Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year...Seriously!

It has been said that 2014 will be the year of Amber...my fantastic boss, James told me that a couple of weeks ago.  My Mama, my friends Kelley, Shanna, Mandy, and Daphne have said the same thing.  It's bizarre to sit down and relive 2013 month by month, week by week, and day by day.  Yes, this year has been the most difficult by far in my life.  I have felt hurt and pain that I did not know was possible.  I have suffered disappointment, rejection, and humiliation.  I have dealt with moments of panic and fatigue.  I have battled health issues, both physical and mental.  Sure, if I look at this passing year through the lens of self-pity and questions, I could say that 2013 was the worst year ever.  But, as I have said in prior posts, life is all about choices.  And, I am choosing to remember 2013 fondly.

Through the course of this year, I have grown so much spiritually.  I am a walking testimony of sailing through life and being complacent during the "good" times.  Having my world fall apart brought me so close to my Savior.  The funny thing is, He didn't move.  He has been right beside me since I asked Him in my heart when I was 6 years old.  I am the one who moved away.  I am so very guilty of wanting to handle life on my own and let God have His say at my leisure.  Oh, Amber...not so smart!  There have been various times during this year where I have been on the floor of my room looking up at the ceiling and saying, "that's it!  I cannot do one more thing.  You are going to have to show up in a big way!".  Upon reflection, I can see how He was showing up non-stop; I was just too distracted by my junk to see Him at work. 

I may have already written about this, but it's worth repeating.  At the beginning of this year, Cecely, Titus and I felt trapped in our house in Hendersonville.  We hated being there.  We literally only slept there.  When I made the decision to move us, I frantically began searching for somewhere affordable and safe.  I looked at various apartment complexes and rental properties.  I was actually in the process of looking at an apartment I found online.  I drove out there, looked around and knew there was no way I would let my kids live here.  I turned around, feeling sad and defeated.  No kidding, I saw a complex on a hill that somehow I had missed when I was driving past.  Now, I had looked at other apartments who would not take me because I had not been working long enough to prove I could bring in the income needed for a home.  I went into the office of this complex.  I told the lady I did not want to look at anything or hear her spill about the perks until she had run all of my information.  An hour, she came out of her office and told me I had excellent credit, and that with my new job, she had every confidence in mine moving here.  I double and triple checked everything, then took the tour.  That afternoon, I signed a lease and picked a moving date.  Here are some of my take-aways from that experience.  First of all, God had me right where He wanted me...I was ready to settle for something less than He had for me, simply because I was tired.  He did not want my kiddos and me to be just anywhere.  He had a safe, beautiful, brand new home waiting for us...that I could afford and that put us closer to our friends, our church, and Target (bonus!).  Secondly, I realized I could make choices on my own.  In my past, most of my decisions were made for me.  Even as I began to look for a new home, I wouldn't do so without my parents' help.  While I am extremely grateful for my parent's involvement, it was so empowering to realize I could make a choice, a good choice, on my own!

The most substantial example of God's provision comes from my job.  I was working 15 hours a week and homeschooling when Mark left our family.  I was completely dependent on him financially.  Over the course of this year, my hours at my job have grown.  My incredible bosses and senior staff of our church have worked with me to help grow my position.  During this, I have been blessed with the most amazing team of coworkers who have rallied beside me.  The women I work with are incredible...full of love, kindness, generosity and humor.  The men I work with take the role of protector very seriously.  I feel as if God placed me where I am and said, "See, little girl?  I am surrounding you with the people you need at the moment you need them!".  Thank you, God, for my job!  I am also so blessed to get to serve and serve with amazing people at the East Campus where I technically work.  These people have been a safe place of unconditional love and encouragement for my children and me. 

There is one more sweet story of God walking with us.  This may sound trivial, but it was big to me.  Cecely has gone through quite the growth-spurt this year.  When winter rolled around, Cecely needed a coat.  I went to Target to get her a light coat to wear for church, and her Dad was going to get her a heavy coat.  For whatever reason, that wasn't able to transpire.  The NEXT DAY I was at Chick-fil-A with my friends, and our children's pastor's wife was there.  She asked me if Cecely needed a coat because someone had left a BRAND NEW one in her office!  Come on!  God sees the littlest need...remember that verse in Psalms?  He clothes the lilies...He did the same for my little lady!

So, it is safe to say that even though I'm a slow learner, I KNOW that God provided for me in small and large ways in 2013, and I am counting on Him doing the same in 2014! 

As I look to 2014, I realize I have ample opportunities to make resolutions.  The truth is, this year is going to be one full of changes; therefore, I am not concerned about resolutions per se.  There are some things I expect from myself, some behaviors I want to change, some attitudes I want to adopt.  I have learned that I have spent so much of my life worrying about what others think about me and for me.  I have spent a lot of time saying nothing rather than to rock the proverbial boat.  I want to become bolder.  I want to be confident in what I believe and what I think.  I want to share those thoughts with others in hopes of lifting others up!  I want to be less focused on the future and to be more present in the present.  I love a plan...I like knowing what 's coming...and, obviously, I will be responsibly planning and preparing for my future.  But, I want to invest just as much time in simply enjoying the experiences that come my way.  I have been blessed with amazing family and friends, and I want to soak up every minute I have with them.  I want to spend less time using technology and more time with real people doing real things and living life.  I want to make a conscious effort to be engaged with Cecely and Titus, taking pictures as we go, but waiting until they are asleep to share those moments with others.  I waste so much time with my kids trying to show everyone else what we're doing.  I want to be braver this year.  I want to stand taller.  I want to find strength and confidence again.  I want to radiate with a love that I can't explain, but that gives me the chance to tell others about that precious love.  I want to be a daily encourager.  Every day, I want to affirm the people whom I love.  I want to go this year...anywhere, everywhere!  I want to pack up whatever vehicle I have and hit the road near and far.  I want to spend more time with the ones I love and who love me.  2014 is going to be my year...I feel pretty good about it!

I know so many who read my blog are facing a struggle of some sort.  In this sad, broken, and sinful world there is an overabundance of hurt and pain.  I know of those who have lost family members this year...those who have lost parents, friends, and children.  Those who have watched those they love pass away.  There are those who are dealing with unemployment and all the stresses that goes with that.  Others are facing their families being ripped apart by divorce.  There is just so much sadness.  No matter what you are going through...YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!!  And, if this year was terrible for you, make whatever choices you can to make the new one a great one.  Find a safe, supportive group of people to surround yourself with.  Plug into a community of faith that can encourage and build you up.  Take some time for yourself to reflect on the past, but don't dwell on it.  Search for the lessons that you can take away and that you can use to help others.  Find a place to serve others...I have found one of my greatest joys is reaching out to others.  Don't be ashamed, don't be afraid, don't worry!  Make 2014 the year of YOU!!!

Christmas in Limbo

This Christmas has had an interesting array of challenges.  I did not want to take away every tradition from our past life, nor did I want to get stuck in the unhealthy thoughts that come with dwelling in the past.  I have no idea what next Christmas will look like, so I did not want to start a bunch of new traditions either.  Therefore, this was a Christmas in limbo.  We put up our tree and decorated pre-Thanksgiving, and there is a good chance it will all stay up until Valentine's Day.

