Gone But Never Forgotten

1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a mighty shout and with the soul-stirring cry of the archangel and the great trumpet-call of God. And the believers who are dead will be the first to rise to meet the Lord. Then we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever.” Loretta Park2

Today is April 29th…it’s your birthday and today would have been 59.

I know you cannot read the words I am writing or even hear words that I speak aloud to myself as I think of you because you are asleep but, I am so glad that you were my sister and I am happy that God allowed me 59 years with you. I wish we could have had more time together.

For as long as I can remember, I have always taken the time to remember your special day by sending you a card and then calling you to say “Happy Birthday.” Today is so very different. It felt strange not going into a store this week and looking over all the cards in the “Sister” section finding just the right card for you. I am now left reminiscing past birthdays, holidays and special times wishing I had just one more opportunity to spend time with you.  We had some bad moments and we had good times too.  We did not always see eye to eye, but then who does?

As I think of you right now, I remember our last big family celebration on Mother’s Day. We were all of together laughing, joking around– all the sistah’s in the kitchen frying up some fish with Honey looking on.  Little did we know, you were ill and this would be one of the last big celebrations we would all have with you.  I wish you could have shared with us that you were ill. We would have supported you in your illness and made every single moment count from that day forward.

I now hold close and cherish the  memories of those last weeks, days and moments of your life. Loretta, I hope you heard what I whispered in your ear. In those last final moments I hope you felt the love of your family…your mother, sisters, brother, your children, your nieces and nephews, John and Jesse; but most importantly I hope you felt the warmth and love Jesus Christ, your Savior surrounding you as you drifted into eternal sleep.

Happy Birthday My Sister. I love you and I miss you!

Loretta Hall
April 29, 1955 – August 27, 2013

Thinking of you on your birthday Loretta
But that is nothing new
For no day dawns and no day ends
Without a thought of you!

Arlene Castañeda ©

“The Spirit of CHRISTmas”

Christmas-CrossChristmas can mean different things to people. To some it is a pagan holiday and those who believe it to be pagan spend a lot of time trying to convince you of all the reasons you should not celebrate Christmas.

For some, it is the best time of the year and for others the worst.  It can be a reminder of childhood memories be they good or bad; it can be a reminder of broken heart and missing family members. For some it is running around preparing for parties, out-of-town guests and family members coming home. It is a time of reunions for families and friends; it is reaching out to people afar.

One observation that I have made about the weeks leading up to Christmas is that people put on the friendly façade.  You get in an elevator and an individual that probably would have never said anything to you between the months of February through October now suddenly looks at you in November, December and January and says “Happy Thanks giving, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, or Happy New Year!”

Homeless shelters now matter and people, who never pay attention to the plight of the homeless and literally stepped over them, are now willing to drop off food, gifts and toys to the children. People who hold tightly to their money are now dropping a few dollars in the Salvation Army Red Bucket. Everyone is so willing to give at Christmas time. Merry Christmas!!!

For me, December 25th is a symbolic day of the birth of Christ. In Luke 2:7-8, shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth and I don’t think shepherds were in the field during the month of December. I think they would have been very cold.  The actual date of Christ birth for me really does not matter.  I am just glad He was born.  Christmas is not about lights, trees and Santa; it is about loving, sharing and caring.

God demonstrated that love with a plan of our salvation that came with the birth of His son. He shared His son with us, a son that born to die. In His life time, He was a dead man walking.  Born, but destined to die. Hallelujah…God gave that for me. He knew that we would mess up before we even existed and, he loved us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice.

The birth of a baby named Jesus; the Savior of this world should be something we rejoice about everyday and not be pulled out of storage around December and then boxed up and stored until next year.

Instead of waiting until Christmas, December 25th to give a smile, gift or even to say hello to that strange on the street, have the “Spirit of Christ” each and every day!

Love came down at Christmas but, the story of Christ and His love go well beyond his birth.  He was born, he bled, he died, he lives and he is coming soon!!!

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends!!

