Saturday, August 31, 2013

Sports Fans, Don't Hate on Me...

Do not read not a fan. by Kyle Idleman if you want to coast through life.  If you are content in your spiritual walk, ignore this book.  If you do not like conviction, avoid it at all costs.  If you are stagnant and complacent, and you like that, then definitely do not pick up this book.  BUT, if you want to rock your world, to push your limits, to challenge yourself, and to grow immeasurably closer to God and to take leaps on your spiritual journey, this book is a MUST READ!

The premise of this book is to challenge those who profess Christ to be true followers of Him, not just fans.  "Here is the most basic definition of fan in the dictionary: "An enthusiastic admirer" " (Idleman, p. 24).  With the start of College Football season, I have found myself surrounded by fans.  As Idleman references in his book, these people are die hard about their chosen team.  They are committed to the coaches and the players.  The celebrate their victories, mourn their losses, and trash talk their opponents.  I am related to some intense UNC fans...I mean they know that school inside and out...all sports.  I am fascinated by these kinds of dedicated people.  You would think that they have a personal investment in the success of the team.  Idleman says that same mentality infiltrates Christianity...people get fired up about a conference, a retreat, worship, and even about Jesus.  They raise their hands on Sunday morning, they are at every Bible study and event.  I'm not knocking sports fans (believe me, I know better)...my friends and family members who are devoted to their teams are fans, but they aren't on the field getting battered on a weekly basis.  They aren't spending hours upon hours running drills or lifting weights.  They can show up on game day in their jerseys and face paint and make a ruckus.  They can raise their voices, pump their fists, and even get into fights with fans of other teams.  But, the rest of the week, they go about their normal lives and routines.  Idleman's parallel is that Christians do the same exact thing...they are fans of the Lord, not sold-out followers. 

"The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren't actually interested in following Christ.  They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them" (Idleman, p. 25).  Whoa!  How did that hit you?  When I read that, I felt instant conviction.  I won't tell you all this book covers, but if you are a Christian, I absolutely think you need to read this.  The book centers around Luke 9:23, "The He [Jesus] said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" ".  If you grew up in the church, or if you're a long-time Christian, you have heard this verse, and you may have become numb to it...I know I had.  Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 15:31, "I die every day..."  What a powerful message.  Paul is reiterating the command Jesus made.  In order to be a follower of Christ and not a fan, you have to be willing to deny yourself, to die to yourself daily.  That is not at all for the light of heart...it definitely wasn't what I wanted to read.

Everyone has some kind of hangup...public or secret.  There are those struggling with alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex outside of marriage.  Others battle overspending, gossip, or lying.  Some might deal with placing their spouse or children in the number one priority spot.  Regardless of the issue, everyone has something.  These struggles become a barrier in our lives.  They put a wedge in our relationship with the Lord.  They make it difficult, even impossible to grow or change.  With my career being in the ministry, I felt a very strong conviction that I needed to resolve this issue so that I would not be a stumbling block for the church or the people I serve.  To a fan of Christ, none of this makes sense.  To a follower of Jesus, it does.  We know the price Jesus paid for us to be able to follow Him.  When I read this book and revisited the Scriptures, God punctured my heart and mind with my issue.  There was one thing I didn't want to give to the Lord, one thing I didn't want to give up, and one thing I could justify having in my life.  But, it was a roadblock causing distance between Jesus and me.
 
This paragraph from not a fan. shook me to my core and prompted me to confess my issue to the Lord, to the other person it affected, and to my best friend/accountability partner.
"The reason Jesus is so adamant about followers surrendering everything is because the reality is this: the one thing we are most reluctant to give up is the one thing that has the most potential to become a substitute for Him.  Really what we're talking about here is idolatry.  When ware to be following Jesus, who is ahead of us, but find ourselves looking behind us, we are revealing that we are substituting something or someone for Him" (Idleman, p. 205).  In essence, we are telling the One who died for us that He isn't enough...that we still need that one thing to get us through life.  I encourage you to search your heart and name that struggle, confess it, turn it over to the Lord, and let Him start moving through you in a way you've never felt.  While giving my struggle to Jesus wasn't easy, I know He is going to use me and bless me for releasing it to Him.  I can't handle my battle on my own.  I have 2 very close accountability partners.  I also immerse myself in the Bible and books that will help me be a follower, not a fan.  Life is a battlefield, and I am extremely weak.  But, we are so blessed to have tools all around us to help us overcome any weakness!

Here is the "Not a Fan Prayer":

"I am not a fan.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ.  My past is redeemed, my present is Spirit-filled, and my future is secure.  I won't look back, fall back, or back away.  Where Jesus leads, I will follow-whenever and whatever.  I am finished with rebellious living, tame visions, and mundane talking, chintzy giving, purposeless living.  I will pick up my cross and follow Him.  When Jesus comes, He will have no trouble finding me for my colors are clear.  I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and I am not a fan."

Read that again.  If you mean it, if you are ready to change your life, and if you are up to the challenge, pray it to God...get ready, He's going to rock your world!



Idleman, Kyle (2011).  not a fan: becoming a completely committed follower of Jesus.  Zondervan
     Publishing, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
not a fan. (2011)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Wonderfully Weird

If you've been around my kiddos and me at all, you've heard me say "wonderfully weird".  I first heard that phrase on the episode of Friends where Phoebe marries Mike.  I liked the way it sounded, and it stuck in my head. 

Raising kids in this self-indulgent, media-driven world is a huge challenge.  Girls and boys both feel the pressure to look a certain way, be a certain size, wear certain clothes, style their hair a certain way and so on.  Everywhere they look, kiddos are being told who they are or who they should be. 

When I was growing up, I desperately wanted to fit in.  In my elementary school years, I didn't really feel that pressure...this was back in the days where kids were kids at school, not in training for high-intensity testing (but that's a topic for another day).  In my high school years, I was happy with who I was...I dressed however I felt and didn't really worry about fitting in.  I was just me.  Oh, but in middle school...yikes!  Maybe it was the transition from private, Christian school to public school.  Maybe it was that awkward age.  Maybe it was a combo.  I'm not sure what the driving force was, but I just wanted to feel accepted by my peers. 

