It Takes a Village

I have never really put a lot of thought into the statement “it takes a village to raise a child” and that may be because I heard Hillary Clinton say it once and I some how associate that phrase with her.  But in the Christian community, in the church family, it does take the village to raise our children to be people who understand what God did for them, then to teach them what it means to have a relationship with Jesus and to live a life that honors God.  That church family of precious believers are the family that pours truth into their lives.  The family that cheers them on, encourages them and often comes to their rescue.

This weekend I saw this village of believers came to rescue the wedding day of my youngest daughter.  My girl had been dreaming of this day at this perfect outdoor venue for well over a year.  Our area of Alabama is known for unpredictable weather.  It is said, if you don’t like the weather, hang around for about fifteen minutes and it will change.  Saturday morning, just as forecasted, was rainy.  Not torrential, downpour rain. But steady rain.  I stood inside the house of the Historic Malbis Nursery watching the puddles form outside, trying to devise a Plan B.  I could not fathom how we would get over 150 guests, the food and the ceremony inside the building.  We decided to wait it out and be flexible with some of the decorations.  Thankfully I had brought a stack of towels “just in case”.  We delayed putting linens and centerpieces on tables.   And we prayed.  Yes.  We asked God to make the rain stop for a wedding.  It seemed shameless and selfish to ask such a thing when people in other parts of the world were praying for food!  But we prayed.  We asked our friends to pray.  We asked social media to pray.  My husband and I went back to the hotel to get ready while our baby girl was in the bridal suite getting hair and make-up done.  We got a phone call right before we were leaving to return to the venue.  We were needed for a “first look” picture asap.  As we rode back to the venue we noticed that the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to shine.  We just smiled.  God in his sovereignty had chosen to answer our prayer.  As soon as we arrived we were wisked away to see our baby girl for the first time.  We were in awe at the young woman standing before us.  No longer a little girl.  No longer our baby.  But a beautiful young woman ready to marry the love of her life.

When we stepped inside the venue there was a beehive of activity.  Friends were everywhere blowing rain off the outside brick flooring, drying chairs, wiping down tables.  Linens were being put on tables and centerpieces arranged.  The caterer was busy organizing the banquet of food.  The one desire of my girl was to have chiffon draped at the ceremony site with a beautiful wooden cross draped in eucalyptus.  With the rain it didn’t seem an option because of the continued light dripping of rain off the greenery that covered the venue.  One of our friends told me to send him the picture of what she wanted and he would make it happen.  Within a short time I looked out and two wonderful men had intricately draped the chiffon exactly like the picture I had sent them.  I grabbed my daughter as she was headed back to the bridal suite and showed her the ceremony area.  Big tears welled up in her eyes as she smiled.  She was so happy.

The events of the day progressed.  People kept coming.  Chairs were pulled from the reception area to accommodate the number of guests.  First the pastor, groom and groomsmen.  Then the bridesmaid along with my grandson wearing a sign “Uncle Zach, here comes your bride?”

Then the moment came, my sweet big guy escorting his last daughter down the aisle.  My memory raced back to a year ago as he escorted our second daughter down the aisle for her November wedding.  He had only been out of the hospital for a week from his last week long chemo treatment.  He was weak, bloated and hairless from five months of treatment, but he was there, walking her proudly down the aisle.  Here we were a year later and he looked amazing.  New suit, bowtie, goatee and a huge smile.  He proudly held her arm in his.

The ceremony began and then finished with our girl and her young man washing each other’s feet as their first act of love toward each other as they served each other just as our Savior did for His disciples in the last days before His return to heaven.  It was sweet, it was moving, it was precious.

The reception followed with lots of dancing, hugs and laughter.  They were surrounded by people who have poured into their lives.  People who love them and have watched them in their walk with Jesus.  People who willingly came and made this day perfect for them.

