To Joshua on your 15th Birthday

Dear Josh,

I can’t believe you are 15. When you were born- even before- I couldn’t think past the first few years. I always pictured you as a little boy, never thinking about teenage or adult years.

So much focus in our world is on young children. It almost seems like moms stop being moms when kids reach a certain age but we know that’s not true. Kids need their moms at all ages. 

But especially you. You still really need me. 

It makes me happy and sad all at the same time. That’s called bittersweet and I think it describes life so well. 

You know I thank God for you every single day. I tell you how much I love you and you see my eyes glisten with tears when you look at me with your gorgeous almond pools of blue. 

I mostly cry because I’m overwhelmed with the joy that is you.

But I have a confession- I sometimes get a little sad when I think about what you might be doing. I used to let these thoughts consume me. Now I wonder if you wish things were different or if you miss doing certain things. 

Sometimes I’m afraid to express any sadness or question anything will let all those who think you aren’t perfect just the way you are be justified in their thinking.

You were born perfect as much as your brothers and sister and as perfect as any other child.

You are unique and exquisite. Fearfully and wonderfully made. 

But sometimes I go there- to the place of “what if”…

Take your birthday. You can’t tell me what you want for presents or what you want to do. 

Birthdays are different for you. You don’t talk about what you want to do a year in advance. You don’t ask for a party or request your favorite meal or even have a say in what kind of cake you get. 

Would you want to have a party, or just some friends over to hang out and play video games? Would you even like video games? Would you want to go to a movie? Out to dinner? You can’t tell me your favorite resturant. But I’d love to know. 

Sometimes I picture you in the youth group. You would be raising money to go on a missions trip. You might even be going with your big brother. 

I’d be “griping” about the Mother’s Day Bake Sale and how it’s not a relaxing Mother’s Day for me and we’d all laugh because it’s tradition and we would get in the kitchen all together and have fun.

Would you want to go to Verge Camp? I sometimes picture you sleeping on the bus and playing pranks and worshipping with thousands of teenagers and eating junk food and making silly faces at the iPhone pointed at you so I can see you on Facebook and know that you’re having a blast. 

We would have had the “talk”. You may or may not be girl-crazy and you may or may not ever tell me about your crushes. 


I pack a pull-up in my purse (just in case), tie your shoes and look at the tag velcroed in the laces that reads: “I have autism. I am non-verbal.” 

Your life is full of “special” conditions- special needs trusts and guradianships and IEP’s and medical issues and hundreds of things that complicate already difficult to navigate waters.

But in your 15 years, whether you know it or ever will realize it, you have changed my soul more than any typical teenager ever could. You have impacted lives without saying a word well beyond what most do in a lifetime.

Your smile is so genuine and pure, I know that you hold the secret of joy. 

Contentment comes effortlessly and while I struggle against the worldly and unimportant, you are satisfied.

I feel lonely for you sometimes. You don’t have friends in the sense your brothers and sisters do. But I’m grateful that they let you hang out in the middle of them, and you laugh and put your hand on one of them to let them know, “Hey, I’m here. Thank you for letting me join in.”

Maybe if you could tell me if any of the things I wish for are your wishes. Maybe it’s my selfishness that wants these things for you that you care nothing about.

Once your Mamaw asked if I thought you knew you were different. I honestly didn’t know then. 

But now- I think I know and I think you do. 

Does it bother you and will I ever know? 

But today, these questions can be left unanswered and I celebrate you, my precious young man who lives his beautiful life simply. 

I am immensely proud of you. You, Joshua Neely, change attitudes and hearts. I pray God gives you the desires of yours because I know no one more genuine and deserving as you.

I don’t know if you can or will ever fully comprehend any of this. I guess I really don’t need to know if you do because God knows and He always knows best. What I’m sure of is that I am honored that He chose me to be your mom. 

Happy Birthday. I love you.

On Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day. As a young woman, even before I meeting my husband, I longed for the day I’d become a mother. I never thought much beyond that-then imginary first child. My family plan was planned more by God than us.

I never considered homeschooling and and not going back to work once my children reached elementary school age. I certainly never expected to have been given the gift of a special-needs child. Life turns unexpected and sometimes hard and often bittersweet.

I miss my momma. That early, middle-of-the-night-morning as she began her forever in Heaven, I wiped my tear and sleep-filled eyes and thought, “What am I going to do on Mother’s Day?”

Not her birthday, not my birthday, not even her funeral, but Mother’s Day.

This day. I confess, I love waking up as I did this morning to gifts waiting to be opened.


I was even given an early gift late last night after 14 hours of baking for my son’s mission’s trip bake sale today. A dress to wear to church this morning. Because my daughter knows I don’t buy much for myself. And also because I’m sure she likes and wants to wear it too. And I love that.

I love her. She is my fiery soul unleashing her inward and outward beauty growing into her own woman as she shares her love of Jesus and passion for people with the world. She is not only my daughter, but my friend. My firstborn. As I held her the first time, I thought, “This must be what Heaven feels like.”

And my boys. I adore my boys. My oldest son, my quiet man-child finding his voice. He embodies Proverbs 17:28, “A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.”  His heart is of a servant and a protector. He is much like Jesus.

My special one. My own heart died a bit when I found out his was sick and he would not be what I expected. I discovered that all gifts do not have to come in the usual packaging to be exquisite and  journeys begin with a single step. I may be on this one for my lifetime, and I welcome it. He has made me love with a fierceness I didn’t know I possessed and has given me a ministry without ever speaking a word.

My baby. He’d hate being called that as he will soon enter the year of “double-digits”. My child of trust – the one God spoke to me so clearly about. He is his daddy. He gives me a glimpse into what must have been my husband as a boy. He is all boy, all the time and thinks he’s a teenager too, yet still comes to me to sneak his hand up my arm – my “cold arm” as he called it when he was little and ask for a hug. I am so glad I listened to God, and not to man.

As much as I love this day, it makes me weepy. Not just because I miss my own momma, but for those childless mothers. The ones who want so desperately to be mothers. Newly married, I sat in church and watched my friend stroke her toddler’s hair as his head lay in her lap. I desired that so much I could taste it.

And I have no idea why God blessed me so easily with children when I have friends who want them and can’t or have had to go to great lengths to have them.

I think this day must be agonizing for so many. Especially in a world where children are idolized and parenthood seems to make one complete. I am guilty of sharing too many “mom” stories and getting so caught up in my busy-mom everyday, that I forget.

I think of the childless mother.  Those who long for children, yet arms remain empty.

The grieving mother.  Those without their children this first Mother’s Day. And those who have had to endure this day year after year.

For many, today will take every effort to step foot out of bed and breathe. Many will walk the halls of churches with plastered-on smiles covering a hollowed-out heart. I pray I am sensitive to those who may be hurting this day and am a source of grace and healing.

A mother is an influencer. A mother is an encourager. A mother is a mentor. A mother is a teacher. A mother is a friend.

For all mothers. Those with children and those without.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Christmas Lights

Yesterday lights on my tree went out. We thought a plug came loose  – although we all know this could never happen since my kids and dog are so calm and never throw things or hit the tree.  I woke up thinking about how to do this.  I may have actually dreamed about it.

Therefore, today, I will take everything off and re-do my tree if necessary. Even though I need to shop and do a zillion other things, the tree is a priority.

Why? Needles will be everywhere and I will be sap-sticky and aggravated. Why I am I slightly obsessed (although after last night, Jerry would argue that the obsession is more than slight) over a tree? After all, it’s just a tree.

Is it because reminds me of Christmases growing up? Is it because for years when Jerry and I had no money to give each other gifts, the tree WAS my gift?  Is it all for the kids? Why is it that I, in all my frugalness and practicality, must have my real tree instead of buying an artificial one time and using it every year when that makes so much more sense?

