Wherever He leads I’ll go…..or stay

We recently have returned from a wonderful, family filled week in Florida. Jason’s brother Mike is now married to Mrs. Jessica Graham. 🙂 Congrats to those two! So very happy for them. We drove down a few days early and enjoyed time with family and friends in Tampa. We then celebrated their union and marriage over the course of a long weekend in Orlando. As we drove home Sunday I felt I could burst from the precious time spent with the people I love most in this world. As I type about it my eyes fill with tears.

The last few days have been hard. I miss e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. This happens from time to time. I come home from drinking deeply (and non stop) family, friends, love, laughter, affection, all the good, God given gifts of relationship and then find myself home, isolated, and cut off cold turkey. My closest loved ones are 45 minutes away and it’s just far enough for loneliness to settle in comfortably. I remember how, in 2010, we sold our home in Brooksville to move CLOSER to family, only for God to bring us 508 miles away. He has always been gracious, especially allowing us to live in close proximity with our cousins those first few years, but in His sovereign mercy He brought us out a little bit further. And when the newness and excitement wore off I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought about moving back. Back to Dallas. Back to Tampa. Back anywhere that someone who knows me inside and out resides. All along the way though God has confirmed we should be here. He’s revealed the great needs in this small community and that He indeed wants to partner with us in spreading His Good News to the hopeless. And there are many. Time and again the verse, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sister-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:28 I’m tempted to think life would be better in the company of my family or friends. We’d have more support, help in this ministry, more community with believers, etc. etc. All good things. But God has been clear. My love for Him must trump family, friends, and mostly, my personal comfort. God doesn’t always call us away from these relationships, but for us now He has. His Word also tells us, “We have everything we need to live a life that pleases God. It was all given to us by God’s own power, when we learned he had invited us to share in his wonderful goodness.” ‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:3‬ And we can trust that His will and ways are perfect. It may not always feel good but He is in control. I am grateful that family is only an 8 hour drive away and not an entire ocean. God truly knows how to stretch me without my breaking.

Psalm 61:1-5 has been at the forefront of my mind, jotted in my journal, and recited from my lips even at points when I wasn’t “feeling” it. In my sadness I have repeated it over and over and the Word of God has been faithful to restore my trust and confidence in Him.

“Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. For you, God, have heard my vow; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.”

Even as I want so badly to be with family I know in the depths of my soul, Jesus Christ is truly all I need. Sometimes it takes many shed tears and pleading with the Lord (and a few wasted hours on realtor.com) to remember that and have peace about it. Feelings and emotions can be so intense. But I know I have not been forsaken and that God is with me and goes before me. I hope if you are struggling with loneliness you will know that, too. Fight for your joy in Christ, through prayer and reading His Word. Even when you don’t think you have the strength, the faith, or simply dont “feel like it”, persevere at His throne of grace.

Psalm 68:19 “Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.”

For those particularly pesky bouts of melancholy blues I highly recommend When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper. You can download it for free at DesiringGod.org

Let Me Introduce You To My Framily

Katie (and baby due soon!!) Stephen, Addie, and Griffin.

Two years ago God brought the Sapp family into our life. I am not embellishing this story in the least. After the joys of Christmas and being with family and friends in Florida, we settled back into normal life in Lindale and I was overwhelmed with sadness. I missed my family and friends. I desired relationship specifically with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We have sacrificed that a little more each time we’ve moved, from Tampa to Dallas, and Dallas to Lindale. I believe whole heartedly that God has used isolation to draw me closer to Him and I’m grateful for it, but I also believe He absolutely desires us as Christians to live in community with the body of Christ.

