Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Christmastime Ache

My Daddy and Me, Dec. 2000
I absolutely love Christmastime.  However, there is an ache in my heart every Christmas Eve.  Many years ago, my Daddy passed away on Christmas Eve.  To compact the hurt that comes with remembering his passing, my Daddy and I were not on good terms when he died.  Since Christmas is a time of hope, it is my goal to encourage and share hope with those who are hurting this time of year.  It is my heart's desire to challenge those who read this to two things: to forgive those who have hurt you, and to seek help for your hurts.

Growing up, my Daddy worked very hard.  He always had multiple jobs.  I remember that often times we would only see him a little during the week, and mostly on weekends.  Our family was good-sized.  There were my parents and four children.  My youngest brother was born prematurely and had some major medical issues at birth.  As he grew, more medical problems became apparent.  My parents spent a lot of time and money making sure their youngest child had the medical care he needed.  On top of that, my siblings and I were accident-prone and often had our own mishaps that landed us in the emergency room.  That on top of the cost of living was pretty costly.  Therefore, my Daddy worked a lot.

My Daddy knew no strangers.  Everywhere we went, my Daddy already knew people or he was talking to them like friends before we left.  He had a great sense of humor—he loved to make people laugh, and he was proud when my siblings or I would crack a joke.  He made people feel at ease around him.  He was comfortable around the wealthy and the poor.  He wanted every person to feel like they had a friend, even those who struggled to make friends.  I can remember several times we would go make visits to people—we would go to all kinds of houses and meet all kinds of people.  My Daddy would have us recite Scripture we had memorized, sing songs, and sometimes, play the piano.  We were his little performers, and I think that made him proud, too.

My Daddy was very talented.  He had an incredible voice.  He did not have specialty training or schooling to sing.  He was taught by him mother and trained with his brothers when he was growing up.  He could not read music, but he could hear a song, and instantly know the part he needed to sing, which was often tenor but sometimes baritone.  My Daddy introduced me to Rod Stewart on a Beta system he had.  I remember hearing that gravely voice and thinking there was no one else like Rod.  Daddy also loved southern rock.  He had a great record collection, and while most of it was gospel, there were some Three Dog Night and CCR in the mix.  More than any other music genre, my Daddy loved southern gospel.  He was a huge fan of the Gaithers and anyone who sang with them.  In my teen years, every Sunday afternoon after church, a Gaither Homecoming tape would go into the VCR.  My Daddy knew every song; he sang along.  Now, when these tapes were playing, we didn’t all pay attention to every singer and song, but we did have some family favorites.  We all enjoyed Mark Lowry.  But my favorites were the ladies and their BIG hair.  Vestell Goodman, Sue Dodd, and of course, Gloria, would hold my interest.  Every southern gospel group I have ever watched (and there have been hundreds) sing with expressions of such emotion and conviction.  My Daddy had that gift as well.  There were songs he sang that were some people’s favorites.  I remember he was often asked to sing “Beulah Land” at funerals.  Our pastor growing up loved to hear Daddy sing “Broken and Spilled Out”.  But, my favorite to hear him sing was “The Midnight Cry”.  When he would belt out those words, I would feel goosebumps all over and would radiate with pride that this was my Daddy.  He loved to sing about heaven, and I know people loved hearing him sing about it.

Some of my most wonderful memories of me and my Daddy were when we would sing.  Daddy would often be asked to sing at homecomings, festivals, and revivals.  When I reached middle school age, I started going with Daddy to some of the places he would sing that were a little further away than the norm.  I remember driving out to a church in Madison County that had one room, a buck stove for heat, windows and ceiling fans for cooling, no electricity (so they would have their events right after church), and no plumbing.  Oh, the glory of being 11 and learning firsthand what an outhouse is!  As my musical talent was developed—courtesy of piano lessons and chorus classes—Daddy would have me sing a song or two when we would travel.  I was always so worried that I would mess up.  I wanted to badly for my Daddy to be proud of me.  Looking back, I am certain he was; he just wasn’t much for verbalizing it.  However, his face would shine with pride when I finished a song without breaking my voice or crying.  As I got older, I became more confident, and I would get to sing a few more songs in the set.  Music was a great relational component between my Daddy and me…and, I think my siblings could say the same.

My Daddy was also a very skilled craftsman.  Again, with no formal training, my Daddy had taught himself to carve.  In our garage, he had a carving bench where he would often go to work on his creations.  He could take a piece of wood and transform it into something magical.  He loved to carve faces; and what I loved about that was no two carvings were the same.   He would spend hours carving, shaping, and smoothing out the wood until is came alive.  He would often have music playing while he worked, but typically, it was quiet in the garage and all that could be heard was the “scritch-scratch” as the metal tool worked against the wood.  Daddy kept some carvings around our house, but most of them he gave away.  Daddy loved to make people smile; and, if one of his carvings could bring a little happiness, than he was fulfilled. 

My Daddy was a wonderful man.  He was hardworking, hospitable, and extremely talented.  My Daddy was something else, something that we all are…he was fallen.  I fully and completely believe that my Daddy knew Jesus.  I know I can’t truly know the condition of his heart or what his relationship with the Lord was like, but I do have a great hope and solid peace that he loved Jesus and wanted to live for him. 