In middle school, all of the popular girls wore clothes from The Limited Too.  My family did not have a lot of money, and often, our clothes were hand-me-downs.  I do remember that in 7th grade I had a navy blue Limited Too sweatshirt/shorts outfit.  My friend Andrea had it in yellow, I think.  I wore that outfit until there were holes in it...for some reason, I felt that it showed the other girls I was as good as they were.  I also remember wearing skirt and rolling them up to make them shorter...don't worry, Mama, Kim Buckner would make me go to the bathroom and fix them.  I was teased my one girl in middle school...I swear, it was her goal to make me cry everyday of 6th and 7th grade.  She was pretty and popular and MEAN!  Even still, I just wanted her to like me, to be nice to me.  I tried everything in my power as a very young lady to feel like I belonged.

As an adult, I have also been guilty of wanting to be accepted.  I spent years trying to make myself fit a mold that wasn't made for me.  I changed so much about myself...the way I dressed, the movies I watched, the things I believed in...to try to make others happy.  I compromised on things in hopes of fitting in.  I backed down from battles that I should have fought to keep others comfortable.  I watered down my spirit to try to find that acceptance.

With my kiddos, I never want them to face that feeling.  I know they will, and that I can't control it.  But, when they face their peers, I want them to be confident in who they are and in who God made them to be.  I tell both of my kiddos on a daily basis that they are wonderfully weird.  They are quirky.  They are silly.  They are smart.  They are inquisitive.  They are bold.  They know right from wrong.  They stand up for their friends, for each other, and for me.  I wish I could bottle what they feel right now so that I could pour it out on them when they get older and start to feel the pressure to be like everyone else.

I feel it is so important to remind my children as often as I can that they are unique.  God designed them with a specific purpose.  Everyone of their qualities is essential for His plan.  Each attribute was intentionally put into place to help them achieve His plan for their lives.  The same goes for each one of us.  Nothing about who we are is accidental.  God knew exactly why He gave me the gift of grace and someone else the gift of strength.  There is a reason I am passive while my friend may be assertive.  He wired each one of us with a very specific task in mind.  When we are being our wonderfully weird selves, we are bringing glory to the One who created us!

Bound

I'll be honest with you.  I listen to all kinds of music.  I like everything (except "music" that is just yelling and screaming and obscenities).  The kids and I often flip through radio stations as we travel around.  I do not like talk radio.  For some reason, talk on the radio gives me flashbacks to one of my professors at Mars Hill College.  I remember falling asleep in that class several times...I can't even remember what class it was, just that the professor droned on and on that I would lose focus and check out.  Talk radio has the same effect on me...which is obviously not a good plan while I'm driving. 

The other day I was driving from Arden to Oakley, and I had the radio on to our local Christian station.  It was the transition part of the day where the music goes away and the talking begins.  Usually, I flip the station, but I didn't this time.  Focus on the Family was coming on the air and Jim Daly's intro stuck with me.  He was talking about marriage, and I was poised to switch stations, but I really liked this imagery.  He said something to the effect that our culture today views marriage as a contract, not a vow.  He also used pledge and covenant as words we should associate with marriage.  I'm a words person, and that may have been what sucked me in.  

When I got home that evening, I started looking up definitions and origins of phrases.  So, bear with me (definitions from MerriamWebster.com):

contract- an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified.

vow- a solemn promise or assertion; specifically : one by which a person is bound to an act, service, or condition; to bind or consecrate

pledge- solemn promise or agreement to do or refrain from doing something:

covenant-  usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement 

When I hear the word "contract", I think of a business agreement.  I have the image of a deal being struck and each person is obligated to the agreement until they have fulfilled their end of the deal.  If I look at this same word while viewing marriage, it's disturbing.  Like Dr. Daly was saying, many people have this view on their marital relationships.  Once someone has "put in their time" or they feel they've done their part of the deal, they can break their contract.  

Now, please hear me when I say that I am a realist.  I am fighting very hard not to be a cynic, but I am absolutely not a romantic.  BUT, when I looked at the words "vow", "pledge", and "covenant" I feel very hopeful.  In the definitions for all of these terms, the word solemn is linked to it.  In other words, this is serious!  And, I love the imagery used with "bound" and "binding" in the above definitions.  If people went into a marriage seriously promising to tie themselves to their mate for life, what a difference.  In my little mind, I use words and pictures together.  I hear bound and I think of a mother with a child swaddled and wrapped closely to her body.  The two of them are bound together. They can feel each other and see each other.  If the Mama stumbles, the baby will feel it.  I think of captives who are bound to one another with chains.  They are sharing the experience, they are linked together,  Whatever one does, the other feels.  

At my most romantic (which is limited at best) I envision a husband and wife saying to one another that solemnly vow, seriously promise, to tie their life up with their mate.  They are saying that if you hurt, I'll hurt. If you rejoice, I'll rejoice.  If you fall, I'll stumble...but because we are bound together, I'll help pull you back up.  I wish people would really think about the words they say on their wedding day.  I wish they would realized how heavy a vow is.  I wish more people would weigh out the promises they make to another person...If ever I am fortunate enough to take that vow again, I will have to think long and hard about what words to use.  If I am going to bind my life with someone else, I want to know that the bond will be unbreakable.

I have learned there is no guarantee in relationships.  But, I wholeheartedly believe that if Christ is the center of a marriage, that marriage will survive and thrive.  Do you remember making friendship bracelets when you were younger?  Remember getting those three pieces of thread, knotting them together at the top, then weaving them together to make your jewelry?  That's what I picture for a marriage...three strands...husband, wife, and Christ...woven together in their hearts, minds, and life...bound together, not to be broken apart.

Show Me Your Glory!

I was completely and totally blessed this past Wednesday night.  At the main campus of Biltmore Baptist, a group of people met together to worship, to share communion, and to lift up our church in prayer.  It was such an awesome experience.  I sat a table near the back with 5 other people including the BBC East Campus Pastor, James Myers, and the incredible Mrs. Dottie who runs the bookstore and library at the main campus.  We spent time together standing, singing and offering up praise to the Lord.  Poor James...I think he was unaware of my Bapticostal tendencies.  After a time of sweet worship, we sat down and James lead us in the Lord's Prayer.  What an incredible experience to share with a small group of people, some strangers to me.  James shared out of the book of 1 Corinthians..."A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup..."  Wow, how convicting!  We spent some time in quiet prayer, confessing our sins to God in preparation for sharing the Lord's Supper.  James also went on to encourage us to do this with our Connect Groups and even in our homes.  That struck me right in the heart.  Why wait until a quarterly Lord's Supper?  This is something that could be done at home with my children.  I just love that image...and the possibility of the conversations that could stem from such a sacred act!  (Another Bapticostal flareup!)

