A Fabulous Friday

Today was a good day. These past few weeks have definitely been a whirlwind for our family. During the past six weeks, we have:

-enjoyed a weeks vacation at the beach

-attended graduations and graduation parties

-hosted a dinner celebrations for Allie’s 8th grade promotion

– gone on a 8-day missions trip to NYC

-taken an overnight trip to youth camp for Otis to speak

-prepared a meal for around 30 volunteers at another local camp

– all of that is on top of orthodontist appointments, library visits, laundry, family visits, a couple of beach days, summer reading, and regular church responsibilities/services.

Believe me, we stay pretty busy all the time & I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I just cannot believe that we have already zoomed past the 4th of July!! Time is flying by this year!!

We function as a family of four and do almost everything together. All of this busy-ness has kept us running around and ministering together. That’s such a blessing! Today, Otis and I decided to go run some errands in the morning alone and then enjoy a lunch date together!

Life really does change so much when your kids are old enough to be home alone!! ūüôĆūüŹĽ

Most of the errands were the boring, typical stuff- bank, post office, etc…

We did make a stop at one of my favorite stores! I love going into Ross! I had three birthday gifts to buy and our son desperately needed some new pants! I always find such great deals there!

This is such a cute pillow that I found! Llamas are a joke for our family and so as soon as I saw this pillow, I knew it would be perfect on our back porch!!

On top of new clothes for our son and Otis, I also spotted this dress for only $10.99! (This is why I LOVE Ross)!

After making our purchases, we headed to a new-to-us lunch spot that is close to our house. We are usually always down for tacos and enjoyed the view and the time together!

In case you are wondering, I had the surf & turf taco and the teriyaki chicken taco! And that view is so relaxing!!ūüėÉ

My brother and his girlfriend are in town and so we are looking forward to some family time tomorrow! Saturday is shaping up to be just as great as Friday!

I hope you all have a great weekend as well!! Be intentional and spend time with those people important to you!!

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NYC Missions Trip 2018

This time last week, we were in NYC on a missions trip with the Dream Center. There were ten of us that went and we had a fabulous time! I’ve attempted to write this post several times, but it almost feels too big to write out. All of the memories and emotions are raw. I’ve decided that I’m going to write three posts about this trip- this one discussing the missions trip, a post about sightseeing and a post about traveling by train. That way the pressure to cover it all doesn’t get the best of me!

Our team has been on stateside mission trips before, but never with the DC and never in NY. In fact, only one of the students had ever even been to NY. This trip was a huge deal to all of us. We had over a year into the planning and worked hard to raise the funds for us to go. I can clearly remember sitting in the first chapel on the first day and praying over each student and where they were in their lives. I wanted this trip to be meaningful and life changing…. and God was faithful and did so much in the midst of our students!

We took part in several areas of ministry during our time with the Dream Center. One of the very first things we did was a prayer walk. We walked through these neighborhoods that we would be ministering in and prayed in various areas- by a homeless shelter, at a playground, near a spot that is being taken over by gangs, at low income housing, and at a public park where so many homeless sleep at night. We prayed for the community, we prayed for the outreaches, and we prayed for doors to continue to be opened for the NYCDC after we left.

We participated in numerous adopt a blocks while we were there. The NYCDC has been so faithful with these events- the people in the community know when they are coming and they are lined up waiting. We were able to minister in the Chelsea and Harlem areas. At an adopt a block, once the initial set up is complete, there are several ways to minister. Some of us helped with the passing out of groceries and hygiene items, some of us passed out hotdogs/cookies/water/lemonade, some of us engaged the waiting adults in conversation, some of us played with the children and some of us prayed with people once they had come through the line. The experience overall differed so much depending on where we were that day. At one spot, people just wanted the free food and then to be left alone. Another day, our students were able to pray with almost everyone that came through the line. Not much could make me more proud then when I looked over from my station and saw my kids praying over strangers in the streets of NY!

The kids in these neighborhoods soaked up every ounce of attention that we could pour on them! A couple of the places, we visited twice while we were there. At the second visit, the kids would remember our names from the first time. They wanted to run and play and laugh.

