Guest Post: Lindsay’s Heart

Guest Post: Lindsay’s Heart

The month of June, what does it mean to you? Is it the remembrance of the D-Day Invasion in Normandy on June 6, Flag Day on June 14 or even the day we honor our fathers on the third Sunday in June?

For me, June 20-22 is etched in my memory forever. June 20, 1997 was the last time I heard my daughter Lindsay tell me “I love you” and the last time I got a hug from her. It was the last time I saw her blue-green eyes and her beautiful smile. Little did I know, 3 hours after telling her bye, she would be involved in a horrific car accident that would take her life.

Lindsay was my first daughter, the second of my three children. She was born May 22, 1981. She was a little sister to Ryan and a big sister to Rachel. She was a beautiful young lady. She was spunky and full of life. She lived life to its fullest. She wasn’t perfect and sometimes found trouble if it didn’t find her first. 

Just 4 years earlier, my kid’s father tragically died in a work related accident while working out of state. Lindsay struggled with the death of her dad. She stated on many occasions that she just wanted to be with her dad. Three weeks before her death, she told my friend that she wasn’t going to live to see the age of 25. The night before the accident, I remember her sitting on the couch crying. I asked her what was wrong and she just shook her head and said she didn’t know. Before she went to bed that night, she told my nephew and her brother that she knew she wasn’t going to live much longer. She knew before we did that her life on this earth was going to end.

Lindsay and my nephew were headed to Dallas to spend the weekend with my cousin. Their trip ended just south of Caddo, Oklahoma. For unknown reasons, the car ended up crossing the center median and they were hit by a semi going 70 mph. The impact of the semi hitting the car caused the car to split in half. The seat’s belt broke and Lindsay was found just 3 feet behind the car. My nephew was thrown 65 feet. He had asphalt burns to his face, hand and leg. He had a broken hand and a large horseshoe cut on the back of his head. Thankfully, he lived, but lives with survivor’s guilt.

There were two off-duty EMT’s who drove upon the accident and immediately started CPR on Lindsay. Her heart stopped twice on the way to the hospital in Durant, Oklahoma. We did not find out about the accident until 3:30 pm. The doctor informed my husband that Lindsay had no brain activity and they wanted to transfer to a hospital in Sherman, Texas because they had a trauma unit. Before they transferred her to Sherman, they performed surgery to repair a tear in her liver. That trip to Sherman was the longest trip of my life. I knew things weren’t good, but I prayed and prayed. I asked God to watch over Lindsay and to help me make decisions that I knew I was going to have to make.

It was 9:00 pm when we finally arrived. The moment I walked in the room to see Lindsay, I saw that she was at peace. She was on life support and they had shaved part of her hair in order to insert a probe to measure the pressure on her brain. As the ICU nurse began to explain all the numbers on the monitor, it showed the pressure on her brain was 110 and was rising. I asked what was normal and with a hesitation in her voice and tears in her eyes, she said 8-10. Once again, I knew things were not good. I continued to pray and as the night wore on, the pressure continued to rise to 150. To look at Lindsay, you would think she was just sleeping. Visibly, you could see a bruise on her cheek, a puncture wound on her hand and one of her toes had been severed, but it had been repaired.   We talked to her and prayed for her through the night.

The next day they ran a series of test to see if she could breathe on her own. She could not. They checked to see if there was any blood flow to her brain. There was not.

We knew then that the Lindsay we knew and loved so much was already with our Lord and Savior. At that time, we talked with her doctor and made the decision to donate her organs. Southwest Transplant Alliance in Dallas was contacted. Two nurses made the trip to Sherman to discuss with us the process of organ donation. We chose to donate her heart, lungs, kidneys, pancreas and liver.

I had never felt so much peace, feeling of the arms of Jesus wrapped around me, as I did when I found out that there was nothing more they could do.  I remember talking to our pastor on the phone and telling him I had peace, because I knew where she was.

On Sunday morning, June 22, everyone went in to tell Lindsay how much she was loved and we would see her when we get to Heaven. I was left in the room by myself with Lindsay. I talked to her, prayed for her and then began to sing to her a Point of Grace song, “God Loves People More Than Anything”, except I sang “God Loves Lindsay More Than Anything”. I sang it over and over again just so she would know how much God really loved her and He was taking her away from all the heartache she was enduring in her earthly life. My husband told me I wasn’t really saying goodbye, but “I’ll see you later”, because we will see her again in Heaven. 

