Saturday, August 2, 2014

Harry Potter and Me...

I am a total bookworm and a complete nerd.  When I find a favorite book or series, I will read and re-read it over and over.  Now that my kiddos are getting older, we can read some of my favorite books together.  I know that many people in the Southern Baptist world are not fans of Harry Potter, and that's ok by me...to each his own.  I know that I cannot grow up to be a wizard nor do I worry about my children picking up wands and trying to perform magic.  I see Harry Potter the same way I view Star Wars and Lord of the Rings...excellent pieces of fiction/film that spark imagination and give way to interesting conversations.  This post is not about whether Harry Potter is right or wrong for a Christian to read or enjoy...this post is about the tidbit of wisdom I gained from this series and how one conversational exchange resonated deeply in my head and heart recently.

In Harry Potter, there is good and evil.  In this world, there is good and evil.  When you break down what is good and what is evil, you uncover a vast array of emotions, thoughts, and actions.  One of the emotions that I have struggled with lately is that of loneliness.  There are days when I am so consumed with isolation that I almost want to stop breathing.  There are moments when the darkness of this world is so overpowering that I seriously consider giving in and giving up.  There are nights when I am all alone in my home when I think that curling up and sleeping forever seems like the greatest idea ever.  There are times that I just want to give into the darkness and say "you win, now let me be."

There is a sweet exchange in one of the Harry Potter novels between Harry and a lovable, loopy young lady named Luna.  Harry is facing controversy from all sides, he has lost friends, his world is in turmoil, and he is suffering greatly from the feeling of loneliness.

"Luna Lovegood: [about her father] We believe you, by the way. That He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is back, and you fought him, and the Ministry and the Prophet are conspiring against you and Dumbledore. 
Harry Potter: Thanks. Seems you're about the only ones that do. 
Luna Lovegood: I don't think that's true. But I suppose that's how he wants you to feel. 
Harry Potter: What do you mean? 
Luna Lovegood: Well if I were You-Know-Who, I'd want you to feel cut off from everyone else. Because if it's just you alone you're not as much of a threat".--J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, 2007


Isn't that the truth?  Isn't that the way the dark forces of this world work?  Isn't that exactly the tactic the enemy takes to bring us down.  He hones in on our individual weaknesses and drives into that.  First Peter 5:8 describes the enemy as a lion seeking who he may devour.  He wants to take over your life.  He wants you to suffer.  He wants me to give up.  I am so guilty of hiding away and letting the loneliness take over.  I shy away from friends and groups when isolation starts sneaking in.  It's partly a pity party, partly me not wanting anyone to see me being weak, and partly an attack.  


Your soft spot might not be loneliness...it may be pride, guilt, shame, fear...  Whatever it is, you need to identify it.  You need to know what the target on your life looks like so you can protect yourself against it.  Because the good news is that good will conquer evil.  


"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."--Albus Dumbledore, Prisoner of Azkaban Movie


I'm fairly certain the light Professor Dumbledore is referencing is not the One I require.  But, his statement is true.  Even when the darkness feels like it is closing in, we can reach out to the Light.  "I am the Light of the world; he who walks in Me will not walk in darkness"--John 8:12.  There is a way to conquer our inadequacies and the dark arrows pointed at our hearts.  The only way is life in and through Jesus.  He is the way to overcome darkness.  


But, we have to choose to let Him.  And, therein lies my struggle.  The darkness often looks easier and seems less painful.  The darkness sneakily promises relief from hurt.  But, the enemy is a liar, and while the poor choices may be enticing, they deliver short on reprieve.  The battle I am fighting now is to continue to choose His light and to not let my isolation overtake me.  I have to make the steps to walk back into His light...Bible study, prayer, fellowship, etc.  Otherwise, I will fall so easily into looking for an escape from my pain.  Even when I fall, even as I struggle, I hold tightly to this:  "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height no depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."--Romans 8:38-39

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Husbands and Wives

*Disclaimer--Writing is my therapy, and you do not have to read it, agree with it, or like it.  My feelings won't be hurt at all if you don't like what I write.  The following is not a popular topic amongst many women, but it is one heavy on my heart.*

Every once in awhile, I get the urge to jump on a soapbox and rant and rave.  More times than not, I wait a few minutes and the urge passes.  My soapboxes usually circle around children and their well-being.  Today's soapbox is not of that genre, and you should know, I have waited an hour, and the urge to rant and rave did not pass.  So, here I am, prepared to unload a wealth of thoughts, feelings, and experiences on anyone brave (or bored) enough to read this.  

