100

That’s a number we often associate with a perfect score on a test or a high speed on the Interstate. But rarely does someone make it to their 100th birthday.

My Mom would have been 100 today.

She was born in the small town of Jenks, OK, in 1922 following the tragic death of her brother in 1920. Her only living brother was 11 years old at the time and was angry she wasn’t a boy. I can only imagine the heartache he suffered losing his little brother and best friend at such a young age.

The family moved to Florida when she was just 9 months old. Citrus groves were a hot, new investment for farmers and my grandfather and great-grandfather took the bait.

They arrived with the whole family including two cows and a horse by train. Once here they planted 32 acres of trees that produced a healthy crop for decades.

We have been in Florida ever since, but the orange groves are long gone.

It was a sad time in our family when the 32 acres of citrus trees we had were killed in the double freezes of 1983 and 1984. Only one tree survived due to it’s location; it was next to the irrigation pump that kept the tree just warm enough to save the roots of the tree.

My grandfather had installed that pump and it felt like part of him saved the lone tree for us to have its fruit. He passed away when I was 4 and my only memories of him are his pipe, the way he teased me and his delicious creamed corn.

My Mom sold the 12 acres of dead trees in town for the city to build a public park complete with ball fields, picnic pavilions, a massive playground and boardwalk through the bald cypress trees to the lake.

The other 20 acres she replanted with tangerine and tangelo trees alongside the one lone original tree. It stood like the grandfather of the grove making sure the young trees grew healthy and strong.

They did grow well, and we loved harvesting the early fruit that ripened just in time for Thanksgiving each year. We would pick as many as we could and gave them as gifts to friends at Christmas.

Those days are gone. My Mom was unable to afford to keep it, since the cost to harvest the fruit was more than the price she’d make selling it.

I’m sad to say the grove is now a subdivision in the sprawling hills of Clermont. The only memory of our family is the name of the road—It still bears my grandfather’s last name, Oswalt Road.

My Mom and I vowed to never drive out there again. A promise I’ve kept even after she took her last breath in 2012.

Happy 100th birthday in Heaven, Mom. I miss you. 💯🥰

Beholding

I have chosen or been given a word to represent my year for at least 5 years now. Words of past years were: joy, trust, contentment, peace, faith. But this year, 2021, the word just dropped into my heart from the Lord.

It happened last New Year’s Eve. Following is an entry from my journal:

This morning I awoke before sunrise and noticed the nearly full moon shining brightly through our window. It was shining in a clear, night sky—a reflection of the sun not yet seen. I felt impressed to behold moments like these that happen everyday in the New Year (2021).

I have enjoyed this year beholding moments that bring joy or satisfaction. And they always lead me to thank God for providing such moments.

I used this hashtag throughout the year to document some of my favorite moments. #behilding2021 ❤️

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Or do you also choose a word to pursue? I’d love to hear how you approach a new year.

The Power of Words

When we moved into our neighborhood in 1992 our children were 10, 8 and 6. We had a cat named Bunny and a guinea pig named Cupcake. I homeschooled all of our kids since day one and this neighborhood was full of other homeschooling families. It was so nice to be able to plan things together and not feel so isolated.

Imagine my disappointment when we went to our first HOA meeting.

The air was so tense neighbors were using it to fling lots of complaints and insults at each other, many of which were warranted. But still. There is a positive way to say things that produce results. This was not working. I had an idea but had to ask myself if this was a challenge I was willing to take.

I asked the HOA President if he would be open to me starting a neighborhood newsletter. I told him I could say what needed to be said in a way that would be more “hearer friendly”. Since things were so volatile, he was more than will to let me try. I said I would never be on the HOA so my words would always be from one neighbor to another, not from the Board make directives to the “homemoaners”.

Our Sun newsletter began in 1999 with the byline, “helping our neighborhood shine”.

It was more of a hope than a reality. But I knew the power of words, and this was a challenge that would have tremendous rewards. Not only for our quality of life, but for our property values too.

