Saturday, February 8, 2014

Things I Learned in 2013

  1.  Avocados are the world's best food ...well, after blueberries and peanut butter.
  2. Things can always get worse.
  3. Healthy eating is actually MORE fun than eating the regular American diet.
  4. I'll never be too old to miss my mom and dad and I'll never be too old to get ridiculously excited when I know they're coming to visit.
  5. Everyone should have an Ebates account and make money for buying things.
  6. Someone has claimed my husband as her honey bunny and her sweetie pie...and that's okay!
  7. My husband is the greatest man I know (I didn't JUST learn that this year, though!)
  8. I am an aunt to a teenager - yikes!
  9. The plans that I have for myself very rarely match up with the plans that God has for me.
  10. My Fitness Pal website is one of my new best friends - we met in January 2013. *smile*
  11. The heart must be soft and pliable towards people, but it must also be tough-skinned to withstand the pains that come from lost friendships and rejection.
  12. Iowa has the coldest winters I've ever experienced but Illinois has the hottest, most humid, summers I've ever experienced.  I like them both.
  13. The Ackley ambulance service has a very impressive response time and Des Moines Children's Hospital is great!  Things to remember for the future...
  14. Unforgiveness will kill a person.  Forgiveness is an absolute necessity in the Christian life.  Learning to forgive those who have wronged you, especially those who haven't asked for it, is one of the hardest, yet most important things I've had to learn.
  15. My Grandma Boyce is the best visitor ever.  Being a very early riser, she gets up and does dishes, sweeps the floors, cleans the windows, whatever she can find to do until the rest of us wake up at the normal time.  She's awesome...for more reasons than just the cleaning!
  16. I still struggle with admitting that I'm wrong.  (Just ask Shawn.  *smile*)
  17. I love making homemade tortillas!
  18. The ravioli di portabello dinner at Olive Garden is delicious!  This was a huge discovery for the fettucine alfredo addict that I am! 
  19. Speaking of Olive Garden, I also found out how amazingly delicious their Chicken Gnocchi soup is!  Thanks, Susan!
  20. There aren't many things better than a hug from a close friend you've been missing.
  21. I vowed at the beginning of last year to learn how to make homemade bread and pie crusts...I never did.  Oops!
  22. I have finally figured out the very best places to stop when traveling from Iowa to Illinois.  I'm all about saving time when in the car for that long!  So when you (yes - YOU) come to visit, just check with me first!  haha
  23. I'm finally secure enough in myself to tell everyone in the world that I absolutely despise having to care for flower gardens and landscaping.  I love gardening, but I draw the line there! I know lots of women who just love it and find great relaxation this way but I would be thrilled to have a yard full of pretty rocks that required no work whatsoever.....really.
  24. I REALLY wish I had a smartphone to Facetime with my
  25. Playing the piano is one of the most soothing things for me.
  26. There are some days when eating a doughnut really will make you feel better.  haha
  27. Les Miserables is THE best musical ever.  I have no idea how I survived thus far in my life without it.
  28.  Salt and pepper grinders are my new favorite kitchen toys.
  29. The Trinity Hymnal version of "All for Jesus" is the BEST version - hands down.
  30. You're never too old to play at the City Museum playground in St. Louis, especially the wire cages suspended several feet above the ground!  *smile*
  31. I never get nervous when I play the piano at church...unless the organist is gone and I'm on my own.  On those Sundays, I make every mistake imaginable.
  32. I like doing the dishes.  Wierd, I know.
  33. I have an irrational fear of leaving the oven burners on and burning the house down in my sleep.  My sweet husband always goes downstairs for me (because I'm also a baby who doesn't like being downstairs in the dark alone...pathetic, I know) to make sure that they're off.  They ALWAYS are but he knows I won't be able to sleep until he checks.  One of the many reasons I love him...
  34. Concerning fire, I have an irrational fire that our propane tank or gas heater will blow up without warning.
  35. I hate burn piles guessed it....I'm afraid they'll spread and burn the house down.  I'm beginning to see a pattern here....when it comes to fires, I'm absolutely terrified.
  36. Some days it's just easier to wear your bulky snow boots to church than your nice heels...and those days are becoming more and more regular.
  37. Some events in life are seared into your memory, whether you want them to be or not.  Other events you beg your mind to remember, but they slowly fade away.  
  38. Never pass up a chance to tell your loved ones how precious they are because one day, you may wake up and find out it's too late.
  39. Landscaping and flower gardening, I despite - but snow shoveling is actually fun for me.
  40. Winter is still my favorite season, even after moving to Iowa.  Everyone kept telling me that I'd change my mind after moving but you just can't beat the crisp air or the beauty of snow.  I loved it in Illinois and I love it here too.
  41. It is really fun to read the same book as your sister, and talk about it over the phone everyday.
  42. Extended time away from Facebook is a good thing.
  43. I really don't like butternut squash, but spaghetti squash is awesome.
  44. D-Con = awesome.
  45. "Mama said there'd be days like this"....and there definitely were.
  46. No matter what happens in my life, there is nothing that can take away my joy because no one can take my Christ.  I have learned that all other things can be stripped away, but as long as one Thing remains - I'll be alright.
Well, there you go!  I just gave you a small glimpse into this strange head of mine.  I had a good time compiling this list over the last little while and I hope it brought a smile to your face and helped you laugh just a little bit! 

