Katie, Colton, Conner & Jeff

Katie, Colton, Conner & Jeff
My soul mate, Jeff, and Katie, Colton and Conner, the three gifts from God that call me "Mom"

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Missing Piece of Christmas

Well, ready or not . . . Christmas Eve has arrived.  The stocking have been hung; presents have been bought; holiday greetings have been mailed; and the jolly, old, elf is readying himself for a midnight ride.  As I get older, I am amazed at how quickly the season now rolls around each year.  The days quickly turn into weeks, and before we know it, another holiday season is upon us.

It seems that some years are more bittersweet, and this year has been one of those years.  So many of my good friends, my "framily," have lost loved ones.  I, too, lost my stepbrother back in May, and it is going to be strange not having him with us this year.  Just in recent days, friends have buried loved ones.  Some lost loved ones after long illnesses, and some lost precious ones suddenly.  This Christmas will have a void that truly never goes away.  There is a missing piece of Christmas; an empty seat at the table; a silenced voice in the laughter; a longed-for hug that will never again be experienced.

My missing piece of Christmas has been a result of the loss of my mother in 2006.  This is an emptiness that time doesn't fully heal.  The loss of my dad in 1984 hit me hard, but nothing like the loss of my mother, my best friend.  Additional pieces of Christmas are also missing with the loss of Jeff's parents, my brother, dear friends and other family members.  I truly do not know how people survive these losses without a faith.  Faith is what pulls us through the sadness, and somehow, we smile through the tears.

So, as we prepare to enjoy the festivities of the season, it is okay to acknowledge that there is a missing piece of Christmas.  It is natural to have feelings stirred by sweet memories or the lyrics to a holiday tune.  Loss is a part of this life, but that loss is only temporary.  Again, as I get older, I am so looking forward to those reunions with my loved ones that have already journeyed into eternity.

I dedicate the words of this poem to my sweet mother . . . and to anyone else that has a missing piece of Christmas this year.

"The Missing Piece of Christmas"
by Darlene Sweet (2017)

The years have continued to pass;
No, time has not stood still;
The holly hangs on the mantle;
And Santa still merits a thrill.

Visions of sugar plums still dance
In the dreams of little girls and boys;
Time well spent with family;
The magical season is still filled with joys.

Binges of watching holiday classics;
Finding something yummy to bake.
Treasures found in ambrosia, peanut butter fudge,
And of course, your scrumptious jam cake. 

Yet, my heart aches for something
Someone that left long ago.
That void is never really filled,
And the emptiness continues so.

Something has gone away,
And it can never come back again.
Sadly, that something is you,
My precious mother, my friend.

You are the missing piece of Christmas,
And it will sadly never be the same.
There’s just an ache here, without you.
In my heart, there is such a pain. 

I see you in the memories
of ornaments and in photos of days past.
I hear you in my children’s laughter,
Yes, those memories do last.

The scent of you still lingers
In a bottle of your perfume.
Sometimes I spray it on me,
Making it seem that you are in the room. 

I feel you in my heart,
Although I know that you’re not here;
But you left a piece of your heart with me,
Christmas time makes that so very clear.

Flowers left on a grave stone
Don’t seem adequate enough
To cover the love that was shared by us,
To show Christmas is so much more than stuff.

So, packages will be opened,
We’ll be filled with Christmas cheer.
But the missing piece of Christmas
Returns year after year. 

What I wouldn’t give to have you,
Just once more here with me.
To have just one more holiday
But that will never be.

Yet, I know that one day soon,
The missing piece will be found,
And we will have eternity together,
While listening to angel sounds.

There will be no more sadness,
There will be no more pain,
We will walk hand in hand together,
Down that golden lane.

Merry Christmas!  May God hold you in His hand and give you peace and comfort!


Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 -- Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?

