Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Real Gifts of Christmas

I admit, this picture is just on here because my niece is so stinkin' cute, and I thought it deserved to be seen.  

You know how some years just feel like Christmas?  As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the season of magic begins and life is nothing but Bing Crosby and twinkling lights and sugar cookies and Christmas cheer for an entire month.  This was not that year.

I can blame a lot of things.  Texas weather.  Short sleeves in December.  The cancelled trip to Nashville.  The lingering concern about whether or not we would get a paycheck before Christmas.  We did, by the way.  And we were grateful.  A whole week of illness that I had to work throughout.  There were lots of things to blame.  But for whatever reason, right up until Christmas Eve, it just didn't feel Christmasy to me.

We did all the regular Christmas things.  We decorated the tree and the mantel.  I went shopping.  I bought gifts.  I baked.  I played Christmas records, including the much-criticized Amy Grant Christmas album from 1983.   We attended Christmas parties.  We stole Christmas ornaments from my co-workers in an especially snarky game of Dirty Santa.  We received surprise gifts from friends, and we were amazed at how God takes care of us.  We drove all the way to Bullard, Texas to see Andrew Peterson and company perform Behold the Lamb of God, one of the best Christmas concerts I have ever seen (four times).  We had dinner at the Gaylord Texan and braved the crowds to experience the amazing Christmas lights display.  We did everything right.  And still, not Christmasy.

Jake and I decided at the last minute to forego the usual Christmas shopping for each other and to spend our allotted Christmas budgets on things we needed or wanted for ourselves.  We both had a list of things that didn't fit into our regular monthly budget, and so we did the practical thing and bought ourselves gifts.  Rather, we planned to buy ourselves gifts.  Jake bought his right away (spent all of his money in one place, which I would never do), and I have officially spent $12 of my budget.  I have not yet thought of anything worthy of the rest of my money.  But this ruins a little bit of the Christmas magic, knowing that Christmas morning you will only have things that you picked out for yourself, or in my case, having nothing but a DVD because you didn't buy yourself anything.  It's lame, and I never want to do it again.

But Christmas Eve morning, we bundled up and drove to DeSoto, Texas to meet Jake's family at Cracker Barrel for breakfast.  If you can't feel Christmasy in a Cracker Barrel with a blazing fire and a whole store filled with angels and ornaments and George Jones singing Christmas carols, there is something seriously wrong with you.  Add in biscuits with real butter and hashbrown casserole, and it's basically Bethlehem revisited.  Minus the manger and stable and all that jazz.  But Cracker Barrel breakfast with family is extra fantastic.  And then that afternoon, we drove to Grand Prairie where my parents, all of my siblings, their spouses and children were waiting on us to have dinner.  And we ate and exchanged gifts and watched as the kids flung paper everywhere and wished that we had a thousand more presents to give my niece Reagan (not because we like her best but because of the adorable way she squealed and hugged every gift as if it were her favorite).  It was plenty festive.

The real gifts of Christmas came at the end of the night.  I recently got a heck of a deal on a Sony VCR at a local thrift store, and I brought it,  along with several video tapes I had from the 90's.  The first was a video I made for an ex-boyfriend (thanks, Andy, for giving it back), and it had hilarious footage of my sister Ashlae pretending to be an old lady.  The second was a video my family made for me the Christmas of 1998 when I was in New Zealand.  My sisters Jana and Ashlae narrated, and the footage led through three days worth of Christmas festivities.  We laughed until we cried at the old hairstyles, crazy dances, and the babies that are now grown into teenagers.  We saw the grandparents who are no longer with us, and then we all just cried.  And as I was sitting there, laughing so hard that my cheeks hurt, I realized that this was the thing I had waited for.  This was Christmas.  It started with God giving the gift of his Son, yes.  But in that, he gave Mary and Joseph a family.  They arrived in Bethlehem, the place Joseph came from, a couple, and they left a family.  And when I think about Mary and Joseph as the real, actual people that they were, I have to think that for them, this was less about giving birth to a Saviour.  I'm not sure they really, truly understood all of that just yet.  This was about a the blessing of a son.  A baby.  An addition to their family.

On this end of things, we know what it meant.  A baby.  All God, all man.  A Saviour.  A sinless life.  A sacrifice on a cross.  We get it.  And we celebrate it.  But I love that we celebrate it with family.  We go back to the place we came from, and we celebrate our Saviour with the people who know us best.  Everyone's "family" looks different.  You might have chosen friends as family this year.  Maybe your family is small.  Maybe your biological family is distant, and you chose church family.  Doesn't matter. In those hours that I spent with my family, watching Reagan hug her Minnie Mouse and seeing my nephews roll their eyes a little because I got them pajamas... again, I felt Christmas.  I felt it when my sweet nephew Connor cried because he missed my grandmother that passed away this Spring.  I felt it again the next day when, miracle of all miracles, it snowed in Texas on December 25.  I felt it when we stood in the kitchen and heard my daddy pray over our food.  I felt the gift that God gave us so long ago in Mary and Joseph's little family, and the gift that He gave to me in mine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blessed. My Oversized Paragraph of Thankfulness

I am finding it easy to be thankful today.  My Christmas tree is up and decorated.  It is small and does not look real even a little bit, except for the shedding it does during set up.  But it looks like Christmas, and so I am happy.  I am preparing to spend three days with my family.  I am planning to see Jake's family that we don't see nearly often enough.  So many things I have prayed for have unfolded into reality over the last months.  One of my dearest girlfriends has finally found a love interest, and we already love him, even from afar. After months of uncertainty and weirdness, our church is still here, and Jake and I have joined a new life group.  I have friends, close and far away, and God uses them to regularly bless my life.  They pray for me, cheer me on, and we all keep in touch as best we can with such busy lives.  I have had a handful of tests to see if my body is capable of making and growing a baby, and thus far, everything has come back clear and perfect.  And while I long for my own kids, I am blessed with friends and family who allow me to love theirs.  Next week I am playing music four whole nights, maybe a record for this girl who does not actively pursue opportunities to play.  Jake and I are camping with my parents and my sweet niece Reagan for two whole nights this week.  I am taking my guitar and books to read.  And while I am praying for a few friends who will face tomorrow's holiday without their dads for the first time, I can look forward to seeing both parents and all five siblings and most of my nephews and nieces.  It will be loud and funny and generally chaotic.  I just finished watching The Price is Right, and I could not help but think about my grandma, who loved The Price is Right but would have disliked Drew Carey as much as she hated commercials (that she would mute, much to my frustration).  And even though she is gone, along with my other grandparents, we have years of memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases spent with them.  Hundreds of nights spent on hide-a-beds and bedtime stories and staying up too late giggling with my siblings.  We have promises to see those grandparents again.  We have a place to live, cars to drive (that are now completely paid off, thanks to Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace plan), friends and family that we love, and we have ministry opportunities that we are praying about.  For today, our bills are paid and things are looking up.  And all of these things come from the hand of a perfect Father that knows how to give good gifts to His children.  His gives generous amounts of grace and mercy and forgiveness and provision and correction and instruction, like a good father does.  I am looking forward to continuing this season where so much of the world stops and places their focus on Him.  My prayer for you today is that you would know Him, too, in a personal and relational way, and that your family would be blessed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The $6.75 Lesson... Why you should clean out your drawers

I got my first job when I was only 15.  A real job.  One that brought a regular paycheck.  I worked at my school providing childcare for elementary students that needed to be dropped off before regular school hours.  So for the last two years of my high school career, I woke up earlier than the rest of my siblings, got dressed in the dark*, and headed to school hours before everyone else.  And I earned my own money.  I loved it.  I could buy whatever I wanted without having to ask for money.  And one of the most important things I learned during this time was to give.  To tithe.  To give to missions.  My parents instilled this in me from an early age.  They taught stewardship as a Biblical principle, but they also modeled it in their own lives.  And I saw how God provided for our family.  I was taught Luke 6:38.  I knew it worked.

Part of this giving was faith promise missions giving, which is a very Independent Baptist program designed to support missionaries.  I made a yearly giving commitment, and I gave a certain amount every week until the following year when I would pray about the amount and recommit for the upcoming year.  During my first year of working, I committed to give $12.50 a week.  I added that up to $50 for most months, and I liked that amount.  It felt like a lot of money for me at 15, but I thought it was what I should do.  

