Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our Top, Best, & Most Memorable 10 in 2013

Because I love good summaries, closure, and wrapping things up in neat, little bows, I thought I'd present our family's highlight reel for the year 2013:

1. Mini-Vacations and Family Getaways: 
January - Invited by friends, we spent MLK, Jr. weekend in a gorgeous cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia.  Rode four-wheelers, ice skated and enjoyed hanging out in the beautiful North Georgia Mountains.

June - Told the girls we were taking them on a mystery trip.  Packed their bags and surprised them with a quick weekend getaway to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Attended the Dixie Stampede dinner show, went to the infamous Dollywood amusement park and stayed at the Wilderness at the Smokies lodge, where we rode the giant indoor water slides, surfed the waves, and swam in the pools.

September - Girls and I joined my parents on their vacation in Destin, Florida for a few days.  Prior to this beach trip, our toes had not touched the sand in four, very long years.  Nothing like a little beach therapy to make up for lost times!

October - Thanks to my aunt and uncle's extreme generosity in letting us borrow their camper, we got to spend a few days camping at a local state park.  Hiked, roasted marshmallows, rode our bikes on the trails, kayaked, and even hosted Grace's 10th birthday at the campsite. We decided camping (in a nice, clean camper) is definitely our thing.

2. Softball:
Two girls.  Two teams.  Bring on the spring...and fall.  Both girls signed up to play softball in the spring and in the fall of this past year.  Derek was the head coach for both of their teams, both seasons.  Made for some crazy-busy evenings, lots of "go, go, go", but also lots of great memories!

3. Adoption:
Whereas 2012 was filled with announcing our desire to adopt, filling out loads of paperwork, organizing fundraisers, and being matched with an orphanage in India, 2013 seemed to follow a much different pattern.

In the spring, we hit a wall with all the progress we'd made and since then, have been experiencing a long, dry season of nothingness.  This extended time of waiting has been difficult, but also beneficial.  We've learned to lean into God's promises even more, choosing to spend this season resting in His presence now as He continues to prepare us for what's ahead in the future.

But one exciting thing happened in November relating to adoption.  We got to hang out with hundreds of other adoptive families when we heard of an opportunity to participate in a music video shoot for Christian recording artist, John Waller. He'd recently written a new song entitled, "Orphan" and had asked families who'd adopted, who are in the process of adopting or who have a heart for adoption to come out and be a part of the video shoot. We didn't want to pass up the opportunity, so we drove over an hour away and stood out in the middle of a cow pasture in the rain for several hours just to be a part. So glad we took the time to go and make the memories that we did.  Priceless.

4. Secret Keeper Girl Dates:
After attending our first Secret Keeper Girl event in January, I bought the book, 8 Great Dates for Moms and Daughters to do with my oldest, Grace.  Starting in February, we went on one date a month, leading up to her tenth birthday.  Of all the experiences this year, Grace still speaks about these special times with me.  Whether we were having tea at a local cafe, getting our nails done, touring a museum, walking the local botanical gardens, shopping, stopping for hot chocolate at Starbucks, or listening to a former Victoria Secrets model's testimony, we both enjoyed these special moments together.

5. 20-Year High School Reunion
Spent the evening catching up with some of my fellow Bulldog classmates.  It was great to see so many faces I hadn't seen in a long time as well as seeing face-to-face others I only get to see on Facebook!  Loved my sweet friends then; still love them now.

6. New Position at Work
After spending the last 16 years teaching math to middle/high students (bless him), as well as working as the Instructional Technology Specialist at his school, Derek moved to the Central Office and into a new role as Lead Technology Specialist for the county in which he works.  Though it's been a transition for him filled with new growth opportunities, it's also been a welcomed change in the last few months. (The girls even like to visit Daddy's new office and write on his very clean dry erase board.)

7. Started 3rd Year of Homeschooling
Biggest accomplishment this school year has been not only our six year old, Gloria, learning to read, but absolutely exploding in reading.  Once she got it, she got it.  She's made such a huge leap into reading this year that we still can't believe all she's reading, including chapter books, her Jesus Calling devotional and even the Bible.  Big deal for our little girl!

8. Celebrated 15 Years of Marriage!
As a present for our fifteenth anniversary, we went to NYC over Labor Day weekend.  New York had been on our bucket list since we'd gotten married, and so we decided to bite the bullet and go.  Times Square, Broadway, Staten Island Ferry past the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero, Upper West Side of Manhattan, Brooklyn Tabernacle, Chinatown, carriage ride through Central Park, etc.  Great few days of sight seeing, eating and exploring the city that never sleeps!