Praying over the boxes.
We did keep one tradition and tweaked another.  The kiddos and I hosted an Operation Christmas Child Packing Party...we called it a Pizza, Popcorn, and Pepsi Packing Party.  We invited some of our friends with older kids to come over and contribute to the packing pile.  We divided up the list of needs and shopped as families, then we came together and had an assembly line of packing.  Together, we packed over 15 boxes.  After the boxes were made, we prayed together over them, then we had a time of fellowship.  In the past, our little family has adopted a family via Angel Tree to provide gifts for.  This year, we had the opportunity to come together with our Connect Group to sponsor a family.  Again, the individual families divided the list and took on the shopping.  Then, we all came together for a meal, for fellowship, then to wrap the gifts we had accumulated for six sweet children.  In moments like these, I feel like I am apart of something so big...I wonder if it is an inkling of what the church in Acts felt like.  And, in these moments, I am showing my children what it means to be a Christian.  I am modeling that actions need to accompany our words.  Thanks to our friends and family, I am able to teach them about community and how vital it is to serve together and how rewarding it is to serve others.
The Packing Party Crew
We were also able to squeeze in some bonus Christmas magic.  I was able to get a great deal at the Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, NC.  We headed that way on a Thursday after school, spent the night in an amazing room, and had a great time on Friday playing in the water.  If you have kiddos of any age, Great Wolf Lodge is an awesome treat.  The staff was incredible, everything was extremely clean, safety was paramount everywhere, and everyone in the place was having a good time.  We officially did everything in the water park area...wave pool, splash area, slides...the whole nine.  We were exhausted but in the best way.  On our drive home that night, we made a "pit stop" at the Charlotte Motor Speedway to see the lights.  Wow!  We had so much fun, and the kids asked if we could possibly make that a new tradition...I think we just may!  And, you should know, I drove on the race track...I did not creep along, friends, I went as fast as I could handle in my Tahoe, on the bank...I was sweating and freaking out, but the kids laughed and loved it.  Completely worth the anxiety I experienced!

My AMAZING Family!
Because of my position at work, I worked on Christmas Eve.  However, it worked out well allowing Cecely and Titus to spend that time with their Dad.  Once I was off of work, I met my brother, Tim, and we picked up the kiddos and headed down to my parents' home to spend Christmas with them.  My sister, Andrea, and her husband, Matt and their little man, Lucas, all flew in from Canada on Christmas Eve.  This has been the first Christmas in YEARS where all of my siblings and their families would be celebrating under one roof.  On the drive down to Greer, Cecely and Titus asked Timothy and me to share stories of when we were growing up.  Oh, my goodness!  What a fun commute.  Timothy and I went back and forth sharing stories of our adventures and mishaps growing up.  Cecely and Titus were asking questions and wanting to see pictures.  I had such a good time remembering and retelling my awesome childhood experiences.  I was again reminded of how blessed I was to grow up the way I did, and I was encouraged to make a conscious effort to instill memory-making opportunities for Cecely and Titus for them to tell their children one day.  On Christmas Day, my other brother, Tyler, his wife Britney, and their baby boy Jameson also joined us at Dupree Manor (what we call my parents' home).  It was official, the four Ross kids were reunited under happy circumstances.  It was a GREAT day!  We opened gifts, talked, laughed, ate, and just soaked in the experience of being together.  Everyone spend the night on Christmas night, which I imagine was the best gift for my Mama.  The next day, my parents were kind enough to watch all four grandkids, and the rest of us headed to the movies.  The car ride to and from was full of laughter and teasing.  Again, I was overwhelmed with gratitude to belong to such an amazing family. 

Christmas Crazies
There were many other highlights and mini-adventures we have experienced during this holiday season.  I worried about my kids this year, and how different this Christmas would be from their past ones.  I overcompensated in the gift-giving realm with them, wanting them to see how much I love them.  But, you know what?  The stuff I gave them is just stuff.  One day those things won't work, will be out of date, will end up in a consignment shop or at Goodwill.  What mattered more than anything was the time we spent together.  The experiences we shared were worth more than any physical present.  The memories that were established and the stories that will be shared hold more value than any thing.  As hectic, chaotic and exhausting as the Christmas season can be, the quality time spent with the ones I love most and who love my kids and me unconditionally trumped everything else.  Remember, dear friends, stuff is temporary.  Time is an investment.  How are you investing in the lives of your kids?  Make everyday a memory-making one!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Practice What You Preach

Here's the deal, I love words...love, love, love learning new words, writing words, reading words, teaching words...  however, words can be hollow.  I have spent years hearing and reading empty promises.  I have been very guilty of saying one thing and doing another.  I have lied, I have used hurtful language, I have been insincere, I have used words to my advantage.  Words are oh, so powerful.  Since I became a parent, I have been teaching my children the importance of words and how we use them.  I have tried to teach them that once words are out there, they cannot be taken back.  There are conversations I have had, words I have had said to me, that I would give anything to not be able to still hear, even months and years later. 

I have also learned that words without actions can be useless.  Plans and promises with no follow through are my biggest hang up and one of my biggest fears.  With Cecely and Titus, actually with anyone, I think about what I say before I say it.  If there is a chance that I can't deliver on something, then I'm not going to offer it.  If I say I'm going to do something, I want people to be able to depend on me to see it through.  I am a slow processor.  I truly think about what's said to me, and I deeply consider what I say to others.  I want my life to be one that shows I am a person of my word, a lady of integrity.  

Having these standards for myself have proven very difficult as of late.  My sweet Cecely struggles deeply with anger over the changes in our life.  I believe that she is battling hate.  I work to have an open and honest relationship with Cecely and Titus, on their level and with the appropriateness required.  Over the past 11 months, I have had several opportunities to practice what I preach with my children.  The other night, we had a real heart to heart that shook me to my core.  Without giving away too much of our life tragedies, I will say that I had to model things I have been teaching my children since they have been born.

I am a Christian.  I believe that Jesus Christ was born with the specific purpose to save people from their sins.  I believe that Jesus willingly died on a cross in the most humiliating way to give people the choice to believe in Him, to turn away from their sin, to accept His grace, mercy, forgiveness and love, and to believe in the promise of Heaven one day.  If I truly believe all of this, if I truly profess to be a follower of Christ, then I HAVE to act on what I believe and what I teach my children.

I had the chance to share with Cecely that people hurt us and cause us pain.  I reminded her that Jesus was really hurt.  I shared with her the Scriptures that tell of Jesus having a crown of thorns pressed down on His head, nails hammered into His hands and feet, a spear pressed into His side all while people mocked Him.  I asked her how she thought Jesus felt.  Her response was "sad, hurt".  I told her that even in the midst of all the pain He was feeling, Jesus LOVED those people...  I asked her how she is feeling right now.  Her response was "sad, hurt".  I told her that we have a choice, and that I daily have to make this choice.  We can choose to be angry and bitter, OR we can choose the love and forgive.  I told Cecely every time we sin, we hurt Jesus, but He forgives us every time.  If we have Jesus living in our hearts, we have to choose to forgive, too.

Now, please hear me when I say that forgiveness is not easy.  It is so easy to wallow in pity and bitterness.  It is easy to slip into a pit of sadness and loneliness...believe me, I know, I fight being overcome by those feelings frequently.  It is no easy task to forgive, to show love, to show grace and mercy.  I have made a point to teach my children these important truths from Christ.  Now is the time I have to model it for them.  During that conversation, I told Cecely that while I have never been hurt like this before in my life.  I told her I want to show Jesus' love to everyone, even the people who have broken our family apart and changed our lives forever.  I reminded my sweet little lady that when she is not with me and with the other people in our life, she may be the only Jesus they see.  I told her I have to tell myself the same thing when I'm put in the uncomfortable situations to be around the new people in our world. 

It has been my conviction and my heart's desire since the beginning of this year of trial to remain a lady of integrity, to be Jesus to those who may not have Him, and to not be a stumbling block to the same people who are trying to break me.  This is absolutely not a noble action of my own accord.  This is what I know is expected of me from the One who daily forgives me, who always shows me mercy, and who loves me unconditionally.  Dear friends, I know that your struggle may look different than mine and Cecely's...at the same time, I know that you are facing a battle, you are dealing with a difficult person, you are hurting.  Know that you are not alone!  Do you know my Jesus?  He loves you, He died for you...nothing your are facing is too big for Him. 

