Friday, December 31, 2010

The Lover Who Changed My Life in 2010

The end of a year...a time for reflecting...

As I look back on the year 2010, I am first amazed by how quickly the year flew by! It seems as though it's only been a couple of months since my husband and I were celebrating NYE 2009 in Gatlinburg, TN. Yet here we are at the close of another year, looking back on how our lives have changed. I won't bore you with all my life changes of this past year. But I do want to tell you about one:

The biggest change that's taken place in my life is learning that God is my unwaivering Lover. I grew up thinking that God was watching me for two reasons: to punish me for wrong-doing, or to reward me for being good. I've learned, especially in the past year, that while God watches over me, He is also intimate with me. He wants to be the center of every detail of my life. His love for me is unending, unconditional and unwaivering. When my heart grasped that understanding, my life took a 180-degree turn. I learned that no matter what I do, God's love for me will not change.

I think every woman longs for a man who will love her...without condition. If you're married, think of your spouse. (If you're not married, imagine how you'd want your spouse to love you). Now imagine betraying that person in every possible way. Imagine slandering his name, lying to him, cheating him, abusing him, acting selfishly towards him. Would he still love you? Would he still whisper sweet-somethings in your ear? Would he walk away from you? Four years ago, when I betrayed my loved ones with my selfishness, I feared abandonment from them. And from God.

What happened in my life is quite possibly a different set of circumstances than what's happening (or happened) in yours. But one thing remains the same for all of us. No matter how far we walk away from God, no matter how much wrong we've done towards Him, no matter how far we've fallen (or jumped), no matter the heartache we've caused our friends and loved ones, God wants to lavish His love on us. His mercies are new EVERY morning. His lovingkindness is better than life. His grace is greater than our sin. He whispers to our hearts His unending devotion. Are you listening? Do you accept what He offers?

When I accepted His unending, unconditional, unwaivering love, my life changed. I've had a long relationship with Him, but on my part, it's been that of trying to please an acquaintance. In the past year I have learned that the relationship He offers me is that of lovers. He is the lover of my soul. He whispers sweet-somethings in my ear. He gently corrects me when I'm wrong. He allows me to mess us. He saves my tears. He loves me.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My 100 Joys: 87-100

The last of my 100 joys: Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and beyond!

87 - Baking a birthday cake for Jesus

88 - Spending a few minutes with my best friend and her sister...received some much-needed encouragement

89 - Rushing up the street to Santa on the firetruck (he was actually close to being on-time this year! We weren't expecting him so early!)



90 - An evening with Mark's family...celebrating Christmas with Granny and Pop, then with mother-and-father-in-law (MIL like the gift I picked out for her...score!)

91 - Staying up until 1:30 am to make sure my children's faces were full of surprise the following morning

92 - My girls' faces on Christmas morning!






93 - Snow on Christmas day...a first-ever experience for the state of Alabama!

94 - Christmas with my family (although we missed my oldest sister and her family due to circumstances beyond their control)

95 - Christmas evening at home...ah!..relaxation!

96 - Staying in my pjs ALL day the day after Christmas! My bff and her kids came over and ate breakfast. We went to her house (with her sick husband, and all) and ate pizza for dinner. What a wonderfully lazy day! And...it snowed ALL day!



97 - Sleeping til 10am on Monday morning...I haven't done that in about 10 years!

98 - Eating lots and lots of Christmas left-overs

99 - My hubby being off work ALL week!! RARE!!!

100 - Celebraing the season because a King humbly came to extend grace and mercy to all, including me!

Bonus - I found 100 joys to celebrate during this Christmas season!!!!!!

Friday, December 24, 2010

My 100 Joys: 81-86

My joys from Thursday...Christmas Eve-Eve:

81 - Cooking candy and cookies with the family

82 - Receiving last-minute Christmas cards from old friends

83 - Delivering a surprise

84 - A Christmas Eve-Eve tradition: going to the movies with the family. Saw Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader...love the story of being set free from our pasts!

85 - Spent the evening watching Home Alone 2...one of my favorite Christmas movies

86 - Mark didn't work today!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My 100 Joys: 71-80

My joys from Tuesday and Wednesday...agh! too close to Christmas! not ready!, not ready! Could someone please slow down time???

71 - Started the Christmas cooking...haystacks....yum!

72 - Saw some friends I haven't seen in a while

73 - The reason I saw the friends in #72 - they were sharing their blessings with those who need to receive some blessings

74 - Started reading a new Karen Kingsbury book

75 - Long, hot, uninterrupted bath

76 - Chick-fil-A peppermint-chocolate milkshake...close to heaven!

77 - Shopping for a child I don't know...lots of fun!

78 - Getting a phone call from the store where I accidentally left my Blackberry!! (I admit it...I'm addicted to it!)

79 - Buying a play spy kit and gun for my 6-year-old DAUGHTER who likes to dress up like a spy (we watch way too much Chuck!)

80 - Finally crawling in my cozy bed at 1 am

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My 100 Joys:66-70

My joys from Monday...5 days before Christmas:

66 - I got the house almost clean! And almost clean is better than completely nasty!

67 - I enjoyed some crafting time while working on a Christmas project. It's been a really long time since I've "crafted."

68 - I went to a local church's ministry house and saw many people volunteering their time to help others during this busy Christmas week.

69 - I had the opportunity to meet a mom who has faced harder times than most people will ever know, and she gave me the sweetest gift I've ever been given...a letter she'd written to her daughter. I won't share details of her story, or the letter, but those few minutes brought me pure joy.

70 - I experienced first-hand the generosity of many people. I put out a call for a little girl's Christmas wish that I'd heard about, and people responded like crazy! It brings me such joy to know that on Christmas morning, a little girl will get to open a gift that she really wants; if not for the generosity of many people, it wouldn't be possible. I've seen and felt the spirit of giving through this experience.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My 100 Joys: 54-65

My joys, Friday - Sunday....the last weekend before Christmas:

54 - I had a much-needed girls' day! Coffee, shopping and lunch with two friends! Lots of story-telling, lots of laughter. We really weren't very productive at Christmas shopping. But we had a lot of fun!

55 - A new friend...who already feels like a long-time friend.

56 - Date night with my hubby...even if it was Christmas shopping! We had a late-night dinner at Longhorn Steakhouse...yum!

57 - Play time with our new dog, Maggie. She's very entertaining!

58 - Shopping for someone we don't know! I think I found more joy in buying for this person than I did in buying for anyone else.

59 - Picking up the girls from Grandma's house...I always love that first moment I see them after they've been away for a little while. (Granted...they were only gone one night, but it makes me happy when they're excited to come home!)

60 - Mark and I participated in a play in our children's worship. I loved hearing the kids' laughter. Some of them would get so excited that they'd shout out.

61 - Finished reading Gideon's Gift by Karen Kingsbury! A great Christmas book....I highly recommend it. (Have the kleenex handy!)

62 - My second-grade choir amazed me at our Candlelight service! They didn't talk, they sang their songs, no one fell off the stage...amazing! If you only knew what weekly rehearsals were like, you'd be amazed too! And they looked absolutely precious!

63 - I was able to sit in the audience during one song and watch my girls sing with their choirs. I love watching their little faces as they sing. Angelic!

64 - Grace, my oldest, sang her solo in front of a couple of thousand people. I was probably more nervous than she was. She sang absolutely beautifully!







65 - I was the Daily Guest on (in)courage. I loved getting comments from readers who shared their hearts. I am so thankful that what Satan meant to use for evil in my life, God uses for good.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Scar From My Something

We ALL have something. THE something. The one thing that defines a season (or seasons) in your life. On more than one occasion I have heard a lady give her testimony in which she says (I’m paraphrasing):

There WILL come a time in your life when it comes down to just you and God.

The first couple of times I heard her say that I couldn’t imagine what would bring me to a point where it came down to just God and me.

For the first 30 years of my life, God was my “spare tire.” When I needed Him, I’d find Him and use Him. Otherwise, I just tried (unsuccessfully) to be a “good girl” in order to make God happy. I’ve never had an immediate family member die. I never had to deal with my parents divorcing. Pretty much, life rolled along with somewhat normal ups and downs until I hit 30. I never realized I needed Him every second of every day.

My crisis came halfway through my 30th year. To read the rest, click here to visit my guest post on (in)courage.

Please Come Back on Saturday

I want to invite you to come back and visit my blog tomorrow. I'll be a Daily Guest on Incourage. I'm so excited! Please join me on this adventure!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My 100 Joys: 48-53

My joys from Wednesday and Thursday...too tired to count how many days til Christmas!

48 - The girls and I met my dad at the MacWane Science Center for a fun field-trip day. Santa's workshop occupied the top floor. And it was awesome! The girls had a great time playing in the fake snow, carpet sliding, and looking at all the toy trains. I love watching them play and experience new things. Joy!

49 - I had the opportunity to give away a surprise! I love surprises...whether I'm receiving or giving!!

50 - Joy! I've made it halfway!!

