The Missing

I’ve sat on this post for several days, as I wasn’t sure how to put these specific feelings into written words. I think I have it now. So, let’s proceed.

I’d like to begin this personal dive into my soul with an analogy:

Imagine that you were a human being who was created for the sole purpose of doing math. (This would be highly unfortunate for me, as anyone who knows me personally can tell you that math is the bane of my existence.) As soon as you were old enough, you would start learning math at a very basic level. It was wonderful and you knew that this was a good thing. You enjoyed doing it. It gave you a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Now, let’s say that as the years progress, you are not given any opportunity to do more advanced math, but instead, have to continue to do basic math.- no multiplication, no division, no algebra, no calculus. You, my friend, are sticking with 2+2=4. Imagine that you are now a third grader, still doing first grade math. Now, some more time passes, and you are a 7th grader, still doing first grade math. Keep on advancing through time with me- now, you’re a senior in high school, and still doing first grade math. I would imagine that it would be difficult to keep up your attention and focus, as now this math is no longer a learning and growing experience, but instead, has become a monotonous, mundane task at the very least and not much of anything to look forward to. Yes, you can do it and you can do it successfully, but you have spent YEARS in the infancy stage of your learning and not really had any knowledge, growth, or progress. Your purpose of being a math expert will never be fulfilled as long as you are stuck in first grade math.

Our spirituality and walk with the Lord is much the same as this math example. When we become a Christian, we are given the give of the Holy Spirit. We possess within us at that time, everything we need to grow in wisdom and in knowledge of God. All Christians start off with a basic understanding of heavenly and spiritual things. We understood enough to know that we needed to pray and invite the Lord into our lives. We are “first grade Christians” at this point. It feels good. It gives us a sense of purpose and fulfillment. We start off with baby steps. We are human beings who were created for the sole purpose of worshipping Christ and leading others to a saving grace knowledge of Him. But here’s where it gets dicy… some people are comfortable digging their heels in at this point and staying in this “first grade” level of Christianity. Does it mean they aren’t Christians? No. But does it mean that they are short-changing themselves of the opportunity to grow their faith and knowledge of God, and to have a relationship with Him that is unlike anything that they could ever even imagine?… YES, absolutely!

One of the areas that I’ve most witnessed this need of some people to sit in basic level spirituality is when it comes to worship. There are so many different types of worship. Additionally, there are so many instances I’ve heard people telling me that some forms of worship make them uncomfortable, or make them question the authenticity of it. I have recently read online a movement of groups of “Christian” people trying to attack what they consider the “modern day mega church” and condemning the band-style music, the lights, and the stage sets. I would offer a sincere warning to each of us- we, the Church (the unified body of Christ, NOT a building and four walls) should be much more concerned with the message as opposed to the delivery. If we are truly worshipping God, it shouldn’t be about us anyway, right? I have seen God move in miraculous ways through a solo singer strumming a guitar in praise and worship, and also seen the same miraculous movement in a 5,000 member church whose praise and worship time felt like a concert. God can be in all of it. He is all present. There is no “one correct way” to worship. Truthfully speaking, it’s very arrogant of any of us to think that “our way” is the only right way and all others are wrong. Shew….. watch out for that judgment. Dangerous stuff there. Ironically, some of these same people who find hand raising during worship or speaking out in church as off-putting and offensive would have no problem painting their faces and screaming their guts out on the home field of their favorite teams. Or, going to a rock concert and singing lyrics at the top of their lungs along with their favorite singers. Our worship of Christ is about Him, not us. The Holy Spirit, if we are paying attention to it, will let you know if Jesus is present in that room and if what you are experiencing is of Him. This is a skill you can actually hone in your growth as a Christian. It’s a vital tool God gives to each of us. That discernment can be used in all areas of life- decisions, your family, daily situations, etc.

Anyway, some people find that what they are doing in their Christian life, the same thing they’ve been doing for years, is what is comfortable for them, and they have no desire for true growth or advancement in their knowledge of God. They like what they have. They like what their church does, and that’s good enough for them. There’s an old expression that says, “You can’t miss what you never had.” There’s a lot of truth in that. If you’ve never experienced an honest, soul-moving, Heaven-splitting, earth-silencing, wind-blowing, insides-trembling movement of God, then I guess it would be impossible to miss it. But, oh, how I wish each of my Christian brothers and sisters could taste this miracle on this side of Heaven just once, because I promise you that you’ve experienced it, it is next to impossible to settle for less. This brings me to an embarrassing confession and then to Easter Sunday…

I’ve struggled the last several months with church. Actually, that’s not true. I’ve struggled the last few years with church. I’ve probably attended no less than 7 churches in our community during my 30 years here, but have yet to really plant roots in any of them. Please don’t get me wrong, Jesus does definitely go to these churches. I think you understand what I mean when I say that, but in case someone doesn’t- I want to go to church where JESUS is going to church. I want to leave that building having my spirit fed and growing closer to Him. In my opinion, if you are attending a church which is “dead” and it’s more out of habit or to simply be able to say, “I went to church today”, I think you’re better off staying in bed. There’s a verse in Revelation 3:16 that says, “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” I don’t want to be at a lukewarm church. I don’t want to be at a cold church. I want my church 100% hot and nothing less.

I’ve had tastes of those hot churches throughout my lifetime. My sister and I were very fortunate that throughout our formative years our parents exposed us to a variety of denominations and a variety of different types of worship. We’ve been to huge conference centers in Tulsa, OK, and heard James Robison and John Wimber preach. We’ve be to an AMAZING black church in Washington, D.C., that introduced me to a completely uninhibited form of worship that I’d never seen before. This congregation was on fire and the music was intoxicating for a 14-year-old girl from AR to witness. Their voices were loud and angelic and there was clapping and dancing. My spirit definitely sat up and took notice. We’ve been to baptisms at a city pool, and small groups held in people’s living rooms while we sang along to “Pass it On” being played on an acoustic guitar. We’ve experienced hands raised to God in praise and seen deliverance services. We’ve witnessed people anointed with oil and hands being laid on them for healing. There is a VAST WORLD of worship out there. It goes far beyond what even some churches are comfortable with preaching and demonstrating today. Just reading some of these things may cause some of you to raise an eyebrow, but again, worship is about Christ, not about your comfort level. If you have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, it will “jive” inside you if the situation is of God or for show. I’ve experienced some of those, as well.

I’ve been struggling through some personal issues since the end of last year. Maybe it has been shame. Maybe it has been depression… but whatever it is, it most definitely is the devil at work trying to keep me out of church. I’ve had sweet pastors and congregation members reach out to me during this time, but I just couldn’t do it. It was nothing against them or their churches, but I just couldn’t. Of the last three church services that I attended, two were filled with excessive talk of covid (hello, fear) and the other was obviously an open-mike night for anyone who had a comment because they liked to hear themselves talk. Again, this is where that gift of the Holy Spirit comes in. Your spirit will tell you if what is happening is of God, or if it’s of man. I was in pain. I was emotionally hurting, and I just didn’t have anymore time to waste on what was “of man”. I needed Jesus, badly.

This last Sunday was Easter. My sister and brother-in-law have recently moved to Maryville- about 2 hours away. They invited my family to come to church with them for the Easter service and to spend time in fellowship afterwards. Their church is Faith Promise and is nestled right in the middle of a strip mall. It is a satellite church, which has locations in many places, and the pastor (who is in person at the main church campus) is projected onto a screen and shares the message. When we walked in, I found it funny that they had ear plugs available at the door for anyone who needed them. I knew this would be interesting. The service starts, it is warm and inviting. The worship team goes up on their stage and begins to sing. It wasn’t 5 minutes into the music that my tears just start flowing. My heart was pounding so fast. It took 5 minutes for me to realize that not only did Jesus go to church here, but He was welcoming me back home, and was so glad I was there. This is it- this is THE MISSING I’ve been experiencing. My soul has missed this. I know the Holy Spirit comes upon people in a number of ways, but for me, it has always been like a gentle wind. I can physically feel Him blowing over me. It’s as if my soul breaks open in the most wonderful way, a curtain is torn, and I’m in the very presence of His Throne Room. Once you have that experience, you can’t miss it anytime it happens again. This is what my soul craves. I wept, practically uncontrollably, for quite a while. I was happy to be in His presence and angry at myself for depriving my body, mind, and spirit from having THIS. This is what I want. This is what I need. All of this other garbage- the stress, the worry, the relationships, the finances, the illnesses… it’s all a vapor. When the day comes that I die, those things won’t matter anymore. My relationship with Christ is what matters.

The entire experience was an amazing time of worship and spiritual healing. I needed this so badly. I was so thankful that my son got to be there and experience what church is supposed to be like. I knew several things were certain when I left that day- first, I won’t continue to deprive my soul of the fellowship it so longs for with the Lord. Second, I won’t settle for a lukewarm or cold church. I know there is no such thing as a perfect church. That’s not even what I’m looking for. I want to be at the church where Jesus goes and where He is worshipped unapologetically. Third, if it means traveling to get to such a location, then so be it. Life is short. No more excuses.

