We are not guaranteed tomorrow

This is a very hard story to post, but I am very proud of my daughter for writing this.

I hope it gives someone the strength to carry on after a horrific loss. I also will never know how my oldest daughter, Tara drove Brittney to our house that day, when they were almost 2 hours from our home.

June 23rd, 2012 - What started off as a great day, quickly turned into the worst day of my life.

I woke up that morning so excited. My husband, Hunter, had been deployed for a little over six months, which meant we were one more month away from him coming home. Around this time, my days were filled with 'coming home' preparations for our home and our life. I had all of his favorite beer stalked in the mini fridge in his new man cave, and a stack of weekend newspapers from the time he left to now. I figured he would come home and sit in his man cave with a cigarette, beer and read up on everything he missed while he was in Afghanistan. 

That morning I went straight to a meeting with a client. Hunter had only been gone 6 months, and I booked my fifth wedding that morning. I couldn't wait to tell him. I knew he would be so proud of me. However, the news would have to wait because he was on one last mission, which meant no contact with the outside world for 2-3 days. I was scared for him, but I was hopeful. I knew he would be okay. I mean he made it this far, right? He just had one more mission and then he was on his way home. 

My sister lived with us in North Carolina. Actually, when we got the orders to the east coast, my whole family came with us. Thank goodness, because it kept me sane and busy while he was away. After booking the wedding and getting a check for the deposit, my sister and I decided to drive to Raleigh to celebrate. We usually listened to music while we drove far distances, but instead we talked the whole car ride (2.5 hours). We pretty much spent the whole time planning for when Hunter would get home. We talked about us finally having a wedding, and trying again for a baby. In the midst of dreaming and planning, I checked my phone (every two seconds just to make sure i didn't miss his call) and i saw on Facebook that his platoon was in River City. "River City" is a term the military uses when there has been a casualty, and all communication has been cut off. It is mainly so a wife/husband or parent doesn't hear about the casualty from social media or a friend before hearing it from the Military. 

We finally got to Raleigh and decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. We ordered our favorite - Chicken and Biscuits. I took a couple bites of my food and my cell phone rang. The number was one that I didn't recognize. I thought for a split second that it might be Hunter, but the number for the satellite phone always had a Hawaii area code. This one did not. Right at that moment, I had so many thoughts racing through my head. Maybe it's Hunter, and the area code is just different. No, he's on a mission and said he wouldn't be in contact for two or three days. Maybe he got done early. Then it hit me. I remembered something that a fellow military wife told me a few months before. She said that when your loved one is killed in battle, marines go to your house to inform you. If you're not home, or at the address listed on your paperwork, they call you. From that moment, before I even answered the phone, I knew. 

I looked at my sister with a concerned look as I answered the phone. "Hello, is Mrs. Hogan there?" It was a man who was not Hunter. He said his name, but I couldn't hear it. All I heard was "Lieutenant", and that's all it took. I leaped out of the booth and ran outside. The man on the phone asked me where I was. I couldn't even talk at this point. I didn't even know where I was. I fell down on the ground outside and was crying hysterically. He kept asking me where I was, and I kept yelling at him "Tell me what happened!" He wouldn't tell me. He just kept asking me where I was because he was coming to me. He told me to stay where I was and that he would be there. I don't even remember hanging up on him. My sister finally ran outside to find me, and there were several strangers around me trying to figure out why I was screaming, but no words would come out. 

You always hear about people having strange feelings or premonitory dreams when someone close to them passes away. I hadn't heard the words come out of anyone's mouth yet, but I knew that my husband had been killed. My sister was helping me off the ground and I was trying to explain what the man on the phone was saying to me. A very nice man at the mall came to us and tried to calm me down. He said not to worry, and that it could be that he was injured, but no matter what happened, they can't tell you over the phone. They have to tell you in person. Next, Hunter's father called me and he was crying. I screamed at him to tell me what happened, and he said "They didn't tell you?" "Baby, he's dead." Those words will echo in my mind until the day I die. I fell to the ground. All of the life sucked out of me. My poor sister was crying, but trying to lift me up off the ground. Everyone was staring at us. She was so strong. Somehow she managed to get us both to the car and drive us to my mother's house an hour and a half away. That was the longest car ride of our lives. 

The marines were waiting for us at my mother's house when we arrived. I don't know how they even got her address. Almost everything about that day is a blur now. 

