Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Look Back at 2013

2013... Seems I've blinked and the year has ended!

Such a year of changes.  A season of unknowns...and a few storms.  In any of the uncertainties though, they just brought us closer to Him.  Whenever life knocked us down this year, God was always there to pick us up and dust us off.  And with any storm cloud, sunshine soon follows. 
2013 was also filled with its share of blessings and JOY. 

Looking back, here are a few of my favorites...

January... Choosing to SUBMIT as my word for the year and being wowed at how appropriate that word would be in 2013.  A birthday blessing that will always hold a place in my heart.  My baby turned a teenager!  We finally made it to a Harlem Globetrotters game to use Noah's free ticket for being a 2000 baby.  And the kids experienced their first mosh pit at Winter Jam with their youth group.

February... Tina gets a birthday-palooza hotel fest weekend.  I bravely started my first Bible study.  We found lots of joy from a teeny tiny source.  And our Upward Season came to an end.

March...  The kids were surprised with a No Snow-Snow Day.  Our family started cleaning the Big House.  My first scripture journal was started (goal to be better at this in 2014!) 

April... I attended my first Women of Joy conference.  
So many things discovered there, including a new found love for author Liz Curtis Higgs.  We started a tradition of pillow talk before bed with the kids.  And we hosted our first youth Bible study at our home.

May... spring showers, dirt therapy, and the annual joy of window boxes.  We made it through another Mother's Day.  Tina graduates middle school!  Impromptu date night returns.   Hello boat season!  Firsts for Tina...entering a local pageant and making the high school dance team.

June...  Sweet summertime.  VBS.  Swinging in the sunshine.  The kids experience church camp together.  Fishing on the river.  Cinema on the square.  20 years together!

July...  Austin's 19th birthday in Heaven.  Our first trip to Florida with Mom & Tina.  Noah takes home an unexpected souvenir


August... Back to school.  The ending of my job and beginning of a stressful season.  A beautiful addition to our family - my littlest niece!

September... a long weekend on the lake.  Bike Nights at the Fire Dept.  A new ministry for me at EHBC.  Tina's first dance performance

October... Glorious Autumn!  Fall Break.  A mini vaca.  A free John Michael Montgomery concert in our little town.  Festivals, apples, leaves, Hay rides and a Great pumpkin chase.  Honored to be chosen as a monthly contributor at Still Standing Magazine.  Our first Trunk or Treat. 


November... Thankfulness begins.  A visit to school.  My first experience with unemployment.  Purpose driven acts for Austin.  Thanksgiving meal deliveries to those without.

December.... Christmastime.  Another possible ice storm.  Chosen for a book review.  And another book that chose me.    The blessing of a job offer for the new year!  Our annual no-presents present day.  And an unexpected, upside down Christmas that's given us an extra gift of time.   

 
"I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—"
 
What a year!
Thank you for joining me along the way.
 
Wishing you a Happy New Year
filled with, of course, lots and lots of JOY!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Faithful Friday: Upside-down Christmas

The holidays are almost never what we imagine them to be. 

On Christmas Eve, children go to bed with visions of sugar plums, while parents dream of picture perfect celebrations.  But often when we awake, our reality lacks luster.  The magic we'd hoped for just doesn't arrive.

Such plans I'd had for this Christmas.  My heart was in the right place.  It wasn't about what was under the tree but who was around it.  I entered the season prayerfully.  Prepared.

Traditions of pajamas, appetizers, and seasonal movies kicked off our holiday.  That eve, between the light of the tree and fireplace, I'd planned to linger over Luke 2 with the family.  And we'd end with a late night candlelight service at church.

Yet brakes were put on with the start of a fever.  Try as I did to ignore it, by the end of the evening, I was beyond faking through. 

Unexpected.  UnplannedUpside-down Christmas.

Tim took the kids to church without me.  I wanted them to go and yet wanted them to stay in the same breath.  Proud of them for going on, missing them before they pulled away. 

I sat teary under the light of the tree and fireplace, fever elevating, and finished "The Women of Christmas."  Reminded of my blessings, praying for a better tomorrow.

But Christmas didn't come as planned. 

No sparkly Santa surprises.  No shouts of excitement and glee.  No Hallmark moments.
No seasonal spread calling us to the kitchen.

Why is this what we wait for?  
After all, the very first Christmas arrived so humbly.

There was no glitter but it was most certainly magical.

Our Plan B Christmas included a breakfast casserole, thankfully already prepared and awaiting the oven.  And I was grateful for somewhat-blasé teens, who appreciated sleeping in a bit later than normal.  Who didn't mind a mid-morning nap after opening gifts, as the flu continued to attack my energy and strength. 

By the afternoon we tried to salvage what remained.  Turkey frying outside and games at the table.  Laughter and a fever reprieve. 

But a page sent Tim out the door, someone else's Christmas turned upside down and inside out.   A house fire on this day of all days...

We waited.  We prayed.  Kept playing the game best we could. 

And then the call came.  The one where the lump still comes back into my throat just thinking about it.  The one where my husband is on the other end and sirens are in the background.  The one where I could hear in his tone that something wasn't right even before I heard the words. 

The call a firefighter's wife never wants to get...

Then the pettiness of being frustrated with this Christmas goes straight out the window.  In rushes humility in reminders that I still didn't have it right.  The season is not about me.  Or my plans.  Or my traditions.  Even if I had the best intentions in mind.  All while I push through and get the kids out the door and into the ER. 

Tim's injury, thankfully, wasn't as serious as I feared but seeing him on the table still brought me to tears.  To my knees. 