9. Hosted a Small Group in our Home
One of our favorite happenings this year was deciding to be small group leaders at our church for the fall semester.  We opened the doors to our home and every Sunday in walked some amazing friends. Along with the rest of the small groups in our church body, we made our way through the book, Sun Stand Still.  We read, we discussed, we shared, we prayed and we were challenged to walk in and pray with audacious faith.  Daring to ask God, believing Him for the impossible.  We also had way too much fun if that's even possible on Sunday nights.

10.  Gloria's Baptism
By far, our most memorable event in 2013 happened in March.  Our youngest daughter, Gloria, decided she was ready to make public something that had happened privately in our home and in her heart.  She was ready to be baptized in front of both her immediate family and her church family, demonstrating her choice to follow Jesus and her spiritual adoption into His family forever.  It was definitely one of our best days ever, equal to the day our oldest made the same choice four years earlier.  Our hearts are beyond grateful.  And we have been richly blessed.

So, goodbye, 2013.  Hello, 2014.  Can't wait to see all that the new year brings! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Jealous of Mary

It's one of our favorite traditions, every Christmas. 

We huddle together on the couch and we watch this movie:

And every year as we watch the drama unfold, I feel something new. 

This year...jealousy.  Just a slight, momentary twinge of green, but still jealousy.

It happened during the scene in which Mary drops her basket in the field and runs over to her older cousin, soon-to-be mama of John the Baptist, Elizabeth.

Mary couldn't believe it.  For the first time, she felt something.  What she'd been told months before suddenly became very real in that moment.

The Messiah had moved. 
The Savior had somersaulted. 
The Christ had kicked

She felt it.  In her young, unlikely, ordinary womb.

And for a brief moment, I wanted to be Mary.  I wanted to know what that felt like, too.

Very different or very similar to my own daughters' flutters when I was great with child? 

Instantly, these words came to mind and I leaned over and whispered them to my husband.  They were actually Paul's words, his appeal to those in Athens regarding the One true God versus their city full of idols,

"For in Him we live and move and have our being." Acts 17:28

Paul tried to tell the Athenians that God made it all.  The world, us, everything.  He is not served by human hands as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

The One who is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).

But the way Jesus came to us, God in flesh appearing, and for those brief nine months, He lived and moved and had His being within Mary.

The One whose power and majesty and might can not be contained was temporarily confined to the parameters of her womb.

Crazy, mind-blowing!  And it gets me every. single. time.

While Mary could have donned a trendy little graphic t-shirt with an arrow pointing down to her tummy displaying the words, "Messiah Baby", and an arrow point up to her displaying the words, "Messiah Mama", scripture actually points to her humility.

And because the Creator of the world was growing within her, she had to feel the weight of the world upon her.

So do we.

Following Christ's birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, He left us Something, or rather Someone.  His Presence in the form of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, Mary was the only one physically to feel the Messiah within her, but because He is also Emmanuel, God with us, we get to experience the reality of God's presence, too.

We can know the flutters of the Spirit in the form of joy, peace, love and so much more. 
We get to hear His voice and walk with Him. 
We can feel Him move our spirit. 
And when He does, we feel compelled to share that feeling, that weight of glory, with someone else, just as Mary did. 

Scripture tells us we have Christ in us, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

It's still crazy, still mind-blowing.  Every time I think about it.

Jealous of Mary?  Nah.  Not so much anymore.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As We Go Along

It was one intentional week to make a huge impact within our community.

Serving food to employees in our local schools, local Sheriff's department, hospitals, etc....
Paying for someone's groceries...
Filling up someone's tank with gas...
Purchasing Christmas presents...
Filling bags with food items to be given away at the local food pantry...
Hosting a block party at the local Boys/Girls club...
Sponsoring a community-wide Christmas event at the town pavilion...
Etc., etc., etc.

It's official name was, "Walk Thru Bethlehem", because well, we did most of it in the little town of Bethlehem where our church is located.

The mission of the week: serve others, love others. 
Not because we had to, but because we could. 
Not with a "come and see" what our church is all about mentality, but rather a "go and show" the love of Christ.

A week ago, on the kickoff night of Walk Thru Bethlehem, all Sunday evening small groups met to eat dinner at the church and to receive assignments to serve.  Our small group (the rockin', most awesome group in the church...) had eight families show up ready to go.  We broke into pairs, took our $50 Visa gift cards and headed to our destination--Wal-Mart.