One week, I came up $6.75 short.  I don't remember what I had done with the rest of my pay, but I felt sick when I realized that I would not have enough to pay my missions offering for the week.  I went to our garage, where my mother was folding laundry and I told her about my problem, hoping she would give me a job to earn the extra money.  Instead, she told me to pray about it.  I hated hearing that.  I wanted a solution.  But I still prayed about it.  I wanted to have the full amount to give.  

Then I cleaned my room.  If you know me at all, you know that this was probably a necessary thing.  I am messy.  But as I was cleaning my room, I cleared out some of my drawers.  I threw away notes and old homework papers.  And you know what I found?  An envelope of money.  In addition to the school job, I also tutored elementary students on the side, and I was paid in cash.  I was paid directly by the parents a whopping $10 per hour (a fortune in 1992), but this payment was different.  This particular parent had ordered hot lunch for her daughter on a day her daughter was absent, and so she took her hot lunch refund out of my tutoring money, leaving me to ask the school office for the difference.  (This seems like a crazy thing to me now, but I guess because my dad was the school principal, she felt like it was an appropriate move.)  But God had a plan behind her crazy reasoning.  Inside the envelope of tutoring money was exactly $6.75.  A five, a one, and three loose quarters.  And I learned something.  God provides.

I have told this story a thousand times, but the truth is this: I have a hundred more stories just like it.  Truly I do.  Throughout my life, but especially in the difficult times, He has provided.  Money.  Opportunities.  Healing.  Friendships.  Guidance.  Jobs.  Cars.  Patience.  Encouragement.  Hope.  He provides over and over.  And during my current season of life, during a difficult situation with our jobs and ministry, He is still providing.  I cannot even tell you how much He is taking care of us.  But here is the hard thing... Provision doesn't always come the way we expect it.  It doesn't always come when we expect it.

I like to plan. Jake and I have a budget that accounts for every dollar we make.  We know when we get paid and how much we get paid, and we have come to find peace in the plan we have created.  (Thank you, Dave Ramsey, for that.)  But the plan has broken down.  Paychecks have been late, or reduced, or have not come at all.  And it's no one's fault.  Right now, it is the nature of our church life and church work.  But here is what I have learned, just because provision does not come the way I think it will (through my paycheck) does not mean it isn't coming.  Because it comes.  Every. Single. Time.  And it comes through ways we could not plan or organize or arrange.  It comes through checks in the mail and surprise gift cards and money handed over with the message "God told me to give you this".  And I believe He did. Because He knows what we need before we even need it, and He prepares provision long before we pray and ask for it.  Isaiah 30:18 says that the Lord waits to be gracious to us.  He waits for opportunities to be gracious and merciful and kind.  And He often uses His people to do it.  

I am continually reminded that this is who God is.  It is His character.  He can't be anything less than this.  He is Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides.  He provided a ram on Mount Moriah.  Manna in the wilderness.  Water from a rock.  Bread and fish for the 5,000 (or however many people were actually there).  Money from a fish.  Salvation for all sinners.  So this is me, confessing to you that I am so very blessed.  I am simply called to be faithful in my giving, and He gives back, without fail.  I am overwhelmed by God's provision.  I am blessed with friends who are generous with prayers and resources.  I am daily

I don't know what you need.  Money.  Healing.  Restoration.  A miracle.  I don't know.  But I know who provides.  I know who takes care of that kind of thing.  I know it because I am living it.  I know it because when I was 15 years old, God arranged for me to be paid $6.75 instead of a full $10.  He knew I would remember that lesson.  I do.  And I am grateful.

How has God provided for you?

*Which meant that I went to school one day wearing two different shoes.  I also did this once as an adult.  I am crazy like that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Four Days Late

"Although He is the infinite God of the universe, your pain causes Him pain, your joy gives Him a lift, your hopes bring excitement to His heart... It's an amazing thought that though the self-existing God needs no one, He has chosen to be so emotionally identified with your ups and downs, your dreams and hopes, that your happiness actually affects His."
 - Chip Ingram, God as He Longs for You to See Him

When I was a kid, I learned a lot of Bible verses.  I had to.  Psalm 119:11 said I needed to.  By the time I was seven, I could easily quote the Romans Road, Psalm 1 and 2, a good portion of Romans 6, and a random selection of verses that everyone teaches kids.  John 3:16.  Romans 8:28.  Genesis 1:1.  I earned little Bible story books for my hard work, and I happily learned my weekly memory verses in exchange for prizes.  But for whatever reason, I delighted in quoting the Bible's shortest verse.  John 11:35.  Jesus wept.  I don't know why I thought it was funny, but just those two little words together seemed almost irreverent.  And since preacher's kids don't get too much of an opportunity to be openly irreverent, I embraced it.  I can quote a verse.  Jesus wept.  And then I would laugh.  I was a weird kid.

I am not seven anymore.  I do not learn new memory verses for prizes, although it might be helpful if I did.  (I started memorizing Colossians this past spring and got stuck when I was 75% done.  I will finish Colossians.  I will.  But maybe prizes would have helped.)  But I also don't laugh about John 11:35.  Because now that I am grown, I know the story surrounding it in a way that I didn't know when I was a child.  I know what it means that Jesus was moved to tears in this situation.  I know how that relates to me now.  

You know the story.  Jesus received word that Lazarus was sick.  He stayed where He was for two whole days.  It doesn't even say He did anything while He was there.  He just stayed.  Then he arrives in Bethany just in time... to see that Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Oh yes.  I have heard the story a hundred times before.  But when I read it in Scripture, I am impressed by a few things.  

First of all, I am always a little surprised that Jesus was in no hurry.  No hurry at all.  He sort of explains that Lazarus will be fine, and then He just stays.  Meanwhile, Mary and Martha are praying and crying and freaking out over in Bethany.  Lazarus is getting worse.  
 His life is fading.  Hope is fading.  And Jesus is just waiting it out.  

Second, I have to point out that after two days, Jesus tells His disciples that Lazarus is dead.  And then He tells them, "for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe".  Having to share the news of a death is no small thing, but Jesus shares it and then basically calls the disciples out on their obvious lack of faith.  You guys should be glad that I wasn't there so that I could convince your faithless selves that I can take care of this.  That's how I read these verses.  

And last, we are back to that tiny little verse.  Jesus wept.  When Jesus arrives to Bethany and meets up with Mary and Martha, there is lots of crying.  Mary was crying.  Martha was crying.  The Jews that were with them were crying.  And then Jesus cries.  Which might seem weird because He knew what was about to happen.  But He wasn't crying because Lazarus was dead.  He was identifying with the pain of the people He loved.  He was crying tears of compassion for His friends. 

These things speak to me.  All three of them.  And there are plenty of other lessons to be learned here, but today these three things are front and center in my thoughts.  Because today, I have problems.  Budget problems, church problems, not-being-pregnant problems.  And for the time being, things are getting worse.  And I am praying and crying and freaking out.  Hope is fading.  And Jesus, He's just waiting it out.  He's taking His time.

I can read these verses with a little bit of imagination, and I can hear God speaking to me the same way He spoke to His disciples.

"for your sake" I am not coming through right this second.
"for your sake" I am taking my time.
"for your sake" I am not moving in your timeline.
"for your sake" I am waiting until you think hope is gone.
So that you may believe.
And that speaks to me.  There is a reason for the wait.  There is a reason for the silence.  There is a reason that answers are not coming today.  He is growing my faith.

And in the meantime, it's okay to cry.  It's okay to feel the sadness that comes with hard things. Jesus identifies with my pain.  My anxiety.  My frustration.  He knows how He will provide.  He knows how he will come through.  He knows that His timing will be perfect.  But if He wept with Mary and Martha in their sadness, I know that He certainly weeps with me in mine.  And even while He has provision and a plan and He knows it will all be okay, He grieves with me over my losses.  He grieves with you over yours.  