If we had nothing this Christmas, we still had each other. 
Sometimes things need to be turned upside down to remember all that you have. 


And in the center of it all,
the best gift,
already given all those years ago. 
Not wrapped, just swaddled in rags. 
With only the spotlight of single star.





Friday, December 20, 2013

Faithful Friday: Love One Another

When the boys were little we counted down the days to Christmas by building Santa's beard.  Each day their chubby fingers would grab a cotton ball, ask for a dot of glue, and stick it to the construction paper face of St. Nick.

Now we have a Hallmark ornament that is flipped with the passing of each day. 
"5 days until" dangles from our tree. 

The next several days will be filled with busy.  Good busy.  Fun busy.  Holiday busy.

Shopping for goodies to make cookies, candy and stocking stuffers.  Date night with hubby, which I've been looking forward to all month.  Christmas Eve candle-lighting service at church.  Forming all those goodies into seasonal delights.  Driving around to view the lights, hot cocoa in hand.  PJs, appetizers and movie-fest.  And of course, the big day, celebrating the birth of our Savior!

But the celebratory countdown has been tainted whenever I peruse the social media news feed.  A recent story and comments by Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, has created a slurry of mixed emotions.  No matter what side you stand on, there's no excuse for the hatred and anger that is being doled out. 

Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, whether you agree with them or not.

Being that this blog is all about joy, I'm not about to jump on the mud-slinging bandwagon.  I'll just add that I don't believe Phil said what he did out of hate.  Some of his comments were harsh; but as a writer, I also know how things can be paraphrased and taken out of context.  Some of his comments though were from scripture, which is Truth, no matter how hard or politically incorrect it is to hear. 

What I'm against is that because his comments involved his faith/beliefs, and offended some, he's under attack.  Yet people like Kanye West can compare what he does as an entertainer to that of a soldier and nobody cares.  And the world doesn't seem to blink when Miley Cyrus dances in her underwear on tv; instead she trends on Twitter and her record sales increase. 

Again, I'm not judging.  It isn't my place to.  We're all sinners.  Those of us who accept and believe in Jesus Christ are just saved by his grace.  Doesn't make us any better than anyone else.  Doesn't excuse the sins we've done.  It just gives us assurance for our future.

What stood out most to me in Robertson's interview was a line that has been lost in this media firestorm and it's maybe the most important sentence from the story

“You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

That, and the fact that the interviewer openly admits to being godless. 
His comment is perhaps the saddest of all.

As we draw nearer to this Christmas, let us pause and remember why we celebrate the season.  And realize, wherever you stand, stereo-typing someone's beliefs is wrong.  Christmas is the most beautiful example of love and hope and should be what we are all sharing, not just the next five days, but every day of the year.


“I give you a new command: Love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. 
By this all people will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

 

 
 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Good News: Great JOY

Have you ever been so excited to share something good that it feels as if you may burst keeping it contained?  As if you can just feel the bubbles of joy spilling out from you?

Even the word JOY brings forth a smile, remembrance of past experiences, happy moments...

Are you there this season, friends?
If not, I know...
there was a time not long ago, joy seemed nearly impossible. 

As I set out on the journey of blogging through my grief, joy was the furthest thing from my mind.  When the whisper of finding joy came to me, it seemed so foreign at the time, but I didn't question it. I knew in the moment it was a God-nudge and he's guided me through it every step of the way.

 
"Weeping may spend the night,but there is joy in the morning."  Psalm 30:5
 

And this journey has been transforming.  Looking back at where I was in 2010 to where I am now, the only explanation I can give someone is that it has been of God.  He's the reason for my joy.


"the joy of the LORD is your strength!”   Nehemiah 8:10

In the beginning, I thought it was just about seeking out joy.  Staying positive.  Finding the good in any situation.  Attitude, as they say, is everything.  But it didn't take long for me to realize there is no joy without Him. 

It is ok to have joy in your life, no matter what you're facing.  You are allowed to smile, even laugh.
If you're still needing inspiration, pull up a chair and browse here awhile.

This week of Advent season, my wish for you is that your heart is open to overflowing JOY that God has to share with you...


"Behold, I bring you good news of great joy!" Luke 2:10

Friday, December 13, 2013

Faithful Friday: Slow Down, Christmas

I'm grabbing the reigns of the seasonal sleigh and yelling, "Whoa!"

Carefully, I tiptoed into the season.  No rush, no fuss.  But time passes without our permission.  The clock ticks whether we will it to slow down or not.  And now I find myself at the last chapter of Christmas.  Twelve days until...

My heart's prayer is that I soak up the most precious gift of Christmas.  That I hear God's still small voice in the hustle and bustle of the holiday. 

When I tune the radio of my life into Him and truly listen, he has so much to say...

God has shown this to be so, as he's certainly been speaking to me this week.  The consistent theme I've heard is "Trust God."  Easy to say, harder to do. 

Wednesday, I came to him in tearful prayers and with a heavy heart.  It seems to be raining on my extended family as of late, with clouds of insecurity on the future.  Having a couple of big decisions to make, I needed his guidance on where to go next.  Truly, I'd already heard his answer, but being the stubborn, head-strong woman I am continued to ask, "But are you sure, God?"

That morning I opened my Bible to read the passage my daily devotion led me, Genesis 22.  At the top of the page were three words written in my hand..."Trust God Completely!"

Wow. 

The message continued throughout the day, as passages and whispers of trust came to me.  The night ended at church, with our pastor sharing the familiar story of Jesus' birth, but focusing on how difficult it was for Joseph and Mary to Trust God.