There are moments in life that stay with us forever.  Happy moments, such as being baptized, or the birth of our children, or our marriage.  Days filled with laughter and happiness, that we carry in our hearts always.  Sad moments, such as losing a loved one, betrayal by a friend, or devastated dreams; broken hearts and tear-stained cheeks.  Then there are moments that change us forever.  There are those events that we know will never allow life to return to its former state; those moments that shake us to our core and cause us to question.  Why?  How?  Questions only to be followed by sorrowful "if onlys" and "what ifs," that would never be fully answered.

September 11, 2001 was such a day, and the horrific events of the day were such events.  All of us, who were old enough to fully experience that day, know the gut-wrenching pain felt on that day.  It was a day when we saw the magnitude of horror that man could do to a fellow man, and on that day, we saw hope in the sacrifice that men and women did for their fellow brothers and sisters.

All of us who remember the day so well, also well remember where we were when, as Alan Jackson so descriptively wrote, "the world stopped turning".  I was in a car, heading to our office in Franklin.  The car radio's music was silenced, as news of a plane crashing into one of New York's World Trade Center towers was announced.  There was confusion, and question on the air.  As I continued my drive south, I thought about the people on the plane, and wondered if there were any survivors.

By the time I reached the office, there was a group of co-workers huddled around a computer screen.  I remember Jeff telling me that a second plane had hit the second tower of the World Trade Center, and there were more planes believed to have been highjacked.  The nation was on emergency alert.  This was a terror attack on American soil.

Unsure of how the events of the day would continue to unfold, Jeff sent me back north, to get the children.  He said he would feel more comfortable if we were all at home together to ride out the horror of the day.  So, I packed up my work things, and got back in the car, just as news of the crash at the Pentagon aired.

As I drove back toward Nashville, I felt numb.  News of the towers falling seemed surreal.  How could these huge towers just fall?  How many people were trapped?  People were actually jumping?  How could this be?

I remember arriving at the boys' school, along with many other parents.  I collected two very surprised little boys -- Colton in 2nd grade, and Conner in pre-school.  I shielded them from the news as much as possible, saying we just decided to have a day at home together.  We picked up Katie, and got home by late morning.  As we ate lunch, I purposely kept the television off.  I somehow wanted the innocence that my children felt to last, although I knew it could not.

By the time that Jeff got home, we put a movie on for the children in the playroom, and we went to the other end of the house to get an update.  The news was unbelievable.  We had friends in New York with MetLife, and no one could get any information on their statuses.

Jeff and I were glued to the television, when we realized that we were not alone.  Six little eyes were behind us.  The innocence of their childhood was changed.  We carefully and generally explained that something bad had happened, and that many people were hurt.  I remember Colton's little face, asking me such a poignant question -- "Mommy, why would anyone want to hurt other people?"  It was almost too much to take, and I remember just hugging him and crying.  Little Conner was too young to understand, but he clung to me tightly, as well.  Even Katie understood that something was very wrong.  It was as if Jeff and I just wanted to cocoon our little family away from the rest of the world. 

By evening, prayer vigils had been set across the country, and the five of us headed to Madison Church of Christ.  I remember so clearly the faces, blank with shock; the tears; the sobs; the holding hands; and the prayers.

The days following were filled with hope, as survivors were found in the rubble.   The days were filled with happiness of finally hearing from so many of our friends in New York.  The days were filled with immense sadness of the reality of the loss of that day.  The days were filled with fear of what would come, as a result.

Yes, 9/11/01, was a day that we were forever changed, as a nation and as individuals.  It was a day that brought us together as a nation and as individuals.  It didn't matter the color of one's skin, or the lifestyle one lived, or the size of one's bank account.  We were all united, and we were all Americans.
I remember thinking that unity, love and compassion were probably some of the very few positives that had come from the tragedy.

So now, fifteen years later, we remember.  For some, it is a daily struggle to continue living without loved ones that perished that day.  For some, today is a hateful reminder of such massive loss.  For many, it should be a day to remember that unity that the tragedy inspired.  But we don't always want to remember.  Maybe we should.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day?? IDK. Maybe . . .