Another way that we were able to impact the community was through a ministry called visits. People in the area that don’t have family or could use help around their house or someone to talk to are in this program. The students of the dream center go visit these people twice a week for a couple of hours at a time. They can help with cleaning, laundry, cooking, etc…. or they may just have conversation with the people. This really builds community among people that might otherwise feel very isolated. We were able to split up and accompany them on these visits. Each experience was different. Some people simply wanted someone to talk to. Some of our students dealt with hoarders and spent the entire time cleaning. I personally helped change bed sheets and bag up dirty laundry. I swept her apartment and then spent the rest of the time listening to fascinating stories about her life. Even though it was my first time meeting this woman, I could see how much she looked forward to this time each week and the relationships that were built from it.

We were also able to bless the Dream Center team while we were there. We spent a few hours working at their storage unit. We organized, counted, priced, and checked pallets and pallets of donated goods.

We also helped them set up for church on Sunday. They don’t have their own building and hold church in a school, so they set up and break down everything each and every week.

I hope that in some small way we were able to bless them the way that they blessed us.

This trip in general was phenomenal. I watched students that I loved be used of God. I saw them stretched out of their comfort zones and I saw them grow in faith. We witnessed things together that we aren’t normally face to face with here at home- we saw people sleeping in boxes in the street, people digging through trash cans for food, we saw filth and the desperation that must come from being homeless. Not to say that those same things aren’t happening here in Charleston, but we aren’t up close and personal with them like we were there.

We were all inspired, we came back with fresh ideas of things to do here at home and ways to help those around us. It doesn’t always have to be perfect or the exact same- what’s important is that you are doing what you can with what you have.

One of the biggest blessings from this trip came on our ride home. We boarded the train to head home at 6am one morning. A couple from New York boarded the same time as us. It’s a 13 hour train ride. These people were going to visit family near Charleston and were on the train with us the entire time. We didn’t talk a whole lot with them until the last hour and a half of our trip. Otis and some of the boys had gone to the lounge car to play uno. That left me sitting on my row alone. The couple asked me what kind of group we were and what we were doing. They told me that they had been watching us the entire trip. The were amazed at how the students respected us. The commented on the way we all spoke to one another and took care of each other. The gentleman was even surprised that we knew all of the names! That might seem silly to me, but it impacted them! They were so impressed! Otis and the boys came back and we had conversation with them the rest of the time. We talked about church and they connected with our church and Youth group on social media. They wanted to be able to watch our services online! While we are having this conversation with them, the lady in the row behind me asks if she can get the social media page information as well! That was a great moment for me to share with our students that yes they were used all week long on our missions trip. AND yes, God can also use you just by the way you carry yourself. God can open doors anywhere!!

If you are looking for somewhere to serve, check out the New York City Dream Center! They are making a real impact all around them and can use all the help they can get!

I will be forever thankful to the amazing church family that rallied behind our group and helped make this trip possible! We were supported with offerings, sponsor letters, and fundraisers! We could not have done this without you all! ‚̧ԳŹ

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Psalms 71:5-8

I have been pretty transparent and honest with our youth with my struggles. I often tell them that one of my biggest weaknesses is reading my Bible. Now don’t get me wrong, I can read devotionals and Christian books all day long. It’s when I sit down to just read the Bible that I struggle.

I think part of my problem is that I put too much pressure on myself. I feel like I need to read a lot. Every single day. I should be devouring it. But I don’t. I’m learning to cut myself some slack. After all, I’m not reading just to mark it off my checklist for the day. I’m reading to grow in knowledge and to strengthen my relationship with the Lord. I don’t have to read 10 chapters a day. I can read just one or even just a few verses, as long as I am meditating on those and pursuing God about what it says.

I was determined this year that I was going to read my Bible all of the way through. Because I usually read different devotionals, my studies tend to be all over the place. I really wanted to read the entire Bible this year.

I started a plan on my phone to do that on January 1. I did really, really good for about a month. ūüė© now I just read some as it comes to mind and am trying to get caught up. A few weeks ago when I was speaking in Youth, I thought that I would use myself as an example. I told the students how it was ok to be behind as long as you kept going and striving. I opened my Bible app knowing that I was behind, but I didn’t realize how far behind I was. Y’all, I had to admit in front of everyone that I was 110 days behind! Now I’ve been reading my other devotions, but this was just in regular Bible reading. I determined that I would get caught up and that I would finish the Bible this year!

All of that to say that God can use our faults in His perfect timing. I was reading scriptures last week that should’ve been read months ago. This verse in particular hit me right in my heart.

‚ÄúO Lord, you alone are my hope. I‚Äôve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother‚Äôs womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you! My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long.‚ÄĚ

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭71:5-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

God’s timing for me to read this verse was perfect! I began to dissect it phrase by phrase and see how much it applies to my life!