When I walked out of her room, the nurses were crying with me. I went back to the waiting room. One of the nurses came out to tell us that they pronounced her brain death at 9:45am and that is when they began harvesting her organs. We started our journey back to Coweta without our Lindsay.

We knew God had a plan from the very beginning. We believe God placed the off duty EMT’s in the exact spot on Highway 69 at the time Lindsay needed them to keep her alive. We know a 30 year-old woman received both of Lindsay’s lungs. Her transplant was needed because of a heart defect. Lindsay’s liver went to a 49 year-old man who had been disabled for eight years because of an unknown reason as to why he was in liver failure. Lindsay’s pancreas and one kidney went to a 46 year-old woman with insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Lindsay’s other kidney went to a 32 year-old woman who had kidney failure due to hardening of the tiny vessels in her kidneys.

The most precious gift given was Lindsay’s heart. Her heart went to Wayne Battles. At the time of the heart transplant, Wayne was 55 and he had a birthday a month after his transplant. Wayne will be 76 in July!

Wayne’s story began 4 years prior to his transplant. That is when the doctors told him that he would need a new heart. He and his wife starting praying for their donor and their family if God’s plan included a new heart. 4 years prior for our family was when we were given the heartbreaking news that the father of my children had died. Wayne went into the hospital April 29, 1997. Through all of our visits, we found out that Wayne had gotten so bad they took him off the transplant list. But, on May 21, his numbers started improving and he was put back on the transplant list on May 22, Lindsay’s birthday.

In the beginning, all of the correspondence was anonymous and went through Southwest Transplant Alliance. It took me quite a bit of time to write back to them after receiving the very first letter, but finally completed a letter and a small photo album of Lindsay to send to them. When we received another letter after they celebrated his 1 year anniversary with his new heart, I could tell they never received my letter. After seeing a partial phone number and a church name, we could tell they lived in the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex. My sister started her own investigation and finally found Sharon. After a brief conversation with her, she called me and told me she found Lindsay’s heart recipient and to be expecting a call. Many tears were shed when we talked. We discovered that my letter and photo album were sent to the transplant hospital. Sharon made a trip to the hospital to retrieve them and then she gave Wayne the letter and album that evening.

They made a trip to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on September 19, 1998 so we could meet for the first time. I remember laying my hand upon his chest to feel Lindsay’s heartbeat. On August 13, 2014 was a monumental day for us. They surprised us by opening up a box which held a stethoscope. I was able to hear Lindsay’s heartbeat for the first time. 

Many tears were shed that evening. I have been able to listen each time we have met since then. We continue to see each other at least once a year. We have received letters and cards on every holiday from Wayne and Sharon for 20 years. The bond we have developed is unbreakable. Although, we have never heard from any of other the other recipients, I pray each one is doing well after their transplants.

In all of this, I am so thankful that God has given me the strength and courage to live beyond the accident. I know that because Lindsay believed in God and was saved by His grace, she has her place in Heaven. I am looking forward to the day when I am reunited with her in Heaven. I am thankful for the support I have received over the last 20 years from my husband, my son and daughter and their families, my parents, siblings, nieces, nephews and the rest of my extended family.

Don’t take your organs to Heaven…Heaven knows we need them here.

-Sherri Valder

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13 NIV

A Little Thought from Heather:

Back in November we had the honor of having Courtney Allen share the beautiful story of her brave little boy’s journey to a heart transplant, in Guest Post: A Thankful Heart. When I asked Courtney to write our guest post about Caysen, I had great hope of Sherri sharing Lindsay’s story, the story of a donor family.

This story is close to my own heart. For one, as long as I can remember I’ve personally understood the importance of organ donation. I would not be alive today if it weren’t for tissue donation. Families made the decision to donate their loved one’s tissue, the largest organ of our body and because of cadaver skin, and the donation of countless blood donors, I had the chance to live.

But Lindsay’s story is more than a story to me. I knew Lindsay.