July 4th.  Our nation's Independence Day.  So much more than fireworks, cook-outs and outings on the lake.  The day that the American colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and declared their independence from Great Britain.

But what is independence?  Simply defined, independence is freedom from outside control or support.  So, in reality, is independence -- whether on a whole, or individually, truly attainable?  I don't know.   From the time we are born, we are (hopefully) learning various forms of independence.  From learning to walk unassisted to learning to talk and dress ourselves, our dependence upon others lessens -- or does it?  Again, I don't know.

Humans are, by nature, self-centered creatures, and that nature often is dependent upon other people or other things. We want what we want, when we want it.  Think of a baby.  He cries because he's hungry, and he wants food now.  He screams because he is wet, and he wants a dry diaper now.  He wails because he wants attention, and he demands it now.  Of course, we expect that from an infant, but does it really go away, as we age?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

A few days ago, I witnessed such a display of selfishness at a pool.  A sweet little girl was so happy to be enjoying an afternoon of play and fun at a beautiful, resort pool.  She splashed on the steps.  She danced to the music on the clubhouse radio.  She was having a grand time, until her mother began packing up, indicating that it was time to leave.  The sweet, charming nature of the little dark-haired girl was immediately replaced with a devilish brute of a child that screamed and stomped, "I don't want to go!"  The screaming and stomping went into a full-fledged fit, and the mother begged and pleaded with the child to calm down.  (Of course, my parenting style would have been a bit different, perhaps, truly giving the child something for which to scream; but that is another topic, for another day!)  Seeing this child in the throws of a tantrum was not pleasant, but it reminded me of how, so often, we base our happiness on others and our dependence upon them.  This child was dependent upon a mother who had chosen a time to leave the pool.  The little girl knew she couldn't stay there alone, but rather, would try to dissuade her mother to remain.  She was exerting her independence in the only way that she knew.

Is this really so different than our actions, sometimes, as adults.  We want what we want when we want it, and it is usually NOW!  Although, hopefully we do not throw tantrums (right!), we do often resort to a variety of tactics to get our way.  We are also dependent upon things, people, addictions, whims, desires.  You name it, and we are dependent upon it.  Our happiness depends on a good job; a handsome boyfriend; a fast car; a strong, investment portfolio; an Ivy-league education; the proverbial house with a white-picket fence.  We thrive when we are able to keep up with the Joneses, or the Browns, or the Kardashians -- whoever the familial flavor of the month currently might happen to be.   So, if our happiness and livelihoods are so dependent upon such, are we truly ever independent?  I would say, no.

Some dependence can be healthy.  I depend upon my husband for so much.  He is my best friend; he's the father of my children; he's the main financial provider for our family.   He also depends upon me.  It's a partnership.  I depend upon my friends, and they, in turn, rely on me.  It's what we do -- we "do life" together.  I depend upon my church family, and we hold tight during troubled times.  A "village" can take on many forms, but villagers depend upon one another.

As I think of this Independence Day for our country, I am sad.  I'm sad because I still believe that we live in the greatest country in the world; however, this country has declared its independence from God in so many ways.   So many of us in this country have simply pushed God aside.  We live by our own rules, and God's way is seen as old fashioned and outdated.  So many of us have lost any perception of a need for God.  We seek to be free to do what we want, and to be whoever we want to be.  It's our right.  It's our freedom and our perceived independence, and it's in those freedoms and liberties, that many have become liberated from God.

In contrast, true freedom or independence comes only in a dependence in God.  Things will fade, rust, and lose usefulness.  People will disappoint, desert, or even die.  We will often fail ourselves miserably.  We simply cannot keep all of the balls in the air -- no matter how much we pretend to be in control of every minute of every day of our lives.  It is only when we gain a total dependence upon God that we can finally gain the freedom and independence we truly desire.