BBC's lead pastor, Bruce Frank, also shared with the entire group before our time of prayer.  He read Exodus 33:12-18.  I encourage you to read this passage.  It will get you motivated to pray and pray hard!  In this passage, Moses is asking for the Lord to go with him in his task.  He ends the passage by saying "Now show me your glory..."  This is the cry of the staff at Biltmore Baptist for our church and the people we serve and strive to reach.  I am so honored to be on that staff...I oftentimes can't believe that I am!  What a joy and blessing to work in an environment that fervently prays for people!  I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

I want to share with you the prayer guide we used Wednesday evening.  I would love if you felt lead to lift up our church.  But, I also encourage you to do this for wherever you worship.  All churches would benefit from some heartfelt cries to the Father...

Sunday, August 25th--It's Not Over Sermon Series
Pray that:
  • Biltmore members will invite their unchurched friends
  • God will transform lives and people will be saved
  • People will get involved in a Connect Group
  • Our confidence of how BIG God is will grow!
  • God would show us His glory (Ex. 33:18)
Franklin Campus launch this Sunday
Pray for:
  • Many lost and unchurched people to be in attendance at Franklin on Sunday
  • Continued growth, unity and harmony as Franklin Campus leadership and volunteers reach the lost and unchurched of their area
  • Franklin Staff: Patrick Trawick, Campus Pastor; Shane Schauer, Worship Leader; Nathan Farris, Family Pastor
East Campus
Pray for:
  •  Continued growth, unity, and harmony, as East Campus leadership and volunteers reach the lost and unchurced of their area;
  • The birthing of new Connect Groups;
  • East Staff: James Myers, Campus Pastor; Lucas Parry, Worship Leader; KEvin Wimbish, Family Pastor; Amber Fore, Children's Director; Chuck Freeman, Minister in Residence; Samantha Carnahan, Assistant.
College Venues
Pray for;

  • Jeremy Woods and the College leadership team as Biltmore continues to meet on the campus of WCU and prepare to launch our second college venue at UNCA this Sunday night!
  • The lives of college students to be transformed by the Gospel at each of these Biltmore venues;
  • Expanded internship program

Compelled Global Missions
Pray for:
  • Continued passion and vision to reach people for Christ in our Jerusalem, Jedea, Samareia and the ends of the earth
  • God to reveal how He wants to use Biltmore through prayer, giving, and participation in these mission efforts
  • God to guide Biltmore in our strategic partnerships in Kenya and Guatemala

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Cecely!

Cecely (one year old) and me...

Today is my sweet little lady's birthday!  Cecely is 10 years old!  Double digits...I cannot believe it.  It has been an absolute joy and challenge to be her Mama.  I am so proud of her.  Cecely is compassionate, loving, kind, bold, brave, genuine, and wonderfully weird.  I love that she is her own person.  I love how she stands up for her friends and for those she doesn't even know.  I love how she reaches out to the hurting.  I love her servant's heart.  I love that she is already asking me when we can go on a family mission trip.  Cecely is a miracle and a blessing.  Sometimes I am in complete awe that God has trusted me to be her mother...

Cecely was a bit of a surprise for me.  I had always wanted to be a Mama, but she wasn't exactly planned on.  Thankfully, God had planned on her, and I was excited and overjoyed when I found out I was expecting a baby.  I had a wonderful pregnancy with Cecely.  My favorite foods when I was carrying her were fried chicken and blueberry donuts...yes, I know...super healthy.  We lived in Georgia when I was carrying Cecely.  We had literally lived in our house 1 week when I went into labor 2 months early.  My sister, Andrea, and one of her friends from college were visiting me and helping me get the new house set up.  I remember getting up to go to the bathroom around 7 am and my water broke...2 months early!  At this time, Mark was stationed in Mayport, Florida, and he would drive an hour to work each day.  I yelled for my sister when I realized what was happening.  Now, I love my sister deeply, but she was not so helpful in that moment.  I believe her words were "that's disgusting...what am I supposed to do?"  So, while she is freaking out about how gross everything was, I was yelling "this was not in any of the books I read!  What to Expect When Your Expecting lied to me!"  Let the record show that we have had our fair share of crises in our family, and usually Andrea and I handle them well.  Not so much this time.

Andrea called 9-1-1.  Within 10 minutes, we had a firetruck, ambulance, and police car in our tiny front yard.  I was thinking "our neighbors are going to love us".  With great pomp, I was loaded onto a stretcher while my sister hid behind the door.  No kidding, the fire truck, ambulance and police car all escorted us 2 miles to the little hospital in St. Marys.  This was also in a time before cell phones were widely used.  The only way I could get a hold of Mark was to call the base in Florida and use the Red Cross emergency line.  Somehow, during labor, I didn't process that.  All of my family lived in NC, and they all thought we had 2 more months before Cecely would arrive.  Andrea did contact everyone, and my Mama and Daddy started down.  Later that day, my friend Stefanie, would drive down with Tyler and Timothy.  Mark came home from work early, by chance, and he saw that the bathroom wasn't cleaned up.  I'm a little OCD about bathrooms...I always have a clean counter.  Mark said he knew something was wrong when he saw my toothbrush sitting on the sink with the toothpaste still on it.  I think Andrea may have left a note or something...I don't remember, but Mark did get to the hospital around 4pm, and I was still in labor.

I opted for an epidural.  The anasthesiologist came into the room.  I had been doing yoga for months in preparation for this moment.  I was ready to contort my body in whatever way that would get that needle safely in my back.  Mark was not so prepared.  One look at the needle, and he almost blacked out.  It also didn't help that the guy sticking the needle in my back was new...as in I was his first epidural!  He was shaking like crazy.  He hit 2 different veins and blood spurted everywhere.  Mark finally made him leave and asked for an actual doctor.  I finally received an epidural.  However, I was in labor so long with Cecely, that is had worn out when it was time to have her.
Uncle Tyler with a brand-new Cecely

Cecely was born not breathing.  She was blue and silent.  When the nurse took her from me, they rushed her out of the room.  There was no warm moment where she was laid on my chest.  She was whisked away in an instant.  We later learned that she spent some time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and that the doctors were debating airlifting her to a bigger hospital in Jacksonville, FL.  We didn't know any of this until later.  When she was brought back into us, I could not get over how beautiful this little thing was.  She had the biggest, bluest eyes, the cutest nose, long fingers, long toes, and a little smirk of a smile.  She was stunning.  I was speechless.  What a treasure...what a gift!  Thankfully, by this point, my entire family had made it down to see our little miracle. 

