If They Charged by the Memories // Virginia Weekend

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“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again; rejoice!” // Philippians 4:4

This past weekend, several of my aunts and uncles came together on the Virginia coast to celebrate my Aunt Deborah’s 60th birthday. Anytime we all get together, there is no shortage of laughter and craziness and although this trip had that, there was something different. We all felt it, I think, whether we shared it aloud or not.

Weekend in Virginia

Other than Christmas, this was the first time that we had come together since losing my grandmother and Aunt Shelia in September.

I almost didn’t even expect for it to affect me the way that it did. The last time I had been to Virginia was for my cousin’s wedding and my Aunt Shelia had driven us there. Nearly every road trip up there from my childhood was spent with either her or my Grandmother. The route from Durham to Hampton is paved with memories, laughter, and an unlimited supply of treasured moments.

Weekend in Virginia

From the moment I got into the car on Friday afternoon, their absences were felt. The majority of the drive up was spent with smiles on, laughing at all of the memories made with these two special women. I never even opened my book that I had brought to pass the time.

Throughout the weekend, we reminisced and celebrated, and it was truly what the doctor had ordered for me. There’s something about spending time with this sweet family of mine that can just restore me and fill my heart, in a way that has God written all over it. I am so grateful that he chose these people to be mine.

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On Sunday, tired but full, Aunt Kay, my mom, and I stopped by my Grandmother’s old house to run an errand and see my Uncle who had been unable to make it to Virginia. As I walked through the now empty home, I found myself overcome with all of the stories and memories that those walls held. Just in my first 24 years of life, that house had held numerous Thanksgiving dinners, countless pots of Grandmommy’s soup (also known as Brunswick Stew), and who knows how many tree climbing adventures with my cousins. The house was also where my Grandmother had her stroke and where my Aunt Shelia took her last breath and entered the kingdom of Heaven, on a September morning at 2am.

We were discussing the house being on the market and what it may be end up selling for when I found these words spilling from my lips before I even registered it, God using that moment to speak this precious reminder. I said, “It’s too bad they don’t charge by the memories.”

To which my Uncle replied, “Well, if they did, no one would be able to afford this place.”

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Oh, is that ever the truth! 

None Can Compare // Psalm 40:5

Psalm 40:5

Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. // Psalm 40:5

It can be all to easy for us to lose sight of the many amazing things that God has done in our lives. We can get so consumed by the things that we don’t have, the things that we haven’t done, and compare ourselves endlessly to those around us. Sometimes, we even find ourselves focusing so far into the future that we are unable to see the things that we have right in front of us already. The future, I’m always reminding myself, is God’s territory. If I let myself dwell too long with thoughts of what is to come, I find myself paralyzed with plans that I have no business planning.

Lately, I’ve found myself stuck in a rut of sorts. The spark that has been igniting me and this blog seems to have gone out as I struggle with writer’s block. I’ve found myself in a difficult season at work that has left me second-guessing my decisions and battling my priorities. The dust seems to have settled on this season of loss now that my family has returned home from California, but now it seems the question as I move forward is, what now? In some ways, it can be easier to seek God and rejoice in His good works through the dark and trying times. I’ve certainly had my share of those since this blog was created. But maybe what I am feeling now is a sense of uncertainty in how life is going to be now that the dust has settled.

Despite feeling so out of sorts(the rambling nature of this post is probably a dead giveaway of that), the greatest reminder I could give myself, or to anyone else for that matter, is that God has already done so much in my life, and all of our lives, and he’s never going to stop. To list out for you all of the things that He has done in my life would be far too numerous to list here. But reminding myself of His works fills me with gratitude for the past, and hope and a fervent prayer for the future.

Cleanse Your Hands and Purify Your Hearts // Ash Wednesday 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts // James 4:8, ESV

Having been raised in the Catholic Church, the tradition of Lent is one that I am very familiar with. The thing about traditions like this, though, is that it tends to bring with it some level of guilt on my part. I really never put much thought into the real meaning behind this important season in the Church. It saddens me that I went so long without pausing to really reflect and give Lent its due diligence.