Then, this morning, as I nestled into my spot beside the fragrant Christmas tree, God whispered again.  In the stillness of the morning, before dawn has fully stretched awake, I opened a recent gift, "The Women of Christmas" by Liz Curtis Higgs.  One of my favorite authors, her words just reach out and grab me.  No other writer can make me chuckle and tear up one paragraph from the next.  She is real -authentic- and I could sit at her feet to listen to her read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Today, she shared the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  How I can imagine their struggle to believe the news God shared.  When you've prayed so long for something, you almost can't believe it when the answer comes.

There's no easy way to paraphrase Liz, as you feel guilty for leaving off any of the nuggets to share.  But these are the parts that God chose to highlight for me...

"Fear not.  Calm down.  Why do we fear the worst from God,
when he loves us completely and always gives us what is best?"
 

"...your prayer has been heard."  Luke 1:13
 

The promises of God seem "too good to be true-too hard to believe!" 
 Yet believing is what Christmas is all about. 
 

And I'm praising God this morning for an answered prayer. 
A prayer that I expectantly waited over 9 months for. 
Pregnant with anticipation, in God's timing, the answer came. 
A new job in the new year! 



While I didn't intend to write two book reviews in a row, I can't help but give praise for this work.  If you buy yourself one gift this Christmas, this should be it. 

I know I'm beyond blessed to have this gift of time at the close of the year to curl up and reflect on the many presents of His presence.

Merry Christmas, friends....

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review: #Praying4husbands

In my life I've said many prayers for my husband, even before we were married.  Thinking back over the course of those twenty plus years though, most of my prayers have been reactive.  I've gone to the Lord for Tim in times of need, or at the result of something he, or we, were struggling with.

I've prayed selfishly, for changes I wanted in Tim, but not always for God's will.

For my husband, I've prayed for his health, in times of sickness.  But not enough in times of health.

God has heard many prayers for my husband's faith.  And in His sweet and perfect timing, he's answered them.  But still I pray...for his continued walk and relationship to grow in the Lord.

I've prayed for our marriage.  So many, many prayers for this marriage.  Prayers said for not just my husband but for me.  From early fights over burnt mac & cheese to the heart sob prayers through depths that could've easily broken us.  God's grace has covered our unity and kept us together, despite the trials of this life.  Or maybe because of the trials...

But when there hasn't been valleys to dig out of, or mountains to climb, have I really prayed for my husband daily?  Have I been proactive in prayers for him? In the plateaus of life, have my lips uttered prayers for my husband from head to toe? 

And on those ordinary days, what even do you pray?  Am I the only one that feels God grows tired of my stale prayers.  Like a repetitive record, sometimes just going through the motions, I wonder if my God rolls His eyes at my monotonous requests.  Or worse, in the times I've taken him or our marriage for granted and not bowed in prayer at all.  Forgive me, Lord...

Back in November, I shared with you that I'd been selected to receive an early copy of the book, "Praying for your Husband from Head to Toe."

If you follow me on social media, I've been sharing excerpts from the book, even before it arrived.  Friday night, Tim brought in the book from our icy mailbox.  Part of me wanted to dig right in and devour it all.  I hungrily got through the first section.  By Saturday, I began day one and quickly discovered this is not a speed read book. 

Can I even do a review justice after only reading through Day 2?  I think so.

God has spoken to me so much with just the first sixty pages of this book.  So much so that I don't want to skip ahead.  My husband deserves the investment of time to take it day by day, to fully soak up each prayer and lift every one of them to God.  For him.  For us.

I find myself conflicted, wanting to read the next sentences but needing to close my eyes in prayer with each paragraph. 

And that's exactly what this book is.  A book of prayers.  Sharon doesn't just give you a guide, she lays out each beautiful prayer for you.  God surely worked through her pen to provide prayers that He knew every single wife would need.  Whether you are newly-weds or celebrating a golden anniversary, there is good in this book for your marriage.  I would even say that a single woman could use this book to pray for her husband to be. 

A Wow God moment happened today as I prepared this post.  Searching my blog for "husband, prayers" I came across one written almost a year ago.  Guess what it was about

Just as He guided me to those prayers last January, He knew I needed this book now.  I'm so blessed to get to share it with you.  It is my prayer for each of you to share in the joy of praying for your husbands.  Amen and Amen.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Faithful Friday: Storm Preparedness

A winter storm warning is headed our way.  In our neck of the woods, this could go either way.  We could get nothing and everyone will complain they worried unnecessarily, or we could be snowed in for days.  The real concern though is ice.

I've only experienced one ice storm in my life, at least that I can remember.  It happened in 2009 and caused us to go on an impromptu camping trip in what felt like the middle of Antarctica.  As with any successful camping trip, preparation is key.  With this storm, it came out of nowhere and we had blind faith that underground power would somehow protect us.  Even though we had a fireplace, our meager woodpile wasn't prepared for the record low temperatures.  Or length of the power outage.  Or the lack of communication as phones were inoperable. 

In the end, our family had to make the choice to separate.  Tim, between his paid job and the volunteer fire department, was basically on constant call.  He shipped us to my mom's in what was the scariest ride of my life, feeling like I was strapped into a giant ice skate.   But we survived.

Yesterday, as I headed to gather a few needed supplies and to restock my pantry, fear and worry began to creep in.  But I was reminded, the best way to prepare for any storm in life, is to face it in prayer.  And God whispered, "I got this."

 
It is so easy, and the enemy is ever-ready, to let situations in life we can't control overwhelm us.  No amount of worry can change the course of a storm.  But I know the One who can calm the seas with a wave of His hand. 
 