I said earlier that you can’t miss what you never had. Well, I’ve had it, and I miss it. I know about the deeper parts of worship and I want that. I don’t want to settle for mediocre. Nothing cold or lukewarm. I owe it to the Lord to give Him 100% of myself in worship to Him. Think about what all He gave for each of us.

I’d encourage anyone reading this who has a relationship with Christ… take a good look at your soul. Are you feeding it? Have you experienced the other-level worship of Jesus that’s out there, or are you digging your heels in, content with the basics? There’s a whole world of experiences Jesus has for us. We have to be willing to trust Him and have faith. Pay attention and listen to the Holy Spirit. He will speak to you. We simply need to ask and listen. God wants us to grow in our relationship with Him. He never intended for us to set up camp in the introductory phase of Christianity. Don’t be afraid- grow in Him.

Be blessed, friends.

The Renovation

My home, for the past few months, has been undergoing some much needed and long overdue renovation. I’ve lived in my home, a 1920s craftsman-style house, since 2005. One of the things I originally most loved about this house when we were in the market for a new home, was its uniqueness. This house doesn’t look like every other structure on the street. Some people love living in neighborhoods with row after row of cookie cutter houses that all look exactly the same and the only way to tell one from the other is to pay close attention to the house numbers or to ask the owner which color house is theirs. I’ve never been that person. I don’t want to be like everyone else. Not in my home, not in my clothes, not in all aspects of life, really.

My craftsman-style home

We are living in a world of Joanna Gaines followers and decorators. Please do not take offense, as I love everything Joanna does. When she and Chip get finished with a “fixer upper” I ooooh and ahhhh just like the rest of the world. Thing is, she definitely has a style. That shiplap and farmhouse style, with all the whites and grays, are definitely her signature look. Most of us could look at a room and tell if it is Joanna inspired. While her designs may be perfection to some, they are just not my cup of tea. I think it’s funny that so many people from those living in NYC apartments to those in rural area split-levels are making over their homes into farmhouse-inspired living spaces. This is where my need for authenticity comes screaming into play. If you lived in a farmhouse, a barn, or a barndominium even, I think you ABSOLUTELY should embrace that look. You may even get a pass if your home is not a farmhouse, but may be situated out in the country. I guess I’m just more old school. I think we should let a home be the home it was meant to be. That’s why it’s been important to me, on my journey of renovation, that I stay true to my home’s roots and not follow any trends or design fads.

You can look at the rooms in some homes and tell when it was renovated. My mother and I just had this conversation the other day. If you walk into someone’s home and the rooms are mostly mauve and blues, you can safely bet that most likely their home was last decorated in the 80s. If you see walls or carpets of orange, harvest gold, and avocado colors, this room was most likely done in the 70s. Homes from recent years will be known by their farmhouse style decor and Rae Dunn accessories. I don’t want people to be able to tell from which decade my house was decorated. I want it to transcend time. So, in my world, restoration and renovation are the same things- being true to original form and improving it in a way that makes it the best it can possibly be. Let your farmhouse be a farmhouse, and let your colonial be a colonial; but don’t try to turn your tudor, Victorian, or Spanish-style into a farmhouse. I don’t think houses should be turned into something they’re not. This is just my opinion. In my soul and in the soul of your home, I believe that what the house wants is originality and improvement. There’s a lot of life that’s been lived between those four walls. I want to honor that.

There are two spaces in my home which have been in dire need of renovation since we moved in. A main floor bathroom and the kitchen have been the bane of my existence for years. Both of these spaces were not as functional as they needed to be and each were in desperate need of updating. This year is the year those changes are going to happen. I started with the bathroom, as I knew it would be the easiest and the quickest. There is an instant gratification you get during a home renovating that can be addictive. To see a room go from its original state, to being completely stripped down to the bare bones, and then building back a room more beautiful than you ever imagined possible is an amazing experience. It really is a journey you see your living space going through.

Before and after pics of main floor bathroom

The time in my life that this renovation has been taking place has been a particularly difficult season for me personally. This entire experience has been almost cathartic. The transformation of my home has proven healing for me in several ways. It’s practically impossible not to draw a spiritual connotation from the activities happening all around me.

The first few days of construction involve a lot of destruction of the old in your room to make way for the new. In Scripture, Isaiah 63:1 tells us that God will make beauty from ashes. He is capable of taking a mess and turning it into something lovely and meaningful. I was watching as this space that I’ve occupied for years is being completely stripped down to the studs to make way for a new foundation. I believe God has spent the last few months stripping me down, taking away everything that has made me comfortable and complacent, to make way for a new foundation in me. This home and I are both going through this renovation together. I can’t wait to see the final product- in each of us. I know my home will end up with spaces that are more lovely and purposeful than I could have ever imagined. I pray to find myself more lovely in His image and more purposeful for His kingdom as well.

During and after pics of main floor bathroom
Before and after of what was the bathtub and potty area
If it’s possible to love a faucet, I do
Much needed storage for bathroom
Vanity area in new bathroom

The Measure of a Man

Right off the bat, I realize the irony of this topic, considering that I (as the author) am a woman. So, let me begin this way- What does “being a man” mean to you? If you are a male reading this, I’m sure your answers would probably differ from mine a bit. If you are a female, you can certainly have an opinion, but it will be from an outside perspective. We all draw from personal experience, and while I can’t relate to being a man myself, I can share with you the responsibilities of a man. How could I possibly know this? Simple. Scripture. My answers will be Biblical ones. So, while you are free to disagree with any or all of this head-first dive into manhood, please know that it will not be with ME that you have your disagreement. I’m just repeating to you the words of my heavenly Father.

Let’s get back to the question at hand: What does being a man mean to you?

Sit with this question for just a second. Really think about it. What is the first thing that pops into your mind? Does it have to do with career? Family? Finances? Possessions? Being a man actually touches on each of those things, but I’d like to start at a more basic level. If you had asked me this question when I was a teenager, for example, I might have answered that a man was someone who could drive, possibly vote, and most likely held a job. As I entered into my 20s, my answer would have evolved a bit into concepts of responsibility and maturity. In my 30s, when I became a married woman and mother, my answer would more encompass the spiritual side of what a man should look like inside and out. Now, in my 50s, I’m noticing a resounding issue with the topic of being a man- I’m not sure that it’s being discussed or taught anymore. I’m noticing a shortage of what would be considered Godly men really standing up and leading how they are called to lead. It’s a concerning issue, especially considering the state of our world today. We need men. We need strong men. We need men who are listening to God, following what He instructs, and can lead us in wisdom. We need men protecting their families from both earthly and spiritual slings and arrows, and passing on the torch of this knowledge to their sons.

At one time, the church wasn’t like it is today. These days, “church” on a global scale has become a place to sing some songs, fellowship with others, hear a politically-correct/non-offensive/watered-down message, and then go grab Sunday lunch. The church of my childhood, and a few churches into my adulthood, were actually places of teaching and learning. Just as we are called to train up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6), so must men and women be taught what our responsibilities are from a Biblical perspective. Women, we can quickly turn to Proverbs 31 and find a pretty thorough description of what we are called to be in this life. You may have heard people talk about the “Proverbs 31” woman. There is a passage in there, however, that touches on men and has stuck out to me through the years. Proverbs 31:23 says this, “Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.” The New International Version translates that same verse to say this, “Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.” Did you catch that? Her husband is “known at the gates.” This doesn’t mean he was popular. Look at the translation of the word “known”. He was RESPECTED. That’s going to be our ground zero. A man must be respected. I ask you, how does one gain respect? They earn it.

According to scripture, men are called to be the priest, protector, and provider of their homes. Those are tremendous responsibilities that carry a lot of weight. Men, think about your responsibilities right now. What tasks for the day have you found yourself having to complete? How many of them have to do with what you are scripturally called to do? Have you been the priest of your home today? Have you prayed over your family? Have you prayed with them? Are you leading them by example in what a Godly husband and father should look like? Have you been the protector you are called to be? And friends, that doesn’t just mean you are protecting your family from criminals and wild animals. You are called to protect them on a spiritual level. We’ll get more into that. The most important role you have is that of being the spiritual covering (or head) of your household. Lastly, are you providing adequately for your family? Providing doesn’t just mean in a financial sense, either. Think about your wife (if you have one). Think about your children. Are you providing for them everything that they need from you to grow into the people God would have them to be in HIS will? Yes, there is a financial responsibility you carry, but what about your time? Are you giving them quality time with you? Are you spending time teaching them and getting to know about them and their own lives? Are you providing love? Are you providing encouragement and wisdom? Get honest with yourself. Are you? It’s heavy to think about, isn’t it? Good. It needs to be.

