties we as Americans often take for granted. But honestly, as far back as I can remember, I have ugly-cried when even thinking of –  let alone watched depictions of – average people sacrificing themselves for others.

You would think that as a Christian, this should be an easy concept for me to grasp. After all, I believe in and worship a God who knowingly gave His life for me. But to me, this is so different because this man – and all those like him – was fully human, lacking the Godly wisdom and insight that Christ had. 

This man, and all those in similar situations, knowingly placed his life on the line for the sake of others. There is no enormous paycheck to repay him for this sacrifice, no televised award ceremony or national recognition. He just got up every day to try to make the rest of our Iives’ safer and I find myself shaking my head in wonder. Could I do the same thing? What is it about those who choose that lifestyle that allows them to willingly put themselves in dangerous situations so you and I can live more peacefully?

They aren’t super-human. They all struggle with the same things you and I do – challenges with work, with family, with health. But where their lives differ in that these people see the worst of life every day.  They see the brutality we inflict on one another. They confront the tragedies that for the rest of us, only come about once or maybe twice in a lifetime. 

And then they head home, putting the horrible things they have seen throughout their shift aside, and become an average husbands, wives, parents, brothers and sisters. 

As we as average citizens sit back and view snippets of their lives on YouTube or FaceBook and criticize. We write hateful, horrible things about how this person should have acted  assuming that we, in the same situation, would never have done anything like that. 

And I am simultaneously heartbroken and furious.

To sit on the outside of any situation where one’s life is on the line every moment of every day and decide that we could have/would have done it better is crazy. We have no idea what situation this individual had just left; what horrific thing they may have just seen and are trying to put behind them so they can finish their shift.

 So what’s my point? Why am I on this particular soap-box today?

Well, here’s the thing.

It’s the holiday season. We are all scrambling to try to find the perfect gift or create the perfect experience for our loved ones. Or maybe we are buying an extra gift to put in that Toys for Tots box, feeling good about our small selfless act and maybe secretly hoping someone will have seen us and say something to affirm our action so we can feel even better about being a good person this holiday. 

But on the other side of that box is an officer or a soldier or a firefighter who is delivering those gifts for you but may not be able to provide the same gifts for his or her own family. Or maybe the “job” has been more of a burden on them and they have lost their family and are alone trying to figure out why they are continuing to sacrifice their time, their physical and their psychological health for a community of people that spit at them and judge them. 

These individuals are not God. They do not get the blessing of seeing the end result of their actions and knowing that the grace and mercy that they are offering to those around them will be recognized. They are each of us trying to do the unthinkable and each of them deserves the same level of respect as that man received today in his funeral procession.

So as I get down off my soapbox today, I ask just one thing.

The next time you watch that Facebook cellphone bit and start to jump to a conclusion about the officer’s motives or you’re pulled over for “just going 5 miles over the limit” or are irritated about having to walk out of your office due to a false alarm, stop. 

Stop being critical and start being grateful. When you say “thank you”, mean it and when you have the opportunity, offer them grace and mercy knowing that what they deal with every day is far more than we can ever imagine. 

Most of all, include these men and women who sacrifice their lives for us in your prayers. Lift them up and remember that they are doing the very best they can in unimaginable situations. And for those of you who may be reading this and are a first responder, I offer my deep, heart-felt thank you. I have done nothing to deserve the sacrifice you offer, but I am eternally grateful for it.

May each and every one of you have a safe, blessed holiday season.

My Lexy-Girl

27797427_10156091638402359_1129368443817258567_oHer toys have all been discarded, blankets and dishes washed and put away and I am left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness and sadness. I know it will go away with time, but for now, the feeling of grief and loss like standing in quicksand and every breath and heartbeat sucks me further down into its darkness.

There are those who will likely say she was only a dog and while you would be right technically, Lexy was far from “just” anything.

1931098_45645022358_894_nFound under a pallet that served as a porch in the woods in central South Carolina at just a month old, she was scrappy and determined, ready to take on the world – and take it on, she did.