Sometimes we can see the storm coming, like the forecast we have this weekend.  Sometimes storms come without warning.  Whatever you are facing right now, know that you can lean on the One who is stronger than any storm.
 
This girl's winter weather storm kit includes a heat source, through our fireplace (gas converted), a light source, through extra candles, a food source (and a manual can opener), but most of all, a life source, my Bible.  Sure to be good reading for all the peaceful quiet time -and the ultimate resource, should this weekend's storms arrive.
 
      
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
Nahum 1:7   
 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Christmastime

Tis' the season for all things Christmas.  A time for nostalgia.  A busy schedule of activities.  Of traditions like baking cookies, crafts, and movie marathons.  Of dinners and parties, gatherings and more.  So many seasonal moments I look forward to all year long.

But, if I'm not careful, the calendar can soon become overwhelming and I find myself wishing the month away for a slower pace.  Or putting on the imaginary brakes to soak up just a little more time. 

Tim reminded me of this as I was penciling in our December and I commented how busy we were going to be.  He said, "We're as busy as we choose to be."

Then God whispered the same.  Yesterday, December 1st, would see my devotional all about time.  It's not a dated devotional but I know the timing of the message is not coincidental. 

From that whisper, I shared a post from a few years back about a changing tradition we began at my mom's to stop buying presents and instead spend time. 

To top it off with a pretty bow, our pastor's sermon would seal the lesson of ensuring Christmas is much more about Who we celebrate than what.  This I know, this my heart says is what I want remembered most of our holidays.

But the unexpected part I pulled from yesterday was that it was ok if I couldn't do it all, especially in helping others. 

Now, we've never had an extravagant Christmas.  The kids don't put big ticket items on their lists because we've always had a modest budget for presents.  We do however like to help those less fortunate and it's been a family tradition for us to give more this time of year. 

It's humbling to find ourselves in a place where we can't afford to do that this year.  Having recently lost my job, I find myself having to shift plans and traditions, declining yearly gifts for charities, and remembering that helping doesn't always include just writing a check.

Our pastor, through the voice of the Wonderful Counselor, prompted us to remember...the ultimate gift we can give someone is Jesus.  No presents, no food basket, no help can compare.  Yes, this is my Christmas wish.  This I can share.

So, this gift...the BEST gift, full of hope, peace, love and JOY I share with you. 
and you.  and you.

 
Hoping Christ is in every minute of your Christmastime.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Faithful Friday: Daily Thanksgiving

November 29th will always be crazy difficult, a tornado of emotions, a mixture of new memories mingled with painful reminders. 

I spent the morning in quiet time, allowing the kids to sleep in, while Tim headed out for work.  Surprisingly Noah, my sleeper, awoke first and came straight to me with a gentle hug.  He lingered and though nothing was said our hearts spoke.  His fingers traced my hand and we just sat in the peacefulness of the moment. 

The day was filled with a wavering.  Of laughter and tears.  Of longing and knowing.  Of wanting to be alone and glad the house was full of family.  Of what could've been and of gratitude for what is now.  Of missing him and yet feeling him in everything.

#23's more than I could count.  Giggles from the spaces of this little house, filling up the empty and erasing the aching.  A three month milestone on the anniversary. 

 
Our tiny newest blessing.  More hugs than normal from my sweet guy.  Noah knew this momma needed extra loving, I guess.  Even snuggles on the couch before bed.  And restful sleep, something that hasn't come with other anniversaries.  Prayers from friends no doubt filling the night and bringing us peaceful dreams.

We took things slower.  Stretched out RAK even to today.  It allowed Tim to be a part of the reverse shopping spree for the first time.  The three of us doing it together.  Healing and changes.  And today, two days after Thanksgiving, just like five years ago, we began decorating for Christmas.  Phases.  Some old, some new, some still hard, some bittersweet.

This morning, this last day of November, I paused to write my last thankful post of the month.
I'll share it below....

Today, as I think back over November, my list of gratitude abounds. And I'm glad thanksgiving is not just a day, or even an month for us, but how we try to live every single moment.

I am thankful we are at a place that, despite the pain we've faced, we still find joy and give thanks. I am grateful for family and friends who haven't forgotten our sweet boy, who remember him through helping others. I am touched by the prayers which continue to be said for us to this day. And I am knees bent at God's overflowing mercy and grace, which whispers to my heart that this is not the end.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

THANKSgiving

Last year, our family chose to spend our Thanksgiving at our church, delivering meals to those who would otherwise do without.  It was, by far, one of the very best holiday experiences we've ever had. 

This year, I was blessed to lead the amazing group of volunteers who run like a well-oiled  machine.  At our busiest, it was a beautiful display of organized chaos. 

The hands and feet of Christ....giving......in thanks for the ability to serve.
God is so good.  And we are so blessed.

 
They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
Psalm 145:7
 
 
So, what's it take to deliver 315 meals to the community...
Plus serve a complete banquet to the volunteers and families afterwards?
 
400 lbs of turkey
40 bags of stuffing
1000 ounces of corn & green beans
600 cookies
a small fort of cardboard boxes
20+ drivers
at least 200 miles of routes
dozens of tables, hundreds of chairs
enough volunteers to fill the space of our sanctuary in a giant circle
and an endless supply of smiles, passion, service and Christian love!
 
Even with all that, I am certain I'm leaving quite a bit out.
God filled in all the gaps.
 
Seeing this event beginning to end was such an awesome sight. 
Thankful, beyond words, to serve alongside these willing servants.
 

