Well, the Rowlands made it! The holiday season is finally over, and once again, our family survived all the feelings that time of year brings. It never ceases to amaze me how God keeps bringing so many little surprises our way. Just when you think that life is boring and uneventful, “Bam!” something out of the blue and unusual happens. That is how I would describe the last couple of weeks for our family.

One thing we have learned from losing Holt is that you always have to “expect the unexpected,” but even though we have learned to think that way, it is never easy when unexpected things happen….unless they are good unexpected things. Our Christmas started out this year with a few minor changes. Instead of going to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve, we decided to have all of Dave’s family at our house. Another thing we have learned through losing Holt is that changing the holiday routine a bit can slightly ease the effects of grief during holiday celebrations. It was different to have everyone over at our house, but it was a nice change. Our house was filled with a houseful of family eating, laughing, playing games, and of course, opening gifts. Anytime we get together and laugh, we think about Holt Rowland. Nobody liked to laugh like that boy! He loved telling jokes to make other people laugh, but then, he would get tickled at his own jokes and laugh more than anybody!!

After surviving Christmas, we welcomed some special people to Blackshear. Mike, Jodi, Grace, and Wyman Shaheen came to stay with us for a few days. You may remember me writing about Mike and Jodi. They are missionaries through FCA in the Dominican Republic. Mike used to be the baseball coach for Wesleyan when they lived in Atlanta. Both Mike and Jodi are originally from the northeast, but they absolutely love being in our town and Pierce County. Our relationship with the Shaheen’s is a God-thing through Holt Rowland and an FCA mission trip to the Dominican in the summer of 2010.

When the Shaheen’s visit us, it is always nice to see them, but to me, it is specifically a spiritual blessing. Knowing that we have this relationship because of God’s purpose for our lives just blows me away. When I realize that we would not even know them if it wasn’t for God working in and through our lives, it encourages me to believe that God has a bigger purpose for each one of us. We just love to hear about their ministries in the Dominican and their lives there, but they say they love Pierce County. I think they just love the calmness of Blackshear and the simplicity we have here in south Georgia. At least they thought we had calmness…

As we welcomed the Shaheens to stay at our home, we also were blessed to have drop in after drop in of people wanting to see them and see us. We were so blessed over the holidays to have lots of visits from friends of Holt who always come check on us when they are home from college or home for a holiday break. Our house was full of visits, smiles, “catching-up” conversations, and the best part of all, HUGS! Every single time I get a hug from one of Holt’s buddies it is like he is sending me a hug through them; I just love it! (I even got lucky enough to run into two of Holt’s buddies at the mall right before Christmas. One was wearing our foundation t-shirt, so you know that was just an extra blessing to my heart on top of the hug!)

While the Shaheen’s were here, Dave, Hunter, and I decided to go sleep at my parents’ house so that Mike, Jodi, and the kids wouldn’t be crowded at night. The first night we did this everything was peaceful in our sleepy, little town. But on the next night, big-city chaos came upon the Rowland family! Little did we know, as we slept tight in the extra bedroom at my parents’ house, that two bad guys were stealing our car right out of my parents’ driveway!!! (Don’t ask me where the keys were…)

It appears that the police were sitting in Fred’s parking lot around 2:30 AM, and they saw a car ride by with no tail lights. The police tried to get the car to pull over, but the driver tried to run from the cops. A car chase ensued, in our tired little town, and our car wound up in the ditch with the two bad guys getting out and running through the woods away from the cops! On this particular night it was storming, so it was even harder for the cops to keep up and follow the trail of the crooks that stole our car. The car, on the bright side, was not hurt. We have had no problem with the lights before, so I guess that was a God-thing again for the lights to go out. The ridiculous part is that after it was towed by a wrecker service, we had to PAY to get our car back!! Wait a minute…two bad guys steal our car, and we are the ones that have to pay to get it back! Does that sound crazy to anybody else???

We found out about the car stealing excitement around 5:00 AM when Dave’s cell phone rang and woke us from a dead sleep. I could hear the guy on the other end saying, “Mr. Rowland, this is the Blackshear Police Department,” and my heart sank for just a minute. My first thought, “Where is Hunter?” We had let Hunter spend the night with a friend, so you can imagine how a phone call from the police that time of morning was a frightening way to start off the day. As the policeman finished explaining to Dave what had happened, we looked out the blinds in the bedroom that overlooks the driveway at my mom’s house, and sure enough, our car was gone!  When Dave hung up the phone, we looked at each other and said, “It’s only a car. Thank God it is nothing worse.” We have learned to expect the unexpected, but we are so thankful when the unexpected is not as bad as it could be.

Sadly, the police first came to our house looking for Dave when they realized the stolen car belonged to him. Now remember, the Shaheens were staying at our house, so before 5:00 in the morning, the police are at our house ringing the doorbell trying to get Dave to come to the door. The police got Mike, Jodi, and Grace to the door instead of Dave and gave them more excitement than they bargained for in this quiet town. They were a little scared at first because they were not sure what had happened and if everybody was alright. I’m sure the police wondered why we were not at our home, but another family was! It was funny after the fact, but scary when it happened. Later I laughed and said, “You all thought Blackshear was a calm place to come and relax, but when you come to town, we have excitement just like in the big city!” I guess you just never know what will happen when you least expect it.

After we said our goodbyes to the Shaheens, we welcomed in the new year quietly at home. We still had crime on our minds because we watched “The Godfather III” on television as the clock struck twelve. I guess when you have your car stolen the gangster in you just comes on out! I laughed at Dave because when he woke up the next morning, he said, “I have been shooting people all night!” Like I said before, never a dull moment around the Rowland house, even in our dreams.

To end this story on a happy note, we have adopted a new member into our family. Hunter won the begging battle and talked his dad into getting him a dog. Our family loaded up and went to the Okefenokee Humane Society, our first trip, and adopted a two-year old Bulldog named Charlie. Turns out that with our streak of bad luck lately, Charlie was a great find. He has the best temperament and seems to be the perfect pet for us. Hunter is happy, and I know Charlie is too. Charlie may be too layed back to bark at bad guys, but with all our experience with bad guys lately, I think the Rowlands can take care of themselves.

Remember: Expect the unexpected.  If you have been patient enough to read this crazy story, I am going to let you in on a little secret. My New Year’s resolution for 2014, I am going to write a book. Yes, you read that right. Our family may be the only people who buy it, but I believe that God has given us lots of amazing stories to share about Holt Rowland’s life, and I am going to tell them. Pray for me; this is a God-sized task! I believe that everything that has happened in our lives is for a bigger purpose, and what we have seen and learned is worth sharing. Thank you all for the encouragement you give me, and I pray that through this book, I will be able to encourage you. Blessings to you in the new year, and one last piece of advice, do NOT leave your keys in your car at night. 🙂