© 2013 – Arlene Castañeda

Missing You!

Thanksgiving has now passed and Christmas is fast approaching and for the past few weeks I have felt a heaviness of sorrow.  It has been approximately 99 days since my sister passed and it is still hard for me to believe that she is gone. I used to be the most emotional person in the world and would cry at the drop of a hat but, I am having a hard time grieving. I want to understand why my sister is gone. I think if I hold back my sorrow, I will wake up from this horrible dream. I have had some moments that I have been laying in bed and wet drops of salty sorrow (tears) fall down the side of my face and roll into my ears when I think about her. Her passing leaves me with an abyss of emptiness.

My sister Elaine just called me on the phone a few minutes ago and she was crying. She was putting up her Christmas tree with all the ornaments and other items for the tree that once belonged to Loretta and it became too emotional for her. She told me that Navier her seven year old grandson saw her crying and came over to her and hugged her and said “Grandma don’t cry; you will see her again when Jesus comes.” What Navier said gave her some comfort but, she was still sad. My sister also asked me if I thought about Loretta; and I do all the time.

I learned a lot of things about my sister Loretta at her memorial service. I knew that my sister was such a giving person but, I never knew the magnitude of her giving and just how far it spread. I learned that she that she made home cooked meals during the holidays and sought out homeless people under bridges and other places throughout the city and fed them hot meals to bring them joy.

My sister always would make that call to me around the end of October or beginning of November to inquire if I had a turkey for Thanksgiving because she had one for me if I had not made my purchase yet. During Christmas she always had a gift under the tree for anyone who entered her home; even strangers.

Her untimely passing has made me have lots of regrets. I regret that I did not spend more time with her. I took for granted that she was always a phone call away. I must admit that during the holidays, I would spend time with my husband’s family and would catch up with my family after the fact. This year, I changed that. I love my family and I decided this year that I would not spend my Thanksgiving and the Sabbath following Thanksgiving without them. We had so much fun. Every year for the past four years Mario’s family has met at Great Wolf Lodge in Sandusky for Thanksgiving and it was so nice for my family to be there. Now everyone could not attend, but it is our family goal to become part of that tradition.

On this past Sabbath after Thanksgiving, I had a big dinner for my family and we had a ball. Yes, there were moments when I reflected on my sister wishing she could be there but, everything happens for a reason. Her passing has made draw closer to my family. I have made contact with my other sisters and my mother every night since her passing. It might just be an “I am thinking of you”, a “Good Night”, I Love you” or, for Elaine and Hope, it is often just a smiley face by text. I also speak to my brother who lives in Louisiana more often. I can now admit that getting married and starting my own family made me often put my family on the back burner. Now while it was not intentional, it happened. I lost time with my family that can never be replaced and I lost a sister who I am now wishing I could still talk to. I have vowed to get closer and stay closer.

The last four weeks of my sister’s life I let her know that I loved her and I apologized to her for anything that I did that may have hurt her and I let her know I was dorry for the lost time. Even down to the last minutes and seconds of her life, I whispered in her ear that I loved her with all my heart.

Why am I sharing all this? All families have drama. We all do and say things that we regret but, do not allow the dynamics of drama to take away your focus on the family. When I think of a scripture that reflects just how much we should value time, I think of James 4:14 in a few different versions:

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (King James Version)

The reality is you have no idea where your life will take you tomorrow. You are like a mist that appears one moment and then vanishes another. (The Voice Version)

You don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Your life is like a fog. You can see it for a short time, but then it goes away. (Easy to Read Version)

James 13-15 And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.” (The Message Version)

Just remember that tomorrow is not a given; it is nothig but a hope!! Tragedy can come in a moment’s notice, at the blink of an eye. Don’t miss your opportunity to say I love you, I am sorry or I was just thinking about you and wanted you to know it. Take the opportunity today, because tomorrow is not promised.

Missing my big sister with all my heart!