Wishing you a JOYous and blessed Thanksgiving!



Saturday, November 23, 2013

Purpose Driven Acts

This is our week to make a difference.  To remember our son. 

Austin's purpose in this world, without a doubt, was to make a difference to anyone he met.  He'll always be remembered for his kindness to others.  It is because of his caring spirit our Random Acts of Kindness project was born.

November 29 wasn't ever a date I expected to have such significance.  Shortly after Thanksgiving, it was normally such a happy time for our family.  Now, it is a day laced with painful memories of losing our 14 year old son, Austin.  In fact, the entire month seems somewhat like a countdown to that horrible night.

It's almost been five years and what we've learned along the way is to focus on the positive.  Remembering what we're thankful for and how much we're blessed, despite this great loss, is how we've survived. 

For us, it is now more than just a day to honor him...It is a month of Thanksgiving.  In gratitude for the 14 years we had with him, we give back every single day of November.  In some ways small, in some ways big.  They may be "random" but each is done with a very special purpose.


A previous year's post explains it more for those of you who are new.  And here's a recap of the beautiful acts done for Austin one year.  And one of my favorite activities we've made an annual tradition.  So many wonderful stories of how this simple act of helping others helped us heal.... 
(you can search "acts of kindness" on this blog to read even more).

If you'd like to join us in RAK this week, or on November 29, please send us a quick note with your random act.  You can message me below, or even post on his Facebook page here.  Prayers of thanks and blessings in advance for remembering Austin in this way!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Faithful Friday: I've Got Your Back

When you bow your head, who is the first person you pray for? 

If you're married, without fail, it should be your spouse. And I can say I've failed Tim many times through the years.  It wasn't that I didn't want to pray for him, other needs just seemed to float the top.  Perhaps I took for granted that God knew the prayers of my heart without me sending them up to Him. 

There's certainly been seasons he's been the sole focus of my prayer, but again, it was a pressing need that drove me to lifting him up.  I've seen the work, the progress, the changes for the better when my focus was to put Tim first.

My pastor has shared often that he prays daily first and foremost for his wife, then his kids, then his church and so on.  It is through his guidance and reminder, I've committed to putting Tim top of my list no matter what.  God has gifted me with this man and he is worth the time of my prayers.

It's no coincidence that God is sending me Sharon Jayne's new book Praying For Your Husband from Head to Toe.  Her book is available for pre-order now and will be in stores by December 17.  I'm among a lucky few who will be getting an early copy this week.  Stay tuned to my blog for reviews!

 
"no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed,
    and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
    and their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 54:17
 
If Tim were threatened, I wouldn't hesitate to protect him.  I'm always at the ready to stand up for Tim, to encourage him, to defend him.  This scripture is a reminder though that I should be proactive not reactive in protecting my husband.  The best way to have his back is to lift him up in prayer.
 
Wives, will you join me?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Teach Me

When I was a little girl among the list of things I wanted to be was a teacher.  I also wanted to be a fashion designer, race car driver, and psychiatrist, but those are for another day, another post!  Being a young married mom though, I opted for a quicker career track after high school.


While I didn't choose that path, God has blessed me throughout life with many teaching opportunities.  I started young, teaching vacation bible school while still a teenager.  In my previous job, one of the things I loved most was when I was training or teaching.  And in my former career at a local college, I covered a vacancy one semester and taught a freshman personal development course.  Loved that.

Through the years, I continued to volunteer through church teaching various Sunday school classes, Wednesday night groups, and VBS.  But it was always to children or those younger than me.  Up until this past weekend, I'd never taught an adult class.  The thought intimidated me, as I worried I didn't know enough.  My fear was that someone would ask a question I couldn't answer. 

But a week ago, I was asked to substitute my own Sunday school class.  My stomach flipped and all those worries returned.  Yet, sitting in class, God stirred me to respond yes.

It was a bit of a struggle this past week while preparing and studying for the class.  Was I on the right session?  What if I presented the wrong one? Doubts became so much that I texted two friends and even called someone ensuring I was on the correct week.   I read through the lesson and felt like I was reading Greek.  Nothing made sense the first time and I had no clue what to pull and share.  I'm certain that Satan wanted nothing more than for me to give up, change my mind, and not teach yesterday.  And that just made me want to dig in my heels and do it even more.

Prayerfully, I dusted myself off and set back to it.  God showed up with perfect timing, bringing out the parts he wanted me to focus on and highlighting scripture to read.  Though nerves tried to reappear, when I stepped up to teach, it all washed away.  It felt natural and I found joy in doing it.

Now, this is not an acceptance letter to a future proposal, should this make it to the hands of the Sunday school director, just admitting it was more enjoyable than expected.  All kidding aside, I know it is more than I can take on right now, even being temporarily "retired" but it was fun to put on my teacher's hat if only as a sub. 

In this season of figuring out where God wants to be, keeping an open mind and being brave to try new things is how I need to respond.  Every experience is a lesson if we're willing to be taught.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Faithful Friday: Operation Me

Most of us envision what we would do with free time.  Days with no schedules, no rules, no lists, just free time.  In today's busy world, is that even a realistic concept?  But if you had the opportunity for freedom...what would you do?

Although I normally saved my vacation time for family activities, every now and then, I would take a Me day. Being a homebody, it normally involved staying at the house in my PJs to read, write and watch movies. And it was nice.  Once in awhile.

I'm on day 5 of unemployment as I write this.
People have asked how I'm doing, and, "How you liking retirement?"

