Celebrating Turning 8

“I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD.”              1 Samuel 1:27-28

The passing of time is very evident when birthdays hit. Our sixth child just turned 8 years old the other day and it seems like we were just heading to the hospital for him to be born. He is such an interesting kid and is very comfortable in who he is. He never meets a stranger and what he thinks, he says. The way he loves the Lord is remarkable and it carries over to people, as it should. If he puts up a guard with someone, I trust him. This rarely happens, but when it does, I take it seriously. I hear many stories that start with, “You won’t believe what Eli said”.  Knowing Eli I never know what he will say.

IMG_5866When he was born, his heart had not fully closed up yet. It was our first experience with a child being rushed to the NICU. Thankfully, it closed up within a few hours and he has not had a problem since. He did tell me a few days ago that he can fill his heart getting bigger and bigger. I told him I often feel the Lord expanding our hearts to hold more love for Him and others. I know exactly what he is talking about. He loves well.

I have learned a lot from this kid. He is fearless and carefree. He is friendly, but still maturing. He is teachable, but has strong opinions. He is solid in his belief that God is who He says He is and calls him King. He accepted what Christ did on the cross for his sin and looks forward to heaven. He encourages and seeks out those who need it the most. I like to walk a bit behind him and just see what will happen.

As amazing as this boy is, he has also been challenging since birth. For that I am thankful. It helps to have one that knocks you back down on your knees and reminds you that you do not have all the answers. Humility has been the gift that arrived with Eli. Recently when my husband and I were talking about this child, he ever so gently pointed out how I need to let him grow up. There is a bit of fear because of his unpredictability. However, self-control and maturity do not happen without guidance. The Lord gave this child to us and I want him to grow into a man that is mature, unselfish and self-controlled. To throw off restraint is a bit expected of a child, but not for a man. The time to guide is now and I am a bit behind in some areas.

So as we jump into 8 years old, it might be a bit rocky for a bit. Change is never easy and increased discipline is hard on all of us. He was given to us and each and everyday I will give him back to the Lord in how I guide, teach and love. This is normal for us, but more needs to happen with this one. To build up and correct takes time and patience. He is worth it. A heart always comes before a chore. This kid has gifts that need attention and behavior that needs correcting. Parenting is not easy, but I am thankful for wisdom given by God every step of the way.

Eli, 8 is going to be great!!

 

Community

Back in our Young Life days, we had instant community. If we moved, we met people who quickly became friends and it was good. We had a common burden for high school kids to meet Jesus and the bond was tight. I did not realize at the time what a gift this was to us. The past two weekends we have been given this gift again. We gathered with community and it has been so encouraging. It has very much felt like returning to those Young Life days.

IMG_5834The first time was an outdoor concert/fundraiser for Young Life. We sat under blankets and stars and listened to great music. I hope our little town will do more of this kind of thing. The next event was a community night of worship. The title for the event was “Never Alone”. The night was perfect and a sweet group of people made it happen. I love how everyone has something they are good at. When each brings their gift to the table, a beautiful picture of the body of Christ working together in unity is the result. Isn’t this what God had in mind? In fact, we can read these words written by David, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1). Seems so often Christians can be known for their differences and not our unity.

I know in recent news Ellen DeGeneres received a lot of attention because she sat by George W. Bush at a Cowboys game. Her response was very good. The short explanation I heard her give was that we are to be kind. We might not agree, but we can be kind. Can we do more of this in our homes, neighborhoods, cities, schools, churches and country? Often this whole liberal vs. conservative thing really bothers me. Each bashing the other and both looking anything but unified. It amazes me that the names “right wing and left wing” are used in politics. Has a bird ever flown with only one wing? The answer is no, I looked it up. Why do we divide then? Seems both wings, maybe not always agreeing, but flapping in unity would cause our nation to soar.

I know that our community is not perfect and we are small, but what I saw was very encouraging. When there is a common cause, many of the reasons for division end. Both events had the unifying goal to lift up our powerful God. Can you even wrap your head around what our country would be like if this was our common goal? A glimpse of heaven is what I see. I pray revival breaks out again!