Lexy made friends with nearly everyone she ever encountered. On the farm we lived on for her first few years, she made friends with the barn cats and the horses. She would excitedly lick the cats every morning and run up and down the fence with a young horse, Sport, who tossed things to her to catch and happily waited at the fence every morning to greet her.

27798070_10214412055551640_8198879065367142503_oShe was playful and loving with a heart to serve those who she felt were in need. If we were at the dog park and she heard a baby cry (human or other), she would rush to their side and nuzzle and lick them for comfort. One time, I remember walking past a young man in a wheelchair who appeared to suffer from some pretty significant autistic issues. Lexy walked up to him, sat next to him, and leaned just close enough that he could pet her. He placed his hand on her head and she just sat, waiting, giving him time and love in the way that he was able to accept it. It brought tears to both my eyes and his mothers.

On weekends when she would stay with my parents for one reason or another, Lexy would come home completely exhausted after having forced herself to stay awake all day to watch over my dad and stepmother to make sure they were safe, and then keep guard over the house and each of them as they slept.

27788497_10156098614587359_4162020583359323514_oAside from her color, the only scary thing about her was her bark which could honestly wake the dead. But once someone came into view, she would run and get a toy for each visitor. I could always tell who her favorites were based on the toy she brought. Some received whatever was closest, while others would get the “prize” of her favorite bone or newest treasure.

Coughing was always something that bothered her and if I were ever sick and started coughing in the middle of the night, Lexy would come up beside me (yes, she slept on the bed – don’t judge!), literally pat me on the shoulder with her paw, and then lay as close to me as absolutely possible to keep me “safe”.

There are so many stories that made Lexy unique and wonderful – some I may not even know about – but I can honestly say that she was a gift to me.

27788497_10156098614587359_4162020583359323514_oI wish I could say that on her last day, I took her to all her favorite places – her dog park, her boyfriend’s house, to the trail – to see them one last time or that she got her favorite foods and pets from all of her favorite people, but sadly this was not the case. Her illness came quickly and unexpectedly and I was left with that most horrible of decisions. I now find myself apologizing to her for not seeing what was happening so I could have stopped it; apologizing for not being with her that final weekend; apologizing for being human.

My Lexy-girl was the best thing in my life. She came at a time that I desperately needed someone to care for and to care for me. She took her job seriously and I fear she may have done it better than I. As my friend would often say, she carried the burdens of the world on her shoulders and it was because of this, her life here was cut shorter than we expected.  I don’t know if this is why she passed to unexpectedly, but I do know there are not enough words in the English language to express how incredibly thankful and blessed I am to have had her in my life. She was my best friend, my sole companion for nearly 10 years and I will forever miss her.

Dreams are Children

dreams-3Do you dream? I don’t mean the go to bed at night dreams, but dreams as in what you want in your life or what you want your life to look like? I think all of us have big dreams when we’re young. The world then is a huge place when we’re small and we haven’t yet come to understand that the moon and stars may just be beyond our reach.

Of course, we all grow up and our understanding of the world becomes more complex. Our understanding of our place in the grand scheme of things becomes more complex as well.

When I was very young, I remember dreaming of being a veterinarian (a dream I think many little girls have). I also remember dreaming of being able to sing on national television and hearing people cheer for me. I’m sure there were others, but these are the two that I can actively remember dreaming. I also remember that I wasn’t very old before I learned that dreams don’t always come true…

…and then I stopped dreaming altogether.

Maybe this was because, as a child of an abusive parent, I never felt I was on solid ground; I never felt that the world around me was a safe place to share my wishes and hopes. Family members that were supposed to protect me left me open to abuse or participated in abuse leaving me feeling shattered and empty. I was been beaten down so many times that the idea of working that hard for something I wanted was more than I could fathom and the negative words and actions that came my way on a regular basis convinced me that I neither had the ability to make things happen that were good nor was I a person that was worthy of having dreams come true. I came to think that somehow I had done something horrible – or that I was a horrible person – and that my life would be spent on the sidelines seeing others obtain their most obscure dreams while the ache in my heart would grow bigger with every lost hope.

