Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Silver Linings and Confirmation

I would like to preface this blog by reminding you that you don't have to read it.  If you have clicked on it, you have chosen to read my thoughts and opinions.  I do not write to judge or hurt others.  I write as part of healing process for myself.  And, I am writing my story.  I am absolutely not lumping everyone's situation in the same pile as mine.  I write what has been impressed on my heart and mind...so, if you are offended by what I write or don't agree with my point of view...that's ok...just don't read it.

I know God hates divorce.  In the Old Testament, the Bible clearly outlines the importance of the bonds of marriage, the legalities of divorce, and God even says "I hate divorce" in Malachi 2:16.  You can't be more cut and dry than that.  He hates it.  In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus again shares the reason marriage is so important and should be honored.  He speaks of that special, beautiful relationship designed to be shared by one man and one woman.  And, again, Jesus addresses divorce and His admonishment of it.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 of God's plan for marriage and that divorce should not happen.  So, without a doubt, God hates divorce.  The Bible speaks out against it.  There are citations in the Scriptures that recognize "Biblical grounds" for divorce.  And, believe me, in my case, I held tightly to what the Bible teaches about divorce and God's disdain for it.

In my story, I fought for 5 years as hard as I could for my marriage.  I tried changing who I was and who God made me to be to fulfill someone else's expectations.  I used everything in my arsenal to try and keep peace and happiness in the home.  I sought counseling to help me identify the negative things I was bringing to the marriage, and I looked for help as to how I could correct those things.  In NO WAY did I do everything right in my marriage, and I am not at all trying to sound victimized.  I allowed things to happen that shouldn't have.  I shut down when I shouldn't have.  I messed up multiple times everyday.  But, I refused to give up.  For years, I knew I had to do what God commanded in His Word.  I knew I did not have a Biblical reason for a divorce.  And, honestly, I wanted very much to fix everything and restore a broken relationship.  I wanted my children to grow up with both of their parents.  I wanted to defy all the scary statistics that my marriage had facing it.  There were many nights where I struggled with "the grass is greener" syndrome.  But, I never, ever wanted to do anything that would jeopardize my marriage and my family.

No matter how I fought, changed, and compromised, I could not fix what was broken.  When my husband told me he wanted a divorce, I was heartbroken.  I spent weeks begging him to come back.  I prayed endlessly for days.  I sought the counsel of strong, faithful Christians.  I spent so much time flat on my face crying out the the Father, begging Him to fix what I couldn't.  Even as the months passed, I knew in my mind and heart that I would do the right thing, the Biblical thing and let my husband return if he chose to.  I learned that my best friend had also been praying for me for those 5 years.  She knew the depths of my struggles and pain more than anyone.  She knew the issues that haunted our marriage.  And, she too had been praying for years that whatever the hidden thing was that was causing these reoccurring conflicts would be brought to light.  Her prayers were answered.  The result solidified my concerns of having a divorce that had Biblical grounds.  The information and proof devastated me.  The overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, rejection, betrayal, and self-loathing consumed me.  I could not believe what my life had become.  I could not understand why and did not seem honor my fight in the battle.  I felt as if everything had dropped out from under me.  God did not plan for me to have a divorce.  He did not ordain the dissolving of a marriage.  Sin is what happened.  Having free will and the ability to make choices is what happened.   Sin infiltrated our home and tore it apart.  I know this was not a part of God's design.  He hates divorce.

However, God does love His children unconditionally.  He has honored my faithfulness to Him.  He has provided for my kids and me in ways that I cannot fathom.  He has wrapped us up in His love.  And, while there is still so much pain, He is brining healing.  My kids' pain has been the hardest thing in all of this for me.  Seeing how their personalities have changes has been alarming.  Dealing with behavior issues that I never saw coming has rocked my world.  In spite of the hurt, this season has brought me so much closer to my children.  And, the three of us have clung so tightly to our Heavenly Father.  Our spiritual walk is far from perfect, but it is so much more real in our lives...it is a constant part of everyday.

Please understand that I am not advocating divorce.  If you come from a home that has been blessed enough to be devoid of divorce, you may not understand this post.  And, I know every story is different...again, I am not lumping all divorces together.  From my life, a person can give and fight with everything they have, but then breaking up of a home still happens.  It all goes back to sin.  If you are having marital problems, I would encourage you and your spouse to seek Christian counseling.  I would implore that you spend time with Christian friends who will lift you up.  I would advise that you find a Christian couple who is older, wiser, and has been married a long time and ask them to mentor you and your spouse.  Divorce is too commonplace in this culture.  It should not be taken lightly.  I have been blessed to have several wonderful, godly women friends who are divorced...each one gave everything they had.  But, when sin is present and if Satan can get a foothold, the only way to combat that is with the power of God.  God's power is able to solve, heal, fix, restore anything.  The problem is self and sin can get in the way.  This is why it is essential for spouses to work together and to surround themselves with Christian influences, to spend time alone and together in God's Word, to pray with and for each other, and to make God the top priority and the center of the marriage.  

I am so thankful for the friends God has placed in my life who are survivors of divorce.  I love seeing how He has restored their hearts, how He has blessed them, and how He is using them.  I have been greatly encouraged by these awesome people.  If you are divorced, you aren't broken...God can use you...let Him.  If you are blessed to be in a marriage, fight for it!!!  I am equally blessed to have wonderful friends who have never been divorced and who are still with the person they started out with.  These friends have also given me great hope.

Now, this post has been heavy.  Y'all who know me know God has given me an interesting (often inappropriate) sense of humor...I call it silver lining logic.  It's my view of God confirming small things in my life that make me giggle and know He's not through with me.  So, here are some silver linings I have experienced: the option to wear high heels, the need to buy new clothes because I have lost weight, the victory of dropping 3 pant sizes because of said weight loss, the ability to prepare "kid food" 3 meals a day (because I like cereal, ramen, and PB&J as much as my kids do), the gift to be able to give all of my attention to my kiddos...especially because they need it right now.  Believe me, this in not me taking my situation lightly.  This is me making the best of the most painful season of my life.  All I know is God is at work in my heart and mind.  I have never felt closer to Him.  I have never felt that I could reach out and touch Him like I do now.  I have never felt so "heard" by Him.  He is with me.  He is bigger.  His plans for me will surpass any I could make for myself.  I am so glad to know He loves me in spite of my faults, and that He holds my and my kids' future in His hands.  I am thankful!

Monday, July 29, 2013

Country Girl in the Big City

Oh, my goodness!  I cannot believe the awesome past 2 days I have had.  What an absolute dream for me to have been able to visit New York City.  I have put pics up on Facebook, but I thought I'd jot down a few memories before they transfer themselves into the abyss of my brain. 