When Cecely did start crying, her cry was very different.  It sounded like a cat wailing.  Again, we later learned this was caused by lack of oxygen when she was born.  It was a few days before Cecely could come home.  And, when it was time to bring her home, she was very jaundice.  We had a nurse come in daily for a week to give her shots.  She had to spend most of the day on a bili-bed...she looked like a sweet little glow worm.  It killed me to have a baby in my home and to not be able to hold her.  I literally was allowed to take her off of the bed long enough to feed her.  Sometimes I wonder if that built some of her independent qualities...just a thought.  After she was over jaundice, she developed a sever case of colic.  By this point, Mark was back to work in the Navy.  This meant there were stretches of days where he would be on duty on the ship or even have to go out with the ship for drills or whatever else sailors do.  Cecely's colic was so bad that I spent several nights in the emergency room with her.  I was so blessed to have made friends with Norman and Faye Ard.  They became surrogate parents for me.  Papa Norm would carry Cecely around for hours to keep her from crying.  Mama Faye would rock her and feed her so that I could rest.  I was truly fortunate to have this help.

Uncle Timothy reading to Cecely
As Cecely grew, she never "measured up" to those stupid charts they show you at the doctor's office.  She was always too small.  She didn't do things on the time table that the books gave.  But, I never worried about that.  Cecely was slow to walk, but early to talk.  She was a feisty and sassy toddler.  She had (and has) an independent streak in her that is a mile wide.  She gets that from her Aunt Andrea.  Twos weren't so bad.  When she hit three, I began to question procreation in general.  I wasn't sure how this precious gift had turned into a mini monster.  Thankfully, we made it to four, and I regained my love of parenting.  When Cecely turned four, she qualified for an amazing pre-K program at Hazelwood Elementary School in Waynesville.  She had two wonderful teachers, one with a special education background.  She suggested that Cecely be evaluated for developmental delay.  The pediatrician did not agree with the teacher, but having an educational background, I tend to side with a teacher over a doctor.  After several arguments with the pediatrician, we finally were able to get Cecely in with a specialist.  
            
Cecely was taken to a pediatric neurologist.  There, we learned a wealth of information!  We learned that Cecely had sustained a stroke in-utero, and that was what triggered her early arrival into the world.  Because of her stroke, and her loss of oxygen at birth, Cecely has developed a mild form of cerebral palsy.  The cerebral palsy had caused developmental delay that was affecting Cecely's academic performance.  I have been told by many people who have experience with CP, that they can see it in Cecely.  Other people typically miss it.  Cecely does a great job compensating for her physical weaknesses.  But, if you keep an eye on her, you can see her hands and arms tremor when she goes to do fine motor skill tasks.  Writing is completely laborious for her.  Simple things like putting money in her wallet or picking a chicken wing off of a tray can cause her hands to shake.  Her arms also draw up and her legs turn in.  This typically only happens when her body is tired.  This has brought great complications in the public school realm, and that is why we had homeschooled.  Now, Cecely is going back into public school.  I am a little worried.  I don't like seeing any child reduced to a piece of paper, and that is what I feel testing does to our children.  However, regardless of what tests say about her, I know Cecely is brilliant.  She may struggle with writing and reading, but the things I care about, the things that really matter, are where she shines.  
 
Cecely and Aunt Andrea...two of a kind!

God created Cecely to love others.  I have never met a more compassionate child.  I have witnessed her talking to kids who are on the outskirts, with no prompting from me.  I have heard her stand up for a friend who was being picked on.  I have seen her reach out to adults who look sad or lonely.  Cecely's smile lights up a room.  Her laugh is contagious.  She is confident who God made her to be, and I pray that she will keep that attitude.  Cecely is honest to a fault...she doesn't lie, and if she does, she tells on herself instantly.  While she is headstrong, I see it as being determined.  She wants to prove herself.  She knows her limits, but she does not want any special treatment.  Cecely is my first miracle.  I am so blessed to be her Mama.  I cannot imagine a day without her precious smile, her sweet hugs, or her encouraging words.  

Happy Birthday, Cecely!  I am so proud of you.  Stay true to who God called you to be.  Be strong in the Lord, don't lose sight of His grasp on you.  Keep standing up for yourself and others.  Never stop loving on others.  Always be wonderfully weird...I love you to pieces!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Big Sister...Beware!

There have been many times in my life where I have questioned God.  I have wondered why in the world He placed me in some circumstances or near certain people.  One thing I have never questioned God about is being a big sister.  He knew exactly what He was doing when He placed me first in the birth order in our family.  I love being a big sister.  I always have.  Even though my siblings are grown-ups now (BOOOOO!), I still love this role, and I am always thankful God blessed me with it.  I am the eldest of 4 kids...and we are stair steps with 2 years in between us.  So, there's me (at 32), Andrea (30), Tyler (28), and Timothy (26).

I can think of so many wonderful memories growing up.  I was never, ever bored.  My brothers and sister and I would play together for hours.  If we played house, Tyler and I were always a family, and Andrea and Timothy were always a family.  I don't know why it worked out like that, it just did.  We'd play our version of Monopoly...when we were little, it was a glorified version of playing bank.  When we became teens, Monopoly became a bloodbath.  As adults, Monopoly has been banned.  I remember playing for hours outside...we loved climbing trees, playing kickball, and we especially loved the Roto-Rider (basically a death-trap of pipe and 4 tire swings that went around in a circle like the swings at a fair).  I loved my childhood.  I loved having playmates.  I loved having people to take care of.

When I received my driver's license, I became the chauffeur for my siblings.  Honestly, I didn't mind at all.  I would taxi them to piano lessons, soccer practice and games, wrestling practice and matches.  I would take them to the movies and shopping (when I worked at Stein-Mart and got a sweet discount).  I drove a white 1987 Subaru GL...thank you very much.  My parents bought it, and I paid them back for it every week until it was paid off.  And not to sound too old, but I remember gas being under a dollar a gallon when I started driving.  CRAZY!  Anyways, I was very proud of my car.  I had a sweet bumper sticker that said "Caution: Sarcastic and Cynical".  And, on the back of the headrests, I had a laminated list of rules for my brothers...no bodily functions allowed, no touching the radio, if you make a mess, clean it up...things like that.  For the most part, my brothers adhered to the rules...I think they liked the perk of frequent movie trips.  One of my favorite things we ever did was to make our parody videos.  I have been a fan of Saturday Night Live for years.  On snow days, the 4 of us would break out the video camera, write scripts, and then make our own skits.  It was so much fun.  My favorites were Rats (broadway parody of Cats), the Freddy Springer show, and the Locked Bowel Research Center...ah, good times!