I tell you so much about my Daddy for you to get a glimpse of who he was in me eyes.  When I was married and left home, I began to learn that my Daddy was very hurt.  He had some struggles that had changed his heart and were weighing him down.  Because of those hurts, his behavior changed completely.  I did what I felt I was being called to do to protect my growing family from the hurt he was suffering from and the hurt he was causing because of his pain.  I blame the enemy for my Daddy's suffering.  I blame my pride for giving up on pursuing a better relationship with my Daddy.  I begged him to get help.  He wouldn't.  My family longed for him to go back to his "old self".  I don't the why or the plan, but God saw fit to take my Daddy from this world on Christmas Eve.

Again, my heart's desire is to challenge you to two things: forgive others who have hurt you, and get help for your hurts.  Forgiveness is freedom.  Even if the person doesn't ask for it or necessarily want it, you can still give it.  You can turn that person over to the Lord in prayer.  When you feel anger or bitterness toward that person rise up, stop and pray...pray for them, pray for yourself.  DO NOT LET ANGER BE LOUDER THAN LOVE!  If you are someone who is struggling with a hurt, habit, or hang-up (terms courtesy of Celebrate Recovery), I encourage you to get help!  Go to a counselor, a pastor, a trusted friend.  Do not take on the burdens of this world alone!  Do not think you are helpless or hopeless.  Giving in to the dark will change your life--you'll lose loved ones, relationships will disappear, the you that you were will go away.  God has a plan for your life.  He can take any situation and work it together for good!  I KNOW!!!  I have a list of sins and hurts I have committed.  And, I found freedom in unloading those on a safe person, in a safe place for the purpose of turning your life around.  If you need suggestions of how and where to get help, please let me know!  I will get you in touch with wonderful people who can walk with you!  Wherever you are in life, whatever struggle you are facing, what ever hurt you are processing, please remember that God loves you, He has a plan for you, and you are not alone!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Our Best Christmas Ever

3 of our kiddos.
I am one of those people.  The ones who put up a Christmas tree on November 1st.  The kind that has more totes of Christmas decorations than regular home decor.  The person who plays Christmas music non-stop for two months.  The one who would leave Christmas lights up all year.  The kind who thinks peppermint is the best smell and flavor ever.  The person who wants to host a neighborhood Christmas party potluck.  

This year, we have had some wonderful changes that have caused us to have the minimal Christmas cheer in and around our home.  (Watch out, year we will put the Griswolds to shame!).  We have a wonderfully weird family...natural, blended, adoptive...we don't fit into a mold.  And, I love that.  We have been BLESSED to be able to move into a home that fits all the people who live with us.  We have been given the pleasure of living closer to family, friends, and civilization.  Because of the timing of the closing of our former and new homes and of the moving days, we have kept the festive holiday decorations to a minimum.  

Hannah, Titus, and Cecely
While we have not been able to decorate to the nines, I would say this has already been my favorite Christmas ever.  For starters, because of our non-traditional, big family, we have to be creative with the budget.  We sat the kiddos down and gave them a budget for shopping for their siblings.  Over the course of December, all kiddos have had the opportunity to shop for each other.  The budget makes it where they have to be thoughtful as to what they want to get for each other.  What I loved about shopping this year was listening to each child as they looked for something within the right price that was specific to their brother or sister.  I, of course, always am glad to share financial teaching with the kiddos; but, more than that I have loved how hard they worked and planned on the gift giving.  I loved helping them wrap the gifts and hearing them be excited about giving to one another.  We allowed the kids to exchange their gifts early since we won't all be together on Christmas morning.  It was the sweetest scene.  The excitement was genuine.  The interest in each other was sincere.  

Hannah and Ashley
Blending a family is not easy.  In fact, I think I could survive divorce over and over again better than I could sustain learning the ropes of step-parenting and blending.  The history of families, the parenting techniques, the personality differences are just a few of the hurdles in learning how to make two families one (again, a consequence of breaking God's design for marriage, a consequence of divorce).  When something happens where the conflicting family members blend as one unit, it's as if a symphony of the most beautiful music is resounding in the air.  I simply savor those moments.

Our devo schedule
Aside from the gift shopping and giving between siblings, something that has helped us unify this Christmas season is our family devotion time.  Every night (except Sundays) a different family member is responsible for leading our time of devotion (I'll go ahead a disclose that we are off a few days due to sheer exhaustion from moving; we are not perfect!).  For December, the devotions have been given a theme--hope, joy, peace and love.  The assignment has been to find a verse, Scripture passage, Christmas carol or worship song to share based on the theme of the week.  I have said this before, and I'll say it again--children will rise to the expectation you set before them.  These incredible kiddos have knocked these times of devotion out of the park.  They have shared personal stories of how Jesus has brought them hope and joy.  They have shared lyrics of songs that they cling to.  They have been transparent.  Brian and I have told them how proud we are of their bravery on their days to lead.  Our goal is to teach them the importance of honesty, of building trust with each other, of leaning on one another, and of the power of praying with one another.  There is no sweeter time in my life than hearing our children share their struggles and their praises.  To hear their voices pray for one another places a salve on my soul.  I cannot believe that I have the honor of being in the lives of these amazing young people.  