First of all, I am so grateful to know my kids are safe and sound with the amazing people of Biltmore Baptist (Bill Keel, Denise Edwards, Rexella Hall, Angie Bretz, Jamie Seagraves,etc.).  Knowing that they are safe, happy, having fun, experiencing an adventure, while learning more about Christ gives me a comfort that I can not describe!  A big thanks to Tim and Shanna Buckner for taking care of them and getting them to the Arden campus, and for handling Tooth Fairy detail while I am gone!  Another round of thanks for my parents who chauffeured the kids and me around, and who gave me some fun money for the trip.  

Secondly, much gratitude to Sugar Daddy Shane Cooke for taking care of his and Kelley's kids so that we could get away AND for putting us up in a swanky hotel right in the center of the awesomeness that is New York City!

Finally, a resounding Woooo Hoooo to Kelley Cooke for planning a relaxing weekend, for doing anything and everything I wanted to do, and for bravely driving the streets of New York City.  I am beyond blessed to have her as my dearest friend.  

Ok, sappiness aside, New York is amazing, and I'm already thinking of what I want to do on my nest few visits.  I was told by several people before I came up to "tone down" my perkiness, to avoid making eye contact, and to not stop and talk to people like I do. Well, I didn't listen to any of those well-intended people.  I was just me...and that seemed to agree with the people of Nw York City.  Lesson learned, take precautions and be safe, but keep being who God made you to be.

Kelley picked me up from JFK International Airport on Saturday afternoon.  We drove into the city...where I screeched at every sign that said "Manhattan", "Brooklyn", etc.  Seriously, I was completely wound up and borderline crazy.  Kelley effortlessly got us to our fancy-schmancy-super-swanky hotel, The Roosevelt.  We pulled up as close as we could with taxis whipping around us.  And that's where we met Tony...the valet from Long Island who could have been a lost Soprano and who, for some reason, made me want to eat pizza.  Go figure.  Tony got us safely into the hotel and took care of the parking...valet services in that city...BRILLIANT!  The hotel was lavish, beautiful, and full of history (which I of course, read about...because I'm a NERD).  

We decided to look for some "lupper" then to head to Central Park before dark.  Kelley let me pick our eating spot, and I chose Maggie's right down the street from then hotel.  Who says you can't get a dining bargain in NYC?  We had a burger, fries, and drink for $10/person...and it was AWESOME!  After Maggie's, walked up and down Fifth Avenue, did one of the loop's at Central Park, then headed to Rockefeller Center.  Before the trip, Kelley asked me to think of places I wanted to see, and because of my nerdy tendencies, love of movies, and enjoyment of sitcoms, I wanted to go to Rockefeller Center.  We had a pretzel at one of the shops in the huge underground level of the plaza, then headed to the NBC Experience Store.  If you know me at all, you know I'm a fan of Friends, The Office, Parks and Rec, 30 Rock, Saturday Night Live, etc.  The NBC Experience Store almost did me in.  Thank God that I'm not independently wealthy, or I would have a T-shirt, magnet, and coffee cup from every NBC show.  I did get a few things, but nothing too crazy...just Amber-level crazy.

On then second floor of the store is where we went for our NBC Studio Tour...(enter the sound of angels singing and the visual of me crying while poppin' and lockin').  Kelley knows me too well, and she graciously trekked through NBC with me, and did not make fun of me when I cried during the welcome video, when I muttered the answers to every question the pages asked, when I could not stop staring at the golden shamrock mark where Jimmy Fallon gives his monologues, or when I got choked up just entering the SNL stage.  The tour was so much fun, and I was in my nerdy heaven.

I had said that I wanted to visit Times Square at night...yeah, I'm nuts.  While it was awesome to see and full of visual splendor, it was also dirty, smelly, sticky, way too many people in my personal space...and I was concerned of contracting some kind of disease just from walking through the streets.  But, in the midst of then nuttiness,  saw the Disney Store...aaaahhhh!  Some things about me just aren't surprising...Disney is one of them.  Kelley and I found some goodies for our kids, then we headed back to the hotel for some snacks, showers, and rest.

The next morning, the wonderful Kelley allowed me to sleep in, of course I didn't go to bed until 2am.  We headed out on the busy streets with Kelley fearlessly behind the wheel, honking, dodging pedestrians, all while smiling and not cussing...truly, it was impressive.  We eventually parked then had a muffin and tea and coffee at the Magnolia Bakery.  Next, we headed back to Rockefeller Center to take the Top of the Rock Tour...again, something I wanted to do, but had NO IDEA Kelley was afraid of heights!  What an amazing friend to go through discomfort just to knock something off my bucket list!  We took the crazy, glass-topped, laser-lit elevator to the 67th floor, then took an escalator up one more floor, and stairs up one more floor.  From the top, we had an amazing, 360 degree view of New York City.  We could see The Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and everything else.  It was overwhelmingly awesome!  

After our descent down to earth, we stopped in for a fancy brunch at the Rockefeller Center Cafe which is set up outside where the ice skating rink is during the winter.  The food was fantastic, the view phenomenal, and the conversation...priceless!

After brunch, I decided I wanted to try Times Square again.  In the daylight, it was not as crowded or scary.  We visited the M&Ms store, Hershey's Store, and Toys R Us.  We saw the creepy characters and the Naked Cowboy, which was traumatizing.  We walked a different path back to the parking garage where I got to see several beautiful theaters and a couple of publishing houses (which thrilled me to almost tears...McGraw-Hill and Simon & Schuster!!!).  Again, I'm a nerd and I know...Kelley knows it, doesn't get it, but loves me and indulges me in spite of it!  She is the truest friend!

So, New York City...I love ya, and I plan on coming back and knocking you out one area at a time!

Ch..ch..ch...changes...

A rather popular passage of Scripture (of course also made famous by the good ol' Beatles) tells of change:
" There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, 
A time to tear down and a time to build up,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance, 
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
A time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up,
A time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend,
A time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate,
A time for war and a time for peace." -Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

I have to be honest, Ecclesiastes in not one of my favorite reads of the Bible.  I have read through it a couple of times, and I find it depressing...wise, but not very upbeat...which, I know is intentional in God's authorship of the Bible.  This passage is also not on my top 100 or even 1,000 favorites.  Probably because it deals with change, and I am not very good with change.  I'm struggling to think of many people who are.  Change, good or bad, is hard.  We are creatures of habit, we get stuck in grooves, we are complacent, we are stubborn, we think we know best, and we just want to keep the familiar.  For many of us, definitely for me, change is a profane word.

