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.

Side Roads

As I left Virginia this afternoon, from the new year’s weekend spent with my love, I took a wrong turn. More accurately, I was on the phone with a friend (perhaps mildly distracted) when Google maps decided it would take me on the scenic route to the interstate- a three hour scenic route, to be exact. This “long cut” on January 1, 2018, provided me with lots of time to reflect on the day, and more importantly, to reflect on the events of the past year. Twenty seventeen has been a year full of challenges and surprises. I’d say most of us have experienced the same with this passing year. There have been instances which have pushed me to my limits, and others which have rained upon me like gentle blessings being sprinkled down by the Father Himself.

It has also proven to be a year of much reflection and questioning about God’s timing. Not doubting it, mind you, but just wondering WHY? I don’t think God minds when we question Him. I do believe He wants us to trust Him, but I feel certain He doesn’t mind us non-omniscient beings pondering the meaning to some of life’s questions. For example, I wonder why He allows certain things to come to us so easily, while other things seem so difficult? I wonder why He allows us to flop around in our own mistakes, and to waste so much time spinning our wheels outside the confines of the boundaries of His will for us? Why? Wouldn’t it just be easier for Him to give us the specific daily instructions we are to follow, and then we could cut out about 95% of the stress and chaos from the slings and arrows that can hit us from any direction and out of complete nowhere? Imagine a life without decision making. Every problem solved before it even happens. Knowing in advance the outcomes to each and every motion we take. Close your eyes for just a moment and imagine with me…what if every move we made was a perfectly-orchestrated step in the dance of each of our lives?

It was in my questioning that I felt I heard His quiet answer. It is in these uncertain challenges, these unforeseen circumstances, these SIDE ROADS, that we find our strength. It is when we are forced into making a decision- whether right or wrong- that we are made to stand in front of a cosmic mirror that reflects to us what we are truly made of. Better yet, WHO we are truly made of.

If you’re reading this right now, you’ve survived each and every challenge which has been put before you to this point. The same is true of me. Every hurt, every pain, every illness, every loss… we made it through, and we are still standing- hopefully stronger for it. God does allow us to have input in the choices we make daily. We may choose what we feel is right. Sometimes, we may choose what we hope is right. Other times, we may knowingly choose what we know to be wrong, or even choose to make no choice at all. Regardless, each choice has a specific and significant ripple effect through our lives. We generally have no idea in the moment how long that choice will ripple through our lives, but they do create a definite cause and effect relationship. There are choices I can pinpoint in my own life from many years back, which took mere seconds to make, that still ebb and flow through my life today. Not all of them bad. Not all of them good. But choices, nonetheless.

So, much like the side road I ventured down this cold, winter afternoon, I didn’t intentionally choose this route, but it still got me to my final destination. The truth is, in taking my side road I saw a lot of beauty I may not have otherwise had the chance to experience.

I’d like to encourage you today, on this day traditionally intentioned for resolution making and goal setting, to decide with me that this year instead of getting frustrated and disheartened by the side roads that life sets before us, instead of stepping back and away from what scares us; let’s meet these challenges with our heads held high, and with a renewed confidence in our Maker that He only has our best interests at heart. He can make beauty from ashes. He can meet us right here where we are, and will take each step moving forward with us. Then, even when we intentionally or unintentionally venture down a side road, we can rest in the assurance that we are never alone- not for one second of this marvelous journey through life.

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