Awhile ago I read 2 Chronicles 20 and cannot seem to get away from this unified kingdom. I will summarize it for you and I hope you love it as much as I do. King Jehoshaphat gets word that a vast army is coming to attack Judah, his county. He is alarmed, but resolves to find out what the Lord would have them do and everyone fasts. “The  people of Judah came together to seek help from the LORD..” (vs 4). He prays and reminds the people of who God is. He then says the most beautiful, comforting words. “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (vs. 12). The situation has not changed, but they know where to focus.

The account continues and “…the Spirit of the LORD came on Jahaziel son of Zechariah..” (vs. 14). He gives them a message from God. He tells them not to be afraid and the battle belongs to God. He tells them that God will be with them and they will not have to fight. Have we not received the same message and promise that God will be with us? The people fell facedown in worship. What a sight this must have been! Then they head out very early in the morning. As they begin, the king reminds them of the message they have received from God. Then he does the most interesting military move. He places singers in front of the army who sang, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His love endures forever.” (vs. 21). As their song rang out, “the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. (vs. 22). Only God can do the impossible.

What would happen if we followed their example? What if we started with ourselves? What if we lifted our eyes to our powerful God, fasted from our need to be right, bowed in worship to the only God who has the final say in what is right? What about if we went about our days in thanksgiving, trust and surrender? I will tell you what happened in this country. “When the men of Judah came to the place that overlooks the desert and looked toward the vast army, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground, no one had escaped.” (vs. 24). It took them 3 days to gather all the plunder! They returned home rejoicing and what a sound that had to be! There is no sound more amazing I am certain than that of a follower of Christ who has seen an impossible victory.  How their faith must have soared! Then something else happened. “The fear of God came on all the surrounding kingdoms when they heard how the LORD had fought against the enemies of Israel.” (vs. 29). Their country experienced peace.

I do not know what you will decide, but as for me and our family, we have our eyes focused on the only source of victory. There is uncertainty and somethings that could easily usher in fear. Everyone I meet has something impossible to see their way out of. It may be a relationship, family, school challenges, lack of direction, health issues, finances, loneliness and the list could go on and on. We can choose to go our own way and gather likeminded travelers to our cause. Or we can come together, trade our “right” ideas in for His and unite in worship. My prayer is that we hear each other singing, “Give thanks to the LORD, for His love endures forever.” (vs. 21). This must be what revival sounds like. And trust me when I tell you that His love transforms you in the most beautiful way and worship is a natural response.

I will leave you with this verse. “Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God” You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:13-14).

*One of my daughters just told me tomorrow is National Kindness Day!!

An 18 Year Walk of Grace

“When you discover who God made you to be,                                                                you’ll never want to be anyone else.”  – Bill Johnson

 

Our oldest turned 18 this week and there are so many thoughts with this milestone. The first is how fast it has gone. People tell you this when they are young, but it is true. Much has happened over these years and the one word that comes to mind is grace. When I look at her beautiful senior pictures, I see and know grace. Despite how much I love this child, I have made many mistakes…but grace. Fear had a tight grip on me during those early years and shaped many parenting choices. However, she has grown up to be a fearless young lady. Perfection was a priority, but she aims to reflect Christ,  not a perfect version of herself. Insecurity ran high, but she is secure in who God has made her. One act of loving grace after another.

IMG_5831She celebrated with sweet friends and they danced the night away. Our back porch was transformed into a dance floor and they all learned the basics. I told them these were life skills since they live in Texas. Some of our kids joined in and we two-stepped around our kitchen. We caught glimpses of big smiles, confidence gained and friendship. They two-stepped, spun like crazy and laughed a lot. More of this needs to happen and I pray we can do this often in our home. To have a home where our kids want to invite others in is another gift of grace to us.

While we do not have this raising children to know and love the Lord down, we do know where our help comes from. We have seen that when our kids hearts and heads know who they are; which is created, chosen, precious, a sinner saved by grace and loved beyond imagine, they slip into their true identity. This 18 year old walks this out daily. And if the Lord has given us grace in all my parenting mistakes with this one, will He not do the same for each of us?