Oh Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O Lord, from childhood.

The past few years have been a rollercoaster for us! We have faced some serious battles, but we have not faced them alone. God has been with us every step of the way and has not failed us yet! We are learning again and again that He is faithful!

Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you!

This part hit me as well. Some of you know this, but most of you may not. I was born premature- 3 months early. My lungs were not developed. I did not have hair, eyebrows, or fingernails. I barely weighed a pound and during my stay in the hospital, my weight went down to under a pound. My dad has always told me two things about my birth. Number one is that I could fit completely stretched out in one of his hands. Number two is that it was the first time that he prayed in a long time. I spent my first Christmas in the hospital and my first year out of the hospital hooked up to a heart monitor.

As a parent, I cannot imagine going through that. I look at my beautiful family and am so thankful. I look at where God has led us in ministry and am amazed. I know that we are living a ‘for such a time as this’ life. Everywhere He leads us has a purpose. He sustained me when I could’ve easily died as a baby to live out His will. No matter what we face in this life, there is always something to be thankful for. We just have to take the time to remember all that he has brought us through.

My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long.

I never would have thought that I would be where I am right now. When I was younger, I didn’t really have a career dream. I always said teacher just because I thought that would be fun. All I ever knew for sure was that I wanted to be a mom. I always ever dreamed of being that carpool the kids around, team mom with snacks in the back of the van…. everyone hangs out at her house kinda mom. The kind that spends her time shuttling kids around to where they need to be and just being present in their lives. I never thought of ministry. Sure after we were married, Otis and I volunteered. We would’ve never imagined being in full time ministry. Now I am able to serve with my husband full time. I am able to teach our children. I am able to shuttle them around, plus all the kids in youth group. I am not only mommy, but “mama J” to so many as well. The Lord has directed, protected, and placed us where we are. We know that He will continue to lead us. We are able to be an example to others every single day.

After saying all of this, how could I ever stop praising Him and declaring His glory??

Sometimes a few verses can speak so much!! ‚̧ԳŹ‚̧ԳŹ

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Rest is good for the soul

This past week we were so blessed with the opportunity to join some very close friends on vacation. A beach house was rented and plans were made. Our schedule was cleared and as the time approached, we were so excited for some time away.

A vacation at the beach is the kind of getaway when a person can truly rest and relax. Some vacations are busy and scheduled and can leave a person feeling more exhausted than they were when they left.

Life is so hectic. Unfortunately, the pace of it all has no sign of slowing down any time soon. The school year is busy and the summer is packed….don’t even get me started on the holidays!!!

Our family seems to have been going nonstop lately.

It is so important that as often as you get the chance, take a step away. Take every opportunity given to catch your breath.

We finished with school the day before we left. We enjoyed a beautiful week with our toes in the sand- reading books and watching kids play in the waves. No schedule to follow. No where to be. Just time to breathe.

We tend to make ourselves so busy that we might even feel guilty for stepping away. There is no reason to feel guilt. The Bible talks so much about rest and we just zoom past that part and think that a minute here and an hour there is good enough.

It takes time to rest. You have to be purposeful with it. This world will fill your days with instant EVERYTHING. Restoration of your soul takes time. Don’t be afraid to step away. You will come back to your life/job/family/ministry refreshed. You will come back renewed.

So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest.¬†¬† – Hebrews 4:9-11

It is important enough that God made it a priority, yet we don’t ever seem to think it is important enough to invest times of rest in ourselves.

Rest is good for the soul. Make time for it. Breathe it all in. Allow your body/mind/emotions time to recover and use the quiet time to grow closer to your Savior!

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  РPsalm 116:7

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A first for me!

Last weekend, I was blessed with the opportunity to be the guest speaker at a brunch for an organization called Destined Shades of Purpose. This is a program that mentors young women from elementary school through high school. They tackle hard topics like anxiety and self confidence and even teach fun things like makeup! The mentors and mentees are also quite active in the community participating in a variety of outreaches.

I was vaguely familiar with the organization when I was asked to speak. Two girls from our youth group are members and I had seen some pictures posted online of their different events and outreaches. That was about all that I knew about it, beside that it was faith based, when I agreed to be a part of the ceremony. Every thought running through my head was full of excuses and reasons that I could give the lovely lady inviting me the answer of no! I had never spoken before besides in our youth group. I quickly answered yes, before I could talk myself out of it.