When I was a younger girl, just beginning to enter the dating world, my father would ask to meet with the young man who wanted to take me (or my sister) out on a date. We jokingly called this “the interview.” He would speak to the young men (typically at our home), talk to them to get to know them, and then he would ask if the young man knew Jesus. Bold? Yes. Necessary? Yes. You may be wondering why he would feel the need to do this. Easy answer- he was the spiritual covering of our home. He wasn’t going to send his daughters out into the world with just anyone. Truth is, if you are a Christian and you know and love Jesus, you shouldn’t be wasting your time dating people who are not. The Bible warns us about being unequally yolked with another. In my adult life, I’ve learned that this not only means a Christian shouldn’t be married to a non-Christian, but I believe it also has to do with your maturity levels in your spirituality and Christianity. Confused? Let me explain- if a “seasoned Christian” decides to marry a new Christian, there can be bumps along the road. The seasoned Christian may go into the relationship with expectations on a spiritual level that the new Christian may not even know about yet. It can be challenging. Choosing a marriage partner is not something that should be entered into lightly, and should include you both looking deeply into the hard issues. It goes way beyond “well, they love me” or “they are so nice to me”. Pay attention to any and all red flags. Women, is the man someone you can RESPECT? Men, is the woman someone you can LOVE more than yourself? When I think about the Gabby Petitos and the Laci Petersons of this world- I wonder how much of a difference having a father who was the spiritual leader/protector of the home would have made in their situations? As the spiritual covering of the home, God will give men discernment to weed out any harm or poor judgements which could befall your family.

As I’m writing this, I realize that I come at this topic from a perspective that not all women will be able to relate to. I come at it from the perspective of a single mother, divorced from a man who chose to leave me with 100% of the responsibility of my children (with the exception of his paying child support), the moment he walked out of our home. Time has passed and some things have changed, and I’ll happily share those later. It’s taken years for the Lord to restore what the devil tried to use for destruction. For the purposes of this writing, I am speaking with you about my experience as a woman who was forced to shoulder the scriptural responsibility of a man, and the number of years that it overwhelmed, saddened, exhausted, and angered me. It’s been over 10 years now, and the ripples are still in full effect. We’ve both had a lot of growing up to do.

Without any formal discussion or consultation whatsoever, and in addition to my old life coming to a screeching halt, one of the unforeseen aspects of my divorce was that I was made to carry the sole responsibility of the spiritual well-being of my children. I want to make it clear that I don’t begrudge exposing my children to God and spiritual situations through church, camps, Bible studies, etc. I have always considered it imperative for my children to have a personal relationship with Jesus. It is hands down the most important aspect of my own life. No, I don’t begrudge that at all. What I DO get aggravated by is that I was forced to do this part of life alone. I knew that if my children were going to have ANY exposure to the church and all that it encompasses, it would be up to ME to do it. He and I have talked about this issue over the years. It just is what it is. There’s been no male in my house rounding everyone up for church on a Sunday ever. I’ve never had that experience since I was a teenager living at home with my own father. No, that’s not been my adult experience at all. If we’ve been to church as a family, it’s because I’ve taken us to church.

I remember being so emotionally exhausted one Sunday and having driven to Kingsport to attend a HUGE church that my kids and I had heard about. My take on church is this- I know it is important and when I go to church, I really want to know I’ve BEEN to church, you know? I mean, the kind of church where the Holy Spirit greets you at the door and sits beside you in the service. I want to go to church where Jesus goes to church. Get it? Christ Fellowship is one of those churches. Anyway, this particular Sunday, the pastor spoke about the biblical responsibilities of husbands and fathers. I cried through the majority of his 45 minute sermon. I was sad and furious. I was defeated and so very tired. At the end of his talk he spoke specifically to single mothers. He said that if the man in our life who should be the spiritual covering in our home was no longer around to fulfill that role, that this was the time Jesus would step in and fill that role for us. He told me that I didn’t have to do it alone- it would be me and Jesus. Hearing that helped me. It healed me.

I know I’m not alone. I feel certain there are many, many women- married or not- who feel they carry some (if not most or even all) of the spiritual covering for their household. This is NOT how God designed the family structure to be. It should look like this… CHRIST—–>HUSBAND—–>WIFE—–>CHILDREN. I’ve heard it presented as an umbrella model. We all fall under the spiritual umbrella of Christ, but the husband is the first spiritual covering (directly under God) and he covers the wife and children. If the husband steps out of the equation, literally or figuratively, your whole family structure is out of sync. Men, you are to lead your family spiritually. It is YOU who are told to do that. In 1 Corinthians 11:3 it says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” The Bible also says in Ephesians 5:25 that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Men are also instructed to loved their wives as they love themselves. Ephesians 5:33 says that wives are to respect their husbands. Husbands are instructed to love and wives are instructed to respect. Interesting.

So, what must a man do to have the respect of his wife? How would you answer that question? If I were a betting gal, I’d bet that men and women would answer this question very differently. I’d be interested to hear how the men would reply. I feel that most of them would have some financial component at the very top of the list. As a woman, I can tell you from my experience that in order for a husband to have his wife’s respect he must strive to do the following-

  • Be honest
  • Be hard-working
  • Be a man of integrity
  • Be a man of good character
  • Have goals
  • Be kind
  • Be strong
  • Lead the family towards God
  • Make her feel safe
  • Let her know you love her more than you love yourself

If you can achieve all of the above, then everything else should fall into place. You will have created a Godly, strong foundation for your family, your household. In it will be found security and respect and love.

Let’s face it, men who aren’t stepping up to their responsibilities are either doing so out of fear, out of selfishness, or out of lack of information. Truth is, there are few things less attractive than a man who puts himself before his family. That level of selfishness is hard to overlook. It bleeds into every other aspect of your life as a women. As a woman, your thought process goes something like this- “He doesn’t even love us. He doesn’t even care about us. He only cares about himself.” This, my friends, is not BEING RESPECTED AT THE CITY GATES. No woman wants to admit that about her husband. “Hi, I’d like you to meet my husband, he puts his needs and wants ahead of our whole family. Isn’t that wonderful?!” It’s relationship poison. This behavior will eat your marital relationship alive from the inside out. It will damage your children and leave them questioning why you didn’t care about them. The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” Being a man means thinking like a man. Life is no longer about what’s best for YOU- that is childish thinking. Life, as a man, is now about what’s best for your family.

I found out through my own experience that divorce looks very different for men than it does for women. Usually (not always, but yes, usually) the child or children stay with the wife and the husband is then free to begin his life as a bachelor again. While the man is out living it up in every sense of the word, the wife is left shouldering the responsibility of not only being mom now, but mom AND dad. I can tell you it’s overwhelming. If your ex-wife seems a little bitter towards you, I would encourage you to have an honest talk with yourself- did you DUMP the reality of life, including the responsibility of your children, on her to navigate completely alone while you are out and about living foot loose and fancy free? Because if you did, yeah, I get her bitterness. You may want to pray about this, and if you feel so inclined, ask her forgiveness. It’s amazing how healing forgiveness can be.

Now, before the citizens of my village show up in my front yard screaming and burning torches (Frankenstein reference), please let me say this- I know the situation above is not indicative of every divorce. I have met a number of amazing men who have taken their children out of potentially dangerous situations and worn the hat of both dad and mom while caring for their kids. My hat is off to them, truly. THAT is a man of great integrity. THAT is what good character looks like. I applaud them. I also know there are adults who really get it and both parents stay involved and active in their children’s lives even though the family unit has been fractured. I’m always impressed when I hear about these. It took us many, many years to get close to this. We still have some work to do, but we are probably the best we’ve ever been (10 years later). Just for the record, divorce is horrible. It is selfish, it is damaging, and the consequences can be felt for a lifetime. I want to also acknowledge the men who are in an intact family and are doing the job they are called to do. I have the utmost respect for each of you. Thank you.

I started this whole blog with a question- What does being a man mean to you? I can promise you that it’s certainly not what the world will tell you. It doesn’t matter about your looks, or how good you are in bed, or even what type of car you drive. Men were created for a much higher calling. Your calling is one that women weren’t designed for. Women can certainly do many things, but they can’t fulfill the role that God intended specifically for men.

Men, there is so much more I could share, but for now I want to challenge you. Want to know what being a man REALLY means? Get into the Word. Read for yourself what God says you should be doing. Don’t take my word for it. Read His plan for your life. The best thing you will ever do for yourself and your family is to draw closer to God and push HARD into Him through your life journey. Be a good example for your children. Be involved with them. ACTIVELY parent, not just through the phone or for 15 minutes at home each evening. Teach your sons what it means to be a real man. Pray for and with your family. Love your wife. Make her feel safe and cared for. Be a man your wife and children can respect. Be a leader in your community. Be a leader in your church. Step up to the divine calling you’ve been given of being the spiritual head of your home. God reserved that honor strictly for you. It is not to be taken lightly. You were created for this very purpose.

On Family Loyalty

If there is anyone you should be able to trust to always have your back, it should be your family, right? What happens when that isn’t necessarily the case? Based upon several conversations I’ve had lately with a few different friends, I feel this is a topic worth discussing.