Obviously this comes very late, but Happy New Year to you all.  I'm excited to see what lies ahead in 2014.  Thanks for reading...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Precious Memories and Letting Go

As I sit down to write this post, my head is swimming with memories.  I feel compelled to write, to honor this man whom I had the privilege to call my father-in-law.  He passed away just days ago.  And I'm beginning to realize that whether I'm ready or not, I have to start letting go. 

Sitting by his hospital bed and later his Hospice bed at home over the last several weeks, waves of memories flooded my mind.  My time with him was so brief - just under 7 years - that I don't want to forget a thing...and yet I know that I will forget some things.  And so, I wanted to share a few of my favorite memories of Dave Willis, a man who fought the good fight and finished it well.


I remember visiting Shawn after we were engaged and getting very sick during our visit.  I came close to passing out and knew that I couldn't drive home.  Shawn insisted on driving me and Dave was kind enough to follow behind with Shawn's car to bring him back home.  I was mortified that my father-in-law had to see me sick, which was silly because his only concern was for me.

I remember Dave's excitement the night of our wedding rehearsal and dinner.  He gave a speech that was both funny and wise, sharing with his son and soon to be daughter-in-law the blessings of marriage.  I remember that after our wedding, the pictures took forever, partly because Dave was having so much fun that he was making everyone laugh.  I have one precious picture that features me and Shawn with Dave's head popping out from behind my shoulder just as the camera snapped.

I remember calling Dave on the way to our honeymoon to tell him that we had almost arrived.  When he picked up the phone, he asked who it was. I said, "Melissa," and he asked, "Melissa who?"  He was, of course, waiting to hear me say, "Melissa Willis".  *smile*

He bought me blueberry syrup and chocolate peanut butter goodies just months after Shawn and I were married.  Why?  Because he quickly learned that I was addicted to both blueberries and peanut butter.  I remember opening a box at Christmas from the Chocolate Factory filled with peanut butter chocolates...and I remember his look of pure pleasure as he watched me enjoy one, and then another, and then another.  I remember his laugh when I told him that this was a really bad gift because I couldn't put them down.  He just said, "Well, you do LIKE peanut butter, don't you?" and then he laughed some more.

Putting up the Christmas tree at Dave and Linda's house was always fun, but there were rules.  The first ornament to go on the tree had to be the "Jesus" ornament.  Dave was always the one to put it on the tree and it always went near the top.  As he put it on, he would always say something like, "If this isn't the focus of Christmas, then you can't really have a Christmas."  He would put up a St. Louis Cardinals ornament and maybe another Christmas ornament and then sit down to watch the merry decorating from Linda, Shawn, and he smiled on.

Dave's smile on the night of Shawn's graduation from Covenant Seminary is something I will never forget.  He was so proud of his only son and so incredibly proud that he was going to be a minister of God's people.  But he was always the first one to say that Shawn was a devoted follower of Christ despite his upbringing, not because of it.  Humility at it's absolute best...

I remember the moment we visited Dave and Linda just before Christmas in 2010 to tell them that I was pregnant.  Since this baby would be their first grandchild, we decided to have a bit of fun and wrapped up a few baby bibs in a Christmas gift for them.  When Linda opened the gift, he paused and then shouted out, "Really?"  He was so excited.  Yet minutes after finding out that he would be a grandpa, he reminded us all that he loved me for who I was and I didn't need to give him a grandchild to make him love me more.  He said, "This baby does not sum up the reasons why Linda and I love you."  On Christmas Eve, just days after that statement, we found out we were going to lose the baby and I've always remembered what he said.  We celebrated Christmas at their house the next day, and I remember his hug and his reminder that the baby was not the reason he loved me.  And this happened not just with one baby, but with two.  Precious memories....especially now with the realization that I will never make him a grandpa on this earth...a pain so real that I can actually touch it.