I prayed and prayed about what to speak about it. I felt confident in what the Lord has given me, but that still didn’t mean that I wasn’t nervous!!

It was a beautiful brunch, I was so blessed and honored to play any small part! I was even introduced by one of my youth girls! ‚̧ԳŹ‚̧ԳŹ‚̧ԳŹ‚̧ԳŹ

I left this brunch with such a full and thankful heart!!

I watched as they honored each girl with certificates and gift bags. They also specially honored my two girls, who happen to be graduating out of the program (since they are about to graduate high school next week).

Otis and I spent some time speaking with the founder. We made sure she had our contact info. We told her that she can count on us to be praying over their work and to let us know if they ever need any help. The work they are doing is SO VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT!!

This life is not about competition. We shouldn’t feel like these girls should only be a part of our youth group. Students today face so much pressure!! They need support – as much as they can get!! It really does take a village!! Let’s support one another!

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Limitless

Yesterday we stopped and picked up a few movies from red box after church. We went home to lounge and enjoy some time together. One of the movies that we picked was The Greatest Showmen. I felt so late to the party, having not seen it yet. We were so excited to watch it after hearing everyone absolutely rave about it for months!!

Me being the pinterest-loving, home school mom that I am, I had an entire¬†unit study prepared today¬†¬†to discuss the themes, symbolism, and life lessons that were present in the movie. I didn’t start off with this discussion – ¬†hello, Monday mornings are hard enough as it is…I could not sabotage ours by being off our normal routine. haha! I waited until math, history, and science were done. After lunch and break time, we came back together to start lessons again and I told them that we were going to take a little break to talk about the movie.

We talked about the leadership qualities that were shown by the main character. The fact that he knew that kind of life that he wanted, and he did not stop until he got there. We talked about how failure can sometimes be a stepping stone that leads us to fulfill our destiny. We also talked about how we have to follow our calling, even if it is frowned upon by society. Basically, that the calling that you have in life may not necessarily be the easiest or most traveled road according to some people.

I told them how as I was growing up, the norm was to graduate highschool, graduate college, get a job, and pretty much work forty+ hours a week until retirement. Things are different now. Everyone thinks differently. The norm is that there is no norm. I want them to know that they can accomplish anything and everything that they want. I want them to have amazing dreams and goals. I want them to know that they can do anything that God calls them to do.

Gary may be too young to remember, but Allie can remember when her Dad worked at a job that he hated. He worked hard to provide for our family and dealt with less than ideal hours. He worked and took classes so that he could earn his certification. He walked through open doors that led him to where he is today -a full-time position as an associate pastor.

Both of the kids, can remember how hard it was for our family before I left my job. They have had front row seats to¬†the effects –¬†good and bad- that we have endured since that change in our dynamics.

I hope¬†that from¬†watching us make these choices and follow God’s leading, it doesn’t mean that things are always perfect. Things can still be hard, but God will lead you through the hard times.

My kids are growing up in a time where they want to accomplish so much. They have talked about working at Starbucks(so¬†she can learn how to make all the delicious drinks), working at McDonald’s ( so¬†he can have as many cheeseburgers as¬†he wants), and all kinds of things. They have lots of dreams and I love that. Allie has mentioned pastoring. She has had people speak over her life and we know that God has plans for her life and she will know her calling at the right time. I recently blogged about the one time in my life that I heard the audible voice of God- I know that God has¬† a plan for Gary.

I don’t want them to be scared of stepping out in faith. Or following what God has told them, even if it doesn’t seem like the usual path. I want them to have faith that God will sustain them and see them through. That He will direct their paths.

They are growing up in a time where they see vloggers and examples like the bucket list family living exceptional lives. I want them to know that they can chase their dreams and live lives that are better than they ever imagined. I think it is awesome that they don’t have to pick a profession at twenty something and then work their lives away at a desk. They can reinvent themselves as often as necessary¬†and make a difference. They can do whatever they want- they can be as “ordinary” as they want or come up with their own path.

I’m so proud of them both already and am so happy that we live in a time where their dreams can be limitless.

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My Jericho

This post has been on my heart for a while now. The thoughts have been rolling around in my head and I’ve been wrestling with not only what to say, but how much to say and how to say it.