51 - I was able to see my sister's new salon location! After knowing how hard she's worked, I was happy to see the payoff. She has a beautiful new place, and I was glad to spend a little time with her. (And my hair looks great too!)

52 - We added a new member to our family...a Maltapoo named Maggie. We're so excited, and have already had a lot of fun with her. Many more joys to come, for sure!

53 - I heard Grace sing her solo on stage at Candlelight rehearsal. Oh my goodness! I am one proud mama! (Nothing like being a sweaty, nervous wreck in anticipation of your child singing!)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

My 100 Joys: 43-48

My joys from Tuesday, 11 days before Christmas:

43 - We had friends over for a homeschool Christmas party. Some friends we've known a long time; some we've just met. We had a wonderful time! We ate pizza, decorated cookies, drank peppermint punch (joy!), decorated gingerbread houses, and swapped gifts. It was fun to celebrate Christmas this way!



44 - I overheard my friend's daughter sweetly telling my other friend's daughter: Christmas is about Jesus' birthday. It's not about Santa. That sweet moment put joy in my heart. Sherry, you're a great mom!



45 - I found a surprise in my purse after all our friends left today: a new coffee cup that says "chocolate" on the front. I love it! And I love surprises!

46 - Ah! A blissfully restful one-hour nap today!

47 - There's joy in watching Mark play with the girls. This evening he was dancing his silly dance, and the girls would run up to him and do what they call the booty bump. I'm sure you all are familiar with that!

48 - We went on our annual ride to find the house with the best Christmas lights. We loaded up in the van, armed with hot chocolate, and rode around to different neighborhoods while listening to Christmas music. We also visited our local firestation. They decorate their yard space with all kinds of fun toys and lights, and allow kids to play. We watched the girls play for about 15 minutes...too cold to stay any longer! brrrrr





Tuesday, December 14, 2010

My 100 Joys: 38-42

The joys of Monday, 12 days before Christmas:

38 - On Mondays, I get an hour and a half to myself while the girls are at art class! It's the only time out of the entire week that my kids are not with me. Need I say more?!

39 - The girls brought home some plates they'd painted in art. Each had a snowman on it, and each was distinctly different. I love seeing what the girls learn and accomplish. Grace and Hannah's plates are on display in my kitchen. Emma wrapped her plate to give to Mark as a gift.

40 - I told the girls about the big Alabama snowstorm of 1993, and the ice storm of 1996. It brought back many happy memories. And the girls loved hearing all about what their dad and I did during those two storms.

41 - I taught the girls how to roll out cookie dough and use the cookie cutters. They cut out about 100 cookies. It was fun to watch them be so precise in their rolling and cutting methods.

42 - I also taught the girls how to properly wrap gifts. It's so wonderful to actually have helpers with that chore. They wrapped about 12 gifts last night. They were so excited to finally learn how to wrap! (And I find much joy in teaching them how to do small things like wrapping gifts that we never had time to do when they were in "real" school. Homeschooling at Christmas is the best!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

My 100 Joys: 29-36

Highlights of the weekend:

29 - The girls and I met some homeschool friends at our church on Friday morning to make crafts and color Christmas cards for folks at a local nursing home. It threatened to be an ugly experience. The girls were complaining about how the glue wouldn't hold the craft together. Then they complained about how the crayons didn't work so well on the cards. I encouraged them to keep trying, but I was getting frustrated as well. We finally completed our projects, but were a little too early to head over to the nursing home. We ran to CFA and had a quick lunch. That little excursion helped us regroup and put us in a better frame of mind.

By the time we drove over to the nursing home, we were getting excited about singing Christmas carols. When we walked into the dining area, the ladies and gentlemen were all smiles. The kids walked around, passing out cards. The ladies would tug on the kids, giving them hugs and kisses. I chatted with a gentleman who loved to talk about choir (right up my alley!). Then we sang carols, and everyone joined in. By the time we left, my girls were talking about how much fun that was, and that we should do it again some time! That made this momma's heart joyful!

30 - Friday evening was a threat to the weekend. I had choir dress rehearsal that night, and was already tired. It was the third straight night to be at church. I went, but admittedly, not with a great attitude. When I got home Friday evening, I took a little time for myself, and determined that the rest of the weekend was going to be filled with Christmas cheer for the family and me. I was going to make some joy!

31 - On Saturday the threats kept coming. We had plans to go see Santa at the Bass Pro Shop, eat lunch, and be back at the church (again) by 4:30 to watch our oldest daughter in a quick, little program. Our plans went awry. We left later than we planned. We had to stop to get gas, and discovered that we had an almost-flat tire. We had to take time to deal with getting the tire aired back up. Then we worried all the way to the BPS that it was going to go flat on us. And the scenic route entrance (my favorite part) was closed. What a morning!

But when we pulled into the parking lot, we forgot the troubles of the morning, and let our excitement take over. We love the BPS. We stayed for almost 3 hours. The girls played on the 4-wheelers. We ate ice cream and popcorn in the snack shop. We watched the fish in the fish tank. The girls colored a couple of wooden ornaments. They played games in the Santa shop. We had a great time. We decided to skip the hour-and-a-half-long line to see Santa. We'll go back this week while everybody else is in school! We even enjoyed the 30-minute wait to get out of the parking lot. Okay, well maybe not "enjoyed," but we were at least having some family time!

31 - On the way back from the BPS, we stopped to eat at Cracker Barrel. I've been craving their country ham and their coffee for about a month. That little detour brought me much joy! (And a couple of extra pounds!!)

32 - When we got to church (again), we were able to sit by and chat with some good friends. They always make us laugh.

33 - We did nothing Saturday night! That brought me much joy!

34 - Sunday began very early. I had to be at church by 7:20 to participate in all three services of our Christmas program. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Standing and singing for 4 hours is tiring, but it's energizing when you watch the transformations take place on the faces of the audience. The Christmas story told through music can't help but change one's cranky demeanor. I love watching those changes take place on a person's face.

35 - We spent the afternoon at a birthday party for our friends' daughter. We love those people dearly. We've seen each other through some difficult times, and they hold very special places in our hearts. There are friends who you know where they've been, and they know where you've been, and you hold a deep understanding for each other. They're those kind of friends. We were so glad to be able to spend some time with them.

36 - Last night was our Sunday School Christmas party. I made peppermint punch. Joy! We spent some time getting to know the people we usually only see for an hour on Sunday morning. We had a great time!

Friday, December 10, 2010

My 100 Joys: 26- 28

Yesterday's joys:

26 - The girls and I went to see my niece in the Birmingham Children's Theater's production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It's always a delight to watch her perform. I cried through yesterday's production. I'm devoting an entire post to the reason why. Stay tuned...(I've gotta find some time to sit down and organize my thoughts).

27 - I went to the library and checked out some Christmas books to read! Nothing gets me in the mood for Christmas like reading a good book. (Granted, this joy came after paying $27 in late fees! How does that happen?!? I guess it has something to do with that whole procrastination-thing I suffer from!)

28 - I said good-bye to a friend from choir I'd known for about two years. I found joy in that because I know he's in heaven, and I'll see him again one day. I never told him, but he's one of the people who gave me courage to write publicly. Mickey Walker was very creative, and writing was just one of his talents. Before I ever met him, I saw a poem he'd posted on a mutual friend's Facebook page. He also included a link to a website where he frequently posted his writings. I sent him a message, asking him more about the website and how to get involved. He kindly sent me an invitation to join the site, and I've been writing consistently ever since. I wish I'd taken the opportunity to tell him how he inspired me. Thank someone today who inspires you!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Color Outside the Lines

My friend recently lost a lot of weight and gave me a box of clothes. (That doesn't sound good for me. Hmmm. Moving on...) Anyway, one of the pj pants she gave me has cutesy little sayings on the trim. One of those quotes is "Color outside the lines." When I read that, I had an "aha!" moment!

My six year old is still learning to color inside the lines. She stays inside the lines when she's coloring slowly, and quite frankly, being a bit of a perfectionist. When she finishes, she criticizes herself if even one line has been crossed over. However, if she's in a hurry, or just having fun, she gets outside the lines frequently. And when she's finished, she's quite proud of her work of art.

As Christians in America, a lot of lines have been created for us to stay inside. It's a precarious life, trying to live inside the lines. So I was thinking about Jesus. He didn't always stay inside the lines that had been set by the religious leaders (think Pharisees). He quite frequently broke across them. In fact, He drew His own line. Remember the one He drew in the sand? Oooh, isn't that freeing?!

As a teenager I went to a school that drew a lot of lines, lots of boundaries. As an adult, I went to a church where lines (traditions, personal opinions) were thrown carelessly from the pulpit and instructor stands. I spent a lot of time trying to stay inside the lines that had been set for me. I finally got so sick of trying that I wrecklessly abandoned all lines. I made a quite an ugly mess!

