Looking Back

Remember when I wrote this last year? I hate to say I was right but boy was I right. 2013, you were indeed not a “lucky” year as I suspected. However, when I was reflecting back and flipping through photos of this year, I see you were pretty kind until October. October 21 to be exact but I promise to try not to focus too much on the last 67 days. I want this posting to be a recap of all the great things that happened the other 298 days. If you remember, I also wrote this in September about how this year (meaning my 28th year on earth) would be the year of focusing on the blessings in my life. So yes, enough with the bad. Let me make room to reflect on all the good.

1.       We moved AGAIN! Yes, call us crazy. In short summary, we received a notice in January that a 300+ unit apartment complex was going to be built in our backyard. We loved our home and had been in it exactly one year but we did not want that many neighbors behind us. We decided to stick a for sale sign in the yard to see what happened. Well we sold our house in 13 days. We found our new home in which we love even more.

2.       2013 was the year of weddings. Three of my closest friends got married. Lara married in April and I was honored to serve as her wedding coordinator. Rachel married in June and I was honored to serve her as one of her wedding photographers. Then Andrea married in September and I was honored to serve as her matron of honor.

3.       My childhood dog Missy came to live with us in June. We thought Missy’s time was coming to an end so my dad brought her to me this summer for me to take to my brother-in-law who is a vet. Well wouldn’t you know it a week here with me with some baby aspirin as prescribed by Michael was all she needed to be back to her ole self. Sweet Missy turned 16 in October. I absolutely love having her with me again.

4.       Greyson and I did a lot of fun stuff this year. We celebrated our third wedding anniversary with our friends, Andrea and Steve at Lairdland Farms, where we got married. We also went to the beach twice this summer. Once with his family to Pawley’s Island, SC and once to Saint Simons, GA with our friends, Trina and Marshall. We were able to celebrate Trina’s 30th birthday while we were there. This fall we went to a University of Tennessee vs. Auburn football game in Knoxville. This was the first time our teams ever faced each other since we’ve known one another. We had a great time (expect for all the walking but that’s another story) especially since Auburn won.  

5.       Professionally it has been a great year. I exceeded all of my sales goals for the year. I also had the privilege of serving on the Chamber of Commerce’s Business Women’s Council again and Murfreesboro Young Professionals as Director of Membership/ Chair- Elect.

These things and all the other great things that happened are the things I want to remember about 2013. Am I sad to see 2013 go after my time of reflection? Heck no. You still can go and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. However, I do hope that in years to come when I am reflecting back on this year that these things come to mind long before the memories of the heartache.

Speaking of NYE. How about a blast from New Year’s Past. Looking forward to carrying on the tradition another year.

How Did We Go from the Manger to Madness?

I've been dreading the holidays, particularly Christmas this year. I first threatened that I wasn't putting up a single Christmas decoration. Then I decided I needed the distraction of decorating and entertaining this year.  I've stated to wonder why it seems even more painful to be going through stuff during the holidays than any other time of the year. I think it is because we set all these expectations for ourselves and feel all this pressure to have the perfect holiday. When in fact, we live in a far from perfect world where no perfect day or season exists. No matter how great your mantle or tree may look, you have neighbors hungry or hurting. There are family members who are not with us again this year. There's illnesses, divorce, poverty and so much more robbing us all of that perfect holiday we think everyone else is having.  And we can't be left out by having a far from perfect Christmas. Besides songs tell us it is the most wonderful time of the year. And how could we not feel left out thanks to everything from Christmas commercials to everyone's overly joyous Facebook posts! 
Sure your Elf on the Shelf has done some funny things this year. But how much time did you spend setting up your elf’s shenanigans and then take the perfect picture and then lastly upload it to every social media outlet? But really who am I to judge? I just spent days (ok really a month) planning the perfect Christmas party for my girlfriends. Why? I had to overcompensate that my entire family wouldn’t be together on Christmas day. This party had to make up for my less than perfect Christmas I have planned with one parent instead of two.
How in the world did we go from such humble beginnings of this holiday in a manger to all this madness? Our Savior was born in a stable surrounded by animals and all the “gifts” that come with barn animals. And He did it for you and me. And how do we commemorate this glorious day and seasons as Christians? We stress ourselves out to the max to take the perfect picture for the perfect Christmas card. The most thoughtful gifts must be purchased for everyone we know and stuffed in the cutest gift bag imaginable. We have to plan the perfect menu for the perfect party. And let’s not forget we have to attend 1,001 Christmas parties. Our Christmas decorations must be grander each year. We can’t be the only house on our street without a blowup Santa and every bush has to be adorned with lights. Our Christmas tree has to be filled with all color coordinated ornaments that match every other Christmas decoration in the house. And why do we do all of this? To have the perfect Christmas! Everything else in our lives should be perfect as well. There’s no room for heartache on Christmas. If the Joneses are having a great and over the top Christmas then I should be too. Those are the expectations we've set for ourselves.
So how do we get back to what’s important? How do we take the pressure off of ourselves to not be like everyone else? How do we make this season hurt a little less when we are enduring so much heartache? I think for me it is to truly acknowledge that nothing is perfect and can be perfect. The word really shouldn't be in our vocabulary.
I pray that over the next week I place my focus on the manger. My hope is to have a grateful heart because even in the midst of this far from easy holiday, I still have countless blessings. First and foremost, I serve a God who sent His only son to this imperfect world to save me from my imperfections and the imperfections of this world. And that in and of itself is a lot to focus on and to be thankful for. So if you see me start to have a pity party this week  or try to over compensate and start planning the "perfect" Christmas dinner, make me re-read this post. Help me refocus if needed and send me back to the manger.  
Much love to you all and Merry Christmas! 

