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

Micaila is 10!

We have a ten year old in the house! Our sweet eldest daughter is a decade old. I still vividly remember bringing her home. Wrapped up in a pink, princess labeled outfit that swallowed all seven pounds of her, with most of her weight being in that head of hair.

Now she is a kind, smart, and beautiful young lady.

She drives this John Deere daily to deliver hay to Duet.

This past year we watched her mature, grow, and blossom in countless ways. I would like to highlight one.

Micaila made a profession of faith just before Thanksgiving. This thrills us to no end. Jason and I desire our children to have relationship with Jesus Christ but we’ve never tried to coerce them into making a disingenuous decision. We pray that as the Spirit draws them in they would respond, but we want their confession to be authentic. I believe when Micaila told me that she trusts Jesus and wants to be His disciple, following Him wherever He leads, she meant it. I have already seen evidence of her faith in many ways. I can’t wait to see how God uses her strengths (and weaknesses) for His purposes.

The ten year mark is a huge milestone. Lord willing we will have many more, and I know there will be ups and downs as we enter this prepubescent roller coaster. Having said that, Micaila is truly a delightful daughter. I am thankful for the privilege of being her mother. And I am thankful to know she is a daughter of the King.

Happy 10th Micaila! We love you more than words can express.

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

Ryann Is 8

Dear Ryann,

It’s hard to believe you are 8 years old. That cute high pitched voice of yours is nearly gone. Your sweet little baby chunk has disappeared and you are becoming a slender, tall, beautiful young lady. You still sing and dance and smile as you always have. You are a lover of all animals. Which has turned mommy into your modern day Snow White, constantly rescuing and bringing home some critter that we never intend to keep and yet…. well Aly (and Milo) for example. Your artistic skills and creativeness still blow me away. You can pretty much make anything with scissors and a hot glue gun. You are such a good student, your teacher loves you so much 😉 and you have shown perseverance when things were difficult. What an excellent quality to have. In life, it’s inevitable that difficulties will arise. I pray that you will cultivate that perseverance through a relationship with Christ, and learn how to press on and overcome in His strength. Ryann you are still the sensitive, silly, and loving child you have always been.

These, too, are wonderful characteristics. You get hurt easily, both physically and emotionally. But this lends itself to be aware of the needs of others. God has made you tender hearted so you can extend that in times when others need it. Look for those opportunities to be compassionate like Jesus. You are such a silly girl and laughter can be the best medicine. You are playful and fun and if mommy needs this in her life (which I do) then other people must too. Share this silly and fun aspect of who you are with everyone God brings your way. And Ryann you are a very loving girl. Remember that we love because He first loved us. I pray you will make Christ your first love and let all your affections flow from that. I pray you will give Him your whole heart because He can be trusted with it more than anyone else in this world and He loves you so very much. I pray whatever you decide to do in life it’ll be in honor of your Heavenly Father and Savior. He created you, He gave you unique giftings and talents, and I pray you’ll desire to be used by Him however He sees best. Ryann, believe it or not even at a young 8 years old you teach mommy things about love, laughter, kindness and sensitivity. I am thankful for your example and so grateful God gave you to us. Daddy and I are so proud of you. We love you so much. Happy 8th birthday!

Love,
Mommy

A Thank You And An Invitation

To the ones who are praying on our behalf, your prayers are felt and so appreciated. I know with out a doubt, there is no way we could do this with out prayer. Every time I hear “I am praying for you” or am sent a passage of scripture, my mind and heart are encouraged, strengthened, and directed to the One we are doing this with and for. Please keep praying!

To the ones who have brought us dinner, our bellies thank you. My restless body thanks you. And my children and husband are especially grateful for the back up cooks. It may not always occur to people that taking in foster children is a lot like bringing home a new baby. Especially when one IS a new baby 😉 We not only appreciate the night off from cooking but we love the company that comes with the meal.

To the one who babysat for us so we could take Caleb bowling for his 4th birthday, Caleb REALLY thanks you! 🙂 It’s tough being the baby prince and getting dethroned times two. But in truth, we all needed a breather, the time to reconnect as a family unit, the time to celebrate our little boy. Thank you for allowing us to do this with out dragging the little-bitty’s around a loud bowling alley. In fact, they thank you, too! They thank you for loving on them and keeping them in their new calm environment, on schedule, not a minute after bedtime. Everyone was happy! You are a tremendous blessing.

Thank you to the ones who have given clothing, blankets, bottles, pacis, car seats and money for all the other essential baby items. Because these sweet little guys came with absolutely nothing. And yes the state does reimburse for certain items but honestly, I haven’t exactly mastered going shopping with five kids so my sanity thanks you! Your generous example has been a source of edification and reminded us why we should be generous people. Thank you!