© 2013 – Arlene Castañeda

Loretta Taylor Hall
April 29, 1955 – August 27, 2013

In car

Just Ask!

keep-calm-and-ask-god-17My mornings are hectic and crazy. I usually am very organized, I have school uniforms ironed, socks and all the other necessary on the night stands and ready to go. Lately I seem off task getting Mariana and Alana ready in the morning, it seems like there is so much to do. Helping them get dressed, combing hair, making sure they have their book bags, gym bags on the days they have gym, the homework packed, reading logs signed and then trying to get myself together for work. I always get the leftover time and walk out the door hoping that I look half way decent.

So here we are Tuesday, November 12, 2013, it snowed last night and in addition to everything else, I am now thinking about boots, hats, and gloves, getting the girls to school and me to work on time. It is a real chaotic morning. We are running out the door and my hands are full with my cup of java, glass of water, and my portfolio for work. I hop in the car and as I am backing out the garage I am thankful that I did not have to clean off my car because it is parked in the garage. I am off to drop the girls to school and amazingly I make it to work 15 minutes early and here is where the drama unfolds.
I get to my office, throw all my things on my desk and I am missing my house keys. I look through my purse and they are not there. I search my pockets, and no house keys. I check my portfolio, no keys. So I go back out to my car and search the car seats, under the seats, mats, all the nooks and crannies and still no keys. I then start to panic! I go back into my office and look again and still no keys. I realize that I must have either left my keys in the door at home or maybe dropped them in the snow. As I get in my car and drive back home trying not to speed, I am saying to myself could I have been in such a rush that I left the keys in the door? I know I did not leave the keys in the door.

I pull in my driveway and instantly look at the side door and I see no keys. While I am thankful I don’t see the keys, I am still in a panic. I jump out my car as the garage door goes up and I begin frantically looking for my house keys. I am searching the garage, I walk up and down the drive, and I walk around in the back yard while kicking snow around and no keys.

As I pull out the drive, the Holy Spirit say’s to me “You parked in the garage last night.” Not really understanding the statement, I pull back in the yard and go to the garage again. I look again but no keys. I don’t want to give up and I drive slowly up and down my street looking out my window for my keys. As I am driving I finally get the message from the Holy Spirit. When I drove out my drive way this morning, I remember hearing what I thought was ice falling off the car. I ask myself, “How could ice fall off the car when it was in the garage last night?” So I start driving up and down the street again looking for my house keys. I finally decide I am going to have to change my locks because someone is going to find my house keys. I resolve that I have lost house keys somewhere in the snow and I have to tell Mario we need to get the locks changed.

Sitting at the red light at the corner of my street I say aloud “God please, where is my keys?” And just as clear as day, He tells me to get out of my car and look at the windshield wipers. Low and behold my keys. I get back in my car and scream “THANK YOU JESUS!!!”

Now you would think that finding the keys is the best part of this story, well it’s not. As I am driving back to work, it is in that moment I realize just how Awesome my God is. Why, because I drove the girls to school. I drove to work, taking all kinds of twist and turns. I drove back home. I drove and up down my street and driveway looking for my house keys and God kept those keys nestled in the windshield wipers until I finally realized that I needed to ask Him for his help. All I had to do is Ask.

HALLELUJAH…. GOD IS ALL THAT! Are you in need? Just Ask!

Ephesians 3:20 – The Message (MSG)
God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

 

 

Imprints on the Heart

fingerprint_heartI was in browsing up and down the aisle of a new Super Wal-Mart the other day and I decided I wanted to bake a cake.  I was looking for a box of Swans Down or Softasilk cake flour and as I searched up and down the aisle I saw something on the shelf that immediately took my breath away and tears welled up in my eyes.  It was a bag of Hudson Cream Flour! Now there is a reason why seeing Hudson Cream Flour made me so emotional.

The year is 1977 and I get my first “real” job at Whinney, Murray, Ernst & Ernst. I am 20 years old, young, eager and glad to have landed a good job.  My very first job, was a switch board operator and I worked in a room full of diverse women; young, older, mature, white, black and coming to work was enjoyable and offered so many learning experiences.