Stopped. Me. In. My. Tracks.

Lord, I pray I am teachable and even in the midst of this storm I praise your name. 

Hell on Earth

Today (or should I say yesterday and today since it is past midnight) I've wanted to do nothing but kick and scream. I am tired of this nightmare I'm living in. In a nutshell this has been what's going on.  My mother had a medical set back in late October. During her recovery, she filed for divorce from my father and moved out. At times this all feels like more than I can bare. I have so many questions but there are no answers. My mother continually shuts me out. This causes me great hurt. This hurt builds up and turns to anger so when we do talk it gets ugly. I take blame for the ugly part these days. However, imagine the hurt if your mother wouldn't even tell you where she lives or didn't even tell you she was filing for divorce. I know I have to learn new coping mechanisms. I've also been fighting for better treatment for her and my parents' marriage. I'm trying to stop fighting her battles. But then I listen to the despair in my fathers voice each day and it tears me a part. My mother and father have always adored each other.   Wow, just typing all of this brings me to tears. I cannot believe this is my life. My family life has spiraled out of control over the past two months. If you would have told me on October 19 that all of this would have happened I would have called you a liar. I use to talk to my mom daily about the most insignificant stuff like what I was having for dinner and now I have no clue what is going on. Everything about my mom has changed like the flick of a light switch. And nothing about this nightmare ever gets better. It only gets worse. That first week was easy street compared to the weeks that have followed. 

What's the point of sharing this? It certainly isn't to air my dirty laundry. In fact, I've been doing a lot of blogging but not publishing. I've been scared of the backlash. But you know what, this is what is happening in my life right now. This is my journey in life and that's what this blog is about. I pray that I look back a year from now and can't believe we went through all of this. I pray for healing all around. I pray this isn't the end to my parents' marriage. I pray we celebrate their 34 wedding anniversary next year. Most of all, I pray we survive this mess. My dependency on God has significantly increased and I am thankful for that. Because although my parents are not the same, the God I serve never changes.  

Christmas Cards, Invites and Prints

 For pricing information, please contact me at amy.stokes.painter@gmail.com. Merry Christmas!

Conversing with God

Lord, I didn't ask Psalm 26:2 for my life. I am being tested and tried and I did not ask for it. You see there must be a mistake. I signed up for the easy track. You know the one where only these type things happen to other people. My form must have gotten mixed up with someone else's. It's ok though. You can fix it real quick and everything will be ok. Alright? 

What do you mean you never promised me an easy track? It's been pretty easy so far. Sure there have been bumps along the road but I've been able to take care of those bumps. What's that? Yes, I realize I said I've been able to handle them. That's what I do. I'm a problem solver. I have a career in the hospitality industry. I was born to solve problems. But now I can't fix this one. I can't get through to the one who needs to be fixed.  Wait, wait, wait a minute! You want me to step back and surrender my control to you, Lord? Do you really know what you're asking of me? Of course your ways are greater than mine but you can use me to solve the problem. I don't mind at all.  In fact, I want to help. 

I don't understand you when you say you don't need my help. Of course you do because this impacts my life and so many others. I need to have some of the reigns.  

Alright, I will try to listen. I will lay it all at your feet. Please forgive me when I try to pick it back up. I want to honor you. After all, you do know what's best.

 Lord, I want to let you know that most of the times things don't go right if I'm not in control. I've seen things come crashing down too many times without me. That's right you are the Alpha and Omega. So I'm laying it at your feet once again. Asking you Father to bless this situation. Sharpen us Lord. Let us grow in you.  Let us glorify you. Change heavy and stubborn hearts because if anyone can do that it is you.  Help me not to correlate my hope and joyfulness with the outcome of this situation or how it plays out in the process. My hope is in you. My strength is in you.