I've had to figure out which lines are Biblical (the guidelines set forth for us by God) and which ones are steeped in religious tradition and legalism. The fun part of figuring it out has been crossing over and breaking the ones set forth by man. God hasn't called us to live inside a neatly drawn box. He hasn't called us to live in fear. He's called us to get messy...to live in freedom...to live in truth. Think Noah. He looked like a crazy fool to society when he was building that ark. Think David. He danced naked in the street! Think Jesus. He was friends with all the social outcasts.

Try to imagine what Jesus would do and who He'd hang out with if He were walking upon Earth today! I'd bet He'd hang out with and offer love to drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes...and I'm quite sure He'd go to them, meet them where they are! That means He'd go inside the bars, down to the "rough" parts of town...all the places we stay away from. (Yikes! I'm stepping on my own toes!)

Break past the lines and barriers that have been set for you out of legalism. Learn to live in truth and freedom! Color outside the lines!

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My 100 Joys: 20-25

The joys of Wednesday, 17 days before Christmas:

20 - I think out of about 20 snapshots of the girls, I managed to get one good enough for a Christmas card. I got some really cute ones with silly faces...maybe I'll put one of those on our card this year.

21 - We bought gifts for our angel tree kids today. It was nice to have the girls tag along and help; I'm usually doing that alone since they have always been in school.

22 - Funny story: At our church's candlelight service, all the kids' choirs sing. All three of my girls will be singing with their choirs this year. The 5th and 6th grades' choir held auditions last Sunday evening for a solo to be sung at candlelight. My oldest daughter, a 5th grader, loves to make music, and has a pretty awesome voice. I kept encouraging her to audition since she's always saying she wants to be a singer when she grows up. She said she was too scared to audition. So I did what any good mom would do. I bribed her. I told her I'd give her $20 if she'd audition. It worked. She got into the car Sunday evening and said she thought she did well, but that 14 people auditioned. I was proud that she'd done it, and chalked it up to a good learning experience. Today we received an email detailing choir info for the next couple of weeks, and included was the soloist that had been chosen: Grace Gilbert!! Yay! We are so excited! I think it's hilarious that I had to bribe the child into auditioning!

23 - Christmas program rehearsals are always a joy! (If you have ever participated in one, you know I'm being sarcastic!) Even if it was a bit of a train wreck, it was still fun to wreck alongside choir friends. Choir people may be "crazy," as one person recently told me, but we're a fun bunch!

24 - I teach 2nd grade choir on Wednesday nights. Up until the last couple of weeks, it has been a disaster. There are 40-something kids in my class, and my helpers and I are frazzled by the end of class. But tonight and last week were somehow miraculously great. The kids have FINALLY learned their music. We even managed to have a little Christmas party tonight! Kudos to Andrea and Melinda, my helpers!! And, to the poor soul that has to clean that room after us...we're sorry!

25 - Yay! I've reached 25 joys! 75 more to go...

Stripping Away the Layers

We moved into our new house in May of this year. The trees in our backyard were in full bloom. Lots of leaves. Lots of bushes. Only recently have they lost their leaves. We can finally see glimpses of what's on the other side of those trees. A few houses we'd never seen until now.

I think sometimes we're like those trees. Much of the time we live with lots of layers, hiding. When we start stripping away the layers, we start allowing ourselves and others to see what's there. Most of my life has been spent with layers upon layers disguising what was there all the time. I've finally learned to strip away the layers and just be. Here are a few things I've found, learned and admitted about myself underneath the layers of disguise:


I'm tenderhearted

Being broken is okay

Honesty opens up a whole new world to freedom

I've gotten glimpses of what it means for Jesus to be the lover of my soul

I'm insecure with unfamiliar places and faces

Criticism, even if constructive, crushes me at first, then I rebound

Not everyone shares my love of sarcasm, and I'm learning to downplay it

Disagreeing with someone does not mean I don't like them

I don't particularly like to be alone

I'd rather have a heart-to-heart than chit-chat with someone

There are things I know God has called me to do, but I feel completely unequipped, so I don't do them


Those seem like silly things to have to learn about myself...like I should have already known those things. But it is what it is.

What about you? Are you hiding behind layers? Or have you stripped them off to find things you didn't know (or maybe you knew, but you hadn't admitted them)? Do you let other people see those things?

My 100 Joys: 17-19

Okay, so today's joys are few and far between. I had to look for them. It's been one of those days when the kids didn't mind, and there was more than enough to do around the house. And to top it off, my husband has been sitting in court for over two hours, and as I write this, he is still waiting to see the judge (all because he didn't have his proof of insurance in the truck when he got pulled over...I won't start on my soapbox about big government!!). So here I go:

17 - Emma's orthodontist told her today that she doesn't have to go back for a visit for six weeks. Yay! We've been going every week, and she dreads it. This will be a nice break for her (and me!).

18 - I took a one-hour nap today. Those are rare lately! I intended to fold laundry, but crawled into my bed and fell asleep instead. Good thing, considering I needed extra energy since I'm still taking care of these kids alone! ;-)

19 - I ran on pavement today instead of the treadmill. I needed that! I'm not a fan of the treadmill.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My 100 Joys: 9-16

9 - The girls and I got to stay in our warm beds instead of getting out in the cold to go to school. Homeschool has advantages!!

10 - The girls and I made it to get ready and be out the door in less than an hour yesterday morning. That is a record!

11 - The girls brought home several projects they've been working on in art class. I love to see what they've created, and how each one is different.

12 - I've been searching for an item on Emma's Christmas list for the past couple of weeks, but it's been sold out. I found it on the shelf at Target!!

13 - The checkbook balanced! Yay!

14 - I take my girls' happiness and laughter for granted. I am being intentional about listening to their laughter. It's a sweet sound.

15 - A cup of hot chocolate on a cold night with a side of peppermint ice cream. Yum...

16 - Last night, a sweet friend from choir who has been battling cancer went to be with Jesus. I find joy knowing that Mickey is now singing in the presence of God Himself. He left a wonderful testimony to those of us still dealing with pain and sorrow in this cruel world. Our prayers were not answered the way we had hoped, but he is now completely healed. I mentioned him in a post back in September. You can read it by clicking here: God is good!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Deliverance

I've heard so much sadness today. My heart breaks and pours forth:

So much pain and sadness
Too much in our own strength
We run to You, our shelter
Hide us under Your wings

Your promise sustains us
Hold us in Your palm
Good will be the end
Amidst the storm, calm

Songs of deliverance, near
Lovingkindness we seek
Your goodness preserves us
Soon to be no longer weak

Our tears, precious to You
Guide us with Your grace
Save us every moment
Restoration, on its way

My 100 Joys

Sarah Markley began posting 100 Joys on her blog a week or so ago. She invited bloggers to participate. I originally thought I wouldn't...mainly because it will require a lot of time and attention over the next few weeks. But after reading about so much sadness (death, trauma, broken relationships, etc) on Facebook, I have decided to look for the joy in my own life.

I'll begin by recapping the joys of this past weekend:

1 - My husband enters his business into our local Christmas parades. We spent Friday night decorating his trailer to look like the North Pole. The girls were so excited to help wrap empty boxes to look like gifts and apply fake snow to the little trees. It does my heart good to see them excited about little things.

2 - We participated as a family in the Alabaster parade on Saturday morning. It was so fun to throw candy to the crowds of people along the road. The best part was near the end. So many floats had run out of candy, so when we were able to throw some to the kids who didn't have any, their faces would light up! Isn't it great what one little piece of candy can do for a child?!

3 - I walked in the Helena parade with my youngest daughter's dance studio on Saturday afternoon. Even though I'd forgotten to try her shoes on her before the parade, and they were too tight, she still marched right along, keeping up with her routine. It was such a delight to watch her sweet little face. She was so proud of herself, and was determined to march all they way to the end, even though her little feet were hurting.

4 - I have to throw this one in: Auburn won the SEC championship game! I'm not a huge football fan, but I really like Cam Newton and Gene Chizik. I was glad to see them win!

5 - I normally don't sing in the 8 a.m. service at church, but I did yesterday. I found a lot of joy watching the faces of the congregation that I don't normally get to see. And...we sang Christmas music!! Yay!!

6 - My pastor announced that our church's theme for 2011 is going to be Grace. I am so excited. I can't wait to hear and see what all that will involve. I've learned more about grace in the past two years than I ever knew. I'm so looking forward to Grace in 2011!!

7 - I watched my sweet Emma in her first play, "You Can't Cancel Christmas." I held my breath, and was saying her lines in my head. She gave a beautiful performance. And I think she's now addicted...she wants to be in another play! I love it!

8 - Mark and I were able to have a mini-date last night. The girls were scattered, so we took advantage of the few hours to do some Christmas shopping and have a quick dinner. We don't get much time alone lately, so we took what we could get and had a good time.