He is aware of our needs.  And for your sake and for my sake, He is taking His time.  Provision is coming.  A miracle is coming.  Renewed hope is coming.  Encouragement is coming.  It might feel four days late, but it is on the way.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Love Church

Our church is struggling.  Like really struggling.  Like Can't-pay-bills-or-people struggling.  And there is a part of me that hesitates to say that because no one likes to talk about money or the lack thereof.  It makes people nervous when you say things like that.  But when a church can't pay its staff, the staff struggles, too.  So here we are, me and Jake, in the midst of this thing, this depressing thing, fighting off thoughts of doubt and frustration.  We are worried for our church families.  We are worried about the community that God has placed us in.  We are worried that more people might leave. And on the real, personal side of things, we are worried that we might not keep our jobs.   And we love our church and our church family.  And we are just at the beginning of things.  We have only been here a year.  Nothing has really happened yet.  No God-ordained growth explosions.  No God-sized miracles.  Just the day-to-day struggle of a sweet pastor with health problems, dwindling finances, an unfinished building, minimal resources, and the twinge of abandonment that I feel every time another family leaves.  And there have been blessings.  Kids have been saved, prayers have been answered, spiritual growth has taken place.  But these things are often overshadowed by the gray skies of doubt and uncertainty.

The thing I have noticed most about our most recent struggles, though, is that they seem to be front and center in all of our hearts and minds.  They are the thing we think about, talk about, pray about.  I have spent entire worship services with my hands raised high, not knowing how to pray, but just saying "We need you, God".  And we do.  Because this thing is overwhelming.  I don't even know what to pray for anymore.  And the trouble has become the focus.  And I hate this.

Several Sundays ago, I saw a group of elementary aged kids riding their bikes in our church parking lot.  Our church is located in a strip mall in a residential area.  The neighborhood kids love to use the parking lot for scooters, rip sticks, and skateboards.  I walked outside, introduced myself to the kids as a children's pastor, and told them they should come back sometime.  They looked at me like I was crazy and rode off.  Throughout the week that followed, though, I became increasingly convicted about my focus.  I have been so focused on the problems that I have neglected my purpose.  I am still studying and teaching kids each Sunday, but my concern for people has just been kind of lying dormant.  Not dead, just buried underneath layers of worry and frustration.  So I made the decision that I was going to spend some time on Saturday going into the neighborhood and talking to people.  Getting face-to-face with real, actual people that have real problems and need Jesus.  And I invited friends to go with me.  Last Saturday afternoon, we went to a local park with little invitation cards I had quickly printed up.  We talked to a few families.  One man professed to be Mormon.  One woman did not speak English.  But the third, the last woman, was open.  She is looking for a church.  She is new to the area, and she wants a place that has a thriving children's ministry.  We had a great conversation, and we were excited at the possibility that she might come.  I spied another group of kids on bikes, and I gave them invitations as well.  They told me that we had already met in the church parking lot the week before, and I was happy to see them again.  And you know what?  On Sunday morning, those kids came.  Five of them.  Five sweet little kids woke up early and rode their scooters and bikes to church.  I couldn't believe it.  I gave them visitor cards and sent them home to have their parents fill them out.  They promptly returned with parent signatures.  They sat with me in the service, and they participated in the lesson and small groups time.  And when the service was over, they gave me hugs and promised they'd be back.  And I was instantly reminded about why I do what I do.  Because there are kids who want to come to church.  They want to know about Jesus and how He wants to be involved in their day-to-day.  There is a gospel that can change the course of their lives.  And that is bigger and greater than financial problems and church problems and past due paychecks.  And the church is not this building that we can't really afford.  It is not the budget.  Our church is made up of people.  People that I love.  People that are all feeling the same thing, but we still show up because we trust God and whatever it is He is doing here.  And we have a job to do.  We have a gospel to preach.  We have people to reach.  We have a God that longs to be glorified for the way He works and provides. And I pray that that is where our focus shifts.  To Him.  To people.  And to remind me, I am carrying with me gifts that were given by a couple of those sweet visitor girls.  Made with pencils and crayons and glue and affection for a Children's Pastor they didn't even know, a picture of the two of them, connected by a heart that says these three words "I love church".  I do, too, girls.  I do, too.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Place Where There is No Grace

I remember the night I learned this lesson.  I remember where I was.  I remember the tears I cried when it hit me.  I remember getting on the phone and calling a few close friends and family to tell them about it.  I remember the kindness they showed me by not calling me crazy and hanging up.  And the lesson is simple, but I have repeated it to myself in the worst of times.

Standing in the kitchen of my little house in Portland, Tennessee.  That's where I was.  The kids had gone to bed, and I was all alone rinsing dishes and loading the dishwasher. I was listening to one of my favorite Bible teachers, Chip Ingram, on my iPod.  My husband was gone, living at his parents' house, and I had no idea if or when he would return.  When I thought about my life and my marriage, I remember having thoughts like I can't keep doing this.  My marriage was hard.  My husband was angry, and I had grown to match him in his anger.  And because I am a planner, I liked to think of the future and try to see something other than the problems of the present.  But every time I tried, I just came back to the same old thought.

I can't do this another six months.  
I can't do this another six weeks.   
I probably can't even do this another six days.

My strength was failing and my optimism was gone.  But even still, in my exhaustion, I was listening to Chip Ingram preach the truth, and I hoped that something he said would apply to me.  I needed something to resonate.  And something did.  I can't tell you the verses he used.  I really can't.  I wasn't taking notes.  I was just washing dishes.  And I listened as he spoke, and I heard him echo the thoughts that had been going through my mind.  He talked about the job that you feel like you can't continue.  The relationship that feels too difficult.  And he talked about how the grass always looks greener on the other side, and how intelligent, rational adults can make horrible decisions because they are always looking for something better.  For someone better.  And then he said the thing that changed my thinking.  The thing that gave me strength.  He said that when you face things that seem too hard, when you look down the road and you can't imagining having to deal with the frustration for another day, you should remember this.

There is no grace in hypothetical situations.

And it was just what I needed to hear.  It was not poetic, but it felt profound.  I didn't need to look forward and try to figure out how I was going to make it through the next six months or six weeks or six days because I was not living those yet.  And grace comes when you need it.  Not before.  Not after.  Right on time.  And I knew that it was coming.  I knew that God's grace would be sufficient.  But I wanted it early.  I wanted to know that there would be plenty down the road.  I couldn't see continuing the journey without the abundance of grace that I would need to complete it.  But that's not the way it works.  And my mind went back to the Old Testament, to the story of the Israelites and their daily manna.  Had I been there, I feel certain I would have tried to store it up.  I am faithless like that.  But seriously, if I looked around at an empty desert, my empty pockets, and a ground covered with bread, I think I would have tried to keep some for later.  Probably even several times, hoping that it might turn out differently than before.  But there is no grace in the unknown.  There is no grace in the future.  Not yet.  There will be grace when we encounter hard things.  There will be grace when we need it.

I don't have too many hard things going on right now.  I have problems, of course.  We would like to have a baby, but we are nine months into trying and I am not pregnant.  Our church is struggling financially. My car needs repairs.  These are small things, but there is still grace.  And I know that harder things will come, and I will need grace to continue and persevere through them.  But I know that as I write this, most of us have something that we think we just can't keep up.  A life situation that we have lost the strength to deal with.  A difficult marriage.  An unfulfilling job.  An addiction we can't shake.  A badly behaved child.  An empty bank account.  An empty womb.  And we think that we can't keep going.  We can't work through it.  Something has got to give.  But when God says that His grace is sufficient, it is.  It really is.  And it will be sufficient tomorrow, too.  Just keep going.  Don't give up.  Don't accept defeat.  The grace you need to handle it all is coming.  I promise.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Death of the Good Girl

I was always a good girl.  A rule follower.  I took great pleasure in finding out what I was supposed to be doing and then doing it.  Of course, as a kid, I had my moments.  I had siblings, and we would fight.  I would pinch them or hit them ever-so-slightly.  (Real hitting was not allowed at our house.)  I told my mom I hated her once when I was about six.  I learned what soap tasted like after that.  I was not perfect, but I liked obeying the rules.  But I especially liked the recognition I felt when I did what I was supposed to do.  I liked the approval.  The pats on the back.  And since kids are little legalists anyway, it all fit right into my worldview.  The people who do good things are good people, and they should be loved and blessed.  The people who do bad things are bad people, and they should not be loved and blessed.  And though it was not always so black and white, this point-of-view carried me throughout more of my life than I care to admit.  It just felt true.