It began as a monthly newsletter. I write a regular piece for the front page that focuses on the importance of being a good neighbor. Other regular columns are from the HOA President, the Architectural Review Board highlighting Yard of the Season, and our Neighborhood Watch report. The last page is the Kids page with seasonal jokes, puzzles and challenges.

As the years have passed we have changed the newsletter to be distributed quarterly. Some have suggested we go digital, but honestly we have found people are more likely to read a colorful newsletter dropped at their door, then they are to click a link on their computer.

Our neighborhood was established in the early 80’s. The fact that our HOA is still being run by neighbors who volunteer their time for a year commitment is an anomaly. It’s even more so that our board gets along well. When there is a disagreement we have learned how to work it through in a civil way.

Words have the power to tear down.

We’ve seen this more so on social media in recent years. And we can never take those words back. It is best to use our words to build up and say what needs to be said without a pointing finger.

Our pastor says, “Every time you point a finger at someone remember there are three more pointing back at you.” Which goes with the saying, “Better to remove the log from your own eye before going after the speck in your brother’s eye.”

We are all capable of tearing down or building up. This challenge was to see if a simple newsletter could shine the light of kindness on a battlefield and bring peace. I’m thrilled to say it did, and our neighborhood is shining all the brighter as a result.

What challenge have you taken and found positive results?

This is the 21st post in The Ultimate Blog Challenge to post everyday in November.

Waves

I was born and raised in Florida. In fact, I’ve lived here my entire life–all 62 years. It’s needless to say I love it here, heat and all!

As a child to get a break from the heat, we would go to the beach and play in the surf. When I was really small my Dad would take me by the hand to protect me from the big waves. As I grew body surfing became my favorite, even though the waves would always invariably knock me down. I would emerge from the salt bath ready to take on the next mountain of water. Laughter, waves of laughter to match the swells of the sea kept me coming back for more.

When our children were born. I taught each of them how to wave to their grandparents, whether saying hello or goodbye it didn’t matter. A wave was a connection between generations that our little ones could communicate in their own way bringing joy and laughter to all of us. These precious children were part of our growing family that caused waves of pride in our heart for them.

Once our children grew up and got married they began moving away to find their own path. With them they took our 9 grandchildren. This caused waves of sadness in my heart realizing that we wouldn’t share our day to day lives together anymore. The distance would create a void in my heart that was hard to explain, even to my husband and close friends. I was heartbroken over these unforeseen changes in my life. I cried out to God asking Him to heal my sadness, and over time He did. He caused a wave of gratefulness to flood my broken heart sealing it with His love. As each of my grandchildren would wave goodbye, I turned it into a game–the Disney Princess wave that says, “Elbow to wrist, elbow to wrist. Touch your pearls. Blow a kiss.” Waves of giggles and laughter would fight away my tears.

In the last two years our family has faced waves of grief; Grief over tragic illnesses even the medical community didn’t recognize; waves of grief over our daughter and son-in-love’s micro-preemie boy and the challenges they would face for years to come. The unknown future felt like I was little all over again facing a giant wave ready to knock me down. But this time my Heavenly Father held me tightly as I served our daughter with all I had. We learned to laugh in the face of adversity together knowing God had Elias safely in His arms. No wave was a match for His steady hand.

Finally, I’m once again dealing with waves of fresh grief.

This time it’s from my brother’s sudden passing from this life to the next. I miss him and when it hits I feel the crushing blow of it as it knocks me to my knees. I let the wave of tears flow knowing that like the tide they will roll in and roll out. No wave lasts forever and my own history teaches me that.

I’ve also come to expect laughter through the tears. I hear my brother’s voice mocking me, teasing me and joking with me always with a twinkle in his eyes. He had a way of breaking through my emotions whether it was sadness or anger, making me laugh whether I wanted to or not.

Billy, who was five years older, loved the beach as much as I did as a kid. He taught me how to body surf and not be afraid of the next wave no matter how big it appeared to me. He showed me how to dive into it allowing the wave to roll over me without effect. It worked! Laughter followed as I found a new way to face my fears with success.

