OCTOBER READS


The "F" Word

October 28, 2022

By Stacee Helton


I really hate the “F” word. It’s ugly and it makes me very uncomfortable. Even though I am fairly certain that we are probably thinking of two different “F” words right now, I can assure you, I don’t like either one of them. The “F” word that I’m referring to today is fear.

I guess if there is one major fear that I’m “known for”, it would be my fear of animals. I’ve lived my entire life without pets (except for a couple of goldfish that didn’t even last a month), and phoning ahead before a visit to a friend’s house, to ask them to please “put their dog up” before I come. Once, I even became a prisoner in my home for a few minutes, until a sweet friend came and rescued me, by removing a cat from my carport. It would be funny, if it wasn’t so sad.

For animal lovers, I know this blows your mind. It must be very hard to understand how someone could be afraid of a little animal. “Were you ever bitten as a child?” is always the first question I get. No, not that I can recall. I do remember that we had a dog in my neighborhood that would chase me on my bicycle and bark like he was going to devour me, if my legs failed me! But, I had already been fearful long before then. For the most part, friends and family have been kind about it. And while my husband may not have understood it, he has always honored it. He will say “Stace” (he has always called me that)… “there’s a dog over there. Walk on this side of me, and just keep walking”. My hero.

So, when my daughter and her husband decided to get a dog last year (her first one, because we sure didn’t have one while she was growing up), I’m ashamed to admit that my first thought was “how could she do this to me?”. (I know… that was so awful). But oh… my shame was immediate. How in the world could I seriously believe that she had purposely set out to hurt me by bringing an adorable puppy into her home? (The absolute cutest one I have ever laid eyes on by the way). She had every right to finally have a dog. But why did it bother me so much?

Because the time had finally come for me to face this fear, and I knew it. No more living day-to-day, expecting others to help me navigate through life, avoiding sweet animals that honestly, I was afraid of but didn’t really know why. I knew that if I wanted to spend any amount of time with my kids, I would have to be around their little dog too. So, I did what any fearful Momma would do: I prayed.

I prayed daily that when I met Teddy, I would not be afraid of him. Over the next month, my daughter Facetime’d with me every evening. When I answered the phone, Teddy would always be sitting there, as if he had been the one to call me up! I watched him play and eat, and truly began to look forward to my calls from him.

By the time I arrived in town for my visit, I was quite anxious to meet him; both in the good way, and the extremely-nervous way. He was a puppy, so I expected he would jump up on me. (That has always been the thing that sends paralyzing fear through me). But when they opened the door, there he sat. So good. So sweet. So incredibly adorable. And for the first time in my memory, I reached down and picked up a dog. (Awkwardly, of course. I had no experience in this area!). The kids’ mouths fell open, but I was the most surprised. My mind saw him as a sweet little toddler, and God had miraculously answered my prayers. He is so good.

Since then, Teddy has taught me many things, and at times, has probably made my kids question if I love him more than them. (So funny!). If I ever start to forget it, Teddy now serves as a reminder that God cares so deeply about every single detail of my life. And yours! Nothing is too small or insignificant that He won’t use to help us break free from the things that hold us captive. He is ready to help us… we just have to ask.


Sweet Sixteen

October 21, 2022

By Stacee Helton


Earlier this week, my mind traveled back in time, just a bit. As I often do, I woke up early, not yet wanting to crawl out from under the warm covers. I grabbed my phone, to take a peek at what the rest of the world was up to. One glance at my home screen revealed a date with which I am very familiar: October 19.

It was on this date, 32 years ago, that a young boy in my church youth group escorted me to our football Homecoming dance. He was 15, and I was the “older woman” at 16 years of age. Oh… I can remember wanting to be 16 so badly. Not only did it mean that I could get my driver’s license, but it also meant the start of something wonderful: I could officially begin dating! (Even picked up in a car!).

I really shouldn’t have been surprised when he asked me to Homecoming. Several other kids from church went to the dances together, over the years. But, I was still a little bit shocked. I had been praying that God would send me the right guy (my “one and only”) to date, because I didn’t want to endure a lot of breakups. I wasn’t really expecting God to agree to that one, because most kids just aren’t that mature, or future-minded. But He does answer prayers, in His own way and in His own time. (This time, I was thrilled that His timing actually lined up with mine!).