Well, at 37, that's not really a phrase I'm prepared to answer yet.  But I'm dealing with it (or at least trying) in the only way I know how... with a joyful attitude and lots of prayer.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  
2 Timothy 2:15

Last week, while out running errands, a gentle nudging led me to stop and get a devotion book for this new season I'm facing.  I picked up a few, flipped some pages, touched the covers of others, but this one book kept finding me.  I'd turn the corner and see it on an end cap.  Sitting down to check my phone, I again found a display at eye level.

Ok, God, I hear ya.

The book I chose (or rather He chose) is Whispers of Hope by Beth Moore.  It's a daily devotion that includes room for me to write and is focused on prayer.  Speak to my heart, sister.  And it lasts for 10 weeks.

Now, I'm not saying I want to be unemployed that long, but the studies I've read are shocking.  It could take more, it could take less, but I figure 10 weeks will give me lots of growth in Him regardless.  No matter how long it takes, my prayer is to find something which brings Him glory.

The first page was a definite sign He has news for me along this journey.
"God wants us to surrender to His will, but we tend to want a blueprint of His plans 
so we can decide whether or not to surrender."

Surrender sure sounds a lot like my word for 2013...Submit.  Isn't it amazing when we can look back and see the hand of God at work in our lives?  While I don't know what he has planned for me next, I do know and believe his promise that it will be 
for my good.


In the meantime, I'm catching up on DVR that's reached capacity, cleaning out and organizing the house, and helping manage Thanksgiving deliveries to over 300 through my church.  Oh, and starting that book - at least in my head.  Good things.  Truly blessed...

Friday, November 8, 2013

Faithful Friday: Cool enough for School

When my boys were in grade school, I frequently stopped in to have lunch with them.  Austin, probably more so than Noah, because Noah got "too cool" pretty quickly.  I remember having lunch with Austin all the way to 6th grade and that he even considered letting me grace the halls of middle school.  Considered....

Noah is a different story.  I can remember maybe making it 3rd or 4th grade.  In fact, I think it was 4th grade that he graciously showed me the teachers lounge and all its glory one morning while volunteering, an early effort to politely shove mom into another room. 

And that was ok.  I still got my hugs and snuggles at the end of the day.  I'm cool with playing cool.

You can imagine my surprise when Noah came home one day a few weeks ago, asking if I'd come to school and present to his class.  And not just his class but all his teacher's Language Arts classes for the day.  Wow.

His teacher had emailed me earlier that day, but of course, I didn't respond until after I talked to Noah.  I figured he'd say "No way!"  or, "not unless I can skip that day!" but instead, he was willing, maybe even excited to have me there.

My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.  Proverbs 23:26

I was asked to share about writing - blogging specifically, because it matched what they were learning about personal narratives.   Saying yes was easy.  The difficult task became finding posts that wouldn't embarrass my son. 

Keeping my audience in mind, I opted to share a funny story to begin.  Maybe if I could make them laugh, it wouldn't be quite so awkward.  And I ended with a story about Noah.  It was a story, of course, that met his approval.

With the teacher's permission, I was able to add in some writing exercises to my presentation.  It was a joy to see the excitement in some of the kids faces as they got to write.  Of course, some barely wrote out a word or two but I watched the pencil flow from several pages.  One of the exercises I used is an after school activity Noah and I still practice - The Rose & Thorn.  Afterwards, he shared that the class really enjoyed doing it. 

Maybe they'll go home and share more than "fine" when their parents ask how was school today!


One of the highlights from the day included having lunch with Noah, albeit in a private room beside his class.  While we didn't brave the lunchroom, I was happy he was willing to forgo friendships and eat with Mom.  The fact that I brought Subway, cookies included, probably didn't hurt.  All in all it was a wonderful memory that I hope he treasures for years to come.  I know I will.



Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Instant Gratification

I think people either love or hate the thankful posts that November brings to social media.  Some complain that perhaps it seems insincere, that one should be thankful all year long, and whatever other reasons it annoys them.  But I like it. 
At least for one month out of the year there is a little more positive than negative in my news feed.


Only 34% of Americans say they are truly happy but statistics show that keeping a gratitude list has direct and immediate benefits.  "They" also say that November is the most depressing month of the year, or at least when depression spikes.  People who practice gratitude are 25% happier.  All those stats simply put, count your blessings.  It helps make the not so good moments better.

I believe this.  And I truly live it. 

That's what this blog is all about.  Finding JOY even in the midst of pain, of grief, of the chaos life brings.  Because it is everywhere.  No matter the trial, we always, always have blessings.

For the past several Novembers I've participated in this act of sharing a thankful thought each day.  Some years I planned out what I would share, not wanting someone or something to be left out.  This year I decided to follow the inspiration of beginning this blog and to live in the moment.  To be thankful each day for what that day brings.  To be in the now....

We're only on day 5 and I can't wait to see what God does this month.
I hope you'll join me. 



Friday, November 1, 2013

Faithful Friday: Thanksgiving Begins

Happy Thanksgiving!

No, not the turkey-laden national holiday...but true thanksgiving.
Being thankful for one's blessings.  For me, it is more than a day, as I choose to reflect on thanksgiving the entire month of November.  In all truth, I try to live every single day like this.

Webster defines thanks·giv·ing  [ thàngks gívving ]  as this:
  • : a prayer that expresses thanks to God
I knew I liked that Webster guy...

So on this November 1st, I start my thankful journey and random acts of kindness done in memory of Austin.  If you're new to this blog, you can catch up here as to the "why" behind this project.

Want to JOYn in? 