It took a long time for me to get to a point where I felt that I was good enough as a person to see a dream or two realized; that the negative things around me didn’t need to perpetuate themselves. Some of this came from taking responsibility for the negative energy I was putting out in the universe and realizing that while it may have seemed that I was cursed in some way, the world didn’t really “have it in for me”. But this didn’t happen before I had let a good number of dreams die.

Some of those dreams died quickly and sometimes they died a very slow and painful death and left remnants of themselves behind creating a vortex that seemingly sucked the life out of other the dreams that were left.

I never really understood why the death of a dream could be so profoundly painful until I watched Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods.


In this musical, Mr. Sondheim deals with several children’s fables and there are many lessons and truths presented by the individual characters and stories, but the one that stuck with me comes from the witch.

The song, Children Will Listen reminds the listener that the things we say have impact on those around us. Much like the things I heard when I was a child that were hurtful and ended up impacting the dreams – or lack thereof – I had growing up, the words we speak have the power to help or hurt; to feed or to starve.

While this message is powerful in and of itself, the sentence that truly struck me was, “wishes are children”.

Wow. What a profound statement!

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how true this really is.

Dreams are those things that we all hold closest to our hearts. They are a glimmer of a thought on the horizon of our life. When they initially come to us, they may be just a niggling in our brains but they grow with every “what if” and “if only” thought that ventures through. As time goes on, these dreams are a part of us; a ring we desperately want to grasp.

The problem is, dreams are also fragile. Negative words, thoughts and actions chip away at the delicate shell of each dream and cause it to disappear in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, all of that effort; that blood, sweat and tears were for naught.

dreamsWe must treat our dreams as delicately as we treat our children. If we don’t, we risk at best stifling the ability for them to grow and at worst, suffocating them altogether.

Mr. Sondheim also wisely points out that wishes may come true, but they are not free. They cost us our time, our love, our energy, and a bit of our identity. Like children, they are not ours to keep forever. Rather, they must be given away so they can be the true gift they were intended to be.

We must love them, nourish them, encourage them and guide them. In the end, we must also be prepared for them to take on a life of their own to become what they were intended to be. This, as I look back, may actually be what caused my dreams to die and create the large vortex of pain I experienced.

I wanted so desperately to hold on to the dreams that I allowed into my heart that I held on too tightly, never letting the ideas to be spoken aloud or the vision to be seen by others. I was so sure that someone else would crush what I had inside of me that I crushed it first.

I understand so clearly the desire to hold tightly to the things that mean a lot to us; to be able to be there every moment to see the successes – and to be able to take the accolades for those successes – and to also wipe away the evidence failures that will inevitably happen as quickly as possible so nobody can see; so nobody knows that everything isn’t perfect.

The thing is that dreams are not perfect because they are truly a part of us, just like our children. There will be losses and failures but we cannot, as dreamers, stop dreaming out of fear of those losses or wipe them away and pretend they didn’t happen any more than we can pretend a child who no longer is able to be with us physically never existed in the first place. We are all blessed to have our children and our dreams for a time that is not determined by us. This is painful and challenging and often causes us to be angry at the One who gave them to us in the first place. But the thing is that the length of time we have them is not what makes the great. What makes them great is the fact that they exist at all.

If you have dreams you’ve realized, I would love to hear about them! If you, like me, have had to let dreams go, I would love to hear about that as well. How did you move on? What has that done to your faith? Are you still being sucked into the vortex of pain from these losses or have you been able to find your way out of the woods to the sunlight? Reach out to me. Tell me your dreams realized or not. Maybe we can help each other attain new dreams we never thought possible!


Hard to Say Goodbye

13667727_10206694363826567_1814928283392333504_oThe blue lights of the sanctuary covered the back wall and reflected off the horns that were scattered across the stage. Trumpets, coronets and flugelhorns all caught the light and reflected it out to the seats below creating an atmosphere that was at once soothing and sad, much like the jazz that my friend had played on them.

I was walking in to say my goodbyes along with several hundred other people, all of whom were touched in some way by this man.