I hear him now telling me to duck. These waves of grief are evidence that I loved him and the time we had together for all of my 62 years. Laughter will follow the sadness in waves too, until the Lord returns or I am called home. But for now I wipe my tears with gratefulness to God and repeat, “Elbow to wrist, elbow to wrist. Touch your pearls. Blow a kiss.”

Photo by Natalya Zaritskaya on Unsplash

My Brother, My Friend

My brother died on a Monday. It was unexpected. He was supposed to get better, but he didn’t. We were left reeling from this new reality and aware that we had to plan his Celebration of Life service. It would be small–immediate family only. But good friends made it possible for us to offer a Live Facebook of the service as well as a You Tube video available now at the bottom of this post.

Following is what I shared. I have much more to say about this experience and what God is showing me through the sadness, but not yet.

Bill Gray – 1954-2021

I want to thank all of you who are joining with us on-line how much your prayers and encouragements have meant to our family these last 5 weeks. It has been one of the hardest seasons we’ve faced and you have helped carry our burden. Words seem inadequate, but it is all we have to give. Thank you.

I am Debi Walter, Billy’s little sister, and Bettie is Billy’s older sister. I am sharing today on behalf of both of us what my brother means to us. Bettie was born in 1953, Billy in 1954 and I was born in 1959. My Dad was a pharmacist with his own store and soda fountain. It was a great time to grow up. 

Billy took great delight in teasing both of us as often as he could. But I still believe I got the brunt of most of his attention. He made up all kinds of games with the excuse of being able to tease us. Like “Flinch”. If he acted like he was going to hit you and you flinched, then you had to let him hit you. Being 5 years younger I usually let him and had the bruises to show for it. I’ve heard he was a lot like my grandfather. They both loved to fish and loved to tease those they loved—unmercifully.

Billy and his good friend invented the group hug. But it wasn’t a pleasant experience when it first began. If you were caught in the middle between the two of them it always hurt. But they laughed and I learned to laugh too. Now the group hug has become a tradition in our family whenever we are saying goodbye. No one ever knows who will end up in the middle, but the younger ones fight to be caught in the center of it all. Lots of love goes into those hugs. Like holding on tight because we don’t want to let go.

Another game was a take on the pool game Marco Polo. But instead of calling out “Marco” with your eyes closed, you called out “splash”. Wherever you were in the pool you had to splash. The idea was to tag someone making them “it”. I always managed to be “it” because I wasn’t fast enough to tag anyone, especially my brother or his friends. One time I remember being caught between two of them while they both splashed me. My brother accidentally splashed my ear and caused my ear drum to rupture. He felt bad and I felt worse because I wasn’t able to swim for the rest of the summer. I was often the casualty of his games.

It’s strange how stories from when you were young that used to cause heartache, become the very things you’re grateful for as adults. 

My brother loved me and my sister very much. But I didn’t realize this until we were adults. Being the baby of the family I know I was bratty. I most likely asked for much of the undesired attention he gave me. 

On family vacations I would always end up in the middle of Bettie and Billy in the backseat. Invariably, Billy would say, “Hey Bettie, want a fight between you and me?” And they would both start slapping me. I would cry. My Dad would yell for us to stop. And Billy would grin in my face, bragging that he got me.

Yeah, that’s what we did on road trips before iPhones, screens and DVD players were available in cars. We played games, sang songs and ate candy my Mom packed from my Dad’s candy counter at the pharmacy.

When Billy went away to The University of Florida (Go Gators!) My sister was already married to Dennis, so I was home alone. I missed him so much. And I think he missed me too. He sent me a card once that he had drawn of our toothbrushes side by side. His had racing stripes on it and He said he couldn’t wait to have tooth brushing races again. It sounds silly, but as a 15 year old this card meant so much to me. It was true the adage that says, “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. It certainly did for us.