School had not been pleasant for me after our accident. I experienced challenges in finding acceptance and security in returning to school. All of my elementary school years were spent bobbling back-and-forth between surgeries, doctor’s appointments and physical therapy. I just never settled back with my peers.

I was so scared, but I finally took a leap and changed schools in the 8th grade.

There was this girl in my English class. She had naturally curly blond hair, like me. She was outgoing. She lit up a room. Everyone was drawn to her personality. Her smile was more than a facial expression. It beamed from her heart. And this girl WELCOMED ME from the get-go. And to top it off, we shared the same middle name. Lindsay Renee and Heather Renee.

The song her mama sat at her bed and sang to her, “God Loves People More than Anything,” her family blessed me with the honor of singing at her memorial service. Even today, twenty years after her passing, I carry such gratitude for being able to do that little something for her, because what she did for me played a part of shifting my intimidated, insecure teenage world looking for acceptance to one filled with enthusiasm and joy each time I walked into a class we shared.

Lindsay had a gift of making other people feel valued. And I find it to be completely reflective of her life that she gave such insurmountable value even in her death.

Lindsay– a blessing to my 8th grade self. Life gifts treasured forever.

When you think of organ donation, when you consider the commitment to give, think of precious Caysen who has a life today because of a donor, and think of Lindsay who continues to touch others, from those of us who knew and loved her, to those who never even met her. Twenty years later, her life is touching lives.  

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Guest Post: Murder Couldn’t Kill God’s Love

*a special post from special guest Teresa Nichols*

February is known as the month of love so I wanted to share our story about God’s love.

God tells us over and over the importance of love, that no matter what we do for others, or in the name of God, if we do it without love in our hearts then it is nothing, He even gives a complete description of what Love is in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

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Teresa ~ a beautiful strong woman of God

Then He tells us His greatest commandment is to love Him, then to love one another.

Yet sometimes things happen that we don’t understand in this life and we want to shake our finger at God and say, “How can You say You love us?

I can’t, in any way, say I understand the ways of God. Why some live and some do not. But I can tell you I believe what John 10:10 tells us, that the enemy is the one who steals, kills and destroys. God tries to teach us how important it is to love one another, but no matter how much we feel we love others, it is nothing close to the magnitude of God’s love for each and every one of us.

I know this first hand—by the way God has shown His love for me through our tragedy. God began showing me His love through miracles and blessings that He poured out on our family as we regained our strength to stand again.

On March 28th of 2011 we made a move to Tulsa, Oklahoma from our small hometown in Iowa with our youngest son Ethan who was twenty, and his friend Casey, twenty-one at the time. Our little town had been quickly loosing businesses and unemployment was very high. My husband Scott left his job of thirty-two years so we could all have a new start in life. Our twenty-six-year-old daughter Leanne was already in Tulsa finishing her second year at Rhema Bible College.  We had prayed and asked God about making this move and He answered in a way that left no room for any doubt that we were to move.  This would be just one of the ways God showed us His love. 100_2233

Life was good. Within a month we all had jobs and were having a wonderful time. Along with jobs we had found the best places to play Frisbee golf, some favorite eating places, and a church home. We had all pretty much settled into our routines.

A short time later Ethan met an eighteen-year-old young woman named Carissa. We were all sure she would one day be his wife.

Their days consisted of Ethan working and Carissa’s studies in Music Composition at ORU. Their evenings and weekends were filled with exploration throughout the town’s parks. dscn3110

On September 18th 2011, six short months after moving to Tulsa, Ethan and Carissa went for a jog at Hicks Park. As the sun was setting, they were surrounded by two men with a gun. They were robbed and forced to their knees.   Then, they were both shot in the head.

Nothing could have prepared us. Our world stopped and we felt as if our hearts would stop too. There was even a time I wished mine would because with every beat came unimaginable pain. Nothing could stop it. The loss of a child is unbearable in its own, but to lose them in such a violent-senseless way made it so much worse. Even though we knew they were with God the very moment they left this world, it still couldn’t stop our pain.

Ethan had always known God and was baptized as a young boy. But as this beautiful woman of God came into his life he had grown to be a Man of God. They had built their relationship around God first, praying together before they had even spent time together face-to-face. They both had such a trust and love in God. Even when I would try to warn him to be careful he would look me in the eyes and say, “I have God what do I have to be afraid of?