The next few hours, days, and weeks are just as hard to write about. My husband of two years, Hunter Hogan, was killed in combat June 23rd, 2012. In the blink of an eye, my whole life changed. All of our lives changed. We lost an amazing man. 21 years old, but the oldest soul you'd ever met. Hunter was everyone's best friend. He was the toughest, meanest cowboy you'd ever meet, but those of us who knew him really well knew a different side to him. He was the most loving, caring, honest man there was. He touched so many people in only 21 years. He lived a life fuller than most fifty year olds have. It didn't make sense...

Marines die. Soldiers die. Seamen die. But not mine. I never in a million years considered that he wouldn't come back. Of course, you try not to think about it. It's always in the back of your mind, but the more you think about it, the more you think it might happen, and the harder it is to get through deployments. So you just don't think about it. You are never prepared for something like this to happen to you. Especially at the age of 21. 

Three years ago today, Hunter was taken from us. It is so strange looking back from the day that we met, and thinking about everything that happened and lead up to June 23rd. So many questions go through your mind on a daily basis. Why did we even meet? What if I didn't go to that wedding on October 16th? How different would my life be? Would it be better? Would it be worse? The answer is, who cares. We did meet. We did get married and I wouldn't change any of it. Even though losing him was the hardest thing I've ever had to go through and will continue to go through for the rest of my life, I wouldn't trade any of the happy moments and happy memories I have just to not feel this pain. That's how life is though, right? You can't look into a crystal ball and see each possible path laid out in front of you and decide from there which way you want to go. Of course not. It's a gamble. 

Life is hard. We all go through pain and suffering. The pain isn't what defines us. It's how we deal with it that defines us and builds our character. After Hunter died, I woke up every morning next to a bottle of Jack Daniels. Can you blame me? It has taken me a long time to get to where I am today. It's taken me a long time to see what Hunter did for me and our family and our country and consider it an honor, or an act of valor. It's hard not to be selfish about something like this. All Hunter wanted to do was join the Marine Corps and fight for his country. And that's what he did. He's a hero. It's because of people like him who are willing to lay down their life for our country, that we are able to live free and safe. I see that now. I never truly knew what it meant to be patriotic until I met him. 

The hardest part of losing someone is realizing that they're not coming back. Realizing that you have a long life ahead of you without them is a harsh reality. However, it's true. I am lucky enough to have found love again. It's very interesting to reflect on how I interacted with Hunter and compare it to how I interact with my Fiance, Graham. I'm still the same person inside, but losing your husband makes you a completely different person in your relationships. I find myself letting a lot of things slide that I typically wouldn't have with Hunter. It's little things that I've come to realize don't matter in the huge scheme of things. I always find myself thinking 'what if I lost Graham tomorrow, would I even remember this little thing that bothered me?' It's a really good way to be in a relationship, but sad that it takes losing someone to be like this. It made me realize that this is how most of us are, and it shouldn't take you losing someone to remember daily that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. 

I wish I could thank him for what he did for us. For being so brave and putting everything he had on the line for his country. I wish I would have known the last time I saw him was going to be the last. I wouldn't have let him go. 

Life is so short, and everyday could be your last. Do amazing things. Live fearlessly. Love fearlessly. Fight for what you believe in. Make each day count. 


Please check out Brittney's website www.virago-fitness.com and learn more about this brave woman's journey and to encourage others to "Run for your life"

Speak Life

I constantly think about the importance of the words we speak to our children.  They should be encouraging words, uplifting words, words of healing - speaking words of life.  Because of the way my father was to me, my parenting was way at the other end of the spectrum.  I wouldn't let anyone tell Tara she was bad; instead I told her that she made the wrong decision and redirected her.  When I disciplined her, I hugged her afterwards and told her I loved her and I knew
she would make better decisions next time. 
Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”  –Mother Teresa
There are many elements that are found in happy homes, and one that is common is "speaking words of encouragement."  Children thrive on encouragement, and by consistently speaking words of encouragement, we as parents can shape our children's lives in a positive way.

When we encourage our children, we give them courage to 'win in life.'  We build up their self-esteem and self-worth, and strengthen them for the next challenge in life that they will face.  Children that are encouraged by their parents are far more confident as they go through life.

My earliest memory as a child was my father telling me not to speak because I had nothing important to say.
He constantly told me I would never amount to anything.  I spent so many years trying to be good enough for him. 