On a Sunday in January of 2015 we were driving to a new church, that was very small, and I confessed to God and Jason how much I needed friendship. And SOON. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NLT‬‬ On this same Sunday, for reasons only explained by God, the Sapps, Stephen and Katie, visited this church even though they lived 45 minutes away. When I saw this family come in I knew I had to meet them and apparently the feeling was mutual. We shook hands and made lunch plans all within the 60 seconds of greeting. To say we hit it off would be a complete understatement. There was an immediate connection on all accounts. We extended our lunch invitation to, “Hey we just had company leave and our house is a complete wreck but want to come over?!” On our second “date” Katie and Stephen came over and I had to run dinner to a friend and I left them alone in my house with my kids. It felt right and crazy all at once but I really had a high level of trust with them immediately into our friendship. As inseparable as adults with jobs and kids can possibly be, that was us for the next few weeks. Before we knew it Stephen and Jason were in business together. And it’s rare for that mixture to work but it did! Katie and I have a special bond as well, it’s always been easy, natural, like sisters. And our kids, well, they all adore each other. Even if we’ve gone a month with out seeing Addie and Griffin (which is simply dreadful!) my kids ask about them. Caleb had few things to say he was thankful for at Thanksgiving (he’s a 4 year old boy, I cut him some slack for now) but one thing he was explicit about, “I’m thankful for my best friends, Addie and Griffin.” Me too, buddy. 🙂

We all agree emphatically that God has brought our families together, maybe simply for the deep Christian friendship, maybe for future ministry endeavors. Hopefully one day he intends to get us in the same neck of the woods! 🙂 Outside of Jason’s cousins we haven’t had many friendships that have sharpened us quite like the Sapp’s. Is our friendship perfect? No. Do we love each other flaws and all? No doubt about it! I’m so grateful for a couple more friends that encourage us to pursue hard after Christ. Friends that cheer us on to do tough, or what the world might consider risky, things. I’m grateful for friends to confide in, confess to, and be held accountable by. I’m grateful for the body of Christ, for the unique connection Jesus’ sacrifice established for us. I’m grateful for God expressing his love to me through answering my prayers for friendship. And every time we get together with the Sapp’s, I’m reminded of Gods goodness and love and I’m awestruck again by this deeply personal relationship we get to have with our Father in Heaven. As Stephen affectionately dubbed us, we’re framily; friends that feel like family.

“Praise the LORD! I will thank the LORD with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the LORD! All who delight in him should ponder them. Everything he does reveals his glory and majesty. His righteousness never fails. He causes us to remember his wonderful works. How gracious and merciful is our LORD!” Psalms‬ ‭111:1-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Fireflies and Frogs

It isn’t the last day of school or the intense heat wave that sets summer in. It isn’t the beach vacation or first days at the pool.

It’s the fireflies.

Even Billy Currington knows it. 😉“Summer comin’ through, a rolled down window, tearin’ down an almost two lane back road. Freedom and fireflies in the air.”

Last year we spent many evenings on the porch waiting for the sun to set and the fireflies to rise up from the lush green grass. I’m certain this year will be no different. We ran around last night grabbing the glow bugs and sticking them in a giant pickle jar. Caleb squealed with delight over the “butterflies”. He later discovered an old pink bb gun and proceeded to go around “shooting” them. Ryann and Micaila are expert catchers, far better than I, no doubt. They’d catch 5 to my 1.

In addition to catching fireflies my girls enjoy trapping all the night time frogs. A past time they had with their cousins. Micaila attempts to do so with as little contact as possible. Ryann on the other hand….. She.just.don’t.care. She had 7 in a bowl in a matter of minutes. With apprehension I picked up my first frog in about 20 years. It took me all of 5 seconds to run to the sink and sanitize my hands. I’m so glad that my kids find it entertaining to play with both frogs and fireflies. I’m also glad I have been influenced by women who showed me that it’s not only okay for my kids to get dirty, touch bugs and frogs (and whatever else their exploring outdoors finds them) but it is good for them. 🙂

