Sunday, January 29, 2012

JOY riding

This girl has to sit out for a whole lot of activities so whenever we can let her experience something...we go for it!
As you can see her daddy is more than willing to rig something and make it work for her enjoyment! Our 9 and a half year old girl only weighs a little over 40 lbs so a carrier still works. Her long legs dangle forever but who long as she is having the time of her life! AND she is completely buckled in and safe.
The smiles on her face are priceless. Don't you agree?
This pic almost looks like she is yelling in her daddy's ear, "Faster Daddy Faster!" And she so would...
Look at our Ava. She has only been riding her bike since this past Spring and already she is like a pro...
Always ready with her game face smile. These two little girls are so precious to us!
I hate it that Shep's gorgeous green eyes were closed in this shot...but it was too good of Caroline not to share:)

Last but not I am enjoying my Christmas present....and throwing out a kiss to the man behind the camera. Oh how he melts me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Taking Comfort in the Uncomfortable

My devotion this morning illuminated a very familiar passage for me. The focus verse was Psalm 23:4. You know..."Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me."

So many of us are used to hearing this verse at funerals that we rarely want to pull it out at other times due to its association.

Today I didn't have a choice. It was the topic of my Almighty God must have wanted to broaden my narrow perspective on this verse.

I have always associated this verse with sadness and sorrow. Again, probably because of the numerous funeral readings.

But....I believe this verse speaks volumes to those of us living and breathing.

The writer of my devotion gave numerous examples from his own life experience of ways that God's rod was a form of support, protection, and security for him.

Now I don't know if you would agree but someone who has gone on to heaven has little need of support, protection and security anymore. They are sealed and satisfied forever with Jesus.

But me? I could use some...

He said to think of God's Word as our rod or staff to use when traveling through unfamiliar, treacherous, and scary times.

Listen to the way the Message states this verse as opposed to the NIV...
"Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I'm not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure."

Can you see the difference?

I am not implying that one version is superior to the other but I do like to compare verses to maybe expound on the meaning or my own understanding.

Death Valley can represent many things to me. Someone can actually die. Or you could be dealing with the death of a dream. How about the death of something that God has told you to put an addiction or stronghold? Loss of material possessions or friendships...or maybe God has just said no.

What comes next? HE, our Sustainer and Friend, walks right beside us. We are never alone. Maybe we want to walk in silence. Maybe we want to yell and scream. Maybe we want to ask a boatload of questions. Whatever....He is there. He doesn't walk away.

Then he gives us something to hold onto. Whether you picture your own hand holding the rod or Christ guiding you with still makes me smile.

He knows that we are people who feel. We have a need to FEEL secure. We need something physically touching us so that we sense the nearness of our guide. When rocks move under our feet we can instinctively grasp that rod and not fall.

The author of my devotion took it one step further and quoted appropriate scripture for the circumstance that was looming over him at the time. That was the way he pictured the rod. The rod for him was the Word. It steadied his feet. It lit up his path. It spoke louder than the questions. It calmed him in the midst of the storm.

I hope this passage has come alive for you in a different way today.

It may be a funeral favorite but it seems more appropriate for my day to day journey....

He guarantees Himself as our comfort...what a Savior!!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tess and I go to Texas

This past weekend was a whirlwind but oh so WORTH IT! This picture is Tess and I waiting at the airport gate early Friday morning. Our destination was Houston, Texas. We were part of a group of women that had taken the challenge to learn and memorize 1 scripture every two weeks last year. (Can you tell we are beyond pumped?!?)

Beth Moore issued the challenge on her ministry blog last January. Tess and I wanted to "up our game" spiritually. So this had our names all over it. Not to mention that we would have each other to hold accountable all year long. This trip was both our reward and a rejuvenation! Beth held a small gathering (like 1000 or so ladies) at First Baptist Houston for those who had finished the course and followed through on their commitment.

By the grace of God Tess and I had done those things! We now had 24 verses locked in our beings and in our brains that were not housed there a year ago. God promises that His Word will not go out and not accomplish its intended work(Is. 55:11). We pray that our lives and our commitment will reap the harvest of His promise.