Facebook is a blessing and a curse.  I have loved connecting with new and old friends.  I am easily distracted by the quizzes that obviously know the true me better than I know myself.   I am often interested in reading articles that my friends have read and like...AND, that's how I ended up here.  Several of my friends had commented on a blog by Matt Walsh titled Your Husband Doesn't Have to Earn Your Respect.  Naturally, I was intrigued, especially given the path I have recently and am still walking.  I am generally open-minded when I read, and I was conducting an experiment on myself.  I wanted to see if my heart or mind had changed from the wife I used to be to the woman I am now.

The premise of Walsh's blog is exactly what is in the title.  Walsh addresses several issues within marriages today, and his focus is on the lack of respect husbands experience in our culture.  As I read this, I was reminded of conversations I have had with some of the men in my life.  Several of the men I know have spoken about how our culture has painted men as idiots...my male friends and Walsh both speak of how men are portrayed as laughable goof-ups in the sitcoms and movies of today.  These men have spoken of how the lack of respect leads to feelings of inadequacy and lack of value.  

In Ephesians, the Bible says "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and in himself its Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.  Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her...In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church because we are members of his body...However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband" (5:-22-33).  This passage boils down to a couple of things...women long to be loved, men long to be respected.  "Research reveals that during marital conflict a husband often reacts when feeling disrespect and a wife reacts when feeling unloved" (Eggerich, www.loveandrespect.com).  

Several years ago, I participated in an incredibly in-depth Bible study, The Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  This study was not popular when I took the class.  The group started with 25 women, and ended with 8 of us.  And, the reason it was not well-received was because it focused on what the Bible, not society, says about the Biblical role of a lady.  The week that took a toll on our group was the week we discussed the role of a husband and wife in the home.  DeMoss referenced the above passage from Ephesians and stated, "the greatest freedom I [women] can experience is found through submission to God-ordained authority" including God and her husband.  (As I have written in previous posts, I absolutely do not stand for or agree with abuse of any kind...if you are a woman reading this and you are being hurt, are threatened, or in danger-GET OUT!!!  You are God's creation, gift, and treasure).  The idea of a man being in authority over a woman is not at all well-received in our culture.  I admit, I struggled with this concept.  As a wife, I did strive my best to be the quintessential 1950s housewife.  I always enjoyed cooking, cleaning, landscaping, and taking care of everyone...it's how I was wired, how I was designed.  I began to have a hard time with some of what I was reading in the Bible.  I met with the Bible study leader after class and told her my struggle.  I was struggling with knowing how to respect someone who showed no signs of loving me.  I told her I took care of the kids, cleaned the house, and prepared meals everyday so that when my husband came home, he would have nothing to do but relax and enjoy his family.  I told her I did these things because I knew he worked hard everyday to provide for us, and I felt like that was what I was supposed to do.  She told me that I was being conditional in my thinking.  She asked, "if he didn't work hard and didn't provide for you and your children, would you still do these things?  Would you respect him?"  At that moment, I was met with great conviction.  I knew the answer...it was no.  

That's when I realized I did not fully understand what it meant to respect a husband.  I began to dig deeper into what it meant to be a Biblical, godly wife, to know to respect my husband unconditionally.  I tried to enforce the message in Titus 2, "train the young women to love their husband and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the Word of God may not be reviled" (v. 4-5).  I read through and completed The Love Dare and discovered The Five Love Languages.  I was on a search to do whatever I could to improve and save our marriage.  I knew that I had to do my part, I had to be the wife that I was called to be.  I was not perfect, but I was committed and was learning non-stop, trying new tactics, and giving my energy to be a wife who showed love by giving respect, whether I felt the love was reciprocated or not.  "Love is the attitude that says, "I am married to you, and I choose to look out for your interests."  Then the one who chooses to love will find appropriate ways to express that decision" (Graham, The Five Love Languages, p. 36).  I wanted to feel loved.  I wanted to know that I was secure.  I also knew that it was my job to show love and respect in spite of my wants.  

About a year after this mental and spiritual transition is when my marriage ended.  I fought internally for a long time with the questions that plagued my mind.  What did I do wrong?  What could I have done differently?  Why didn't God honor my willingness to have Him change my heart and mind?  Why didn't He save our family?  

So, here's where my self-inflicted experiment comes into play.  After reading Walsh's blog, I revisited Ephesians.  I pondered if knowing what I do now, having lived through what I did, would I still be able to respect a man?  And, the answer is, I think so.  How and why?  Obviously, my biggest conviction is being a Biblical lady.  I want to show both of my children that it is possible to love and respect unconditionally.  I want to show Cecely what it means to be a Godly wife whether it's easy or not.  I want to encourage other women who are searching to feel loved to be the women God calls them to be in His Word regardless of how their husband treat them (again-I'm not talking about abuse).  I want to remind them to be a Biblical wife who shows unconditional respect to her husband.  I want Cecely to grow up to respect her husband, for Titus to respect his wife, and for both of them to understand the huge responsibility men have to be the leaders of the home.  I do not want either of my children to view men as laughingstocks, rather to see their Dad, Uncles, GranDad, and Brian (my fella) as leaders who require respect because God says so.  I want them to understand that if He says it, we should do it.