One of the great problems with this belief system is that at some point, we are all bound to fail.  Some of us in small, easily-hidden ways, but some of us choose more public failures.  And that is where things unravel.  Those failures are the things that send us spiraling downward until we begin to believe that we are actually one of the bad people.  And that's where I found myself in the summer of 2007.  Because of the story I told you about here, I had resigned my job as a Christian school teacher.  I had moved out of the little house I shared with my husband.  I moved into a temporary living space provided to me by a local church.  The little town in which I lived seemed to be buzzing about my failure.  Friends overheard people talking about it in restaurants.  There was nowhere that I could hide.  Everyone knew.  I had friends that would not speak to me.  In an instant, I had lost everything.  It felt like my identity as a good girl was erased in this bad decision.  All of those years of behaving were dead and gone.

One day I came home, and I found a card on my door.  I did not recognize the handwriting, and I was a little afraid.  It's a curious thing that sometimes people use your failures as the time to point out all of the negative they saw in you from the beginning.  I had experienced that already, and I was afraid that this would be more of the same.  I opened the card and cried as I read what was printed "If you ever forget how wonderful you are- Call me and I'll remind you".  My eyes scanned the page for a signature, and I recognized the name of a woman I barely knew.  Sharon Newman was a member of the church I had been attending, and we had met face-to-face just a few times.  To the side of the pre-printed message of the card, she had handwritten in beautiful cursive these words.

God's opinion of us is revealed in the truth of His Word.  Our identity and position in Him is declared like this:

  We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)
  We are precious to God (Isaiah 43:4)
  We are cared about since our conception (Isaiah 46:3)
  We are Jesus' friend (John 15:15)
  We are chosen by Jesus (John 15:16)
  We are dearly loved by God (John 16:27)
  We are free from condemnation (Romans 8:1)
  We are a temple, a dwelling place of God's Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  We are redeemed and forgiven of all our sins (Colossians 1:14)

Thankfully, our circumstances have absolutely nothing to do with God's ability to fulfill His Word.  He is always sovereign, always!

Then she signed her name and gave me two contact numbers, which I was always too embarrassed to call.  But, of course, as I read, I cried at the reminder of what God had spent almost a decade teaching me.  My worth and acceptance was not wrapped up in my performance.  It was not contingent on how well I followed the rules.  It was initiated and sustained in the fact that God created, loved, and saved me.  And maybe I had failed, but the failure didn't define how God saw me.  His truth defined me.  And his truth was unchangeable.  Unshakeable.  And it still is.

Last night, I got an message from a friend that was struggling with this, and I was happy that I could walk into the spare bedroom and pick up my little card to use in our conversation.  Maybe one day I will, but for now, I can't throw it away.  It's a reminder of where I have been and who I have been.  It's a reminder that someone was willing to speak the truth into my failure and let me know that I am loved.  And it's my reminder that I am responsible to do the same for other people.  So there it is, the truth about us.  Rest in it.  Stop trying so hard.  Forgive yourself when you scream at your kids.  Don't beat yourself up over the messy house.  Don't carry around the weight of your past failures.  Let the good girl die.  And let the truth live on.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thanks a Lot

Three weeks ago, I started teaching school again.  After a four year elementary teaching hiatus, I was nervous about getting back to it.  I was fearful that I would commit to a whole year of classroom time, only to find that kids had changed and were terrible and that I didn't like them anymore at all.  Or maybe that I had changed, and I was terrible.  My last year of teaching in Tennessee was a particularly hard one, dealing with a divorce and the grief of losing kids and the shame of my own mistakes.  I was the worst possible version of myself that year, and I still look back and feel guilty about those sweet little kindergarteners who really deserved a great teacher and didn't really get one.  So I felt like I left the profession unsuccessful.  It took a great deal of courage to take up my lesson plan book, clip board, and ridiculous, but very necessary, rolling cart and start again.

Every morning, three days a week, I can be found lugging my guitar, a cart filled with children's books and instruments, a cd player, and a golden retriever puppet (that has yet to be named) into the red brick school building across town.  I go inside, hopeful that I haven't missed staff prayer time, and I get ready to start my day.  I go in and out of classrooms, setting up my guitar and my lesson plans and all of the silly things I need to teach kids about rhythm and dynamics and harmony.  We sing, we dance, we sometimes throw bean bags at each other instead of passing them, even though that's clearly against the rules.  Occasionally we cry because someone else got to play the triangle, and for whatever reason, everyone wants the triangle.  And every school day, I end each class with a simple little song.  I have the kids fold their hands, as if they are praying, and we sing our thanks for everything we have.  And each day, for these three minutes, I am reminded of how blessed I am.

It should be second nature to be grateful.  After all, I have been to third world countries.  I have seen poverty.  I have been to the hospital to see friends whose little girl has cancer.  I have cried with a friend when her dad died.  I have prayed for friends who are single and struggle with loneliness.  I have even been that friend.  I have experienced love and grace and forgiveness.  I have a thousand things for which to be thankful.  I have a husband that makes me laugh.  And sometimes scream, but mostly laugh.  I have a huge family that loves and supports me and keeps me from forgetting who I am.  I have friends, far and near, that I stay in touch with regularly.  We text and call and Facebook message, and we keep each other encouraged and accountable.  I have a ministry at church and school, and I love teaching these kids the truth of God's Word.  I love it.  I have a place to live and a car that is paid off and a plan to pay off the other one.  But some days it is easy to focus on the things I do not have.  The money I am not making.  The food I cannot eat, lest I get fatter.  And I grow discontent.

I have found that this helps.  This little song, sung three times a day at the end of each elementary class. It brings me back to all of God's provision in my life.  I am sure this isn't what Raffi* had in mind when he recorded this song.  Especially because the song seems to be directed at no one in particular.  But I know where good gifts come from.  So I know where to send my thanks.  And just in case I forget on the other days, I am glad to have these small reminders.  Thanks a lot.  Thanks for all I've got.

*If you have a child, and you love him, you should be listening to Raffi.  Children's music that doesn't make you want to cut off your own ears.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


In 2002, the Dixie Chicks released Home, a very acoustic bluegrassy album that I just adored.  There were plenty of things I loved about it, but my favorite was, and is, track 11, a sweet little song called "Godspeed", written by the fantastic Radney Foster.  The second I heard it, I swore to myself that if ever I was a mother of boys, it would be my signature song for them.

In 2004, I became a temporary mother to my sweet nephews, Canaan, Cameron, and Connor.  Baby Cody was born and came to live with us the following year, and I kept my promise.  Eventually known as the "night-night song", "Godspeed" became the song they expected me to sing and play on my guitar most nights before they went to bed.  Once Canaan was old enough to learn the words, his crackly little singing voice could be heard hitting the high notes with me on the chorus.  I would change the words from time to time to adjust to whichever superhero was their current favorite.  Superman was almost always replaced by Spiderman.  Superman just wasn't cool enough.  And they would laugh, knowing that I was technically singing it wrong.  And I can see them right now, four little boys in pajamas.  Four pairs of scrawny legs dangling down from the bottom bunk, swinging their feet and enjoying the last few minutes of freedom before they would be forced to go to sleep.  And occasionally, they would get other songs out of me, depending on the time and how exhausted I was.  But "Godspeed" was their favorite.  It was the one they could count on hearing when they only got one.  It was my prayer for them.

Three years later- three years of diapers and bottles and potty training and hugs and sleepless night and the occasional spanking- my boys went home to Texas to live with their parents.  And five years later, it still makes me cry to think about.  But less than a month after they left, I attended a concert in Nashville.  And is usually the case in Nashville, musicians draw musicians.  So while I was standing in line, waiting to get into the venue, I noticed songwriter Radney Foster in line.  I was feeling brave, and I rarely am around famous people, so I went up and introduced myself and had my picture taken with him.  Later that night, I approached him again to talk to him about the song, and he told me his story.  He wrote the song for his son that was moving to France with his mother.  There was nothing he could do to prevent him from going, so he wrote the song for his son so that he would have a reminder that he was loved.  And I knew I had chosen right.  Of all the songs in the world I could have chosen, I chose the one that was written by someone who knew what it was like to let a child go.  To have no control over that last goodbye.  To fight and lose.

My boys have grown up a lot.  They are no longer toddlers.  Canaan is almost 13, and his little brothers are not far behind him.  They live about an hour away, and I see them at our family get-togethers.  I am lucky to get a hug out of them when I see them.  They pretend to have outgrown hugs, and I am pretty sure they have outgrown the song.  When they come to stay the night, they don't ask for it like they used to.  And that's okay.  Because in my head, it's all still there.  And though they may not hear it anymore, my prayer for them has never changed.  Godspeed, little guys.  Your Aunt Julie loves you.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Blocked: A Tale of Shame

Photo and blog title are both courtesy of Caryn Thexton, who blogs (not nearly as often as we'd like her to) right here.