Before I indulge in the spiritual details of our weekend let me brag on this sweet girl that was my traveling companion. God made sure that our paths and hearts collided with an instant connection over 4 years ago. Our relationship began as me taking the role of mentor. That sentence can be a bit deceiving. Tess, in many many ways, is heads and tails ahead of me spiritually. My only edge on her is that I have been living life a few years longer than she has. We have a lot in common. We are both girly girls who love shopping, shoes, purses, and lip gloss. But we also crave the attention of Jesus Christ like no one else. We are shameless in our pursuit of Him and we can't contain our passion to speak of His goodness. We try to spur one another on in the Word of God on a weekly basis. We enjoy praying together like most women enjoy getting their nails done. She is a breath of fresh air! Her insight, gift of writing, and teaching ability far surpasses one of her age. God's presence radiates from her inner being and I delight in calling her my friend.

(I must say that we agreed that God's blessing must have rested on us this weekend because He made sure that a Galleria mall was within 1 block of our hotel. We could see Nordstroms, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nieman Marcus from our window. God was speaking our love language. ;)
Here are Tess and I standing outside of Houston First Baptist Church. We could hardly stand the anticipation. We met several other ladies from our hotel who had also completed their scripture memory verses. We couldn't wait to sit under Beth's teaching!!
God used Beth to speak HUGE truths to us. One in particular came from 2 John vs. 8. "Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully."

I had never given much thought to the fact that my enemy wants to steal from me that which I have worked hard to gain. We haven't worked hard to gain Jesus. He is our free gift through faith so we can't lose Him. BUT there are countless areas in my life where God has indeed changed me, freed me, and grown me up in Him.
If I am not intentional then my enemy can sneak in and take ground that the Lord and I have worked hard to this speaking to anyone else??

This was my view during praise and worship. Travis Cottrell and his amazing team lead us in anointed worship to our King. Isn't this a beautiful sight? Look at all of those hands lifted to the Lord. Some of them in surrender, some in awe, some in joy, and some are lifted as a sacrifice during heartache and sorrow. I can't describe what worship does to a believer's soul. But this kind of corporate worship just does me in. I am a mess. My hands were raised as well. My praise was flowing from a thankful heart...humbled that He still takes a gamble on a fickle faithed girl like me. I truly felt the weight of His matchless love and grace during this time...

I came home just before midnight on Saturday to find this sweet sign made by the little hands of my babies.

It warmed my heart so much.

Now the work must begin.

Welcome Home....and walk your talk!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Decade of Deciding...

Shep had just pulled of the the Dalton Walnut Ave. exit and we were headed up and over the mountain (that is what my kids call it) to his parents farm this past Saturday. It was a gloriously sunny day and we were out to enjoy the rays....and endure the wind and cold. It is January, after all.

As my trusted minivan trudged up the hill I heard the first words of a song that I had not heard in a really long time. Shep burned a cd for me as a Christmas gift and he wanted to play it for me.

"The pathway is broken
and the signs are unclear.
And I don't know the reasons
why You brought me here.
But just because you love me the way that you do
I'm gonna walk through the valley if you want me to."

I almost couldn't move. Has it really been almost 10 years since I first heard this song? The days when I had to make myself sing the lyrics because I couldn't pray.


It has been almost 10 years.

Almost 10 years ago (just 6 months shy) were the days of survival and heartache.

Many of you know that my journey of faith began when Caroline was born. I had been a believer in Jesus since the age of 9. But I did not really believe God and His promises until I was 24. Believing upon Him to save your soul is one thing. Believing Him to direct your path and control your life can be quite another.

This June 11, 2012 will mark 10 years for us.

Ten years of believing.
Ten years of persevering.
Ten years of trying.
Ten years of living.
Ten years of learning.
Ten years of standing.
Ten years of waiting to see God's miracle unfold.

In her....and in us.

As I listened to the rest of the song I was catapulted in my mind back to those days.

It was so hard.
We were so exhausted. In every sense of the word.

I am thankful now that I didn't know we would still be here 10 years later BUT...God is still working.