I remember stopping at their house before moving to Iowa.  They wanted to come help us move so badly but Dave was sick and Linda had just finished her chemo/radiation so they both needed rest.  I remember the pain in his eyes as he told his only son goodbye and apologized that they couldn't help.

He and Linda came for Shawn's ordination service the next month.  I sat beside he and Linda at the service, and I'm so glad I did.  When Shawn "took the knee" and the elders laid their hands on him and prayed for him, I looked at Dave to see how he was doing.  He was so proud and so emotionally bound by love, that he just reached over and grabbed my hand to hold.  Afterwards he said, "Well, there you go.  My son's a pastor."  He had tears in his eyes and he didn't even try to hide them.

The next time they came to Iowa for a visit, he brought his camera.  He was so eager to know and understand our lives here that he was constantly asking questions and taking pictures.  Just a few days ago, I went through all of his pictures that he downloaded to his computer from his camera, looking for pictures to put in a video presentation for the visitation and funeral.  It wasn't long before I saw the folder labeled "Visit to Shawn and Mel".  When I looked inside, I was blown away with the number of pictures he had taken....of everything!  He took pictures of the house, the churches, the cemetery, the fields, the gravel roads, the garage, the garden, us.  He was no stranger to country roads or fields but these were the fields and roads that his son lived around and he WANTED to know them.  Such love...

Fast forward a few years to 2013.  Dave was diagnosed with incurable Stage 4 cancer just a few days before Christmas.  Shawn and I went home as soon as we were able.  The nights spent in the hospital by his bedside were absolutely priceless.  You see, my one-on-one time with Dave was very limited because Shawn and Linda were always there.  I believe on those hospital nights, that Dave and I went a little deeper in our relationship and truly began to understand each other.

We spoke of his illness and how much he loved Linda and Shawn and me.  He kept apologizing for being sick and only stopped when I told him that he wasn't allowed to say that again.  I remember leaving his room at about 3:30 a.m. to go tell the nurses that they could shut off his oxygen because my strong-willed father-in-law hated the tubing and wouldn't wear it.  We had a long conversation about that dreaded oxygen and eventually he agreed to wear it...."for just a while".  *smile*  He ended up wearing it through the night, and even smiled a few times!

I remember how much he loved us.  I always told him before I walked down the hall to stretch my legs or use the restroom...but he was always happy to see me when I came back to the room, even if I was only gone for 2 minutes.  Towards morning, he would anxiously watch the clock and keep asking, "When did you say Linda and Shawn would be here?"  Oh how much he loved his family...

I remember going to their house alone just before he was discharged to come home for Hospice care and preparing his bedroom for his arrival.  As I moved things around, cleaned, and re-cleaned, I remember thinking to myself that the time I had to care for him was growing very limited....and suddenly, it was all I could do to keep myself in the house rather than drive to the hospital to be with him.

I remember telling him goodbye just days before he passed away because Shawn and I had to go back to Iowa.  Shawn and I hugged him and told him that we loved him, and he said, "I love you guys."  Simple words but those were the last words he actually ever said to me.

We came home just 24 hours before he passed away.  When we went into his room that Wednesday morning, Linda told him that we were back home.  He looked right at Shawn and said, "Happy".  This man lay dying in his bed and all he cared about was his family - Linda, Shawn, and myself.

Later that afternoon, his pastor came to visit and we sang hymns in his room.  Now, you have to know how much Dave loved music to completely understand this.  He was no longer able to sing but he made sure to tap out the beat of each song with his hand on the bed.  He LOVED music!

Without a doubt, the greatest legacy that this man left behind was his awesome faith.  He was the first to admit what a wretched sinner, saved by grace, he was.  He knew his sins and knew them well, as we all know our own sins, and he strove to overcome them daily.  He found forgiveness and grace and extended the same to those around him.  He loved the Lord, loved reading his Word, loved singing his praise, loved worshiping with God's people.  He reminded me, during those last few days of living in his cancer-ridden body, the ultimate joy that a person can have in Christ, despite the pain of this life.

There are many more memories of Dave that I'll always cherish.  He loved his Lord first and foremost.  Second to that, he loved his sweet wife more than his own life.  Third, he loved his one and only son, Shawn - and adopted me into that same love.  I learned so much from this man.

And now I know that he is with Jesus in glory, knowing that perfect rest that I can only dream of.  And I know that he has met his 2 beautiful grandbabies.  Regardless of the emptiness he left behind, I am SO glad he is now a grandpa and I'm SO glad that he is finally with his Jesus.

Thank you, Dave, for loving me as strongly as you did.  You will be missed.  I wish we'd had more time but I'm so incredibly happy that you're with our Lord in perfect peace!  Enjoy your rest.  And give hugs and kisses to my babies for me...