Stay tuned for 9-100 over the next few weeks!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

You NEED To Read This Post

So I've mentioned Serena Woods' blog before. If you've visited it, you know what great insight she has into living a grace-filled life. If you've never heard of her or visited her blog, let me introduce you! She wrote a post that I think EVERY Christian should read! She so eloquently put into words some thoughts I've had over the past four years. She sums up quite accurately what our responses as Christians should be to an "exposed" sinner. And, she offers insight into the depths of the mind of the one who has been exposed. I'll say no more except that you NEED to click here and read the post! btw...if you want to know her story, click here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Change

Christmas has always been my favorite time of year. It's always held such excitement and expectation. Until four years ago. Now, for me, it's a mixed bag of emotions.

It's still my favorite time of year. I love to sit and watch the twinkling lights on my tree. Christmas music is the best music of all, in my opinion. I enjoy the challenge of finding gifts to suit the people on my list. I get a thrill out of watching the same Christmas movies repeatedly throughout the season. I treasure the time my family spends together reading our books from the Advent calendar. I love all the festivities that surround the season. None of that has changed.

But four years ago, some things did change. And I'm still processing the changes. And still filling the void. Mark and I used to host a Christmas party for our core group of friends. Those people are no longer in our lives. I used to be heavily involved in our church's Christmas program. It's a whole different scenario now. My kids used to spend one of the Christmas holidays with their friends (my core group of friends' children) making a Christmas craft. My kids don't even remember those kids now.

I'm processing loss and change. The past four Christmases have left me kind of wondering if I'll settle into a Christmas routine again. Each of the past four have been so different. It's like we're still trying to see what fits us. And where we fit. We have no real expectations for Christmas anymore. Our calendar is full of things to do, places to be...but there's still a sense of insecurity. It's like we're living in a bit of a Christmas limbo.

We're ready for routine. Expectation. Excitement. An unspoken knowing of what's to come. All of those...without the underlying sense of loss. It'll be interesting to see what this Christmas season holds, and to be able to look back in a few years. I wonder if this year will be the beginning of something new.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Another Black Friday

Well, my favorite day of the year has come and gone: Black Friday.

Looking at my purchases, I didn't score any fabulous deals. But it was a priceless day. Priceless because I spent the day with my favorite Black Friday shopping buddy! We've shopped together for the past 7 or 8 years.

Every year we recount past Black Fridays. We talk about the longest line we've ever stood in. We remember parking strategies. We discuss how the crowds aren't what they used to be. We talk about the changes in our gift-buying strategies. We remember past purchases, and discuss how the lists have changed with family changes. Every year is a new adventure for us.

Although I was sick and exhausted this year, we still had fun. We were standing in line to get into Target at 4 a.m. We passed all the crazies with shopping carts, and wiggled our way through the crowds to grab the items on our lists. Once again, we made memories...the kind of memories that are always more fun in retrospect. (Let's face it...it gets exhausting racing the masses to get one of the "limited quantities.")

All in all, another great Black Friday with a great friend. Looking forward to next year, Natalie!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Week of Thanksgiving -- Day 4

Today I am thankful for food.

My refrigerator and pantry are usually full. If not, I run to the grocery store to restock. I take food for granted.

Today I will eat until I'm completely stuffed, then I'll probably eat some more. There'll be more than enough food for all the family members coming to celebrate Thanksgiving at my house. My mother will bring the turkey and dressing with some sides and a dessert. My sisters and nieces will bring even more sides and desserts. And I'll contribute yet more sides and desserts. No doubt we'll eat until we make ourselves miserable. Don't most people?

Yet there are those within just a few miles of my home who will wonder where their lunch will come from today. They may wonder if they'll even have lunch. Not just today...but everyday. They won't have a huge family to celebrate and give thanks with, nor will they have a smorgasboard of foods from which to choose.

Today, and every Thursday, there is a woman in my church who, with the help of her friends and volunteers, feeds the hungry in downtown Birmingham. Her ministry is called Grace's Kitchen. She does not take food for granted. She sees how hunger affects the homeless. Food is the tool she uses to build relationships and to share the Gospel with the homeless in Birmingham.

What about you? Are you like me?...Do you take food for granted? If so, I challenge you to get involved with your local food ministry. Time, money and food are all resources they can use...surely you can share one, if not all, of those.

To learn more about Grace's Kitchen, click here.

I hope you have a very happy and blessed Thanksgiving! Be sure to take a moment to thank God for your food today!

A Week of Thanksgiving -- Day 3

Today I am thankful for family.

My immediate family...3 beautiful girls, and my wonderful husband.

My extended family...parents, sisters, nieces, nephews, in-laws, cousins...you know, those folks who always make holidays fun and interesting!

My friends who feel like family...you know who you are!

My choir family...those who are as passionate about singing to God as I am.

My church family...many I don't know (it's a big church), but who enjoy spending time together worshipping our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thank you, God, for family...and for those who feel like family!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Week of Thanksgiving -- Day 2

Today I am thankful for FREEDOM:

of religion
of speech
to agree or disagree
to vote
from the chains of my sin
from legalism
to choose
to sing
to have as many Bibles as I want in my home
to openly share the Gospel

That's a smorgasboard, but the first things that come to mind.

As I was thinking about writing this post, I thought how true it is that freedom is not free. Coincidentally (or not), my nephew, a Marine, posted that very thing as his FB status this morning. He is well-acqauinted with the price of freedom.

Many have died for our freedom as Americans. Many sacrifice time with loved ones. Many families sacrifice their loved ones.

The highest price ever paid was by a perfect man named Jesus, who was willingly crucified on a tree to pay the penalty for our sin. If you don't own the freedom He bought for you, I urge you to read the book of John in the Bible, and consider the price He paid for your freedom.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Week of Thanksgiving

Today begins my week of giving thanks. I am first and foremost thankful for forgiveness.

God sent His Son, Jesus, to die for me, and even though I chose to mock Him anyway, He forgave me. Jesus forgave me, even though He willingly died, taking my sin upon Himself, and I, knowing and believing that, choose to sin anyway. Dwell on that for a moment. One chose to send His only Son to die for a world that mocks Him, turns their backs on Him. One chose to willingly give His own life as payment for our sins, and we still choose sin over Him. If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, and have knowingly and willingly chosen to step into a "big" sin, and have at some point, experienced true repentance, you too are overwhelmingly thankful for His forgiveness. Blessed are those who grasp forgiveness without ever having brought upon themselves the guilt and shame of one of the "big" sins to finally make them understand it.

I am overwhelmingly grateful for my husband's forgiveness. There were times he would've been completely justified in walking out on me. Yet, he stayed. He loves me unconditionally, and forgives me with no strings attached. If not for him, I'm not sure I'd have ever had the tiniest inkling of what it is to grasp God's forgiveness. He offered me forgiveness in a circumstance that if I had been in his shoes, I'm not sure I would've offered it.

I am thankful for forgiving friends. Those kinds of people are few and far between, but when you find them, hold onto them! And be willing to forgive them when needed! If not for a few forgiving friends who kept open ears, held my secrets, and offered wise counsel, I would've never learned what it is to reach out and be a friend to those who--according to the world, the judgmental and the legalistic--don't deserve it. Those friends will forever hold a special place in my heart.

What are you first and foremost thankful for?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tears

If you read Heaven's New Arrival, you know that a friend very near and dear to my heart passed away on Tuesday. I cried most of the day.

Today, I took my middle daughter to get braces and a butterfly (a crazy-looking contraption in the roof of her mouth). I had no idea what to expect because I've never had braces. She was a little nervous, but did fairly well throughout the process. And it helped that she loves her orthodontist (shout out to Dr. Boggan!). We were almost ready to go, and were told that the butterfly had to be turned. We didn't really have a clue what that meant.

As soon as the key went into the butterfly and started turning it, she started crying. I was little comfort to her. I couldn't tell her how long the pain would last. I really didn't know how bad the pain was. I just knew my baby was hurting, and I wanted to cry with her. It was breaking my heart to watch her cry and know there was nothing I could do for her. (We certainly weren't stopping the process at that point!) I calmed her as best I could, and walked away. I think if I had stayed by her, I'd have done more harm than good. I let the skilled technicians (I assume that's what they're called????) take care of her. When they finished, we were on our merry way. Well, maybe not so merry since she was still crying, but on our way, nonetheless.

I thought about how I had cried all day on Tuesday. My husband tried to comfort me as best he could. But he was really no help. My Mom offered kind and gentle words, as well as friends. But, really, only God is the "skilled technician" in my case. He's the expert in life and death. He knows the sadness I experience in the loss of a friend. He knows why my heart is breaking. He knows how to comfort me. He knows how to make it all better. And my tears are so precious to Him that He keeps them in His bottle (Psalm 56:8). That alone is comfort to me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Heaven's New Arrival

My heart is very sad. One of the world's greatest Christians has passed away. Aubrey Edwards will forever hold a special place in my heart.

The first time I met Aubrey was when the church I was attending brought him in as the interim minister of music. Our choir had been through some heartbreaking struggles, and Aubrey entered our lives with a sense of renewal. It didn't take long before I fell in love with him and his wife, Phyllis. They became like a second set of parents to me. I spent many times sitting in their living room, chatting about life. Not once did I ever hear a complaint, an unkind word, or gossip from them.