Now you are probably wondering what all this has to do with Hudson Cream Flour.  I worked with a woman by the name Burlyn Ellen Martin who was living in Euclid, Ohio with her husband Richard by way West Virginia.  In my young mind, I thought she was really old but, according to my calculations, she was about 36 years of age.   Ellen was the nicest woman I have ever met. She always had a smile on her face and was a joy to work with.  There were so many things I admired about Ellen; she left an imprint on my heart.

What almost seemed like every morning, Ellen would treat us to fresh-baked biscuits with butter.  Now these biscuits were not just warm and would melt in your mouth but they were the lightest biscuits that I had ever tasted, and eating them was like biting into air.  I cannot even begin to imagine getting up every morning making homemade biscuits but, it was a real treat. The most special part about the biscuits was that Ellen only used Hudson Cream Flour and back in 1977 you could not purchase Hudson Cream Flour in the Cleveland area. Every time Ellen ventured back to West Virginia where her mom lived, she would bring large bags of Hudson Cream Flour back to Cleveland for baking.

After twenty-three and a half years and moving around in various positions, I left what had now become Ernst & Young.  As I made my departure, I told many of the individuals that had made an impact not on just my career but my life just how much they meant to me. There were many people who guided me in my time at E&Y and many friends; Pat Bass, Joyce McMickens, Donna Curl, Gina Gillomabardo, Emma Meister, Roman Ochrin, Ann Moore, Laura Gunn. Donna Elaine Matthews (just to name a few) but, Burlyn Ellen Martin was like my momma at work.

After leaving E&Y, I was contacted by one of my former staff members to let me know that Ellen was retiring. I wrote Ellen a long letter expressing how much I loved her, what she meant to me and the impact she made on my life. My days at the switchboard afforded me the opportunity to learn how to smoke and Ellen also smoked. I remember one of the things I said to her in my letter was that I wanted her to stop her cigarette smoking. I guess I put that in the letter because when people mean something to you, you tell them the things you really want them to know and she was about to embark on her retirement and I did not know when I would see her again.

A few years back, I just happened to run into one of my coworkers and I began asking about all the staff I knew and when I mentioned Ellen I was told she passed in March of 2006 from lung cancer. It hurt me so much to hear that.

Fast forward to about a week ago in Wal-Mart as I stood staring at the bag of Hudson Cream Flour…I fondly remember Ellen and the time I spent with her at Ernst & Ernst. I did not get the bag of Hudson Cream flour that day because thinking of Ellen in that moment was too much for me to handle. I look forward to going back to Wal-Mart and picking up a bag of Hudson Cream Flour. I am going to make me a large batch of homemade biscuits and when I sit down to enjoy them with some butter and maybe some strawberry preserves, I will think of the woman who let an imprint on my heart.

Ellen and Arlene

Rest in peace my dear friend
Burlyn Ellen Martin
March 3, 1941 – March 16, 2006

Lord help me to live my life in such a way that when I no longer here, I have left a positive imprint on the hearts of my family and friends.

© 2013 – Arlene Castañeda

I TRY

As I was driving to work this morning my mind drifted back to the lyrics of a song from 1979… “I try to do the best I can for you; but it seems it’s not enough…”   If you are around my age, you know “I Try” is a love song by Angela Bofill.

Now the song was not on my mind because I was thinking of an old flame and traveling down memory lane.  I related the lyrics of the song to a debate that I had this morning with my 10-year old. It seems like no matter what I do it is never enough.  She does not see or feel the love I have for her.

Looking back on my life, I began pondering the thought of motherhood probably between the ages of 15 – 17, maybe even younger.  By age 25, I decided I did not want to be a mother and I was adamant. It was my choice and a great choice for me at the time.  I had so many things I wanted to do, places I wanted to see and having children just was not in the plan.  I admit I selfishly did not want to be a mom. Ultimately many of my decisions on becoming a mother came from seeing how hard my mother struggled to keep her family together after her husband of over 25 years walked out on her.  My mother is amazing! I don’t think I could have done many of the things that she did.