You can start small.  Simply dedicate your social media to thanksgiving.  Each day post something you are thankful for.  30 days of thanks.

Stumped on what to choose?  Ann Voskamp does a beautiful job here.  She even takes it a step further and chooses three things a day.

Even more?  Add random acts of kindness.  Search my blog for ideas of things we've done in the past, or Pinterest.  Good stuff there.  You can do it in memory of our sweet boy, or someone you love, or just because.  Send us some extra hugs on November 29 by messaging me some of your acts.  It's how we choose to remember Austin and what helps us get through the anniversary of losing him.

For today, I'm thankful for...being thankful.  For being in a place where I can see the good within the bad.  For the healing time - and God - brings.  For the month of November, though laced with painful memories, and the opportunity it gives to pause in thanksgiving and to share the love of God with others.

What are you thankful for today?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Still Standing: October

A month or so ago I received word that I'd been selected to be a monthly contributor for an online magazine, Still Standing.   What a bittersweet honor.  Such a blessing to be able to share our child loss journey, in hopes that it will help someone, but not a club I ever wanted to be a member of - or imagined I would be.

My First post was released this month and I wanted to share with all of you.  I won't always double post these but I know that many of you faithful readers are also members of this unwanted club.  My hope is that, if you haven't already, you'll find even more peace at Still Standing and will add it to your regular readings.

Sending you joyful wishes in the coming week.....

Friday, October 25, 2013

Faithful Friday: Do you know Jesus?

A dear friend of mine rejoiced this week in announcing his child accepting Christ.  As Christians, we join him in celebrating because we know what a JOY that decision is.

But it is another story about this child that has me in reflection.

Hearing his papaw joyfully share about him, he told of his boldness in his faith, even at the young age of 8.  Meeting someone for the first time, without hesitation, he asks, "Do you go to church?"

And then...
  
"Do you know Jesus?"

Wow.  May the heart of a child teach us.

As adults we get so tripped up on what to say, how to say it, and when to witness to someone. 
We worry, we doubt, WE get in the way.  But what a wonderful reminder of how easy it is to share the love of God. 

So let me ask you now...Do you know Him?  Can I share the good news with you?

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. 
The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;   
and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. 
Do you believe this?” -John 11:25-26

My hope this week is to remember the JOY of being a new Christian.  Of how that joy comes bubbling forth and spills out on everyone around you.  May that joy be ever-present in my daily life.
And in yours....




Monday, October 21, 2013

Hodgepodge Joy

Mini moments of JOY this week...

Driving in the rain to Bowling Green and taking in the beauty of the changing trees.  Against the raindrops, the landscape appeared like a life-size watercolor, still wet from the artist's brush.


Lunch with my momma, sister, and the sweetest itty baby I know.

An impromptu-last-minute-oh-yea-I-forgot-school-project at the end of a long work day.  Rushing to the store before they closed.  Tina and I spying the perfect outfit for her zombie costume at just the right moment.  Trying it on as they shut off lights and begin their close down routine.  Watching the glee and excitement from her and she jumped to the car, in the car, and at the house from our find.

A beautiful hunter's moon against a field of cornstalks.

Taking advantage of in between taxi services for our kiddos to enjoy a mini date downtown.  Strolling through the food booths.  Making two loops to decide on our orders.  Dinner for less than $10!  Tunes and people watching from a park bench. 

yellow mums.

Two new to us recipes that were big successes.  "Repeat worthy" as the family says. 
Here's one of them. You're welcome.

Laughing beyond comprehension over nothing at all with my boy.  Uncontrollable.  Side splitting.
Oh, the joy to see him smile...

Seeing all the littles at the park.  Beautiful fall weather.  Slides, giggles, and ice cream.

Lifegroup at the barn.  First bonfire of the season.  Friendships.

*For those of you who don't follow me on Facebook, yes, I yet again failed to post a FF last week.  I posted a rewind favorite for my FB friends but you can walk down memory lane anytime here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Faithful Friday: Fall Fotos

You'd think having a week off would allow me to write a FF post on time...

I'd say I was sorry but from the start of this blessed vacation I decided to live in the moment.
Be spontaneous.  Make the most it.

Usually fall break is a mix of productivity and relaxation.  I normally deep clean, swap out the closets for cooler weather, and begin sprucing up the house for fall. 

My closet at least got weeded out.  The kids rooms got cleaned (by them!).  We did pull out what was salvageable for fall decor.  And the deep cleaning...well, I decided that would be a good "productive" project for unemployment.

Although we never did make it out with my kids to do some fall photos, I did get to spend an afternoon with three of my favorite littles.  Capturing the essence of these sweeties is never an easy task but thanks to my sister and momma, as well as prop master Noah, we made it through.

And have this to show for it...


and this...

and these sweet spots you just wanna kiss...

and these...
three kids all cooperating at once....puhleez!


Miss Rae was having NO part of this basket.
And she "kicked" Allen, 
which he later told me was the reason he didn't want to pose like that again.

Through the tantrums, posings, juggling, outfit changes, breaks for snacks, 
and all the cute chaos in between, 
we caught more than a few extra special moments.  

Snapshots in time of the blessings and JOY these babies are.

 

  "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above." James 1:17

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mini Vaca

What a glorious weekend we had!

Tim wasn't able to take off for fall break, as we'd originally planned, so, as we do, it was time to make the best of the situation.  We had two open days this weekend to soak up some fall fun so we took off for a mini vacation.

Even though we were escaping just an hour from home, we got up early on Saturday morning, just as most vacations begin and went out for pancakes.  As we left the house, it was pouring rain but I was determined not to let it dampen our plans.  