I remember the day it happened.  I was driving from Texas to Tennessee, and it was my birthday week, normally the most celebratory week of my year.  I checked my Facebook, and I saw the news on a friend's Facebook that the guy formerly known as my BFF was engaged. Engaged? Really?  So I picked up the phone to call him, because even though we had not been talking much because of his new relationship, we had wanted to remain friends. And now he was engaged and all of Facebook knew before I did.  I dialed his number, and that's when I heard it "The person you have called is not accepting calls from this number". So I went back to Facebook and searched his name, and that's when I understood what was happening.  I had been blocked.  Shut out.  Cut off completely. And so I cried.

I was already slightly familiar with the feeling.  After all, my ex-husband had also blocked me on Facebook, although I believe that was to prevent me to see what he was up to during our divorce proceedings.  And I kind of understood that.  Divorce is an unpleasant, tricky thing.  And misunderstandings can easily occur.  It made sense to me, mostly.  But this new blocking?  This was a new level of humiliation. This felt like I couldn't be trusted.  I felt like a punished child.  And a thousand things went through my head.  What was he afraid I was going to do?  Stalk him?  Send him annoying daily messages? I am still not sure, but I was sad for weeks.  I was embarrassed for even longer.  Friends would ask "Hey, did you see that [former BFF] is [insert life event here]?".  And I would have to drop my head in shame and answer that I had no idea what was going on in his life.  I had been friend dumped.  I had been Facebook blocked.

Fast forward a year or so, and I broke up with my boyfriend. After over a year of dating, we decided that we should go our separate ways.  And as with most breakups, we tried to keep things ending on a good note, but there are always hurt feelings and sensitivity.  And within a few weeks, he blocked me, too.  I told myself it was temporary.  He needed some time to get over things.  And maybe that was how it started, but here we are a couple of years later and I am still blocked.  

On an ordinary day, I wouldn't even know that I have been banned on Facebook.  It doesn't enter my thoughts, and it does not affect how I go through my day.  But occasionally, a Facebook friend will post a picture or a status, and then there will be twelve comments by the original poster, seemingly having a conversation with himself.  And then I realize, one of my blockers has commented and being blocked, I am completely unable to see it.  It makes the original photo or status poster look like a total nut, which is mildly amusing to me until I remember 

a.) I am the only person who sees it this way and 
b.) the feeling of rejection that comes with the fact that the whole Facebook community can see something, but I can't.

And maybe it will last forever, or at least until the end of Facebook.  Then we will move on to another form of social networking and I will wait to see if I am blocked there as well.  (Google +, anyone? No? Yeah, me neither.)  But in the meantime, I will live with the shame.  If you need me, I will be keeping my nose in the virtual corner, wearing a scarlet letter on my shirt*, and taking my punishment like a big girl.

* Probably a B for blocked instead of an A

For those of you unfamiliar with the embarrassment that is Facebook blocking, here is what it is: Blocking allows you to prevent most interactions with someone on Facebook. People you block won't be able to find you in searches, view your timeline, or contact you with pokes or personal messages. In addition, they will not be able to see your timeline posts, comments on mutual friends’ timelines, or that you are a member of the same group as them.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My Story

Some stories are easy to tell.  They are silly with funny punch lines and they make people laugh and mostly they don't mean anything.  The stories that are worth telling are harder.  They require opening up a little bit more, and they require being vulnerable to criticism and judgment.  They leave you with the echoing question of what will people think of me?  Those are the ones that make the difference, though.  They are work.  And they hopefully connect with people.  And maybe even change people.  That's my hope, and this is my story.

It was April, springtime in Tennessee. My husband (now ex-husband, of course) had just gone to jail for the second time for domestic assault.  For the 30 days between his arrest and his appearance in court, I could not legally talk to him, and when I finally could, it wasn't pretty.  Our struggling little marriage was barely hanging on.  Spiritually, I was feeling great.  Throughout the previous seven months, he had been gone for four of them, leaving me to work full time and raise four kids on my own.  I had struggled with so much anger and resentment, but from all of my wrestling with God, something new and alive and real had been birthed.  I was reading my Bible and praying consistently.  God had been speaking vividly and clearly to me, and I felt like I was learning so much.  In my weakness, God was definitely my strength.  It was one of the most spiritually alive times in my life.  My life was chaos, but I had found peace in the midst of it.

Then it came.  A text message from the father of one of my second grade students.  An innocent text message to thank me for performing at a local fundraiser that would eventually go to benefit his family.  I responded nicely, and it opened a door that I didn't even know existed.  One text message led to another, and before I knew it, I found myself checking my phone regularly, hoping that he had texted me.  It was casual conversation.  Funny things that didn't mean anything.  We were just being friendly, I told myself.  After how difficult my life had been, I deserved some fun conversation.  I confided in a friend after a few weeks and I told her about the "friendship" that had developed.  Of course, she encouraged me to cut things off.  No professions of attraction or affection had been exchanged, and she said that it was not too late.  Just end it, she said.  And I told her that I would.  Except after a few weeks, I didn't want to.

These situations happen to other people.  Other people that put themselves into the wrong places.  People that don't have proper boundaries.  They don't happen to people like me.  I was a second grade teacher at a Christian school.  I led worship for elementary chapel and school events, and I loved it.  I did children's ministry at our church, and was surrounded by a community of people that loved me and prayed with me through my marital struggles.  I had so much love and support and encouragement.  And yet, it did happen to me.  And it happens all the time to people just like me.  People who love God and want to do what's right.  People who genuinely love their spouse.  People who let their spiritual guard down for just a second because it feels nice to have attention.  People who are tired of feeling like the bad guy.  People who are lonely and want to feel normal again.  Young again.  Attractive again.  Funny again.  Oh, it happens all the time.  

I don't have to tell you how this story ends.  Mostly because there is only one way that it could have.  Badly.  Very, very badly.  You cannot choose to go outside of God's laws and guidelines and sow seeds of disobedience and expect anything less.  I will tell you what you can expect.  Pain, sorrow, regret, heartbreak, mistrust, to name a few.  And a mess.  You can expect a mess.  There is always debris in the wake of disaster, and it can take months, even years to clean up.  The good news is that there is also restoration and forgiveness and grace and redemption and growth.  Huge amounts of those things.  But even in those beautiful things, there is a tinge of sadness.  There are lingering feelings of guilt that must be fought off.  There is a reminder of blessings from obedience that were missed.

I tell you my story because it's a common one.  It's just not commonly told.  It happens all around us every single day.  And when we do hear of these things, and if you are like me, you say to yourself that won't happen to me... I would never do that.  I would never open up my heart to someone other than my spouse.  And I hope that you won't.  But let me tell you this, you are capable of it.  It's one of the biggest truths that people do not believe.  If I had believed that I was capable of that kind of betrayal, I would have certainly been more careful.  I would have protected myself.  I wouldn't have allowed for it to creep in like in did.  Instead, I thought I can handle this.  It's under control.  And it wasn't.

So let me help you out here.  Let me tell you how it starts.  One text.  One Facebook message.  One email.  One phone call.  One conversation.  One meeting.  And in the beginning, it will be innocent.   Your intentions will be pure.  You will think it's no big deal.  You are just catching up with an old friend.  You are simply enjoying conversation.  You are just meeting for coffee.  And sometimes, it will be fine.  I have had wonderful, pure Godly relationships with male bosses and friends and coworkers.  But the second the Holy Spirit nudges me, the second I get the feeling that maybe I should hide this, the second that I feel that familiar something's not right here feeling, I escape.  I tell an accountability partner.  I tell my spouse.  I run for the hills.  I have been there before, and I don't want to go back.

I am thankful for my new marriage.  It is precious, and I am desperate to protect it.  And just a day or so ago, I got a message from an old friend.  And that something's not right here feeling was there.  And so I deleted it.  I didn't respond.  I felt bad, but I would rather feel bad than go there again.  I will keep the vow that I made... forsaking all others.