If you are one of the fortunate who has never had first-hand experience with this situation, then I envy you. It changes how you look at things… how you view the world. It sort of shakes your foundation a bit. What happens when some person wrongs you in some way, and your family doesn’t acknowledge it? What about when it’s your family at the source of your hurt? What then? I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned in my 50 trips around the sun thus far…

I firmly believe we all have a right to expect our family to be loyal to us. We are related, some by blood/some by marriage, and there is a responsibility that comes along with that, whether it be spoken aloud or not. I mean, if the people who are a part of your life’s history don’t care enough to treat your feelings with kindness, then how can we expect loyalty from anyone else? I firmly believe one’s loyalty speaks a tremendous amount to the person’s character. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’m okay with quietly removing from my life those with weak foundations in the area of loyalty. I don’t need it. I want to be surrounded in my life with people I know will be here for the long haul. If you can’t make the trip, I’m not even mad; but I don’t want you along for the ride anymore. I’ll love you still, as this is what my Heavenly Father instructs me to do, but I’m going to do it from a distance. Once I’ve seen your true colors (that disloyalty), I don’t have time for it. Sound harsh? Then be loyal.

You want to know what I believe to be one of the truest tests of a person’s loyalty? There are two tests, actually. Either go through a divorce, or have a death in the family. See how the people around you act. Some folks literally lose their minds during these events. I’ve seen deceit, deception, theft, and outright lying take place by people I thought I knew. These times have been eye opening to say the least. Some of these actions will change the course of your life. Your path will move a little further away, as you want to get out of way of what you see as confusion and betrayal. I’ve heard similar stories shared with me time and time again from people I know. It’s unfortunate that such a sad time brings out such ugliness in some people.

Watch was happens to a family when a will is involved. There are vultures that come out of the woodwork. They can’t get enough of “things” that aren’t theirs. Fortunately for me, “things” have never been of much importance. They won’t end up where I’m going. Pay close attention to the last requests of your loved ones and see if those are honored after their passing. It can be very eye-opening. I choose to stay quiet, rather than speak up, and just trust that God knows the truth of everyone’s heart, and He will take care of injustices. I don’t have to. All I have to do is watch, listen, learn my lesson, and then make my decisions.

What if someone hurts you, and your family doesn’t support you as you feel they should? I’ve had years to think about this one. Let me tell you what I think… I think, first, that the family or friends around you didn’t experience the same hurt that you did, and therefore, they can’t relate to depths of the hurt that you feel. That being said, I think that anyone with an ounce of sensitivity should understand that when one in their group (family, friends) is hurt, you should circle the wagons and offer support to that hurt person.

Let me give you a scenario… if a mother bear’s cub is injured by wolf, the mother bear is going to protect her cub anytime that wolf comes around. She is going to position that cub in an environment, so that the wolf has no access to the cub. Let me tell you what she wouldn’t do- she wouldn’t befriend the wolf and pretend as if nothing had happened. She wouldn’t talk about the wolf and try to convince the cub of why it should be friendly towards the wolf. If someone has injured you in life (physically, emotionally) those loyal to you should have your back. True, the person at fault didn’t hurt your friends or family personally, but they have hurt or wronged YOU, so what’s the disconnect? Loyalty. I’m working very hard as I’m typing this to keep from giving specific details of specific examples, but I won’t. Let’s just say that when you realize who in your camp is still hanging out with your wolves, even after the havoc that wolf ravaged in your life, well, again… no time for it. They are welcome to hang out with that danger, but don’t act surprised when the relationship changes. It’s inevitable. The choice was made for you.

Family disloyalty can be a tough hurdle to overcome. Unless you cut all contact completely, there will be the occasional family dinner, wedding, funeral where you will still be confronted with and reminded of the situation. The older you become, the less you’ll be bothered by it. I promise. It’s freeing to get to a place of weeding out your life to make room for those God wants to be there. Surround yourself with those who will circle their wagons and protect you from the wolves, not turn their backs and throw you to them.

Pace Car

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do something fun with my daughter. She will be turning 16 in one month, and will be needing something to drive both to and from school. Since she was a little girl, she has always said she wanted a blue car. That’s always been her favorite car color. After some months of talking and searching, we found her “dream” car! It is a 2010 VW Bug Convertible (final edition). It’s a cute car, and looks exactly like what she would drive. Ava is a good child. She’s respectful and obedient. She studies hard, has always made good grades, and is in Beta Club. She loves her friends and family. She is a Christian and loves Jesus. I’m proud of her, and I was happy to be able to get her the car she wanted. We discussed that had she been some rebellious teen, she would most likely have been given the privilege of driving something much less desirable and cheaper. She’s earned this.

Her dream car, however, came with a catch- it was located at a dealership in Ohio. That’s about four and a half hours away from us. Not too far, but definitely an all-day commitment to get to once you factor in stops. We drove up last weekend to see it in person, and to test drive it. It runs like a dream. She knew that was the car she wanted. So, this weekend, my mother and I took her to Ohio to pick up the car. Everything went smoothly. Ava had her car, and then it was time to drive home. I doubted she would want to drive the full four and a half hours back, but I wanted this day to be special for her, so whatever she wanted to do, that would be the plan. We decided that my mom would ride with Ava in the new car, and I would lead us back home, since I’ve already made the drive (3 times by that point). We take off.

As we were pulling out of the parking lot at the dealership, it began to rain (of course). I was a little nervous for her to drive in it, since we were in a completely new place with pretty heavy traffic, so we stopped at a store and for gas. By the time we were ready to hit the road, the rain had subsided. As we headed out on our journey, my child in my rear view mirror- looking so grown up driving her new car- I had so many thoughts. The first emotion, if I’m being honest, was a little tinge of sadness. How are we already here? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was popping that paci in and out of her little baby mouth, and cracking up each time she did it? Didn’t she just learn how to ride a bicycle in the parking lot of the First Baptist Church? Hadn’t we just started our first day of school? Actually, the last one is accurate. We had. Except this time we had just started our first day of tenth grade. How are we here already?

The second emotion, though, was such pride. I’m so proud of who she is and what she’s done so far. It’s not been an easy journey to get here, but she’s so strong and incredibly resilient. She has met with some very grown up adversity in her almost 16 years, and has stared it right in the face. She’s a fighter. A fighter with purpose. I love her so much I think my heart could burst most days.

So, we’re now driving. As I pull out, I’m very conscientious about every move I’m making. I purposely stay in the very center of the lane as much as I can. I keep my speed at the speed limit, or maybe just a mile or two over, but never going so fast that I would risk losing her. I preplan every move I’m about to make. I avoided the right lane when traffic was merging, because I didn’t want her to have to deal with too much too soon. When we came upon construction, I put her in the lane that I felt would give her the most room and make her feel the least constricted. I became her pace car. For those of you not living in Eastern Tennessee, or who may not have any NASCAR racing reference point, a “pace car” is the car in front that leads the race cars to limit the speed before the start of green flag racing. Pace cars can serve also other purposes, such as serving as a place holder when a race car pulls in to pit or if there is a caution on the track. The pace car steps in to help the other cars. That was my job today. I was her pace car.

It made me think about her life, interestingly. Hasn’t that really been my job her whole life? Isn’t that our entire purpose as parents? We are pace cars for our children. We teach them to navigate the track of life. We are there to set the speed for clear paths, and to slow them down when there are situations to approach with caution. We can step in for them during those times we need to, but mostly we are making a smooth route for them, leading them to safety. It’s our very reason for being here at this stage of life. So, as Ava and I continued down the highway, me as her pace car, and her gaining confidence with every passing mile, my heart was both a little happy and a little sad. It’s hard to watch them become increasingly independent, but in reality, that’s what we are training them to do.

I had one a final realization- the pace car doesn’t travel with them through the entirety of the race. It doesn’t cross the finish line with them, and it doesn’t take part in the victory lap. Those are their moments to shine. The pace car fades into the background, but will be ready to step in when necessary for the next race.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to be her pace car.

Nobody’s Best Friend

I’m entering into a very interesting season of my life. One which, frankly, I never expected to find myself in, and yet- here we are. I’ve contemplated writing this blog before, but didn’t out of fear that people would view this as a plea for something… sympathy, I guess? But that’s not it. I don’t want sympathy. I’m just being introspective about a surprising phase of life. I figure if I’m experiencing it, perhaps others have too. Hear me out-

My first true and only best friend would have to be Tiffany Burkert in the 4th-6th grade. Don’t get me wrong, I had other friends before Tiffany, but she was the first I could claim as MY best friend. She was the first friend I didn’t have to equally share with another girl or even a group of other girls. She was my person. Looking back, there was a lot of comfort in that. Having that one, go-to person for every part of life comes with an incredible sense of peace. There was no competition, no struggle. We were best friends and it was simple.

For most of my life both before and after Tiffany, I always seem to find myself in female friend groups of three (or more). My childhood best friends- Dawn and Courtney- were friends with one another before I came into the picture. I was an innocent “intruder” into that relationship. They welcomed me, and always made me feel like I was loved and accepted, but subconsciously I always knew they were there first. I had to respect that dynamic of the friend bond. I don’t like the phrase “third wheel” but right now I can’t come up with another term that expresses that idea adequately. That was me. Third wheel.