They departed in a flurry of confetti, bubbles and silly string. All appropriate for these to kids who fell in love in their church youth group, then dated for two more years before becoming engaged.  Then they went to their hotel, quickly changed clothes and went off to bowl with a group of friends until almost midnight.  I have to laugh at this last part.  It just speaks volumes about the relationship and personalities of these two kids.  Because in reality they are still kids at heart.  Two twenty year olds stepping into adulthood, filled with love and excitement for what the future has for them.  They have a wonderful support group around them.  A village.  A church family.  They love Jesus and desire to live for Him.  So here’s to a new life for Molly and Zach Johnson.  I have a feeling God has big plans for these two!

As a postscript….I received a text from my baby girl later that night, while they were hanging with friends and bowling.  It said “thank you for making my dream come true today, it was perfect.”

 

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Other Places….

Eighteen years ago at this moment, I was standing in my living room, my 2 year old was running around singing, carefree, and I was staring at the t.v. watching a plane fly into the 2ndtower of the World Trade Center, my phone was still in my hand and I could vaguely hear my husband’s voice calling my name.  I remember the words I said to him “Is this real?”.  It was real. Moments later I saw scenes from the Pentagon, a gaping hole in one side of it and people running in all directions. Then suddenly the scenes changed again and I watched first one, then the second tower collapse in a cloud of smoke and debris.  People running from the billowing cloud chasing them, terror on their ash covered faces. They were in shock.  Running for their lives. Then, yet again, breaking news of a plane crashing into a field in Pennsylvania.  By this time, I’m sitting on the couch, no longer on the phone, holding my little girl who was begging me to read her a story.  I couldn’t quite collect my thoughts.  I had a sense of fear creeping up from somewhere inside me. What was happening?  These things happened other places.  Not in America.  People bombed other places.  Other places dealt with this kind of violence on a regular basis, not here.  As I sat taking in scene after scene, I heard my two-year-old ask me with concern “Why you cryin’ Mamma?”  I didn’t even realize that tears had slipped unnoticed down my cheeks.  “I’m okay, sweet girl, let’s find you a fun movie to watch.”  I took her hand and led her to her chair in her room, popped in the first video I came to and she promptly sat down to watch it.

I felt numb.  In a matter of minutes, our world had changed.   Violence and hate from other places had spilled over into our world and now fear was roaming free across our country.

This is the crazy part. I had made plans to go shopping with a friend and her little boy.  For some reason, we decided to go ahead.   Maybe it was our attempt to try to be normal.  Maybe we thought it would make things normal.  It did not.  We drove to the outlet mall, our conversation strained as we talked about shopping, then about the events of the morning, then quiet.  We walked around for forty-five minutes looking, but not really seeing what the stores had to offer.  People were acting strangely.  Awkward. I told my friend I thought we needed to go home, and so we loaded the little ones back up and headed back to the safety of our homes.

I was in line early to pick up my older two girls, so were many anxious parents.  I formulated over and over what I would say to them, how I would explain that our country had been attacked by evil men who hated America. I watched as teachers lead students out, dazed looks on their faces as they watched carefully after their students. Children, kept unaware of the events of that morning, laughed and skipped and held their friend’s hands. “They have no idea.” I thought to myself.

As they got in the car, my oldest who was ten asked “What’s going on today, Mom, the teachers have been acting weird all day.”  So there it was, the acknowledgement that things had changed and they sensed it. “Let’s talk about it when we get home.” I looked in the rearview mirror at their faces as they exchanged looks that said more than words.

At home I fixed them something to drink and we sat down.  I slowly started to tell them about what had happened that morning.  I chose my words carefully.  I did not want to stir up fear in their hearts.  My seven-year-old, in all her innocence asked “Are they gonna blow us up?”  I looked at her and said “I don’t think so, I’m sure we are going to be fine.  But we need to pray for all those people in New York and Washington DC who were hurt, and the families of those that were killed. I’m sure they are all in shock and afraid.”  But were we really going to be fine? My ten-year-old, who was more serious about life, came and sat beside me.  No words were necessary.   I decided that the t.v. would stay off, it would not help them to see scene after scene of the carnage in the aftermath played over and over.

I teach 11th& 12thgrade girls in Sunday School, and I realized a few weeks ago that to them  9-11 is just a history lesson.  Something they read about in school.  Just like I did when I was in school when I read about Pearl Harbor or WWII.  They don’t know that life was different before that day.  This life they live now is normal for them.  They live in a world that is a constant intake of news and media in the palm of their hands.

