Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Hope of Baby Jesus

Christmas is here and what a special and magical time of the year it can be for many.

For others, however, it can be full of bittersweet emotions and they have just learned to roll with the holiday in front of them and all the feelings that go with it.

Holidays, and especially Christmas, definitely have a different feel to them in my house since Noah died. Gone is his laughter, his anticipation of what was under the tree for him and his excitement of running to see what Santa had surprised him with on Christmas morning.

When Haleigh Raye and Noah were younger they loved the decorations that went along with Christmas. We always did the best to adorn the house (even though I, being very uncrafty and uncreative, usually ((always)) needed assistance.) Not only did they seem to enjoy the house being festive, they LOVED playing with the decorations. I would find the cute little Hallmark ornaments being regifted from one American Girl doll to another and the singing Santas never knew what their daily agenda might entail.

But, now, those are distant memories that only my thoughts and pictures can make come alive again and, oh, how I miss tripping over Barbie's jeep as she and Santa were out on a late night cruise through the living room.

Haleigh Raye has asked for a "magical Christmas" this year and we have aimed to please her in our home but we we also wanted to do more this year at the cemetery. More for us than for Noah.  I wanted to include things he had a part in from our house but didn't want to risk anything being damaged so I was selective in my choosing. We gathered our things, picked up our donated live tree and set off to the cemetery. A Sunday afternoon, filled with Christmas music playing in the background, quickly passed while cleaning the Lego headstones and decorating.

For the tree I chose a cup similar to the one he would make his famous chocolate milk in and also an ornament he and Haleigh Raye purchased for me, as a fundraiser, when our church was in a building campaign for our children's building.

I also brought out one of my kids' most treasured Christmas traditions. The nativity set. They loved to play with it. They would act out the birth of Jesus over and over. The wiseman made the long journey of our hallway more times than I could ever count and Noah had down pat the sound of a donkey. They would play with it so much but their favorite was the baby Jesus. I would find him everywhere. From the shower to under the bed to being hauled around on a Tonka Truck, baby Jesus definitely had his own share of adventures at our house at Christmas. I would be aggravated when baby Jesus would not be put back to his manager scene. I would go, find him and explain to the kids how he needed to be back with Mary and Joseph. Was it really that hard to remember?

All those memories came back to me as I placed the baby Jesus the one place I never thought I would.

 At my son's grave.

And as quickly as a sadness came over me so did a hope. A hope that fills me when I return to the heart of what I believe. Jesus didn't become complacent and stay in the manager. Just as that figurine baby Jesus was all over my house so is the real Jesus. The one whom the grave couldn't hold. Because Noah put his faith and trust in Him, the grave doesn't hold him either.

And that is joy. That is peace. That is God's grace and His mercy that only He can give.

How I will spend this Christmas is a way I never thought I would but there are still blessings to be found, love to be given and hope in an eternal future that can never be taken away. I wish I was still finding ornaments all over my house but I'm thankful I know how the entire story goes and where that baby Jesus and my own baby ended up.

My prayer for you, this Christmas, is for love and peace to find you wherever you are. 
From our family to yours may you have a 
Happy, HAPPY Christmas! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

If I had one more day...

What a busy time it has been....with a really good summer and an overseas trip under our belt....

We have started a new school year....

8th grade for this girl. Like all parents, it is so hard to believe she's 14. A year away from high school, two years away from being driver license elgible and 4 years away from quite possibly moving off to the life of college. 

At 38 I never thought I would be thinking about empty nest syndrome but me, being the planner and worrier I am, I'm already thinking about it and a new whole new set of worries come on. 

Not only did a part of me die when Noah died...a part of our story died. When we have children we have so many grand adventures planned for them. Yes, he lived a decade but he lost the chance at a future...and I feel like I lost a lifetime with him. More times than I care to count I find myself wishing for just one more...one more of anything but especially just one more day.....

If I had one more day 
I would wake up early throw open the windows 
and let the sun in
and excitedly tell you, "it's a new day!"
Or if the forecast was full of rain
I would dig out our rain coats and galoshes
and play outside anyway. 
I'd fly a kite, I'd fly your plane, I would lay and just look at the clouds,
look at the sky and look at you.
If I had just that one more day. 
I would hug you so tight until you probably ran away
I would let you do that one more swim, one more jump, or one more bike ride.
But this time...I would do all that and a thousand other things with you
If I had just one more day. 