I have people email me, Facebook message me, text me, and talk with me who say they are impressed with how I've handled this year.  Like I told a friend recently, if I acted out of my own free will, I'd be living out a Carrie Underwood/Miranda Lambert medley.  The ONLY way I have survived is by the faith and trust I have in my Savior and through the prayers of the people who love my babies and me.  DO NOT GIVE UP in whatever you are facing.  Lean on the One who made you, who designed you for a purpose, and who delights in you!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Basketball and Memories

Both of my children have decided they want to play basketball through the Upwards program sponsored by our church.  Titus signed up months ago, and has been fired up about it.  Titus is a "natural" kid...almost everything he attempts comes naturally to him.  He is a great athlete.  This year he has played soccer, flag football, and now basketball, and every coach has been astonished by his abilities.  Cecely is not an athlete.  She is an artist.  With her Cerebral Palsy condition, I try to get her involved in physical activity, but she is well aware of her limitations, and she does not want to stand out in a negative way.  In school, she compensates very well and has learned wonderful skills to help her be a success.  I didn't offer basketball to her because she has shot down every physical suggestion I have thrown at her.  Last week, we went to Titus' basketball practice.  Afterwards she told me she wanted to give it a try.  So, this week, she practiced with a team...she LOVED it!  Her sweet face lit up, she smiled the entire time, she worked up a sweat, and she challenged herself.  Between my two awesome kiddos, I cannot help but be a proud Mom.

While Cecely was practicing with her team, I worked on the sidelines with Titus.  This may come as earth-shattering news to anyone who knows me, but I actually like basketball...I get it, and I understand most of the rules.  I really enjoy playing basketball.  It wasn't until we were at Upwards practice that I remembered how much I like that game.  Here's a mental picture for you...I was wearing a dress, sweater and boots because I had been at work all day.  But, I was on the court with my son passing and dribbling and having a blast.  I tried to explain to Titus about double dribbling and traveling.  I showed him how to do a bounce pass and a chest pass.  After I had shared a little information with him, Cecely's coach said the same things to the team.  Titus looked at me in complete shock and said, "Wow, Mom!  You actually know what you're talking about!".   I could not help but laugh.  My kiddos know athleticism is not one of my strengths.  When it was Titus' turn to practice with his team, I spent time going over the same basics with Cecely.  The look of determination on her face was inspiring.  Her willingness to listen to instruction was amazing.  She worked hard for a complete hour.  She was physically exhausted, but she was so happy.  Ah, what an amazing moment for me to share with her.

That night, after practice, I had about a million things running through my mind.  I felt gratitude for a church that provides a safe and encouraging place for my children to learn about Jesus through playing sports as well as learning how to play new-to-them games.  I felt blessed to meet coaches who are patient and encouraging while teaching wild groups of kiddos how to play.  But, what flooded my mind the most was wonderful memories.

My Daddy LOVED basketball.  UNC Tarheels were his team. My Daddy taught me how to dribble, shoot and pass.  He helped me find my sweet spot for my jump shot.  He taught me how to play defense...even though I was a terrible defensive player.  My Daddy would spend hours with my siblings and me in our driveway playing HORSE or a pick-up game.  My parents sent me to basketball camp several summers in a row.  I loved basketball camp.  The night I was practicing with Cecely and Titus, I couldn't believe all the things I remembered from camp and what my Daddy taught me.  It gave me jolt of perspective.  What are Titus and Cecely going to remember about me when I'm not around anymore?  What memories are they going to have when they pick up a basketball?  What I am investing in them for future generations? 

Here's the bottom line...children are sponges soaking up every experience, every word, every action we share with them.  It is my heart's desire to leave my kiddos with a legacy full of good memories.  I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity to do just that.  Whether it be playing basketball, volunteering together, watching movies on the couch, or riding down the road singing...when they are grown up, I want them to have sweet memories!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

There is nothing worse than...

Any of you could finish this statement with a word that hits home for you and has been relevant in your life.  There is nothing worse than...
  • fear
  • loneliness
  • doubt
  • poverty
  • Family Matters reruns...
The list could go on and on.  For me, in my life, during this time, there is nothing worse than rejection.  There is nothing more damaging than being made to feel of no value or worth.  There is nothing more painful than being thrown away and given up on.  Rejection...oh, how it burns.

My sweet daughter is sharing this burden with me right now.  She is battling the feelings of rejection that come with being a child of divorce.  It breaks my heart to see her pain, to hear her hurt.  This evening, we spent two hours talking through what she is feeling.  In every sentence, I could hear rejection.  She feels unloved, unloveable, replaced, unimportant.  I used every bit of strength I had in me to keep my wits about me and to remind her that she is very loved and loveable.  I reminded her that she is of great importance, that she matters.  I told her that even when it feels like she may have been replaced, she wasn't.  I reminded her that while people may hurt, disappoint, and leave us, there is One who will not EVER leave her.  I promised her that good things are coming our way because we have been walking with the Lord.  I told her of His promises throughout Scripture that tell of His great, unending, unconditional, never-changing love.  I spoke to her of the love I have for her; and, I told her that the only way I would leave is if Jesus comes back or takes me home.  I am her Mama forever.  I  summoned every drop of grace in me to tell her that her Dad loves her, too, and that would never change.  But, how can you explain the complexities of what brought a divorce around to a 10 year-old and not further hurt her?

While I was talking with my amazing young lady, I realized I was in need of hearing those words myself.  In all my ups and downs, through the daily struggles, on good days and especially on bad ones, rejection has been the battle I can't win.  When all is quiet, and I am alone, my mind will wander to a sad place.  I relive the desolation that accompanies being rejected.  I hear the enemy whisper in my mind that I am of no value, that I am easy to replace, that I am worthless, that I am unimportant, that I am unloved and unloveable.  I revisit memories that established those thoughts in my head.  I analyze the past.  I replay every conversation.  I establish in my mind and heart that I am nothing...that I am no one.  Even as time wears on, and I begin to prepare for my future, I know my biggest obstacle with any other person will be the fear of being rejected again.  Honestly, at this point, my heart could not take it.  The battle with rejection (and all the other products that follow it--replaceable, unworthy, unattractive, useless, unloved, alone) has beaten me up and left me very damaged.

The words I shared with my daughter were true.  There are truths in God's Word that will sustain my children and me.  The prayers of the saints help me fight my battles.  I completely believe that God is going to deliver us from this chaotic life, and bless us with one that is probably just as crazy, but full of hope and happiness.  While my head knows the Scriptures and believes that God will deliver on His promises, my heart is still trying to heal from being abused.  Sometimes the words I share with my kids are hard for me to say...sometimes I feel they are hollow.  What gives me great hope is that it's ok for me to struggle.  It is alright that I can't grasp the concept of God's provision.  He knows me; He sees my damaged mind and my broken heart.  What better time for Him for show up and show out than when I am at a low and unable to bring myself up.  I can't wait to see how He does just that for my babies and me.

The truth of the matter is, whatever ends your "there is nothing worse than..." statement, God is bigger.  He is stronger.  He has allowed the chaos in your life for a reason.  You were designed with a purpose.  You were created to be the person only you can be.  You are unique.  You are completely irreplaceable.  There is a plan for your life that only you can fulfill.  You are loved.  You are important.  You are wonderfully made.  You are His workmanship.  He cares more for you than any other things He has created.  You are a gift.  You are more valuable than any treasure.  Don't believe me?  Pull out your Bible (if you don't have one, let me know...in the mean time, Google) and look up all the verses about God's love.  They are many.  His love is big enough to take care of you.  His love knows no end.  His love is available especially for you...never forget that.  The same God who spoke the world into existence, who designed how many spots are on each lady bugs back, who set the starts in the sky, who purposefully planned where every plant should grow, who has the creativity to create jellyfish and giraffes, that same God LOVES you and made you for a purpose.  Do not let the hurts caused by other sinful, messed up, hurting people to cause you pain.  Lean on the One who wants to hold you up.  He will never leave you...He will not reject you.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Help vs. Hard Work

"Let people help you!"  This is a statement I have heard almost daily for the past 11 months.  I get it.  Helping people is good.  In fact, one of the main things I teach my children is the importance of helping people, why we help people, and how to help people.  For some reason (possibly cynicism and maybe even stubbornness) I have a severe problem allowing people to help me.  I realize, to some, me resisting help is me being difficult.  Truly, that is not my heart.