At first there was just the heartache and sadness but then came the “WHYS” and there were so very many.

As my mind darted from one thought to another in sort of a random-scrambled way trying to make some sense of things, it seemed every thought was attached to a WHY.  Those whys were quickly followed by condemnation, guilt, and “IF ONLYS.

IF ONLY, we would have not gone to a movie that night. IF ONLY they hadn’t gone to that park. IF ONLY we hadn’t moved to Tulsa.

And it was the same for Scott.

It was the question about moving to Tulsa that God opened my eyes to first. One day as this why came to me again God reminded me, “Teresa, you prayed- I gave you a clear answer. Do you doubt Me now? How can you condemn yourself when the answer was so clear that you were to go?” With that I began to realize that Satan was using all the whys to pull us down, to try and fill us with guilt. But with that one truth I also realized God had already made sure we could not have guilt for that, He had covered us.

I knew I had to take authority over Satan and hold tight to God’s truth. For me the scripture Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”

When Satan would try to push the whys into my thoughts I would tell him to be gone in the name of Jesus Christ. I also knew I needed to stop asking why all together and just let it go. Once I stopped asking “why,” God slowly started giving me answers. They did not come all at once but steadily, as my heart needed them.

One day I was having an exceptionally emotional day, I longed to hold my baby boy and nothing seemed to help me get past that longing. I finally decided to go have lunch with Scott. Although we tried, comforting each other was really impossible. It just does not work when both you and your spouse are hurting so bad. Yes we knew we needed to be together, but you cannot pull someone out of the ditch that you are stuck in too. You can only hold them tight when they need it. But God will slowly ease you out, giving you time to heal before pulling you up a little farther. This kind of deep loss does not disappear. It has to go through stages.

On this day I really needed my husband to hold me, even if it was just for a few minutes. But as I left from lunch to drive back home I could feel the longing coming back strong.

I decided I did not want to go home to sit in the house alone so I stopped at a clothing store and decided to just look around a bit. I found a shirt I wanted to try on so I went into the dressing room to see if it would fit. When I came out of the room to look in the big mirror a woman came out of the adjacent dressing room with the same exact shirt on. We laughed a bit, then wound up in conversation, and I eventually shared about Ethan.

I could see the sadness in her eyes but there was something else too. As we walked out the door to the parking lot she asked if she could share something with me. She told me she was a prayer warrior and that she was getting ready to go next door to get a coffee, but God asked her to go try on some clothes. She tried at first to say she really didn’t need anything but she could feel Him telling her to go. She told me that she had been praying for me and our family since she saw the story on the news.

That obedient prayer warrior gave me confirmation that God was there with me. He knew I needed that particular encounter with this stranger to help give me strength to get through that rough day. What an amazing and wonderful God we have! 100_2498

This was not the only time God made sure I knew He was with me. There were many different ways and so many blessings as we went through the weeks. But it took me awhile to realize the biggest blessing He gave me.  It was not something that I noticed right away but it became clearer to me as we went through counseling. Through our counselor I learned that no two people ever go through the healing process at the same pace. I had to let Scott heal for himself and not try to push him to where I was or vice-versa. 100_2500

This is where I first realized I had no anger. Scott, Carissa’s parents, and many other people around me were very angry. I understood why they were angry but I couldn’t understand why I was NOT angry.

You see I, like many of you mothers out there, I am like a mother bear. You might come around and see me playing gently with my cubs, but the moment anyone threatens my kids in any way I become a furious fighting animal with claws out and teeth bared to protect them. It doesn’t matter how big or mean you may be, I would take you on in a second just to keep them safe. But I felt NO anger. Believe me I searched for it, but it was not there. Even at the preliminary hearing where I looked at the two murderers in the face for the first time there was not any anger.

You see I do not do anger well. It takes a bit of pushing to get me angry but when I do it is not good in any way. Then it is almost always followed but a tremendous let down, followed by tears and sadness. I know God knew I couldn’t handle anger so He took it from me. What a loving God! Because of this, forgiveness came easy for me and forgiveness must come in order to heal completely100_2938-2

This is just a small peek into of some of the ways God covered me throughout our time of loss. Even though my heart will always miss my baby boy my spirit leaps when I think of how God loves me. I wanted to share this with you so that you can see the love God has for each of us. He is always there reaching out to us. However, He is a polite and patient God. He will not push Himself upon us. We must invite Him in.