As I reread this Scripture, I am convicted of the reality of how human and messed up I am, but how divine and sovereign God is.  I am a list maker.  If I look at these verses as a list, I can reflect upon my life and identify where these changes are happening.  And, and it comforts me greatly to know that change is a centuries old, universal problem...but that God sees it all and already knows the outcome.  

I could easily go verse by verse and point how that "time for" whatever change is happening in my life...and, I probably will do that, but I won't bore you with all of them.  (I also challenge you to look at your life and identify where change is happening, and step back and see how God is working through that change).

A few of these "times" pop out of the Bible at me..."a time to plant and a time to uproot".  I feel that my kids and I have been completely uprooted.  Our old version of normal: me staying at home, home school, big house, big yard, etc. was all pulled out from under us.  We were picked up and pulled out.  However, we are being replanted.  We have an amazing new home that we love and where we all feel safe and comfortable.  We were uprooted, but I can feel God using His green thumb to plant us in our new environment and to help us grow and thrive.  That's a big change, and a lot of change.  It scares me to pieces, but it is very exciting to see how He has already provided for us!

"A time to mourn and a time to dance"...my kiddos and I have had to go through the grief process, of sorts, concerning what we have lost.  And while there are still scary moments and bad days, it feels like we are approaching the time to bust a move!  My kids and I have (with great struggle) followed God's Word and guidance through our changes.  According to His promise in Jeremiah 29:11, He has great plans for us!  He has already used us, and I pray He keeps using us to bring people closer to Him.  Knowing people can be brought to Jesus through our battles absolutely makes me want to dance.  Everything we face can bring Him glory.  Whoop whoop! (Insert image of me busting out the "cabbage patch", "raise the roof", and a little crumping).  I cannot wait to see what God has in store for us that is going to make me dance like a Rockette!

I literally could go on and on in this passage and pinpoint each "time" in my life right now.  All I know is change is hard, and I don't like it...good or bad.  Even good change scares me.  I feel vulnerable, exposed, and timid.  BUT, "the Lord is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear?" Psalm 27:1.  AND, "For God has not given us the spirit of fear (timidity), but a spirt of power, of love, and of a sound mind" 2 Timothy 1:7!  So, my challenge to you and to myself is to take on these seasons of change, these times of stretching, growing, and renewing with BOLDNESS!!!  Do not let your doubts and fears ensnare you.  Do not let your human mind overtake God's sovereignty.  Do not allow yourself to get caught in the trap of complacency.  Instead, know that if you are crying, dancing is around the corner. If you are being uprooted, He's going to plant you somewhere else.  Whatever change you are facing, be confident that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion..." Philippians 1:6.  Now, He doesn't promise that everything will be resolved and perfect on this side of heaven.  But, be faithful and consistent, and if you aren't dancing while you're down here on Earth, get ready to do the Electric Slide in Heaven!



Saturday, July 27, 2013

Adult Education

I remember when I graduated high school, I had that "I'm done!" mentality...like everything I needed to know, I had in my head by the time I turned 18.  Then, I started college and realized I knew very little.  Since I took the scenic route to finish college, I absolutely learned that I knew very little.  I went back to school as an adult, and completed my Master's Degree last December.  But, no matter how many pieces of paper I collect that offer some sort of (very expensive) proof that I have learned enough about a topic to qualify for a degree, I realize that I am never done learning. 

I am learning and relearning so much in this season.  I am relearning who God made me to be.  I am remembering my "first love" in Him, and because of that, He is showing me all kinds of things about myself.  I am learning that I am brave, I can be assertive, I am of value, and He has a plan for me.  I am rediscovering the importance of having a spiritual education.  There are a lot of things I "know" but that I often forget or they get lost in the hustle of life.  Realigning my life to have my spiritual walk as a priority has taught me so much.  It has reminded me of the strength that comes from God to make it through this crazy life.  It has shown me how important it is for me to model a healthy spiritual walk for my children.  It has given me hope in my relationships...if they are based on a solid spiritual foundation, the other aspects will line up a bit easier.  It has reminded me of the importance of accountability.  I am so thankful for God's forgiveness and His patience with me as I strive to make my spiritual life a priority.

I am having to relearn a lot.  For years, I have been wired to not be a stereotypical girl...to limit any crying or emotion at all, to tone down my femininity, to take a back seat, and to tone down my personality.  Recently, it clicked that God did not make me that way.  I have become more adventurous.  I realize this won't sound like a big deal to most of you...but, I drive on the parkway almost every day.  For years, I had never been on the parkway, or I would ride, but not drive.  Again, I know this sounds trivial, but the first day that I hopped on the parkway a month ago, I was ELATED!  I had no idea where I was going (I refuse to use GPS), but I figured it out.  I was so excited!  And, now, I'm blessed to get to take the parkway to work every day.  I have always preferred to wear dresses, but I rarely took the time to do any of the "girly" things like accessorize or do something with my hair other than a ponytail.  With the help of my gracious and fashionable friends and super-savvy daughter, I have been taking steps to be more feminine.  God made me a girl, so I might as well get on board and embrace it!  I have recently been reminded that it is ok to cry, which I have stifled for years and has actually been a battle for me.  I think it is safe to say that I have cried more in the past month than I have in the past 5 years.  And, you know what?  I usually feel better after I've cried...I don't look better, but I feel better!  I am constantly being reminded through God's word to be who He made me to be...NOT what people expect from me.  God created me to encourage...and I love being able to do that.  My joy comes from building up others.  I have joy because I am doing what He made me to do!  God also gave me a sense of humor that helps me cope with life and that brings smiles to others.  It has been so wonderful to feel that being restored in my heart and mind.

I know that I will never be done learning and relearning.  I know that past hurts and habits will cause obstacles in my life.  So, I will have to be intentional and diligent in learning new ways to handle stress, conflict, and anger.  I will have to be willing to accept instruction on how to break down barriers of negative behaviors.  I am so excited to know that God has wired us to never stop learning.  I am so thankful He blesses us with opportunities to rediscover who He made us to be!  I am so grateful to have people in my life who are patient and caring enough to "tutor" me through these life lessons.  I intend to never be "done" learning. 

Keep learning, friends...keep stretching and growing...you will not be disappointed!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Kiddos...

It is no secret that I love kiddos.  God wired me from birth to be around young ones.  I believe that's why He blessed me to be the oldest of 4 kids.  I believe that's why He prompted me to study what I did in college.  I believe that is why He blessed me with the job I have now.  I believe that is why He gave me the greatest gift of being a Mom.  And, I believe that is why kiddos like being around me...because He designed me for that purpose. 