I sometimes feel insecure about not having “some THING” to do at our house. We have no pool, trampoline, or playground. We have 2 broken 4 wheelers and a few bikes. I don’t know why I think coming over to simply play isn’t enough. It always was when I was a kid. But imagine me…. “Hi Miss Smith, would Jill like to come over and play with frogs and fireflies today?” No seriously, fake names but that really happened. The minute I begin feeling insecure though, I am reminded that my children lack no good things. Not only do they have an abundance of material possessions but they have each other. They play for hours on end with all sorts of natural stuff, using those wonderful imaginations God gave them, and building their relational bonds. Just like I did as a child. I definitely would enjoy having a pool, or a playground, or atvs that were running. Those things are good. They provide unique avenues for our children (and us!) to grow in courage, maturity, confidence, strength, endurance, etc., but I don’t believe that we are deprived in any way because we don’t possess such entertainments. And I don’t want my children to believe that either. I hope we can continue to cultivate contentment and thankfulness for all God has given us; from our toys to the fireflies. I am certain these simple traditions will be some of our fondest memories. And at any rate we are fortunate to know people that do have other sources of fun. Both the kids and I are practicing gratitude for the friends and family that are so generous with us. 🙂

Win, win. 😉 Happy Summer!

A special Melodious Monday: Through All of It

Several months ago our pastor taught on baptism. When I walked out of that service I felt a strong sense that I needed to be baptized…. Again.

Most of you are aware that I have grown up in church. In fact I was born in Fort Worth, Texas while my father attended seminary to become a pastor. Naturally, I was immersed in church life but more importantly I was aware that Christianity wasn’t about religion or church attendance but about relationship with Jesus Christ.

At age seven I made a profession of faith and was baptized.photo 1(2)

Found this gem of my childhood bff Kristen and me before we were dunked.

I think this is common for individuals like me. We grow up knowing the right path and want to follow Jesus down it but haven’t really been confronted yet with choosing Him or choosing the world. As I grew and moved through adolescence and early adult-hood I did not choose Jesus. I didn’t pursue Him and continue cultivating our relationship; therefore I didn’t really know Him so I couldn’t possibly love Him or understand his love for me. I mean I “knew” but I didn’t really know. James 2:18b-19 Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that- and shudder. Because I did not know Him or love Him I did not choose to trust that He had my best interest so I certainly did not choose obedience to Him. This resulted in a lot of sin.

Because I grew up knowing the truth and all the “church lingo” I could easily present myself as a Christian at will. The other 90% of the time I allowed self, pleasure, indulgence, and idolatry to rule my life. I certainly wrestled with my sin, choices, and lifestyle. I regret every single time (more than I can count or care to admit) that I professed to be a Christian to people around me and acted in such a way that defames the Name of Jesus. I have been the person that gives people license to believe there is no power in Christ because I was living a godless life while saying I was a believer. Recounting these memories surfaces great grief within me: that by my choices I would be so degrading and hurtful toward my sweet Savior.

Fortunately His love never fails. He will not force Himself on us but he is always there waiting and ready for us to enter into a love relationship with Him.

I’ll be honest with you though. Since hearing that sermon last year, I have spent hours and had many conversations trying to pinpoint that moment of true repentance and conversion. I keep asking God, myself, and the people closest to me, “When did I become a Christian?” It’s a frustrating thing to wonder! I look back and see so many mistakes, so much sin, so much hypocrisy. I had moments of clarity and conviction but they are overshadowed by my godless behavior. And honestly I’m left not really knowing when that moment occurred.

I might not have the answer of when until the day I meet Jesus face to face but you know what? That’s okay because I know that right now, today, tomorrow and eternally I am His. I once was lost and blind and even with my background and all my knowledge I was deceived. The world and pleasure and self is captivating and dangerous. Just because I was a pastor’s daughter and was privileged in the best way didn’t make me immune or safe from the deceptive enticing nature of satan and this world.

But I know and understand God now. I understand how much he loves his people. I understand why he created mankind and what our purpose here is. And I am growing daily in my love for him as I diligently seek him. Yes, at times still, I feel it is one step forward two steps back. But God is also growing my confidence in how he chooses to sanctify me.
Getting re-baptized was important to me because it publicly testifies that I am not just a “fair-weather fan” of Jesus any more. I absolutely have decided to FOLLOW Him.