After marching in the halftime show at the football game, my date and I headed for the school cafeteria to attend the dance. Afterwards, we had made plans to watch a movie at my house, with my cousin and her boyfriend. But when we left the dance, her boyfriend decided to drive us around town for a while, first. We cruised to the oh-so-romantic tunes of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby”. It was on repeat. I’m pretty sure it was the only song on that cassette tape. The awkwardness of my first date became even more so, as I could feel the eyes of all the townspeople on us, with every thump, thump of the song. By the time our cruising was over, I could “stop, collaborate and listen” as well as anyone else. The song choice almost made our movie choice better. Almost.

“Tales From the Dark Side” was great. (I know you can’t hear it, but trust me… that sentence is oozing with sarcasm). While I spent most of the evening genuinely creeped out at the movie, I will always remember 2 things about that night: A precious arm, slipped around the back of my shoulders by a very sweet and kind young man, and the look that my cousin shot over at me, when that happened. It was a surprised look, mixed with a little bit of pride. After all, my date had actually gained the courage to ask me to the dance, after some encouragement from her.

Over the last 32 years, we have celebrated many things: 27+ years of marriage, the births of our children, 25+ years in the ministry, 7 moves between 5 different states, our children’s baptisms, sending them off to college, gaining a son-in-law, and watching their dreams become reality, in much the same way that ours have. We have also experienced a great deal of loss over the years. It has been a journey of both sacrifice and blessings, all wrapped up in the same beautiful package. Putting imperfect people together and expecting a life free of heartache and pain would be foolish. But the reason I can call it all “beautiful” is that even when we travel through tough times, I know that my “answer to prayer” will be right there beside me, with his precious arm still wrapped around my shoulders. Sixteen was sweet, indeed… but forty-eight holds all the best memories.


EMBRACE IT!

October 14, 2022

By Stacee Helton


My plans were made and my bags were packed. We watched the sun come up as we traveled the two and a half hours to the airport in the dark, wee hours of the morning. I had big plans to visit my kids in Oklahoma for the week. My son is in his first year of college at my alma mater, and my daughter and her husband both work there at the same university, after recently graduating from there.

As I said “goodbye” to my husband at the passenger drop-off area and prepared to get my bags checked in, I hugged him a little bit longer than usual. It wasn’t just because I was going to be gone for a week. And it wasn’t entirely because I’m uneasy with flying. Mostly, it was because I knew I was leaving him alone, in what has become a very quiet house, in our new season of empty-nesting. He wasn’t really bothered by it, but it just felt a bit sad to me.

When I arrived at the airport in Oklahoma, my daughter was there to meet me, and she gave me her sweet, sweet “tight squeeze”. Those hugs are the best! In that moment, every bit of worry and dread about flying that morning melted into a puddle, right along with me. As we left the airport, my son called to ask when we would be arriving at the university. He was waiting outside the main building, and wouldn’t go to his next class until he could hug his Momma. (Afterall, 2 months is a long time to be away from home!). When we pulled in, that man-child of mine ran across the parking lot and gave me the biggest hug I’ve had since he moved away.

Over the next week, there were many more hugs; college friends who still live around there, and others I rarely get to see, who were also there for weekend festivities. There was no shortage of hugs during the week, and I loved it. That is, until it came time for the one I had been dreading, all week long. The last one with my daughter, before leaving town again. Those are never easy. I truly love hugs, until I remember that it’s the last one, this visit… and at the end of it, one of us will be driving away. It is always the hardest part of any trip. But I never stay sad for long; I just start planning the next visit!

Last night, my son and I arrived back home in Missouri, after driving for almost 9 hours. (He is on Fall Break for a few days). We stepped out of the car and I watched my husband and son give each other great big bear hugs, before I received a sweet embrace of my own. Gosh, I needed that hug.

In 2018, healthline.com published an article entitled “What Are the Benefits of Hugging”? The benefits included: reduced stress, boosted heart health, a feeling of happiness due to an increase in oxytocin, and reduced fears and pain. If you aren’t much of a hugger, I encourage you to give it a try! You just might find that your tension is lighter and your day looks brighter! Embrace it!