My heart is completely broken for our children.  My heart hurts daily for Cecely and Titus and the pain they are having to endure.  Outside of our home, my heart is greatly burdened for children.  I wish we lived in that picturesque world Hollywood created with television shows like Leave it to Beaver where the kids were allowed to be kids.  I hate how the enemy attacks our children through media, crazy adults, and even other children.  I wish I could make a place where children could be safe, healthy, happy and never doubt that they are loved...I can't do that, but I am so thankful that we are promised a perfect place in Heaven one day.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude and joy that both of my children have made the decision to ask Jesus to live in their hearts; and, I have the peace in knowing one day we will share Heaven together.

But for now, here on this messed up Earth, our children are hurting.  Abuse, neglect, divorce, death of loved ones, inadequate living situations, health problems, fear, anxiety, doubt...and a host of other negatives are assaulting our young ones.  I feel completely helpless sometimes.  Oh, but there is One who sees these hurts and who knows our children better than we do. 

Have you ever read the accounts of Jesus around children in the Gospels?  I have always loved those stories.  In Matthew 19, there is a brief account where children were being brought to Jesus.  The disciples in all of their "grown-upness" (yeah, I just made that a word) did not want the children to bother Jesus, and they rebuked those who brought the children.  But, listen to watch Jesus said in verse 14, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people who are like these children" (New Century Version).  Whoa, step back adults!  The kingdom of Heaven belongs to people who are like these children.  What does that mean?  Well, in my years of experience with children, my opinion is that Jesus was saying we need to be like children.  I love working with kids because, for the most part, they are HONEST.  They often say what they think when they think it.  The filters haven't kicked in quite yet.  Children are innocent.  They have not yet been corrupted by all the things this world can offer to distract them.  Children are precious...they are little treasures that God spent time to specifically design.  Children are full of faith and hope...they have not yet become hardened and cynical by life.  Children were so important to Jesus that He took a break from His teachings to admonish adults for not being like children.  We can all take a lesson from that.

While I continue to grieve over the pain of all the amazing children in my world, I am trying to hold on to the fact that God cares for them more than I ever could.  I am trying to recapture some of my childlike qualities.  And, while I cannot fix the problems facing the children in my world, I can make sure that when they are with me, they are allowed and encouraged to be children, not little grown-ups.   

Friday, July 19, 2013

Light vs. Dark

Every night before bed (well, most nights before bed) the kids and I have our devotional time.  The routine is pretty simple...Cecely, Titus, and I get in our pjs, sit together on the couch, and we read from our Jesus Calling for Kids devotional book.  I don't think I could handle the adult version of this book, because the children's version knocks me to the ground every night.  After we read, we talk about the devotional and what the Bible says about the given topic.  Then, we share prayer requests, and finally, we pray together.  Some nights, this time goes by smoothly.  Other nights, it's heartbreaking.  Friends, if you have children in your lives...LISTEN to them...ASK them what is on their heart and mind..and PRAY for them!

Tonight's devotional was called "Unwanted Feelings".  I was going to summarize it, but I think it's easier just to share it:

"Bring Me all your feelings, even the ones you wish you didn't have.  Fear, anger, jealousy--all those  dark feelings disappear if you stay in the Light of My Presence.

Don't try to pretend that you never feel afraid or jealous or angry.  Feelings are a part of being human.  It is what you do with those feelings that makes all the difference.  The evil one can use your feeling to try to keep you from doing My will.  But don't let fear stop you from stepping out and doing what you know is right.  Don't let jealousy blind you to your own talents and blessings.  And don't let anger trip you up and cause you to sin.

Trust me enough to bring all those dark feelings to Me.  Spread them out in the Light of My Love, where we will deal with them together. " (Jesus Calling 365 Devotions for Kids, Sarah Young)

This devotional was so timely for our little family.  Cecely has been battling anger for 6 months, Titus has been struggling with fear, and I have been dealing with both.  I loved the perspective this devotional gave...the enemy wants to use those dark feelings against us.  He wants to break us, hurt us, defeat us.  BUT, when we are in the light of our Father those dark feelings are vanquished.  Remember, He created you for a purpose.  You are HIS!  He wants you to live in the light!  Don't run away from your dark feelings...deal with them...don't let them control you...And, if you have kids in your life, help them understand their scary feelings.  Remind them that Jesus is the Light, and if He is in their heart, His Light is in them!!! 

Please, please, please listen to your children!  Let them talk about what they are thinking and feeling.  Don't belittle what they say.  Ask them what makes them scared, jealous, or angry.  Pray with them.  Talk with them!  It will blow your mind what they are holding on to...it will break your heart to know their burdens...and it will bless you beyond words to pray with them!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Old Habits...

Habit:
: the prevailing disposition or character of a person's thoughts and feelings : mental makeup
: a settled tendency or usual manner of behavior
: a behavior pattern acquired by frequent repetition or physiologic exposure that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance
: an acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary (http://www.merriam-webster.com).

I have been learning a lot about habits lately.  Some of them that I didn't know I had, some that were born of past relationships, some that were developed as coping skills, and some just because I am a big mess.  The Bible tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 6 years old.  I hadn't picked up many bad habits at that point in my life.  And, because I am human and full of sin, I have definitely developed some unhealthy habits in my lifetime.  I love to be reminded of that verse though...with Christ living in me, when I confess my sins, the old dies, and the new comes!  I am thankful that is an ongoing process in my heart and mind.

Currently, I have been analyzing my life.  I am in counseling and I have been blessed with honest, faithful friends who are helping me uncover hurtful habits that I have hung on to.  The habits that I want to break are those which I have put in place to guard my heart against pain.  I have built up walls of distrust, suspicion, and doubt.  I have let my stubbornness and pride take over parts of my heart.  I have been almost obsessed with wanting to prove myself to others...that I can handle whatever life throws at me.  Oh my goodness, how completely wrong is that?  I am constantly having to ask forgiveness for my stubborn heart.  God has so greatly blessed me with people to walk along this journey of life with...I don't have to handle problems on my own.  And while I struggle to understand the why and how people people care about me, God knows their hearts as He does mine.  I believe He has placed people in my life intentionally to help me break out of the bondage these habits have held on my heart and mind.  

It is no easy task to change the way I have thought for years.  I am having to be constantly reminded of what is real and what is now versus what was in the past.  Anytime change happens, good or bad, it is extremely difficult.  At the same time, it is purifying.  God does not want me to stay complacent, to get stuck in a negative behavior and stay with it because it's "safe" for me.  God wants to shape me and mold me through the changes.  He's taking away the old self and equipping me with a new self...and if I follow His lead, I will be more like Jesus and less like Amber.  Wow!  He loves me that much.  He loves you that much.  So, take an inventory of the habits in your life.  Don't try to justify why you have them (believe me, I spend a LOT of time doing that).  Let go of those bad habits...give them to the Lord.  Take on some new habits.  Find an accountability partner, someone you can pray with.  Get involved in a local congregation.  Spend time in worship and reflection.  Be honest about your struggles and get some help for them. 