Just over a year ago, I felt God calling me to leave my comfort zone of my childhood church and pursue a deeper relationship with him at a new church home. The switch brought me to an nondenominational Christian church. The church where I spent all of my formative years could not have been more different, but I truly believe that God called me to the place where I am now so that I could finally open my eyes and launch headlong into a relationship with him. What we had before was a friendship, an acquaintance-ship even. I learn something new about this great God of ours nearly every day and this blog, I hope, serves as a vessel for sharing that journey and testimony.

For years, I could tell you in a split second what I was going to be giving up for Lent. Soda. For years, I never gave that decision a second thought. Sure, giving up soft drinks would be great for my waistline, but come Easter morning, was I in a better place spiritually?

Not at all.

A couple of days ago, I came across a quote on Time.com from Pope Francis that he said in 2015. He said,

“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

What powerful words they are! Our outlook on Lent has become superficial; something we do out of obligation, not out of worship. The act of giving something up is not just something we do for a personal benefit. The practice symbolizes the abstinence from something that was leading us away from Christ and towards sin. I mean, I know soda isn’t healthy, but was it leading me away from Christ? Not necessarily.

For me, simply fasting or abstaining from something isn’t necessarily going to solely bring me to closer to God during Lent. Removal of a bad habit isn’t going to do much if I am not replacing it with a good habit. So abstaining from something that is leading me towards sin and a divide from God and not replacing it with a behavior or habit that will lead me back to Him just isn’t going to work. Rather that strictly fasting from something, I choose to do this while also adding something spiritual to my life to pray and reflect on. This might mean picking up that spiritual book that’s been gathering dust on the bookshelf, spending a few extra moments reading Scripture each day, or even leaving your car’s stereo on the Christian radio station for the commute to and from work.

I choose to see this season as a time for me to draw near to God and root myself completely in Him. While I don’t necessarily feel that we need to shout the things that we give up from the rooftops, I can appreciate the accountability that is so vital to the Christian faith. So, friends, however you choose to spend these next few weeks before Easter, I pray that you are able to find your way towards God and keep your hearts fully focused and rooted in His love.

California Dreaming // A Grateful Heart

There’s something that I’ve always loved about being the daughter of a North Carolinian and a Californian. One side of my family comes from a tobacco farming heritage and the family tree has been planted firmly in the same area of North Carolina since coming across from England in the 1700s (true story). The other side of my family come from Mexico and every story of the past seems like something ripped straight from a John Wayne film or an episode of Bonanza. The two sides could not be any more different, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. A mixture of East and West.

Last week, I spent about three days in California with my family as we laid my Grandmother to rest. It was definitely a bittersweet trip due to the circumstances of our visit, but it was still so good to see cousins, aunts, and uncles that we haven’t seen in far too long. It didn’t hurt that the rain when we first arrived washed out the smog for a bit and gave us clear views of the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains.

Southern California has significantly more Hispanic individuals than North Carolina does, so I love that there are taco shops, restaurants, and Mexican bakeries literally on every corner. We stopped at two of our favorite panaderias for some treats; one that is up the road from my late aunt’s house and another that is across the way from the site of my family’s “corral” (where all the cowboy stories originated) and where one of the workers on a previous visit actually remembered my Grandpa from when he used to stop in. I wish you could bottle the smell in this place.

One of the best moments from the day of my grandmother’s funeral was meeting her younger sister for the first time. I did a double take when she walked in because she looks so much like my grandmother did when she was in better health. Then she began speaking and she even sounded like her. It was oddly comforting to meet this woman for the first time and to have her remind me so much of my grandmother and I’m grateful that God allowed that moment to happen.

We also finally snapped a picture of all of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of my Grandma and Grandpa. They had five granddaughters and seven great-children, only one of them a girl. It’s always so comical to see how much I do not look like the rest of my cousins, aside from the hair color.

What are you grateful for this week?
This post is part of Ember Grey’s weekly Grateful Heart linkup! Click the image below to head on over to Emily’s blog and read all of the posts.
A Grateful Heart with Ember Grey

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