So today, we remember. We remember all the lives that were taken by people who have some twisted reasoning for causing so much death, so much damage, so much fear.    We remember a day when bombings or shootings were not news worthy for a moment, until the next act of violence grabbed the media attention.  We remember a day we didn’t look at people who were different than us with some trepidation.  We remember the heroics of the police, the EMT’s, the firemen, the medical personnel, the average man or woman who ran to help others.  We remember the victims on board those planes, who knew in an instant that this was the end for them, yet they still bravely fought back saving lives and losing their own.  We remember a president who we didn’t always agree with, yet he stood on that mountain of what was left of the World Trade Center and shed tears and hugged average people who had done above average acts of bravery.

People in other parts of the world say we are indulged Americans who are self-centered and arrogant. Maybe so.  But we average Americans love our country and we love helping people. We live in a world now where we are more aware than ever that violence and hate roams within our borders.  We are more aware of the dangers.  How could we forget because the media tries to keep a spirit of fear stirred up every day.  But there is still goodness in this world.  We Americans may not agree on a lot of things:  politics, immigration, and global warming, all are topics that stir up heated discussions and anger.  But one thing ties us together.  We are Americans.  We come to the rescue of the injured, the weak, the hungry.  We send food and medical help to people who are suffering in disasters or war-torn countries.  The world may say they hate us, but they come to us first when they need help.  I believe, that if the need arose, we Americans, we would stand and defend our people, our country, and our borders, against a twisted religion that condones violent acts.  We will stand up against a people who are invading our country under the guise of pursuing the American dream, only to try to force us to change our laws to their laws, or force us to accept their mindset.  We won’t do it.  We may make efforts to respect your beliefs.  We may offer help if you need it.  We may even try to call you friend.  But we are not ignorant of your hidden agenda.  We are not idiots.  We see. We listen.  We stand against the ugliness that has taken root in your mind and in your hearts.  We were not defeated or disabled on September 11, 2001.  We were awakened.  We were educated.  We will remember.  We will teach our children to remember.  We will remind each other of what is right and good.  To all those families and friends who lost people they love on that day. We remember.  We pray for you.

What Now?

I am in a weird place.  Not like an actual location or anything.  I haven’t taken a road trip that has gone awry.  I am not in a crowd of people that have an agenda I know nothing about.  But now that I read back over those last three sentences, I have to back track and say they all are pretty accurate, generally speaking.  I’ve been chugging along for the last twenty-eight years as a mother of three daughters.  Thirty years as a wife.  And here and there for periods of time as an employee.   I have been mothering, pushing, washing, feeding, nurturing, loving, disciplining, teaching, wife-ing, cooking, chauffeuring, guiding and loving three girls and a husband.  Mixed in with that, I have been teaching Sunday school to mostly 11th & 12th grade girls, serving in Women’s Ministry, singing in the choir, and many other ministries here and there. But today, I am sitting in a quiet house, wondering.  Wondering what now.

I’m not sure who I am now.  Before you become concerned that I am a writer with dementia, I know who I am, but I don’t know WHO I am.   I’m not despondent.  I’m not even downcast or depressed.  I’m trying not to measure myself to unrealistic expectations or compare myself to all the amazing women of God out there making a difference!

I know things I want to do.  Like have a clean house.  Don’t laugh.  It hasn’t been uber clean in months.  Our oldest daughter and her family have been living with us while they are looking for and buying a house.  So, keeping the house perfect has been low on the list and enjoying our grandson living in our house 24/7 has been at the top of that list!!!  I have to say he is the cutest baby you’ve ever seen and having him here has helped us acclimate to being Lolly and Pop, especially considering he’ll be getting a baby sister in four short months.  They are now about to close on their house and will be moving next week.  Our middle girl child has been living her new married life to her sweet man  in a downtown loft.  She is now realizing her dream of working from home and as we’ve always said, we’ll all be working for her one day!   The baby girl of the family is getting married in just over ninety days.  Ninety-four to be exact.  Our baby girl.  She was an unexpected blessing twenty years ago.  I know God has her here for a specific purpose because she was not in our plans, in fact we were done and moving on in life with the two beautiful girls we had!  I have both smiled at her boldness to get married so young and cried that she’ll be off doing her own life without me in ninety four days.  I keep saying she’s not old enough, that they don’t know what they’re doing, they aren’t ready.  But then God reminds me that He created her, He saved her, He has a plan for her life, not me.  She and her fiancé love Jesus and are gonna follow Him, not my plan.