In high school, for a brief moment, I found my next best friend. I won’t mention her name. We are friends on social media, and truthfully, I doubt she ever even realized that the experience I’m about to describe happened the way it did. In the 8th grade, things were moving along normally and I was having a perfectly enjoyable year at school. I am one of those odd people who LOVED school! I’d go back to high school in a heartbeat if ever given the chance! Most of my memories were extremely happy ones. This one, though, not so much. My grandmother died that year, and Jess and I were quickly pulled out of class, and hustled down to the office. We were told what had happened and were immediately swept up by our parents to head to TN for the funeral. By the time we returned back to AR, my best friend had taken up with another friend group. I, in essence, had been dumped. She now had a new best friend- a few of them. I was heartbroken. I lost my grandmother, and immediately thereafter, my best friend. It hurt. I don’t blame her, please understand, and I realize that in high school, my absence of a few days probably felt like much longer. I’m sure she needed to find a place to position herself. High school can be hard to maneuver when you feel like you’re alone. I get it. Still, it hurt.

In my AR college, I spent most of my time with three girls I adored. TracEy, Stacey, and Robbin were so much fun! Oddly though, these relationships didn’t necessarily overlap one another in the group. Some of us were closer than others of us, although we all knew each other. I’m not sure that at that time we claimed “best friend” status. It’s like we were all best friends in our own way. Three of us had know each other a longer, but so many fun memories were made, and still are on precious, rare occasions.

In my TN college, I would find the most amazing group of fun women. There were five of us, and we did everything together. We’ve been in each other’s weddings, attended funerals, been present for births, and losses… this situation has proven itself to be different from the rest. I think, now, that it’s because there were no claims staked when these relationships were formed. It wasn’t a pairing off of “these two are best friends” and “those two are best friends”, it was just all of us together. This friend group has endured from its inception, and only strengthens the older we get. Those girls know they are invaluable to me. Any one of us would stop dead in our tracks to help the other at any given moment. Again, there is so much peace that comes with that knowledge… with truly finding your tribe.

My female relationships in adulthood have become more complex. I’m 49 years old, and I don’t have a non-blood related best friend. If I had to categorize any of my friendships, Jessica would be my built-in best friend. She has been since her birth, and I thank God that He sent me her as a companion for life. We may be friends by default, but I think even if we hadn’t been related, we would still love each other and be friends. I know I would.

The women God has put in my adult life are wonderful, Christian wives and mothers. Each of them, I guess because of our move here in the early 90s, have come into my life with built-in best friends already in place. Enter Amanda, again, the innocent intruder. Truth is, up until recently I’ve been fine with this dynamic. I’m used to it. I have lots of friends. That should be enough, right? We will share our time together- spend time in this friendship- and then thanks to the miracle of modern technology and social media, I get to be inundated by pictures of them with their true best friends, posting lovely tributes to one another, and never failing to leave out the words “bestie” or “BFF” in their descriptions. I finally had to come to terms with something this week. Not every friendship is meant to last. Not every friendship runs as deeply as you think it does. Not everyone that you would run to in a moment of need would do the same for you. That’s just a fact.

If you’ve never been the “outskirt friend” you probably have no idea what I’m referring to. Be thankful. It’s the adult version of not being invited to someone’s birthday party in elementary school. I truly believe social media intensified these things. Without it, we wouldn’t see the pictures or read the constant comments that seem to be put out there daily.

By this time in my writing, even I am saying, “Feel sorry for yourself much?!” But, it’s truth. It’s how I feel and how I perceive this. It hurts. Maybe just remember, when you have friends, even if she isn’t categorized as your “bestie”, being excluded doesn’t feel good, regardless of your age. Maybe let’s say, hypothetically, you’ve been through a traumatic weekend and you wonder where your “friends” are during their radio silence. It’s definitely been an eye opener.

I’ve talked to God about this. Maybe in my past, I’ve not been a good friend to someone. Perhaps, I dropped the ball when I needed to do more for a friend. Maybe that hurt friend was YOU. If it was you that I let down, please forgive me. I’m so sorry if I disappointed, hurt, or ignored you. I can promise you it wasn’t intentional. Just thoughtlessness. That’s still no excuse. I apologize if I wasn’t a good friend to you.

Anyway, I’m learning that God is drastically shifting the landscape of my life. He likes to shake things up with me. Always has. He likes to keep me awake and on my toes. Whatever it is that He needs me to learn now, I’ll be quiet after this public confession, and pray that I learn it. He wants to be our best friend. I’ll gladly let Him have that role.

My Jerimiah

I’ve never written a blog quite like this, and if I’m being honest, I’m doing it with a bit of trepidation that people may think I’m off my rocker. That’s ok, though. I believe God gives me experiences and wants me to write about them. This is one such experience.

In July of this year, I had something happen that was unlike anything I’ve ever been through. I saw a video, that perhaps you also saw, from a news station in another state. It was an interview that had been done with a 10-year-old boy from Oklahoma living in foster care. His name is Jerimiah. That’s the correct spelling. I’ve done my research.

I’ve worked for many years, in many different capacities with children. I’ve been a mental health worker, a case manager for teens, I’ve taught Sunday school classes, VBS, worked in nurseries, been a babysitter, the director of our county family resource center, a teacher’s assistant, a certified teacher, and most importantly… a mother. Other than with my own children, I’ve never felt a stronger connection with a child than I did when I saw and listened to Jerimiah’s story. In an instant, I felt a bond which can only be described as spiritual. In my heart, I knew I wanted to have this boy come live with us. I’d never even given foster care or adoption a second of thought before this. Now, it practically consumed me.

I watched his video several times, as painful as it was for me. He was bright and articulate. He reminded me of children I already loved. He mentioned some of the hard times he was having in his group home, and I knew without a doubt that I had to start moving on this. Immediately. My heart aches for him. I was a little shocked myself at the urgency I felt, but God impressed upon my heart to do something. I had to.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that if I’m passionate about something, I do it 110%. Triple that amount if it’s for children. Perhaps you’ve not heard the story of the time I went to the State of TN Department of Education over an experience I was having with one of Eli’s early classroom experiences at school. I’ll save that for later. You go as far as you have to go when it comes to your kids. We are their protectors. I wanted to find out what I needed to do to help Jerimiah.

I immediately dialed the contact number which was listed below the link to the news clip. I got a voice mail. It was July 5, and I understood that people may be on vacation. This wasn’t going to be good enough for me, though. Patience is not one of my strongest virtues. I really felt a pulling at my heartstrings that time was of the essence for this little boy. I know how bizarre it sounds, but I felt like someone that “belonged” to me was living in Oklahoma, and I needed to get him here as soon as possible. I had a connection to Jerimiah. The tears just flowed, even though I didn’t fully understand why. I just loved him. I had to help him.

So, I put on my detective cap, and not wanting to wait for a returned phone call from the contact number, I contacted the news station which first ran the story. I actually contacted the wrong station with the same call letters, but in another state. An employee there was kind enough to point me in the right direction. I finally reached the bubbly blonde reporter who had interviewed Jerimiah for the piece. I asked her what steps I needed to follow to get information about this child and/or to pursue fostering or adopting him. She immediately responded by giving my a hotline number for Oklahoma Department of Children’s Services. I thanked her and called the number. I was asked to leave a message with my personal info, and was told my call would be returned.

I waited. It was grueling. I cried each time I thought of Jerimiah. Then, I would just begin praying for him. I prayed for protection over this sweet child. I prayed for healing for the difficult things he may have gone through in his life. I prayed that God would place him in a home with people who would love him and treat him kindly. Finally, I selfishly prayed that God would let that home be MY home.

After a few days- all the while I’m still calling the original contact number and leaving messages- I received a call back from Oklahoma DCS. A very nice woman on the other end asks if I’ve inquired about Jerimiah. I said I had. I told her a little about me, and held back tears as I explained that I wanted to make sure he was okay and ended up in a good home. I told her that his story was so moving I was sure they’d had many inquiries about him. She said part of the reason it had taken three days to get back to me was that, at that time, they had over 4,000 calls about this boy. That made me happy, but also a little fearful. I realized it would be a long shot for an out-of-state family to get custody of him. I was certain there were wonderful people with nice homes much closer than mine, but I knew deep down, there was no way they would love him like I already felt I did.

She asked if I had already been through foster parent training in my state, and I told her that I had not. Panic starts to set in. I feel like this set back may put my chances even further behind now. Surely, there were other people inquiring who HAD already been approved for fostering. How long would it take me to get trained and approved? She stated that these things can take months. I’d have to contact my local DCS, get into the parenting classes, participate in a home study, and THEN if I was approved, I could call them back. I think she could sense my disappointment, and told me again to call her back just as soon as I’d met those requirements. I thanked her for her time.

It’s difficult to explain, but in the background of all of this activity of finding and discovering Jerimiah, I knew Jesus was there. He put a drive in me to pursue this, and I couldn’t shake it. This process involved days of waiting on phone calls, and worrying how he was doing in his foster home each day. Some days my heart hurt so badly over this, that I prayed God would take this from me. I feel bad even admitting that. I just wanted the aching to stop. It was excruciating some days. When my own family sat down at the table together to have meals, I felt a little guilt. I wondered what he had eaten that night. I wondered if people in the foster home were being kind to him. I just prayed each time his name crossed my mind. The truth is, it never left it.