Aubrey encouraged my passion of singing. I can't tell you how many times I would tell him I had a new song ready to sing, and he would immediately set a date for me to sing. When we ended up at separate churches, he would always ask me if I was singing in the choir. At one point, I wasn't singing, and had to answer him with a "no." He told me, "You need to be using that voice." Anytime he introduced me to someone, he followed it with, "She has a beautiful voice. You should hear her sing." God used him to encourage me to sing His praises. I know God used him to do the same for countless numbers of people.

Last year I had the opportunity to sit with him a couple of times when he was having his dialysis treatment. The first time I sat with him, he was in a substantial amount of pain. He would motion and whisper for me to help him get comfortable. He didn't complain...not even once...about his pain. The second time I sat with him, he wasn't in as much pain, and chatted with me a lot that day. I saw how he spoke to everyone in the dialysis room. When someone would ask how he was doing, his response was always that he was doing good and that he couldn't complain.

I had the privilege of hearing countless stories about his life and minsitry. I'm not sure we'll ever know how many lives he touched on this earth...I would dare say thousands upon thousands. He was truly the most loving human being I've ever known. And I think anybody that knew him would agree.

I will forever think of him when I hear Sweet Little Jesus Boy...he sang it beautifully. I will forever think of him when I read Ephesians 5:19:

speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord

I am sad that I didn't take more time to spend with him. But I look forward to the day I will see him again...singing with the hosts in heaven in his new, perfect body! Our world has lost a sweet, precious man. But I can imagine him singing God's praises in heaven even now.

Please pray for his lovely bride, Phyllis, and his daughters, Sondra, Kim and Leisha.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Name of Jesus

It's been a yucky day. It's been rainy and cold all day in Birmingham, Alabama. (For those of you who don't know, I like sunny, warm weather.) My children haven't been minding well lately, especially today. I'm starting to feel the overwhelmingness (is that a word??...) that comes with the onset of the holidays. I haven't been sleeping well due to my husband's newly-developed snoring habit; therefore, I am tired and grumpy. I've dealt with guilty-mom syndrome all day. My knee has hurt all day from falling off a ladder Saturday evening, so I haven't been able to run (which is usually my way of relaxation and release). It's been an all-around yucky kind of day.

So I stole some time to just sit at the computer with the earphones in to listen to some worship songs while I read some passages from Psalms. Then I dove right on into some Christmas music! I listened to Natalie Grant's, David Phelps's, Celtic Woman's and Josh Groban's versions of O Holy Night. One line kept sticking in my mind:

in His name all oppression shall cease.

How true! As I listened to songs about Jesus, I noticed a change in my demeanor. I started to relax. My grumpiness dwindled. My mom-guilt disappeared.

The very name of Jesus is power. Healing power. Restorative power. Changing power. Take-a-deep-breath-and-relax power.

Why didn't this occur to me at 9 a.m. today? I probably would've had a much better day.

Tomorrow's agenda: start the day with Jesus. Ending it with Him is good, but I know starting it with Him is much better!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Casting Stones at Cecil Newton

Casting stones is dangerous. I know. I used to cast them. The one doing the casting is usually not aware of their own "big" sin: pride. Pride isn't scandalous. So many people suffer from it that it doesn't make the rumor mills and gossip columns. It's accepted. Sometimes it's even encouraged. But it's one of the most dangerous character traits a person can possess. Here's why: pride, if left untreated, eventually leads to a downfall.

I rarely keep up with sports news. But there's a story that is currently in the news that keeps catching my attention. I probably couldn't get away from it if I wanted to. It's all over tv, in the newspaper, on the radio, on Facebook. Everybody in the south is talking about it. And no matter which team people pull for, everybody has an opinion on the story. If you're at all familiar with SEC football, you know I'm talking about the Cam and Cecil Newton saga. It's an almost inescapable story.

I've heard and read countless opinions on the story. The lines between fact, gossip and opinion have been blurred. And, quite frankly, I'm disgusted with some of the comments...not because I'm an Auburn fan, but because I'm a Christian. And many of the comments are coming from other Christians. The comments I'm disgusted with are those concerning Cecil Newton, and the fact that he is a pastor. I'm paraphrasing the Facebook comment that sent me over the edge to the point of writing this post:

All Christians are defeated when a "supposed preacher" is caught in any type of scandal.

So I ask...where is the grace we as Christians are supposed to offer one caught in sin? Grace is not excusing or condoning sin. It is offering forgiveness without a price tag.

The rest of the world is crucifying Cecil Newton. IF the story turns out to be true, does he deserve the same treatment from his brothers and sisters in Christ? Some would say yes under the guise of holding him accountable. IF guilty, he will, no doubt, be held accountable...by the world. And he will be held accountable by the One whom he has sinned against. Are we not the ones who should restore such a one with gentleness? This is our time to proclaim God's name and His forgiving power. This is not the time to stand alongside the world, and crucify one of our own. This is the time to show the world we are ALL imperfect beings with a perfect God. This is the time to show God's love...instead of declaring defeat for this man and all Christians, which, by the way, the world wants us to do.

So I ask: who among you is without sin? Let him cast the first stone (John 8:7). If you're honest, you must admit that you should not cast even one stone. None of us are without sin (Romans 3:23). We may not have committed the "big" sins, but we have each certainly committed sins. None of us can know for certain what our responses will be to temptation until we are put in the situation. We can only pray that we will be obedient to God if that time comes. In the meantime, we are to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, and offer them forgiveness and restoration (Galatians 6:1).

Note: comments are welcome, but any deemed inappropriate will be deleted.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Message About Music

Music has always been one of my passions. God uses music to speak to me, to soften my heart, to make me question the intentions of my heart. I think God uses music to reach others in the same way. I am always in awe when I hear the lyrics poured from someone's heart in song. To be quite honest, I've kinda always thought I was less than spiritual because God's Word sometimes speaks to me more when put to music than when I read it. In fact, music was a big part of my healing...God used certain songs to speak directly to my heart.

A couple of weeks ago, my minister of music challenged our choir to listen to a message by John Piper, Ambushing Satan With Song. I finally took the time a few days ago to listen to it. And I just have to say:

Thank you, Jesus, for choirs, music, and the gift of singing praise to Him.

I hope you will take a little bit of time to listen to the message here. It will forever change the way you sing, and the way you listen to music.

To Thee I will sing praises with the lyre, O Thou Holy One of Israel. My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to Thee; And my soul, which Thou hast redeemed. Psalm 71:22b-23

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Black, White and Gray

I used to study the Bible to gain head knowledge. I didn't realize it at the time. And, really, that doesn't sound like a bad thing. But if head knowledge is all you gain, you're missing out. Please understand that I am not discounting knowledge, the knowledge of God, which is repeatedly mentioned in Scripture. The type of knowledge I'm talking about is when you study the Bible without letting it change your heart. It is knowledge for the sake of knowing information. In addition to the knowledge of God, wisdom, grace and a heart transformation should be the results of Bible study.

I can now look back and see that head knowledge was all I had gained. I used that knowledge to be judgmental. I condemned others for their sin. Everything was black or white to me. There were no gray areas. I was very outspoken, and quick to point out when I believed someone was wrong. I didn't stop to think about the possible reasons why someone believed or acted as they did...where their beliefs came from, what their life experiences were, what situations they might be involved in. I didn't handle situations with wisdom or grace. That is totally opposite of the way Jesus lived His life on earth.

Jesus broke the laws and traditions the Pharisees had created. Jesus was friends with people that the "religious" considered to be among the worst. Jesus offered grace and forgiveness to people I wouldn't have considered offering grace and forgiveness to. That's the difference between head knowledge and wisdom. The Pharisees were full of knowledge (or information). Jesus was full of wisdom and grace.

Today when I study the Bible, I pray that the knowledge of God, wisdom, grace and a heart transformation will be the results. I no longer view things as simply black and white. Rather, I see a lot of gray. Seeing gray gives me room to offer grace and forgiveness to those who need it. I'm so thankful for a few friends who saw gray when I needed it. Not a gray that blurs right or wrong, but a gray that leaves room for love.

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Luke 23:34

Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Galatians 6:1

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. I Peter 4:8

Monday, November 8, 2010

Disappointment

People disappoint. Sometimes we're the ones doing the disappointing. Sometimes we're the ones experiencing it because of what someone else has or hasn't done. I've been on both sides. I've caused deep disappointments. I've felt disappointed. Disappointment comes when our expectations are not met.

I have a tendency to question God, and sometimes get angry at Him, when I'm disappointed. My thought process usually begins with:

Well, God, You had the power to change this situation, so why didn't You?

I'm learning to bypass those thoughts, and move straight to:

Okay, God, what now? This is for a reason. I know You love me, so what happens next?

He gave me this answer today in a song:

Praise anyway...worship anyway...show Me you love Me anyway...even now...in your disappointment.