As my title says, this is not only a thank you but this is also an invitation to those who are wondering how they can be a support to children and families in foster or adoptive situations. These are just a few ways that you can be a huge blessing to a child and their care givers. If you know a foster family consider being a support to them in one of these ways. If you don’t know a foster family, consider going to your local DFCS office or a private Christian agency and asking if you can encourage and give to one of their existing families. This is something you could consider doing with your local church, small group, or even just a few friends. We are so incredibly thankful for all the ways people have loved on us and these two little ones.

I am linking Bethany Christian services because it is a national organization that likely you can connect with in your area. But there are several organizations like it so feel free to research and ask around and allow God to lead you to the right ministry. (We have chosen to work with the state this time.)

https://www.bethany.org/

I’m also linking their Safe Families ministry. I have a good friend who is a host family. Consider being a host family or a host family friend. 🙂

https://www.bethany.org/other-services/safe-families-for-children

If you have any questions feel free to ask me and I’ll do my best to answer.

Why Do You Pray?

 I lift my hands to you in prayer. I thirst for you as parched land thirsts for rain.

Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. May your gracious Spirit lead me forward on firm footing.

Psalms 143:6,8, and 10 NLT

I love the saying “Caught not taught.” With parenting so much of what our children learn is from what they see, what they catch us doing. (We all know this can be both a good and bad thing.) Even still, our efforts to find those teachable moments definitely needs to be made. One thing I was recently prompted to talk about in depth with our children was prayer. My kids “catch” me praying regularly. We strive to pray with them at bed time, dinner, and other given opportunities, so I believe they are learning how to pray and the importance of praying often. The question that came to my mind was “Do my children know what the purpose of prayer is?”

In the words of David Platt “God has designed prayer as a means by which we might grow in love for Him, on a moment by moment, day by day basis.” (If you’d like more on that you can listen to his sermon The Privilege of Prayer.)

I agree and believe that when we understand prayer from this truth, it changes everything. When we come to God with a desire to commune with Him, know Him, and love Him more, it will certainly impact how we pray. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” Not our little kingdom, HIS Kingdom. Not our wills and what should be’s, HIS perfect will.

So, do my kids know why we pray? Let’s find out. 🙂

Me: Tonight we are going to talk about prayer. Can you tell me what the purpose of praying is? Why do we pray?

Ryann: Umm cause we’re talking to Jesus. And its nice to Jesus. Cause when we pray it makes us happy.

Micaila: We pray because its important to Jesus and because its loving to Jesus and it cheers you up.

Caleb: For food and for God.

Ryann: Oooh Oooh! For other people!

Caleb: Nooo I wanna say thaaat!!! (Tone change) For other people.

Me: Those are some good answers…..

Ryann: What does it really mean? Because you didn’t seem happy with my answer.

Me: (I had to laugh, I didn’t think my expression showed disappointment lol) You’re answers are good but there is more to why we pray.

Since my children are almost nine, seven, and three I really did feel these were pretty good responses. But it also confirmed that it’s important to teach our kids the biblical reasons why we do the things we do. If we don’t teach them, they will merely be going through the motions of tradition and run the risk of becoming like those Paul referred to in his second letter to Timothy- “having a form of godliness but denying its power.” Or they may become teenagers and later adults who view God as an estranged parent you only talk to when you need something or call on when you’re in distress, but ignore all other times. Or worse yet, view Him as a genie we recite our self serving wishes to.

A few more questions I asked were:

Do we only pray when we want or need something?

Will God always answer our requests the way we want?

Is that wrong of Him?

I was thankful that my girls answered a resounding “no” to all these questions. I lost Caleb to some foam wrapping he found inside a game and decided to crumble all over our living room. 🙂

I proceeded to teach the girls the acronym “P. R.A.Y.”
P- Praise God for Who He is and what He’s done.
R-Repent of sin and ask for forgiveness.
A- Ask or make requests to God.
Y- Yield yourself, your life to Him.

This led to even more meaningful conversation as we talked about the attributes of God. Some examples the girls gave without prompting were “He is kind.” “He is merciful.” “He is perfect.” We discussed what all those words mean and more practically what this would look like for them. Talking about things a nine and seven year old might repent of like impatience with others, delayed obedience/disobedience, being dishonest, poor attitude in school, and being selfish.

What amazed me was what my kids do know. Praise the Lord! Yet there was much they didn’t know or at least couldn’t yet put into words, I assumed they knew. We finished our time by praying through the acronym and it was really wonderful.