The past few months have been a struggle for us. The struggles that people face can be intense- we all have our own baggage. It has become more and more clear to me that you never know what the people around you are going through. We have faced a lot of things that we have chosen to keep private. Things that would probably shock most people- since you know, we seem to have it all together. Pastor husband, SAHM, two great kids…. what could be stressful in their life???!!?

My point is that it has been one thing after another. We are choosing to continue to trust God.

Sometimes, you have to make that decision firm in your mind…. because your emotions are not lining up. You have to know where you stand and what you stand for. Come what may. Standing in the midst of the trial is not the time to decide whether you are serious about this whole faith thing. That is the time when it seems to be easiest to walk away and just give up.

But God.

He had seen us through so much in our lives. I do have faith in Him.

When life doesn’t make sense…. like, at all….

And the circumstances are paralyzing….

And the fear is taking over….

And anxiety sets in….

And you doubt your worth, much less your call….

Through all of that (and more), He is faithful. He is constant. If I just learn to take a breath, step back, and rest in Him.

Things can get out of my control quite often… but God never loses control.

God never loses me. He knows my future and my worth and my calling.

Things might be stressful lately. I don’t know what the future holds. Honestly, in our lives it’s been more about surviving each day.

I titled this entry My Jericho, because I am always trying to find myself in the Bible. When I am going through something, I want to find who went through it first. I want to see how they handled it and how God brought them through. I want to read about their victory or maybe learn from their mistake.

As I read the Bible and thought about all the different Bible stories that I know, I struggled to figure out which one can relate to us currently. I feel like it is one thing after another. A repetitive cycle. We barely make it through one battle and another letter or bill or call comes in that has us scrambling to find our footing. We are desperately searching the horizon for relief. We are in the mindset of asking “what’s going to happen next?”

I think this might have been how the Israelites felt as they looked at the walls of Jericho. They circled day after day. It seemed as though nothing was happening. It seemed as though they were wasting their time and energy. They had to wonder how in the world walking around the walls was going to make a difference. They had to wonder why God didn’t just give them the city. Why the process??

Because life IS A PROCESS.

We trust and then we forget and then we struggle and then we praise and repeat.

We can get caught up in our own stuff, so much so that the process might not seem to make sense.

I feel like we’ve been circling around these same problems… these same issues… fighting these same battles….

day after day

week after week

Waiting on relief.

Being obedient is also a process. Trusting when it doesn’t make sense.

Joshua 6:20 tells us – “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the men gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city.”

Verse 20 is the goal. If the Israelites had stopped circling the city walls one lap short, they may not have received their victory.

You might feel like I do tonight. Exhausted from facing what seems like the same battles over and over and not understanding why nothing is changing. Hold on for your verse 20.

I have faith that my victory is coming. That moment is on the way that is going to change everything. I’m going to exhale and know that everything that has led me to that point was a part of His plan. I trust that now, but I don’t see it yet. I have faith that I will see it.

Don’t give up before the walls of the circumstances you face crumble before your God.

Keep marching. Keep circling. Keep holding on, even if it feels like you are barely making it. Don’t think that you are alone. We are all facing enemies and walls in our lives. You will look back one day and see the purpose and the beauty in His timing.

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Even on the most difficult of days.

Battles y’all… they are so real….and so brutal. This year was supposed to be so much better than last year. It had to be. Unfortunately, ¬†It has already had its share of ups and downs.

This past Wednesday was exceptionally difficult. When you feel like you are barely keeping everything balanced as is, and then you have a moment (or in my case, a morning) where multiple things crash down at one time. One bump in the road, I can handle. In fact, I am getting pretty good at it. But man, it was like I was walking through a minefield. Every text…every call….was something else that was going wrong. It was a retreat back to my room and put schoolwork on hold cause I need to pray and cry for a while kinda morning.

Otis and I were both just overwhelmed. We knew that we needed to have faith, but when everything seems to be crashing down in a very real way….that’s a hard thing to actually do.

Of course this happens on a Wednesday. A day when we are supposed to be preparing for a service that night. It always seems that the hardest battles show themselves on Wednesdays.

My original plan was to come to the church early that day. We had a list of things to¬†do for¬†the ministries that we are in charge of, not to mention preparing for our upcoming Easter event. After about¬†an hour of my meltdown, things did not seem any better. I called Otis and changed our¬†plans. I told him that I honestly didn’t even feel like coming that day at all.