I was brought up in a family where you worked for what you had.  I have never struggled with entitlement issues, because my Daddy, Mama and Grandmama instilled in me the importance of hard work.  My Daddy always worked 2-3 jobs to provide for our family.  My Mama worked full-time and went to school full-time to make a better life for our family.  My Grandmama was a product of the Depression-era, and lazy and complacent were not in her vocabulary.  It was modeled for me from birth to be a hard worker.

I remember my Mama teaching me how to keep house.  My siblings and I had daily chores and Saturday chores.  We were trained to do everything from dishes to laundry to toilets.  Daddy taught us how to work in the yard.  He had us mowing, trimming bushes, and weeding flower beds from an early age.  My Grandmama was a home improvement genius.  If she saw it on TLC, she could do it, and by golly, we would be right beside her tackling whatever project.  The three of them taught us how to cook different dishes...(my favorites are Mama's chili/taco salad, Daddy's biscuits, and Grandmama's roast).  My brothers and sister and myself were not given the option to work.  It was mandatory.  There was no begging or bartering.  Learning to take care of our home was what we did as part of the family.  We didn't get allowances.  We worked in our family and as a family.

This work ethic is part of who I am.  I take pride in my home and my cooking.  I work very hard to keep our home clean and running.  Being the only adult has brought a new set of challenges...thankfully, for big jobs, I have willing experts not too far away.  However, I have enjoyed the challenge of figuring out how to take care of things myself.  My recent accomplishments were unclogging a drain (requiring some minor disassembly and reassembly), fixing a running toilet (insert old man joke here), and hooking up our blu-ray player (yes, I did have help with that one).  I don't see this as me being stubborn or being afraid to ask for help.  I see this as me learning to be independent and to handle whatever job pops up.

In my day-to-day life, I know I can come across defiant.  This is not my intent.  When I am in the midst of a task, I like to see it through.  A recent example happened this past Saturday as I was working with my amazing church family on a community outreach project.  We had finished the majority of the work, and we were cleaning up.  We were packing leftover supplies into boxes and relocating them from one room to another.  Naturally, I picked up a box.  Within 30 seconds, I had at least 5 people fussing at me to put the box down.  I didn't see the big deal.  I had the box in hand.  Yes, it was heavy, but it wasn't hurting me, and I wasn't complaining.  Yes, I may have had a snarky response about me not being a delicate flower, and yes, I may have thought that people were implying I was too weak to carry said box.  BUT, the intent of my heart was simple...move the box...get to work...finish the job. 

I love that people want to help my little family.  I am so grateful for the INCREDIBLE people who have reached out in whatever capacity they felt led.  My kiddos and I would be lost without the help and support of those who love us!  I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for acts of kindness that have helped us along this path.  Just be patient with me, dear friends, if I insist on carrying my own groceries...gently remind me that it's ok to receive help...help me remember that we are all called to help one another.  I so look forward to the day when I can be a blessing to others the way so many have blessed me!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I May Just Be The Biggest Hypocrite...

I am a self-confessed cynic.  I believe I have every right to be.  I have found the romance that is found in books and movies to be nothing but fantasy.  I have lived a life that did not abound in acts of service or gestures of love.  When I was 15-16 years old, I dated a young man who was very romantic.  He put thought into every date.  He made ordinary experiences extraordinary.  He spent time in choosing gifts for me.  He was straight out of a movie...but, he was also a teenager in love.  I am assuming that love when you are a teenager looks different than love when you are an adult.  I could be wrong here...I'm just going off of my experience.

As an adult who has been jilted in love big-time, I have found that my cynicism is almost overwhelming.  With my divorce date approaching, my children have started to ask questions and make suggestions about my potential love life.  I have been appropriately honest with Cecely and Titus from the beginning of all of this.  We have talked about me not dating until I am divorced for my own personal beliefs and reasons.  I also don't want them to be blind sighted by changes that will come up in our future.  Through the eyes of Cecely and Titus, they just want to know that I am going to be taken care of.  They want to know that they are going to be safe.  They want assurance that we will all be happy.  I love that they feel like they can talk to me about all of this.  Today, we had a lengthy conversation about who they wanted me to date.  I asked them what was important to them about the man I would date.  Their responses were:
  1. He has to be funny.
  2. He has to be nice to you all of the time.
  3. He has to hold your hand, but not just on Sundays.
  4. He has to make you smile and laugh.
  5. He has to like movies.
  6. He has to be nice to us and play with us.
  7. He has to like Star Wars (that was Titus-specific).
They asked me today about when I would get married again.  It blew my mind that they are already thinking of these things.  Again, I know it's because they are looking for security and happiness, but the conversation still floored me.  I explained to them that I am in no rush to get married.  I told them that I always want them to come to me with thoughts and questions about this approaching new season.  And, I reminded them that God will have to let me know who He wants me with...and He is going to have to be very clear!

After that conversation with my kiddos, my mind went into over-load.  I thought of how much I have been through.  I thought of how I like the freedom I have in my life right now.  I thought of the fears that consume my heart at the thought of letting another person back in.  I thought of the risk that goes into any relationship.  I thought of the selfish desire I have just to relax and have fun.  I have learned that marriage is not a lighthearted decision, nor is it a lifestyle for the faint of heart.  I know me.  When I'm all in, that's all there is to it...and marriage is an all-in commitment.   I will hang in there until the person kicks me out or until there is a Biblical reason for the relationship to end.  I am not ready for that at all.  I am not even wanting to entertain that thought.  I realize that to many, this is me being a cynic.  To me, this is me being a realist based on my life experience. 

On the flip-side of the coin, I will acknowledge that I hate being alone.  I will admit that I have a need in my life to serve someone else, to take care of someone.  I have the great desire to have God show me the person He has for me to live life with and to grow old with.  But, even admitting those things makes me nervous.  I do not believe God wired me to be alone.  I believe He has given me great things to offer another person.  I may be the biggest hypocrite on the planet...I want to be loved, but I am very scared to let someone love me.  The very idea brings fear to my heart.

The good news is, I'm not in any rush.  God gives us seasons, and I plan to take advantage of each one He presents to me.  Right now, I am still in a waiting season, a healing season.  I know that some hurts will linger and bring challenges to any future relationship.  I also know that God has shown me grace and forgiveness so that I may show them and receive them.  I do not know what God has in store for me...I know He has already written my story.  I am happy to take it chapter by chapter.  Sometimes I think it would be nice to flip to the last page and know what's coming; but, I have learned, if nothing else, through this journey that His time is always perfect. 

So the battle between cynicism and hope persists in my head and heart.  I have these moments when I think I do want to be the girl who wants to be swept off her feet.  Then, I immediately flip to the thought of being suspicious of any man who may be trying to sweep.  I did make a list of my dream man...I wrote it out several months ago as an assignment for counseling.  When I look at the list, I see a healthy amount of realistic qualities with a sprinkling of romantic ones.  In my mind, the solid qualities outweigh the fanciful ones.  I would rather have a person I can trust and who is steadfast than one who brings flowers or writes poetry...just my personal opinion. 