I think the tree feels like home.

A real tree looks uneven and has holes. When the lights are off, the branches look bunched up and the wires show. The ornaments look a little dull.

But when the lights are on, it becomes transformed. The wires fade into the green and the ornaments are illuminated. The imperfections are covered and it draws us to sit and enjoy it. It becomes beautiful and inviting.

tree and mantle

Kind of like us. We are real and messy, imperfect and full of holes. When Jesus comes to live in us, we take on His light and become light. We are still imperfect and bunched-up but His light covers us and illuminates through us.

The Light of the World Himself asks us to be Him to the world. His light is inviting. His light is comforting.

His light is home.



Out Dancing

“The anniversary of your death comes around every year and you never know it.” -Momma

Written by the finger of God and etched on the minds of those left walking earth until the inevitable happens.

At his kitchen table, one year ago, my Daddy looked up to Heaven and stepped in.

One year ago today, my husband uttered those words etched on my heart, “I’m so, so sorry. Your Daddy…”

One year ago today, my dear friend dropped everything in her busy life to come over and offer her shoulder and her help and her prayers.

One year ago today, I became an orphan in the earthly sense.

But as those unidentified, invisible persons known as “they” say: “Life goes on.”

And it has – at break-neck pace as I run on the treadmill of this extraordinary and abundant life I’ve been graciously given.

The quiet moments are few.

But when they come…

The emptiness of my childhood laid at the house on 395 Lake Circle Drive beckons me. And I know I can never go home again.

Our Saturday trips to the white brick house around the lake I bicycled around so many times in my youth, is no longer mine.

And I grieve.

Yet, there is no time for that. “Life goes on.”

After all, my daddy lived a full life. This is how it was “supposed” to happen.  I didn’t lose a child.  I would never compare as that horrific pain would be too indescribable.

I wouldn’t compare it to a sibling or a young person who had their whole lives ahead. That unfairness wrecks my soul.

My daddy was old. I came into my parent’s life as a “bonus” and I am so grateful and often quite surprised I had them as long as I did.

And I rest knowing where he is.

But it still hurts.  And I find myself apologizing for the sorrow.

The grief is silent and hidden. There is no time to wallow and I feel as if I shouldn’t.

Because he was old, lived a full life and is in Heaven.

My head knows, but my heart isn’t listening.

I am selfish and want more time.

I want my children’s Papaw to see them graduate and get married. I want him to hold my grandchildren.

I want to call my Momma and hear her defend me when I’ve been hurt and hear her sympathy as she asks” Don’t you just get so tired sometimes, darlin’?”

I want to hear Daddy say just one more time “Suits me and I’m hard to please.”

Ironic since he was most easy to please. Even more so as he grew older.

As I watched him struggle in his frail body care for my dying mother, I saw Jesus in my father pouring out his all without complaint.

I miss hearing, “You must have been out dancing,” whenever I missed his call.

And I’d ask him the same if I called and he wasn’t home.

I miss his gentle spirit, quiet manner and funny sayings. I miss a thousand things I could say this very moment.

Yet, I will take the advice of a friend and surround myself in some memories and let myself grieve today because our relationship deserves that time.

And in the midst I will make cupcakes to take for Josh’s birthday and take them to his class.

My earthly life is still overflowing with those entrusted to me and I look to a time of celebration for the anniversary of a new life created in God’s image twelve years ago.

And as our family remembers and celebrates this week among the tears, I pour out my thanksgiving like oil and wipe my tears with His robe for His sacrifice so that my sorrow is but for a moment.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.  A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

I look to my Jesus, I remember His death. But then…


You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy.

Only because of the hope I have.

If I don’t answer it’s because I’m out dancing…

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Bittersweet: combining sadness and happiness – a simple definition for a very complicated emotion.

This week is bittersweet.