I have always been so protective of my siblings.  I have always felt responsible for them, in a sense.  When I was in high school and made some pretty stupid decisions, I was more worried about them finding out.  I knew they looked up to me, and I felt I had let them down.  But, the three of them were so understanding and forgiving.  As adults, we have had some difficulties, some hard times, some arguments.  But, we always work it out.  Even if it takes awhile, we find a way to restore our relationships.  I know I am extremely blessed to have 3 amazing siblings.  I would be such a boring person without them.

My sister, Andrea, is completely outstanding.  I have never met a person who believes so strongly and who does not waver on her convictions.  Andrea has always spoken her mind.  If the Bible says it, that's it...no question.  No one intimidates her.  She is self-confident and brave.  I have always admired her tenacity.  She has faced adversity, but she never made excuses.  She fought so hard for her education.  I am so proud of her.  Andrea has an uncanny sense of adventure.  She felt God prompting her to move to the other side of North America, and she went, with limited reservations.  Andrea now lives in Vancouver, Canada.  I hate how far away she lives.  But, I love to hear and see her adventures.  Andrea married an equally awesome man, Matt.  I am so grateful for him.  He holds his own with Andrea, but he also takes such good care of her.  I am so thankful that God brought the two of them together, even if it landed my sister in Canada!  Andrea is a natural mother...her baby boy, Lucas, is beautiful.  To see the two of them interact is nothing short of incredible.  She loves him so much...and it is so evident.  I know that Andrea will always be ok...her faith is her foundation.  I am so very proud to be her sister.

My brother, Tyler, is probably the sibling I am most similar to.  For some reason, growing up, we always sat together and somehow rotated around each other.  Tyler is also the sibling I have fought the most with, but that's because of our similarities.  We are both very passionate and a bit stubborn.  Tyler is extremely talented.  He has a quick wit and a great sense of humor.  And, he is a fascinating storyteller.  If I had to pick one word to describe Tyler, I would say he is loyal.  When he cares about someone, he is all in.  He still has many of the same friends that he has had since elementary school.  It's something to see!  He doesn't give up on people.  Even when he gets hurt, he is easy to forgive.  He loves unconditionally and consistently.  Tyler lived with me a little while when we first moved back to NC.  We had a blast watching our sci-fi movies, playing board games, and singing together.  I miss that.  Tyler married a very sweet girl, Britney.  The two of them have a great rhythm.  Britney brings out the best in Tyler.  She is an encourager to him and is a great wife.  They have a precious baby, Jameson.  Tyler is an awesome dad...I love that he decks his kid out in camo, UNC wear, and Johnny Cash duds.  It's awesome.  Tyler's perseverance in life is extremely impressive.  I count myself lucky to be his big sister.

My youngest brother, Timothy, is pensive, deep, and very intelligent.  He always keeps me on my toes.  I do have to thank him for introducing me to the world of Tolkien as well as The Office and Arrested Development.  Timothy and I share a love for British humor and satire.  We have spent hours watching Friends together.  Timothy lived with us his junior and senior years of high school.  I LOVED having him around.  We would stay up late watching movies.  And, we would talk a lot.  We would drive around town with Cecely in the backseat, and would sing songs from Poison, Bon Jovi, and other super-awesome artists.  Timothy is a fighter.  He doesn't take anything lying down.  If he believes in something, he goes after it full-force, indifferent to other people's opinions.  It is a fascinating quality.  Timothy lives in Georgia, and I keep praying he'll get the opportunity to move back home.  I miss him so much.

All that to say, I love being a big sister.  I do not take the job lightly.  Even now, if you mess with one of my siblings, brace yourself...this sweet, bubbly girl you all think you know turns into a straight-up redneck ready to take on anyone.  Truly, I am extremely grateful for Andrea, Tyler and Timothy.  I cannot imagine my life without them.  I am thankful for a treasure trove of wonderful memories. 

Andrea, Tyler, and Timothy...I love you guys.  I am so proud of the adults you are.  I am so thankful for your unique personalities and strengths.  Thank you for always loving me, for standing up for me, for walking through life with me.  Thank you for being amazing to my kiddos.  I am blessed and honored to be your big sister.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

When You Walk Through the Water...

When I was younger, I would travel around with my Daddy and sing with him.  We would go to little churches, big churches, different denominations...we would sing for homecomings, revivals, and for no reason at all.  I have been blessed to sing at weddings and honored to sing at funerals.  For some reason tonight, God laid this song on my heart...it is an older one...if you are familiar with the Gaithers, then you'll be familiar with Allison Durham Speer.  I used to sing this song quite frequently.  My Daddy used to tell me that this was the song where he could really see me...I think it's because I believed it!  God had proven Himself over and over, and I would sing it with all of the authority I could muster.  I'm listening to it right now with tears streaming down my face as I remember how much God has already brought me through and trusting He is going to do it again!  This song is based on Isaiah 43:2, "When you walk through the waters, I will be with you; and when you walk through the rivers, they will not sweet over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze."  If you are hurting right now, please listen to this song...read the lyrics as you listen...and be reminded that He is the God who lifts you up!!!

When You Walk Through The Water, Allison Durham Speer

WHEN YOU WALK THROUGH THE WATER
 
Words & music by David Baroni & Allison Durham Speer
 
Lord, I want to be led by Your Spirit
Sometimes I feel so afraid
There are times when this river
Seems to flow against me
And it makes it hard to not be swept away
Even when I feel I'm strong
You know I'm weak and frail
Then You gently remind me
That Your faithfulness to me will never fail
You say...
 
When you walk through the water
I will be with you
And the river will not overflow you
Though you walk through deep water
I will be with you
Through the flame or flood you won't be burned or drowned
I am the God who lifts you up
And I'll never let you down
 
Oh Lord, you are a shield for me
You're the glory, and the lifter of my head
When I'm facing fear or doubt
From within or from without
I'm reminded of the hand by which I am led
You said...