Noah Dean,

I miss you more than words could ever convey. Even though your gone I think of you no less than when you were physically here with me. Your name flows with Haleigh Raye as it did for years and I often imagine how you would react to things going in. I've pictured you waving me off as I drop you off for a day at school and I've replayed our reunions when the 3:00 bell rings. I hope you can hear my daily good mornings, my nightly good nights and words in prayers are relayed to you. I can't wait to hear Haleigh Raye's laugh and see her face the only way you could do. You are still so loved and that will never change. 

Until we have that one more day that never ends,


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Tribute Video

Just recently we had an amazing night with Sidewalk Prophets. They were the guests for a fundraiser for a local organization. They also got to come out and see the bench that was dedicated to Noah and Nate at their school at Cornerstone Academy.

I was asked to serve on the committee to help organize the evening. It turned out to be a great evening. We were asked to put together a tribute video to the lives of Noah and Nate and their family. I wanted to share it on my blog for others to see especially for those who didn't know the boys in person to give a glimpse into their lives.

Noah Dean and Nate Act

Often I will get an email through my blog asking questions about Noah and what happened to him and his friend Nate.  I post regularly on my Facebook what is going on with things in our life that I forget there is other people who stumble across my blog so I wanted to put an update about things going on. We've had a busy, busy spring to say the least.

To make a long story short it took me a long time to process what happened to Noah. Once that started sinking in I wanted to learn more especially when I realized this could have been prevented. I became a board member of Electric Shock Drowning Prevention Association.  This put us in touch with another parent who was working on a legislation in their state of West Virginia to help make marinas safer. Once I saw their bill signed into a law I immediately wanted to do something similar in Tennessee.

A lot of people think a wire was hanging in the water and that is what killed Noah and Nate but that is not actually the case. The boat the boys were swimming around was leaking too much electricity from improper wiring. The boat was plugged into the marina which had no grounding and that is one of the basic elements of electricity safety. So, in essence, the problem was with the boat and the responsibility fell to the marina. The marina should have had a GFCI (ground fault circuit interruptor) to shut off the flow of electricity once the level became too high. It didn't. The boat had numerous faults as well.

While it can be hard to educate every single boat owner about proper wiring we started with the marinas to make them safer across the state. Some marinas wanted to participate in this and actually install more safety measures. Some didn't. That is where the legislation became important.

We worked with TVA, TWRA, our local representatives and the Dept of Commerce and drafted a bill. Over a year of negotiations took place with all sides having to compromise. I even had the chance to go speak at the Senate in favor of our bill when I felt we were losing ground due to money.

After a year long effort, we passed the house and the senate. A copy of our bill, along with the votes and videos, can be found here.

Just recently we had our official governor signing of the Noah Dean and Nate Act. It was definitely a bittersweet day.

I am still amazed at how far we came in such a short amount of time but I feel this was a process God was most definitely a part of. There were doors that were opened for us and all we had to do was simply walk through. As scared and as afraid of failure as I was I obeyed His lead and slowly realized I was just a vessel to what He could do.

We hope our bill educates others who are avid lake lovers. It is still our desire to keep educating others about the do's and don't's of lake safety. Most importantly, we hope Noah's and Nate's testimony is shared. Their love of life, their love of family and friends and their childlike faith that secured their eternal future.

If you have any questions about ESD or any other related information please don't hesitate to contact me by clicking on my name on the home page.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

And we continue on...

It's been almost 2 years since I received the phone call that changed my life, my faith and my focus. 

The days and months that followed were a blur and there were so many times I wanted to give up and give in. But there was something in me that just wasn't quite ready to do that as tempting as it sounded. 

So I decided, despite the circumstances, to continue on.

Maybe it was a desire to preserve even in the face of adversity.

Maybe it was the stubbornness in me to show those that doubted me, as a person and as a mother.

Maybe it was a legal battle I was in the middle of that I was willing to see to the end. 

Quite possibly it was the determination to do something more with Noah and his legacy so that he would not be forgotten and be more than "that boy that was electrocuted on a holiday at the lake."

Perhaps, most importantly, it was my daughter who didn't die and would look at me with questionable eyes wondering if she would lose me next. 

Most assuredly it was a combination of all those. I would love to say my journey was full of faith from day one. But...I can't...because it wasn't.

Oh, there was faith and there was trust but there wasn't the complete willingness to hand over my life to God completely and, without that, there was little God could do with someone like me. 