I ask you as we go through this month of love remember what God asks—love one another. There is no greater love than the love of our God.

A Little Thought From Heather:
The enemy has netted so many people out of their tragedies– they blame God and turn away instead of seeking Him for hope and healing. Teresa and Scott’s journey is an example of how hope and healing can unfold for those who choose to turn to God. A story that illustrates how much more powerful His love is than even the most unimaginable heartache. I am honored for Teresa’s willingness to share with us. I pray her words continue to strengthen our confidence and security in His mighty love.   Happy Valentine’s Day ❤ Heather

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Positive Living From Our Heart, Mind and Words

I’m grateful to say I’ve received quite a few cards in my life. Maybe I’m old-fashioned but there’s just something super special about going to the mailbox and getting a card!

My love for words could play into it too. I mean when people send me a card I know every one of those words are just for me. It’s a little gift sealed inside. You may have thought Hallmark had the market on stitching the perfect sentences together for cards covering every life event, I mean they did say, “when you care enough to send the very best.” But my mother-in-law found a line to top the infamous Gold Crown Hallmark. It’s Blue Mountain.

It became apparent over the years that if the card was Blue Mountain I was most likely going to get a little teary-eyed reading it. Only a girl who loves words puts more emphasis on what’s in the envelope than what is in the gift box.

Well, just this week while prepping Caden’s room for painting, I found a little book my Dad had given to my Mom titled, Think Positive Thoughts Every Day. And guess who was the publisher? Blue Mountain!

So how in the world did this book get in the nightstand of Caden’s room? Actually I do know the answer to that, but it’s a story full of many words, so I’ll refrain from sharing those minute details. However, did I take a moment to flip through the book? Of course!

And on the inside were my Dad’s written words, “May everyday of your life be positive in your walk- love you- you make me feel positive about myself- Mike.”

Both of my parents loved words. And they shared them. A lot of them. Frequently. Actually to paint the picture, I never remember there being silence in my home growing up. Whether we were happy, mad or just ho-hum we were talking.

I thought that’s the way things were. For everyone. Until I got married. Brandon is a guy who cuts straight to the chase. We’ve both learned from one another. I’ve learned the value of silence, and he’s learned the gift of conversation. Occasionally I’ll nudge him, “Babe. Words are nourishment to my heart. I just need more, so would you please start over and tell me this story in a way that I would tell it, not sparing any detail?” He’s so precious and he fills my love tank with his words.

But reading my Dad’s message to my Mom not only brought back the memory of the talking, but of the positivity. My parents would be the first to tell you they trudged through life with their own luggage of shortcomings and hang-ups, but I have to tell you, they were both positive people.

We didn’t have a puppy-dogs-and-rainbows home. We dealt with our own fair share of ugliness, like most families. Nevertheless, their effort to think and speak good thoughts were fundamental in molding my personality, my character and my mindset.

So—did my parents never have anything to feel negative about? Oh contraire mon frere! If you’ve stumbled upon this site for the first time, I first want to thank you so much for visiting, and second, invite you to watch the video of our story in the link at the end of this post to see the heartache and uncertainties my parents faced in their life. My story is their story.

So how in the world did they do it?

  • Train. Train. We have to train our minds to think good thoughts. We have to develop a habit. Might sound crazy, but people who are Negative-Nellies have wired their brains to naturally jump on the bad news train. They’re put-out they just washed their car when the sky grows dark, instead of being grateful they don’t have to water their flowers for the day. (By the way- so sorry if you’re name is Nellie—I actually know a Nellie who is super, super positive).
  • My parents had each other. My Dad passed away eleven years ago, but when he was alive he or my Mom one, was carrying the positivity wand. When my Mom would get all Debbie-Downer, Dad would challenge her to get in gear. (Actually, he was always much more direct than that. He’d say something along the lines of “knock it off” followed by what good thing they had to focus on). And yes, when Dad got down, as he more and more frequently did closer to his death, my Mom would speak life into his soul with good things. Whether we’re married or not, let’s be sure to surround ourselves with people who are positive thinkers and speakers. (Again, so sorry to the Debbie’s— I’ve got a Debbie in mind now that is the picture of positivity).
  • To stitch the first two together, I have to tell you, it’s more than a mindset. These words right here, “in light of eternity” are game changers. When we compare our present trial to eternity, we realize how temporary the rigmarole of life actually is. No matter what we are facing, and people, I say that with much sensitivity and sympathy, understanding just how very difficult the things we face can be, but with all my being, I have to tell you that you can trudge through it with genuine joy, peace and happiness. You can take any circumstance head-on and still hold on to optimism knowing you’re in a win-win situation with the hope of eternity. My parents buried a child with that hope and my Dad passed on with that hope. And on top of it—they’ve lived the days with smiles! Authentic smiles ☺️