In my disappointment, I'm learning to seek His glory.

What about you? Where do you allow your thoughts to go when you are disappointed?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Football vs. God

I realize that by the time some of you finish reading this post, you'll be ready to give me a piece of your mind. Please, don't. This is just my personal opinion and experience. It doesn't mean I'm right or wrong on the
subject...

Yesterday Mark and I took our two youngest children to their first college football game (...War Eagle...ahem...). They were excited because we had built their excitement. When we arrived in town, they were wide-eyed. By the time we got to the stadium, they couldn't wait to go inside. They were in awe over how the band formed AU and USA. They thought it was neat how the band played and the flags flew every time we scored a touchdown. However, they were more than ready to leave by half-time.

If you're from the south, you know that football is practically a god, whether it's toy bowl or SEC. I like football. I have my favorite team (see above paragraph). But I wouldn't say that I love football. I'm not passionate about it. I don't get overly excited about it, although I do enjoy it for entertainment's sake. It doesn't necessarily enrich my life, other than the opportunities for social gatherings and good food. (I know...I'm speaking sacrilegiously in some of your opinions!) And I don't go to games often. But when I do, whether it's high school, college, etc., there is always one question that pops into my mind:

What if I (and the masses in the stadium) were this excited about God?

The same thought came to mind yesterday. I let my mind elaborate:

We spent $30 per ticket (which was fairly cheap). Then we spent $$$ for food and drinks. What if we put that much money toward feeding the hungry?

Our entire day revolved around the game. What if we spent that much time telling others about Jesus?

These questions can be asked of any form of entertainment. I'm not saying that entertainment is wrong...at all. Again, these are just thoughts that come to my mind.

This morning we went to church. I'm usually in the choir for the music portion of the service. Today the youth choir was singing, so the adult choir had a break. We walked in a few minutes late, and were looking for a seat among all the people standing. While the worship leader, youth choir and praise team led in an upbeat song about our Savior, I looked around the congregation. I made the following comment to my husband:

What a bunch of deadbeats.

Very few people were singing, and I didn't see anyone around us smiling. Yes, I know that was judgmental on my part. But the thought process from yesterday had come to mind, and I wondered if those same people show excitement and enthusiasm at football games. And if so, why not at church? Here again, I don't show a lot of excitement at football games, nor at church. But, I do wear a smile when I sing. And I sing...loudly...not because I'm good, but because I'm worshipping. And, I DO worship...I have a reason to worship. I have a Savior who has saved me from my destructive self.

Next Sunday when you're in church, think about the big game from the day before, and ask yourself if you're as excited about worshipping God as you were about the game.

O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy. Psalm 47:1

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Few Random Things

A few things you might (or might not) want to know about me:

My favorite Starbuck's drink is a non-fat white chocolate peppermint mocha, no whip. When I can't make it to Starbuck's, I fix my own imitation with chocolate truffle coffee and peppermint mocha creamer.

I was raised the youngest daughter to a Southern Baptist pastor. My mom says I was in church nine months before I was born. Being a Southern Baptist kind of drives me crazy, but I doubt I'll ever leave it.

I decided one week before school started this year to homeschool. Oh my! I didn't know what I was getting myself into! But I love having my girls home with me!

Singing and writing are my passions. When I go extended periods of time without doing either, I feel like I've lost part of myself.

I don't like surface talk. Chit-chat about mindless topics drives me nuts. I'd rather hear what's on your heart, and I'd rather tell you what's on mine. (Unfortunately, those conversations are few and far between. Most people prefer chattery surface talk because it's easy.)

Four years ago I made a disaster out of my life. I'm glad God is faithful when I am not.

I have one friend I know I can call for anything. I wish I had more friends like that.

I love the book of Psalms. Without a devotional guide that tells me to read a certain passage, I'd probably never read any other part of the Bible. The Psalms have gotten me through the past four years.

Something I've longed for, but never thought would happen is finally happening. I'm excited. And nervous.

I have no desire to ever work in a corporate setting again. None. I love being home with my family. I would eventually like to do some freelance writing.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are my favorite times of year, followed closely by Easter. I detest Halloween.

There are several blogs I read on a daily basis, or at least when they update: Sarah Markley, Serena Woods and Jenni Clayville. I think you should check them out too!

Tell me something about yourself!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is God Alone Enough?

Bear with me in this post. I usually write to express what's going on inside of me. In this case, I'm trying to figure out exactly what that is.

So, if I'm being honest, I have to say that I question whether God alone is enough for me. You know, just Him...not what He can do for me. Is the fact that Jesus died for me because He loves me enough for me? The answer my head and heart both know is yes. But sometimes I allow my circumstances or my feelings to dictate otherwise. And it's always a particular set of circumstances and feelings that lead me to question whether He alone is enough.

There are two things that I believe make me, me. And, when I don't get to or don't have time to do those two things, I start to question. Truthfully, those last two sentences are probably not even valid. What makes me, me is that I'm a child of God. That's all that should really matter. That should dictate everything about me. Having that relationship should automatically remind me that God alone is enough. But sometimes I struggle with remembering that. I sometimes want to see His hand move. I want signs and wonders. And when God is still and/or silent with me, I question. I get frustrated. I eventually make it back around to remembering what He's done for me, and that is enough to make me run to Him, knowing that if He never does another thing for me, He still loves me.

I think that's okay...because I think there are many people who need to know that. There are so many hurting people...people who question, many of which don't have a relationship with God. I think they need to know that Christians aren't perfect...that we don't have it all together. They need to know that I mess up, I question, I struggle, I sin; but even through all of that, I know that God loves me. And in my heart and mind, I know that when my circumstances fail, and when my feelings falter, God alone is enough for me.

Sheesh! I'm not even sure I can wrap my head around this post. Too much...and still too little.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Souls

All appears normal, but I weep
Darkness hovers on the street
An overwhelming presence of sin
The homes are sad and broken within

My heart breaks for those inside
Do they know for their sin You died?
Oppression claws at their doors
Your light and hope they ignore

Possessions mask their sadness
I'm weary of the madness
What breaks Your heart is breaking mine
I plead for their souls one more time

Monday, October 25, 2010

Silence

In the homeschooling process, I've learned something about my children: they want me to give them the answers instead of studying and figuring things out. They want to take the easy route. But I insist that they keep trying and keep searching. I usually sit and watch. I guide them in the right direction. Sometimes I'll give them a little hint. But mostly I just silently watch them. They look at me to make sure I'm still there. They sometimes beg me for the answer. Sometimes they cry. Sometimes they get angry with me. If they write a wrong answer out of frustration, I make them try again. When they reach their absolute breaking points, and still don't know the answer, I'll work patiently with them to show them how to find the answer. And, at that point, they are usually grateful.

I've found out the same thing about myself. I want God to speak to me, to give me answers. To hand me the easy way. And, sometimes He just doesn't. Sometimes He is absolutely silent. And I find myself begging Him. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry with Him. I've figured out that He's not silent because I've done something wrong. That's what I've always thought. I've had the mentality that if God's not speaking to me, I must've done something to make Him mad. Isn't that absurd? Sometimes He just wants me to sit quietly with Him, with my eyes on Him. He wants me to meditate upon His Word. To keep asking for guidance. To wait. And when He does finally speak with an answer, to thank Him. For in that process, I learn to trust Him...to wait on Him.

Psalm 62:5a - My soul, wait in silence for God only. (NASB)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Capable of Anything

We are capable of ANYTHING! We are capable of any fall. Of any moral failure, i.e., sin. We can and should expect the best from ourselves, and from those around us, BUT we are capable of anything. You either know this about yourself, or you deny it. I know.

I thought I wasn't capable of doing what I did. In fact, I'm not sure I ever said it aloud, but definitely in my mind I thought I'd never do "that." I just wouldn't allow myself to sink that low, even if I wanted to. But I did. And because of it, I am stronger today. I am more aware of God's grace. I am more aware of the hurting. I am more aware.

You might read this and think that you've had no moral failures, and you plan to keep it that way. Let me ask you this: do you categorize sins? You know...big ones, small ones, etc. Before 2006, I did. Let me show you how I categorized sins and those who commit them:

Big sins (the ones I never thought myself capable of):
Murder
Theft
Alcholism
Abuse
Drug Addiction
Adultery
Lying

Small sins (the ones I knew I was capable of, and sometimes guilty):
Gossip
White lies
Drunkenness
Quick temper
Rudeness

Closet sins (the ones I knew I committed, but didn't dare discuss):
Anger
Jealousy
Lust
Bitterness
Pride

Your lists may be different from mine, but if you categorize them, you are as wrong as I was. And if you sit in pious judgment, you are also as wrong as I was. And if you've committed one of them, or one similar (and you have if you're alive and breathing), then you are capable of any of them.

Galatians 6:1-2 says, Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (ESV) I could just about write a book on these two verses, but I'll suffice it to say that we are responsible for our brothers' spiritual restoration. We are not to categorize sin, or the sinner. We are to love them back to a place of repentance and restoration.