In addition to our devotion and prayer time, we have been going through an advent calendar of verses that walk us through the story of Christ's birth.  I have loved sharing and teaching more in depth about this story.  The kids are all familiar with the Christmas story, but it has been so awesome to teach on a different level.  One of my favorite conversations with our family was when we discussed the differences between the shepherds and the magi.  We talked about how shepherds had a low, dirty job and how conversely, the magi were learned, wealthy men.  The discussion continued to talk about how God sent His Son for the poorest person and the richest, the successful and the failure, the joyful and the bitter, the smartest and the non-intellect...bottom line, He sent Jesus for everyone, and it falls on us to keep that message of Christ's birth going.  We talked about people in our lives who need to hear that message of joy, hope, peace and love.  

My fella and me!
I tell you all of this for a few reasons.  I am very proud of my children and how hard they have worked to overcome the obstacles and stressors in their lives.  I'm a Mama who loves to brag on her babies.  More importantly, I want to remind you that you are LOVED by the One who sent His Son to take the payment of everything you have ever done or will ever do that is wrong.  I want to remind you that if this season isn't a joyful one for you, reach out to someone...message me!!!  I would love to pray for you and encourage you!  I want to challenge you to spend time reading and learning more about the birth of Jesus.  I want you to know that even if you feel all alone right now, you are not.  You are LOVED!!!  

This Christmas has been our best one ever.  I hope that you have a wonderful one, too!  Merry Christmas, my dear friends!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

That Newlywed Feeling

There are several reasons why God designed marriage the way He did in the Bible.  His perfect plan unites husband and wife for as long as they both shall live.  However, we are broken people.  We are selfish, we struggle, we get bored, we covet, we wish for something different.  Marriages end at an alarming rate; and, I have yet to hear of a divorce process that was a happy experience.                                                                                                                                                      When divorce pebble hits the smooth pond of life, the ripples of consequences go on and on.  When a family is torn apart, there is so much loss.  There is loss of intimacy between two people.  There is loss of trust.  There is the fight to find hope again.  Relationships within the once combined family crumble.  Nieces, nephews, in-laws all are split apart.  Friends choose sides.  Circles are broken.  

If kiddos are involved, the differences are daunting.  Who has the kids when becomes a scheduling nightmare.  Kiddos are crying as they try to adjust to living in two homes from being in one.  They have a set of toys at each home.  They are trying to remember book bags and homework as they bounce from house to house.  Clothes are left at one house.  That favorite stuffed animal needed to sleep becomes one hundred times more important.

Day to day routines change drastically.  After a day working, there is no one to talk it out with.  If your head hurts, there is no one to take on the kiddos activities.  Cooking for four adapts to cooking for one on lonely days.  TV shows, movies, bands, and songs that once were "yours" become memories that bring tears and nausea.  Sunday mornings in church that once filled the heart with peace become battles of sitting alone unable to process a word being said from the stage.  Seeing families together morphs into fits of sadness and jealousy.  Everything changes.

When the separation and divorce process began in my life, I was overwhelmed to say the least.  In the practical end of life, I could not keep my head above water.  I hated being in the home that we thought was our dream home.  Every dish, every piece of furniture, every photo held a memory, a story.  Two realizations hit me hard--when I finally understood the divorce was really happening and there was no chance of reconciliation, and when I knew my children and I were on the verge of being evicted.  Once those two realities settled in my mind, I purged like crazy.  When my babies and I moved from our big house to our little apartment, I left most of the furnishings for their dad, and I consigned anything I could.  We used that money to go buy new dishes for us.  The decorations around the apartment were made by the kiddos in my life.  The furniture became a collection of hand-me-downs.  When I met my wonderful fella, Brian, and the two of us were married, we joked that we lived in a dorm room decorated by children and furnished by relatives who had passed.

Getting married for a second time is awesome.  I feel truly blessed and honored that God allowed me another shot at being a wife.  When Brian and I got married, my kiddos and I moved in with he and his daughter.  We had most of our lives packed in boxes and brought some odds and ends with us.  Brian and I had an amazing honeymoon.  Then, we zoomed back into the real world--jobs, children, learning how to live with a different man/woman, figuring out what step-parenting looks like, and processing what we wanted this second chance at marriage would look like.  The "honeymoon phase" was short-lived and the newlywed bliss wasn't really relevant.

Because God has been so good to us and continues to bless us and work in our lives, we are on the brink of moving into a new-to-us-home!  We are so excited!  I believe this will be an emotional, physical and spiritual boost for each member of our home and for our marriage!  This past week, we have been planning and shopping for our new house.  This house will be where we get to make OUR memories, and the ghosts of the past will remain in their appropriate places.  This is a home that will be closer to family and friends.  This will be a house where we get to really start a new chapter.  I told Brian the other day, that I finally was feeling that newlywed feeling!  What a sweet reality!!!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Christmas List