My faith is still, very much, a work in progress. I'm learning more and more every day and I am AMAZED at the doors God has opened for us. During this time we have had burdens on our hearts that we just couldn't ignore and wouldn't go away. From passing a VERY COMPLICATED PIECE OF LEGISLATION to working with local non profit organization to do a fundraiser and at the same time do a memorial video to Noah and Nate before Sidewalk Prophets took the stage and even bringing them to Cornerstone Academy to meet Noah's and Nate's class who helped with the garden and bench in their memory. 

We've been able to educate boating officers, marinas and I've even went back to do a few things I did pre July 4th, 2012 and...it felt good. Hard, at first, but good. 

When I say AMAZED I mean AMAZED, IN AWE and sometimes I stand with my mouth wide open at what has been accomplished. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, we were just a vessel for Him and had I not handed over that control I can't help but wonder where I would be. 

I've got some mighty prayers warriors that I rely on especially when there is something very specific I am praying for. One of them sent me this verse last year and declared it for me on my behalf. 

I laughed at first thinking how in the world can I be used. I'm broken, I'm a sinner and I've fallen such short of the grace that has been doled out to me. 

But if I thought I was anymore than I'd be cutting God short on what He does best. 

Making something out of nothing for His glory. 

There are so many things I don't understand about my life and why I am where I am. But there is now a peace and that is what I rest in. 

This weekend I start a new chapter in my life. I am so excited (a little nervous) but more than anything I am so anxious to see what God is going to do next because I know I will do all I can to pray myself through to stay in the center of His will and, in the end, Noah's there waiting. Just like his headstone says "our puzzled hearts will soon be replaced when we see your big brown eyes and smiling face." I can see and hear him now, "Moooommm! This place is so cool! There is so much to show you!" And all those questions, all those "why's", all those "what if's" won't even matter. There will be a new life to live and "the old world, with all its tumults and troubles, will have passed away."

But for now...we must continue on. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mary was all in...Am I all in?

Standing near the cross was Jesus's mother - John 19:25

I think about Mary. A lot. And especially with it being Easter weekend I think of her more and more.  As a mother, I try to imagine what thoughts went through her mind as she experienced God's work first hand time and time again. 

No matter the task, no matter what was ahead, no matter what she had just went through Mary was "all in" for God's plan. 

She gave of herself, of her family, her own son. 

And she was still "all in."

I have often wondered, after the angel appeared to her, did she really know what was going to be asked of her for the rest of her life. 

Probably not. But that didn't matter. 

Because she was still "all in." 

Oh, if I had the "all in", that Mary did. 

Her appearances in the Bible are limited so it can be hard to get to know Mary. But what a testimony Mary carried on as a mother, as a wife, as a woman. She was willing to follow through with God's plan for her life no matter what it would cost her and cost her it did. From going through the disgrace as a unwed mother to caring for the Son of God in a day to day manner. She was there when he was born and she was there when He died. Her life had much honor but with it came much suffering.

Am I willing to be "all in" for God's plan? So many times I say I am open to whatever God has in store for me but in the back of my mind I am putting that into a neat little box that looks and feels good and I am limiting what works can be done in my life. 

And by doing that, I'm not really "all in." I've got one foot in and one foot out trying to balance myself and hearing myself say, "Here I am God. I will do this, this and this but don't ask me to do that because I can't." 

I want to strive to be "all in." God chose Mary because He knew she was "all in" and in it for the long haul.

How many times have I missed out on a call for my own life because I wasn't really "all in."

 "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." - Ephesians 3:20

Hold on...Sunday is Coming

Today was the first day I have had in a long with not a list of items that needed to be taken care of immediately. What a week we have had. Our bill, the Noah Dean and Nate Act (which I will blog about soon so everyone understands exactly what the bill says) was just passed unanimously in both the TN House and the Senate. Then we were off to speak at a boating conference in Nashville, TN about Electric Shock Drowning, which is what took my son's life. 

For so many months after Noah died I was scared to learn what happened to Noah. The words electricity and electrocution kept coming up and I had these horrible, horrible visions in my head and all I wanted to do was push them as far away as I possibly could. I was in that childlike state of mind that "if I don't think about it, it didn't happen." 

Well, of course, like most things in life we usually try to run from, what really happened that day caught up to me. Reality without Noah was setting in and I began to read more news reports and hear more information about that day. About that same time TWRA had closed their investigation of our case and they met with me over their findings. Then I met my friend, Angela, who also lost two children in the lake on July 4th in Missouri. I believe all those happened in a sequence of events that showed me God was at work. I can't imagine them happening any sooner or any later. If they had, I don't think we would be where we are today. 