On the way, I assumed we would be the only small group wandering around looking for people to randomly bless, but I quickly found out my assumptions were wrong.  Within a few minutes, this unsuspecting Wal-Mart was flooded with tons of our church peeps.

At first I was a little concerned, thinking it would make it too awkward or too difficult with all of us in the building at the exact same time for the exact same reason.

I even said something to my husband about the saturation of us crazy church people and he so wisely said, "It's okay.  There are plenty of people here who have needs."  Point taken.

I believe the hardest part for all of us was just getting started.  Someone even asked, "So...what's our plan here?"  My reply: "We watch and we wait."

You see, there were many ways to be a blessing to someone that night.  Some chose to stand at the cash registers and offer to pay for someone's items in their cart.  Others chose to go to the back of the store and secretly pay off layaway accounts. And others chose the same approach we did.

At first the ten of us (yes, ten...four adults & six children ranging in ages 3-13) in our group wandered up and down aisles, no shopping cart, no items in hand to purchase.  In one word, stalking.  And looking very conspicuous while we did it.

Then my husband suggested taking the three youngest kiddos to the toy department while the three oldest kiddos stay with my friend, Terri, and me. 

Divide and conquer was our new strategy.  We also got a shopping cart, threw in some Christmas lights and tried to blend in with our surroundings. 

After a few minutes of trying to decide, we approached a young couple with their baby looking at Christmas decorations.  We introduced ourselves and I asked if they'd be okay with us helping with their purchase.  They kindly declined, saying they had all they really needed and suggested that we look for someone else who needed the blessing more than they did.

So...we did. 

Then I noticed a woman coming through the lawn and garden area, pushing her cart, interacting with her baby.  I watched her for a few minutes, and then suggested we approach her.  Terri offered to take care of the few groceries in her cart for her.  Once I overheard she was willing to let us do that, I rounded the corner to meet her and all I saw was her cute little dark-haired baby all bundled up. 

After introducing myself, I asked if her little girl had all her Christmas presents already.  To that the mother, replied, "No, no, she doesn't.  We can't this year."  I asked her if she'd rather us take care of her groceries or walk back to the toy department and shop for her little girl.  Her eyes lit up and she humbly said, "Oh, yes.  The toys." 

On the way, she mentioned her husband and two other little girls were walking around the store, too.  I leaned over to Terri and said, "We may need more gift cards."  Terri took off to round up any remaining gift cards from our group so we could take care of the other daughters' Christmas as well.

As we got to the toy department, we ran into our new friend's husband and their other beautiful daughters: a seven year old and their three year old.

I introduced myself to her husband, summarized the conversation we'd just had with his wife and asked his permission to assist in purchasing Christmas for their girls.

"Are you serious?"

"Yes sir, we are."

"Wow (tears in his eyes).  Really?  Well...whatever my wife says."

"She said, 'Yes'.  So, is it okay with you if we start shopping?"

With his wife's suggestions, we picked out gifts for their little ones.  When they left us to finish shopping for their groceries, we took the opportunity to add a few more surprises into the cart and head to check out.  Noisy toys, baby dolls and Barbies.  Such fun surprises for three little girls to find on Christmas morning!

After we'd paid and packaged all the gifts up for them, all ten of us met the sweet family at Customer Service.  Our husbands introduced themselves to our new friend's husband who was quite overwhelmed with emotion by this time.  We said our "good-byes" and "Merry Christmases", but not before our new friend hugged us over and over again.

We all left the store feeling a euphoric high.  Not because we'd done anything huge.  But because we'd done something so small.  But we believe that something small made a huge impact on a small family who needed it in a huge way this Christmas.

This is our family's fourth year participating in Walk Thru Bethlehem.  And more than anything, this is the lesson I've learned this year.  It comes from these six words:

"As He went along, He saw..."
John 9:1a

Usually when I'm out doing my grocery shopping, running errands, etc., I have my eyes on my list, kids in tow, trying to get in and out of wherever as quickly as possible.  No interruptions.  No observations.  Just do what I have to do as quickly as I can possibly do it.

This year's Walk Thru Bethlehem opportunity reminded me to look up and to look out.  I was reminded to really see people as I'm going along.  Not necessarily making a special trip somewhere to do something, but as I'm just doing my thing, notice others doing theirs.  Lift up a prayer for them, smile, interact, or possibly assist in something more tangible.  Whatever.