So, tonight, on this 4th of July, I am indeed thankful to be a citizen of this great United States.  It is a blessing; but leaders flounder; governments fail; and countries fall. I'm more thankful to have the freedom that only comes from total dependence upon the Father.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Waves of Sorrow on Shores of Peace

There is nothing more soothing and calming to my soul than to sit by the ocean, watching the tides roll in and back out again.  Each wave is unique.  Some waves crest quickly, and come in with a soft whisper.  Others build slowly, pounding with a sudden climax, reaching far up into the shore.  The ebb and flow of the waters never stops.  These have exited since creation, and will continue until God chooses to end this world.  

Yesterday, we visited a local congregation to hear a preacher friend speak there.  It was a great lesson, and one specific thing touched my heart.  He noted that all of us have a “hole” in our heart.  This hole may have come from a past hurt or loss.  It may have come from guilt.  It may simply be emptiness.  From where?  We do not really know.  These “holes” often become such voids that our lives become very challenging.   Our friend mentioned that these holes could only be filled by a relationship with Jesus.  What a remarkable thought.  Only the Savior can provide the fulfillment to such voids in our lives.

This year has been a particularly sorrowful season.  From the loss of a precious young woman, that I loved as my own child; to the death of a good friend and colleague through a senseless disease; to the suicide of a young man, who saw death as the only way to escape the pain of this life; to wonderful parents and friends simply struggling to face the hurts from it all.  Simply trying to make sense of the sorrow.  Simply trying to find some peace.  Simply trying to go on.

Waves of sorrow crashing down on us can paralyze.  Hurt can overwhelm.  Pain can physically sicken.  Grief can cause anger, doubt and fear.  Those waves of sorrow are much like the ocean waves.  Each one, unique in a sense.  Each one, with its own set of circumstances.  Each one, breaking our hearts.

Yet, when we have a relationship with the Lord, those waves do not drown us.  They truly may pour over our spirits, but they do not flood out our faith.  Those waves crash upon us, and they beat us, and they hurl us on jagged rocks of questions that may never have answers.  Those waves of sorrow have existed for most of time.  From Eve realizing that her oldest son had murdered his brother; to Job’s imploring cries for mercy in his infirmities; to Mary watching her beloved Son pierced with nail and hung on a cross.  And . . . they will continue until God chooses to send our Jesus back to earth. 

But, to a Christian, those waves don’t define our lives.  Jesus is there to help, to rescue, and to fill those "holes" created by life's sorrows.  Those waves don't defeat us because we live – or should live – on the shores of peace.  Peace, in believing that we don’t truly see the “big picture.”  Peace, in understanding that this life – and all of its sorrow – is temporary.  Peace, in the hope for tomorrow – and for eternity.   Peace, in knowing that God is in control.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

A Soldier's Effect on a Little Girl

So much of the significance of Memorial Day in the United States has become lost in cook-outs, boating on the lake, and fun times, noting the "official kick-off" to summer.  In my opinion, we, as a country, do not show proper respect and honor to the men and women who serve in our military.  Opinions creep in about our personal feelings about war; what we think is right or wrong; placing ourselves in a position of judge and jury on so many issues, of which we have no personal knowledge or experience.  We critique those who have served, and the wars and conflicts in which they served.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but in times of war, many times difficult decisions have to be made.  Certainly, there are numerous wars, in looking back, that might have been avoided -- perhaps, should have been avoided.  But Memorial Day, should not be a time for accusations, protests, or defacing military monuments.  Memorial Day is a time for remembrance of those men and women who have served this country -- for YOU; for ME; for all of us.

Throughout my fifty-one years, I have known many that have served in the military.  My uncle L.T. Eastland, served in WWII, and I am honored to have his Purple Heart medal.  My father-in-law, E.L. Sweet served in the Pacific during WWII.  My father was drafted for the Korean War, but became ill at Fort Jackson, SC, receiving an honorable discharge and never going to Korea.  My uncle, Robert Blaylock, served in the Navy during the Vietnam War.  I still have the beautiful dolls that he sent me, from the area following the war.  