And today, well today feels good, not great and not just ok, but good. That feeling helps me reflect on what I've learned these past 21 months without Noah. And I hope with all I have in me these feelings are ones I never, ever forget because these 3 things, along with many others, have helped to sustain me:

Trust. Trust can be questionable. Trust can be broken. But trust can be regained. 

Hope. Hope can seem unreachable. Hope can seem lost. But hope can be realized...again. 

Faith. Faith can be wavered. Faith can be shattered. But faith can return. 

And...I don't just mean these in God, even though, all three of these have been very challenged with God for me, I mean these to apply to ourselves, to each other, to life. If a circumstance causes us to lose one of these it's ok I've realized. We just can't lose it forever in everything. We can lose trust in someone that has hurt us but we can't lost trust in all people. We may feel hopeless in a certain situation but we can't feel hopeless in all situations. And faith. Our faith may be challenged like we never dreamed possible like mine was on July 4, 2012 and the months that followed and sometimes this is the hardest of all for me but faith can return and be more to us than it ever was before. I know mine is. 

I still cry. I still have nightmares. I still have those mornings when I wake up where, for a few seconds, I forget he's gone. I still lay in bed some days and just grieve over what is and what should be with Noah. And those are the times I am humbled and I am broken and I remember the One who also can understand and relate to my suffering, my agony and my pain because He felt it too only His was given willingly.

"No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." 
John 10:18 

As this Easter comes and goes may we remember what was done for us voluntarily so that we may have a day where there is no more suffering, no more agony and no more pain. 

It may be Friday and it may look like death prevailed but hold on...

And...onward we go.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

When are we blessed?


How many times have we said that word.

Now, if you live in the south, that is a word that is used…often. 

"Bless it." "Bless their hearts." "Bless you."

What does a blessing look like?

Well, it's different for each of us as individuals and even when each of us is put together as a whole to make up a church, a group, a community or even a nation. It depends on who is speaking, their background and what their point of view is. 

But when we use the term "blessed", are we using it too loosely?

Or are we setting around waiting for blessings to bestow us that we become immune to the blessings that are right before us. 

I will admit  I cringe a little when I hear someone on the t.v, after a devastating storm or tornado, say how blessed they are as they stand in front of their house that is still standing. The camera will then zoom to their neighbor's house who is demolished. Nothing left. So…what is the person being interviewed saying. They were chosen but their neighbor was not? God loved them more so he spared their house and basically said, "to heck with the others."

The more intimate my relationship with God becomes, the more my prayers are prayed with scripture, the more I realize that no, it doesn't work that way. Yes, God can do anything He wants. He can have complete control anytime He wants but I don't believe He always exercises it. I don't know why and, believe me, I've questioned it many times in my life but never like I have since July 4, 2012. God could have saved Noah. But He didn't. Does that mean I'm not blessed because my son didn't make it? Does it mean Noah's life didn't matter because it wasn't spared? 

The answer is a resounding "no" to both of those. Sounds like a pretty easy and simple answer but to be perfectly honest that answer is still a work in progress for me. I find myself angry, bitter, resentful and feeling anything but blessed at times. I can't help but wonder if we overusing the word or not using it to its full extent. 

The events that led to Noah's death could have been prevented on the side of the boat and on the side of the marina. Did either of those ever feel "blessed" because, prior to July 4th, they had gotten through with a shortcut and maybe didn't have to either spend more money or more time to be proactive and take precautions? 

Blessed is a strong word especially when Christians use it. Each of our blessed statuses may look different because of what our heart is searching for. 

But there is one blessing that we, as Christians on earth, can't ever truly comprehend. It is one we don't have to compare to anyone else's because it is equal for all of us. It's immeasurable and sometimes the depth of it can be inconceivable. The blessing of grace. The blessing of mercy. 

As we reflect during this season of Lent may we be open to prepare our hearts to receive the blessing that is not done on our own but only one the resurrection can give us and then may we feel truly blessed.

Monday, February 10, 2014

We adjust and we learn, we embrace or we endure

Grief, at times, does allow us to enjoy the memory of a moment gone by or the feeling of a dream of the deceased one. Somewhere in that, however, we realize that feeling won't last forever.