It's exactly what Jesus did.  As He walked, as He journeyed, He took notice of people.  He was never too preoccupied to stop and meet a need.  He was always on mission and it's possible for me to be, too. 

Sure, it's uncomfortable as first.  Don't think for a minute any of us were really cool with the whole process at the beginning.  It took some dying to ourselves for us to truly see someone else.  We had to step out of our self-centered comfort zones and be intentional. 

The other amazing thing about last week was knowing so many others were doing similar things at the same time and at the same place and for the same reason.  There was camaraderie.  The more, the merrier the Christmas we could give to others.  Two...or tons...are definitely better than one.  There is strength in numbers, particularly unified numbers.

I think that's one of the main reasons I love the church, the body of Christ.  We all have the same objective, making Christ known; it just manifests itself in different ways.  And when we do it all together, as we go along, so much more is accomplished. 

Lord, help us to see as we're going along.  To look up and look around us at those who are in need.  Because you first loved us, we can love.  Because You first served us, we can serve.  Because You first gave to us, we can give.  We'll wait upon You, watching, together...as we go along.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Make Room

I've spent the last few weeks doing something I seem to do every year at this time of year.  Some prefer to do it in the spring.  I prefer right before Christmas.

I initiate an all-out clean-out.  No closet, no drawer, no cabinet, no space under any bed is ignored.  

Trash bags in hand, we conquer the clutter.  We release what we have no use for any longer.  We toss what needs to be thrown away, and we organize what we want to keep.

Because I know more is coming in the next few weeks in the form of gifts, some of the old has to go in order to make room for the new.  If we don't, there's no room for the new.

And since I'm naturally a lover of all things organized and all things tidy, this makes my heart very happy to purge out the old, the unnecessary and seldom used.  Unfortunately, the process is not often met with the same zeal by my oldest daughter, who would be perfectly content to keep every nook and cranny just as it is.  

But as her most wise, most discerning mama, I know there is work to be done.  So this year, in an attempt to avoid any (& all) emotional drama, I told her an intervention would take place on a particular day and she, the occupant, would be responsible for accomplishing the task.  

Cue the pouting, sulking, and tears.  

A few hours into it, little progress was being made.  So an intervention did take place.  I intervened and helped her sort through her mess. Though I thought letting her handle her stuff all by herself was the way to go this year, it was not.  Through tears, she admitted, "I still need your help; it's just too hard to do by myself."  It was too much for her to handle and she was overwhelmed by it all.

Our plan:  divide the room into zones and tackle them one by one.  A couple days later and a couple trash bags later, she hugged me and said, "This feels awesome! Thank you for helping me, Mama."

Crisis (& clutter) averted.  Mission accomplished. Everybody's happy, happy, happy.

Until the the Holy Spirit pressed into my heart.

You see, I'm really good at taking care of business with my physical surroundings. Preparing our home for all the new gifts.  But what about my spiritual surroundings?  What about preparing my very own heart, the wellspring of life?  

So the last couple of weeks I've been thinking about just that.  Christmas will be here soon.  I've been doing so many things to get ready.  Shopping. Decorating.  Planning.  All good things preparing for one great day.  

But is there room? 

Have I intentionally cleaned out what's been piling up for some time?
Am I making room, turning my affection toward the most precious Gift ever given?  

The other stuff is just that, stuff.  I, too, need an intervention from time to time.  I need Jesus to intervene, to guide me in releasing what needs to go: unnecessary expectations, disappointments, judgments, unforgiveness, distractions, selfishness, etc., etc., etc.  

The main way I find to do that is by recognizing Advent, acknowledging that Christ has come, is coming again one day, and is present with us now. Last night was the first night of Advent this calendar year. 

As I sat with my family and read from Bartholomew's Passage, our Advent story this year, I could feel some shifting, some rearranging and some purging happening as the Holy Spirit began to take care of business.  

No pouting, no sulking and no tears on my part.  

Happy to oblige.  
Happy to have Someone helping me with the process.  
Happy to be making room.

"While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  
She wrapped Him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."  
Luke 2:6-7

Help, Lord.  Help us clean out all the clutter, all that has hidden You.  You are the child that was born. You are the Son that was given. You are the Warrior King who's coming again.  You are Emmanuel, here with us now. Forgive us for unknowingly crowding You out as those did in Bethlehem the night You came. Make room in our hearts for You.  Amen.

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