Happy 18th Birthday, Maggie!

*Senior pictures by our talented friend, Corri Robinson.

 

 

 

An Unexpected Note

“If we had but an inkling of the measure of divine love and of the depths of divine mercy and of the patience of divine faithfulness, we would never despair or become discouraged.” -M. Martyria Madauss

This quote was written on a card that was tucked inside a book I picked up at a retreat. The book was not used, but somehow had a note inside. It was an unexpected gift. Inside the note was a precious birthday message dating back all the way to 1976! And inside the note was another small card that said, “Consider yourself an unprofitable servant; then God can use you as His instrument.” These kind of unexpected gifts have filled the month of October. While God Himself did not write the note, He allowed me to pick up this book. I do not believe in coincidence for that would make God very small and life extremely boring.

IMG_4753Some weeks back I was looking for a worship song and in my search heard an incredible line. It has stuck with me ever since and become a prayer. What was spoken was, “Lord, I’ll be your trumpet.”  Pick up your Bible and you will be amazed at the number of times a trumpet is mentioned. It seems I come across a new one almost daily – another unexpected gift. One common theme I have found is it was an instrument played with a purpose. It was a form of communication. However, a trumpet without a player is just a nice instrument. While it may shine, its purpose is not reached until it is picked up and air breathed into the mouthpiece. This very much reminded me of the work God does in us. Once you allow Him to pick you up and “breathe” life into you, purpose follows.

I know full well that the Lord can do all things without this little trumpet. He is God and I am not. He loves me enough to write a part in His symphony just for me. Sometimes I remain silent and other times I get to play, both are a privilege. Trying to even grasp this is too much. I will continue to trust His love, mercy, patience and faithfulness. With this truth in my heart, discouragement and despair flee. This was such a wonderful reminder from this unexpected card and I am thankful. I pray you are encouraged and feel like you just discovered a precious, timely note too. I pray you also find what part the Lord would have for you to play. He has plans for you and I just know they sound amazing.

*The picture is another unexpected note on our driveway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What causes you to become discouraged or despair?

 

20 Years

Today marks 20 years of marriage for my husband and I. More has happened than we could have thought or imagined. So many blessings, so many sorrows, so many joys and unexpected trials with unbelievable gifts along the way. The Lord is faithful and we are firmly rooted in His great love for us. We know to whom we belong and trust Him. If He allowed it, it is and will be for our good and His glory. Only God can make a promise like that and keep it.

IMG_0148I remember waking up really early on this day 20 years ago and it felt like a dream. This is what I had been thinking, planning and preparing for all my life. The day was here, but it just did not seem real. One of the many memories I have is before my dad and I walked the aisle for him to place me into my husbands care. The huge doors closed, as the last in the wedding party walked down the aisle, and a trumpet began to sound. The doors opened pretty dramatically and we entered. The aisle seemed miles long, but I knew who was waiting at the end. All thoughts of life before fled and I was pretty sure I was glowing. When my hand was placed in his, I felt like I was home.

The years have passed by quickly and we have more than lived to tell about it. We have fallen more in love with each other and with our God. While not perfect, we know the One who is. His Word is our daily guide and it is Him whom we serve. We serve one another because of His great love for us. This love overflows and we each benefit. Our children see this and get drenched with this effect. Do we mess up? Absolutely! I could give you a great example that took place just this morning. However, we ask for forgiveness, turn from our sin and continue on. Often we feel the pressures of this world, but we know there is more to come than this life. We march on towards Heaven making memories along the way.

I do not know your story or where you are on this journey, but I am glad our steps have collided. There is nothing in me that for a minute thinks I have this all figured out. I do trust the One who does and have chosen to give my heart to Him. He knows how to keep me in peace, love and focus. My heart is tender towards the Lord and that gives Him soft clay to work with. While not always pleasant or painless, I trust His working. And I am daily thankful to have a precious man beside me, whose heart is even more tender and who is a fierce leader and protector. My husband knows well how to keep that which was entrusted to him 20 years ago. May we bring the Lord much glory for many, many more years!