Part of being a family that works hard at ministry together, means¬†that we all have jobs to do and we work together to make things happen.¬†As much as I would have liked to crawl back under my comforter on Wednesday morning and not face anything, the bottom line was that Allie had¬†a job¬†to do. So, we went to the church as planned. I got busy with my list. Even if life isn’t fair or working out, I can still busy myself to get things done. I know that when God told me to quit my job, that there was ministry for me to do…I know that it was His voice. I have not taken a single moment for granted. I know that it is a huge blessing that I have been able to spend the past couple of years working along side Otis. To have the freedom to homeschool our kids and have the freedom to spend¬†time during the week helping¬† my husband- that’s a big deal to me. HUGE. To be able to serve beside him and not only help, but be present at every single event has meant so much to me.

The thought of my schedule changing and not having that freedom anymore is nauseating. Seriously.

Wednesday I was able to mark almost everything off of my to do list. Service time rolled around and students started arriving. Checking in on their school week and sports activities was a great distraction.

Worship time rolled around and I felt like doing anything other than singing and actually worshiping. I was all cried out.

In that moment when I had an awful, difficult, lousy day…I chose to worship anyway. I chose to raise my hands. More now than ever, I need to surrender completely to God. He has me. Even on the most difficult of days, He is more worthy than I could ever fathom.

I was determined that Thursday would be better. It was. God showed up in our situation and proved, once again, His faithfulness. The difference between 10:30 AM on Wednesday and 10:30AM on Thursday was mind-blowing.

No matter what you might be going through today. Choose to make that choice to worship. Your emotions and thoughts might not always line up, but making that choice is the first step to change your point of view.

Even on the most difficult of days, He is worthy.

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Keep On Trying

Hello everyone! Today is what I am calling a catch up day! It is a birthday week at our house- our sweet Allie turns 14 on Saturday! (Unbelievable!!) Her grandparents took her shopping and out to lunch yesterday for her birthday. That was a great surprise and a wonderful afternoon for them and her. So, yesterday we only finished about 75% of our school day. Which is fine…. I mean, flexibility is our greatest perk of homeschooling!

Today our goals are to finish up the work from yesterday, we are having a special unit study with projects on the Winter Olympics (Gary is suddenly very into this?). We also have to go to the bookstore for a new book for Allie’s Literature course.

On a side note, Allie opened her very own Etsy shop this week for her artwork. She has already received two orders, so finalizing and shipping those is also on our list for the day.

It is so easy to put so much pressure on ourselves and get buried in to-do lists, emails, work, school, church, life….

When we get overwhelmed in our schedule, we tend to get snappy with people. Usually, it’s those people closest to us.

I’ve learned that it is vital to our family that we plan on catch up days sometimes.

Everyday can be so packed with ministry that we forget to take time just having a relationship with Christ.

If you read my New Years post, then you know that one of my goals was to read my entire Bible this year. I have always been pretty transparent that Bible reading is/was one of my personal struggles. I have no problem reading devotions or Christian books. I can study to prepare for a series or service- no big deal! The thing that gets me is just the day to day reading of the actual Bible. Like, not in a devotion form. Maybe I’m not supposed to admit that out loud- you know, with the whole pastor’s wife thing…. but this is me. When I do just read the Bible on it’s own, I default to New Testament or Proverbs. When was the last time that I just opened and read Leviticus? So that is why I started a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan this year.

I was so excited and started out so strong! I was keeping up with my plan and daily reading. I felt accomplished! Then I got a little behind…. then I was scared to even open the page in fear of how many days I might be behind. I gathered the strength to just face it… I mean geez, it’s only February… how bad could it be!?!?

12 Days.

I was 12 days behind in my plan!

Now I feel like a slacker. See, I’ve still been reading the Bible in my other devotion, but I had fallen behind in this particular plan. 12 days isn’t too bad, but it still would’ve been real easy to just shake it off and try again next year.

Is that what the Lord wants from me?

Of course not! He gives mercy and grace. He wants my effort, not my perfection. So guess what… I’m still reading my entire Bible this year! I’m going to do a little extra reading each day to get caught up. I’m going to be mindful of opening that plan when I have extra time here and there, instead of scrolling through IG.

I’m going to keep trying and pushing toward my goal.

Isn’t that what Christianity is all about anyway? Striving to be like Jesus. And when we mess up… getting back up and trying again!

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The Voice of God

Today is our son’s ninth birthday. I can’t think about this day too much without thinking about part of my testimony. You¬†read about people “hearing the voice of God”, but most of us have never heard that actual, audible voice.