As I look over my Dream Man List, I do think it's funny that some of the things I hope for are the same things Cecely and Titus hope for.  The following is a tiny excerpt from my lengthy list:
  1. Loves, follows, and obeys God.
  2. Has a good sense of humor.
  3. Understands my sense of humor.
  4. Love my kids, play with my kids, protect my kids
  5. Is affectionate.
  6. And...the kids are right, he has to like movies.
So, we will see what God has in store for me.  I imagine it will be an entertaining adventure.  I am trusting in God's timing and His planning.  I am counting on Him to make His path for me crystal clear.  I am trying to be hopeful.  I am (kind of) working on the cynical issue.  I just know God's got this...and that's what I tell my kiddos.

Monday, December 9, 2013

You May Call Me Stubborn...I Prefer Independent

I may be stubborn, or as some have recently told me, I may be bull-headed.  I prefer to think of this quality as independence.  I think of it as proving to others and to myself that I can do things...that I can handle what life is throwing at me.  I think it is fair to say (and I think my Mama and siblings would back me up on this), stubbornness would not be one of my top 5 personality identifiers in my past.  However, this streak to show the world that I am competent and capable is growing uncontrollably. 

When my life began to change at the beginning of this year, and I was ready to fall apart and give up, I made a decision to toughen up.  I was not going to let my circumstances dictate who I was.  I began to learn how to budget the expenses of living life with 3 people.  I began to take charge of aspects of my life I had neglected.  I started reading more and researching topics that mattered to me.  I chose to invest more time in prayer and reading the Bible.  I decided to plan to have more interactive time with my children.  All of these were great things! 

With this stubbornness has also come some unflattering flaws.  God has blessed me with some great men in my life who want to help me, take care of me, and protect me.  I have found myself almost snapping their heads off of their body when they offer to open a door, carry a box, or walk me to my truck after dark.  I have said hurtful things and made many sarcastic remarks to these men who have done nothing but attempted to help make my burden lighter.  The ladies in my life have also been targets for my independent living.  I have had friends offer to cook dinner or take care of the kids, and my response has been "I've got this". 

The truth is, I don't have "this" at all.  I am a complete mess.  I have felt so isolated and rejected by one person that I have allowed the negative emotions to pour over into other parts of my life.  I have been acting out to my friends and family over the hurt caused by someone else.  I have begged God for relief and assistance, then bucked the offers that are given to me.  What is the matter with me?  I'll tell you what...I am human.  I am a sinful, messed up, selfish person.  I have allowed the hurts in my heart to cause hang ups in my attitude.  I have let the anger I have felt towards one person work its way into my friendships.  I have had people want to help, and I have warded them away with my pigheaded sarcasm.

All that to say, I am so sorry, friends.  I am sorry for asking God for help then refusing you when you have answered His call to help.  I am sorry for taking such a stand to be stubborn that I have missed opportunities to let people love on me.  I am working on the balance of being independent and not being obstinate...so, bear with me. 

My personal sinful battle right now is that of pride...of wanting to show everyone that I can take care of myself and my children.  The truth?  Obviously I can't do that.  On my own, in my own strength, I will fail...miserably.  However, I am so blessed to be a daughter of the King.  The One who made me and knows me loves me in spite of my sin.  In fact, He loved me so much that He sent His one and only Son to die to take away my sins.  Oh, how grateful I am for that sacrifice.  How necessary is His grace in my life.  My pride and sins should condemn me.  But, because of His great love, I can confess my sins, ask for forgiveness, then He discards those sins, never to be brought up again.  Now, I know that I am going to sin the moment my eyes pop open in the morning (usually due to the fact of my alarm going off when I have only gone to sleep 2 hours before...this brings some pretty sinful thoughts to mind), but I also know that when that sin resurfaces and when I pay attention to the conviction that follows, I can lay my sins before God, and He'll take care of them.  I can also ask Him to keep working on me...to keep changing me...to keep growing me...to keep molding me into the lady He wants me to be.  I know my prideful heart and stubborn head are going to land me in trouble if I don't turn them over to God soon...no matter how much I argue with Him, He's going to win, so I may as well give it up now!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Ease on Down the Road...

For some reason (naivete, oblivion, ignorance, I don't know what) I really thought that at this point in the year, things would be a little bit easier.  I thought that the kiddos and I would have figured out a new rhythm.  I assumed we would be a little less stressed, a little less tired, and a little bit more normal.  I could not be more wrong.  October was hard.  November was ridiculous.  And December is off to a bumpy start.
While some aspects of our life have maintained some normalcy and fewer still have gotten better, this path definitely has not become any easier.  The kiddos and I are growing closer to one another, and for that I am so very grateful.  I will say my faith is growing.  I completely trust that God has a greater, bigger plan that I cannot see.  I do know that I am so much happier and joy-filled than I have been in years.  There are great and wonderful things happening in our lives.  I am extremely excited to see where this road will lead my amazing kiddos and myself.

In the meantime, while I am trusting and working on my patience and building my faith, I am still very human.  Lately, I have daily been struggling with the remembrance of being rejected.  I don't know that I have experienced anything else in my life that has been so difficult to battle.  With rejection comes humiliation, isolation, and desperate loneliness.  Even though I have incredible family and friends, there are days, nights, and sometimes weeks where I feel overwhelmed with loneliness.  I feel like I am working so hard to be strong and to grow.  I am trying to remain full of integrity.  But, sometimes, I feel like there are more challenges than rewards.  I know that is petty and selfish...and that's the human part of me...I am hoping to get a break.  Please don't read this as me having a pity party...believe me, I am so aware of God's hand in my life and can testify to great things He has done and is doing in me.  I think I am just plain ol' worn out.  I am tired and painfully aware of my aloneness.

While hope is not high on my list right now, and I daily battle becoming a bigger cynic, I still KNOW that God is greater than all of this.  My pain, my hurt, my loneliness is nothing compared to His sacrifice.  My struggles are temporary.  His faith and love are eternal.  My pettiness is part of my sinful nature.  His forgiveness and grace are ever present in my life. 

I don't know if there is any point to this particular piece other than to declutter my mind in hopes of getting sleep tonight.  I am so glad that God sees the big picture.  I am so thankful to know He is holding my kids and me right in the palm of His hand.  I am grateful to have the peace that passes all understanding.  However, I am still heavy-hearted, sad, disappointed, and hurt.  I know there is not a quick-fix to the condition of my heart.  I know that divorce has long-term consequences.  Being set aside and replaced, even if it is for the best, is still such a heart-wrenching, mind-altering experience.  I am having to reevaluate my life and who I am.  I am trying very hard to see myself through God's eyes and through the eyes of those who love me.  But, for some reason, the doubts and fears that have come from this rejection are trumping all of my efforts.  I know that is the work of Satan. 

I am a child of the King.  I am redeemed.  I am a joint heir with Christ.  I am a princess.  I have value.  I have worth.  I have something to offer.  I am special.  My head knows all of this.  My heart knows it, too.  I just need to two of them to reconnect.   I am very thankful that He isn't finished with me, and that I am a work in progress.  Be patient with me, friends.  While others had plans to hurt me, God has a plan to let me shine...I just have to fight the fight to get there!  All I know is I'm ready for my kiddos and me to be able to ease on down the road a bit...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bathroom Humor

When I was a senior in high school, I had an onslaught of health issues.  Actually, I believe all of the medical craziness started my junior year.  My sister had gone on a mission trip, contracted mono from a water fountain, and passed it on to me before we knew she had it (and yes, while it is the kissing disease, my sister and I have never been physically affectionate...but we would share food and drinks, so there you go).  Mono manifested itself in two very different ways.  I was basically lethargic and drained of all energy.  My sister ended up in the hospital with other issues that stemmed from mono.  She and I both were "home bound" for awhile...which was just torture.  She and I both liked and missed school.  But, we made it through ever so gracefully. 