When you walk through the water
I will be with you
And the river will not overflow you
Though you walk through deep water
I will be with you
Through the flame or flood you won't be burned or drowned
I am the God who lifts you up
And I'll never let you down


Copyright 1993



Strength When You're Not Strong

I can't wait for the future when I can sit down to write and the topic will be happy.  For now, though, it seems the things that are placed on my heart or that I am experiencing are very heavy.  Right now, I am just tired.  Are you with me out there?  I'm sure most of you who are reading this are exhausted in one way or another.  Most of the time, I usually am just physically tired.  This past week, however, has left me spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically wiped out.  I feel like if I could go away to a cabin in the mountains with no reception, with a trickling creek, with a stocked fridge, and with a cozy couch and warm quilt, I could sleep for 3 days.  Everything within me has reached it's limit.  I cannot hold anymore thoughts, I cannot feel anymore hurt, I cannot withstand anymore sadness.  I'm just spent. 

Thankfully, I am a Christian.  I have Christ alive in me.  I have a network of other believers who are praying daily for me.  I truly believe that the prayers of my friends and family is what is sustaining me.  I believe that God is alive and is working in my life through the prayers of His people.  Truly, I should be in a hospital right now hooked up to a few IVs and battling consciousness.  I have no doubt that the only reason I am not spending an expensive night at Mission Hospital is because God is honoring the prayers of His children.  He is faithful, even when others are not.  He is good, even when other cause hurt.  He sees, even when I feel alone.  He is so much bigger than any problem any of us are facing.  But, just in case you are worn out and are to the point where you can't see or feel Him moving in your life, let me offer some verses to encourage you...

Deuteronomy 20:4  For the Lord your God is He who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory.

Deuteronomy 31: 6  Be strong and courageous.  Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake you.

2 Corinthians 12:9 "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness"...

Psalm 31:24  Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!

Isaiah 41:10  Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Psalm 46:1  God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Music always helps me realign my thoughts and heart when I am overwhelmed by weakness, and when I am seeking strength.  This song by Matt Readman is one that instantly restores my soul and gives me that boost to take on another day of life.
You Never Let Go

Bottom line, you are human, you are weak.  Thankfully, God loves you so much that He knows when you are going to fall before you do.  He has provided a book full of truths for you to cling to.  He has placed people in your life who will gladly pray for you and walk with you on this journey...talk to those friends...talk to me!  I would love to pray with you and for you.  You are not alone.  God is here...Don't lose heart!  Don't give up!  It's ok to be tired.  But, lift up your arms to the One who cares for you so deeply...let Him lift you up and carry you through your difficulties.  Stop trying to carry the world on your shoulders.  Give it to Him!  And, believe me, as always, I'm preaching to myself here.  What a sweet release when we let go and let Him do His thing!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Given Up?

Have you ever given up?  On something or someone?  Has someone ever given up on you?  We live in a world that makes it very easy to call it quits.  Our culture has taught us the art of justifying our decisions, whether they are right or wrong.  I would like to think that I'm not a quitter, but that would be a straight up lie.  I have given up on countless diets (yes, I know its' not about a diet, it's about a lifestyle), I'm just sayin' I have quit several organized diet plans.  Shockingly, along with that, I have given up on work out regimes (and, again, I know it's about a lifestyle choice).  Sadly, there have been relationships that I have given up on.  Some of them, I felt God was prompting me to move away from because they were detrimental to my health.  Others, I gave up on because I would get annoyed, burned out, or wary.  Thankfully, I have been able to take steps (with great prompting from the Lord) to restore the relationships that mattered that suffered because of my human shortcomings.

There have been people who gave up on me, too.  People who I trusted with my whole heart, who were people I should have been able to count on, people who should have stood the test of time felt it was easier to give up on me and our relationships.  When people hurt us, scars are left.  But, you know what, just like when your kiddos fall and scrape their knee, those scars fade.  Reminders of pain stay with us forever, but they shape us into who we are and give us stories to tell that can reach out to others.

Even though pain is inevitable and people are guaranteed to hurt one another, there is One who won't hurt us.  The following is a song that I absolutely love.  I've provided a link to the You Tube video and the lyrics so you can read and sing along.  Hit play, turn it up, and worship wherever you are.  Proclaim the promises that come straight from God's Word and have been turned into an awesome song! 

(On a side note: my kiddos love this song, too.  It makes my heart so happy to hear them sing these words that unfortunately, they understand all to well.  While some people may run out...God won't!)

One Thing Remains Video

"One Thing Remains"
     Jesus Culture

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant through the trial and the change
One thing… Remains [repeat]

[Chorus:]
Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me [3x]

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

[Bridge:]
In death, In life, I’m confident and
covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
separate my heart from Your great love...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

One Thing I Don't Understand...Peace

There are many things that I don't understand.  There are things that I can read about and even experience, but never truly grasp.  Some concepts I cannot grasp are unconditional love, grace, mercy, and peace.  Peace is what I want to focus on right now.

There have been so many times in my life where I have felt frantic or panicked, times where doubt or shame was overwhelming, times when pain has been so deep and real that I was sure I wouldn't survive.  Amazingly, all of these times have been accompanied by peace. 

If you've read much of what I've written, you know I love the book of Philippians.  I have read it so much that I'm surprised I don't have it committed to memory yet.  A great passage is in chapter 4, verses 4-7: "Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus".  Paul says it right...the peace of God that transcends all understanding.  Amen...I don't understand the peace God gives.

I can remember the first time I felt unexplainable peace.  I was very young.  I am the eldest of 4 kids, and I am so grateful that God blessed me with that role in life.  Growing up, my siblings were my best friends.  I was born a "little Mama" and naturally fell into the habit of helping my parents take care of my younger siblings.  My youngest brother, Timothy, was born with a myriad of health concerns.  His infancy was one hospital visit after another.  But, the distinct memory I have was when he was around 4 years old.  I was 10 years old and my sister and I were at sewing class in the fellowship hall at Newfound Baptist Church.  (I'll have to tell you more about me being in a sewing class.  Basically, my sister was the star, and I was told by the sweetest lady on the planet that it was a better use of my time to climb trees with the boys than to try and sew...).  I remember the phone ringing in the church's kitchen and the aforementioned sweet lady called my sister and me over.  She told me that our baby brother was back in the hospital with Scarlet Fever.  (You should know that I had watched Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea about 30 times by the time I was 10...my knowledge of Scarlet Fever came from Gilbert nearly dying from it in the movie!).  I remember instantly thinking that my brother was going to die.  Our sweet teacher prayed with us and over my brother.  I remember a feeling sweet peace flood my body from head to toe.  I just knew that everything was going to be ok and that God was holding Timothy in His hands.  In this instance, God's answer was the healing of my wonderful baby brother.

