Monday, December 31, 2012

Reflecting on 2012

"We've all been placed on the planet for such a time as this."- Beth Moore, Esther: It's Tough Being a Woman

It's hard to believe that I'm sitting here on the eve of another New Year... seems like yesterday I was writing a post to begin 2012.  Yet here I am, and what a year it has been. Kami graduating high school and starting at UK, Holly getting married, me starting doctoral school.  Jackson's Volleyball team winning district.  Caleb growing into a fine young man, enduring knee troubles and physical therapy and making me so very proud in so many ways.  Will being born and an 80th birthday celebration for my Papaw Paul (the baby of the bunch).  Work and life and church... time spent with family and friends and loved ones.  No wonder it seems as if I just blinked...

I just finished the final study in Esther, right on time, and Beth talks about how our story is yet to be finished, that the ink is still being written on the paper.  So many things I hope for the ending of my story, but before I harp on that tomorrow, here's how I stood on 2012.

For the first time ever, I read my Bible all the way through, from start to finish. I got behind and spent the past couple of days catching up, reading several books at once.  Must say I did do this in a hurry, so one of my goals for next year is to be more deliberate and intentional about the reading, so that I'm thinking about what I'm reading.  I also had the goal to complete 4 in-depth Bible studies.  I read To Live is Christ and Esther by Beth Moore, and Nehemiah by Kelly Minter.  I also participated in online studies on Hebrews led by Wendy Blight, on Proverbs 31 and Colossians by Good Morning Girls, and 1 Peter by Hello Mornings.  Plans for next year's studies might be mentioned tomorrow =)

I did sleep more, going to be on a more regular basis, until Biostats kicked in... but for the most part I got at least 7 hours of sleep, which was a huge improvement over 4-5 hours.  I still procrastinated, but didn't let myself get quite as stressed out (again, until Biostatistics kicked in). 

I set a goal to read at least 75 books... and read 99.  Fiction, religious, a variety of books.  Almost got caught up in the Stephanie Plum series (I'm on 16 out of 19 right now).  Several Karen KIngsbury novels.  Some read of the SheReads book club.  The Book Thief. You're Already Amazing and Grace for the Good Girl.  Still no War and Peace... but I have read a little more this Christmas break.  Maybe 2013 will be the year???

I wrote in my blog 280 out of 365 days, and posted 246 pics in my Life as I Live It album on Facebook.  I have loved doing this, and while some of my pictures seem obnoxious, it has really made me stop and pause to think about things as they happen.  I participated in The Joy Dare through Ann Voskamp's A Holy Experience blog, and jotted down three things every day to be grateful for. 

I wanted to cross at least one thing off my bucket list, and managed to cross three things off: ziplining with Wallace in July, Beth Moore live in August, and a Steelers game at Heinz Field in December. I also started on another one when I enrolled at WKU in June, working toward my DNP degree.

Pretty much the only areas I wouldn't consider a success is exercise and weight loss.  I actually gained a little weight, and did pretty good on the exercise for about half the year.  I think part of me quitting was in rebellion to Wallace and his activeness.  Plus, we had some issues this year... I'm glad to say that last night he leaned over to me and said, "Here's to hoping 2013 is our best year ever." and I'm echoing that... for me, and us, and you, too.  God bless...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Stay-cation

My mind is racing tonight with thoughts of the new year, just four days away.  My hopes and plans and what all I'm going to accomplish...and my reflections on 2012.  I'm not going to give into those yet...

Right now it's quiet in my house.  Caleb has spent the day running up and down the holler, and is currently picking up Nana from work.  I am happy to say that he scheduled time with me and Wallace at 7 PM tonight through Siri, but when I asked him before he headed to town if we were still on, he said, "I'll have to check with Siri to see what my appointments are." I'm thinking that we will be left sitting at home alone if something better comes up, and that's ok. 

Today, I've sat on my couch.  I've read the book of Romans in my Bible (still behind, but I'm determined to read it all the way through.  Only 90 pages to go. And it's so good...) I've read a couple of lessons in my Esther study (also behind on this one... but God's right on time).  I've finished two books I've been reading, and read a few pages in a third.  Thrown a load of laundry in the washer, and took a long, hot bath. 

And I've checked email.  I subscribe to a lot of different blogs... Lysa Terkeurst, Beth Moore, Ann Voskamp, Incourageme, Priscilla Shirer, Proverbs 31 Ministries daily devotions... and when classes are in session I don't always get to read all of them.  I leave them marked unread in my inbox.  I used to panic when I saw the number of unread messages, but then I learned to breathe really deep and know that God would have a word for me when I got to them.  So today I've read and deleted and watched videos and just let the word speak to me.  I'm under 600 unread in my email.  Thinking I'll use the next hour or so to clean out a few more, but wanted to hop on here and touch base. 

I'm so thankful for this extended stay-cation.  No plans to go anywhere anytime soon, and for once, that's okay with me. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Whirlwind

 As a child it was homemade stockings hung by the chimney and real Christmas trees.  It was waking up at the crack of dawn, bounding downstairs ready to see what Santa had left.  It was treks to Grandma Bert's on Christmas Eve, endless Scrabble games and going home to watch the Sound of Music and heading to Grandma Na's in the morning. 

Now, we've grown a little bit.  There are a couple more stockings hung and nights at Grandma's don't last quite as long because there's more places to go.  This year, we had four Christmas celebrations...