Your heart will feel blessed as your mind gears toward good thoughts and your mouth shares them.

2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT
For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!

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Everyday Easter

A grave can be beautiful. When Brooklyn was little she loved to go with my Mom to the cemetery to decorate the graves. It was a peaceful place, with beautiful flowers and meaningful stones. People visit to reflect on the life once lived. It’s a physical resting place in tribute of the one who once walked the earth. But I don’t like cemeteries.

I can count the number of times I have visited my brother’s and my dad’s grave sites. My very first memory of a cemetery came the day I was discharged from the hospital on July 11th 1988. You may have pictured a grand departure from the burn center, but it wasn’t. It was somber. My dad was there to take me home. (side note: my mom was home preparing the welcome home celebration).

On our way home, Dad turned into the cemetery. We pulled up beside the steps opening to the sidewalk which led to Jon’s grave. I don’t remember how my dad physically got me up to the grave. He probably carried me from the car. I do however, remember him kneeling down beside me and touching Jon’s marker. I took in the dates- January 18, 1979 to April 27, 1988. I remember Dad crying. I remember hurting inside more than the hurt I had sustained on the outside. I remember feeling empty, alone, and sadder than I believe many adults have ever encountered. I was seven.

Death didn’t claim me on April 27, 1988, but death, nevertheless, overwhelmed my life. Death has a sting. It’s realized in the days, unguaranteed and the questions, unanswered.

When we feel the grief of the grave, it is then, that we can understand the significance of an empty one.

When I celebrate the empty tomb on Easter morning, I’m celebrating from understanding the grief of a filled one.

For me, knowing Jesus overcame the grave means He overcame that dark day my brother was put into one.

In life, there is no greater defeat than death. Death is final. My mom has frequently said, “as long as we’re breathing, there is hope,” meaning, things can always change. It’s encouraging to think on such a statement when things are awry.

When the job has been lost; when the diagnosis has been given; when the spouse has forsaken or even abandoned the covenant; when the child is rebelling; when the flood waters rise and the storm keeps raging, we can remember there is still hope for better, because there is still life.

But actually, there’s more. There is hope beyond life.

We all aim to make choices we feel will result in a happy life. Even the most self-destructive of choices are made not necessarily to create misery but to escape it; all for the desire to just be happy.

So what helps us to be at peace with the life we have on this earth, even when this life has seemed pretty crummy?

It’s knowing that this isn’t all there is.

No matter what trials we face in this life, this life is nothing compared to the next.  (James 4:14)

It’s a truth applicable for every day we live, not just on Easter Sunday. It may be Wednesday, but He is still alive! The celebration isn’t confined to one day a year—it’s continually realized in the face of life’s darkest days and hardest places.

Rejecting the gift Jesus provided to us on the cross, and the victory He established on Resurrection Morning, is allowing death to accomplish the intended purpose. One choice, one choice, to accept and pronounce Jesus as Lord and Savior, conquers death and the grave forever.

This knowledge allows me to walk as an overcomer. This knowledge gives me the stride of a victor.

Scarred bodies, loved ones dead- not the end, because He rose again!

Philippians 1:20-21 NIV~ I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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Inspiring Joy

Have you ever heard someone laughing and, without even knowing what was being laughed about, you started laughing too? I have. The sound of laughter is downright funny. It’s a pleasant sound, an amusing emotion and is instantly contagious.