 (We all have hurts and habits...if you need help with yours, see a counselor, or find a church that has Celebrate Recovery!  It's an awesome program to help anyone with hurts, habits, and hang ups!!!  http://www.celebraterecovery.com/) 


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Train Them Up...

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, the weak of spirit, or the exhausted of energy.  Parenting is a full-time job with absolutely no vacation days.  Parenting is challenging, especially in the world and time we live in.  Temptation, negativity, heartache, and pain are around every corner waiting to consume our children.  Our children our being assaulted with messages of what they should look like, what they should listen to, what is "cool", how to talk, and the list goes on.  Parents are rearing children in a world of self-indulgence, selfishness and self-promotion.  To be a parent in this climate is difficult to say the least.

My undergraduate degree is in Sociology.  I always enjoyed studying the behavior patterns of people.  I like to watch relationships.  I enjoy trying to understand why people do the things they do...especially relationally.  One of my favorite theorists while I was in school was Albert Bandura.  He projected the Social Learning Theory which basically teaches the importance of modeling for children.  “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action" (Bandura).  This theory tells us that we learn from others...we see behaviors, monitor the outcome of those behaviors, and decide if we want to make decisions to act on those same behaviors.  I have worked with children since I was a teenager, and I am a huge advocate of the importance of modeling positive behavior for children.  In parenting, this is essential whether you like it or not.  No matter what kind of parent you are, your children are watching you, listening to you, and eventually will act like you. 

The Bible also gives us parents the challenge to lead our children.  "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it" Proverbs 22:6.  When I read the word "train", I instantly think of the military.  I think of the months and years of training our service men and women have to prepare them for their missions and for battle.  That is what we are instructed to do.  We need to prepare our children for the battles of this world.  We need to equip them with tools necessary for them not just to survive, but to thrive in this world filled with darkness.  We need to teach them how to guard their hearts, minds, and words.  We need to pour so much love into them that it spills out of them and into others.  We need to teach them how to be His light in the darkness.

I was very blessed to be brought up in a home that was filled with love.  I have been extremely blessed to have had a Mama, Daddy, and Dad who have modeled for me how to be a Christian.  I remember the first time I went to a funeral...I believe I was around 6 or 7.  My parents took my siblings and me.  We sat in the church, we walked through the receiving line, we showed our respect to the family.  After the service is what I remember more vividly.  I remember my Mama preparing covered dishes and serving them to the family.  I remember my Daddy walking around and talking to and loving on the family members. I was brought up in a home where people mattered, where sharing God's love with any and everyone was a daily thing.  I was brought up making hospital visits, singing in nursing homes, opening our home to those who were hurting, crying with others as they suffered, celebrating together when victories happened.  Even as an adult, my Mama and Dad continue to model for me how a parent after God's heart should live.  What is great about being an adult child is the different level I can serve with my parents.  And, thankfully, my parents are helping me to instill these same methods in rearing my children.  Cecely and Titus have been trained to minister.  They are comfortable in nursing home rooms, in hospitals, and even in hospice.  I have worked hard to model for them the importance of showing God's love to others...even when it's difficult and uncomfortable.  I can do that because it was modeled for me.  

Funnily enough, the same goes with daily tasks like housework.  I am definitely a bit of a disciplinarian...not a bit...I am the tough parent.  My Mama and Grandmama taught me how to take care of a house when I was in elementary school.  As I grew older, my responsibilities became harder.  I am so glad my Mama and Grandmama taught be how to keep house and to cook.  They were training me to be able to manage my own home some day.  Now, I do the same with Cecely and Titus.  They have a list of responsibilities that they need to complete on a daily basis.  I want them to be able to take care of their own home when they grow up.  Saturday afternoons are typically our cleaning day...I have little bursts of pride as I watch Cecely and Titus do their chores.  I chuckle when I see them try to take the same short cuts I used to try.  And, I do my best to patiently show them the correct way to take on a task.  

Being a parent is by far my favorite, my most frustrating, my most exciting, and my most exhausting role in life right now.  I am encouraged by the wonderful parents I have in my life who are fighting the same battles to raise their children under Christ's guidance in a world that fights hard against us.  I struggle with worry over my children.  I am learning how to let go of anxiety and to embrace the peace that only God can give...that is HARD!  I am taking the command the Lord has given me to "train" them up very seriously.  I want to raise 2 children after God's own heart.  

My heart was absolutely full yesterday as I heard of my children's visits with my Dad to the hospital bound people at his church.  I love to see them reach out to other children.  I feel blessed to see them love on others.  Cecely has expressed an interest to go on a  mission trip when she's older.  I cried when she told me that.  I have had the desire on my heart since I was 6 years old to go...I have not had the opportunity to do so yet, but I am excited at the prospect of taking the foreign mission field by storm with my children one day.  Right now, in this season, we will work together on the mission field where God has placed us. 

I am so grateful to be a Mama.  I absolutely do not deserve the blessing of Cecely and Titus that God has given me.  I am a mess, I am broken, I make a million mistakes a minute.  But, I am encouraged by those God has placed in my life and by the words He has passed on through Scripture to help me be the best parent I can be.  Train them up, my friends!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Faithful and Fantastic Friends

"First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you..." Romans 1:8
"I always thank God for you because of His grace given you in Christ Jesus."  1 Corinthians 1:4
 "I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. " Ephesians 1:16
"I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy." Philippians 1:3-4
"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you."  Colossians 1:3
"We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers."  1 Thessalonians 1:2
"We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing." 2 Thessalonians 2:3
"I thank God...as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers." 2 Timothy 1:3
 "I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers..."Philemon 4

I love the way Paul kicks off many of his letters.  I love that he expresses gratitude to the Lord for whomever he is writing.  I really enjoy reading Paul's letters in their entirety.  He is a passionate writer.  His letters are honest and filled with heart.  God gifted him in the area of communication, and if we choose to, we can benefit from his words.

I would like to take the Paul approach and express my gratitude to the wonderful people God has placed in my life, especially over the past six months...I'm going to take a stab at some Paul-ish writing...


Amber, a follower of Christ,
To my amazing friends near and far, to my incredible BBC East Campus Family, to my wonderful family, to those I have known for years, to those I have recently met:

I always thank my God for you every time I pray.  I am beyond blessed to have such a network of support and encouragement.  When my children are hurting, you reach out and love on them.  You have allowed them to express their hurt and pain.  You have supplied them with hours of happy distraction.  You have taken them out for milkshakes and enough frozen yogurt to cover Asheville.  You have invited them to ball games, movies, and playgrounds.  You have showered them with unconditional love.  You have provided consistency that they have desperately needed.  For that, I am truly grateful.