Last year, I read the book Wild at Heart under the advisement of one of my dear friends.  I've written about this book before in previous blogs.  This book is incredible, and I recommend it to everyone, man or woman, even though it is geared toward men.  Men want to be respected and women want to be loved.  But, our culture has diluted what a man was made to be.  Men are portrayed as bumbling morons and encouraged to put aside the drive that God placed in them.  "He is the Lord the captain of angel armies.  And when Christ returns, he is at the head of a dreadful company, mounted on a white horse, with a double-edged sword, his robe dipped in blood.  Now that sounds a lot more like William Wallace than Mother Teresa.  No doubt about it--there is something fierce in the heart of God" (Eldredge, Wild at Heart, p. 29).  Conversely, women have been taught to downplay their femininity.  "The world kills a woman's heart when it tells her to be tough, efficient, and independent...All we've offered the feminine soul is pressure to "be a good servant"" (Eldredge, Wild at Heart, p. 17).  According to Eldredge, "In the heart of every man is a desperate desire for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue" (Wild at Heart, p. 9) and "every woman yearns to be fought for...wants an adventure to share...wants to have a beauty to unveil" (Wild at Heart, p. 16-17).  I wholeheartedly agree.   

I believe that the desire to be respected and loved is in each one of us.  The reason for so many failed relationships and marriages is sin.  Selfishness, entitlement, envy and a plethora of other issues work their way into our hearts, minds and relationships.  There isn't a quick or easy fix, but there are solutions!  My daily prayer is "create in me a pure heart" (Ps. 51:10).  I am a mess.  I am a sinner.  I screw up a gazillion times a day.  I have to ask God daily clean my heart, renew my mind, and restore my spirit.  The Bible is the most direct way to find out how God made you and who you are in Him.  He designed man in His own image.  He gave man the gift of a woman to share life with.  He gave us an instruction book to tell us how to live, how to act, and how to be the spouse He envisioned when He planned marriage.  Now, I know it is not popular for a woman to submit.  It is not the way of the world for a man to be brave and bold.  BUT, that is how God made us!  "If a man is the image of the Lion of Judah, how come there are so many lonely women, so many fatherless children, so few men around?..How come when men look in their hearts they don't discover something valiant and dangerous, but instead find anger, lust and fear?..And so most women lead lives of quiet resignation, having given up their hope for a true man" (Eldredge, Wild at Heart, p. 41).  

Personally, I want a real man.  I want someone who will fight for me, protect me, and love me.  I want to be a woman who makes a man feel supported, encouraged, and respected.  I want to cook, clean and care for someone.  I am in the stage right now where I am still asking God a lot of questions.  I am still waiting on Him to fulfill some of His promises.  I am fighting to keep hope in my heart.  I am praying He gives me the opportunity to be a wife again in the future.  If I obey God and His Word, I will have the desire to show unconditional respect for my spouse.  If I remain true to His call on my heart, I will feel loved by Him even if I don't feel love from a husband.  Learning how to love is not easy.  Learning how to love again is extremely daunting.  Learning how to love another person under God's design and plan is challenging, but, it is an adventure.  And, that is definitely what I'm looking for...a real man to respect and an adventure to have!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

For Your Hurting Friends...

It has been a long time since I have written anything.  Truthfully, I'm only writing now because I do not know what to do with myself in an apartment all alone.  Once again, I am hoping that writing will help empty out the craziness running rampant in my mind.  I'll go ahead and warn you, this is not an uplifting and encouraging post as I usually write.  Nor is it a post based on self-pity.  It's simply some ramblings from the mind of a very sad and confused Mama.

The past 18-19 months have been beyond the most bizarre and surreal time in my life.  I have learned some things about myself during this time.  I have picked up on some things that I will not pass on later to my hurting friends, and I have learned some things that I feel could help anyone in any situation.

Here's the bottom line.  We live in a messed up world.  Hurt, desperation, confusion, pain, betrayal, and a million other things are ever present in daily life.  And, just because someone looks as if they have it all together or they have a smile on their face, it absolutely does not mean that there is not some kind of hurt in their life.  I have composed a short list of my suggestions of what to do and what not to do for your hurting friends (this advice is for me as much as it is for anyone else).

To Do:

*Listen.  
*Love unconditionally.
*Give hugs.
*Share smiles and laughs.  
*Bring a snack--something simple, silly, or a known favorite.
*Send a note--a kind word can carry a person through a tough day.
*Be present--you don't have to say a word.  Just be there.
*Encourage.
*Distract--take the hurting person away for a movie or any distraction.  A two-hour movie can provide a wonderful time of no thinking.
*Volunteer together--helping others is always a win!
*Pray for them.  Pray with them.  Pray on their behalf.