It bears mentioning that eventually I did go to my immediate family and closest friends about this. My circle love me. They know I listen to God, but I’m sure they’d all agree that I can be an emotional being at times… most times. Those closest to me listened to me explain, and graciously said that if God had a plan for my life, He would fulfill it. They were supportive, even if honestly deep down they didn’t understand. Jeff was an angel. He didn’t really get it, and I’m sure part of him hoped this would be a passing phase, but he showed me that he loved me in his support of me. That’s all I needed.

The next few weeks involved messages and returned phone calls to local DCS workers and people in Nashville. I wrote Jerimiah a letter during this time after I was given an “in care of” contact address for him by one of the seemingly hundreds of helpful case workers I spoke with on this quest. I bragged to him about what an exceptional young man he was. I talked to him about books he may enjoy, because in his news clip he said he enjoyed reading. I told him that everything he mentioned wanting in a family, MY family could happily provide for him. I closed by telling him that I didn’t know the outcome of all of this, but that I’d pursue everything I had to in order to make clear the way for him to come here if that’s what God planned. Finally, I told him I wanted him to know that there was a woman in Tennessee who was praying for him everyday. I mailed the letter. Truth is, I have no idea if he ever actually received it, but I hope he did. It made me happy feeling like I had some tiny line of connection to him.

Over the next month, I got signed up for foster care classes. A local church was sponsoring a meeting for perspective foster parents one Sunday afternoon. I drove to the location, a place I’d never been, and got out to attend a meeting with people I’d never met. Even on my drive over I was thinking to myself, “What are you doing? You’re a teacher, and children cost money.” Between Jeff and I we have four children already. I just couldn’t let it go. This child in Oklahoma had a need that I could meet, and what kept creeping into my mind was, “so why wouldn’t I meet that need?” I attended the meeting, and told them frankly about my situation. I explained that while I understood fully that there are children in TN who have needs for fostering, it was THIS child that God placed on my heart. I was pursuing this for him. The process was explained in more detail, and I left the meeting with a couple of brochures and peace that I had done what God wanted of me.

As a side note, I should tell you that foster care classes don’t happen every day. There is a schedule and you find the dates/county that works best for you and you attend. They last several weeks, and then you have to participate in a home study. Sometimes people are required to pay for those out of their own pockets, and other times I believe the agency will foot the bill. I was told it could be expensive. I didn’t care. I’d do whatever it took.

Then one day, I decided I wanted to know more about Jerimiah than just what I’d learned from his video clip. I googled foster care in Oklahoma, and was thrilled when I found a website that had a photo gallery of children in Oklahoma who were available for adoption. It was a little heartbreaking because, at the risk of offending and I truly don’t mean to, it reminded me of websites one might go on to select a pet. I love the concept of seeing each of these little ones and reading their biographies, but the reality sitting there looking you right in the face was very painful. Each of these sweet babies need a home. They just want stability and a family to call their own. I felt a hard pressure pressing down on my chest. The tears begin again. How many times do we take for granted all that we have? How many times do we take our children, or our parents, or our homes for granted? Not everyone has that. We should remember, and count our blessings. More importantly, we should pray for those who don’t.

As I narrowed my search by age group, I found him. It was Jerimiah S. I now knew that his last name begins with “S”. It made me smile. Then, I look down and my heart began to sink. Underneath his name, across a banner, are the words, “unavailable”. I had no idea what that meant and I had to know immediately! I email the owner of the video gallery website. He tells me that Jerimiah is currently visiting with a family for potential adoption. I felt the strangest combination of emotions. I was devastated. My Jerimiah was probably going to be going to another family. But I already loved him. How could this be? Why would God have even put this on my heart if this was to be the outcome? My heart shattered into a million pieces. Again, I just began to pray, and God did the most amazing thing…

He humbled me and showed me that my disappointment should instead be rejoicing, because if I truly loved Jerimiah I would want him to be out of that foster home and with a loving family. That was exactly what God had done. It just wasn’t done the way I wanted… in MY home… with MY family. Next, He brought to mind the story of Abraham in Genesis 22, when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham was tormented over this, but was obedient, and followed God’s instruction. At the last moment the Lord sent an angel to stop Abraham from killing his child. I got it now. I understood. I firmly believe that God just wanted to see if I’d be obedient to Him. Would I be willing to do what it took to help Jerimiah in any way that I could? He wanted me, for whatever reason- this woman in Tennessee, to love this boy in Oklahoma, and to cover him in prayer each time his precious name came to mind. I did just that.

I still pray for Jerimiah each time I think of him. I pray for his new family that God will bless them, and keep Jerimiah safe, loved and protected. I’d love to one day in the future have the opportunity to meet this incredible young man. I’d just like to hug him, and tell him that although he has no idea, he has made a tremendous impact on my life. I’ve prayed for him since July 5. I will continue to do so. I will also continue to listen to that sometimes quiet voice of God, even when it hurts my heart just a little.

Click link to view Jerimiah’s story:

“I’ll do anything for them,” Kind 10-year-old wishing for a home, family

A Mother’s Heart

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged, and there’s reason for that. Writing is my therapy. Those who have known me for years know that it is what I do. It is one of my greatest passions. However, being that a passion (by very definition) implies that one is passionate about something, there can be times when life presses down too hard, making it difficult to write. This is one such time. I’m fighting that feeling which is currently coursing through my veins, however, because in the midst of having the breath knocked out of me, a battle cry is slowly rising up from the inside.

Motherhood. It’s one of the greatest gifts, and yet most terrifying experiences I’ve ever known as a woman. I can remember from childhood praying that God would one day allow me to be a mother. That prayer was realized and then came to an abrupt halt in the form of a miscarriage in 2002. I won’t talk much about that now. It’s still painful, but I wrote about that sweet angel baby many years ago. I still remember.

My two children now, Ava and Eli, are the greatest blessings of my lifetime. They are my proudest work. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do for each of them. Mothers were designed by God to contain this all-consuming, innate laser vision when it comes to our children. We are fiercely protective. If we sense danger, it is immediate that we circle the wagons, and do whatever it takes to protect our own.

Sometimes, we are circling the wagons against cruelty. Sometimes it’s the wrong friends, or perhaps injustice. Other times, we may be shielding them from behaviors which are potentially dangerous to them. My battle, as of late, has been a non-stop, exhausting circling of the wagons to try to shield them from one thing- this sinful world and the false teachings that are fed to them DAILY through society, music, television, social media, the news, etc.- that anything you want to do is okay… it’s ALL FINE. There is no moral compass anymore, that I can see; and as a parent that is horrifying to me.

Let me give you an example. As a teenager, I surrounded myself with people whom I shared commonalities with in life. Maybe we went to the same church, or perhaps we liked the same type of music. There was one underlying thread, however. As a Christian, the people I held nearest and dearest to me were also Christians. We were taught from a young age that, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I valued my friendships so very much. I loved knowing that I had people in my life who loved me unconditionally, and who wouldn’t hesitate to reel me back in if ever I started to travel down a path which could have led to destruction. THAT was true friendship to me. People who weren’t afraid to tell me what I was doing may not be the best thing for me. I knew their message was coming from a place of love, and not from a place of repression. Yes, we all make mistakes. Yes, hopefully, we learn from those mistakes. Yes, we are called by God to love everyone, and not to judge. However, the Bible doesn’t stop there. It wasn’t written by a group of weak individuals who were afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings. It is the written Word of God, and it is Truth. You can’t sugarcoat it. You can’t pick out only the parts that line up with your lifestyle. You can’t look for loopholes. It is very clear in what is right and what is wrong. Sin is sin. Period.

It frightens me that so much sin in today’s world is mainstrain and accepted. Heaven forbid that we DARE to take a stand against something that scripture clearly tells us is wrong. We might be chastised. Worse yet, we might not be part of the “cool group” if we speak up, so guess what?… we aren’t speaking up. Not anymore. Not churches, not parents, and certainly not kids. Why would they? They’ve never seen it being done.

I won’t turn this blog political, but you can see what’s taken place in this country just looking the time of the end of Obama’s presidency to the current Trump term. This country is practically unrecognizable to me. There is no respect for authority- the President, the police, teachers, parents, etc. I truly feel that Satan is having a party in the good ole’ USA, and our children are his targets. They are young and impressionable. They are easy prey. Children are just that… children. They aren’t developmentally capable of thinking as adults. We can’t expect them to. They don’t fully understand long-term consequences of short-term decisions.

I had a young adult, early 20’s, not too long ago attempt to “educate” me on how unfair it was that I checked my children’s phones. They said this was a tremendous invasion of my children’s privacy. I’d like to share a few things on the subject…

First, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my kids. Parents, if you AREN’T checking your children’s devices regularly, you may want to seriously reconsider. Giving a child a smartphone is giving them a direct gateway into the world. Look around. The world is a scary place right now. There is easy access to porn, unbelievable things on YouTube, not to mention apps which encourage bullying and even suicide. I’m not making that up. Do your research. To think you can TRUST your CHILD enough that they won’t ever be tempted enough to dip a toe (or fully dive) into this evil is naive. Don’t be naive. There are friends on my FB page who will probably read this, and not even know that right now I know things about their children that perhaps even they don’t. How? Because I check my children’s devices. My job as a parent is to protect my kids. My SPIRITUAL job as a parent is to ensure that they are seeking things which glorify God, and not this corrupt place we call Earth.