As for me, I cannot understand the depth of your love for me.  I have felt overwhelmed by the love and support you have shown me.  From bringing Chick-fil-A to sustain us when I could not find the energy to cook to watching Cecely and Titus so I could sleep.  From inviting us into your homes for rest and respite to taking us on adventures.  From answering midnight phone calls to texting me at 3am to make sure I'm ok.

Most importantly, I am grateful for the prayers you have offered up to our Father on my behalf.  I have felt strength on days when I had none.  I have experienced joy when I doubted I ever would again.  I have been encouraged and lifted up daily through your prayers to the Lord.  There have been days when I have been so low, so discouraged, so distracted by doubt and fear where I could literally feel God's presence encircle me...I know this was through the prayers of the saints.

I do not have the words to fully express how thankful I am.  I am blessed beyond measure.  Thank you for the role you have had in my life's story.  Thank you for being faithful to Him.  Thank you for your love to my children and me.  I am simply grateful!

Choosing Words...

My kids and I have been in deep conversation lately about the power of words.  I have actually been in conversations with several people concerning this topic as of late.  I think even though we know better, we underestimate the power our words have.  And, when you use a public format such as social media, you need to be very wise in what words you share.  Once you make your words public, they are forever out "there".  Therefore, the words you choose to submit for anyone and everyone to read should be chosen very wisely.

With my kiddos, I have been encouraging the wisdom of Thumper's parents, "If you can't say something nice... don't say nothing at all."  Words slip from children's lips effortlessly and often carelessly.  I have been working with Cecely and Titus to understand the consequences of their words.  We all have words that we have heard that we wish we never had.  My children are dealing with that right now.  In having hurtful words said to them, they understand the pain and sting that comes from ill-thought conversations.  At the same time, this has helped them to understand the importance of carefully choosing their words when talking with others.  I ask them, "are the words you are using building other people up or tearing them down?"  I want them to understand that there are consequences for the things they say.  Thankfully, I have been blessed with two very smart and very compassionate children.  At this point in their lives, we are preparing for transitioning to public school where I know they will be privy to conversations that will use different language than we do, they will be faced with bullies, they will be pressured to conform to the norm and to say things to fit in.  I pray that with guidance and encouragement from me, that they will continue to think about what they say before they say it.  I pray that they will be confident and bold to speak the truth, but that they would not cross boundaries that could cause pain to another.  I pray that they will know when to speak out about something, or when it is time to address something individually and/or confidentially.

In my adult life, I am learning that there are many out there who do not realize the impact of their words.  I am an over-thinker.  I weigh out and pray about the words I share, especially publicly.  In my relationships, I tend to over process the words I want to say as well as the words I receive.  I have had a strong conviction in my heart over the past two years to work on my transparency.  While I am happy to have God use me, as uncomfortable as it can be, I want to share the words He has laid on my heart.  I want to use words that will draw people to Him through me, not words that cause hurt or condemnation.  I want the words I use to be honest, but loving.  In this world filled with controversy and anger, it is easy to speak out on topics.  But, it is my heart's desire to make sure that the words I am sharing are building up, not tearing down, as I teach my kids.  Once those words are out there, they cannot be taken back, and they are often not forgotten.  Again, I think boldness is essential, but knowing what the desire of my heart is when I speak boldly is essential. 

When we struggle with words, we can always turn to the Bible.  God, in all His sovereignty, has given us a great resource...His Word!!!  As Pastor Bruce Frank shared this past Sunday, the Bible is not a collection of the thoughts, ideas, and stories of men.  The Bible is God-breathed...He intentionally shared every word with the authors of the Bible.  Everything that is in His Word is there for a purpose.  God's words are bold, convicting, challenging, strong, and most importantly, loving.  Every word is filled with the love of God for His people.  Even when He is addressing the hard issues, when He is getting the attention of those who have wandered away, when He is unleashing the rains for a flood or fire from the heavens, when He was correcting those who were wrong, He spoke with love.  God is just, He is faithful, He is pure, and He is love.  This should be our ultimate goal.  Even when addressing the difficult subjects, when we feel convicted to share an opinion, or when we disagree with others, we need to carefully consider the words we use, the potential impact they have, and we need to reflect if they were actually shared in love.  Believe me, I am writing this for my benefit as much as anyone else.  I am working to be very aware of what I say, when I say it, and how I say it.  Words are too important to waste, too valuable to go unused.  I want to make sure my words count and that they are being used to bring others closer to Him.  Is what I say bringing glory to Him?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Little Life Lessons

One of my least favorite phrases on the planet is "teachable moments".  This is probably because every time I have someone share a "teachable moment" with me, it's because I've screwed up.  The person who uses this phrase on me is trying to redirect my behavior in a loving way.  Logically, I know that.  Emotionally, I hate it.  Experiencing a teachable moment often makes me feel inadequate or like a failure.  The reality is, there are people in my life who care about me enough to hold me accountable when I mess up and who are wanting me to grow and change into a better person.  And, I'm not perfect.  I don't know what I'm doing a lot of the time, and I need my trusted friends to point out when I'm not doing something right or could do something better.

I have realized that as a parent, I do the same thing with my kiddos.  Every day is filled with teachable moments.  Currently, we are talking a lot about consequences and priorities.  Since my babies were born, I have been teaching them that for every action, there is a consequence, good or bad.  We have talked about consequences in discipline.  When Cecely or Titus make a poor choice, we talk about the choice, and they have to take whatever consequence I deem appropriate.  When I make a mistake, I share it with them (if it's appropriate) and tell them the consequence that was given to me.  Right now, we are talking a lot about how our choices affect those around us.  We've discussed in great detail why it is important to think about the choices we make.  Whatever we decide to do will affect those who love us for the good or bad.  We've also talked about that there isn't a time limit on consequences.  The choice that was made in our life 6 month ago greatly affects Cecely, Titus, and me, even though we weren't the ones to make that choice.  This situation has given me a major and extended teachable moment to show my children how important it is to seek God, Christian friends, and God's Word when facing big decisions.  Our lives are a mess right now, but I have shown them in the Bible where God promises us a future of good, not of harm.  I have told them that if we continue to follow the Lord, do as His Word tells us, He will honor that.  Our lives are never going to be perfect.  No one has a perfect life.  I like to reiterate that we have to make that choice to trust, obey and follow Him.  As a result, positive consequences will come our way in His perfect timing.