He graduated from U of F the same year Bettie graduated from nursing school at Valencia, the same year I graduated from high school. Major events for all of us that prepared us for our life ahead.

Our family attended Powers Drive Baptist Church. This is where we made many lifelong friends. Many of whom are watching today. It was at this church where we each were saved, baptized, and married. We grew up realizing the power, love and support there is in being in a community of believers who love Jesus. We are so grateful for the impact this church and its members had on our lives.

In 1978 Billy found the love of his life, a cute blond named Sherry Newmons. He brought her home to our house for Sunday afternoon dinner. We could tell this was the one he had waited for and we fell in love with Sherry too. At this same time Tom and I began dating and got engaged too. Once again we were doing a major lifetime event together. In 1979 we got married only 5 weeks apart. My poor parents! They never complained about how difficult having two weddings so close together would be. But it was fun sharing this season of life together.

All three of us had our children at the same time, which was fun watching cousins become friends.

That’s our history. When my Dad died in 2004, my brother took on the role of caring for us in the ways my dad had—providing medical advice and help whenever it was needed. He helped us through some very frightening times, most recently with two of our grandchildren. I’m so grateful for the way he loved us, cared for us and was there for us.

My sister and her family are here today and I know if she were able she would also talk about their adventures. Bettie and Billy had a special bond. They were only 14 months apart so they did everything together. Just recently Bettie and Dennis and Billy and Sherry went on vacation to see the Ark Encounter in Kentucky. Tom and I were unable to go, but I am so glad they had this time together. The photos and memories they made are precious today.

I don’t know what the future will look like without Billy here to make us laugh, give the best hugs, share funny stories, offer support or to help us in our times of need. But I do know that Billy would tell us all—what really matters is this – make sure we know and love Jesus by living our lives for Him and his glory.

Billy is seeing his Savior face to face and I believe if he could he would say, “Whatever you do make sure you are ready when it’s your turn to enter eternity. Live for Christ! You never know when your days on earth will be over. Make every moment count!”

I’m Being Robbed

As a writer I have noticed something that concerns me. It is the affect social media is having on my limited, daily amount of creativity. All the interactions with others–their thoughts, their photos, their humorous GIFS, etc…are robbing me of my ability to write well and often.

So what do I do?

The answer is obvious, but it goes against the flow of our culture. To not be engaged on social media feels like I’m on a deserted island while everyone I know is across on another island having a party. I have never liked to miss the fun, and this is proving that to be true.

But I still have writing goals and desires.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. If social media is taking a toll on my worthwhile goals then I must rein in my freedom in this area.

I thought being home so much would have increased my writing. But I was wrong. The only thing it increased was time playing my favorite games (Words with Friends and Design Home). I know this because I have a screen time monitor that lets me know how much time I’ve spent each week on my screens.

It all comes down to discipline and making wise choices. I also need to set goals and limits on time wasted. We all need down time. But when down times begins to rob productive time, it’s time to make needed changes. This will benefit me and hopefully those who will read what I write.

My Smart Phone has a feature under screen time that allows me to limit the amount of time I use certain apps each day. I am going to start something I’ve never done before. Hold my screen time accountable.

How is screen time robbing you of creative energy?

“Take imagination breaks…Relaxed attention is one of the most important states of mind for creativity, and sometimes it has to be learned.” – Nita Leland

Let Love Live

I’ve recently been affected by friends who are facing the greatest grief this side of Heaven, the death of a loved one. My Mom and Dad both passed away around the holidays, as well as my husband’s mom, making this time of year emotional for me. I haven’t moved on from feeling the pain of the loss, but I’ve grown as a result of it.

Grief is necessary and there are no rules as to how each of us deal with it. The thing is to know what to say when a close friend or relative is facing such a loss that you’ve yet to experience. There are helpful things and hurtful things, but all mean well even if what is said brings a sting with it. This is why we often don’t know that we have hurt someone by our response to their pain. They usually don’t tell you, they just become silent and pull away.