So this is my story.  I tell it knowing that it could invite the judgment of others.  It might become table conversation for some.  There is certainly a huge part of me that longs to keep it secret so that no one's opinion of me will change.  But some stories are so life changing, they are meant to be told.  And in the center of them, we see God's goodness and forgiveness and his unconditional love.  We can also see how easy it is to make one bad choice and where it could lead.  So this is my story.  I tell it for many reasons, but mostly I tell it so that it will not be yours.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Clock

This was my morning view

If you know me very well at all, you know that I am not a morning person.  I am most definitely a night person.  I can get more accomplished between the hours of 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. than most people accomplish in eight hours of work.  But mornings?  Mornings I hate.  I am a chronic snooze button pusher.  I can't remember a time when I actually woke up when my alarm clock said to.

I have tried everything, really.  I have tried setting my alarm clocks ahead, but seriously, how dumb do you have to be to not remember that you set the clock fifteen minutes ahead? Whatever the answer, I am not that dumb.  And so I have always just subtracted the extra minutes and I have always known what time it was.  I have tried placing my alarm clock or cell phone across on the other side of the room.  This was also ineffective.  I would either turn off the alarm or just unplug the cell phone and take it back to bed with me.  My sleeping self is very clever about removing distractions.

And this has caused problems for me.  I have been late for class- I had multiple 7:30 a.m. classes in college.  I have been late for work.  I have left late for road trips.  I have missed fun things at night because I overslept from a nap.  Oh yes, once you are proficient at removing distractions that you can sleep, it bleeds over into everything.

Last week, Target had a one day sale on something I have always wanted.  It was a daylight alarm clock, and it starts glowing lightly thirty minutes before your scheduled wake-up time.  It increases the glow gradually, and by the time the alarm wakes you to the sound of the radio or chirping birds, the lamp is fully lit.  It feels like morning.  Even in the winter.  Even when it's dark.  And so I decided that with the start of a new school year and a new teaching job, I needed it.  It was 50% off Target's retail price.  By the time I got around to attempting to purchase it, they were sold out.  And I was sad.

This week we are at the beach.  And several years ago when I was in Hawaii, I ran across a woman on the beach doing yoga first thing in the morning.  I thought to myself the next time I am on the beach, I will do this.  And I haven't practiced yoga consistently in a long time, but here I am at the beach.  And I did remember to bring my yoga mat, so this morning when I woke up at 6:50 a.m., I decided to drag my lazy self out of bed, change clothes, and head down to the beach to use my little yoga application on my iPhone.  And so I did.  And I was met with beautiful skies and quiet and enough of a breeze to balance out the thick humidity.  After about 15 minutes, the rain that was initially light and sporadic turned steady, and my hands started to slip from my mat.  I had to call it quits on the yoga.  And so I walked around in the rain until it didn't make sense anymore... after all, I had a phone and my Kindle in my bag.

But I did it.  I got up early (6:50 is early for me) and I didn't even have to set an alarm.  Maybe if I lived on the beach, I would become a morning person, complete with whistling while I complete my morning tasks.  Maybe I would get up each day before the sun and head to the beach for some exercise before each day started.  Or maybe I would get used to waves and the sand and the calm, and I would go back to hitting my snooze button every nine minutes, which has always seemed like a strange increment of time to me.  Either way, the chances of my living on the beach are very slim.  And school is still starting in a mere two weeks.  And the first few months are relatively easy, but then winter hits and getting up in the dark always seems so wrong.  So if anyone has a beach condo they would like to give me, I will take it.  But until then, sale or no sale, I think I need the clock.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Homebody

When I was a kid, I hated staying the night at other people's houses.  The weirdness of other people's parents, the potential food I might be asked to eat (I was a very picky eater), the way that other people's parents made their kids ask "May I be excused?" before they could leave the dinner table.  I hated it.  And so, I stayed home.  My siblings would jump at the chance to have a sleepover at a friend's house, but nope.  Not me.  I preferred my own home.  My own bed.  My own toys.  My own parents that would let me get up from the dinner table when I was done without batting an eye.  I loved the familiarity.  As a result, my mother could frequently be heard saying something like "Julie's my little homebody".  And I hated that as much as I hated the sleepovers.  To me, it was equal parts embarrassment from the attention of being labeled and hatred for the term itself.  It made me sound boring.  Or at least little kid me thought it did.

At 17, I went off to a college fourteen hours away from my home.  After graduation, I packed my bags and moved to New Zealand for a year.  When I returned, I resumed my American life in the great state of Tennessee, several states away from my family.  I spent a summer in China, and a Christmas break in Ethiopia.  I love being a stranger in a new culture with new languages and customs.  And all I can think is that maybe my subconscious self got tired of feeling boring.  Maybe I resented the term "homebody" and was hell bent on seeing it end.  Whatever the reason, I got over it.  Or at least I thought I did.

Two months ago (and let me assure you that it feels WAY longer than two months), I took on a part-time job.  Technically, I already had a part-time job.  TWO part-time jobs, to be exact.  I was a Children's Pastor (a part-time position) and a nanny (every Monday for one cute baby boy and his two sweet sisters).  But after completing Financial Peace University with my husband, Dave Ramsey convinced me to take on one more thing, just to provide some additional income.  And so I did.  I became a part-time employee of the preschool right next to my apartments.  I agreed to working from 2:30 to 6:30, Monday through Friday.  And I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Since the start of this extra job, my life has been a whirlwind.  Each day is a little different, but the schedule is almost always the same.

Rush around in the morning to get to the first job of the day.

Work long enough to get things started but rarely finished.

Eat lunch.

Rush home.

Get dressed for the daycare job.

Work for four hours.

Spend the evening making dinner and recovering from a day of work.

Make mental lists of all of the things I still need to do tomorrow that I didn't get done today.  This list pretty much never gets taken care of.

And you know what I have found in all of this?  The only thing I want (other than a chiropractic adjustment and a massage)?  To be home.  To spend a whole day at home with nothing to do other than home things.  To do a load of laundry and have the time to wash, dry, fold, and put away.  To clear out the piles of things that have been accumulating in various corners of the apartment.  To put on a record and lie on the couch and just listen to it (until 20 minutes later and I have to turn the record over).  To sit in my pajamas all day long.  To go lay out by the pool and read a book (completely slathered in sunscreen, of course... me, not the book).  To actually be done with dinner by 6:30 p.m. instead of getting off work and starting to make dinner at that time.  To finally finish organizing the second bedroom.  You know, since I have already lived here for 9 months.  To sit down and finish my friend Elisa's baby gift.  Her baby is already almost 6 months old.  I promise, Eliza Jane.  It's coming.  To light candles and play my guitar and order pizza and bake cookies.  Maybe all in the same night.  In the end, Mom was right.  I am a homebody.  I like being home.  And I am tired of never being home.

This is my last week of the preschool job.  I will miss the kids but not the schedule.  I have already bequeathed my horrible hunter green work t-shirts to another employee that needs some new ones and wears the same size as I do.  I am happy to pass along my uniform and my job to others deserving of it.  I hope they have fun.  I will go back from time to time and hug on the kids that I am leaving behind.  I am better at saying goodbye to jobs than I am to kids.  

I do have a new teaching job.  And although I cannot divulge the exact details of this job, mostly because I do not have confirmation of them just yet, I can tell you that I will be getting off of work every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday around 3.  And I will be home in time to make dinner.  And I will still have Tuesdays at the church office, and I will not have to rush out the door at 1:45 to be at work.  And I will probably take Thursdays to stay at home... because I can.

Three more days.  Three more days and I will be home free.  No, seriously, I will.  Three days and I will be dancing and singing and running up the road clicking my heels together.  Well, maybe not up the road.  This is summer in Texas.  It's dangerous to run outside.  But I'll be doing it on the inside.  And if you want to find me for the next few weeks, I can tell you where I'll be.  Right here in my little apartment in The Colony, Texas, doing laundry in my pajamas and not stepping foot out the door.  And it will be lovely.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Rant of a Baptist Preacher's Daughter

I shouldn't write blog posts when I am angry.  Really, I shouldn't.  But right now, I am a little bit angry.  You'll just have to bear with me.  I was raised in a Baptist family.  Not just any kind of Baptist... we were Independent Fundamental Baptists.  And we were a special kind.  I have learned that many other denominations carried many similarities to us, but I do believe we were a breed unlike any other.  I went to Independent Baptist churches, I went to an Independent Baptist college, and I completed my Missions internship with Independent Baptist missionaries.  I have taught in Independent Baptist schools (and been fired from one), and I served in Independent Baptist churches.    No one was as Independent Baptist as I was.  (I promise I'll stop with the repetition in a minute.)  And I have seen some great things, and I have seen some bad things.  There were liberal and conservative extremes even within our little sect of Baptists.  And I think I have seen it all.  I have met some people that are so bound up in legalism and their own works that they can't see straight.  And I know some people that are far more conservative that I am, and they love people and there is not an ounce of judgment in them.  I have been mistreated by the former and accepted by the latter.  I have had to work and study and pray to settle on which parts of my upbringing were of God and which were of man.  And in the end, I love that I had parents who gave me a place to start.  They taught me scripture and doctrine and they gave me solid reasons for the things we did and didn't do.  I had a solid foundation.