See, I don’t care if I make my kids mad. I don’t care if they don’t like their “privacy” invaded. What privacy? Privacy to hide things? Privacy to invite harm? I’m not their BFF. I’m their parent. There’s a big difference. I pay for those devices. I feed their little mouths. I clothe them, I drive them, and I make sure they have a roof over their heads. Again, because I love them, there is nothing I won’t do thank protect them. Would you put an infant alone in a room with a butcher knife and just HOPE that nothing bad happens? That child needs to be safeguarded.

Second, please teach your children, and I’m teaching mine, to be bold enough to take a stand against what is wrong. We can’t feed into this current trend of rearing children who will encourage one another in their sin out of fear that if they speak out, they will be outcast. Everything that makes you happy isn’t okay. “If it feels good, do it” is a foolish and dangerous life mantra. Sin isn’t okay. As Christians, we are called to be set apart from this world. If we live just as the world does, and if we act and talk just as the world does… well, where is Christ in us then?

Third, and finally, I’m so thankful for the brave souls that I do know who are parenting daily to make a difference in the lives of their children. This is not a task for the faint of heart. Parenting is a constant, daily task that we can’t put down just because we are weak, or tired, or even more honestly- because we are selfish, I think that selfishness, quite frankly, is 99% of the problem with the world today. Adults are so busy looking after their own desires that many children are being forced to raise themselves, and they can’t do that. Children aren’t parents.

My prayer for each person reading this is protection for our children, strength for our battles, and may God let us hear what we need to hear and see what we need to see when it come to our kids.

Circle those wagons, friends.

On the Days That I Just Can’t…

This has been one of those weeks. I think we’ve all had them. Those times when it feels your heart is beating so loudly you’re just certain that anyone standing within 10 feet can surely hear it. When it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest, and it’s difficult to even catch your breath. That has been my entire week. These chest-compressing, stressful days may be caused by work stress, or personal stress, or health stress, or relationship stress- take your pick of which stress, or could be a combination of some or perhaps even all of them. Anyway, it’s reminded me that regardless of how positive a person one tries to be, or how much one loves and trusts in the Lord, we all have those days of feeling like we just can’t. Can’t cope. Can’t think. Can’t function. Can’t make it. Can’t do it. Some days, maybe even can’t move. It’s paralyzing. Have you felt this? I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

I know the Scripture. I know there are numerous places I can go and find verses that tell me to call out to the Lord, trust in Him, lean into Him. I know I can pray. I do, often. I know He hears. There are days I wish I could reach out and physically touch Him. Would that make my faith stronger in these times of weakness? Is that why He sends us angels here on Earth that manifest themselves in the form of my family and friends? The same sweet, supportive family and friends who allow me to come to them and say, “I’m weak and I’m tired.” Family and friends who, without missing a beat, reply, “Then, let us carry you.”

This has been one of those weeks. I’m strong, but I’m weak. I’m a person who sees the good, but I’m so saddened by all the bad. I like to look at the bright side, but lately, so much darkness seems to be seeping in through the cracks. The world is tough. It’s a difficult path to navigate. Circumstances aren’t always fair, and they don’t always work out how we’d like. That’s life though, isn’t it? We aren’t promised an easy ride, but we are promised eternal life for the asking, and blessings for the receiving.

Just pray for me. If any of you are in need, I’ll gladly pray for you. This has been one of those weeks. But the beauty is, I know Hope is here, and joy is just around the corner. It always is. Our job is to hold on.

The Wedding Story

Most girls spend the months (or years) leading up to their wedding date furiously planning flowers, dresses, tuxedos, music, venues, themes, color schemes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, receptions, food, guests, invitations, and honeymoons. All I wanted was to be his wife. All those other details just seemed like white noise. Marrying him was truly my only focus. So much so, in fact, that the week leading up to the big day, my sister lovingly looked at me and said, “This really is just kind of a ‘by the seat of your pants’ kind of wedding, isn’t it?!” I’m sure my lack of planning made some a bit nervous, but I knew that with as smoothly as God has allowed each step we’d taken thus far to fall, this wedding wouldn’t be any different. Just one short year earlier, a 24-year hiatus from our college dating and any type of communication, had surprisingly coming to an halt. This relationship reignited quickly and urgently, and truthfully neither one of us quite knew what to do with it at the start.

He and I have both been pleasantly shocked and thankful at the direction this relationship quickly took. Within probably 2 weeks of us initially reconnecting, I said to him, “You’re totally going to marry me!” I just knew. Something in my spirit knew that neither of us would be satisfied with simply continuing a long distance dating relationship. Although I’m not sure he’d admit it, I’m certain that deep down this initially scared the pants off him. We went from, “Hi, Jeff, we’ve not spoken in 24 years. How are you doing?” to a very sudden, practically innate, discussion of where this relationship was going. It was just undeniable. I love our story. I love the grace God poured down upon us. It was truly a welcome, unexpected gift. Someday I’ll write our story in its completion, and include it in one place, but today isn’t that day.

When we knew that marriage was our next step, we started talking about how that would look. Would we just elope, and then tell everyone after the fact? We knew we wanted it quick, simple, inexpensive, and reflective of who we are. We quickly came to the realization that our two sweet mothers would most likely kill us if we tried to run off and do this alone. We knew our families were happy for us, and would want to be present for whatever type of ceremony we had. So, that much was decided. Parents definitely. Then, the children. If our children wanted to be present, and we hoped they would, we wanted them to be a part of the big day. I’m fortunate that I live in a small town, and I have a talented family. It was soon realized that my sister could be the photographer, while my brother in law could be the officiant. So now, we have my sis, her hubby, and of course her girls coming; so it was only fitting that we invite Jeff’s beautiful sisters as well. Our plan was never to make anyone feel excluded, while also realizing that an unintentional/intentional line would have to be drawn somewhere. Fifteen. Our attendance count was now fifteen.

Jeff had been looking for months for employment in TN, so he could move here and we could begin our lives together. The call came on Monday, January 8. He had been hired, and he would be starting work on January 22. We had much to do in a very short amount of time. Twelve days. It was agreed that we would get married in twelve days. We want to be married and living in our house together before he starts work. Now, I don’t know how many people have ever planned and pulled off a wedding in less than two weeks, but I must say, the whole thing pretty much went off without a hitch. As with all other things in the Jeff and Amanda story, I attribute that fact to one thing only. Fully Jesus. Jeff and I were listening to the will of God in our lives, and He was blessing us for it. Just as He had been doing all the months prior.

He and I discussed where would be a good place to get married. We talked about our house. Truth is, fitting fifteen people in the living room for a ceremony would have resembled a bunch of nicely dressed people packed in like commuters on a New York subway at rush hour, so we quickly scrapped that idea. We still wanted it to be a place that was meaningful to us. Then Jeff said, “What about your mom’s?” It was perfect. Of course, I love my mother’s home. Jeff had visited it when we dated back in college. It was a place I had spent much time during the past 27 years. Most importantly, it was last place I saw my father alive. I love that space. We asked Mom, and she was quick to agree. I told Carolynn that we wanted her to go to no extra trouble. I told her we would come to her house in the days before the wedding, and do all necessary cleaning/arranging. Before I was even off the phone with her from asking permission to get married in her house, that woman was painting baseboards in her living room. Truth.

I realized that with 15 people being present at our ceremony, and the time of day we would be holding the wedding (sometime between 3-4 p.m.), we would need to feed everyone. I wanted something light, because Jeff’s family had generously offered to take everyone to dinner at The General Morgan Inn in Greeneville after the wedding. So, I texted my sweet friend Mandy Royston from the middle of Walmart. Mandy and I had been friends for years. My daughter swam on her swim team. She consigned with me at Clothing Carousel. She used to have her own catering business. Her husband had been our preacher, and years ago, during a particularly difficult day I was having, Mandy told me that God had a special man out there for me. She told me I just needed to pray and be patient. I assured her that while I loved her tremendously, God most certainly did NOT have someone for me, because there weren’t any good men left. Mandy told me that day that she’d begin praying with me for God to move, and to bring “him” (whoever that was) to me. I appreciated her gesture, but I was certain I’d be an old woman with a hundred cats. I just wasn’t cut out for relationships. My track record wasn’t pretty. Now, at the time of this text from Walmart, Mandy knew that God had already brought Jeff into my life, and we’d already had our big cry of thankfulness over it when it first happened. So, today’s text was to ask her if she still catered. Mandy’s family had recently moved, and she had begun a new job. I wasn’t sure if she’d even have time. When I told her what it was for, she immediately called me, and said she’d be happy to do our food. I ordered some of her famous Mandy cupcakes- almond- and she agreed to do individual peanut butter pies for our guests. I was so grateful she agreed. At the end of our call, she told me that she was so happy that God had worked this out for my life, and she wanted the food from her to be her gift to me and Jeff. Any of you who know me will know that I immediately burst into tears in the middle of the deli section at Walmart. How was this even possible? God had completely provided our venue, our photographer, our officiant, and now our food. Just amazing.