Don't Do:

*Don't try to fix the problem.  More times than not, a hurting person just needs to unload the junk in their head.  They are not expecting a quick fix.  They just need someone to listen.
*Try to stay away from "I know exactly how you feel...".  While you may have a similar story or have traveled down a similar path, realize that your hurt/problem is rarely exactly like someone else's.    If the hurting person asks for your experience, share it.  But don't force your story on them...let them process their hurt and ask from your life as they can handle it.
*Avoid cliché sayings if you can..."hang in there", "it just takes time", "it'll get better" are some of the most frustrating things a hurting person can hear.  The one hurting knows they don't have any choice but to hang in.  There is no time limit on pain, and the recovery healing time is not a designated time. And, unless you can guarantee that it'll get better, try not to say it.  In the middle of a storm, even though you can see hope and a better tomorrow, a hurting person can't always see a bright future ahead of them and it can make them feel as if there is more wrong with them by feeling hopeless.  
*Don't give up on your friend.  Don't get frustrated with their inability to see hope.  Just be patient.  They know hope is coming...it just takes awhile for some of us to accept that.
*Don't let them give up.  Check on them.  Remind them that they are supported.

I have been so blessed to have a great support system in my life.  I have incredible parents, amazing siblings, a wonderful church family, and friends who are extremely faithful.  Throughout all of the ups and downs, I have known that there are people who I can call anytime.  I have people who will just sit and listen, who will yell with me, who will cry with me, who will hold me tight when they have no words to share.  I have people who check on me everyday.  I have people who fight for me.  I have people who pray for me, especially when I have no ability to pray.  

I want to be that kind of friend to others.  I want to be a person who is sensitive to hurt and pain and who responds appropriately.  It is going to take me awhile to be that person.  Currently, I am so despondent that I am struggling to be a good friend at all.  There are days when I feel completely checked out from reality.  Friends, forgive me for being overwhelmed by my circumstances.  It is my aim to be a better friend soon.  Thank you for your patience, support, encouragement, and love.  And, thank you for the great care you have shown my children and me.  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Disney Movie I Have Banned From Our Home...

It is no secret that I absolutely love Disney.  It is safe to say I am obsessed.  Visit my house, and you are basically visiting a Disney gift shop...dinnerware, party ware, couch pillows, quilts, snow globes, picture frames, toys, movies, posters, art...you name it, I have it.  Sadly, there is one Disney movie which does not make the cut, and I had to remove it from my vast Disney collection.  I actually had to removed both versions of it.  And the forbidden film is...

THE PARENT TRAP!

Good grief, I hate that movie.  I remember the first time I saw the Haley Mills version of the movie when I was in elementary school.  I loved it.  Of course, at that time in my life, the concept of divorce was completely foreign.  In my circle of friends and family, everyone had a dad, a mom, siblings, and a pet of some kind.  Growing up in a traditional, conservative Baptist church in the 80s and 90s, divorce was rarely discussed.  So, watching The Parent Trap was just watching a fun movie filmed with pranks, silly songs, and a happy ending.

A couple of years ago, we watched both versions of The Parent Trap before our big Disney World trip during our Disney appreciation month in homeschool.  We watched both films, compared and contrasted, and just enjoyed the Disney magic.  At that point, I had no idea the impact those movies had on my children, especially my daughter.  

Over the course of the past 15 months, my children have dealt with a lot of change and not so much magic.  Until the timing was appropriate, I have stayed away from the dating scene.  The kids would spend some time with their Dad and his girlfriend.  Initially, these interactions rarely ended well.  But, for the past 10 months, they have adjusted to the reality that their Dad is with someone other than their Mom.  I have recently started dating, and while this transition has been a positive one for my kids, it is still more change that they are having to deal with.  Now that I am dating, something has clicked in my kids' minds...especially Cecely.

Tonight, she told her Dad that now The Parent Trap wouldn't come true.  Up until I started dating, Cecely was still holding on to some hope that her Dad and I would be restored.  She has told me several times that she really likes the man I am dating.  After any time we spend together, she always says that she likes what a good man he is.  She even told him "thank you for picking my Mama."  I know that she is happy, but she is confused.  Both of my kids are struggling with loyalty issues right now.  I think they feel conflicted and disloyal to me if they enjoy time with their Dad and his girlfriend and the same for their Dad when they have a good time with me and my guy.  