Somewhere along the lines, I stepped outside of my Independent Baptist world a little.  I taught at a non-denomonational school.  I attended a Presbyterian church.  And here I am, a Children's Pastor at a Community Church.  We are not just non-denominational, we are inter-denominational.  And you know what have found over the years?  Other people love Jesus, too.  And I am happy and convinced that each step I have taken has been God-ordained, and I feel like I am in the right place, even when ministry is hard.

Several days ago, I saw a familiar sight on Facebook.  It was a picture of a Christian publication, and it had photos of various pastors that I knew from my days of IB church membership.  One of the pastors was the one who fired me.  So I made a funny little comment about it on the photo, which had been posted by a Facebook page supposedly dedicated to the "humorous" side of Independent Baptists, and I laughed to myself about those days.  Later, I checked back on the photo and found that people were making some pretty harsh accusations about the pastors pictured.  They were accusing them of being child abusers and perverts.  And I have to tell you, it made me angry.  Because I know some of those men personally, and even though I do not agree with some of their philosophies and ministry practices, I do believe that most, if not all, are good people who love God and their churches and their families.  And as I studied this page further, I realized that a video of another of my former pastors was featured on the page.  In the comments below, he was called hateful and ignorant and a cultist.  I know this man.  I sat under his preaching for several years, and I grew to love him and his family.  He is not ignorant, nor is he a cultist.  And in that church, I saw people saved and discipled.  This man loves unsaved people, and He loves to see their lives changed when they accept Christ.

This page is not the first thing I have seen that brings out this response in me.  I have had friends that I went to college with that have moved on to non-denominational ministries, and they mock and insult their former pastors and their upbringing.  They act as if they are evolved and they carry an air of superiority to those that came before them.  And I love that God brings us all through our own journey and He undoes the things that need to be undone, and He teaches us to value truth rather than tradition.  But I do not love when we take those things that God has done for us, and we wear them proudly as if we have accomplished something for ourselves.  I do not love when we act as if we cannot respect people that live by different standards.  I do not love the pride that is involved in believing that our way is the only way that makes sense.

I was raised by Godly parents, and you want to know why?  Because in 1945, an old-fashioned Independent Baptist Alabama preacher was concerned about people, and he knew that most people did not have transportation in those days.  So he hired city buses to drive from Prichard, Alabama to the housing projects on Blakely Island to pick up my grandparents, my aunt, and my dad, who was saved as a teenager.  And in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1964, a preacher named Jack Hackworth went by and visited my great Aunt and Uncle, inviting them to church and meeting my grandparents in the process.  As a result, my grandparents began to attend, rededicated their lives to Christ, and my mother was eventually saved.  I am the beneficiary of a gospel that was passed down from those conservative Independent Baptist men, to my grandparents, to my parents, and now to me.

So you know what?  When I see bus-running, culotte-wearing*, alcohol-abstaining**, jean-skirt-sporting, suits-in-the-pulpit wearing, KJV-only using Baptists, I will not make fun.   I can laugh about some of the silly rules I had while in college without being hateful.  I can disagree with someone and fight the urge to be prideful about my beliefs or opinions.  I will not get above my raising.  Because in the end, when I think about where I have come from, I am nothing but grateful.

* Oh, who am I kidding, I might make fun of the culottes, but only if they're really ugly.

** I am an alcohol abstainer myself, so I can't really make fun here anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Opening Bell Show, June 21st

Video from my first Dallas solo show.  Thanks to the friends that showed up and cheered me on (and made t-shirts).  So nice to play to a crowd.  I loved it.

A Rosi Golan & William Fitzsimmons cover

A Patty Griffin Cover

An original song I wrote for my sister... a long time ago.

An original

My sisters joined me for this Dixie Chicks cover

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Girls I Don't Really Know

When I first moved to Texas from Tennessee in 2008, I felt like I had a clean slate.  A fresh start.  My last year in Tennessee was incredibly hard, dealing with divorce proceedings, an unpleasant work environment, and a real depression that had set in so subtly, I didn't even recognize it for a while.  So along with a new job and a new home in the Lone Star state, I had a plan.  I had plans to lose weight, to better myself, to recover from my divorce, to make new friends.  And so I joined Weight Watchers, went to counseling, attended two whole 13-week sessions of Divorce Care*, and I signed up with a Dallas Christian Young Adults group on  I lost weight, I began to heal, and I met Tanya, Chrystal, and Brandy.

I went to exactly one meeting with my Meetup group.  It ended up being a small group consisting of me, Xan (the organizer) and his lovely girlfriend (now wife) Jasmine.  We met for brunch in Addison, had nice conversation, but for some reason, I never went to any other scheduled meetups.  A few weeks after this meeting, I got an email from Brandy, another meetup member.  She wanted to get a few girls together for lunch, and I was invited.  After church one Sunday, I dropped off the kids that rode the church van, and I drove to Dallas to meet her at a Cafe Express.  It turned out to be just me and Brandy at that lunch.  The other girls couldn't make it, but I was so excited to see how normal she was. (I have since learned that she is better than normal, but I didn't know it then... I was just happy that she was not weird).  We scheduled another time to meet up with a few other girls, and a few short weeks later, we did.  Meeting Chrystal and Tanya was much like meeting Brandy, I kind of loved them right away.  Chrystal was a teacher, Tanya was a studying to be a teacher, and Brandy was a social worker/ counselor who wanted to switch career fields to become a teacher.  Teaching is what I do.  So it was like we were meant to be friends. And when I would talk about these girls in conversation, I would refer to them as "the girls I don't really know". And the name stuck.

A month or so passed by, and the four of us made plans to travel to Granbury, Texas to do a little Christmas shopping.  Granbury has a cute little square filled with antique shops, a few restaurants, a theater, and a coffee shop.  And around Christmas time, it is especially cute.  After a delicious lunch at the Pearl Street Station, photos with Santa and random street performers, and a little bit of shopping, we headed to Glen Rose for a Christmas version of the show The Promise.  It was freezing cold and we had not prepared for the elements.  I purchased a horribly scratchy wool blanket for only $15 and we bundled up and enjoyed the show. On our way home from the show, we shared our stories... the details behind how we got where we were in life... and we bonded.  It's amazing how sharing your story frees other people up to do the same. And so we talked and drove and ended the trip knowing each other far better than when we started.

Over the last few years, the girls I don't really know (even though I do know them now) and I have scheduled multiple lunches and dinners and celebrated birthdays and engagements.  They have attended the shows I have played, and they are always a huge encouragement. We have laughed and cried and listened to stories of breakups and life changes.  I have learned from them and I am continually impressed with their wisdom and responses to the things that life has handed them.  And it has been fun all along the way. We don't see Tanya much any more, but we keep up with her on Facebook and she is missed.

In a few weeks, the lovely Chrystal will be getting married.  We have been witness to each step of her relationship, hearing the stories and watching her and Josh take it slow, even though she broke her own rule of waiting a year before getting engaged.  I am kind of proud of her for that.  Brandy and I will be there as she walks down the aisle and says her vows.  I will sing a song as she walks down the aisle... don't worry, she has asked me to do this.  And we will look forward to the things that come next in our lives.  New relationships, new jobs, growing families. And along the way, we will pray for each other and encourage each other and meet up for coffee cards and dinners and desserts.  And those are the things that make friendships last. These girls have become a solid part of my life.  We do not talk everyday, but they are the kind of people that I could call on for anything I need.  I am blessed to know the girls I don't really know. And one day (I promise you girls) I will come up with a more appropriate name for our little group.

*Divorce Care might be one the best things I ever did for myself.  I recommend it to anyone who is going through a separation or divorce.