I don't think I really ever grasped the true magnitude of the respect and honor due those who have served us, until I visited Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago.  The hills of military graves roll as far as the eye can see.  It is a quiet place for respect and remembrance.  It was especially moving to me because my sweet friend, Monika, had buried her precious son at Arlington, only weeks before I was there.  Ryan Maddux Lawrence was a dynamic young man with a bright life ahead of him; however, his willingness to serve, and his love for this country, changed the journey of his life -- and the lives of those who loved him.

As a very little girl, I did not really understand the aspect of war.  In the late 1960s, I saw black and white images of soldiers with guns, fields of rice, and Asian people in strange hats on television.  I saw images of young protestors that were against the war.  I heard the slogan, "Make Love, Not War," but I truly did not understand what it all meant.  However, I did understand that the war meant that a handsome young man from our church was going away, and everyone was very concerned about it.

I remember a beautiful young woman named Dottie that was dating a handsome boy named James Edmund Peay.  They were young -- in their early 20s, and so happy.  Dottie was a teacher, and they were going to get married one day.  I remember hearing my parents talk about a "draft number" coming up, and a quick marriage, only a couple of weeks before the young man, "Jim," left for army camp.  I remember the young girl coming to church alone, and I remember the happiness being gone from her face.

I also remember my mother crying one day in the kitchen.  I remember driving to Franklin with my parents, very quiet.  I remember standing in a line, down a sidewalk, at a house, close to the square in Franklin.  I remember going up the front steps and holding my mother's hand.  I remember the darkness of the house, and the muffled conversation.  I remember hugging my daddy's leg because this place made me feel strange.  I remember him picking me up and catching a glimpse of Dottie in the next room.  She was crying and wearing black.  I remember getting closer to her, and seeing Jim, lying in a box beside of her.  As we got closer, I could see him clearly.  His skin seemed darker, and there was a netting over his face and hands.  He wore a uniform.  As Mother and Daddy talked with Dottie, I remember looking at Jim's hands.  They were covered with scrapes and scratches.  I remember staying with my grandmother a day or so later, while my parents went to his funeral.  I remember their sadness, telling the young man's bride, Dottie, had worn her wedding dress at his funeral. 

I was not quite four years old, according to records that I found today online.  James Edmund Peay was born in 1945, and he died on January 7, 1968.  He was twenty-two years old.  For me, to be only three and a half years old on that cold, winter day in 1968, those memories have always been with me.  I always knew that this young man paid the ultimate sacrifice, but today, seeing his record -- and photograph -- online, truly made me remember.  Dottie continued to be at church following his death, but eventually, her life took her elsewhere.  I often wondered what happened to her.  I wondered if she ever remarried or had children.

So, this morning, that young couple came to my mind.  With technology, I searched online, and found some records on that young man from Franklin, Tennessee.  I also read a testimony of a fellow soldier, stating that Jim was the first Christian influence he experienced in the service.  Wow!  What a legacy


I also found an article from 2014, where a memorial bridge in Williamson county was named in his honor.  According to the article, Dottie had a different last name, so it is my prayer and hope that she found happiness in her life, following such a tragedy.


So, today, I thank U.S. Army, Specialist, James E. Peay for his ultimate sacrifice for this country; for YOU, and for ME. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

For Lexi

Writing has become such an outlet for me.  When I'm happy, I write.  When I'm sad, I write.  I just write. 

This week has been one of the hardest in my life.  On Tuesday, I sat with one of my dearest friends in an absolute nightmare.   I held her hand and rubbed her back, as life support measures were removed from her sweet nineteen year old daughter.  I saw first hand the worst fear that any parent has, and it will be with me for the rest of my life.