When I have described my grief I always say 

"It's like being the sickest one has ever been and going to the medicine cabinet or to the doctor and knowing nothing can make the pain go away."

As one begins to heal and learn to cope with (or become numb to) the pain, it is also realized that this moment of pain won't last forever. 

In grief, in joy, in hurt, even in times of indifference moments don't last forever. 

It is up to us to adjust and learn to embrace or endure the moments we are given. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Memory of Moments Gone By are the Memories that Keep Us Forging Ahead

Another 4th is upon us and February is here. It feels like it came out of nowhere. I mean it shouldn't really. As soon as the Christmas decorations were down in retail stores Valentine's Day decorations went up. Of course, in my house, Valentine's Day became a thing of the past when 2002 rolled around for that is the day Noah Dean made his presence into this life. Memories are abundant all year round but especially so during this time. 

Memories of birthdays celebrated. 

Memories of smiles, laughters and lots of presents.

And how could I ever not embrace the moment of the first time I met him. 
Yes, at 1:06…IN THE MORNING!

I was there to welcome him into this world

And I was there when we told him goodbye. 

There wasn't enough time in between. 

At times I'm so angry at the negligence and haphazard approach that took Noah's life. 

Other times I'm so focused and my path is clear.

Then I find myself in anguish because, while it is fulfilling to be able to make changes and save lives, it hurts to know I couldn't save my own son when he needed me. 

But, at times like now, when I should be shopping and party planning, all I know is that

I miss Noah and I want him home. Where I am. Now. 
Not where I will be later on for eternity.  

“For in grief nothing "stays put." One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if I am on a spiral am I going up or down. - C.S. Lewis

Noah Dean Winstead 

2-14-2002 - 7-4-2012


A million things I wish I could say to you. Your legacy remains. Your testimony lives on. You've done more through your life and death than some people do in a lifetime. The world missed out on you leaving us so soon. I will do all I can to take care of your sister (she's all teenager now though so keep that in mind.) I saw the love and protection you had over her and you continue to do that even in death. I love all my preschoolers at church. I try to pour into them so much. I remember you and your sister during those times. Those are the years, with you, that were not stolen from me. 

There is so much emptiness with you gone but I will work towards fulfilling that…all in your memory and all in your honor. When I didn't think I could love and miss you more I wake up to a new day and I do. When you see me smile and laugh your memory isn't far for I do believe that is when you are closest. 

Happy Birthday son. I wish I was celebrating with you but there are things to do and miles to go before I sleep and, for now, we have our love, we have our memories and…I will meet you in my dreams.  



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Count it all joy

Happy 2014 to you and yours. Hopefully your resolutions are starting to get off the ground and you don't lose sight of the goals you want them to produce for your new year. 

For a few months now I have been asking myself what goals do I have for myself personally. My greatest roles in life are being a mother, family member, friend and employee. So what should I be aiming towards to grow in myself so that I may fulfill those other responsibilities that I am thankful for and treasure immensely. Many times I found myself going back to this scripture: 

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.  But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." James 1:2-4

This is a verse I hear. ALOT. And, until recently, I questioned it thinking, "God I am suffering. I am hurting. I am bitter and I feel I am barely making it at times. Where are you? Where were you on July 4? How can I count this all as joy?" After months of wrestling with these thoughts I slowly realized I was not looking at the bigger, fuller picture. I was only looking at the current feelings I was facing. And, to be honest, I don't blame myself for that. The loss of anyone is devastating. I don't think it matters if it was expected or if it was as sudden as Noah's death was. And the loss of a child is something we, as parents, never anticipate when we welcomed that child into the world. It seems backwards. It is backwards.

So…to "count it all joy" almost seemed laughable. 

Until I envision the perfect, end result.  

This life is just a trial and I pray daily that when I look back from eternity this suffering will have only seemed like the blink of an eye. 

I don't know what everyone's situation is. I don't know what you face daily. I know this will be a daily battle for me and won't be easy. To write all this up on a page seems so tidy and neat.  I have so much bitterness I have to let go of and so much forgiveness to give to someone who shows no remorse before I can achieve that perfect end result. It will be a work in progress for me personally and one I will deal with daily.  

Life is full of trials but we can not give up and I can not give up on working towards the end result. In the words of my beloved pastor we have to 'keep on keeping on.' And that is perseverance. That is steadfastness. That is faith. Faith in ourselves, faith in others and faith in a future where we will have a perfect end result.