His death was unexpected and heartbreaking. He was a grandfather, husband, brother and father – all of the things one would expect of a man of a certain age – and yet he was so much more.

As a musician, he challenged everyone he played with to be better; to be more than they were before the set started. As a man of faith, he carried with him a sense of peace and joy that exuded through every part of his being and showered down on those he came into contact with. I don’t doubt that he had days of uncertainty and struggle, but during the brief time I was blessed to know him, I never saw a glimpse of that. As the song from then musical Wicked says, I have been changed by knowing him.

because I knew you

It’s hard to say goodbye, isn’t it? Even at times when the goodbye isn’t necessarily permanent, the very word seems to stick in our heart like a barb. It isn’t supposed to be like this, our heart cries! My time with this person was supposed to be longer! I never got the chance to say thank you or I’m sorry or whatever it is we so desperately want to say when the option no longer exists.

As I listened to the sermon during this somber event, the pastor of the church indicated that God didn’t intend for us to say goodbye; that our need to do so only exists because of the fall of man in the garden. While this may not be a popular opinion, I beg to differ.

I don’t, as I’ve said in the past, believe that God makes mistakes. Therefore, it only logically follows that God absolutely created us to feel loss and ache at the departure of people and things we love. To me, to believe otherwise means that God neither foresaw Adam and Eve partaking of the fruit nor planned for the repercussions thereafter. For me, my God is bigger than that. He knew before He created a single microorganism that we would fail. Actually, to me, He created us to do so because the bigger plan was dependent upon our human curiosity to overtake our desire to obey.

Sounds contrary to probably everything you have ever been taught, but follow me on this for a moment.

Without failure, we would never learn that we need God. We would mindlessly follow, devoid of passion or conviction. The God I believe in wants so much more for us than that.


I believe that God created the ability for us to sin so we would learn to turn to Him; that he created the ability to stumble so we would feel the security of being carried; the ability to mourn losses great and small so that we could know the full breadth of love.

Love is bigger than happiness and joy. It aches with yearning, cries out with pain, and sobs uncontrollably for endings. The ability to feel these things is what makes love such a unique and complex emotion and is the one thing that makes us truly a part of God.

At times like this – the death of a friend or loved one – it certainly doesn’t seem like much of a gift, but it truly is.

Without the depths of despair that loss brings we would never fully realize the heights of bliss that are also part of our emotional spectrum.

Perhaps more importantly, without the stillness that comes with loss we would never come to experience the excitement of renewal. If nothing ever left our lives, there would be no need for us to reach out for something new – a new hobby,  a new friend, a new life experience. The life that God envisioned for us would not exist.

Maybe it seems odd to say, but I would absolutely choose the life of emotional ups and downs over a life of status quo. It seems to me that God created me to be able to feel these things so I could know Him more fully; so I could more fully grasp the extent of His love for me and the purpose He has for my life.

shelby quote

I know what you’re thinking. What kind of sadistic god would want me to suffer?

The thing is, it’s not that He wants us to suffer per se, but  that He wants us to realize that through these experiences we can grow to be so much more that who we were before them. Oh sure, we can choose to wallow in self-pity for the rest of out lives, or we can change.

As I thought about how this particular death was calling me to change, I took a moment to look around the sanctuary all of the various people who had been affected by this person – and it hit me.

I desire to make a difference the way my friend did. No, I’m not going to take up brass instruments and try to teach or try to replicate his life. That would just be silly and I would be an utter failure. But what I am going to do is make a conscious effort to be that person that makes others feel welcome and comfortable; to be that person that creates a sense of peace and laughter.

On the day of my first gig with the band I met this wonderful man in, I was nervous and felt uncertain of my ability to carry the role I had been given. This man not only told me at every opportunity that I was doing a great job, but caught my eye to do silly things like use his horn as a dancing snake making me laugh and relax. This is the piece of my friend I want to carry forward.

Thanks to my friend, I am going to work harder to reflect the characteristics of God to others so they can feel His presence in their lives, even when they don’t realize that’s what they feel.

I only hope that when I meet him in heaven, he will be able to see the change he made in me and the way I was able to carry the torch for him.