There is one whose sound of laughter tickles me more than any I’ve ever heard— it’s my mom’s laughter. My mom doesn’t let an opportunity for laughing pass her by. She will belt out a hearty laugh even if it’s not really that funny. Hearing her prompts an instinctive reaction in myself. I’m going to laugh whether I intend to or not. I’ll find myself questioning, “Why am I laughing? It wasn’t funny.”

1953.04.10_Mom_on_the_front_porch

My Mom in April 1953 ~ 16 months old ~ enjoying a different view very early in life, making others laugh straight from the start!

It’s more than laughter. It’s inspiration.

It’s a trait I’ve hoped to express in my own life. A couple weeks ago I received a great compliment when we were at the soccer fields for a tournament with our oldest son Jaron. Getting our tails whipped on a muddy field, my cheers were laden with positive reinforcement. As with previous posts, I’m not a sports guru, but I don’t believe we “kick ‘em while they’re down.” That was when Brooklyn leaned over to me and said, “Mom, you know that character ‘Joy’ on the new Disney movie ‘Inside Out’?” I answered,“Yes,” because I’ve watched some trailers and we can’t wait to see it on its June 19th release date, which so happens to be Brandon and my 16th Anniversary; what a perfect way to celebrate. Brooklyn continues, “Well, while everyone has a ‘Joy’ in their head, I think your ‘Joy’ character is REALLY, REALLY BIG!”

It was one of the greatest compliments I could have received from one who has observed me, studied me, and sometimes imitated me since she entered this world; my daughter. And it was a compliment that complimented the one who I have observed, studied and even imitated since I entered this world; my Mom.

My Mom’s laughter is a battle cry, an anthem to her God and a signal to the enemy that she is victorious, she is an overcomer, and not only has she won, but she still has what many people lose in a battle, her joy. My Mom’s joy is a reflection of her relationship with God.

Philippians 4:4  Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Always? It couldn’t really mean “always,” right?

תמיד, tamid, prounounced taw-meed, the Hebrew word for always, meaning constantly, ever, continually.

Could it happen? Is it true? How can it be?

My mom’s anthem goes something like this:

Susan Cochrane arrived to the scene of a tragic motorcycle accident. Her nine year-old son’s lifeless body covered on that nearby country road. When shock would overwhelm the mind to function, she surrendered to the power of the Holy Spirit Who gave her the strength to crawl into a helicopter with the burned and injured body of her daughter.

Susan Cochrane endured the unknowns of her seven year-old daughter’s injuries sustained from that accident; would she live; would she walk; would she have quality of life?

Susan Cochrane spent her life visiting doctors and therapists for her daughter’s rehabilitation, followed by visits for the care of her husband’s ailing body, as affected by diabetes and heart failure.

Susan Cochrane stood at yet another grave near her son’s, seventeen years later, burying her husband.

A widow at fifty-three, she experienced what it was, for the very first time in her life, to live alone. Even with the death of my brother, my Mom had had my Dad to crawl in bed and grieve together. Losing Dad provided solitude she was not accustomed to, nor desired.

Heartache. Grief. Emptiness. Desperation. Loneliness.

However, joy not sacrificed.

My Mom is one of the most optimistic, upbeat, enthusiastic, look-for-the-good, and hopeful people I know. And she’s my Mom! How incredibly awesome is that?! Not only do I know her, but I’m related to her, and I’m an heir to the greatest asset she could impart—her joy.

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Summer 2011 ~ One of my favorite pictures of my Mom with the kids ~ everyone has a good time when they’re with Grandma!

You may be reading this and thinking, “That is so special. I am so happy for you. God knew you needed that influence in your life for what life held for you, but I came from a bunch of negative nellies and I’m just inclined to think pessimistically.”

I’ve heard it said, “You can’t give what you don’t possess.” The Word tells us we all can live a life of joy! It’s a choice to tap into the abundant resources the Lord provides to us. Even better, it’s not contingent upon our circumstances. Being glad, having joy, living in peace are by-products of following the Lord and trusting in Him.

What a blessing I count it that I have had the privilege of seeing such joy lived before me, but if you haven’t, I pray my Mom’s Inspiring Joy, inspires you to live an inspiring life for all whom your life touches.

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Romans 15:13  I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 8:32  “And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful.

Proverbs 16:20  Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.