Christmas 2015, Atlanta
Oh, how I love Christmas!  There's just so much that I enjoy about the season.  In every home I've lived in as an adult, the rooms have been filled with trees, decorations, and music.  We fill every room with Christmas music for two months.  Growing up, Christmastime was always eventful.  We would participate in the Christmas plays at church.  We would go caroling.  We would make crafts to give.  We would drive around looking at lights.  I'm sure we all have special memories and feelings tied with this time of year.  So, today, I thought I would keep the writing simple and share my Christmas list with you...after you read it, think about your answers and share yours!  Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2014, me and Hannah
Favorite Christmas:
1.  Hot Drink--Apple Cider with Cinnamon Sticks
2.  Cold Drink--Peppermint Milkshake from Chick-Fil-A
3.  Treat--Chocolate Covered Oreos
4.  Meal--Christmas breakfast with Chocolate Gravy
5.  Classic Movie (over 25 years old)--White Christmas
6.  "Modern" Classic Movie--Elf
7.  Animated Movie--Mickey's Christmas Carol
8.  Claymation Movie--The Year Without a Santa Claus
9.  Christmas Carol--O, Holy Night
10.  Christmas Song--Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
11.  Giving Tradition--Operation Christmas Child Shoebox
12.  Around Town Tradition--Gingerbread Houses at the Grove Park Inn
13.  Out of Town Tradition--Christmas lights (Mauldin, Bristol Speedway, Charlotte Speedway)
14.  Childhood Memory--Christmas Eve performances in our home...reciting, singing and dancing with my sibling for my parents and grandparents
Christmas 2014, My Fella
15.  Parent Memory--every time my kiddos understand something new about the birth of Jesus Christ
16.  Scent--Peppermint
17.  Outfit--cozy Christmas pjs
18.  Ornament--ALL of them!  Especially the ones made by my kiddos.
19.  Book--Polar Express
20.  Message--HOPE, JOY, PEACE, and LOVE shown through the gift God gave the entire world of His Son Jesus.  The gift of knowing Jesus willingly gave up Heaven to take on life as a human.  The gift of Him willingly giving up His life to take the payment of every sin you or I ever committed.  The gift of knowing that because I choose to follow Him, I have the promise of Heaven!

Merry Christmas, my friends!  Much love to you all!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

When Fear Wins

When I was in high school, I had a very wise friend--wise beyond her years.  She was thoughtful and compassionate.  She was a great listener.  She was a prayer warrior, even as a teenager.  There were many times when we would talk.  I often veered the conversation to "what if" statements.  What if my grades weren't good enough for a scholarship?  What if my boyfriend went away to college?  What if my voice wouldn't get better?  What if my family falls apart when I go off to college?  What if, what if, what if.  This young sage said to me, "Amber, one simply can't live by "what ifs".  You have to live by what is."  Boom!  Straight and simple and so true.  While it took me awhile (and lots of counseling) to adopt that mentality, I can honestly say that as an adult, I often hear my friend's words when life gets dicey.  I'm tempted to embrace the downward spiral of "what ifs", but instead, I pause, take inventory of what is, then go from there.

There have been so many times in my life where fear has been my motivator, my challenge, my nightmare.  To write about all of them would depress us all, and take me down the darkest part of memory lane.  I have selected a few events in my past where I can perfectly remember the impact of fear on my heart and mind.  The furthest back that I can remember being mind-consuming afraid was when I was in elementary school.  I remember being in the fellowship hall of our church with my sister in our cooking and sewing class.  I remember that on that day, we rode from school to our class with our saintly teacher, Mrs. Miriam.  While we were working on some kind of sewing project (meaning Andrea was soaring through it with ease and beauty, whilst I possibly had two correct stitches out of twenty), one of the girls from the college ministry, Nicolle, who sometimes babysat us came in to the fellowship hall with our little brother, Tyler.  This was alarming because Tyler and Timothy were normally with Mama during this time.  Nicolle pulled us to the side with Mrs. Miriam and told us that she would be taking us home from class.  Timothy had been taken to the hospital with Scarlet Fever, and Mama and Daddy were with him.  Timothy had already been through so much medically, but what I knew of Scarlet Fever was what I had learned from reading and watching Anne of Green Gables.  So, naturally, my movie-wired mind went to worst case scenario where my baby brother was dying in the hospital (I had a small draw to the dramatics).

I remember when I was in high school, and I loved to sing.  I was involved in youth choir at church and chorus and Broadway musical at school.  I loved to perform, to learn new styles of music, and to attempt to make others feel good through music.  I remember on and off through middle and high school when my voice would simply disappear.  I would go for days at a time with only a whisper.  I remember going to the family doctor, then to the ear, nose and throat doctor, and finally to a specialist at Bowman-Grey in Winston-Salem.  I remember the rounds of testing that gave no conclusive answer.  I remember having to stop singing in chorus and of having to become the girl who turned the pages of sheet music for our music teacher.  I remember the surgery where I had to remain awake and talk and sing while the doctor pushed, poked and examined my vocal cords.  I had six weeks of complete vocal rest after that surgery.  We had learned through the surgery that my left vocal cord was completely paralyzed, and that I kept losing my voice because nodules, polyps, and cysts would develop due to the right vocal cord doing all of the work.  I remember laughing when the doctor told me that I had been given a silicone implant in my left cord to fatten it up so the right cord would get a little break.  I loved telling people that I had a silicone implant, but only on the left side (my Mama did not enjoy that joke).  I remember during the time of silence wondering what my voice would sound like or would I even have a voice?  I was so scared that a part of me was gone forever.