He hasn't told us anything different. In fact, He has told us again and again to continue to stand, believe, hope, persevere, and believe Him for the impossible.

We aren't moving off of His promise.....even if it is 10 more years....or 10 more years.

Let me just tell you how difficult it is to type those words. It makes the hair stand up on my neck. It makes my tummy flutter. Questions and doubts take turns jumping rope in my mind.

But this I know.

My God is faithful!!!

10 years of deciding each and every day to keep believing Him has worked some serious faith muscles in my life.

Those muscles serve a purpose for me and bring ultimate glory to Him!

I will end with the rest of the lyrics to Ginny Owens song. If you don't know her story behind this song, you should look it up.

Now I sing this song and I still pray the words. Some of it makes more sense to me now but not all of it. If we had all the answers we wouldn't need God.

The pathway is broken
and the signs are unclear.
And I don't know the reason
Why you brought me here.
But just because you love me the way that you do
I'm gonna walk through the valley if you want me to.

Cause I'm not who I was
when I took my first step
And I'm clinging to the promise You're not through with me yet
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You.
Then I will walk through the fire
If You want me to.

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When You lead me through a world that's not my home.
But You never said it would be easy.
You only said I 'd never go alone.

So when the whole world turns against me
And I'm all by myself.
And I can't hear You answer my cries for help.
And I remember the suffering Your love put You through
And I will go through the valley if You want me to.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The man behind the message..

It is mid-week and these eyes are dying to squint at the sunshine.

It has been the rainiest December and start of January that I can remember.

My outdoor time has seriously been infringed upon and my antsy children are about as bad as their momma.

There is a trampoline to be jumped on...
There are bicycles to be ridden...
There are swings to sway in...
There are walks to be taken...

You get the idea.

I have just completed my first week of homework in our new Ladies Bible study. Folks that know me probably joke that I am a bit fanatical about staying in a cycle of doing bible studies. Literally ONE AFTER THE OTHER. But for me, one who is so prone to stray off of the path, I must stay in the Word. Period.

Right now we are doing the most recent study written by Beth Moore called James: Mercy Triumphs. It centers on the book that James penned and on the man himself. This would be James, the brother of my Jesus.

He obviously has a unique perspective. He grew up in the shadow of the Savior of the world but he didn't accept His gift of grace until Jesus was resurrected. I can't wait to learn more about him.

Knowing the man (or woman) behind the message that they preach is huge for me.

I want the goods on folks.
I want to know that they have struggled.
I need to hear that they have dealt with doubt, fear, anger and unbelief.
I also need to know that they have persevered and taken the road less traveled.

It levels our ground.

And it opens my ears.

I don't like to give my attention to anything that is less than authentic.

So far I have learned some things about James that have taken me on emotions ranging from mad to sad to glad.

I am sure it would be the same if someone were learning all about me.

I pray that my testimony brings Jesus some serious glory but my hands and feet of clay could give anyone plenty of reasons to not like me or at the very least to be disappointed.

Thankfully we are to only have ONE that we look to as our standard.

James, me, or you will fall terribly short....

but still we strive.

"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." James 3:17-18

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Theirs and Mine

Shep left early on Thursday morning to go hunting with his brother and best friend from law school. They try to do two trips per year. I hate it when he leaves but I love the chance for him to get away. I will tell you that I certainly adhere to the saying that, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." When he is gone...I miss him like crazy. The kids and I count the days until he comes back home.

My mom and dad came to hang out with us most of the time that Shep was away. They are a huge help to me. Plus, I really enjoy their company. I spent a lot of alone time with them in my growing up years. My brothers were seven and nine years older than me so I was kind of like an only child. My brothers were out of the house by the time I was 12 years old or so. I have a ton of memories singing, laughing, eating, traveling, and playing with my parents. They are a trip. My kids really like the additional time with them....AND it makes daddy being gone a little more bearable.

Shep made it safely back home today and there was endless rejoicing with his return. Each kid took their turn of individual attention and hands-on time. They love for Shep to hold them, tickle them, throw them up in the air, wrestle with them, and build forts. That quickly became the decided upon activity. So, after I got my own chance of individual attention, they disappeared upstairs to build their fort.