I have. Once.

It all has to do with our son. Before I dive into that…I need to give you a little back story.

Gary was the son that we prayed for. We already had an amazing daughter that we loved so much. She was three years old and we felt like we were ready to add another child to our family. We had no problem getting pregnant with her. We struggled with Gary. After almost a year, we finally had a positive test. We were so excited. We made the next available appointment that the doctor had, which happened to be a day when Otis was at work. I told him it was fine. I had been through this before. All of the home¬†tests were positive, so I’d go in, they’d congratulate me and send me home with a blurry picture with an arrow pointing to a little spot that said ‘baby’. Then we could tell family and friends. The only problem was when I went in, that isn’t what happened at all.

They pulled the ultrasound wand out and circled all around my stomach. They went round and round. Then they called for another doctor to come in. I am laying there panicked….vulnerable….and alone.

The silence was broken by the doctor telling me that she was so sorry. She told me that I had absolutely been pregnant, however that it appeared that I had lost the baby. There was no heartbeat. ¬†She told me that perhaps¬†I had my dates wrong for my last period and that I wasn’t as far along as I should have been. My dates were not wrong. We had been trying to get pregnant for almost a year. I was recording those dates meticulously. I felt so broken in that moment. I thought why in the world would God allow us to get pregnant if we were just going to lose the baby?? The doctor told me that I had more than likely lost the baby, but that there was a small chance that everything was fine and that the projected dates were incorrect. She told me that I needed to make another appointment the next week to see if the ultrasound looked any different.

I left that office a mess. I was hysterical. This was not how I thought my day was going to go. Otis did his best reassure me that God has a plan. That was so hard to listen to, much less believe. We only told two people and asked them to pray. Going through normal routines and motions during that week was torture. Nobody at my work knew, no one at church knew…no family members knew….people interacted with us all week long having no idea what we were battling through.

Otis went with me to that next appointment. We went in dreading what we might hear. Then it happened- that same ultrasound wand went round and round my stomach again, but this time there WAS a heartbeat! The wave of relief was unexplainable. We thanked God for preserving this little life.

Everything was fine and normal with my pregnancy, well as normal as a pregnancy can be.

One Wednesday afternoon on our way to church when I was about six months along, we were involved in a car crash. A driver didn’t even look and attempted to pull across a four lane highway. We were going the normal speed and had no time to stop. The impact was hard enough that the airbags were deployed. It was scary for sure. After getting checked out, we were assured that our baby was just fine.

About a month after the car accident, I was at work on a Saturday afternoon.¬†¬†I had been having some pain in my stomach, but I didn’t want to ask to leave work. I didn’t want it to look like I was just trying to get out of there early to start my weekend. My plan was to push through the couple of hours that I had left, go pick up our daughter, and then I could go home and get in bed. I left at my normal time, but I didn’t know what was wrong and in fact I wasn’t sure that I could drive home. I called Otis and told him that I didn’t think I could go get Allie. I was crying and told him the pain was pretty intense and¬†escalating quickly. ¬†I remember telling him that I didn’t know what was wrong, but that I was sure I was fine and there was no reason to panic. I went home, curled up¬†on our bed and cried in pain. All I could do was pray in between the cries. The¬†pain was worse then what I remembered labor being. ¬†The only thought that was racing through my mind was that this must be what it feels like to have a miscarriage. I was so scared that I was going to lose him. I wasn’t home long when I heard our front door unlock. Otis had left his job early and come home to check on me. He immediately helped me up and told me that he was taking me to the hospital. We ended up spending the weekend there. They told me that I had an¬†severe bladder infection. They watched the baby and me over the next couple of days and then sent me home with some medication. I was fine after that, but man was it painful!