Back to this weird place.  So I am soon to be out of the mothering job and I am not working a job outside our home any longer.  This happened last year while my sweet man was going through cancer treatment.  It was both a blessing and a difficulty at the same time.  But God has taken care of us, as always, and after much deliberation (mostly on my part), my man said he wanted me to stay home.  So this weird place has taken away the two things that have been consistent for some time in my life.  I don’t know why I’m so lost, because I have wanted to have the freedom to write and now I have it.  And yet.  And yet I don’t know what to write.  We write to inspire others.  We write to tell stories.  We write to unleash the words that fill our brains every minute of every day.  I am sure if we could look inside an average person’s brain and the brain of a writer we would see that the writer is constantly writing about life as it is observed.  Always adding to the story.  Always editing.  Always creating. The words never stop swirling.

So this weird place is me standing, no, sitting, in my chair, staring at a computer screen.  Me, looking around at the things that need to be done.  Me, longing to be some kind of spiritual giant that could inspire people to cling to Jesus in every area of their lives.  Me, longing to finally get a handle on losing weight and finally finding victory over the scale. Me, measuring myself up to the expectations in my head and failing miserably.  Me, crying and asking God to please help me be good at something.  Help me find success at something.  And ultimately, just giving in and finding a quiet, cool place in the house to take a nap, to think about these things another day.  I’m 58 years old.  I have no degree.  I’m an okay writer, but not a profoundly gifted writer.  I am not particularly disciplined.  I don’t look like Beth Moore or speak like Priscilla Shirer.  I never quite meet the expectations in my head.  I think I may have wasted this life that God gave me.

This weird place has locked doors right now.  I feel like I’m standing in the middle of this weird place, completely baffled at what I am to do next.  What door do I choose? I’m frozen.  Not sure what I’m supposed to do next.  I preach to my daughters and my Sunday school girls all the time that “God has a plan for your life, now go walk in it”.  But here I am, in this weird place, wondering if there really is a plan for me and, if so, what that plan for my life is!

 

One Year Ago

One year ago. One year ago we were being hit by one storm after another. But the ultimate storm of cancer came and stayed….and now, on the other side of that storm looking back, I am once again reminded of God’s faithfulness, His provision, His comfort, His healing power. I read back over the blogs of the past year and I see a woman clinging desperately to the Savior. I am reminded of the woman who reached out to touch the hem of His garment and I understand her in a new way. I know myself, that I have tightly gripped the hem of His garment in my clinched fists refusing to let go. We have walked through this cancer journey saying over and over “I trust you” aloud for ourselves mostly, but also to our God, declaring that while we don’t understand, and while we know His plan is perfect, and while we were even fearful at times, we would TRUST HIM, no matter the outcome. Our faith is stronger, our family is stronger, our love is stronger and our compassion is stronger. Today, after a year of diagnosis, biopsies, surgeries, chemo, radiation, doctor appointments, uncertainties, waiting, frustrations and sometimes fear, we got the official words of cancer free. I hesitated to even post this because we have friends and family still doing battle with this evil disease. But I want those reading this who are in the battle to be encouraged, optimistic and strengthened. God is with you and you can trust Him with whatever the outcome of your journey may be. People have stated over and over that “God is good” and it is so true. But if we had gotten different news, and the battle with cancer had continued, the truth is that God is still good. He is good even when things are seemingly bad in our lives and life’s storms are coming at us so fast they are tearing us apart. When we feel like we can’t catch our breath between storms and we are staring death in the face, God is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. So wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever battle you are in, trust Him. “Be strong and courageous, do not be discouraged or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

150 Chapters in 150 Days: Psalm 1

Where are your roots planted? What do they cling to for nourishment? according to Psalm 1 the man who plants his roots in the living water is blessed and will see fruit in his life, and no matter the season, his faith and joy will not diminish or waver, but will find abundance in what he does as unto to the Lord. The Lord provides and meets our needs, we do not need to worry, or seek what the world offers. Our delight, our contentment, our fulfillment is in the truths of His Word. God will guide us if we only will seek Him for guidance.