“Holy Father, Thank you again for the opportunity to partner with you in raising these children. As Ryann reminded me tonight, You ARE perfect, therefore completely trustworthy because all you do is good and right. I know I’ll make mistakes, as will our children, but I pray we would be diligent to build them a solid godly foundation that, no matter what, they will return to You, the Way, the Truth and the Life. “

Luke 6:47-48 “I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built.”

Jeremiah 33:3- “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

When I grow up….

Today I was really missing my mom. I know God brought our family to Georgia, away from all our family, for reasons more important than my comfort and pleasure but there are some days that I just ache to be near my mom and dad. But God uses this longing to teach me that it is Him who can supply everything I need. So if you too find yourself missing a loved one, maybe even for different reasons, pursue Christ and let Him be your Comforter and soul Satisfier. 

For several years now after Christmas my mom and dad have caravanned with us back to Georgia. At some point during their visit I am usually conspiring ways to get them to stay a little longer. I could have them a month and it probably wouldn’t be long enough. This year I was able to talk my dad into journeying home alone and letting mom fly back via Spirit Air. I got to keep her an extra 8 days. 🙂 
 

When I grow up I want to be like my mom.

Some would probably say “You ARE your mom” and in many ways I am like her. I saw this great plaque that made me laugh. It said “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all.” 🙂 But what I mean is I want to be like my mom in the way she loves Jesus and is wholly, unashamedly, downright dependent on Him. I mean, whether we see it this way or not we ALL are dependent on God but my mom recognizes this need for Him in her life and daily, moment by moment at times, she brings herself into the presence of her King and yearns for His grace, will, and wisdom. My mom is not perfect but her love for Jesus is without question.

“Seek the Lord and His strength; yearn for and seek His face and to be in His presence continually!”‭‭ 1 Chronicles‬ ‭16:11‬

God has graced my mother with many great qualities. She is a servant. If she CAN do it she WILL. We joke about how she says yes to everything. My mom has labeled herself with M.A.D.D. (Ministry attention deficit disorder) and sometimes laments over this characteristic. We tend to long for that individual ministry calling but I don’t think this is a defect or flaw if we don’t identify one. I think God needs individuals who are willing to come alongside any ministry to assist those with specific callings. I like to consider these the “Divergents” of ministry. I mean who doesn’t wanna be divergent? 😉

My mom is easy going and fun. She has this awesome ability to tackle tasks without getting overwhelmed. I can be staring at a mountain of paperwork, doctors appointments, and list of to-dos and she’ll be cheering in front of me “Just take it one thing at a time.” As we organized and post Christmas cleaned, she had such a “we can do this AND laugh/have fun” approach. Her attitude and quoting of scripture and truth repeatedly takes away my tendency to become anxious in certain situations and points me to the Source of peace and joy.

She is crazy gracious. Thank goodness for me…. She sees people from such a loving-merciful perspective and extends compassion and truth in ways that clearly identifies the power of the Holy Spirit within her.

…..that clearly identifies the power of the Holy Spirit within her……

This is how I want to be like her. I want to consistently act in ways that clearly identify the Spirit of God at work within me. And the key component I saw in my moms relationship with Christ is a beautiful marrying of mutual pursuit. He pursues her and she pursues Him. She pursues Him in His Word and in communicating with Him. He speaks in her heart and she seeks to obey. She listens FOR Him and talks to Him. She pursues Him honestly and repentantly. It is consistent. It is daily. Every morning I heard her rise early, denying precious hours of sleep after bunking with my children. (Being that they are bed hogs this is just not quality sleep.) At times in the day or evening she would retreat to her room to read or pray. One night we both escaped to her room and proceeded to cast all our cares and cover every base we could conceive of in prayer. 

What my mom reminded me though is how our relationship with Christ should be pursued like our sweetest most precious earthly relationships. We think about Him always, we talk with Him every chance we can, we ask for and value His opinion, we trust His wisdom, we heed His instruction and we treasure Him above all else. 

So Mom, thank you for making Christ your treasure, even at points above time with family. May we all learn from your beautiful example.

“But may all who search for you be filled with joy and gladness in you. May those who love your salvation repeatedly shout, “The LORD is great!”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭40:16‬

*After finishing this post my mom called me to share about an old journal she ran across. The journal exposed some of her early struggles (like rising early to commune with God- exhaustion is definitely the theme for young moms) in her pursuit of Christ and it was a wonderful reminder that sanctification is indeed lifelong and often slow. Dear Lord, help us to never lose heart or grow impatient with the process.*