Happy Anniversary Damon!

*This picture pretty much sums it up:)

 

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Surprised by a Statement

Do you ever say something and kinda look around to see who said that? It happened to me yesterday when we were talking with the pastor at the church we are visiting. He asked a simple question about our day, whether it was restful or busy? I automatically responded with, “We don’t do busy”. It shocked me a bit because of the speed by which it flew out of my mouth, but it is very true. Being busy, rushing from activity to activity does not work for our family. It did not work with just two or three kids and it sure would not work with seven. This is how the Lord has led us and He may do something else with your family.

IMG_5605When I look at the calendar and see an entire square full, a bit of anxiety arises. Will I remember it all? Will everyone be where they are suppose to be at the right time? When will we eat dinner if the evening is full? They are gone for most of the day, when will we reconnect? If this is an occasional occurrence, we do fine, but not if this is the normal for us. Some handle this just fine, but that is not my lane. Go ahead and pass us right by.

This is a conviction for us and I felt it affirmed again today when I read Ann Voskamp’s blog. She had a guest writer and the title was, “How Hurry is Incompatible with Love” by John Mark Comer. When I rush, I miss things, especially people. Quick conversations are not my favorite, but at times necessary I know. It takes time to learn about others and to let them know they are loved. It is easy to see why he chose this title. However, it is not easy to hear.

I think of another conversation yesterday and if we had been in a hurry, we would have missed it. A precious family asked us to take their picture as we walked into a restaurant. We visited for awhile and got to know a little about one another. It was an incredible blessing to meet other brothers and sisters in Christ! Come to find out, they care about what is most important to us too! It was good. An unexpected gift. We will be exchanging Christmas cards.

As for today, our youngest had a fun field trip to a pumpkin patch. The downside is that it was an over an hour away. This morning when I looked at all the things that needed to be done here, it would have been very easy to stay home. However, to miss time with this little girl was not an option. And the laundry and dust were waiting for me when I got home. We froze because it was colder than expected, but we had a great time. Sweet memories were made and that is far more important than chores.

Time passes and it is our choice as to what we fill our days with. Will we pack it so full that we have no space to see people? Will we decide today that we will ask the Lord for help in how to manage the time He has given us? If time was God’s idea in the first place, it would only be logical to ask Him how to manage it. That carries over in just about everything don’t you think?

 

Daily Strength

“But I prayed, ‘Now strengthen my hands.” Nehemiah 6:9

A few summers ago I studied the book of Nehemiah and I have loved it ever since. There is so much in this short book and I feel like I am on a treasure hunt to uncover something new each time I read it. Actually, I can say that about the entire Bible. I pray you are spending time reading God’s word. We make time for what is important and this should be high on our list. Time spent getting to know and praise our Creator in prayer, reading, singing and listening, does wonders for our relationship. I think about our kids and how I desire time with them. I want to know them. What would happen if we met at the hospital when they were born, and again the day one of us were to die? We would have missed so much life. We would not know each other at all. I have no desire to have that type of relationship with God.

IMG_5459Getting to know someone takes time. Building a relationship does not normally happen overnight. I think of how much I know about each of our children. It is important to know how they function best, what makes them feel loved and what overwhelms them. This takes more than my natural abilities and I am in need of something more than me. This privilege is too much for me, but not for Him. I can pray, like Nehemiah, and ask for strength. Days are long and laundry piles are high. My hands need strength to serve my family. Knowing who to ask for strength makes all the difference.

As we look at the week ahead, remember He wants to know you. Spend time with Him. Do not be shy about asking for help. If you are a parent and your child asks for help and you knew it was for your child’s good, would you withhold your help? Our children should be able to trust us, but we fail and mess up. God is not human and therefore does not fail. Ask for His strength for this week. Ask for the power of the Holy Spirit living inside of you, if you are a Christ follower, to help you this week. You are not alone and should not live like it. Nehemiah knew his God and relied on Him to do all he was entrusted with. I want to be like him as we do the work that is planned for this week. What about you?