Kids are supposed to have hope and to be able to dream.  They are supposed to feel safe.  They are supposed to count on their parents to take care of everything, big or small.  Children of divorce have all of that taken away from them.  Their confidence is shaken.  Their normal is obliterated.  Their dreams are shattered.  Divorce is a four-letter word for adults, but I believe it is one thousand times harder on the children.  And, while I still have a soft spot for The Parent Trap, it is absolutely not going to be back in our house for a long time...

Tonight, when I was tucking my kids into bed after having spent time with their Dad, I reminded them that he and I would always love them.  I told them once more that their Dad and I would never be back together, because of choices that had been made and hurts that had cut deep.  I explained that forgiveness is necessary, but that God is a God of second chances, and I truly believe He has a great future in store for my babies and myself.  I also took some time explaining to them that it is ok to like their Dad's girlfriend and my fella...I told them that their Daddy and I would never bring people into our lives that would hurt them.  And, I told them that even though divorce is NOT God's plan for families, He can turn a messy family into a different kind of family...still messy, but that's ok.  I told them of how my life changed for the better when I was blessed with a step-Dad and an amazing new family.  I told them that this did not make me love my biological father any less, but the experience did bring LOTS more people into my life who wanted to love me!

To my married friends, I beg you to protect your marriage.  Guard your hearts.  Shield your minds.  Make sure your priorities are in order.  Love your spouse.  Cherish your spouse.  If you have children, a Biblical marriage is the best gift you can give them.  To my single-parent friends I say, keep fighting the good fight.  Don't give up.  Don't get down.  You have been blessed with a season where your children are your top priority (after the Lord, of course).  Pour into their hearts and minds.  Search out teachable moments.  To my step-family friends, I am praying for you.  The task you have undertaken is a challenging, overwhelming, and draining one.  Lift up your spouse, don't give up on your kids and step-kids.  To all of you...praying HUGE blessings on your families!

I hate having to be the one to give my children first-hand lessons that life is not a fairytale.  On the flip side, I love being the one to teach them about new hope, new dreams, and new chances!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Letter of Thanks...

Dear Family and Friends,

Thank you so much for being who you are.  I have tried to express it as often as I can, but I feel a fail miserably.  I am exceedingly grateful for the wonderful, caring, encouraging and incredible people God has placed in my life.  I know without any doubt, that had it not been for your investment in my life, I would not be here today.  That is not said lightheartedly, at all.  Over the course of this year, I have been constantly wrapped up in love.  God has richly blessed me with so many people who truly, deeply love my children and me.  While I do not understand the depth of this love, I know that it is a result of you listening to the Lord and doing as He has called.  Thank you for being instruments of His love and care!  I wish I had stronger words to express my gratitude!

I had every intention of glossing over my birthday this year.  Instead, I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from you.  I am going to do my best to address everyone, but there is a very good chance I'll forget something, so please be gracious...

To my family and friends far away:
Thank you so much for the Facebook messages, Facebook posts, emails, e-gift cards, and cards in the mail.  You have no idea how excited I get when I open my email and there is a gift for me...seriously, like a kid at Christmas.  More importantly, thank you for the words you shared...those words lifted my spirits and warmed my heart.  Thank you so very much for thinking of me!

To my East Campus Team family:
Thank you for a day that was completely Wild at Heart.  Thank you for acknowledging how I have changed over this past year.  Thank you for challenging me to grow.  Thank you for taking the time to celebrate with me.  Thank you for making me laugh, for being patient when I cried, and for arming me with a shot gun!

To my local family and friends:
Thank you for spoiling me rotten.  Thank you for a trip to a spa (amazingly wonderful experience), for the cakes, for the gifts, for watching Mary Poppins with me, for lunches out, for texts of silliness.  Thank you for the encouraging and loving Facebook posts!  Thank you for being a daily presence in the lives of Cecely, Titus, and me. 

To the ridiculous sneaky people in my life:
I have NEVER been as surprised as I was yesterday.  I have always had a part in planning my birthday or known most of what was going to happen.  When I walked into my favorite restaurant, rounded the corner, and heard you all singing, I simply could not believe it.  I could not understand why you had made that drive, why you had taken time out of you crazy schedules...I don't get why you love me so much.  But, know my heart...I AM SO GRATEFUL!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  

To the one who has restored my hope, my confidence, and made me happier than I have ever been in my life:
Thank you...I wish I had better words...honestly, I am speechless (insert joke here).

This birthday will be one that I will never forget.  God is good.  You all are amazing.  I am humbled and blessed!

Always,
Amber

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I Don't Deserve This...

How many times have you looked at the circumstances of your life and said "I don't deserve this?".  Have you ever rated your wrong doings against others?  You know what I mean..."I don't drink like so-and-so...I've never gotten a ticket...It's not like I beat my kids or scream at my spouse...I'm not doing anything that bad...".  If you are anything like me, you have been trapped by those thoughts every now and again.  Or, have you been encompassed by circumstances that make no sense to you?  "How did I end up here?  What did I do wrong?  Why me?..".  Oh, my goodness, it is so easy to let those thoughts overtake your mind.