I remember when I was expecting my first baby.  I lived 8 hours away from my family and friends.  My husband was in the Navy and was often gone.  We had just moved to a town where we knew no one.  My sister had come to help me unpack and set up house--we had only been in our new town for one week, and I had two months to go before my baby was due to arrive.  I remember waking up on August 20, 2003 and going to the bathroom and knowing something wasn't right.  I remember yelling for my sister who called 911.  I remember being wheeled out of our home on a stretcher to the sight of a firetruck, police car and ambulance in our tiny front yard.  I remember the hours and hours of labor to bring this sweet one into the world.  I remember her being born, and there was no sound--no scream, no cry.  I remember the nurse rushing to the bed and taking my baby away.  I remember her blue face.  I remember the first sound from her lips that didn't sound human at all.  I remember being in and out of consciousness and hearing words like "air lift to Jacksonville", "she's not breathing steadily on her own", "she's too early."  I remember fearing that my first baby was not going to live.

I remember when my husband told me he wanted a divorce.  The words resonated through our new dream home as if they had been said over a loudspeaker.  I remember the shock and hurt.  I remember the feeling as if my stomach was going to leave my body.  I remember the tears that poured while no sound came out of my mouth.  I remember the pain of having him tell our children.  I remember the innocent faces of our two children crumbling into hysterics as they heard the words that their father wanted to leave.  I remember the silent days immediately following where I felt lost and confused.  I was a stay-at-home wife who homeschooled our children.  I had just completed my Master's Degree.  We were in the middle of nowhere.  No job.  No plan.  No money.  No idea what was next.  I remember the big man from the bank coming to our door to tell me the house payments had not been made in over six months, and that the next time he came, he would be removing my children and me. I remember another bank calling to tell me they were looking for me because the car I drove had not had payments made.  I remember feeling betrayed.  I remember feeling abandoned.  I remember preparing to flee.  I remember putting together a temporary plan filled with mistakes in order to shut out the hurt.  I remember thinking I had lost my way.  I was terrified.

My most recent battle with fear has been over what I believe, what my call is, what I stand for.  I remember the first moment when I was faced with the decision to lie in order to hold on to a position.  I remember the feeling of panic after being repeatedly told there were people I worked under who wanted me gone.  I remember the fear of facing who I was.  Was I willing to give the appearance that all is well, when the truth was marred?  Was I willing to lead people I loved and who trusted me down a path that was being revealed to me as deceitful?  Was I ready to allow people to continually hurt and belittle me when I fight so hard against that in the lives of my children?  What would happen if I left a job that I loved?  What would happen to the people I loved?  If I walked away from a job without another one lined up, how could I financially contribute to my family?  I was afraid of disappointing people I loved.  On the flip side, I was also fearful of what the ramifications would be if I disobeyed the blinding reality and extremely loud instructions the Lord was laying in the hearts of my husband, my children and me.  I was afraid.

Here's what I know about fear.  It is debilitating.  It is consuming.  It is painful.  It is damaging.  Fear takes the truth and twists it into a believable lie.  Fear justifies unwise choices.  Fear breaks people.  Here's what I know about God.  He does not want us to live in fear.  He has gifted us with a beautiful life, with free will, with a stunning creation, with wonderful people.  He LOVES me.  He LOVES you.  He wants us to make decisions that will bring Him glory and that will give us the best life possible.  He wants us to obey His Word and His way; not as a dictator, but as a loving father.

Through all of these fear-filled stories in my life, God prevailed in amazing ways.  My baby brother, Timothy, broke through that fever and many other illnesses that followed.  He is one of the most intelligent, loyal and humorous people in my world.  God taught me that He holds my family closer that I will ever understand.  My voice lost the 1st soprano range, but I have a voice.  I can still talk, sing and laugh.  God taught me about humility and the power of humor through that ordeal.  My little blue baby is now an incredibly talented, compassionate, and loving teenager.  She has some struggles, but she is the strongest person I know.  God showed me that His gifts are good, and that He is faithful through the battle for my baby.  Divorce is a horrific process, and one I pray against for the families in my life.  It is draining in every sense of the word.  God showed me that my past mistakes and hurts did not define me.  My marriage did not define me.  I have sweet memories of intimate conversations with the Lord during my times of loneliness.  God also reminded me that He is never finished with me.  Even though one man didn't want me, God had another one lined up to love me.  He blessed me with a protector, a confidant, a gladiator, and the greatest friend in my husband Brian.  God did not see damaged goods and a rejected woman.  He saw someone broken who was searching for Him.  He gifted me far greater than I deserved...isn't that one of His greatest themes?  Through the fear of leaving a job, God reminded me that He loves His church and His people far greater than I ever can.  He reminded me that His people (my brothers and sisters in Christ) who are called to His purpose and following His will for their lives will be protected and cared for by Him.  He is the Great Shepherd; and I am but a servant.