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Baptism video! Woohoo!

I want to say a huge thank you to my family members who drove many miles to support me and celebrate with me for this occasion. My parents, siblings, and cousins, I love you all and you made me feel incredibly loved by your presence. Also to my amazing pastor who is humble and gracious enough to allow my father to step in and Baptize me. Nate, you are awesome! To my husband and children who encourage me daily. And every person who couldn’t be present but support me in countless ways distantly. I am blessed beyond measure. Totally in AWE over God’s grace and goodness.

When I heard this song, I knew it was perfect for this occasion. Colton Dixon: Through All of It

Spring has come

The first day of Spring was Friday, March 20th. In our, newer, usual Graham fashion we rang it in in various ways. It’s been 3 or 4 years now that we have done eggs, candy, and baskets, as a Spring thing, in an effort to reserve Resurrection Sunday for Jesus. 🙂 Leading up to Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday we do activities that focus and reflect on Jesus life, death and resurrection. You can find lots of fun stuff all over the internet that will draw your kids in and give you opportunities to share about His amazing love and sacrifice for us. I found this particular blog posts very helpful, insightful, and inspiring. She links lots of other great informative and inspirational sites. Joyful Mama’s Place I can’t wait to share about our Holy Week and what the Lord reveals to us and our children.

So it has become a first day of Spring tradition to dye and hunt eggs and let my sweet mother in law love on our kiddos with baskets filled with small treats. We had a lot of fun with that. Being older and more capable Caleb especially got a kick out of it this year. We didn’t use every square inch of the property but at one point we were scratching our heads over several missing eggs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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This boy….. always has his helmet on. Always.

The other new exciting spring tradition is baby chicks, though I don’t know if we will continue this annually. It hadn’t been a week and their chicky stench was already wafting through out our entire house. I’d like to see Febreze take on this challenge! After our experience last year I was trying to delay when we would get chicks to a warmer month so they wouldn’t have to spend much time inside. Well, when you find yourself one Sunday afternoon, at a tractor supply store, where day old chicks are being sold, that’s pretty much a losing debate. I may as well take the opportunity to introduce them to you. We bought six this time because that was the least amount you could purchase. Seriously, I just got swindled. We all know who the mother hen is gonna be for 6 weeks! There are four pullets (sex linked chicks that will be hens), the two yellows are Eleanor and Eloise and the two red-ish ones are Annabelle and Dove. The itty bitty chicks are Bantams and we will not know what they are until they crow or pop out an egg. Their names are Buttercup and Tiny. I will be rolling on the floor with laughter if Buttercup ends up a rooster. Ya know, half the fun of having chickens is naming them…. Kind of like having kids. Hehe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur three white hens have finally started laying eggs. I skipped a day collecting and went down Saturday to find half a dozen beautiful white eggs waiting for me. Half a dozen sounds so much better than six, haha! I am pleasantly surprised that my aversion to eggs did not return this time. For some reason when Penny (bless her little chicken heart, RIP Penny) started laying I suddenly was revolted by eggs. I mean honestly! But this time we are all enjoying them. Don’t you wanna be my neighbor? 😉

I hope y’all are enjoying the onset of Spring, minus all that darn pollen! I need to go take a Zyrtec. 😉

Still a newbie country girl

Some days I think to myself “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” In my wildest dreams I never thought I would have to wrestle a goat out of my house….. or my car….. One minute I’m bringing in groceries the next minute I see a black bearded Ramsey trapped in our suv. Seriously? Don’t you dare pee in my car! He knows we store his food in the laundry room so he’s frequently trying to slip through the back door unnoticed. The only problem; his putrid scent comes wafting in the house with him. Who let the goat in? He jumps on the counters and leaves a trail of poop behind him just for laughs. You would not believe the pleasure I get from chasing him around with a broom. He runs off and does his goat thing, leaping in the air, wiggling and kicking his whole body. Goat shenanigans, it’s pretty entertaining.