In the next few days, we secured a marriage license, and began making lists of what still needed to be done. His family would arrive the Friday evening before the wedding. There was much to be done at the house to prepare. We’d invited Jeff’s sisters and children to stay at our house on Main Street, and my kids and I would make mom’s house our base camp for the weekend. We were off from school that Monday for MLK day, but I was scheduled to work the rest of the week. I did put in to be off that Friday to get final touches ready for our guest before they arrived. Then, just as perfectly scripted by God as ALL the rest of everything has been, our town has below freezing temperatures and snowfall which was enough to allow for school to be canceled for the entire week. Jeff and I were not only able to get ready for our company, we were able to integrate his furniture and things into the house, clean everything we could get our hands on, and organize everything down to the bathroom drawers. We were ready!

Everything was ticking along perfectly, and then- as life sometimes goes- a problem snuck up on us. The water pressure in the downstairs shower had recently become nonexistent. We’d have to have the issue fixed before his family came into town. Five people trying to get ready with only one functioning shower would be a bit tricky, so I started by calling the water department. The sweet gal on the other end of the line informed me that they’d noticed a jump in my water usage. I asked her how big a jump. She informed me that in a typical month my household uses somewhere around 3,000 gallons of water. She said that for this month ALONE, we were sitting in the range of about 66,000 gallons!!!! Holy WHAT?!?! These are those moments in life where you have mere seconds to make a choice about how you will react to something. I was certain the top of my head was going to blow off! We’d basically used enough water to fill several swimming pools full in less than a month’s time. All I could hear in my mind was the cha-ching of dollar signs floating over my head. Ugh. Then, I remembered, God has been so gracious and good to me through everything, this had to be the devil trying to rain on my parade. It was a 66,000 gallon rain, but nonetheless… I wasn’t going to give him the victory of stealing my joy. No way! So, I thanked the lady on the phone, she offered to send someone out to reread our meter, and we hung up. To make a long story short(ish), both the water department guy AND a plumber came out, and told us that it was going to be “bad.” There was no standing water inside the house, nor in the basement, nor anywhere outside that we could see. That most likely during the recent freezes, a pipe had burst underground, and the driveway AND yard would have to be dug up to find/fix the problem. I was expecting six of Jeff’s family members at my house in two days. We were getting married in three days. NO WAY could we have this level of destruction happening at this house. Still, we tried to stay positive. I went into the house. A short time later, Jeff walks into the house, and he’s beaming! He and the plumber had discovered a secret room underneath the front porch that I never even knew existed! It was in this hidden space that a two foot section of PVC pipe had sprung a leak, and was the root of our problem! Our major problem and yard-gutting situation turned into a $175 problem which was fixed in less than an hour. Total God moment. Without a doubt. Crisis averted.

When Friday finally arrived, Jeff and I were so excited to see his family! His sisters and children had traveled from Virginia, and his parents had driven up from Florida. We had dinner at our house, and my family and his all had the opportunity to meet one another for the first time. It was a special night. Everyone instantly got along, there was talking and laughter nonstop for several hours. Then, everyone said goodnight, and we all got ready for bed. Tomorrow was the big day!

My Saturday morning was busy and amazing. There was much to do in a short amount of time. Jeff and I were exchanging sweet texts during the morning. I had spent the night at my mom’s, and realized that the skirt I had decided to wear (still wasn’t sure about my top) was back at my house. Now, you need to know that this skirt is one I had purchased about 14 years ago. It had been worn once, and then hung in a closet. That morning I snuck back to my house, pulled the skirt out of the closet, and got quite a shock. This skirt appeared to have had a drink of some sort spilled down the front of it. Fourteen years ago. So, to reiterate, I’m just discovering that the skirt I’m wanting to wear to my wedding in about 5 hours has a 14-year-old stain on it. Not only that, it is- of course- dry clean only. I had asked Jessica to pick me up at the house, so I could go back to moms without a vehicle. When she pulled up, I hesitantly told her my dilemma with the skirt. We drove by the local dry cleaners, and I jumped out. I carried my skirt in with me, and showed the owner my problem. She apologetically told me that they don’t clean on Saturdays, and offered suggestions on how I might could pin my skirt, so the stain wouldn’t show. Jess and I drove back to moms house, where Jess immediately began googling how to wash dry clean only garments at home. My mind started to panic just a bit. In retrospect, perhaps waiting until 5 hours before I’m getting married to finalize my outfit wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done, but here we were. I heard Jess say something about cold water and Ivory soap. I start filling the tub with cold water, and grab a bar of soap. We submerge the skirt in the water, and the most amazing thing happened… the stain… it just disappeared! We didn’t even have to touch the soap to it. It was like the water melted it completely away. Jess and I just stared in amazement, and then cracked up. Again, total God. No way was that more-than-a-decade old stain just going to vanish, but it surely did! Gone! Like magic!

The rest of the morning was peaceful and precious. My daughter had asked if she could do my makeup. Considering she’s better at it at age 14 than I am at age 47, I easily agreed to it. My niece, Neely, agreed to do my hair; and my sister ran around all day with a camera documenting the preparations. Emma, my other niece, helped out with my kids and running any and all errands that needed to be run. All the while, an 80’s soundtrack quietly played in the background compliments of Neely who understands my love of all things from my high school era.

During our getting ready preparations, I was called into the living room, only to see the lovely Amanda Gunter standing there holding the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. Amanda is known for her amazing abilities to create the most lovely floral arrangements you’ve ever seen. She had brought a huge bouquet for me, little bouquets for our daughters (Ava and Chelsea), and boutonnières for Jeff and our sons (Eli and Bryton.) She told me that these were all gifts from the sweet 5th grade teachers that I worked with at Hawkins Elementary. They wanted me to have flowers on my special day. Before she left, she pointed out one last thing- tied delicately to the ribbon of my bouquet was a sweet, gold locket. It contained a picture of me and my father. She said that one of my dearest friends, Amy Jo Powell, had wanted me to know that my father was going to be with me one my wedding day. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude. I thanked Amanda for putting together such beautiful flowers for our big day, and later was able to thank my girlfriends for their amazing thoughtfulness.

At three o’clock family starts arriving at my mom’s house. We had fantastic food, and all I could think about was wanting to go ahead and get married. We had planned to start our ceremony at four, but almost as soon as people started arriving, I knew I’d never make it until then. Jeff came in, looking as handsome as ever, and looked at me and said, “There’s my wife!” We hugged and quickly kissed. We greeted everyone, and shortly thereafter took our places in the living room. I don’t really know how to verbalize what took place in that room the afternoon of January 20. It was the same sort of other-worldly sweetness that was present the night my dad died in the next room over. You just knew God was in your midst. Jeff had suggested that we write our own vows. You may think that because I love to write so much, this would be an easy task for me. Not so. I experienced the same writer’s block now as I had when I tried to write what I would say at my dad’s service. A life moment this big required my BEST words. How could I possibly do it justice? I just prayed, and asked God for His help. I knew if I were left on my own, I’d fall over myself trying to speak. We had everyone to gather in the living room. We faced our family, and Jeff Millard (our acting officiant) stood right beside us. No one was having to look at anyone’s back. Jeff M. began by welcoming everyone and saying the beautiful message he had written about how God loved Jesus, how Jesus loved us, and how husbands and wives are called to love one another. It was perfect. During one part of his talk he mentions that he knows our story and after talking to us and others there is no doubt that God has ordained this. Then, the most amazing thing happened. My sweet brother in law (the same brother in law who shamelessly mocks the Elder women for crying so easily) began to get choked up. It was just precious. He continued to speak his wonderful words, and then Jeff and I said our vows. We cried and laughed and even kissed before we were supposed to, but it was just perfect. It was exactly what we wanted that day to be for us. Our family was there. That room was literally bursting at the seams with love. Tears flowed, and hearts were filled. I wouldn’t change one single second of that day. Not even the skirt incident. Everything was exactly how it was meant to be. After the ceremony ended, without any rehearsal beforehand, Jeff and I just started making our rounds hugging our family. My sweet Ava was in a pool of tears. It warmed my heart. I don’t think anyone in that room could deny that this union was anything but the complete will of God. My heart just burst with thankfulness. I never knew I would ever experience such blessings. I had a new husband. I added wonderful people, whom I genuinely love, to my family. Life is just beautiful.

I’ll tell you something else… and I didn’t really realize this until I started going through the amazing pictures that Jessica took of us that day. Her pictures are exquisite. However, I can be quite critical of myself at times. I’m not still 21, as I was when he and I first met. I don’t still have a stomach you could bounce quarters off of like I did when we first dated. This gal, this body, has experienced a lot of life in the time we’ve been apart. Jeff Crawford loves me just the same. He really, truly loves me. Just as I am. In a perfect world, I may have been several pounds lighter and perhaps all of this would have happened many years sooner, but the truth is- I’ve never felt more perfectly myself than I did that day, in that room, with that man. THIS is God’s will for my life. It has happened exactly when and how HE wanted it. I am humbled, and eternally grateful. I’m blessed to be Mrs. Jeffrey Alexander Crawford. He is my greatest love.

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