Over the course of this past year, I have had moments of "how is this my life?".  I have had evenings where I ponder over every sin I can think of and think maybe this year was a consequence of poor choices of my youth.  When I would get low and depressed, I would have conversations at (note at, not with) the Lord asking why He had let me go through this.  In my moments of self-pity, I was certain I had earned every horrible thing that was happening.  You know what, in a sense, I was right.  I absolutely deserve terrible things.  I am sinner.  I am a messed up person.  Every hour of every day, I do something wrong...sure, others may not be aware of my sin, but it's happening.  I struggle with evil thoughts.  I battle insecurities and allow my doubts to take precedent of my thoughts.  I do not always do my best or give my all.  I grumble internally.  I lose my temper with my children.  I use "creative language" when I have angry outbursts...and even if the outbursts are in my head, the word choices would have my Mama wash my mouth and mind out with soap.  Sure, I haven't beaten anyone up, murdered, cheated, or been involved in any major public sinning.  Here's the thing, sin is sin whether everyone knows about it, or I'm the only one who knows.  And, according to the Bible, that sin condemns me.  In Romans 3:23, the Word says "All have sinned...", so I know I'm in good company, right?  Romans 6:23 says, "the wages of sin is death...".  Therefore, I'm a sinner, I deserve death.

BUT, something absolutely wonderful happened that redeemed me.  God sent His one and only Son, Jesus to die on the cross for my wrongdoing.  Jesus willingly gave His life, God willingly gave His Son to pay the price for my sin...for my temper, my terrible thoughts, my every sin.  When Jesus gave His life for mine, He took away my sin.  While I battle the memories of my past sin, God doesn't.  Psalm 103:12 tells us, "as far as the east is from the west, so far He has moved our sins from us."  All I had to do was admit that I was a sinner, believe that He died for me, ask for His forgiveness, and commit my life to Him.  I made those choices when I was 6 years old.  I am so grateful for the gifts of salvation, mercy and grace.  While I did not understand all of the theological implications of salvation when I was 6, I absolutely felt conviction of every sin my 6 year-old heart and mind was capable of.  As I grew up, made good and poor choices, I learned more of God's forgiveness, His grace, His mercy, and His redemption.

Right now, I'm in an awesome place.  Truly, I have never felt more undeserving, but in a great way.  In my former life, birthdays weren't always a big deal...honestly, most of the years, they were forgotten by the one person who I would have thought would care the most.  Don't get my wrong, my friends and parents always delivered...I've never been neglected by my faithful friends.  For some reason, this year I was dreading my birthday.  I had no desire for any acknowledgement.  With all of the chaos going on right now, I really though gracefully passing over that day on the calendar would be the best thing.  HOWEVER, God has placed so many AMAZING people in my life that I can confidently say this has already been the best birthday I have ever had (with the exception of the year I was at EPCOT on my birthday), and my birthday isn't even happening until Saturday!  This past Sunday, I went to church and had goodies given to me by two of my most faithful, giving, and loving volunteers...these were personal gifts that a lot of thought and effort had gone into.  I was so humbled and overwhelmed.  I stood in the hallway at church and cried and hugged these sweet ladies.  Monday, I went to my Connect Group after an extremely hard day.  To my great surprise, I was served a Mickey Mouse birthday cake, received one of the sweetest cards I have ever read, had a beautiful piece of art made by one of my favorite preschoolers, a Dunkin Donuts gift card (food may be my love language), and a t-shirt from friends who totally get me.  Again, I was astonished and humbled.  I've heard rumors that there are more surprises coming...and, here is all I have to say...I don't deserve this.

I do not deserve the love and attention that is being lavished on me by these incredible people.  I don't get it.  I do know that these sweet friends and family have Jesus in their hearts.  They have accepted the same gift of salvation that I did.  They are acting as God has instructed them.  They are being instruments of His love.  I am currently in a constant state of humility...I am so messed up.  I don't understand God and His great love.  I don't understand the love for me from His people.  I have never been happier...and I do know that is straight from God and His people.  Even with the knowledge of God and His love, I still have to say, I absolutely, positively, 100% do not deserve what He has given me...but, I am so very thankful!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Wintry Mix

I do not like winter time.  I detest the snow.  I hate being cold.  I feel justified in these statements.  When I was younger, growing up in a rural area, snow meant you lost power.  Without fail, when it snowed, regardless of the amount, we would lose power in our home.  Thankfully, my Grandmama lived across the road from us, and she had kerosene heaters.  Here's the rub, I am allergic to kerosene.  My throat closes up, and I struggle to breathe.  So, when it would snow, we (my parents, 3 siblings, and myself) would trek across the road to Grandmama's house, where she would have closed off all the rooms and would have set the kerosene heater in the middle of the living room.  Everyone would cozy up in the warm room, and I would go to my Grandmama's room, with no heat, a stack of quilts and blankets, and a book or two to read.  I love to read, and I always stayed warm enough, but I did not like being alone.  There is the history of why I am not an advocate for the winter season.