To fight the urge to give into to fear, I hold two verses close to my heart.  I repeat them to myself daily, and I share them with anyone who comes in contact with me.  "This is my command--be bold and courageous!  Do not be afraid or discouraged.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go," Joshua 1:9 (NLT).  "Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you," Deuteronomy 3:16 (NIV).  Whatever fear you are facing, whether from your past, current, or about your future, know that the Creator of all things LOVES you.  He is greater than any fear.  He is wanting to draw you close and guide you through the scary times.  He has a design for your life.  He can work through any mess.  You are worth fighting for; and the Lord is fighting for your heart and mind.  Give that fear to Him and rest in His love!

Be strong and courageous!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Church Hurt

As far back as I can remember, I have been in church.  My parents were never Sunday morning pew-fillers.  They were the people who jumped in, helped however they could, used their gifts to serve others, were greatly involved in fellowship, and who left our home open to anyone, anytime.  Church was not a place to hang out, that was just a bonus.  We were the family that was there every time the doors were open.  Mama taught Sunday School, helped with VBS, visited shut-ins, cooked for every event and need.  My Daddy was in the choir, was Jesus in the outdoor Easter drama, was a deacon, was on committee upon committee, made hospital visits and sang at homecoming, weddings, and funerals.  My siblings and I were the kids who knew every nook and cranny of the church, could find the best hiding spots, often were allowed to ring the bell in the steeple, were in: Sunday School, Children's Church, Children's Choir, the children's musicals, clown ministry, GAs, Acteens, RAs.  We were the ones who would be climbing in the trees out front in between choir practice and service.  We were the ones sitting in the back row during a funeral.  We were the ones trying to trash the getaway car at weddings.  We were the kiddos reciting Bible verses and singing hymns to those in the hospital or unable to leave their home.  Some of the sweetest memories of my childhood circle around church.  Some of my dearest friendships started in the Missions Friends class when I was 5 years old; and I am so blessed to still be in touch with several of those amazing friends (thank you, Facebook).  I can think of saint after saint who prayed for our family.  I can remember our church being the ones to rally around my family when my youngest brother was sick.  Our church was home.  This was the church where I met Jesus, where I was baptized, and where I felt the Lord call me to be a missionary to children.

We were apart of that wonderful church until I was 15, almost 16 years old.  There were some issues that arose, and our family left the church.  Being a crazy teenager, I didn't respond well to the change.  I struggled deeply with God's plan, His will, His sovereignty.  Truth be told, I shut my heart off to the church and began a series of actions that were flat-out rebellious.  I made poor choice after poor choice.  I blamed my hurt.  I blamed people.  The cynicism that had always been a small part of my personality took over my disposition.  NONE of this was anyone's fault but my own.  Being released from a church family, I took it upon myself to taste life without that accountability and positive peer pressure.  I knew what sin was...I was a daily sinner.  However, I decided to up the anty and stop caring about faith, grace, hope and mercy.  The worst part of it all was that I was such a good actress. I could turn on the charm and perk-factor for anyone.  Very few people knew the decisions I was making.  Most people still saw that bubbly young lady.

My parents began to attend another church.  I would go between that church and one of the many churches my boyfriend's family visited.  I would stand and sing.  I would sit and smile.  But my heart was hardened.  I was not engaged in personal quiet time.  I did not read my Bible.  I did not pray, except for the mealtime blessing.  I avoided fellowship with believers...I really avoided fellowship with anyone other than my boyfriend or my siblings.  I trusted no one.  I didn't want to hurt again.

Thankfully, there were people who God graciously brought into my path who cared about me.  I remember one evening when the pastor and youth pastor from the church my parents were visiting came to our visit with me!  They came to reach out to me.  They asked me questions, they answered my questions, and they listened to me.  For a teenager, that meant the world.  Eventually, I became more involved.  During my time in that youth group, I felt called to share my testimony with other teens.  My heart's desire was to keep other young ladies from making the mistakes I had.  I wanted to go back to being a positive role model for my younger sister and brothers.  I wanted to try and regain my place in the church.  Here is what is so beautiful--God never moved.  While I avoided His wonderful gifts, He never removed them from me.  His forgiveness, grace and mercy were there for the asking.  All I had to do was just that--ASK!  Then, I had to take some action steps.  I asked God to light me back up.  I asked Him to wash me clean from the hurt I had caused myself and others.  I confessed my mistakes to others--my parents, my siblings, my youth pastor and his wife, the youth group...I didn't give them graphic details, but I told them enough to let them know I knew I was not perfect, that I had messed up, and that I had been a false leader in their lives.  I lost some friends from telling the truth, and that's ok.  I had to work very hard to regain the trust of my parents and siblings.  I started reading my Bible again.  I started praying daily.  I began to worship with my heart open.  I started serving.  When I went down the road to college, I would come back home every weekend.  On Sunday afternoons, I would lead the children's choir and teach Team Kid.  I felt the call to work with children so strongly then.  I was 18 years old.  