Thank God I had a mother who always told me I could do anything, and believed in me.  Because at the age of 35, my father was still telling me I was nothing.  When you grow up feeling not loved or not good enough for your father, it makes you wonder, "How can my heavenly father possibly love me?"  Fathers have such a huge responsibility to their children, to be encouraging, uplifting and supportive.
 At the age of 39, the last time I saw him, as I was driving away from his house I started to cry knowing it was the last time I would see him.  It was no longer about me being good enough for him, it was that he wasn't good enough for me - because I was somebody and I was important.  It wasn't about what I had achieved or where I had been.  It was because of whose I am.  And no one will ever take that from me again. 
None of us are perfect.  We all have days where it seems impossible to be understanding, days where it seems impossible to not discipline our children out of anger.  But when you do blow it, give your child a huge hug, and tell them you are sorry.  Regroup and handle the situation out of love.  Choose to speak life not death to your children.



"Whom Shall I Send, and Who Will Go For Us?"

After almost 30 years of marriage and clearing the nest, I find myself with a good amount of “me” time.  I enjoy working out and traveling in considerable comfort or what’s better known as, 5 star-style.  Never would I have pictured myself in an environment with extreme poverty conditions surrounded by kids with scabies and countless unidentified skin conditions, but that is exactly where God put me. 
My first experience on the mission field was almost 4 years ago, accompanying my sister, Marlena, to Haiti.  Since I felt that my good deed was being there for my sister, I didn’t really consider that I was actually there for the Haitians.  To say I had a bad attitude is putting it mildly.  Although I can’t say this trip rocked my world, it did leave an impression on me.  Shortly after this trip, I went through a family crisis that brought me to my knees crying out to God just as I had seen the Haitians do in Haiti.  That was my wake up call.  It was God saying, “Here is your choice, Shelly. What do you choose? Life or death?”  I chose life.  Then my transformation began.  I wanted to know more and immerse myself in all things of God.  It wasn’t enough to just go to church anymore.  I wanted to read and study the Bible.  I wanted to go on more mission trips and this time be there for God’s purpose and not mine.  I started to have a real relationship with Christ and seeking His will for my life through daily fellowship with Him.  Through all this, I have learned that I am called to love and serve His people.  I go on medical missions trips even though I have no medical training or experience whatsoever and that’s when I see God using me for His glory.
On these trips, we run mobile clinics in Haiti and in Mexico.  Our teams consist of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and a few non-medical people like myself.  We set up our clinics in churches or even grassy fields with a few trees for shade and plenty of bugs.  Our main objective is to love on these people and share Christ’s love with them, while giving them basic medical attention.  I help in the pharmacy which is usually just a couple tables set up with our medicine and vitamins, including an old school pill counter, which I use to fill whatever orders the doctors request.  On the last trip to Palenque, I was in charge of patient management making sure people got to the right doctor in an orderly fashion.  What a joy to see people not only being cared for physically but spiritually as the hope of Christ is shared.
Some of my favorite times there are when I get to hold the babies and play with the children because they are always so open and loving.  Just like Jesus said, “the kingdom belongs to such as these.”  I also enjoy going to the local church services.  What a blast to witness the differences in cultures, yet united in that we worship the same God whether the women wear skirts and sit exclusively on the left side of the church, or everybody dances and claps in the aisles with arms up in full abandon.  The connections made, not only with the local people and with the other teammates, give me a glimpse into the true fellowship we are meant to have with each other.
These trips usually only last 1 week, but they leave me changed for good.  I come back with a little bit of each place with me.  For example, the new food I am introduced to while I am there. We had a turkey soup and Mojarra fish served with homemade tortillas, which I am adding to my menu at home.  More importantly, I come back with a grateful heart for all the ways that He has blessed me.  If you had asked me a while back, I would never have thought to call myself a missionary, yet by the grace of God, here I am.  Whom God calls, He enables and equips and that is where I find myself when I say “Yes” to God.  Isaiah 6:8 says it best for me:
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”


By Shelly Smith

Are You Making Yourself Crazy?

Here it comes again, another Monday.  On the bright side, Monday is a fresh new beginning.  However, for all of you worn out amazing women, Monday means another week of juggling way too many things; as an employee, mother, boss, spouse, friend - the list is endless. 


We have so much going on that we become overwhelmed.  When we are tired, the smallest things become unmanageable.  We walk a fine line between sanity and being insane.  We must learn when to rest, and when to say no to things that are just not that important.