Then there’s the time I was feeding the chickens and realized I had scooped a brand new nest of baby mice out of their grain bucket into their eating pan. What in the world? As much as I felt bad I was equally disgusted. They were tiny and translucent and I was reasonably confident I just killed them. Meanwhile their mom is just staring at me from the bottom of the bin probably thinking “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Knowing the feed was definitely compromised I set the little critters back in the bucket and hoped for the best. The next day I had to face the music and ended up setting the mom free and laying the babies in the woods. I’m sure they made a nice snack for something. :-/

There have been other occasions where I showed more compassion towards mice. Like the time three older babies fell out of our tractor. We did try to rescue those. They had fur though! Way cuter. After the first two died I decided to set the third “free” and spare us the grief. We haven’t had much luck rescuing wild baby animals.

Since we’re on the subject I might as well get it on record that we lost our only laying hen, Penny, shortly after Thanksgiving. We had several hawks hanging around and they managed to snatch her and one of our pullets. It’s never the roosters! We’ve gone from nine to five chickens, two of which have proven to be useless cockadoodles that I can’t bring myself to slaughtering for dinner. I suppose they make for great photos. 😉 If I hadn’t read that book “Made from Scratch” I’d be thinking we should call it quits, obviously it’s us! But the best things we experience in life require us to press on, keep trying and gain wisdom from the past. Our family is learning new and unique things on a regular basis. And fortunately we get to do all this without worrying about whether we succeed at “farming” or not. I imagine it was a way bigger deal years ago when the farmer lost a few hens. I have a growing respect for that day and age but I sure am thankful for a conveniently located grocery store. 🙂

Enough about death, let’s talk about some life! Last Sunday the girls had the pleasure of meeting our neighbors’ day old baby cow. How cool is that?! Someday I hope we get to witness our own animals giving birth or hatching eggs. I suppose we need to first master keeping them alive!

With winter settling in nicely (lows of 8 degrees!) things are calming down around here. This means we have time to plan and dream about what all the spring may have in store. Until then, I’m hoping to have some great snow memories to share later. The little retention area in our front pasture froze! We got a big kick out of that. Ice-skating anyone? 😉OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Saturdays

I hope I don’t ever forget Saturdays like today. I wish Jason were here to indulge in them with me. Nothing exciting is really happening and yet that’s everything I love about it. The weather is beautiful. It was cool this morning but because our house faces the east the sunrise keeps the porch nice and warm. I made my coffee and we headed out to soak it all up. Micaila set up her chair and books and began reading,…… to Sundance and Trinity. It’s a new thing of hers. Friday evening she sat and, no exaggeration, read to them for at least 45 minutes. Seriously, they stood corralled around her as if they were attending story time at the library. They seem to enjoy it as much as she does, Jake too. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Then there is Ryann.

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She is just now coming into her own ability and love for reading. Praise the Lord!

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She wanted to set up shop next to me. What a treat it all was. We just sat, spread about the yard and read in all the peaceful, quiet, beauty of God’s creation. Well with the exception of wild man Caleb growling, yelling, jumping, running, throwing, and water gun squirting in our midst. Can’t forget about that crazy little guy! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even his boisterous presence on this splendid morning brought delight and laughter.

If only you could witness him and Ramsey go at it. We might have a future wrangler on our hands.

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After the quiet time I set out to clean the house and do laundry. Even the duties that normally can be so monotonous were abnormally enjoyable for me today. The fall breeze flowing throughout the house was so invigorating. Fall always has been my favorite time of year. Even before I knew what a real fall was I loved it. The kids were out having their run of the property. I love that they can freely explore and it’s so fun to watch them use their imaginations. The girls were dragging their baby dolls around in spring baskets. I can only imagine the things they were pretending. Caleb, just trailing behind them, occasionally reprimanding the dog or the goat. “No Ramsey. No Jake. Don’t doooo that!”
These are precious times. A good ol’ boring Saturday. Now after all the chores are done, we find ourselves back on the porch, eagerly waiting for Daddy to get home from work.
This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it. 🙂

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