Now, I find myself in another time of transition away from a church that was home.  For almost 5 years for my kiddos and me (and for 13 years for Brian), we attended, worked, served, and loved at a church that was like our family.  God spoke very clearly to Brian, me and our children that it was our time to leave this church.  Sometimes, it is really hard to be obedient.  Sometimes, it seems easier to keep up appearances and routines.  Justifying staying somewhere out of want is not hard to do.  I really believe God had to use "louder" methods to get our family's attention to make us realize and fully understand He had another plan for us.  Leaving that church has been a challenge, but it also has been an incredible blessing.  With my past, I wanted to act vigilantly and proactively for our children.  I knew we would need time away from any church to heal and process.  I also knew how easy it is to walk away from church altogether.  Brian, our kiddos and myself have had many intentional and age-appropriate conversations about why we left.  We all feel God moving us to something new.  In our time away from a church building, we have been having church at home.  On Sunday mornings, we would watch a worship service online then follow-up with a discussion.  Every night, we come together for a time of family devotion.  Each night, a different family member is responsible for leading the Bible study and prayer time.  Last week, we had a conversation where we all talked about feeling that we were individually being prompted to try an actual church.  We visited one, and we were very encouraged.  It matters so much to me to not only protect my heart from hardening, but to work as hard as I can to show our children the way to fight against the temptation to give in to cynicism, doubt and distrust.  I am so happy with how God is working in our family.  He is preparing each one of us for something as individuals and as a whole family.

In this time of rest and healing, we are being intentional about holding each other accountable about time in the Bible--both alone and together.  This week, we spent some time in Psalm 18.  One of the things I love about God is that He is never surprised.  He is the One holding the master plan.  He has given us affirmation and confirmation as we have needed it.  He has joined our family closer together.  He has revealed His beauty to us and is continuing to encourage us.  Psalm 18 was written by David.  It was most likely written towards the end of His life.  Very similar words can be found in 2 Samuel 22.  Anytime I teach, I like to say that if God put something in the Bible more than once, it's His way of yelling--PAY ATTENTION!!!  READ THIS!!!  APPLY IT!!!  That's my interpretation, at least.  Both passages sing praise to God for deliverance and strength.  I loved reading this passage because it reminded me of God's faithfulness.  He was faithful in my childhood filled with lovely memories.  He was faithful in my teen years when I was not.  He was faithful in bringing this family together.  He is being faithful in guiding us on our current journey.  In Psalm 18, there are so many great "one-liners" to point readers to His faithfulness and strength.  If you need some refreshment and to be fired up at the same time, take some time to read this Psalm!  How can you go wrong with a passage that starts with: "I love you, Lord, my strength.  The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer..."?

P.S.  Don't you just love my "models".  Thank you to Titus, Cecely and Hannah P. for working so hard, for putting Jesus first, and for making my job as a Mama look pretty easy.  I love you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

These Three Remain

"And now these three remain: faith, hope and love..." I Corinthians 13:13a.

I Corinthians 13 is a Scripture passage that many of us may know from attending weddings.  This chapter is often referred to as the "love chapter" in the Bible.  It truly is a beautiful piece to read, full of truth, encouragement, conviction, and challenge.  I have read this part of the Bible over and over and over.  I have read it through the romantic do I shape up as a wife when it comes to all of these attributes?  I have read it through the eyes of am I using the passage to determine how I am being love to my children, parents and siblings?  This evening, I am processing this passage by thinking of my past and future.

I have been blessed to have had many great role models in my life.  My Grandmama taught me how to clean, cook and garden.  My Mama taught me how to be organized, how to persevere, how to exhibit grace.  My Daddy showed me the power of being hospitable and compassionate.  My Dad has shown me how to be joyful in all circumstances.  I have been under the leadership of incredible pastors and teachers who have poured God's Word into my heart and mind.  I was brought up with three incredible siblings, each blessed with skill sets that motivate and astound me.

There are a few "extra" people who have made deep impacts on my life.  They were not my physical flesh and blood, but they were those who were in my life from day one.  They are still very much a part of my life.  While one has passed away, the other three are still here; and I know no matter what, I could call them with any burden and they would pray for me and with me.  They are my spiritual role models.  When I read the above passage today, "these three remain: faith, hope and love", the names of these powerhouse individuals were brought quickly to my mind.

Aunt Martha, Mama, Daddy, Papa, Me
My "Aunt" Martha is a faith hero.  She was my godmother growing up.  She was around from the day I was born.  She still checks in on me in the midst of the adventures of her life.  She is the largest person of faith whom I know.  She has the sweetest disposition, a sharp wit, and a fantastic way with words.  I have bountiful memories of time with my sweet Aunt Martha.  I remember when I was in seventh grade and had written a speech for English class that my teacher had submitted into a contest.  There was an opportunity to attend an event to give the speech and the chance to win an award.  My Mama went to school at night, my Daddy worked nights, and my Grandmama was taking care of my siblings (who would be less than thrilled to attend a night of middle school speech-giving).  My Aunt Martha was the one who took me.  She picked me up, took me to dinner, and she and I headed to the event.  I remember when I stood up to share my speech feeling confident because Aunt Martha was there.  I know she was praying for me as I spoke.  That night I won second place.  I remember feeling the combination of pride and disappointment.  More than that, I remember Aunt Martha hugging me and telling me that God was going to use me and my words.  As I have grown up and gone through many trials, Aunt Martha is the one I know I can email with all of the details.  I know she will pray over me and the situation.  I know she will point out God's truth through it all.  I know she will remind me that God is sovreign.  She has faced her own trials through life, and through them all, she gives God the glory.  Her faith never seems to waiver.