I took the same opportunity myself.

As you can see I built myself a little fort.

A fortress of solitude.

I heard that their fort was made using chairs and a blanket.

Unfortunately our cat, Belle, destroyed their fort by jumping on top of their blanket ceiling.

Meanwhile...I was hunkered down in my own fort.

Complete with my two over sized pillows for maximum comfort.
My electric blanket turned on high for this nasty rainy day.
My bible and bible study book of James.
My latest fiction read.
A twix candy bar....and a coke.

Bliss I tell you. Pure bliss.

Welcome home Shepard. Thank for letting me enjoy my own little fort.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Opportunities to be overwhelmed

It is funny because I have had several opportunities in a very short amount of time (like 3 days) to be overwhelmed in very different ways.

Sometimes life rocks on in the mundane sort of way. Breakfast, work, school, laundry, homework, errands, bath, and bedtime seem to be the routine of every single day.

But then unexpected things happen and your reality shifts.

Tears fall.
Your breath is taken away.
Dinner doesn't make it to the oven.
Schedules have to be changed.
Changes to your budget have to be made.

We have all experienced this. This is life. We moan about the mundane until something happens to shake us up....and then we are longing for the mundane days once again.

I will confess that I have given in to the sin of worry and unbelief during a few of these overwhelming moments.

I didn't stay there though.

The Holy Spirit gently nudged me onward and upward.

Here they are...I am pretty sure that it is obvious to distinguish the times of sin, sadness, strength, and sheer delight.

Tuesday, January 3rd 2012 at 12:25 pm I received a phone call from a dear friend. Her voice is different. I immediately know something is wrong. She says, "Kim's mother is dead." I just sat there. If you follow this blog then you know that this same Kim is a girl that I sing with on a regular basis. We are a part of a trio. AND her mother-in-law just passed away in early November. Now this......
I know how close she is to her mom. I know how close her children are to their grandmother. How could this be? Her mother was only 59 years old? The shock of it nearly knocked my breath away. I immediately began to pray for God to intervene and hold them as only He could. But I felt so small and insignificant. My prayers felt useless. This overwhelming devastation began to creep over me. It was like I was becoming overwhelmed for my friend.

Well, nothing about that is good. I needed to be an advocate for her in prayer. Hope is ours to have no matter how hurt we may be. This situation was awful. The heartache was real. I could pray when my friend could not.

Wednesday, January 4th 2012 at 2:30 pm Ava runs to my car with a pained expression on her face. "Momma," she says, "_______'s brother said that Caroline is ugly in her wheelchair." Sensing her hurt I begin to explain that his words are wrong and very hurtful. Going on she says, "Momma, I see the ugly faces people make at Caroline when she drools. I don't like it."

Mind you~Ava has NEVER mentioned any of this before. Ever.

I got to tell you that my heart was bursting with pride and I was overwhelmed with pleasure over my 6 year old's fiercely insightful and protective heart. She has begun to notice the uncomfortable part of having a severely disabled sister that people stare at and talk about. I love that she doesn't like their responses. I love it that she keeps it that simple. She and I went on to have a very interesting conversation. One I hope to remember and cherish for a long time.

I struggled as a mother to help Ava navigate through these tough waters. I did the best I could to answer her questions but truthfully God has allowed her to live this life with these circumstances. She has been chosen to be Caroline's sister. A calling that has been both rewarding and really hard. The way she responds to Caroline and those who are mean will help shape her into the godly woman that she will one day be. So I offered insight but I really wanted her to feel and experience the weight of it because that is the best way we learn and remember.

Wednesday, January 4th 2012 late evening I sat talking with Shep over the many financial hurdles that we have jumped for the past couple of years. Unfortunately it seems that there are still many more ahead of us. This economy has crippled so many people and we are just like many others who have felt the pressure of "too much month at the end of the money." When we sit and look at it on paper I immediately start rubbing my temples and fill the uneasiness settle over me. The situation seems endless. The possibility to get ahead seems impossible. BUT God has provided miraculously so far and I believe He will continue to do the same. But at that moment the overwhelming "What if's" started making their way from my mind to my mouth and before I knew it I had us as paupers living on the street.