Growing up in the mountains of NC also meant that when it snowed, school would be closed.  I loved school and was not happy when we would miss.  When I was younger, I can remember sledding in our yard using a stop sign and a speed limit sign that my Daddy had fashioned into sleds.  I never knew where those sleds came from, but I always thought they were excellent.  Many times, we would climb the hill to our neighbors' farm where we would sled through the pasture and hike up the hills over and over until our legs were tingling with exhaustion.  Without fail, we would have hot chocolate with marshmallows either prepared by Mama or Grandmama.  With the power often going out, food preparation would be interesting.  I distinctly remember during the blizzard of 1993 storing our food out in the snow.  I remember my Daddy wrapping up frozen burritos in aluminum foil then "cooking" them on top of the kerosene heater.  I remember bringing in milk from the snow, fixing cereal, then placing the gallon jug back in the snow.

I also remember when the threat of snow would arrive, Mama would make each of us take a shower in case the power would go out.  Then, she and Grandmama both, would run every sink and bathtub full of water.  We had a well, and if you're power went out, the water went out, too.  The funny thing is, when our forecast predicts snow, I have the kids hop in the shower, too...just in case!

When I got older, I did not like missing school because I knew we would have to go longer during the warmer months.  When a snow day would appear, I would be disappointed.  Thankfully, God blessed me with a full house.  My sister, brothers, and I would sit down and write out skits.  I have had a love of parody since 10th grade English, and I discovered Saturday Night Live the same year.  So, we would sit down and toss around ideas then write out scripts for everyone.  Sometimes, we would have friends over, and we would include them in the fun.  Our Daddy would be at work, and Mama would usually be in her room working on papers for college or lesson plans once she was teaching.  The four of us would take turns being behind the camera and on camera.  We would do a talk show entitled Freddy Springer.  We would impersonate celebrities, namely Martha Stewart and Wycleff Jean.  We would have the world's worst makeovers.  But, my favorite skit was when my sister, Andrea, and I put on a morning show where we interviewed my brothers, Tyler and Timothy, who were portraying actors from the "Broadyway" musical, Rats. 

As an adult, I still loathe the cold.  More layers means more laundry.  Colder temps lead to whiny kiddos.  Freezing weather makes for challenging driving conditions.  However, I love seeing my kids light up when they watch the snow fall quietly and beautifully to the ground.  I love listening to them shriek and giggle when they throw a snowball or roll down a snow covered hill.  I adore extra days where we get to stay inside and have movie marathons. 

I will never be pro-winter, and I constantly pray that God will keep me from ever moving any farther north of where I am presently.  While there are so many things that I do not enjoy about the winter time, looking back, my absolute favorite memories from my teenage years take place on an out-of-school-for-barely-any-snow day.  Days when my siblings would laugh, create, and play hold a special place in my heart.  Memories of pots of chili, rushed cold showers, games of Uno by candlelight flood my mind and make me grateful for my childhood.  Now, as a Mama, I'm looking for ways to place those same opportunities in my children's hearts and minds.  My challenge to you, whether you embrace the cold or not, how can you take advantage of God's creativity with the weather to make a lasting impression on your family?  Unplug from the electronics, remember when you were younger, and make some winter memories with your kiddos!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

My Prayer for Families...

To My Dear Friends,

I have a heavy heart for families.  I am weighed down with the reality of the hardships of life.  I am overwhelmed for the dangers facing the sanctity of the traditional family.  Now, that I am not part of that classification and having walked the path I have, I feel very burdened to lift up my wonderful families who are.  To that end...

Husbands-protect your wife, guard her heart, lift her up.  Fight for her on a daily basis.  Remind her why you chose her.  Acknowledge the things she does just for you.  Protect your mind.  Place perimeters on what you watch and how you invest your time.  Make sure to prioritize appropriately...God, Your Bride, children, other family, career, etc.  Take the time engage your wife in conversation.  Allow her to use the gifts God has given her to minister to you and your family.  Remind her that she is valued, she is cherished, she is beautiful.  Try to remember what drew you to her and tell her all about it.  