Saturday, May 19, 2012


We create because we were made to create, having been made in the image of God, whose first role was Creator.  He was and is a million different things, but in the beginning, he was a creator.
- Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

I am a writer. I always say this with a little bit of hesitation, as if it might not be true. As if the real writers of the world will read this and shake their heads and say to themselves, "She doesn't even know... bless her heart" (The real writers of the world are southern in my head). But nevertheless, I do write. And so I am a writer. And I believe there is something to be said for the creation of things. Of taking a blank page or a blank canvas or a white wall and turning it into something else. It takes inspiration and time and courage. Mostly, courage, I think. Because creating something is putting a piece of yourself on paper or canvas and then saying to the world (or whatever audience you have) "Look at this!", and their approval or disapproval can be either glorious and heartbreaking, depending.  And I think that our lack of courage is what prevents us from being creators.  It prevents us from displaying this particular part of the image of our Creator.

Over my years as a teacher and a babysitter and a mother, I have witnessed many creations. Stacked blocks. Finger painted circles. Tents made from bedsheets. Mud pies. Tidied rooms. Gingerbread houses. Handprint Christmas ornaments and Thanksgiving turkeys. Pictures of houses and rainbows and birds. Glittery construction paper cards. Sweet poems. All accompanied by little eyes looking up and saying "Tada! Look what I've done!", waiting for approval. I think we all start out this way. We all start out with the confidence to create things. And somewhere along the way, this changes. We are criticized or ignored or teased. And we become fearful. We develop insecurities that our Creator didn't intend for us to have.  As adults, we look around and we see people that create more or create differently or create better than we do, and so we do not create. We do not write or sing or sew or paint or build or bake.  We distract ourselves by filling our days with mindless things so that we do not even notice what we are missing.

For the last three weekends, I have gone to shows of some of my favorite musical artists. There is nothing that will make the feel the absence of writing in my life than hearing a particularly beautiful song or reading a brilliant book. And the songs and stories I have heard have done just that. They remind me that I, too, have a story to tell... a picture to paint... a song to sing. Sometimes these things will flow, and sometimes they will be work.  Either way, they are worth the telling, the painting, the singing. They are worth the effort.

I often hear people say "I am not creative". And I suppose it depends on how you look at it.  Some people do not sew or bake their own bread or paint. They do not write or sing or sculpt. But if you build forts or make up stories or fill the long days of summer with activities that prevent your kids from violently attacking one another, I believe you are a creator. If you look at an almost empty refrigerator and/or pantry and manage to find enough ingredients to put off going to the grocery store just one more day, you are creative. Every song you have made up to help your kids to remember to buckle up, every time you have managed to get out for a run when you have a houseful of kids, every excuse for a girls night you have conjured up, every outfit you have thrown together when nothing else fits... those are all proof of creativity.  Proof that you have indeed been made with an imagination... for an escape, for problem solving, for a creative outlet.

So what are you creating? Or maybe more importantly, what are you not creating? What have you left behind? What was the thing you loved to do but you gave up?  Maybe out of fear, maybe because you feel like you don't have the time. Either way, it's time to get back to it. It's time to get back to displaying the image of our Creator God. Dust off that old writing journal. Or maybe that piano. Open a cookbook. Build a fort (even if you're a grownup and you have no kids). Find your camera (especially if you build the fort... you'll need pictures). As the very creative author Shauna Niequist so eloquently writes in her book Bittersweet, "Do the work, learn the skills, and make art, because of what the act of creation will create in you".

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

How to Stay Married (from people who have done it)

In honor of my upcoming one year wedding anniversary, I decided to write a blog honoring marriage and the commitment that it takes to make it last. So I reached out to some of my favorite women to get their take on things. These women have been successful at making their marriages work for 20+ years. These are women I appreciate and admire for lots of different reasons. But they are the success stories. They are the ones I want to learn from.  They meant it when they promised "for better or for worse". They were open to sharing their thoughts on marriage, and I am so thankful they were willing to speak from their years of experience.  And here is their advice.

1. Let your husband be your best friend and God be your guide- Martha, married 38 years 

   God needs to be the foundation of your lives together. He is the foundation. He gives us the freedom to build our house as we want, but He would like to be the center of you both. You need then to build each room of your life with love and respect. You need to decorate your rooms so that his attractions and love will always be at home.  Physical affection is good, but verbal communication is so important. You always want to know what is going on in his head and what his thoughts are. Sometimes RC and I lay in bed in the dark. I don't think he knows I am not asleep, but then he'll say: "Sweetheart, you can't sleep?". Then we lay there in the night in the dark and talk to each other about our feelings and thoughts. You then start growing into one. After years, you can look at each other and know what the other is thinking (most of the time). You have to be each other's best friend and you'll be friends till death do you part.

2. Practice the 4 A's: Accept, Adapt to, Admire, and Appreciate- Sandra (aka Mom), married 41 years   

   In the early 70's I was beginning to wonder if I had what it takes to make a marriage work. With 2 children and a husband in ministry, it was way more work than fun! I ran across a book that may never win any literary awards, but it did change the way I looked at my part in the marriage. Being married is hard work, selfish people won't survive it. God has some very clear principles in His Word about the part of a husband and a wife . We can deny, deny, deny its importance, but that denial will lead to a very miserable couple or a failed marriage. Well here we are 41 years, 6 children, and 11 grandchildren later, happily married, but marriage is still hard work. 

   When I have a day that just seems too hard, I look at me and ask what can I do differently to get better results? I try to be open to the Lord for change. I know that's the only way to be victorious at anything in this life, whether marriage or any other relationship.

3. Have a sense of humor, be silly, and have your little inside things- Kyla, married 25 years  

   Todd says the most wickedly funny things at the most unexpected moments, and it makes his cute factor go way up.  Be silly. Todd rolls his eyes every time I kiss him....You'd think that would make me mad, but it doesn't.  Have your little inside things. Every Sunday morning when we are singing the closing hymn, I reach over and straighten his wedding ring because it always gets twisted around. 

4. Say 5% of the things you want to say- Darlene, married 23 years   

   Shut up about the other 95%. I have been married for 23 years. Listen to the Holy Spirit before you speak. Typically, He answers me with two words, "Shut up!" (Of course if you want to say something positive to your spouse that's different... then by all means talk away).

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T - Tricia, married 24 years   

   Each marriage is different, so in mine I have learned over the years that if I want to get along with my hubby, I don't nag or demand my way, although I usually do get what I want! Lol! I've been told that I am spoiled.  I also think that showing respect for your spouse's needs and wants makes him want to give back the same respect and desire to please you. When we first got married, during our first big fight, John picked up his pants and threw them at me and told me to put them on because I was trying to wear the pants in the family! It wasn't funny then, but we have laughed about it since! So needless to say, I have learned how to hold back my mouth a lot of times!

6. No opting out- Cindy, married 38 years   
   Almost 38 years and I guess I could sum it up by saying...for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part....we went into it June 14, 1974 with no thought that it wouldn't work. Opting out has never been an option. With that as the foundation, you have to make it work. Of course, it is only God that helps you both...the closer to Him... the closer to each other.  I wouldn't trade it for anything.

7. Appreciate what you have- Denise, married 29 years 
    I am currently learning a huge lesson - To appreciate what you have in your spouse, even the boring stuff. Watching my poor mum* adjusting to life on her own is just horrible. She said the other day "I even miss him not talking." None of us know how long we have our 'other half' for, so we've got to make the most of every moment.

8. Find out what your spouse's love language is, and learn to speak it - Larissa, married 20 years next month
   I think it's very normal and human nature to love people in the same way that we ourselves feel loved. The problem is, it would land on infertile ground (much like the seed and the sower) if your spouse doesn't receive love in that same way.  Over the first few years of our marriage I tried to watch and learn what things I did and other people did that made Bill feel special and valued. One of the ways I learned this was by trial and error. I did things for him (acts of service - my top love language) and although he was grateful, he didn't respond in the way I had hoped, by reciprocating. I learned that he felt loved by the words I would say, affirming long as I was genuine when I said them, and he could tell the difference.

9. Find these four things- Sherry, married 33 years
   Find a good man. That makes everything else so much easier.  Find time for each other.  Find opportunities to hold hands or say I love you in public. You may embarrass your kids, but they will survive.  Find a good example to follow. My parents were married for 50 years. My dad passed away 2 weeks after their big 50th anniversary celebration. Jerry and I have only been married 33 years but we hope to pass them up.

*sweet Denise is writing from New Zealand and recently lost her father


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