Silly I know. But I bet you can relate in some way. Our fears get the best of us sometimes and we give in to how we feel.

Fortunately Shep began to testify to God's goodness and grace. The fact that we have made it this far speaks to God's provision. He is to be praised. Instead of focusing on what-could-but-may-not come I should look to His Word and stand firm upon it. I stood corrected.

Thursday, January 5th, 2012 8:40 am I quietly entered a room in our church. I was about to kick off our brand new study of James by Beth Moore. The women would be arriving soon and I always sneak away to pray and make myself ready before the Lord. As I dropped to my knees in this familiar place I was immediately moved to tears. Suddenly I was overwhelmed at the journey that God and I have walked together for the past 10 years. It has been no secret that Caroline's birth catapulted me into a serious desperation for God and His Word. Bible study has been my lifeline. It has kept me sane....and thriving. It occurred to me that I had done Bible study in this very hallway for the past 7 years. Those rooms held my secrets. Those walls had seen my tears and my vulnerability. It seems that I learned to walk on steady spiritual legs in that hallway. With each study God had and was making into a woman of faith. I have so far to go but I can look over my shoulder and see the fruit.

It was an intimate and sacred moment with my Lord. It was as if He was saying, "Here we go again, girl. But let's reflect on all you have let me do in your life."

See I can remember fighting Him most of the way. I can remember when I wore bitterness like a garment. I can remember when my faith was just about salvation and not my way of life. I remember when I only picked up the bible for church on Sundays. I remember when the truth of God's Word began to really penetrate and break through my depression. I remember when I realized God really was trustworthy. I remember when He began to speak to my heart.

I was overwhelmed and undone before Him. It was marvelous.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Nit-Pickin New Year

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that we were so blessed (a bit of sarcasm) with a lice outbreak during our Christmas break.

The Wednesday before Christmas we discovered Ava's little critters.

I mentioned before that I barely maintained sanity. However Shep and I got on the ball. We washed with the lice-killing shampoo. We washed and dried sheets, clothes, jackets, and anything else that could have been touched.

We vacuumed everything. The floors, the beds, the furniture...nothing was off limits here. I became a lice killing machine.

Ava was the only one who had them and we wanted to keep it that way.

Shep checked my head. I checked his. We kept a close watch on Zeke and Caroline.

All the while we continued to do daily checks on Ava.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Almost a week to the day later.....(silly me thinking we were done with this dreadful pest) I found evidence of more.

This time....on my head.

Even typing it now sends a mixture of nausea and itchiness through my entire being.

See at this point I had become a pro at detecting a nit in the hair. A nit is the little egg that attaches close to the hairline. It is oblong in shape and it sticks like glue. It wasn't long at all before I saw these same little nits in Caroline and Zeke's hair as well. (For those of you who are new to all things lice...a nit is the egg laid by the lice. The eggs can hatch 5-8 days later so it is imperative that you remove all of them!! And do a repeat lice killing wash every 7 days. This covers all of your bases.)

The second wave of anger, frustration, and overwhelmed paranoia swept over me.

The truth was I wasn't as grossed out this time. It had already had a week to sink in. But...I was mad. Mad that we had to deal with it all over again. The washing, the vacuuming, the drying, the picking, the worrying.

We are now almost another whole week out and I think we are finally on the way to complete pest elimination.

Our heads have never been cleaner. I have learned a lot about a subject I would rather know nothing about but at least a bit of new knowledge is worth something.

I began this new year ready to forget the past few days of the last one.

But I must say I get a little bit giddy over the newness of it all.

I love new in the way of new starts.

A new possibilities. New chances. New places. New people. New lessons. New reasons to smile. New victories. New defeats. New memories. New problems. New encounters. New blessings. Maybe even a new miracle....we'll see.

Happy New Year to You! I pause in thanksgiving to my Savior and Lord for bringing us safely through 2011. I look with great hope and anticipation for what He has planned in 2012.

God help us if it requires more nit-pickin....