Wives-guard your heart, protect your mind.  Do not be tempted by what you think other women have or what another man might offer.  Choose friends who will hold you accountable to the call of being a wife.  Surround yourself with women who will build you up and encourage you.  Fight for your husband's heart.  Show him that you respect him and love him.  Never tear him down, always build him up.  Remember what he had that prompted you to say "yes" when he asked you to be his one and only forever.  Put aside distractions and focus on him.  Remind him that he matters and that he makes a difference in your world.  Be confident in the woman God made you to be...that confidence translates into beauty.  Align your priorities with the Scripture...God, Your Husband, children, etc.  Use your gifts to serve your husband and allow him to do the same for you.

Fathers-love your children.  Spend focused, uninterrupted, consecutive time with them.  Tell them stories of your childhood.  Share in their interests.  Invest in their hearts.  Pray with them, for them, over them.  Never stop hugging them.  Always tell them you love them.  Put aside work, sports, etc and take the time to live life with them.  Show them God's love by being God's love to them.  

Mothers-slow down, take a minute, relax.  Chores can wait.  Children are young for the briefest of moments.  Laundry, dishes, floors can all be conquered later.  There is only a moment when your children want to be held.  Hold them.  Wrap them up in your arms.  Tell them you love them.  Play with them.  Ask them questions.  Let them ask you questions.  Be silly with them.  Teach them how to serve others.  Be a model of Christ.  

Children-be patient with your parents.  Grown-ups take life very seriously.  They are under a lot of pressure.  Stresses that you cannot see or understand are constantly running through your parents' minds.  Remind your parents how to play.  Reteach them how to laugh and be crazy.  Be confident in who you are.  Be bold, but respectful when talking with your parents.  Tell them what you are thinking and feeling.  Let your parents hug you...hug them back.  Ask them what their hopes and dreams were when they were your age.  Tell them what yours are now.  Put down the distractions, and simply take time to be a child with parents who love you.

There are those of us out there who no longer fit the traditional model of families.  Blended families can be every bit as beautiful as a traditional family.  I have been so blessed to have a Mama and a Step-Dad (but I call him Dad) who have shown the hard work that goes into blending a family, but who, at the same time, have also modeled the possibility of loving others who may not have been a part of your life forever.  I am hoping and believing that my future holds another husband one day, and the reality is he will probably have children.  A blended family could very well be a part of my future.  I have hope and faith that God can take another marriage and bless it greatly if our family commits to Him and His ways.  For my friends who are now "non-traditional"...

Single Parents-do not lose hope, do not give up!  You are incredible.  You've been given the great task of being two parents to your children...you are both Mom and Dad.  I know you are exhausted.  I know you doubt your ability.  Lighten up on yourself.  Realize that the job at hand was designed for two people...and, you are championing that!  You are going to mess up.  You are going to break down.  But, DO NOT GIVE UP!  Surround yourself with friends who can help you.  Find those you can count on who can help ease the burden.  Pray for your children.  Be honest and appropriate about the challenges you are facing.  Try not to overcompensate for the decisions of your former spouses.  Your children crave your love and attention more than they do material things.  Love on your babies.  Build them up.  Tell them of your struggles and help them conquer theirs.  Pray together.

Step-parents-you are heroes in my book.  You have willingly and knowingly accepted the role as a new parent to a child you did not conceive.  You know that pain these children have suffered.  You know the hurt your spouse has endured.  You know this choice was not an easy one to make and that the journey will be difficult.  You are incredible.  While children may go back and forth between loving and hating you, between resenting and relishing you, be consistent.  Stay the course.  Remain as a united front with your spouse.  Invest in the heart of your children by praying with them, for them and over them.  Spend time learning about their interests, goals, dreams, fears.  Take your time sharing your stories and listening to theirs.  Never speak poorly of their parent in front of them.  Be a parent of integrity.  Be patient with your spouse.  While you know the hurt and pain, you also need to remember the depth of the damage they are recovering from.  Do not expect a fairytale romance or a quick-fix.  The fixing should never stop in any relationship.  Grow with your new spouse.  Take time out of life for the two of you.  Never stop dating.  Always share your thoughts and heart.  Be brave.  Fight old habits.  Build a new future together.

Adoptive parents-rock stars, for sure!  Do not let the uncertainty and doubts that can accompany adoption outweigh joy and promise that came into play the day you adopted your sweet little one.  You are the very model of God...He has adopted each one of us as His own.  You did not bear these children, you did not compose their genetic makeup, but you have given your heart and soul to be the ones who raise them up.  You have taken children who would have had a questionable and risky future, and you have given them hope and endless possibilities.  When other people question your choice in adoption, when there are those who do not understand, and when others do not accept your children, know this...God knows your hearts and sees the blessing you have been on these innocent lives.  

So, to my sweet friends near and far, traditional or not, happy or sad, overjoyed or overwhelmed, know you are in my thoughts and prayers.  Whatever your family situation may be, I say guard it, protect it, fight for it.  Do not give up, do not give in.  Learn from yesterday, treasure today, and have hope in tomorrow...