Tyler, Uncle Chip, Me, Aunt Denise, Timothy
There is a couple in my life who radiate with hope.  My "Uncle" Chip and "Aunt" Denise always seem to remember that no matter the circumstance, God is going to show up and show out.  These two rock stars were also around at the start of my life.  I can remember countless parties, dinners and visits with them.  I remember time spent in their home in Charlotte (which was basically where we went on our family vacations.  They were always so hospitable).  I can remember my Uncle Chip teaching me to drive.  I can remember my Aunt Denise making sure I had the best baby showers.  I remember when I faced medical trials, Uncle Chip would joke with me, and Aunt Denise would feel certain God would bring answers.  When I went through my divorce, they both reached out to me and my ex-husband.  They prayed fervently for reconciliation.  They had hope that our family could be saved.  When they learned the circumstances that would prevent reconciliation, they began to hope and pray for whatever and whomever God had next for me.  I remember sitting in the parking lot of a Firehouse Subs a few years ago and having my Uncle Chip pray over the phone for me, knowing my Aunt Denise was sitting beside him praying quietly.  Anytime they are in town, we do our best to get together.  When I am with them, my hope is recharged.  When I get a text or email checking on my family and me, I am encouraged.  They never act defeated.  They never allowed for me to have an attitude of giving up.  They shared their hope with me; and they continue to lift me up!

My siblings and Aunt Rose
When I think of love, I know I was blessed to have had many years with the personification of love in my dear "Aunt Rose".  Aunt Rose passed away a few years ago.  I miss her greatly.  I still have her phone number embedded in my brain, and there are times when I just want to call her and hear her charming southern drawl.  Aunt Rose oozed love.  She hugged me as soon as I walked through the door.  If I sat beside her, she would hold my hand or pat my arm as we talked.  When we were younger, my brothers, sister and myself looked forward for the days when we knew we were making the drive to Weaverville.  We always had  fun running around the yard, walking to the creek, picking tomatoes in the garden, or climbing the perfect tree in the front yard.  The highlight of any visit was when Aunt Rose would call us into the kitchen to give us whatever delectable delight she had baked.  Everything in her kitchen was made from scratch.  Her red velvet cake would melt the instant it touched the tongue.  Her Christmas fudge was so good that one piece was never enough.  While we would be in the kitchen, Aunt Rose would ask us to share what Bible verse we were learning, to sing a hymn, or to share a Bible story.  She always had a smile on her face...always.  She knew the favorite dessert of everyone in our family, and she would make that dessert for our birthdays.  When my Daddy passed away, I lived in Georgia, and I struggled deeply with anger.  I would call Aunt Rose and she would speak Scripture to me.  Her tone was like music.  No matter what she said, her words were sweet like honey.  I remember her telling me that holding onto anger would damage my heart and eventually my testimony.  Those words stung, because they were true; but they also began a wonderful healing process.  Aunt Rose went through an intense amount of physical pain, especially towards the end of her life.  Even then she would say that she was hurting, but she would also have a way loving me and making me feel better.  When I lived far away, I always wanted to be able to hop into the car and go see her.  Her words were so wise and so loving.  Whenever I think of a spiritual role model, she fits the bill.  She exemplified the love of Christ in the way she loved others.

Anytime I reflect on my past, I make sure to spend some time thinking ahead to my future.  It is my goal to be a person who others rely on spiritually.  I want to purpose my life to be as much like Jesus as I can.  Anyone who knows me knows how far off that mark I am.  I want to train up my children to be those who lead.  I want to be a wife who brings only good to my husband.  I want them to feel that fire inside that the Holy Spirit gives to help lead others to His saving grace.  I want to be the person who gets a prayer request email or phone call and immediately drops to my knees to lift up that need.  I want to be the person who faces Jesus at the end of it all where He says "well done".  It's not enough to want to be like Jesus or to be a spiritual role model.  Like any other goal setting, there needs to be an action plan.  With daily time in God's Word and sharing with Him through prayer, I am taking steps to improve my walk.  I have asked God to stop me the minute when someone asks me to pray--and that whatever else is going on in that moment goes to the back burner so my mind and heart switch to prayer mode.  I am working on developing a more constant state of prayer by talking with the Lord throughout the day.  I am trying to commit more of His Word to my memory.  I am keeping a prayer journal.  I am building a prayer wall.

How about you?  What impact do you want to have on others?  What kind of role model do you want to be?  We all have people looking to us everyday.  Like it or not, we are modeling something for everyone.  What do you want that to be?  What action steps can you make and take to reach your spiritual goals?  Who are some people in your life who inspire you and encourage you to get your spiritual walk in shape?  Do they know what they mean to you?  If not, let them know!  If they do, tell them again.  I am a very blessed girl.  God has been so good to me.  He has made sure that I have been surrounded by strong mentors of faith through every season of my life.  I treasure each relationship and every memory.  What memory will I leave in the minds of the people I love?  What memory will you leave?  Where do you measure up when reading I Corinthians 13?  That passage is great guideline for a spiritual check-up...join me in working on becoming a person who exemplifies faith, hope and love!