It Matters. (Found this in some old files of things I had written a few years ago)

I stayed home from work today.  I felt somewhat achy, was it headache?  Was it a tummy ache? I wasn’t quite sure, but I stayed home.  The thought of sitting at my desk pushing papers to and fro, and answering the endless phone calls was all too much to face.  I gave into the aches and pains that usually disappear within moments of my fifty-three year old feet hitting the floor.

After the hustle and bustle of one daughter off to college and work for the day, another daughter starting her second week of her sophomore year and my sweet hubby heading off to work, the house was at last quiet.  I sat on the couch still in my nightgown and looked around my “lived in” house.  “Lived in” is my daughters favorite line to use when I am on a rampage about the house being messy.  “Mom, it doesn’t matter, it just looks lived in?”, they will say.  They don’t understand the inner pressure I struggle with to make my home look like a Better Homes & Garden magazine, or worse, Pinterest!  “It matters to me” I will tell them and then I set off on a mission to clean every nook and cranny.

I sat there on that couch for an hour, in the quiet, just thinking.  I thought about my life and the road I have been travelling for the last fifty-three years.  It isn’t playing out exactly as I had planned.  That sounds like I am unhappy, but I am not, though I am finding myself at a crossroads.  Many parts of my perfect plan have come to fruition.  I am happily married to a wonderful man who loves me more than I ever imagined being loved.  He makes me laugh, he understands me to the best of his ability as a man to understand a woman, and he supports me.  I have three amazing daughters.  The oldest is newly married, the middle daughter is in college and the youngest is in high school.  They are strong in their faith and they are living it out.  Nothing could make me more proud. I attend a wonderful church with many longtime friends.  I have been on mission trips and I have taught Sunday School  for high school girls long enough that I am now teaching the teenagers of the students I taught years ago.  Frightening!

We have experienced hardships just like everyone else.  God has blessed us time and time again.  He has met our needs even when we probably didn’t deserve to have those needs met.  We have learned so much as a married couple and as a family about God’s grace and mercy.  All this matters.

Five years ago I went to work full time after working five years part time.  Our daughters were getting older and more expensive.  My husband had experienced a lay-off from a job he had been at for nearly ten years and had started over at a new company.  Financially it seemed the right thing to do.  Up to that point I had only worked twenty hours a week to help out our finances.  The full time employment came at a time we were really struggling.    Now five years later I am still working full time, mostly because we have become accustomed to the extra money.

This full time employment had never been part of the plan.  I was supposed to have finished my first book, become published and obtained a lucrative book deal for additional sequels.  The plan also consisted of me becoming a women’s speaker and ministering to women through conferences and retreats.  This kind of work mattered.

I got up from my place of contemplation on the couch and decided to do something that matters.  I got to work cleaning up the house.  I made beds, I washed some clothes, I organized a cabinet and I even straightened up the girl’s bathroom.  I had forgotten what it was like to be home in the middle of the day.  The house was peaceful and I was getting so much done.  The last time I had been home during the day on a regular basis was when my youngest was four years old.

At 3:00pm my fifteen year old came in from school.  We sat and talked for an hour about school, friends, homework and anything else that came to her mind.  Things got quiet for a moment and she suddenly said, “I like you being home when I get home from school.”  Then she was off to her room to take a short nap.