The next year, I started having issues with my voice.  I had always been a singer, first soprano, to be exact.  I loved to sing.  My senior year, my voice would go in and out.  I would wake up one morning with no voice.  Other days I would sound like Rod Stewart.  And, some days, I would sound like me.  My parents took me to the doctor who sent me to an ENT doctor.  After a couple of simple tests, he decided I was out of his league, and he referred us to Dr. Kaufman at Wake Forest.  I spent several months traveling in and out of Winston-Salem trying to figure out what was going on with my throat.  At first, the diagnosis was nodules, then polyps, then cysts.  I would go on vocal rest for days with no change.  I had one overnight test where a tube went up my nose, down my throat, and into my stomach.  It had to stay in place for 24 hours, and I was supposed to conduct life as usual.  That was entertaining...imagine trying to eat a salad and swallow a piece of lettuce while a tube is dangling in the back of your throat.  That test resulted no helpful information.  Another procedure that was completely insane involved 9 needles...not flu shot needles, horror movie needles.  The needles had to be long enough to go through my throat and to make contact with my vocal chords.  I don't know about now, but when I had this procedure, the neck could not be numbed.  During this test, I had to talk and sing while the doctor inserted needles.  This procedure gave the doctor some direction.  The last procedure was the one that answered all the questions.    So, I was laid on a table.  There was a picture of a sailboat over my head.  The doctor told me I could pick what music was playing during the procedure...this was during my Broadway phase, so I asked for show tunes.  I had to be awake during this test as well, and again, nothing was numbed.  If you ever look at my neck, you can see a hint of a scar.  That's from the incision the doctor made while I was very much awake.  My throat was literally sliced open, the nurses pinned my skin back, and the doctor would have me repeat things to him and sing songs while he literally watched my vocal chords in action.  This is the procedure that answered everything.  We discovered that my left vocal chord was/is completely paralyzed.  So, my right vocal chord was doing the work of 2.  Over my 18 years (at the time), cysts and nodules would appear because of the overuse of one chord.  What was the answer?  Well, the doctor gave me a silicone implant in my left vocal chord.  This fattened it up and took a little stress off the right chord.  Of course, me in all my inappropriateness, started telling people I had an implant, but just on the left side...

That same year, I started having digestive issues.  I won't go into the details, simply because it is just plain gross.  During this time, I had a sigmoid scope, , endoscope, barium swallow, and my favorite, a colonoscopy.  Oh, and let's not forget the wonderful prep work for these procedures.  Enemas...just sayin'.  We found out that I had Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis...or, as my doctor liked to say, Crohn's Colitis.  (This is an auto-immune condition where basically the body attacks itself.  In my case, this means ulcers lining my intestines as well as inflamed/raw/exposed sections of the intestines.)  During my first colonoscopy, I was under "twilight anesthesia".  Apparently, when I am relaxed or my inhibitions are lowered, I become very inquisitive.  So, as I'm slightly dazed but can see the computer monitor, I am asking questions nonstop.  The poor doctor.  Afterwards, I was wheeled into the recovery room where I noticed I was the only girl and the only person under 70.  If you've ever had a colonoscopy, you know that air is pumped into your colon so the camera can make its way around easier.  So, the recovery room is basically just a place of flatulence.  Now, I am very southern, and very ladylike.  I kept asking the nurse to take me to the bathroom...I just couldn't get the air out as easily as the gentlemen I was sharing the space with.  I remember walking through the room to the bathroom thinking that this is what the symphony would sound like if it only used the winds section.  There are some things I would love to forget...

After my senior year of medical drama, I attended Mars Hill College for a time.  On the mirror of my dorm room, I posted pictures of my slit-open throat, vocal chords, and intestines...my Mama was mortified, but I thought it was funny.  Oh, the warped sense of humor.  Honestly, it was like a protective measure.  Those pictures made everyone look at me twice...probably wondering whether or not I was sane.  I thought it would repel guys, but the gross factor reeled them in.  Who knew?

As I've grown older, I have had a variety of medical issues, mainly pertaining to Crohn's.  When my condition is active, I loose a lot of blood, I stay in a constant state of abdominal pain, sleep is almost impossible to achieve, and I have the tendency to pass out.  Digestive diseases are so glamorous.  There isn't a cure for Crohn's but there are medications available as well as natural remedies.  I have tried everything that I can afford to try.  I'm not trying to sound like a victim or drama queen...actually, I think God knew what He was doing when He allowed me to have these issues.  He had already equipped me with a messed up sense of humor, so who better to handle this kind of disease?  Stress triggers flare-ups.  Right now, I'm under a lot of stress.  I am surprised that I haven't been sick before now.  But, I am guessing that is a God-timing-thing.  I know it could be so much worse, and I am so thankful that this is all I have going on medically.  I have so many friends and loved ones who are dealing with physical ailments that are so tragic.  Mine is more inconvenient.  While I hope and pray for remission, I am sure God is trying to teach me something through this current flare-up...and I'm ok with that.  I just hope He throws in some funny moments, too!  I mean, who doesn't love bathroom humor, right Mama?  Seriously, I am ready to feel like myself again and to not be constantly tired and in pain.  But, I know there is a lesson somewhere in this.  So, I'll praise God through it.  His plan, His timing, and His faithfulness have proven over and over to make more sense than mine.  Just get me through it gracefully, Lord!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Remembering My Daddy...

My Daddy's birthday was last week.  He passed away several years ago out of the blue.  I do miss him greatly.  Even though our relationship was very damaged when he died, he was still my Daddy.  And, I have so many wonderful memories of my time on earth with him.
Me and my Daddy (circa 1988)
When I think about growing up with my Daddy, I have some wonderful memories.  My Daddy was a die-hard UNC Tarheel fan...a quality that was passed on with great passion to my sister and brothers.  When I was a little girl, I rooted for N.C. State Wolfpack just to aggravate my Daddy.  I can remember him yelling at the TV for hours when the Tarheels were playing basketball.  I remember that Daddy had about 50 UNC t-shirts.  And, in the garage, he had a shelf of random UNC memorabilia...he had a few collections of bottled Cokes which I never understood why we couldn't open and drink them.
Daddy with his 4 kiddos...
My Daddy was extremely talented.  He had a strong, rich baritone voice.  He would sing all of the time.  He loved Southern Gospel music.  He would travel around our community singing at homecomings, wedding, funerals, in nursing homes, at community events.  I often went with my Daddy when he would sing, and sometimes I would sing with him.  I share my Daddy's love for music.  I love to sing...anything!  My Daddy taught me and encouraged me to sing.  He never critiqued me.  I remember sharing the stage with Daddy on several occasions.  The one that I remember most was when he and I sang at a funeral.  It was my first funeral.  I was a nervous wreck.  But, Daddy had every confidence in me...he told me to sing to the family and ignore everyone else.  He told me to let God use my voice to minister to them.  That stuck with me. 
The whole crew before Andrea's prom...
Oh my goodness, my Daddy was accident prone.  Sadly, a trait my siblings and I have inherited.  I have so many crazy stories of incidents that happened with Daddy.  My Mama has more than I can remember, I'm sure.  My favorite story happened on a Thanksgiving Day.  We lived across the road from my Grandmama, and we had gone to her house to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner.  Down the hill from my Grandmama's house was another home that she rented out.  A man lived there who was unable to walk and who had 2 rottweilers (this is important later in the story).  There was a tree on this property that had a broken limb or something...and I would estimate it was at least 40 feet in the air (I may be off, but it was high!).  Daddy scaled the tree and wedged himself between 2 branches to cut off the damaged branch.  Well, the branch fell to the ground, but Daddy was STUCK!  All of us were on the hill watching and yelling.  The neighbors rottweilers were circling the tree barking like crazy.  It was a redneck spectacle!  My Grandmama called 9-1-1, who shockingly knew the route to our house better than any other.  A firetruck came, rescued Daddy, who, if I remember correctly, broke his leg in the process.  Happy Thanksgiving, right?