A dear friend lost her husband last week. She has shared some of her pain on social media and many responders have said exactly what she doesn’t need to hear. “He’s in a better place”. “He would want you to move on with your life.” And so on. Instead we need to come along side those as they grieve and let them cry. The Bible provides the simplest and best advice…”Weep with those who weep.” (Period). Even Jesus did this with Mary as she grieved her brother, Lazarus’ death. And Jesus knew He was about to bring him back to life, yet Jesus paused and wept with her.

Why did He do this?

I believe He was setting us an example of how to best help someone in their suffering. Let them cry. Let them talk about their loved one. Let them continue to miss them and acknowledge that their life mattered. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, maybe even causes you to cry, this is the best we can do for those grieving.

I found this Ted Talk by Kelley Lyn titled, When Someone You Love Dies, There Is No Such Thing as Moving On. It is only 16 minutes long, but Kelley provides excellent ideas on what really helps a friend who is facing such a loss. If you or someone you know is grieving I pray this video will bring comfort to your heart this holiday season.

I kept the memory of my grandmother alive who died in 1979, by writing her story in my historical fiction novel, Through The Eyes of Grace. It is my tribute to the woman who had such a profound influence on my life and all who knew her. Doing such things let’s love live through our memory of those who have passed away.

May this Christmas season be one where you receive tidings of comfort and joy, even if joy seems far away at the moment.

Unexpected Inspiration


Her attention to detail was barely noticed by the gathered crowd from various parts of the eastern seaboard. We were an unlikely group except we had two things in common: we were women, and we were waiting to use the restroom. This woman, employed by South Carolina’s Welcome Center, certainly had her hands full–the line wrapped around the building, yet her heart embraced her calling with joy and grace.
We talked briefly. She explained how bad she felt for the bus load of special needs adults who took extra time to do what we were all there to do as quickly as possible. She looked away speaking kindly to the old woman with the walker making sure she had a clean stall and toilet paper. 

She continued, “I hope I don’t need this kind of care one day, but if I do, I’m sure someone will be there for me as I have been for others.”

“I hope so too, ma’am! And thank you for making a difference.”

“Have a blessed day!” She said ducking her head in another stall to sanitize it.

Oh I will, I thought, because of your inspiring example.

“As you did to the least of these you’ve done it to Me.” Matthew 25:40 (paraphrased)

The Boost of a Dozen Reviews at Once

Thankful.jpg

It’s been three years since I last attempted to begin my second book. When I put it on hold, I knew God would show me when the time was right to start.

My time may have arrived.

As I mentioned in my last post, I was privileged to attend a local ladies book club in Marietta, GA, where they had chosen my book to read for the month of September. I was hopeful to hear their thoughts and questions at their monthly meeting this past Tuesday night. I was not disappointed.

I was relieved and grateful to discover the atmosphere in the group was casual and friendly. The ladies seemed to really enjoy my grandmother’s story, and to sit among all this excitement and hear their questions was such an amazing honor for me, not to mention a much needed boost.

I found out things they are hoping to discover in the next book. I was surprised that there are some characters they are hoping to hear more from that I had planned to never mention again. Imagine! Some of my fictional characters stirred enough interest to make them want to find out more about them.

So it begins…as I prepare to dust off my historical/fiction writing skills, I’m as excited to see how it all turns out as much as my readers are to read about it. Knowing there are readers who really care about my grandmother and what happens to her next is quite a blessing and one that would have made my mom proud.

Special thanks to the Ladies Book Club in Marietta, GA, for blessing me with this much needed boost! 

(I was so excited I failed to take a single picture! For those of you who know me that never happens!)

Excited and Curious


I am on my way to Atlanta where I will be sharing with a book club that has been reading my book this month. I’m very excited to hear their thoughts and questions. I’m thinking this may be the jumpstart I need to begin the second half of Grace’s story.

I just re-read my book in order to help me hear Grace’s voice as I consider the next events in her life and how best to share it. Curious, do you have any questions you’d like to ask? I’d love to hear!