Fast forward to 2013…I now am a grandmother/mother.  I guess God had His own plan. No, Madi and Alana are not my biological children but, it does not change the love that I have for them. The girls have been with us since they were about three and four and attended the Early Learning Center at my job. They are now in the 3rd and the 5th grade, in church school and growing up so fast. My husband and I have made many sacrifices but, everything we do is because we love them and want the best for them.

When I look at parenting, I have to imagine it as a college course level.  I would think that surely by now I would at the 200 series level. But, I have to admit, I am more at the remedial/ prerequisite 090 level. I sometime just don’t know what I am doing. Thank goodness for my husband Mario. Parenting is tough!  No matter what anyone says it is challenging and sometimes the challenges of being a parent can often be overwhelming.

Children today are living in a time like never before. There are so many things that stimulate their minds. They are affected by television, the internet, their peers, and often just want to fit in. The hustle and bustle of our fast-paced society is waging a war on childhood and all that over stimulation is my competition…but, I try.

I don’t want the girls to have a childhood that is spent mostly indoors, watching television, playing video games and working the Internet. I want them to ride bikes, jump rope, play games like red rover, kick the can, hop scotch and chalk on the sidewalk. My challenge is neighborhoods that are not like when we were young. You have to watch the predator lists because you don’t know who lives just down the street. You stand by the window and peer out while they innocently play. And, you also have to just pray.

I am trying to be a slow-paced parent and keep Madi and Alana’s minds on the simple things in life, while still preparing them for the future without exposing them to things that can have a lasting impact on them. I want them to be humble, loving, virtuous women; and above all I want them to know Christ up close and personal.

Often in doing what we think is right, the individuals on the receiving end think it’s so unfair. They don’t see the behind the scene things. They just don’t feel the love.

Lord, help me to show even “more” love and when it’s seems it’s not enough, please take over and be the overflow!

© 2013 – Arlene Castañeda

I NEED A DRINK

“…but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

We take water for granted. Over 70 percent of our body is made of water.  The body has no way to store water and needs a fresh supply every day.  The human body can last weeks without food, but only days without water. Our body is nothing without water. Water is essential for life and without water we would surely die…And so it is with the Lord.

When you are really thirsty there is nothing like a refreshing glass of ice-cold water. When you drink it down, it quenches’ your dry mouth and all you can do is just say Ahhhh! I need an ahhh moment right now.

I have gotten caught up in “life” and all the complexities of life and feeling like I need a good drink. I am feeling some emptiness inside and I know that God is the only one that can fill this void. My thirst goes deeper than the satisfaction felt when you gulp down a cold glass of water. I am a bone dry, parched and empty vessel. I need to take a deep plunge in “the water.”

I thirst!  My soul is thirsty.

“…And even though my soul is thirsty, you are the God of the overflow.
Your presence is water, your presence is water. Come fill me then fill me again…”
Anthony Brown, Water

Lord, you are water and I need a cool drink!  Drench my mind, my heart and drench my spirit with Your presence.

God quench my thirst.

© 2013 – Arlene Castañeda

waterwoman

Happy Birthday…Happy New Year!

lovly-happy-birthday-cake-picturedsHappy Birthday, Happy New Year!

Birthdays for me are special and anyone that knows me, knows that I love to celebrate my birthday. For my 50th birthday in 2007, I had a huge birthday celebration inviting my close “sister girl” friends for a retreat of relaxing, reflecting and honoring friendships.

I am especially enjoying this year, Wednesday, October 9, 2013 because; I was actually born on WednesdayOctober 9, 1957 and to me that is special.

A birthday for me is also like New Year’s day. On New Year‘s day we make our personal affirmations and resolutions for all the things we want to do better and things we want to change. So my birthday is a “New Year” blessing from God. It is my own personal new beginning. I celebrate this day and I enjoy this start of a new year.

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