Basketball Homecoming, Senior Year 1999
Daddy was always proud of my siblings and me.  The four of us had different strengths, but the expectations for all of us were very high.  Daddy valued education.  He had a technical degree from AB Tech, but he pushed for us to "do better" than him.  He kept on top of all of our grades.  He bragged on any achievement any of us had.  My brothers were awesome athletes, and my Daddy LOVED to cheer them on.  And, yes, he may have been kicked out of a few games, but I count that as being passionate about sports and my brothers.  My sister shared Daddy's artistic spirit.  Daddy was a wood carver and made beautiful creations...my sister sketched and also took a try at carving.  No matter what we did, what we were interested in, what are skill-set was, Daddy encouraged it.  My junior year of high school, I was on the football homecoming court and Daddy got to drive me on to the field in a BMW...he thought he had arrived!  And, my senior year, he escorted me on the basketball homecoming court.  I remember him being so proud to be my Daddy.  That is a feeling that I will always treasure.  But, the biggest compliment from him happened my 9th grade year.  That year, I sang the national anthem at the only football game Erwin one that season (Daddy accredited the win to my voice), I had a solo with 3 seniors (He Never Failed Me Yet...love that song), and got to sing a solo during the Mass in G at a festival at Brevard College...the moments when I sang were when my Daddy boasted the most.  And, that year, he told everyone we encountered about every musical accomplishment I had.  I was always embarrassed, but inwardly so happy I had made my Daddy proud.
On my 18th birthday...
My Daddy taught all of us to love anyone and everyone.  He knew EVERYONE in our community.  When we would go to the grocery store, we would be there for at least an hour, because he stopped and talked to everyone.  Not only did he talk to them, but he knew their stories.  My Daddy genuinely cared about people.  It never mattered what their skin color was, how much money they did or didn't have, whether they were clean or dirty...none of the superficial things mattered to my Daddy.  He cared more about the heart of people and the story they had to share.  That quality has been passed on to my siblings and me.  As I look at the four of us, all grown up, I see that legacy in each of our lives.  We love people.  We were blessed to be trained up by a Daddy who showed us how to love others, how to see past labels, and how to truly care about people.  This is a legacy I absolutely want to pass on to my children.
Rehearsal before my wedding, Dec. 2000
While I do have a treasure trove of amazing memories with my Daddy, our relationship the last two years of his life was very tormented.  To respect the memory of my Daddy and to honor him, I am not going to share the details of how our relationship crumbled.  I will say that anyone can fall into sin and temptation...even wonderful Christian men.  My prayer for anyone who reads this is to pray diligently for the men in your lives...they have such a demanding and important spiritual role.  When the enemy attacks, if he can take out the man of the house, he can destroy a family.  Pray protection over your families!  Pray for strength for the men in your life!  If sin takes a foothold, get help before it becomes a stronghold.  God is bigger than any temptation, but we have to pray and fight against it!
Dec. 2000
After my Daddy's death, I struggled greatly with bitterness...I was overcome with anger.  How could God take my Daddy before we could restore our relationship?  How could I have so many unresolved issues with my father?  How could I get answers?  Why did he choose the life he chose?  I had a notebook full of hows and whys.  Knowing I couldn't get these answers on this side of heave, and believing when I am in heaven with my Daddy, the answers wouldn't matter almost made me crazy.  Finally, I spent a day writing a letter to my Daddy.  I drove to the cemetery where he is buried.  I completely believe that the moment he died that he was in the presence of the Lord.  But, his grave was the only place I could think of to take the letter.  I went to his headstone, sat down, read the letter, and wept.  I lamented my shortcomings in our relationship.  I admitted to having conditional love and limited grace with him.  I yelled at him for the wrongs I had felt from him.  I cried, I ranted...I let it go.
James Earl Ross aka Jimmy aka Daddy
I guess what I want to convey with this post to love your family.  I know we can't pick them and there are some crazy members of any family.  There are going to be struggles, fights, difficulties, hardships...there are going to be times when you may have to take a step back from a relationship because it is hurting you.  You may have relatives that are seasonal at best.  Again, that's ok, and I'm not criticizing that.  God has blessed me with many wonderful "family" members who are not related to me by blood.  I would just encourage you to face the challenging relationships with unconditional love and a lot of grace.  None of us are doing life perfectly.  We all have our quirks and issues.  Some may appear "bigger" than others, but when it comes down to it, through God's eyes, sin is sin...there is not a rating system.  Remember that God loves you, He sent His son to die in your place...but He also did that for the challenging people in your life.  Remember the grace that has been shown to you.  And, as hard as it can be, try to show that grace to others.  If I could go back in time, I would handle the relationship with my Daddy with a lot more grace.  Maybe then, when he passed away, we would have been in good standing with each other.  Treasure every good memory you make, and don't let mistakes tarnish the wonderful experiences!

Friday, September 20, 2013

My Favorite at the Moment...

At the moment, this is my favorite worship song.  Maybe with the newly discovered knowledge of my Love Languages (2nd being Physical Touch), it makes sense that this song tugs on my heart.  I crave to be held in the arms of someone who loves me.  This song helps me redirect that desire to be held in the arms of Jesus.  Wow!  Look at this song...word for word...listen to the words...say them, sing them...whatever it takes for you to connect with Him!
Every line of this song rings with truth...He is good, I am not.   He is love, He is Light, He is Hope!  Oh my goodness, if nothing else, during this season, my hope in Him has been completely restored.  I am so grateful He has taken away all my sins--past, present, and future! WOOOOOO!  He is Peace...OH YES HE IS!!!  He is True, He is Joy, He is Life!  Come on!  I hope your close to shouting right now!  
When I think of all the pain, hurt, humiliation, rejection, and struggles life allows, I get overwhelmed.  I want to shut down, give up, and run away.  But, when I am reminded of how He is moving in my life, I am ashamed for doubting.  
Right now, the part of this song that just humbles me and fires me up is: "You are here, in Your presence I'm made whole.  You are God, You are God of all else I'm letting go..."  What freedom!  He is with me in every moment of every day!  When I am happy and dancing, He's there with me.  When I'm balled up on the bathroom floor or hiding under my covers, He is with me.  Nothing else matters in comparison to His love for me...so I can let it all go!  That is my goal and the desire of my heart...to let go of all that is holding me down and to run as hard as I can into His strong, loving, supportive and ever-open arms!
Forever Reign- Hillsong
You are good, You are good When there's nothing good in me You are love, You are love On display for all to see You are light, You are light When the darkness closes in You are hope, You are hope You have covered all my sin
You are peace, You are peace When my fear is crippling You are true, You are true Even in my wandering You are joy, You are joy You're the reason that I sing You are life, You are life, In You death has lost it's sting
[Chorus]  Oh, I'm running to your arms, I'm running to arms The riches of your love Will always be enough Nothing compares to Your embrace Light of the world forever reign
You are more, You are more Than my words will ever say You are Lord, You are Lord All creation will proclaim You are here, You are here In your presence I'm made whole You are God, You are God Of all else I'm letting go
//My heart will sing no other name Jesus, Jesus//

Women and Worship

The Worship Center at BBC...filled with sweet ladies!
Last night was such an awesome experience.  This time last year, I went completely out of my comfort zone and am so glad I did.  Women's ministry is not my forte...there is a reason I work with kiddos.  Large groups of women scare me to death.  When I heard about The Gathering at Biltmore Baptist Church last year, I wanted to go and was scared to go.  So, like any smart girl, I suckered some of my friends into going with me.  That night made such an impression on my heart, mind, and soul.  The Gathering is a night of worship, fellowship, and testimonies...women to women.  It is overwhelming and completely wonderful.  