Gifts

Do you remember Christmas morning, when there were several gifts under the tree and you were not sure which one to choose to open first? That has been what it has been like with writing. The Lord has given so many gifts lately and I could not decide which to write about first. As with anything, some are just between Him and I, but others can be shared. I have sorta spread them out before the Lord and waited.

IMG_5425There have been sweet birthday gifts from friends, precious time with family and specific prayers answered. How do you begin to write about the goodness of God? How do you type into words how much He loves us? He shows us everyday if we have a heart to see. I will confess that I have not always had this type of vision. Praise God, those days are gone! My heart is now open wide and it makes seeing, giving and receiving love that much richer. It is the kind of lasting love. This kind of love, expressed in so many ways, does not seek the next thing to be sustained. It is a constant and brings such peace. I love these words, “For our hearts rejoice in Him because we trust in His holy name.” (Psalm 33:21). What a gift it is to trust His love for me as I go about this life.

I will tell you about one of the gifts that came about in some unlikely boxes. I was searching for old books that I could rip the pages out of for an art project. My husband remembered a few unpacked boxes in the top of our closet that might have books. Might I add that we have been in our home for 10 years. There were lots of treasures, but no books. One of the boxes had a few makeup bags full of expensive products. They were like new and I could have used them all those years ago. However, they sat on a shelf unopened and unused. The only thing I could do now was throw them away. It made me so sad to have wasted so much money and it reminded me of what use to be so important. Image was a big deal back then and it was costly. I still like and wear makeup, but I know where my lasting beauty comes from. The light of Christ’s love cannot be packaged and sold.

Can I tell you what was also in this box? Several bottles of wonderful smelling perfume. Again, they sat unopened and unused in a dark box. These however are still usable. I was so excited to have new smells to wear! They were just waiting to be opened this whole time. I am reminded of one of my most favorite stories where perfume is significant in the Bible. “And a woman in the town who was a sinner found out that Jesus was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house. She brought an alabaster jar of perfume and stood behind Him at His feet, weeping, and began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet with her hair, kissing them and anointing them with the perfume.” (Luke 7:37-38). Can you imagine what an entire jar of spilled perfume must have smelled like? How it must have filled the room with a wonderful fragrance.

My perfume does not compare, but I would like to think it smells good. I remember hugging a friend and her perfume clung to me. Did the same happen to Jesus with this extravagant anointing? The financial cost was great, but what love she poured out. Do we do the same? Do we keep our love for others and our Savior in unopened, nicely contained boxes, high on a shelf? What would happen if you trusted the Lord and opened the box of your heart to His love?  I can only tell you my experience. Love poured out from the heart of God is like nothing I have ever known and it changes everything.

Want to hear something about other gifts? A dear friend, who recently lost her husband, gave me a new makeup bag with my favorite mascara and the best pink lipstick I have ever worn. She also put a heart-shaped mirror in the bag. Such kindness extended even while she is grieving. I was so touched and had to marvel at the significance of what I had thrown away and what I was given.  Another friend filled a bag with gifts my mom would have given me, even down to the fall scents she chose. How did she know? Only the Lord. My in-laws gave me their airline points and I flew first class back to North Carolina for a family wedding. I had a ball with my dad, sister and family. How generous of them! My husband and kids were so fun to celebrate with and did without me for a weekend. I am blessed with the most unselfish man who loves and serves others well. This too has been a gift for almost 20 years.

I know at times it feels like the Lord is emptying us of all we hold dear. Some of the things need not remain, but some are removed and we do not know the reason now. I have found that being like an empty box, rid of self and desperately wanting to be filled with all the Lord wants to pour in, is far better than anything I could purchase or obtain. I do pray though, that anything I can pour out as an offering from my heart will bless the Lord like this sinful woman, for we are much alike.  And as this next scripture reminds us, others can catch a whiff of Christ from us. “For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Someone will recognize the “smell”, some will become angry and some won’t know quite what to do. All of this is known by God and we can trust Him. I have a feeling this is what love smells like.

*Picture with my Aunt Debbie who is quite a gift.