I Peter 4:8 says, Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. (NASB) Like Peter, I know the power of the love which covers a multitude of sins. First and foremost, it is the love of Jesus. Secondly, it is the love of others who look beyond the sin to see how God can restore the sinner.

I am thankful for the few who gently led me to a place of restoration...who bore my burdens...who loved me.

Are there people in your life who offered you grace, love and restoration?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Planning Rest

I learned several years ago that when I am exhausted, I am no good to anyone. I have a hard time focusing my attention on God. I can't meditate on His Word. I am cranky with my family. And I tend to be overly sensitive. I am there. I am tired. For the past two weeks, I've been pushing myself just to maintain the daily routine. And it has caught up with me. I need rest.

Tonight my husband took the kids and went to his parents' so I could have a break. I so need this break. I went to a movie...alone! I've never been to a movie alone. It was nice. I didn't have to share my popcorn or coke. I sat through the credits. Then I went to Target and meandered through the clothes and shoes...just because I could. I wasn't on anyone's schedule.

Now I sit here, alone, and attempt to write. I've not written a blog post in over a week. I've been empty. I sit down to write, attempt a few sentences, and end up walking away. I realize I don't have much to say when I haven't spent time meditating on God's Word.

Tomorrow I plan to rest. I plan to sleep late. I might go to the park for a run. I'll probably have coffee with my best friend. And I hope to have a nice, long, uninterrupted nap. I have a multitude of projects running through my head that I should tackle while I am without children, but I won't. I plan to be quiet, and let God speak to me. I don't hear Him when I am tired. I don't actually know if it's that He's not speaking, or if it's that I'm so intent on just getting through the day that I don't hear Him. I plan to find out tomorrow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Being Vulnerable: Regret

Sometimes I question this path of vulnerability I'm on. Sometimes I so badly want to retreat. To not let anyone know what's going on inside of me. To hide. But God has called me to expose the vulnerable parts of myself. I think one reason He is leading me on this journey is to help others in similar situations. I'm so blessed to have been able to share my story with several people over the past several years.

When I was going through the healing process I had no one to talk to who could identify with what I was experiencing. I hope I am that person for those who need someone.

I believe it's one small way that I can give God glory from what was otherwise a sad situation.

So today I question regret. I live with regret. I wonder if it is a lifelong sentence. I posted that as a comment on my Facebook page, and received quite a few comments. And I wonder how many of us understand regret. I'm not sure I do, so I've done a little research on it today. I researched it because the comments I received were similar in content, yet different. And different from what I interpret regret to be.The subjects of the comments ranged from guilt to repentance to bondage and condemnation. See what I mean? I think all of those may be somehow intertwined with regret at some point, but not in the sense I feel regret.

I know I'm being about as clear as mud, so let me just explain what I'm not experiencing.

I'm NOT experiencing:
guilt, shame, bondage, condemnation, anger at myself, deep sorrow, lack of faith

Good golly...I look at that list and think how sad it is. Yet, there was a time when I felt every one of those (at the same time!). But that's no longer the case.

What I AM experiencing is: an occasional passing desire to be able to change the decisions I made in the past

Had I not made the decisions I did, I might not experience some of the things I now experience (i.e., consequences). While I've made peace with my consequences, I occasionally have the thought that I wouldn't have those consequences if I'd made right choices. On the other hand, I often think about how much things have changed, and how God has used my actions and my consequences to bring glory to Himself.

Okay, with all that said, here are definitions for regret and guilt:
Regret - to think with a sense of loss
Guilt - remorse or self-reproach caused by feeling that one is responsible for a wrong or offence

While the definitions are similar, they are different. For example, I experience a sense of loss when I think about the people who are no longer my friends because of the choices I made. I wish I had not made those choices. I wish I had not lost those friends. But I no longer experience the the feelings of "remorse or self-reproach" over the actions that led to my loss.

With all that said, I do occasionally experience regret. Every once in a while, something triggers a realization of how much my life has changed. How much I lost, as well as how much I've gained (and, NO, I am NOT talking weight!!). How different things are. How all those changes can be traced back to my decisions. And, for a few moments, I wish I could have the chance to go back and make different decisions. And, because I do experience triggers, and I do have memories, I believe there's a good chance that regret may be a lifelong sentence...something I will always have to deal with from time to time.

I'm not sure I've made any sense at all to anyone (including myself) in this post; but maybe you got something out of it...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Right Words

You know those people who always have the right words at just the right time? My best friend is one of those people. I, on the other hand, am not one of those.

I blabber and blunder my way through almost every day. I'm almost always a day late and a dollar short when it comes to having the right words. After a conversation, I usually mull it over in my head, thinking of things I should've said, or shouldn't have said. Most of the time, I get angry at myself for not having said the "right" thing. I miss opportunities to say things, or I say the wrong things. But it's rare that I say the appropriate thing.

But give me time, and the ability to write what needs to be said, and I'm all good. I like to analyze words (which often gets me in trouble because I read into things that are said). As much as I dislike tossing words around carelessly, that's what happens when they come out of my mouth. But when given the opportunity to write words, I'm particularly careful.

I'm pretty sure Jesus was particularly careful with the words He spoke, and those words were carefully recorded in written form. So when He said in Luke 7:48, "Your sins have been forgiven," and again in verse 50, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace," I have no doubt those are the exact words He intended to speak. Those are life-changing words from the only One who can speak them. Those precious words have been spoken straight into my heart. And I will never be the same again because of them and the One who spoke them.

What about you? Has the Peacespeaker whispered words into your heart that have changed you?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From the Archives...

Well, try as I might...there are no words from my heart tonight. So, here's a poem I wrote a while back:

For Such A Time As This

You think your world a scary place to be
Nation fighting nation, man killing man
It's all over the news for you to see
The world has chosen not to follow My plan

But I have placed you there for such a time as this

Your nation revels in sin
Your leaders have silenced voiced prayers
The church has numerous problems within
The lost are wondering if anybody cares

And I have placed you there for such a time as this

Your community is searching for the answer
Your neighbors are strangers in their homes
Abuse and addiction are spreading like cancer
Orphaned children are left to wander and roam

And I have placed you there for such a time as this

Your house is a home which I created
You've allowed chaos to enter in
All the busyness for My peace you have traded
Where, dear one, have you been?

I have placed you there for such a time as this

In your life, be My hands and feet
I will be Your ever-present Guide
Allow me through your voice to speak
Then under the shelter of My wings you may hide

For I have placed you there for such a time as this

Monday, October 11, 2010

Redeeming Love

I held the secret, I had no rest
When you asked, I nodded yes
I watched you fall to your knees
The tears stream down your cheeks

I'd never seen you in pain like once you knew
I'd never before been the one to hurt you
Time stopped in that moment on the floor
It never went back to the way before

The days stretched out before us with pain
It seemed like a never-ending rain
We didn't know which way to run
It would've been easier to come undone

I watched you suffer all alone
We reaped the consequences of what I'd sown
Your mercy became my comfort place
You showered me with undeserved grace

Our healing was hard and slow
We both had places we had to stretch and grow
Throughout all the shame, the push and shove
One constant remained: your redeeming love

Sunday, October 10, 2010

False Guilt

Guilt. I've spent most of my life well-acquantainted with that feeling. Whether I'd done something to validate that feeling wasn't a question. The only thing that mattered was doing whatever it took to rid myself of the feeling.

My earliest childhood memories are interspersed with memories of guilt. If my parents, sisters, teachers, or anyone really, even hinted that I'd done something wrong, or something to hurt them, the feelings of guilt were instantaneous. To even suggest that I'd done something mean or hurtful would send me into a tailspin of guilt. I was judge and jury, and would always deliver myself a guilty verdict. Even if I knew in the deepest part of my heart that I'd done absolutely nothing wrong, I would eventually find myself apologizing to assuage my feelings of guilt. Then I'd be angry at myself for apologizing when I'd done nothing wrong. This has been a continuous cylce in my life...until January 2009.

I believe Americans are a loaded down with false guilt. Advertising and propaganda leave us feeling guilty about everything from parenting to politics. And, I believe many American Christians (those who have an intimate relationship with Jesus) are almost buried with feelings of false guilt. Society tells us we're not sensitive enough or loving enough if we're not tolerant and politically correct (and for some reason, we buy into the lie and feel guilty, leaving ourselves completely incapable of sharing the Gospel!!). The burden of legalism prevalent in so many churches leaves us feeling guilty for everything we do, or don't do, according to the standards they've set.

Recently, after reading some of my posts, I've had two friends apologize to me for different reasons. And, interestly enough, neither apology was necessary...AT ALL! But they assumed the subjects of my posts were about something they'd done. (Maybe I'm a little too open in these posts...) Not wanting to be the guilty parties, they apologized for things they thought were hurtful to me. I applaud their willingness to apologize when necessary; however, in these cases, their feelings of guilt were unfounded. That's when I began to think about how often I've done the very same thing.