My Mama and Me
This year, The Gathering fell on my Mama's birthday.  As her gift, I wanted to take her to this special event.  She was gracious enough to share her birthday celebration with several other women.  I invited a few of my dear friends.  We went to dinner beforehand, then headed over to the church.
Mandy and Me...friends since elementary school (Mission Friends and Girl Scouts)
I could write forever and ever about the experience.  We are blessed at Biltmore Baptist to have incredible leadership and great resources.  My sweet friend, Kelly Williams, spearheaded the event with an army of volunteers, worship leaders, drama team, tech crew, and many, many more people.  Everything looked beautiful...from the parking lot to the lobby to the worship center...it was just perfection! 
Britnee and Makenzie, the world's most amazing young ladies!
I was in desperate need of a night of worship, refreshment, and being around other Christian ladies.  The worship set was incredible.  The speakers spoke right to the heart.  My mind and heart were wrapped up in God's love through His Word and His people.  It was an amazing night.  But, the best, most awesome, simply marvelous factor was being surrounded by other women who were seeking that connection with the Lord as much as I was.  I stood in the back of the worship center and took a few pictures, then just let the reality of the sheer volume of women wanting Jesus soak in.  How humbling and inspiring!

My posse for the evening (minus Daphne and her Mama)

My favorite thing about the night was worshiping with some of my favorite people.  There was a moment during one of the songs where I looked at the row in front of me, and in my row on either side of me, and I was completely surrounded by people who I love and who love me.  These are people who have seen me at my ugliest, my lowest, my meanest...and they still love me!  These are people who have loved my children.  Ladies who have encouraged me, laughed with me, cried with me, and yelled with me.  Oh, my goodness, when we were singing and our hands were lifted to our Heavenly Father, I was overwhelmed with His love...and reminded of how He has placed so many in my life who love me.  I am a super blessed girl! 

Relief Pitcher

What single-parenting looks like in my head...

In my life, I've had a myriad of jobs.  And, I have enjoyed all of them.  When I was 16 I started working at Ingles on Leicester Highway.  I really liked working at Ingles...I knew everyone who came in the door, I had 2 really good bosses (1 I didn't like at all), and I got to work with some of my high school buddies.  The following summer, I worked at Stein-Mart...I don't remember how I ended up with that job.  It was SOOOO far out of my comfort zone.  I hated having to count the drawer every night.  This was before the time of debit/credit card machines.  This was the day when you still had to pull out the big metal thing that made the carbon copy of credit cards.  I HATED handling money.  But, I loved when the snowbirds would come up from Florida and need to buy an entire summer wardrobe.  Let's just say, I was very entertained...because even at 17, I didn't care about clothing or fashion at all, but for some reason, I looked like the person to ask about what shade of pink best complimented an 80 year old woman's complexion.  Thank God for the wit He gave me.  The summer after my Senior year of high school, I started working at summer camp at Little Beaver Daycare...and that's when it all clicked.  I LOVED that job the most.  I loved working with the sweet kiddos, playing outside with them, dancing with them, and getting to know their stories.  I stayed with that job when I started Mars Hill College worked there until I got married  

My first job after I got married was as a Nanny for 2 precious kiddos in VA.  Oh, I loved that job...LOVED it.  I would spend hours on the weekend planning activities for the 2 year old and 4 year old who were in my care.  I spent so much time with those babies...I hated when we moved and I had to quit.  When Mark went out to sea, I moved back to Asheville and lived with my Grandmama and worked at West Buncombe Elementary as a substitute.  Best job in the public schools...time with kids without having to test them.  Next came working for a really cool elementary school in FL.  Aside from having to spend time in the cafeteria each day, I had fun with the kiddos and the adults I worked with.  After that, I worked in a Teacher's Supply store in GA.  That was a fun job because I got to into schools and make deliveries, I could take Cecely to work with me.  When we moved back to NC, I was blessed to go back work at West Buncombe.  I worked as an assistant in 2nd grade.  That job was challenging, but I had a heart for special needs kids.  I moved from 2nd grade to the Intensive Intervention classes.  That job absolutely loved working with those amazing kids...I was never bored.  I spent a lot of time one on one with a non-verbal Autistic child.  Everyday, he would try to choke me.  He would bite.  He would kick.  He would scream.  He broke my heart.  But, I loved him with all that was in me.  While I was working at West Buncombe, Cecely was attending and her developmental delay issues were becoming more severe and more evident.  That's when the next employment transition occurred...from public school to homeschool.  Of all the jobs I have had, that was my FAVORITE!  I loved planning lessons, activities, and events for my kiddos.  I loved being able to teach them on their level at their speed.  I found so much joy in our ability to serve together.

Homeschooling was an amazing season for my little family.  I miss it already.  I absolutely despise that our life changed without our consent, and that homeschooling was one sacrifice.  However, in the midst of that change, God provided me with my current job.  I am beyond blessed to work at my church.  What an honor and privilege to be able to do what I feel I was wired to do, to work with people who pray with me and for me, and who shares my vision of reaching children with the love of the Lord.  The kiddos are back in public school, I am working more, and it has been an amazing and positive transition.  I just know God is working in our lives.

All of those jobs gave me stories and experiences.  They helped me develop skills and to build a resume.  These jobs supplied me with an income and taught me how to be responsible for what I earn.  However, none of those jobs were as difficult as the scariest, most physically-demanding, emotionally exhaustive, spirit-sucking, mind-melting job that is parenting.  Being a Mom is by far the most painful job I've had.  I know I'm not alone in this.  I also completely understand why God designed families the way He did.  It makes sense that there should be a Mom and a Dad.  (I know that there are many families that are out there where one parent does all of the work, where grandparents are doing the rearing of kids, and many other types of families.  Please know that I'm not judging or condemning any of those.)  What I'm saying is, God knew what He was doing when He placed a husband and a wife together to raise kiddos.

Now, please don't misread this...I love Cecely and Titus with everything I have in me.  They are my biggest gift and greatest joy.  I am 100% sure that they have been God's plan as my saving grace during this season.  Cecely protects me.  Titus hugs me.  They both make me laugh.  My children are amazing.  I could not be more honored to be their Mama.  I am so undeserving of this task that God has given me.  I LOVE being a Mama...it is the greatest job on the planet!

That being said, oh my goodness!  I am exhausted.  I would love to hire a relief pitcher.  I really need one.  In baseball, the relief pitcher does just that...he relieves the pitcher.  In parenting (again, I know this ideal in a lot of homes) one parent can relieve the other.  Right now, I feel like I'm drowning in parenting responsibilities.  I would love to have a guy come swoop in and pick up the kids from school because I am sick as a dog in the bathroom.  I would love another me to pop in to take care of the laundry.  On the nights when I can sleep (maybe 2 or 3 times a week), Titus usually can't sleep.  I average about 2 hours of sleep a night...and if he has a nightmare, I may not sleep at all.  And, that's ok.  I love that he comes to me when he can't sleep, and I want to be the one to get him back to sleep.  But, I'm exhausted.  I would absolutely do the happy dance if a relief parent would step in.

I know SO MANY of my parenting friends are also exhausted...with 2 parents  or 1...with help from grandparents, other family members or not...Parenting is hard, no matter how many parents there are.  It is an intensive job.  I know I'm not alone in this!  What are your parenting survival tips?  What gets you through the end of the day?  If you don't have a relief pitcher in the bull pen what do you to get through the day?  I'm just so tired.  I love my babies...I feel guilty for feeling tired.  I feel like I am not giving them my best.  I feel like I am selling my kiddos short.  I am so exhausted that I don't have the energy to be the Mama I want to be...who I'm called to be.  So, when you say your prayers, please feel free to lift me...pray that I can sleep, that Titus can sleep, that I can be the best Mama who my kiddos need!  I will do the same for you, friends...I pray for the families in my life.  I pray that God will empower the men to be the leaders He has called them to be.  I pray that the women will be the supporters that God made them to be.  I pray protection over the marriages of my friends.  I pray for the safety and health of their children.  I know God is good, and He has me and my kids covered...I just need a little boost! 
I do love my kiddos...So happy and blessed!