One of my dream's in life was to have 4 children.  I am a firm believer in life at conception.  That being said, I did have 4 children.  When I was carrying Titus, he was a twin, and I lost the twin in the first trimester.  This happened in a time in my life where I was greatly supported by the church I attended as well as incredible friends (Shane and Kelley Cooke) and when I lived far away from my family.  The loss of this child was painful, but I made it through the loss, I believe, because I was so well taken care of by Kelley. 

I lost another baby when Titus was almost 2 and Cecely was 4.  During this season, our family life was chaotic and unsettled at best.  Everyone in my family was dealing with major things. I didn't have a strong support system of friends or church because we had not been in the area very long.  My parents, siblings, and high school friend, Stefanie, helped as they could, but again, everyone was facing giants at that time.  I felt so isolated.  I was at the deepest, darkest pit I had ever faced.  I could not understand why God would allow another loss.  At this time, my marriage was in great turmoil, and I had placed hope on this baby to restore things.  I felt like I was being pulled deeper and deeper into a hopeless abyss.  I can remember going into our kitchen in the middle of the night.  (I have been a night owl since I was 16...sleep has been elusive since that time).  I had been prescribed pain medicine and sleeping pills during the miscarriage.  I can vividly see me standing barefoot in the kitchen in my faded Liberty University Sweatshirt and paint-covered gray shorts.  I can remember looking at Cecely and Titus' artwork that covered the white kitchen cabinets.  I can remember the pound of ground turkey defrosting in the sink and all the fixings for tacos laid out on the counter for the next night's dinner.  I remember dumping out both bottles of pills and pouring a glass of water.  I remember thinking "This is it.  I can't hurt anymore.  I'm not strong enough to deal with this pain.  I have nothing.  I am nothing."  Looking back, I know that was the enemy trying to take me.  I also know that a spiritual battle was in full force around me.  I remember scooping up a handful of the pills, then throwing them in the sink.  I fell to the kitchen floor and sobbed.  I cried out to God and asked for His help.  In my heart of hearts, I knew I was blessed.  I knew He had given me all the wonderful things I had.  I knew he had called me to be a Mama, and while I may have lost 2 children, I had 2 sweet little ones who needed me.  I laid in the kitchen floor for what felt like hours.  I talked with God as if He were physically sitting on the floor next to me.  I poured out my hurt, my pain, my anger, my frustration.  I begged for His forgiveness, His healing, and His peace.  Oh, God is good.  This time, I felt the peace that I do not understand start in my heart and spread to the rest of me.  You know when you are really cold and you take that first sip of hot chocolate or coffee and it warms your insides up?  That's what this peace felt like.  I did not understand it, but I knew it was a beautiful gift from the One who made me and who loved me.

I still face moments where I panic or when worry tries to take over my heart and mind.  There are instances where I still weep or yell or freak out.  There are situations that I can't fix or can't really even help.  My human tendency is to worry.  I am so thankful for God's faithfulness.  I am so thankful for His reminders of His sovereignty.  I am so grateful for friends who I can call or text when I hit those low points.  I am so grateful for the Bible, God's Word to us that is filled with the knowledge we need.  Today, when I felt worry taking over...I cried a little (or a lot, depending on who you ask) and then I broke out my worn Bible.  I flipped to Philippians and read the entire book.  "...the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" jumped off the page at me.  I prayed for His peace, and I felt it come over me like a warm blanket right out of the dryer.  While I still worry, I am trying with all I have to turn that anxiety over to God.  I am learning, again, that I need to trust Him completely.  While I am still human and mess up repeatedly, He is ready and willing to teach me these life lessons.  Peace is a gift that I cannot comprehend, but I am eternally grateful for it!

Heartstrings

I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 6 years old, in 1st Grade at Temple Baptist School.  I was blessed to have been brought up in a Christian home and fortunate to spend the first few years of my schooling in a private, Christian school.  Those years gave me a solid foundation to build my faith on.  Every morning, after the Pledge of Allegiance, we would have Bible time.  One day in October of 1987, by teacher, Mrs. Burrell, was telling us the story of Cain and Abel.  She was explaining to us what sin was.  I had heard the word in church, home and school, but there was something about that lesson and the reference to these brothers that resonated in my little heart.  The concept of sin sunk in, and I started crying uncontrollably.  My sweet teacher led me out of the class and took me into the church's tiny library.  She asked me why I was upset, and I told her because I was a sinner.  Then, I listed the terrible things I had said, done and thought as a 6 year-old.  Mrs. Burrell explained to me how God loved me so much that He sent His Son, Jesus to take away my sins.  Again, I had heard all of this before, but on that day, it all made sense.  There, on the floor of the library next to a shelf of Nancy Drew books, I prayed to ask Jesus into my heart.  Mrs. Burrell and I told my Mama, who worked at the school.  She followed up with our wonderful pastor, Charles Phillips.  Pastor Phillips met with me for a couple of weeks and we worked through a book together that helped me understand the decision I had made.  Then, I went forward in front of the church at Newfound Baptist and made my profession of faith.  The next week, I was baptized by our sweet associate pastor, Gene Helton.  Even though I was only 6, I understood what I was proclaiming.  I loved Jesus, I believed He died for me, that He rose again, that He's in heaven, that one day He's coming back, and that I wanted to spend my life serving him. 

The next year, I was in G.A.s (come on Southern Baptist girls...you know what I'm talking about).  My teacher was Jennifer Bradley...a fireball of fun and wisdom.  G.A.s placed a strong emphasis on missions.  I remember reading about Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, Jim Elliot, and many other great people of faith who dedicated their lives to serving God and others.  Again, at a very young age, I felt another tug in my heart.  This one telling me I was called to serve others.  In all of my elementary memory books, I say that I want to be a missionary or teacher when I grow up (except one year where I also listed to work at Pizza Hut, but I think that was the year the pizza buffet was introduced to the world).  I would check out books from our church library about missionaries.  I would listen intently to stories of people who had left their homes to serve elsewhere.  I helped put together the poster and map with the pictures of missionaries our church sponsored. 

As I grew older, I never forgot my salvation.  I absolutely made mistakes and messed up.  I even ignored the call Jesus had placed on me.  As a teen, I was given several opportunities to go on mission trips to cities, devastated areas, and places in our country where people were in great need.  I was always too scared to go.  I was scared to leave my little brothers.  I was scared to be away from my parents.  My younger sister, on the other hand, is one of the boldest people I know...she has passed that trait onto Cecely, and I am grateful for that.  If my sister heard a whisper from the Lord, she acted upon it.  While I, on the other hand, would raise "what ifs" and think of worst case scenarios.  (Just for the record, Andrea caught mono on one mission trip and gave it to me...we both were very sick for a long time...just sayin'...no hard feelings, sis!). 