Yesterday was the two-year anniversary of my sweet father-in-law’s passing into eternity. While at church attending a women’s conference, amongst the chatter and music of an after-party celebration, I received a call from my oldest son who in a shaky voice relayed the message “Dad is going to St. Augustine because they think Pop-Daddy is dying!” Stunned, I attempted to gather my scattered and swirling thoughts and told my daughter we had to go and why. As she and I cried,  my sisters in Christ – my friends – surrounded us, offered help and prayed for us.

Bittersweet is the comfort of the saints during times of uncertainty.

Thursday will be one year since my own Daddy started his forevermore in Heaven. One year ago, I went about my normal routine, oblivious to the fact that my sweet father had met His Heavenly Father that very morning.   My husband walked in with tears in his own eyes, gently backed me into a chair, and as he shook his head and repeated, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry….”

Bittersweet is the gentleness of the one who knows us best during times of sorrow.

Friday we remember what Jesus did for us on the cross. Two-thousand years ago, the Lord of Heaven came down in flesh and had that flesh torn and broken and beaten beyond recognition and hung naked on a cross to pay a debt I could never pay. He took our sin and sickness so that we may be forgiven and healed and no longer be condemned.

Bittersweet is the sacrifice of death so that we might live.

But Saturday…

Saturday is my precious Joshua’s birthday. As he turns twelve, I am stunned in amazement of all we’ve gone through in such his short time. Children with special needs often live lifetimes very quickly. I see a boy with a mind of a child, yet the body beginning to grow into a man and still wonder why God saw fit to choose me for the honor and sometimes daunting task of being his mother.

Bittersweet is the wondering what might have been while celebrating the what is.

And Sunday…

Resurrection Sunday.  Easter. The third day and the empty tomb. He has risen.  He has conquered the grave and the sting of death. The veil has been torn. A new beginning. An empty cross. Redemption that was bought by the ultimate sacrifice and available to all who choose.  Living water for those who are thirsty.

The bittersweet is now the sweet and the bitterness is gone. Choose this day whom you will serve…

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Happy Birthday

Birthdays. Days set side to commemorate when someone special to us entered the earth. We celebrate with gifts and cards, parties and dinners, cakes and candles, songs and wishes.

From the first glance of our newborn’s squishy face, the day they appeared becomes a day on the calendar marked with stars and exclamation points.

But what about when that someone has left the earth? What do we earthy vessels do with the day? That day we telephoned and sent cards and wrapped gifts and made cakes?

Today is my momma’s birthday.

She once said that we all know our birthdays but the anniversary of our death passes every year and we never know it. Her words left me feeling uneasy and strangely somber. Maybe it was a foreshadowing. Or maybe it was just Momma.

I wonder if birthdays are celebrated in Heaven. Or if it doesn’t matter anymore because the true birthday would be the day someone enters Heaven.

That same day we think of as the death day. The other day on the stone. The day after the dash.

Today is my momma’s fifth birthday in Heaven. My fifth one without her here.

The fifth time I won’t call her. The fifth time we won’t be up on the weekend to visit.

The fifth time I won’t apologize for not getting a card in the mail on time. The fifth time I won’t sit and write her a letter instead, letting her know how much I love her.

So I’ll sit here and cry and tell anyone willing to read how much I love her.

But I can never say “loved” like I hear people say referring to those who have passed on.

Because I still love her as much as I ever did.

The little girl me loves her as I look up while she puts her lipstick on me, then teaches me how to blot.

The teenage me loves her as we go shopping and sit around the den laughing with my friends.

The young adult me loves her as she watches me go out into the world all while holding on loosely. And yelling, “Don’t forget your lipstick!”

The young wife me loves her as she tells me how she loves her new son.

The new mommy me loves her as she kisses her grandbabies’ tiny heads.

The grown up me loves her as one of my best friends.

My card to Heaven would say:

Happy Birthday Momma!!  The earth was a better place because you were here. I’m so thankful to have had you with me. And more thankful that I know where you are now. I love you. Forever and always, Vic