 

Changing Seasons

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1

It is has been unbelievably hot here in Texas. Being from North Carolina, hot and October do not go in the same sentence. I think the changing of seasons is what I miss most about the mountains. Time was marked by the weather and I like that. One would think I was use to this climate, but I am not. However, the people and the sunsets make Texas a great place to call home. And the weather man says a “cold front” is making its way here and it should be cooler tomorrow. I pray it happens and we can get on with fall. A change is very much needed.

IMG_5296As I think on change, it always reminds me of the passage in Ecclesiastes about time. It goes from one extreme to the other. “A time of war and a time of peace.” (vs. 8). As I read through the list, I naturally choose the more lovely times. I have no desire for war, loss, hate, mourning and death. I will say that knowing these times makes the other that much more sweet and I appreciate them more. So for that I am thankful. It is during the not so lovely that I have been drawn into the heart of God more deeply. How can I say I do not want such a gift just because it was hard?

I received a text last night from a precious friend. Her husband of 55 years went to be with Jesus. She is in “a time to weep… a time to mourn” (vs.4). She knows the Lord and has hope of “a time to laugh..a time to dance” (vs.4). Do you have this same hope? Do you know there is a purpose to each season? Sometimes it is full of joy and other times joy is a choice. I found myself this morning begging to be out of this season. Goodness, did this bring such a heaviness and that feeling of wanting change. As we walked into church and heard words so specific to what my heart was feeling, I could have just wept. Only the Lord knew what I needed most. Circumstances remain the same, but my heart was reminded of the truth. It made the time at the Lord’s table that much more meaningful.

Friend, I am not sure of your season, but I know the God who does. I pray you have hope today for what is to come. While there may be many seasons before we go to Heaven that make you long for Home, trust the One who knows and loves you. “Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, But in the day of adversity consider; Surely God has appointed the one as well as the other…” (7:13-14). Tonight I will remember, “You will keep the mind that is dependent on you in perfect peace, for it is trusting in you.” (Isaiah 26:3). I know who I am dependent on and trust His plans, which are not always visible. May you sleep in peace tonight.

Confession

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteousness person is very powerful in its effect.” James 5:16

Our family visited a new church today. We have heard about it and wanted to check it out. We had read their core values and they are based on truth, God’s Word. We unloaded the van, walked through the doors and were immediately welcomed by kind people. Since they are a branch off of a larger church, they are small and meeting in an elementary school. The simple approach to church was refreshing. We take up two rows and begin to sing. Just a few instruments and beautiful words. The pastor is teaching a series entitled “Home” and based this sermon on 1 Peter 5:8-10. Powerful words were not watered down and we were not entertained. The goal is transformation, for us to look more like Christ when we leave than when we walked in.

IMG_5169The sermon ended much too soon and we sang a bit more. Then the most interesting thing happened. They break everyone into smaller groups and call them “tribes”. We had no idea where to go, but were quickly directed to a group. I have to mention that the younger kids go to their class during the teaching time and then come back for the close of the service. It is fun worshiping together. Back to the tribes. We circle up and each person is asked to confess in one word a sin they struggle with. Mine is pride. Then the most beautiful thing followed. We took communion. Each sin confessed, the death of Christ, the blood that poured from His body, paid the price for each. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). This is GOOD NEWS!!!

If that were not enough, the church stays after and eats lunch together. Everyone brings things to share and tables were full of food. This so reminded me of the early church that formed after Christ returned to Heaven. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42). We decided not to stay, even though we felt welcome. Adding a family of 9 without bringing something just went against my southern roots. Instead, we ate together as a family and talked about the morning. Our oldest made a statement that really stuck with me. She said, “You can’t hide there.” Interesting observation and so good. When you know who you are because of the accepted life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, you desire a life of righteousness and a home shaped by this love. Hiding sin does not fit in this loving, secure truth. The only hiding that remains is, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3). My life covered by His sinless life. What an amazing exchange, don’t you think?

*You could wear a name tag and this child decided to go with something different today. He kept saying, “It’s Jimmy, with a Y.” Made us laugh every time!