2 Corinthians 6:10  Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

2 Corinthians 13:11  Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.

Galatians 5:22  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Zephaniah 3:17  For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Colossians 1:11  We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,

1 Peter 1:6  So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

Philemon 1:7  Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

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Inspiring Strength

President Reagan declared fifteen major disasters in 1981. It was the same year the Hyatt Regency hotel’s walkway collapsed killing over one hundred people, leaving over two hundred injured. And it was in 1981 that the mysterious death of Natalie Wood occurred.

It was a tragic year for many, my family being one.

“You were the only good part of 1981,” so I’ve been told. It was the year I was born. It was also the year my Grandma fell, breaking her hip, the year my Grandma Cochrane underwent a mastectomy and the year my uncle passed from leukemia, only a week after my birth.

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Aunt Donna holding me — one of my favorite places to be.

What a time to come into a family; when loved ones are recovering, facing unknowns and grieving. There was too much sadness to celebrate.

Or was there?

One of the things I’ve learned from my family is that times of struggle are opportunities for increasing strength. The very time surrounding my birth was consistent with that truth; and the thirty-three-year-old woman who was burying her husband at that time has demonstrated inspiring strength to me, literally since the day I was born.

How much can one person take?

It’s a question I’ve asked many times when looking at the trials others walk through. Thirty-four years into this life has given me an unshakeable confidence. Confident in the truth: walk with Jesus; walk victoriously. He handles our unbearable circumstances, our trying seasons, our overwhelming moments.

That sounds like an easy statement from someone who appears to have a bed of roses life. However, I gained that insight, not from watching everything go “right” in life, but from watching one mountain climb after another.

There are things difficult to imagine; like losing a spouse, multiple miscarriages, unfaithfulness, burying a baby, breast cancer, brain tumor. Any one of them would be enough to do someone in. But all were had in one life. My Aunt Donna’s life.

I always knew my Aunt Donna was strong. After all, she gave me the “Tough Cookies Don’t Crumble” t-shirt when I was in the hospital. There was a strength I had to live up to. Asking, “Am I strong enough?” was merely rhetorical. Strong women are what I come from.

Those times in life when I’ve questioned my ability to withstand difficulty, I’ve revisited the image I took in at ten years old, reminding myself God is our strength when we have none. Perhaps the weakest one could ever feel, standing at a grave, a tiny casket lowered into the ground, picking up a piece of the earth and as it’s released to fall below, letting go of the little life, only fifteen months lived. She had no strength of her own that day, but God did. I stood by her and felt Him there.

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Aunt Donna with her girls– Austin Renae and Samantha Rae — Celebrating Samantha’s 1st Birthday in January 1991

It should have been enough loss for a lifetime. Unfortunately, in this imperfect world we live, this world we were never created for, there was much sadness to endure. Personal observations were avoided due to her move over six hundred miles away, nevertheless my awareness of her strength only grew.

Phone calls not only informed me of her breast cancer and then brain tumor, those phone calls also provided encouragement to hold on to our faith, unwavering in hope and assurance that He would provide. Yes, you read that correctly. She encouraged me! Even when we were prepared to hold her up, she remained solid and stood strong.

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Aunt Donna’s girls– Taylor and Maddy– leaving a legacy to the next generation, her grand babies!

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Aunt Donna and her daughter, Austin, thankful for moments together

I look at my Aunt Donna today. I’m a bit taller. She’s a bit older. But I still see that woman I nearly idolized growing up.

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One of my proudest moments was getting to share this accomplishment with her! Aunt Donna and me– May 2012 — OU College of Nursing Graduation

It isn’t hard to see why I adored her so. It’s not surprising I bought her perfume after she moved just to have a scent of her near, or that I loved jewelry and fashion and fine dining because of her influence. It’s easy to understand my desire to grow up and become a woman like her…pretty, smart and classy.

A master’s degree in education; over thirty years teaching in some of the most high-performing school districts; numerous awards and recognitions. The proof is in the pudding. She’s not held in high opinion by her niece alone. No, she is a game changer, recognized by all who have the privilege of knowing her. And it is for those who don’t that I write this post, that you may be encouraged by her inspiring strength, as I have been since those days back in 1981.

Isaiah 40:29 ESV

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.

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