We have also had the "pleasure" (I say with great sarcasm) to learn about priorities.  Again, the shift in our family has caused a change in priorities.  Cecely and Titus know that my priorities rank as God, Cecely & Titus, my family, my friends, my job...and so on.  The Bible spells out for us over and over again that the Lord should be the top of the list.  Ideally, the spouse comes next, then the kids, etc.  My children know that they are on the top of my list, right under the Lord.  Over the past two nights, we have really been honed in on why priorities matter, and how those priorities affect our lives and the lives of others.  Right now, all 3 of us battle the feelings of isolation and despair.  I have made it a point for us to sit down together as a family and list the people our world who care about us and who have us on their priority list.  Then, we go over who is on our priority list.  Sadly, my kids feel as if they are not priorities in lives where they should be.  This opened up the opportunity to have a teachable moment about family, and how you do not have to be blood-related to be family. 

Remember that old song "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God..."?  I am teaching my kids that God gives us a great gift of not being limited to blood relatives to have a family.  Isn't that true for all of us?  You may or may not have wonderful kin.  You may get along with every member of your family; you may only visit your family on holidays, if that.  But, God has blessed each of us with surrogate family members through our membership in His family.  I am so grateful for that!  I am blessed with several amazing and close blood-relatives; and, I am equally blessed with so many family members who don't share by genetic code (and I'm sure they're thankful for that)!

However your family is put together, remember to make those who love you and who you love to feel like a priority.  Talk to them, pray with them and for them, invest in them, help them, let them help you.  Remember as you face decisions in your life, that your choices do not only affect you...the ripple effect of your choices goes out to all in your life.  Look around for teachable moments for you to share with others, and possibly more importantly, where you can learn from others!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Processing...

When life deals you a rough hand, how do you process?  Are you a stress eater?  Do you workout like crazy?  Do you shut down and shut people out?  Do you burst out in angry rants?  Do you make jokes to avoid the issue?  Do you break down in tears?  Do you ignore the issue all together?  Do you a combo of some or all of the above? 

I am learning just how vastly different people are when they are processing the same situation.  Currently, my kids and I are processing several changes.  We are establishing a new normal.  In the past 6 months, we have experienced a major change in our family dynamic, we have downsized from a big home into a smaller apartment, we moved from one community to another, we have lost a loved one, we soon will be transitioning from homeschooling to public school.  Each of these changes are enough to make an adult lose it.  But what about the kids? 

I have to say, my two kiddos are simply amazing.  I know I'm biased, but they truly are outstanding.  Right now, with all of these transitions and life changes, they are struggling to process.  Thankfully, neither of them are like their Mama.  I tend to process by shutting down, hiding out, and cutting myself off from people.  I have been greatly convicted that this is not a healthy way to deal with trials.  So, I have been fighting every one of my natural inclinations to isolate myself, and have instead, been sharing the depths of my struggles, pain, and fear with my trusted few.  Titus processes through sadness.  He cries a lot.  His hurt is very deep and very real.  He experiences nightmares almost every night.  He has started having panic attacks and separation anxiety.  He is a worrier. 

Cecely gets angry...I mean she gets throwing things, punching pillows, shoutin' mad.  It's safe to say, she does not get that from me.  But, in her anger, she tells the truth.  She expresses her thoughts and concerns so eloquently.  Truly, what she says, she has thought a lot about. When she is expressing herself, a lot of her anger comes from poor choices...not that she has made but that have or are affecting her.  She says, "I know what _______is doing isn't right.  That's not what the Bible says.  That's not what God wants us to do."  I love her boldness.  She and I have talked in great lengths about where the Bible says, "be angry, but do not sin in your anger."  Amazingly, Cecely does a great job of that.  When I hear her talk about what makes her angry, righteous indignation is the phrase that comes to mind.  She believes God's Word and clings tightly to it.  She knows what He says enough to know how to stand up for herself.  I am in awe of my 9 year-old!

However you process, remember there is One who sees every tear you cry, who hears every shout that bellows from your lungs, who knows when you are pulling away.  He feels your pain; He knows each hurt.  Whatever it takes for you to get through the hard times, know this:  He is right there with you.  Reach out to Him.  Yell, cry, laugh, do nothing...He knows you, He loves you, He can handle anything you throw at Him.  You are His, and you are loved!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

10 Tips for Surviving a Life-Changing Event

Disclaimer:  I am not a therapist or a counselor.  I am a working mom who is attempting to take on this life change as gracefully as possible.  People are facing health issues, family problems, marital concerns, aging parents, difficulties with children, and many other life-changing events.  So, here are some tips that have helped me this far in my journey.

1.  Get plugged into a local congregation.  Surround yourself with people who will be a good influence on you...who will lift you up, not drag you down.  Being a part of corporate worship will boost that connection between you and God.  Being involved in a small group will give you strength during a difficult time from other people who are struggling but who are handling life's challenges in a positive, healthy way.  Being under Godly, biblical teaching will help give you direction in your life.

2.  Seek Christian counsel.  Whether it be a pastor, Connect Group leader, professional counselor, or trusted friend.  Find a safe person to unload your thoughts on, someone who will not judge, but who will hold you accountable in a loving way.  Any life change can bring on feelings of guilt, rejection, pain, isolation, anger...we need to feel those things, but we should not dwell on them.  Find someone safe who can help you work through your thoughts and feelings.

3.  Write things down.  Sometimes you feel a million things at once.  There are days when you are so totally overwhelmed with all the changes that you feel like you may be going crazy.  Get a notebook and a pen and just write...write til your fingers hurt.  It is so cathartic to get your thoughts and feelings on paper.  If you get into the habit of writing everyday, you can pick up on patterns, and you can see how God is working in your life (if you are letting Him).

4.  Make a list.  List what is true about the situation you're in.  List what is not true.  It is so easy to let the negative emotions take over.  But you need to look at what the reality of the situation is versus the lies you may be facing.  Take ownership of your part of the problem, but let go of the things that are not in your control. 

5.  Let people help you.  This is the hardest things for me, and I think for a lot of people.  We are fixers by nature.  We want to help others, and it can be very difficult to let others help you.  If a trusted friend offers to watch your kids for a couple of hours, take her up on it!  Go home and take a bubble bath or a nap.  If someone asks what you need...TELL THEM!  They would not ask if they weren't interested in helping you.  Many people don't know how to help, so if they ask, tell them!

6.  Make time to do something new.  When a life-change happens, it opens up doors for you to grow and stretch.  This may mean picking up a new hobby, trying a new sport/activity, doing something you never thought you could/would do.  I never thought I would be leading a Bible Study for women...mainly because I'm afraid of more than 3 women at a time, and I have never thought I was a "teacher" for adults.  But, I followed God's prompting, and I'm doing it. It's surreal, but such a blessing.