"No" is not a dirty word.  It can actually be the most freeing word you will ever say.   We are meant to seek God daily for Him to lead our very full lives.  Jesus told us that the Holy Spirit would come alongside us, lead, guide and direct us.  So then why are we running in circles?  We lose sight of what really matters and what doesn't. 

I will never forget one Easter in particular.  Chloe was a baby, and my two oldest girls were still living at home.  I wanted to create the perfect Easter, one they would never forget.  Well, I think Jesus had already done that... but I was going to make it memorable and beautiful!  We had lots of family and friends coming over, so I was going to make the perfect Easter brunch.  I started on decorations the week before.  

I made huge paper mache Easter eggs the size of watermelons.  I placed the eggs all over the back yard.  I sat a very long table outside with pretty linens, china and fresh flowers.  I made the girls awesome Easter baskets.  I stuffed all the eggs with candy for the Easter egg hunt, I made sure everyone had a cute Easter outfit, and I made a homemade sugar-free cheese cake, dang it!  Well, I was so busy and overwhelmed with everything that we ended up missing church.  I felt really bad, but I had to do all these things so I could be the perfect mom and the perfect hostess! 

As soon as our guests arrived, the little boys started kicking my paper mache Easter eggs, that I worked on for weeks, like footballs onto the roof of our house.  The chocolate candy in the eggs had melted, and the kids said it looked like poop and didn't want to eat it.  When I went to serve my dessert that I was so proud of, it fell apart!  Nothing like a good dose of reality to put your priorities in place. 

I realized I had missed what was important.  Jesus said, "Come unto me and I will give you rest", not "run around like a crazy woman spending time on things that don't really matter."  All the things we do as women to set the mood for holidays and everyday living are important, but it all needs to be kept in perspective.

If This Chair Could Speak...

Before my Grandmother passed in 2005, she gave me a chair that she had had for years.  When I look at this chair, I think of one of my favorite songs from Amy Grant, called "These Old Walls" (lyrics below).  It sat on her back porch for more years than I can remember.  I wonder what this chair would say.  The cute wrought iron chair was a little ignored, sometimes covered in spider webs, sometimes stacked with newspapers, and sometimes had rugs drying on it.  But the things that chair had seen...days that will stay with me forever.  A childhood forever imbedded in my mind.  Homemade ice cream, watermelon, 4th of July, Smoky Joe, cousins, my grandma's garden, my grandpa's shed that he was always working in, coffee cans full of nails, and a grandma who loved to feed everyone.  A purple morning glory that climbed all down a long fence.

She gave me this chair probably 15 years ago.  I have moved many times since then and have managed to keep this, among several other priceless items. 

What scent, what special thing or what song brings back all the childhood memories for you?  What is it that warms your heart and brings a smile to your face?

If these old walls
If these old walls could speak
Of things that they remembered well
Stories and faces dearly held
A couple in love
Livin' week to week
Rooms full of laughter
If these walls could speak

If these old halls
If hallowed halls could talk
These would have a tale to tell
Of sun goin' down and dinner bell
And children playing at hide and seek
From floor to rafter
If these halls could speak

They would tell you that I'm sorry
For bein' cold and blind and weak
They would tell you that it's only
That I have a stubborn streak
If these walls could speak

If these old fashioned window panes were eyes
I guess they would have seen it all
Each little tear and sigh and footfall
And every dream that we came to seek
Or followed after
If these walls could speak

They would tell you that I owe you
More than I could ever pay
Here's someone who really loves you
Don't ever go away
That's what these walls would say

They would tell you that I owe you
More than I could ever pay
Here's someone who really loves you
Don't ever go away
That's what these walls would say
That's what these walls would say
That's what this chair would say

"These Old Walls" by Amy Grant


Coffee & a Book

"Give me a good cup of coffee and a book I love, and I will be happy."

The New York Times best sellers:  Week of May 10th, 2015

Paper Back Non-Fiction

1. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

2. American Sniper (Movie Tie-in Edition): The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen, Jim DeFelice

3. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell

How To, Self-Help

1. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Maria Kondo

2. The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom by Melissa Hartwig, Dallas Hartwig

3. TOX-SICK: From Toxic to Not Sick by Suzanne Somers    


          From the sweet to the savory, Letha Mae's Bakery & Cafe has pastries to satisfy any craving. They make specialty coffee and baked goods every day in-house.

Check out this lovely independent coffee shop and bakery located in San Tan Valley, AZ.

Letha Mae's Bakery & Cafe

40975 N Ironwood Dr Suite B104
San Tan Valley, AZ 85140