In 2006, I became disgusted with feeling guilty all the time. I felt guilty for feeling guilty. That's when I decided that I wanted freedom from the stronghold of guilt that had held me captive my entire life. Rather than seeking that freedom at the foot of the cross, I went in the opposite direction. I sought freedom in a place that only loaded me down with more guilt...real guilt.

In January of 2009, God freed me from the stronghold of false guilt. I no longer experience the battles that come from false guilt. I no longer feel the need to apologize when I know I've done nothing wrong or hurtful. I no longer confess the same sins repeatedly, asking for forgiveness over and over again. Don't get me wrong...I do experience conviction and guilt when I have done something wrong or hurtful. And I make a point to apologize. And I seek God's forgiveness. (See Psalm 51) But I no longer daily walk in a state of false guilt. In fact, I almost never experience false guilt now. Because of the freedom I found in Christ, that is one burden that I laid down at the foot of the cross, and haven't picked back up!

btw...I'll approach the subject of real guilt at another time! I'm well acquainted with that one too!!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Poll Question

Please take a moment to answer my poll question. I'm interested in your answers before I write a post on the subject. If you'd like to elaborate on your answer, please email me at gilbert.rebekah@gmail.com, or send me a FB message. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Singing...An Act of Worship

I love to sing. I don't just like to sing. I L.O.V.E. to sing. It's a deep-down-inside-of-me passion.

There was a period two years ago when I thought I was done singing. I really thought my years of singing had been a season, and that season was over. I was devastated. But, I didn't see a way around it. I was living with a weight of guilt and shame upon me, and I didn't see how God would ever allow me to be used again, especially in a way that I so dearly love. I would sit in the church pew and listen intently to the choir. Sometimes I would sing along...loudly, I might add. Sometimes I would listen and cry silently. But, I really didn't believe I'd ever be part of a choir again. I felt as if a part of me had died. And I was in mourning. And I was guilty.

I've referred before to a sermon my pastor preached in January, 2009. He talked about how Peter had been a follower of Christ, an adamant one who said he'd never deny Him. Only He did deny Him...three times. But, Peter's story didn't end there. God went on to use Peter again! My healing came during that sermon, and so did my freedom to sing again! God not only redeemed me, but He restored me. He restored the use of my love of singing. He allows me to stand before Him publicly to sing. He allows me to embrace the words I sing and use them as an act of worship to Him. He allows me to sing with a big, cheesy smile on my face...because He knows that smile is one tiny way of telling others how much I love the One I sing about.

I'm so thankful to sing as though I never did before my healing. I'm so thankful God loves for me to sing to Him.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The One-up Game

I used to be part of a drama ministry. In rehearsals, we would sometimes play a game (of course, I can't remember the name of it) that went something like this: you tell a story, the next person tries to one-up you, and so on. For example, I might say, "I have a papercut on my finger." The next person might say they had hit their finger with a hammer. The scenario would go on until someone's finger had been chopped off or fallen off from some hideous disease. Quite a fun game!

The past four years, I think I've sort of been in hiding. I've not allowed myself to get too close to anyone, or anyone too close to me. I've recently started to emerge from hiding, and have been opening myself up to the possibilities of close friendships again, and getting to know people. What I'm finding is that, in general, people play the one-up game in real life. I don't think it's done intentionally or with malice. And, I'm quite certain I've been plenty guilty of it myself. But I'm trying to make myself aware of it so I no longer do it.

Here's an example of how it goes in real life: "I'm so tired from work lately." Instead of your pal asking what's going on at work, and encouraging you to relax, get some rest, and take the matter to God, the response is usually something like this: "Well, you can't be as tired as I am...let me tell you why..." And, so it goes. I think this is the easy button! It's easier to focus on how much worse our situation is than to be an encourager. I think it's easier because those conversation usually only involve surface talk.

Encouraging someone takes a bit of work and some commitment. It requires us to pray for our friends, check in to see how they're doing, maybe even take some time out of our busy lives to lend a listening ear. It requires that we not judge them. Yep, I said it. We need to realize that we don't walk in their shoes, and we don't know how we would react or respond to situations until we're in them. So instead of one-upping someone today, take the time and make the effort to be an encourager.

Bear one another's burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ. - Galatians 6:2

Monday, October 4, 2010

It's Easy To Be Fake

I have to fight the urge to be fake. It's easy to be fake, to say everything is fine when it's not. Because, let's admit it...not every day is a great, or even a good, day. We all have days when nothing goes right, whether they be big or small issues. Some are dealing with circumstances in which just getting through the day takes all the physical or emotional energy they have. And, it's usually easier to pretend the issue doesn't exist than to address it.

I'm not saying that it's okay to be Betty or Bob Bummer all the time. But it's important to recognize and address the source of a problem, and sometimes it's okay to admit it to others. From my personal experience, I know how destructive it can be to keep things tucked away, building one upon another. Sometimes, it's best to be an open book, and allow others to be an encouragement to us. To point us back in the right direction. To remind us of our blessings. To lead us back to the foot of the cross. To lead us to find healing.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Post by Sarah Markley

There are several blogs I follow because I enjoy them so much I like to know when they've added a new post. One of those blogs is by Sarah Markley. She has quite a powerful life story, and because of that she and her husband have been featured on The 700 Club.

The title of her post today immediately interested me. So I clicked on her link, and found the most amazing post. I want to share the link for it as my post for today. It's that good! A must read! Please take a moment to travel over to Sarah's blog (using the following provided link), and read God of the THIRD Chances . You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reflecting

I'm sitting alone outside in the quiet of the night, listening to the night sounds of God's creation: crickets and tree frogs making whatever sounds it is they make, the rustling of leaves as they fall to the ground as the wind blows. I'm reflecting on cool, fall nights, much like this one, over the past 35 years of my life.

Thinking back on the teenage years, I'm reminded of football games, bonfires, mud riding in the dark (yes, I'm one of those!), and sitting next to Mark for the first time on a hayride. Life was full of promise and expectation, and a new adventure was always just around the corner.

In my early 20s, many nights like this were spent leaving college classes, headed home to my new husband, where we'd sometimes sit outside and just enjoy being together. That first fall as a married couple was funny in so many ways. We had to call on our parents a lot, including learning how to use the floor furnace to heat our tiny home. Life was fast-paced, and still held lots of promises and expectations.

By my mid-to-late 20s, well...I just don't remember much about those days. I'm pretty sure most nights were spent changing diapers, feeding babies, and looking forward to going to bed so I could get a few hours of sleep. Life was just a hazy, sleep-deprived blur.

On nights like this in my early 30s, we started looking forward to dressing up the kids for trick-or-treating. We sometimes took them football games. And moments outside with my husband were secretly stolen after all three girls were in bed. We would sit on the swing and try to figure out how things had become so difficult between us. Life was a little scary, no longer full of promise, and adventure was not on our agenda.

As of this past Saturday, I am officially in my mid-30s. I'm looking forward to more nights like this. Quiet. Calm. Listening to the night sounds of the world around me. Life has once again become adventurous. We're making plans. At the same time, it's somewhat uneventful. I'm okay with that. These moments still have to be stolen when the girls have gone to bed, but I'm okay with that too.

Reflecting on my life and the 35 years God has been faithful to me, on many nights just like this, is good for the soul.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nine Days

So, I'm just going to be completely blunt and honest, and lay it all out there. The last nine days have been just awful. It all started when I took to heart something someone said out of ignorance. Someone touched...no scratched...at a tender place in my heart. At first, I rejected it. But the more I thought about it, the more it began to bother me. I began to dwell on it, and it wasn't long before old feelings surfaced: worthlessness, doubt, anger, even some bitterness. How quickly those feelings surface and begin to grow! Even reading my Bible quickly became a chore instead of spending precious moments reading my love letter from God. And, my prayers began bouncing off the ceiling.

If you've read my previous post, you know I said I'm amidst a spiritual battle. This thing is no joke! Wow! In nine days, my mind has returned to dark places. Satan is working overtime in all sorts of ways to destroy me. And, he knows exactly what buttons to push. Over the last nine days, I started fighting in my own strength. That doesn't work. I'm headed back in the right direction once again, but angry at myself that it's taken nine days to get to that point.

This is something I wrote during this period:

I feel myself slipping away
Even though I beg and plead
I don't want You to let go
I want You to answer me
To make me understand
Just how it is You'll keep me free

I want to wait in silence
I try to rest to no avail
My mind knows what's right
But it's becoming frail
My mind is clouding again
A battle is raging, I can tell

Truth and feelings are at war
Truth is somehow in a bind
How much ground will feeling gain
Clutter bounces around in my mind
The fog becoming thicker once more
Make it stop before I'm confined

See how fast and far I can go when I trust in my own strength? Over the last four years, I've learned to depend on God...but sometimes, I have a memory lapse. I'm glad God doesn't have memory lapses, and I'm glad He doesn't give up on me!