On the way to the orchard, God opened up the skies to beautiful sunshine.

                                           
Though Jackson's has been an annual tradition in our family, life had kept us away the past couple of years.  I wondered if the kids would enjoy the activities, now that they are teens.  But they jumped right in and soaked up everything the season had to offer.

Both were excited to try the "tire" and roll down the hill.  We got a laugh at Tina's attempt to push Noah, who is more than twice her size, and Noah's long limbs, which had a difficult time staying inside the tube.  They ended up tossed out, sprawled across the grass, and giggling in the end.


Hayride...corn maze....apple cider....horse rides....
giant slides...ice cream and a basket of apples to go.
Sprinkled with lots of laughter and family time.
And we finished before the rain decided to return!


 True to vacation fashion, we spent the night in a hotel.  The kids were giddy to explore, "work out" in the exercise room, splash in the pool, and nibble on free popcorn and drinks.  
We chuckled at their amusement of the mini blow dryer and in room frig.
It's the little things...

Tim and I were hugged by the extra appearances of yellow butterflies, 
including the one that rode along for the hayride.
And by the fact that our room number both contained #23,
and the numbers added to 14, a sure hello from our boy.

Though we weren't gone even a full 48 hours, 
it was enough time to unplug and reconnect.  
So many times throughout the simple weekend, 
I found myself pausing in gratefulness, 
thanking God just simply for the time.



And that's just what I plan to make the most of this fall break week. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Faithful Friday: Fall Blessings

 
The countdown is on for fall break!  Nine whole days of seasonal bliss.  

A pre-cap of some of our fun to come...
 
Sleeping in, staying up late.  OrchardsTailgating.
Hayrides.  Bonfires.  Visits to the park.  
Sushi.  Hoodies.  Caramel apples.
Hotel sleepover.  Frozen Yogurt. Playing in the pool.   
A day at the museum.  Street food.  Youth Lock-In.
Girl time.  Scary movies.  Shopping at the mall.
Nine days with family.  Memories...

 
 Thanking God for the blessings of moments to come.
Nothing is more precious than spending time with the ones you love, 
surrounded by the beauty of the fall season!
 
 
 
 
"Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before."  Joel 2:23

Friday, September 27, 2013

Faithful Friday: No Words

I posted a sentence yesterday on social media that came to me, after talking to someone who is (and has been) going through an extremely difficult year. 

"The true test of our faith isn't when life is good, 
it's when life is falling apart and we're on our knees."  
#praiseHiminthestorm

Little did I know that moments later I would be on my own knees.  
A crumpled mess on the floor, praying incomprehensibly.


"In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should,  but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words."  Romans 8:26


On my lunch hour, and reading my Bible, I see a call come in from Tim.  We often check in on each other's day, so no other thought came to mind when I answered hello. Knowing my impending reaction, he did an amazing job staying calm while talking to me.  I don't remember much about the conversation other than the scary bits which stood out, shook me to the core, and brought uncontrollable sobs from within me.

"on my way to pick up Noah"
                                                      "with school nurse"
                                                                                            "lost consciousness"

Tim tried to console me, assuring me Noah was alert and ok, and that he'd call me back.  All I know is that in those moments I was pulled straight to five years ago.  Flashbacks that haven't attacked me for some time came flooding through.  

This season is all too familiar with painful memories.  Though I love fall, the changing trees are a signal that November is around the corner.  Of reliving the unimaginable.  Of life spiraling.

Noah's looks have changed as he's grown, matured.  He is one year from the age Austin was when we lost him.  So many similarities just in the physical sense.  

In other ways too, like how even as teenagers they'd both flock to babies.  

Austin with Allen - Oct 2008
Noah with Rae - Aug 2013
Walking beside Noah and holding his arm to stabilize him at the doctor, more flashes and glimpses.  Noah's face was flushed, his cheek with streaks of red.  ...that face, heart wrenching memories.

His body language spoke volumes, hands shaking from the unknown, heart racing, timid steps.  Noah was scared and I was reminded to push all my pain and nightmares to the side, to help calm him.  Mom couldn't crumple.  Mom could only comfort and pray.  And dispatch prayers from loyal warriors on the ready with the sending of a text.  

For what seemed an eternity later, the answer was somewhat consoling, though full details are still uncertain.  What we think happened, is that Noah hit his knee in the booth at lunch, sending a pain signal so severe that caused him to faint.  We've had some conflicting stories from students who witnessed his fall, which only causes this momma to worry more, but I'm trying to give it to God.

There's no real explanation for why these things happen, and to most it would probably be just an interesting story to share.  For this family, who has lived the unimaginable, it hit a little too close to home.  It was yet another reminder of our longing for the Home in which pain will no longer be a factor.  Where fear is no more.


"In the same way, we can see and understand only a little about God now, as if we were peering at his reflection in a poor mirror; but someday we are going to see him in his completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as God sees into my heart right now." 1 Corinthians 13:12(TLB)
And that's the only comfort I can share with a handful of families who've been in my constant prayers this year.  There's no explanation for why they are going through the tumultuous season they are.  I can't say why bad things happen to good people.  I only know that in those moments when you feel God is turning against you, when you're angry, when you can't make sense of life, He is never closer.  He has never stopped loving you.  And He ultimately wants only the best for you.  His timing just sometimes can't be explained in this world.  


Whatever you're facing, it is temporary, difficult as it may be.  
It may feel like never-ending pain.
Yearn for the eternal.  Lean on Him.  He will hold you through this storm...



 
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