I sat there a while longer thinking about that moment.  It won’t be long till she is graduating and then off to college.  This is what matters.  It matters that I am there for her when she comes home.  It doesn’t matter if we have lots of extra money to spend.  Being there for her is what matters.  Preparing my home is what matters.  Serving others is what matters.  Seeking God above all else is what matters.  This is not what the world preaches through every social and public media.  It is subtle.  It is constant.  But it ways in heavy on what really matters.  We become confused about what is important.  We strive to have it all and do it all.  We push our children to be involved in everything and to maintain great grades while forgetting that they sometimes just need to be kids.  We feel like failures when we haven’t achieved some kind of recognized symbol of an extraordinary woman who is perfect at parenting, leading and achieving, all while providing healthy meals, a spotless, well designed home and meaningful moments all chronicled on social media for all to admire.

I cannot compete with the ideal that floats around in my head of how I should be doing everything.  It’s too exhausting.  I will never live up to my expectations.  The realty of life is that my house is not always clean, I do not have a particular set of skills that allows me to have every room decorated and looking magazine worthy.  I am not a great cook!  There I said it.  I have go to meals that are no longer considered healthy or “Keto friendly” or any other kind of healthy friendly.  I don’t have a deep desire to be a chef.  I probably won’t be the granny cooking up amazing treats and creating lasting memories.  I will probably never be a published writer.  As of this writing, I have yet to have the children’s book I wrote achieve even one request for further chapters.

Loving, talking, laughing, hugging are things that matter.  Nurturing is what matters.  Encouraging faith in a God who loves unconditionally and who sacrificed His Son just so we could spend eternity with Him matters.  Cheering each other on matters.  Calling a friend matters.  Writing a note matters.  Listening matters.  Spending time with our sweet Savior matters.  Not measuring ourselves against the world’s standards matters.

Our family is FAR from perfect.  We are loud.  We laugh inappropriately sometimes.  We may be a little judgmental at times.  No one is brilliant.  No one is incredibly talented.  Not one of us will be famous.  We are not rich.  But what matters is we love each other.  We talk about everything.  Our girl’s poor fellas probably find the constant conversation overwhelming sometimes, but we all know what everyone else thinks about everything!  We share meals, we share vacations, we share last minute road trips.  We support their activities, we beam with pride at their accolades.  We go to church together.   I love how my youngest daughter once told us, “Not all families are like ours!  We are freakishly close.”  If freaky means we love each other and we are in constant communication with each other, that  we talk a lot, we laugh, we cry, we fight.  We hug and make-up.  Then yes we are freakishly close.

There is one thing that matters.  Love.

Cast Your Burdens

God is faithful. He is. Really. Even when I am not. I am not faithful to remember all He has done for me when I am in the midst of an overwhelming circumstance. It’s easy for me to say those words to someone else who is crumbling beneath a difficult situation or an overwhelming state of mind. But then just moments later, it seems, I am sitting here, throat constricted, my mind chaotic with possible answers to a problem, instead of taking a deep breath and releasing my burdens into His capable outstretched arms.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”. Matthew 11:29-30

It’s interesting to me, that given this word from the Lord, we still take our burdens to the feet of Jesus, lament and cry and beg for answers or resolutions or even for Him to take them from us, but then we promptly get up, pick up the burden and walk away. I want to learn from Him, I want to lay my burden at His feet and trust His hand. But I am a control freak. I am a dweller. I hold the situation or issue in my hand, study it, dwell on it and try to figure the best way to resolve it. I’m not so good at releasing my burdens into His hands. The crazy part is this: after I’ve struggled over it, lost sleep over it, tried my ideas on it, I finally come to His feet and just fall in a puddle of tears with my hands still clinching the burden. And, just as He promised in these verses, He pries my sweaty hands from the burden, brushes my hair back from my tear stained face as I relax and release it into His capable hands. He comforts me and calms my spirit and I finally rest. I wish that I could say I do not repeat this process very often, but it isn’t true. I am stubborn and willful. I am a child of God still learning that I am not in control. He is. Still learning that life is easier when a burden comes into my life if I instantly snatch it up and race to the feet of Jesus and quickly place it in His hands.

What burden is weighing you down today? Release it dear friend into the Savior’s hands and then pick up His yoke which is about peace and rest, and the. watch Him do His thing in that situation!