7.  Find a healthy distraction.  There are days when you just need to unplug from reality.  I am NOT talking about making poor choices that could forever effect your life...I'm talking about finding something that is soothing to you.  I have a friend who runs to unwind.  I have another who likes to bake.  Personally, I go to the movies.  That's my happy place to disconnect from reality for 2 hours and exist in a safe, but semi-mindless state.

8.  Help others.  Truly, the best way for me to cope during my struggles is to help others with theirs.  This can be as simple as helping with a canned food drive, collecting school supplies, doing yard work for a neighbor, spending time encouraging someone else.  DO NOT do this as an opportunity to commiserate or judge your pain with someone else's.  This step only works if you are looking for a way to be a blessing to someone else, not if you are trying to avoid your problem or try to make yourself feel better or worse by seeing someone else and their struggle.

9.  Count your blessings...and write them down.  It is very tempting, and understandably easy to only see the heartache and pain you are going through.  But, in the midst of this stormy season, you are blessed.  Sit down in a comfy spot, break out that notebook and pen again, and start listing the blessings in your life.  If you struggle to remember them, rip that page out of the notebook and put it on your fridge or bathroom mirror.

10.  Pray and read the Bible.  I know this is the "Christian" answer to problems.  However, these are great tools.  Prayer is our way of communicating with the Lord.  He knows your heart and mind, so you might as well tell Him what you are thinking.  If you struggle to pray, write your prayers down.  If you can't come up with words to pray for whatever reason, open the book of Psalms and "borrow" some of the prayers of David.  Get into the Bible.  Find passages on encouragement (I recommend Philippians).  The Bible is God's way of "talking" to you.  Spend time reading this valuable book!  It will not disappoint.

I'm sure there are many other tips that could make this list.  These are just my top 10 that have helped me walk through the challenging seasons of my life.  Most importantly, know that you do not have to walk through life alone!  Take advantage of those in your life who love you and want to support you!

Halfway Through 2013, The Most Eventful Year of My Life

Here we are, July 11, 2013...I'm all about milestones, and this day marks a halfway point for me in 2013.  Like everyone else in this world, I have had a life of ups and downs, victories and losses, joy and pain.  But, this year, without a doubt, has been the most challenging year of my life.

On January 11 of this year, the man I had been married to for 12 years and who I had been in a relationship since I was 17, decided that he no longer wanted to be married.  It was one of those things that I had expected but never thought would actually happen.  We had been having struggles for around 5 years.  I fought with everything I had in me to keep that marriage alive, if nothing else, for our 2 children.  However, no matter what I tried, I could not save it.  After a month of begging him to come home, seeking help to change my behaviors that had contributed to the marital problems, and battling internal issues, the realization sank in that I could not restore the relationship.

When those pivotal moments face a person, you can choose one of two basic paths...to crumble, give up, run away, or to rise up, conquer, and reclaim your life.  I was very tempted in that first month to just disappear.  I had all but purchased a ticket to leave town.  I had set up arrangements to visit friends far away, I had plans in place to take care of my kids, and I was ready to run away and take a self-destructive path.  THANKFULLY, God had another plan for my life.  Spending time on Facebook, of all places, I saw a post of a Facebook friend, who I had never actually met.  This person had been down the path I was on, but they had survived it.  Not only had they survived, they were joyful.  They were positive.  They were real about the struggle of being divorced and a single parent, but they were not negative or bitter.  All I knew was that I wanted to be like that.  I wanted for people to look at me and see joy in the midst of a life changing event.  I knew, through that person's testimony, that if you seek God in the storm, He will bring you through...that God is bigger than any storm.

When I look back over the past 6 months, I am in awe of how God's timing made sense.  I know God is not an advocate for divorce, but He also has given men free will, and while I was surprised at my life's change of events, He was not.  God knew what was going to happen; and, He had set a plan in motion that would take care of my children and me.  God knew exactly what I would need during this time.  He had already placed me in a work environment where I would be surrounded by love, encouragement, and Godly counsel.  I see where He has me "working", and I am blown away at His sovereignty.  I work at a church in the children's ministry.  During this time, I have been surrounded by co-workers who have prayed with me, prayed over me, held me when I cried, listened when I yelled, reached out to my hurting children.  This job has given me the opportunity to seek professional counseling services for my children and me...something I could not afford otherwise.  This job has also personally blessed me.  This season has dealt me overwhelming feelings of rejection, isolation, and worthlessness.  But, by having a job where I know God has called me, and by being able to do the tasks for Him that I was created to do has reminded me how valuable I am to God.  Whether man sees my value or not, He does.  Being able to do exactly what I was made to do has been a great gift!

God's provision during this time has also been mind-boggling.  My faithful friends, or my cocoon as I call them, have risen up and walked every step of this journey with my children and me.  They have provided meals, sat up long nights with me.  They have wrapped my children up in so much love.  They have answered midnight phone calls from me on my darkest nights.  They have sent me encouraging texts at 3am when they know I'm wide awake.  They have brought me laughter.  They have reinforced my lacking strength.  The relationships in my life have been a huge gift.  Not only that, God has provided my children and me in a new-to-us home that we have made 100% completely ours.  He has provided financial support above and beyond what we need.  In fact He has blessed us so greatly during these past 6 months, that we have been able to share His blessings with others.

When our world began to change, I was ready to fall apart.  Instead, I fell into the arms of the One who made me, who knows me, and who has promised me a future of good, not harm.  I chose to seek His face.  I have spent more time in His Word, more time in intimate prayer, and more time reflecting on how He has beautifully interwoven the details of my life.  But, He gave me that choice.  He provided me with the option to fall deeper into Him or to run away from Him.  Believe me, it was tempting to run.  God knew that.  He placed His people in my path to guide me to His arms instead of fleeing to a world of destruction.  My friends and I have often spoken of "burning bushes"...I used to say I wish I could have an Old Testament moment with God where He would appear to me and say "Amber, this is what I want from you...this is what your future looks like...this is what I have planned for you...".  The reality is, He has placed these burning bushes all over my life.  And, this season has given me the opportunity to slow down and take note of them.

Even though I do not know what is to come, I know He has me in His hands.  I know the next 6 months are not going to be easy.  I know more changes are going to keep coming, more long nights will keep me awake, more painful encounters will challenge my joy...but I will CHOOSE to trust in the One who knitted me together in my mother's womb.  I will CHOOSE to be a woman after His own heart.  I will CHOOSE joy over cynicism, faith over doubt, restoration over condemnation, and His peace over the world's temptations.  I asked God to use me through this season...to use me during it and after it to lead others to Him and His amazing grace and love.  He has done just that, and I pray that He will continue to use me.

God is bigger than anything you have going on in your life.  He wants to be there for you.  He wants you to call out to Him.  If you do, if you CHOOSE Him, your life will never be the same.  Believe me, I'm living it!