As an adult, I felt that call louder, stronger, and more urgent.  Several years ago, I was part of the leadership team for the College and Careers ministry at Kingsland First Baptist in Georgia.  We took our group to the Passion Conference in Atlanta.  There were missionaries at the conference who were serving in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Uganda.  During that conference, I was fighting with myself internally.  I wanted to rush the stage and say "take me with you!  I want to go!".  I committed to pray for the missionaries and for the hundreds who went forward to learn more about going.  As I was the Mama of 2 very small kiddos, I thought to myself that God wouldn't want me to go and leave them or to take them to such dangerous places.  I justified turning down the urge.  But, that was temporary.  I expressed interest in learning more about training and preparation to go onto the mission field, but I was not encouraged to pursue that path.  When it comes to ministry, it is essential for a married couple to be on the same page.  When one person is ready to sale everything they have and hit the road while the other one wants to stay in the comfort zone, things won't work out. 

The beautiful thing about being a Christian is that your mission field is wherever you are.  That's what I teach my kids.  I tell them that everyday they are being missionaries, because we have no idea who knows Jesus and who doesn't.  I absolutely believe you can be as effective as Lottie Moon even if you never leave your hometown.  If you are serving the Lord and His people with all of your heart, mind, and strength, if you are pouring your life into the lives of the lost, if you are sharing Jesus wherever you are, you are a missionary...and what you are doing matters!

As I am entering a new phase in life, I am feeling that pull on my heartstrings again.  It's more like a yank than a tug, really.  I don't know what God has for me or where He wants me to go.  But, I do know He has called me to go.  I am trying to be more attentive to His calling on my heart.  I am spending more time in His word and reading other books that may help me understand what He wants from me.  For now, my mission field is right here in East Asheville.  I'm interested to see where God will take me.  He has been working and pulling on my heart for 26 years.  He hasn't given up on me, and He hasn't taken that burden away.  He has also placed the same call on Cecely's heart.  At almost 10 years old, she is asking when I can take her on a mission trip.  She has a great burden for the lost and the boldness needed to proclaim His Word.  We have had many friends take trips this summer to Guatemala and Kenya.  We have family friends who serve in the Philippines.  I am so grateful to be a member of a church that supports missions all year long.  I love that our church focuses on Guatemala and Kenya to devote their time, energy, and funds so that they can help great things be achieved in these places.  I am relieved to know that when God makes the way for me to go, I will be supported by a loving and supporting church. 

I encourage you to listen to the whispers from the Holy Spirit.  Pay attention to the melody being played on your heartstrings.  Do not put limitations on God and what He can do in you and through you.  He can accomplish more than you can imagine whether you are willing or not.  Think back to when you were little...what was God asking of you then?  Has it changed?  Probably not...God is the same forever and ever.  We are the ones who change.  Remember that innocence and childlike faith you used to exhibit...try to get it back.  Then, sit back, listen to Him and find out what He has planned for you.  I have no doubt that there are great adventures just waiting around the corner for us if we would just take the leap and go!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Thankful and Happy

I'm sitting in my comfy red chair with my laptop in front of me, wondering what I should write about.  I am dancing down the road of complete exhaustion, but sleep is one of those things that is not part of my routine yet.  One day, I hope it will be.  I'm waiting on a load of laundry in the dryer to finish it's cycle, then I can attempt to collapse.  In the mean time, I'm staring at this monitor and musing about a life-changing, big-impact blog to write...friends, I got nothing. 

The more I sit and reflect, two words keep circling through my brain...thankful and happy.  I wonder why it is that as a culture, we really only focus on being thankful in November.  Thanksgiving is a great reminder to be thankful, but we should all be oozing gratitude everyday.  Then, there's happy.  Wow...that word has been foreign to me for a long time.  Don't get me wrong, I feel completely full of joy.  I have the inner peace that comes from having the Holy Spirit reside in me.  I don't know if this makes sense at all...but, I feel like joy comes from Jesus, and happiness is more of a human thing.  I could be wrong, and this in not a philosophical high for me.  I really don't know how to explain it.  What I do know is that over the past few days, I just have these bursts of delight that capture my heart and mind.  And, I like it.  I have spent too much time spiraling into sadness and doubt.  So, this "new" happy thing is working for me. 

As I sit hear listening to the squeaking of my dryer, the snoozing of my kiddos, and the "Best of Pixar" soundtrack playing from Titus' room, I thought it would be appropriate to list some of the things I am thankful for.

*Grace...I don't completely understand it, I definitely don't deserve it, but it is the reason I'm still here.
*Unconditional love...again, I don't understand it, but I am glad it has been shown to me.
*Cecely...her compassionate heart, sweet spirit, and bubbly, snorty laugh warms my heart.
*Titus...his old man sense of humor, his affectionate attitude, and his wit keeps me on my toes.
*My parents...who would do anything for me, who are patient with me, and who fight alongside me.
*My siblings...who have filled my mind with the greatest memories.
*My friends...who have supported, encouraged, and walked right beside me through good and bad.
*My church family...East campus has been the biggest safety net in my life.  I am so glad God brought me home!
*My job...how amazing is it to work and worship in the same place and to be surrounded by Christians day in and day out.
*The Bible...full of incredible stories, boundless love, eternal hope, and plenty of conviction and encouragement.
*Second chances.
*Facetime.
*Text messaging.
*New experiences.
*New friends.
*Music...new and old...Christian and not.
*Food...my biggest vice!
*Movies...my escape and 2nd biggest vice.
*Our sweet little home...never have I felt more comfortable in a space.  And, never have my kids been so relaxed.
*Freedom.
*God's sovereignty over my attempts to control things.
*Clean water.
*Money enough to pay the bills and give my kids extras from time to time.
*The Parkway.
*Dancing.
*Singing.
*God's faithfulness.
*Education.
*The ability to unlearn bad behaviors and to learn new ones.
*Hand-me-down furniture...just feels so cozy.
*Memory foam.
*Freedom from fear.
*Renewed strength.
*Health.
*The need to serve.
*The want to go.

I could go on and on and on...and, tonight when I pray, I will do just that.  I have so much to be grateful for...big and small, spiritual and physical,  serious and silly.  God has provided so much in my life.  Where would I be without Him and His great love?