Some time passed and we welcomed a beautiful baby boy to our family. We are so thankful for Gary. Life was wonderful. We were settling into our routine as a family of four. Allie was obsessed with her sweet little brother and was such an amazing little helper. I started new hours at work and was able to be with the kids during the day. Otis was just hired as the full-time youth pastor at our church. We were excited for this new chapter. I remember that it was our first Wednesday night after our hiring. This was the night of our first official¬†youth service. We were in the upstairs youth room setting up and getting ready a couple of hours before service. We were each working on different things. Allie was playing. We had 11 month old Gary laying on a blanket in the middle of the room, so that we could both keep our eye on him. He seemed to be content playing with his toys. We were both working in different areas of the room and Gary was right in the middle of the two of us. He was away from everything- we thought we had picked a pretty¬†safe spot.¬†I was looking down at a piece of paper and heard a thud. My head shot up and I locked eyes with¬†Otis across the room. We looked down- Gary was gone. We heard another thud as we raced to the stairwell. I had only looked away for what seemed like a second. Gary wasn’t even¬†walking yet. He had scooted across that room so fast¬†and fallen down¬†a flight of stairs. I can still¬†see in my mind the sight of his little body laying face down at the bottom of the steps.¬†I raced down to him and scooped him up. He was screaming, his head was swollen and already purple. Otis was right¬†behind me calling¬†911. The operator told us not to pick him up, but we told her that we already had. She told¬†us that an ambulance was on the way and that we needed to keep him as still as possible. We strapped him in his car seat, thinking that would be that best way to keep him still and waited on the¬†EMS. The ambulance arrived and transported Gary to the emergency room. The doctor came in and checked him out. He was too young to do a CT…his brain was still developing so much.¬†They¬†examined him and physically he seemed to be fine. Another wave of relief washed over us. We barely had time to exhale, before the doctor started his next paragraph. He told us that he would not be able to¬†guarantee that there wouldn’t be mental¬†or developmental issues down the road. We would just have to wait and see.¬†¬†We pushed those thoughts out of our mind and focused on the fact that our baby boy was ok.

We never really had any other conversations about possible problems with Gary, but the words that the doctor said echoed in my mind constantly. I was home all day with the kids and worked at night, so there was no time to have a¬† break down. My time to myself was on my way home in the middle of the night. My shift ended at 3AM, I had a 45 minute commute home, and everyone in my house would be asleep when I got there so no one would see my puffy face or my tear stained cheeks. I cried- not a soft, whimpering cry. It was¬†coming from a place deep in my heart¬†where I had tried to bury it. I worried about¬†the unknown. What¬†if he never talked?¬†Or wasn’t able to ¬†learn at the normal rate? What if we took him to the hospital that night and he was fine, but he really wasn’t? I wrestled with these fears and thoughts for weeks. I cried every single night. I asked God why. I tried to pray through it. I talked to God between my sobs. It was becoming my norm. I balled my eyes out every single night my entire drive home. I blamed myself and felt so much guilt.¬†One night ( I could show you the exact section of road I was driving over when this happened), I was pleading with God. I was asking Him what in the world we were going to do if something was wrong with our son. Then I was trying to ‘pray my way through’. I was trying to reason with myself and my thoughts. I said out loud ‘he’s going to be ok…you kept him safe when he fell down those 18 stairs.” In that moment in the darkness on the interstate, I was alone in my car. The radio was off. It was just me and my cries. I heard a voice. It startled me. I jumped as my head spun around and looked over at the empty passenger seat.¬† The voice said, “Of course I kept him safe. I kept him safe on those stairs and I kept him safe when you were in the hospital, just like I kept him safe when you were in the car wreck. I am keeping him safe….just like when the doctors told you that he had died and you weren’t pregnant any more. I kept him safe. He is my child, too. I have plans for him”

Insert lots of goosebumps right here.

I had spent weeks wallowing in the what if’s of the situation. I had no reason to let my thoughts consume me. Gary was acting normal. He was learning and moving and playing like normal. But in my secret place, it was eating me alive.

Today that little boy turns nine. He loves Legos, playing video games, and Pokémon. He is a math whiz and loves reading, as long as he can choose the book. He is the comedian of our family. The kids is hilarious! His timing is just something else! He loves Jesus and hates to work! haha! His imagination is astronomical. He can make believe with anything and creates all kinds of games.

We love this kid immensely. He is 100% boy and keeps us on our toes. He is going 90mph from sun up to late into the night. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

I often think about that night in my car. I think about how God loves us so much. I think about how Gary is my child, but he is God’s child too! He must have some amazing plans for this kid! I mean, I trust that the Lord has¬†awesome plans for all of us….but to¬†know that I heard an audible voice regarding my son.¬†That is something that I never thought I would experience and will never forget.

I have thought about sharing this story numerous times before. Today felt right. I think his birthday was the perfect day to put all of this into writing.

God hears your cries and prayers- even if you are alone in the middle of the night on a dark highway. He has you in the palm of His hand and just like the song says..no power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand.

I hope that my story…our story….has blessed or encouraged you in some way tonight!

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