This baby girl was so wanted.  She was so loved.  She was such a blessing.  I hope she knows the effect that she had on the world.  The lives that she touched in her short time on this earth.

Tonight we will celebrate the life of Faith Alexis Wade.  There will be tears.  There will be laughter.  There will be unbelievable sadness, and there will be joy.  We have love because of FAITH.  We have hope because of FAITH.  Our sweet FAITH may be gone, but our faith in a loving Father, our hope in Jesus Christ, and our love for one another will sustain us in the coming days.

So, Lexi, this is for you.  Your "Darlena" wrote this the night you left us, earlier this week.  

“In a While”
(For Lexi)

So tonight, as the rain pours down,
My heart is broken; my tears fall to the ground.
The thought of you being gone is just too surreal. 
I don’t know what to think.  I don’t know what to feel.

The darkness came so quickly, and the sun went away.
What I wouldn’t give for a small glimpse of yesterday.
There you’d be -- that little girl with flowing, strawberry curls,
China skinned legs, with lacy socks, adorned with beautiful pearls.

Sitting sweetly in the church pew, up on your daddy’s lap --
Or snuggled close with your precious mommy, taking a little nap.
You’d be splashing in the backyard, or shopping at the mall;
Trick or treating in the park, or at camp, playing whiffle ball.

So many things left unsaid, undone.
So many things finished, really before they’d begun.
Nineteen years to be part of my heart –
Loving you from today, all the way back to the start.

That little girl, with those big, bright eyes, grew up and went away.
Oh, for just one more hour of hugs – Oh, for just one more day. 
But life was just too much for you – Too much for you to take.
Too hard to keep under control -- The ups and downs of life, they took their toll

Who knew the “best day of your life” would simply be your last –
There would be no more time for a future, but only memories of the past. 
So I will trust that there’s a reason that God took you home –
I’ll trust you’re at peace, and you are not alone.

You are with all the loved ones and friends that have gone on before –
They were waiting to welcome you at the waves of Heaven’s shore –
Where there is no more pain, and there is no more grief.
Where there’s only perfect joy and welcoming relief.

And so I stay here, left behind, without you, baby girl.
I’m not sure how to go on living, without you in this world.
But I know that I will somehow, because you will always be in my heart.
And one day in Heaven, I know then we will never more part.

So until then, my angel, soar high and be free.
This earth’s chains are gone – you’ve entered eternity --
So sit and talk with God, and smile your pretty smile –
And know that I’ll see you again, in a while.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Today (A Mother's Perspective)

Last night, I dreaded for the night to end because I knew it was the last night my oldest son would be home – for a while.

Last night, I washed his clothes and helped him get his stuff together.

Last night, I packed a cooler and bag full of his favorite foods.

Last night, I fixed him a grilled cheese and bologna sandwich, because that’s been his favorite since he was a little boy.

Last night, we sat together, talked and laughed – again, just like we have since he was a little boy.

Last night, we binge watched the NetFlix series, Breaking Bad, that he got us hooked on over the holiday break.

Last night, I saw the same face of a little, red-haired boy, from the past, in the face of a tall, red- haired man sitting across the room from me.  

Last night, I said “good night,” and watched him go up the steps like so many times before.

Last night, I slept soundly, knowing he, and his younger brother, were both upstairs in their beds. 

Today, I got up and folded his laundry and packed away his stuff.

Today, I fixed him a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and sausage crescents – because those are his favorites.

Today, I advised him on a political science response paper and his class schedule for the semester.

Today, I fought back the tears, as the morning passed, and it was time for him to leave.

Today, I remembered that I had given him roots, and I had also given him wings. 

Today, as he left, I hugged a grown man, but I held my little boy. 

Today, I sent a piece of my heart with him, as he headed back to school.

Today, I thanked God that He chose me to be that young man’s mother.

Today, I prayed for God to protect him and guide him, until he’s home again.