HARD TO PLEASE

October 7, 2022

By Stacee Helton

One of my favorite memes on social media says, “You can’t make everyone happy; you aren’t chocolate”. (I’ve also seen the word “chocolate” substituted for “pizza” or “tacos”, etc). I prefer the chocolate one, of course. Those closest to me know two things:


  1. I LOVE chocolate. (Except those chocolate crosses sold at Easter. Something just feels wrong about eating a cross. Anyone else?).

  2. I really and truly want people to be happy. More specifically, I want them to be happy with me.


For as long as I can remember, I have had “issues” with people-pleasing. If I believe that someone might be upset with me, I will lose sleep. Probably all week. I can overthink a situation to the point of making myself sick. To keep this from happening, I will do everything in my power to ensure that the people in my circle are happy with me. This includes agreeing to help out with things, when I’m already overbooked or exhausted from a stressful week (I have also offered before I’m even asked… just to make someone happy), sending text messages and emails with smiley faces at the end of my sentences, just to make sure there’s no chance that it could be considered ugly, mean, or hateful. I can overthink a short reply or delayed response from someone, for hours. (Oh, the stories my husband could tell).

I like to refer to myself as a “recovering people-pleaser” because, believe it or not, my younger self was much worse. But it can still rear its ugly head, when I least expect it. And when it does, Galatians 1:10 is quite convicting, and reminds me of where my focus should lie. “Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant”. Ouch.

So then the question becomes: How do we change old habits? The ones that have maybe been with us for as long as we can remember? I think it begins with figuring out the why. Why do we behave the way we do? I’ve actually known my “why” for a long time. I don’t want to be left behind, left out, or forgotten. I don’t want to lose anyone, or worry that letting someone down might make them upset enough to walk away. It’s a very old and real insecurity for me. But if you also struggle with people-pleasing (or any other bad habit), I would encourage you to figure out your “why”. Once you know why, you can work on changing that behavior and getting your focus back, too. There is only One who is worthy of our time and attention and effort. And my favorite part: He promises to never leave!

SEASONS CHANGE

October 1, 2022

By Stacee Helton

A few years ago, a Saucer Magnolia tree was planted in the front yard of our house (aka: the church parsonage). I couldn’t wait to see the pink and white blossoms begin to appear, and to watch it grow. While I can’t be trusted with house plants (they don’t stand a chance), I had a lot of hope for this tree! It would be cared for by God, and let’s face it… His thumbs are definitely more “green” than mine!

The first Spring only produced a few blooms, but they were so dainty and cute! I was very excited! The next Spring, there were a few more blooms. They never held on for too long, but they were beautiful while they lasted. I enjoyed watching the little tree grow and change with time, and I was a little bit sad to have to leave it behind when we moved into our own home in December of 2019.

Fast forward to February of 2021, the church was preparing to tear down the old parsonage. A knock at our front door revealed a church friend standing there with a surprise! “Where do you want it?”, he asked. He had dug up the little Magnolia tree and stood ready to re-plant it in our yard, anywhere my heart desired! I chose the perfect spot outside my window. He planted it and then told me that it might not bloom that year because of the move. But, oh my goodness! A month later, not only did it bloom, but it bloomed more than it ever had before! It was absolutely beautiful!

This year, Spring arrived, but the blooms did not. Summer and Fall have followed, and still no blooms. None. After a bit of research and talking with friends who know about these things, I’ve learned that it might just be taking a year to recover from the move, and we will most likely see “a year to sleep, a year to creep, and a year to leap”. So… we wait for next Spring, in hopeful anticipation. And maybe even the next one, after that.

Last week, I was looking out my window at the sad, and very bare, little tree. It’s crazy to think that last year, it was so beautiful while this year, it almost looks dead. I noticed something though. Even though the blooms never appeared this year, the tree did get taller and it looks stronger! It’s not dead! It’s just going through a rough season. A season where rest has provided strength, and yes… some growth, even if it isn’t visible from the outside. Now surely we can all relate to that! We all go through seasons when days can be filled with fear or stress, and sometimes extreme sadness over things that are out of our control. But God still finds ways to remind us that He sees us, He cares for us, and He uses those hard seasons to help us grow. Don’t be discouraged! Be still and rest when you can, and trust His perfect timing! Next season just might find us in full bloom!