And once again Grandma Bert said it was the best Christmas ever.  Papaw Paul told me he intended to get "Me and Mama a handheld vac," so my gift of money was greatly appreciated.  Grandma told me, "You can get whatever you want on that... what's it called? Internet?" as she handed me my Amazon gift card.  And Caleb came away like a bandit with money... and we moved on to Nana's house.

Where Will laughed as Regina opened his presents just like he knew what she was doing.  And Kami, who had rode home with us, fed Will and fit right in, just like she belonged, which is the amazing part of our family, mine and Wallace's... we truly are one family.  Caleb was happy with his beats and looked at me and said, "This is the best Christmas ever and I still have Mamaw Karen's."

And we snuggled and HE read Luke 2, struggling over some of the words but mostly getting them right, and then there was Twas the Night Before Christmas and God Gave us Christmas, and our favorite, The Crippled Lamb.

Santa came with Itunes cards and tic-tacs and a small Lego kit, and made his way down Twin Cedar Road to fill the stockings hung at Mamaw Karen's, too. The house felt a little empty as Holly was on a call, but we grow up and have to do grownup things and the present opening went on without her...and I think everyone was satisfied.  Mom got me the best- book cards and a volleyball and basketball charm for my bracelet and printed off my entire blog from 2012 in a notebook.

Then we were the last to arrive at Grandma Na's and instead of the house seeming tiny it just seemed cozy as we handed out presents and hugs and laughter, and while it was a little warm everyone found a place to sit and eat Dirt Cake and Banana Pudding and the best mashed potatotes Nora ever made (although every bowl is always the best ever...).  And then family pic time brought us all outside and we managed to take it in less than 10 minutes, a real accomplishment.

The day ended with biscuits and gravy and a long bath and reading and napping on the couch.  I am blessed, four generations on both sides and lots of love to go around, and the greatest gift of all in baby Jesus, who humbled Himself and then died on a cross for my sins, for our sins.  And tomorrow will be just another day but it will be a new day and His grace will still be sufficient.

Merry Christmas!  May you be richly blessed with the true meaning of the season!

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Magic of the Terrible Towel

As a little girl, she named her puppy Bettis after Jerome Bettis, the Bus.  For as long as I can remember, she's been a football fan, and so have I.  We've begged and pleaded and cajoled Wallace into taking us to Pittsburgh, Home of Heinz Field and the Steel Curtain and Steelers Nation. This week, he gave in...

As I've gotten older, Christmas presents don't seem to be quite as important as time spent with family and thinking about the real reason for the season, but I definitely didn't turn this one down.  Yes, it was going to be cold, but isn't that real football weather?  So we packed up our long johns and underarmour gear and headed up north.

Not a bad drive at all, and Caleb sat in the front seat and talked.  And talked.  Snow lined the road next to us but it wasn't as bad as we were afraid it was going to be, and before we knew it, we were in the tunnel.  People had told us about the tunnel, but it really can't be described. You're driving along, and it's looking like Kentucky, kind of hilly and trees, and then through the tunnel, and before your eyes is the skyline.  Pretty awesome. 

And to my left is Heinz Field... and to say that I am like a kid in a candy store is an understatement. 

It's early so we head over to Hard Rock to eat, and then there is a sports store in a shopping plaza and we go into to pick up a Terrible Towel. Emmanuel Sanders is there signing autographs so Caleb takes a pic and pretends like he is his biggest fan... and then he maybe is, because his background pic on his phone is changed and he's buying a tee-shirt for the game. 

We get back to the hotel and Phil Simms is in the lobby, and we hear that the Bengals are staying there.  Sightings galore as we go to get pops and go swimming.  Caleb can't stay cooped up in a hotel room... so he's riding the elevator with a Bengal, #58.  "So, you going to the game tomorrow?" He asks him to make conversation. (That's my husband and my son for you... never see a stranger.) "Yeah, I probably better show up."

We head back out and go to the Christmas village and freeze and have our pictures taken with Santa Clause.  More swimming and then it's bedtime and then it's gametime. Riding down to the lobby there's another Bengal player, and Caleb admires his beats and his phone. "That's what I want for Christmas," He tells him, to which the player replied, "You must have been a good boy."

And then we are there, and the sun is shining right on our seats.  The stadium fills up and I'm watching Troy and Ben and Heath warm up right in front of me.  Terry Bradshaw's daughter sings the National Anthem and there are those terrible towels, waving all around me... and Caleb is like the ring leader.  Waving as hard as he can.

Yes, the Steelers lost.  No, we won't be in the playoffs this year... but I got to see Timmons make an awesome sac and Troy make a couple of really good hits and got to see those towels in action... Heinz Field was definitely worth the drive, and this has already been one of my best Christmases ever... and it hasn't even really started yet.  God bless!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Greatest Gift

Today I finished up my shopping, I think. Good thing, too, since Christmas is just four days away.  We do Christmas at the Griffiths on Christmas Eve and then go to my in-laws that evening.  Christmas morning finds us at Mom and Dad's, then Grandma Na's, where the Clemons Clan barely fits into the house, making for a loud and "close" meal.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

Most of my presents are wrapped, too, under my one Christmas tree.  Today, Caleb made Christmas cookies with Mom and we delivered them to friends and family.  We visited one family friend who had 12 Christmas trees.  Yes, 12!  One in every room.  Decorated in Santas and snowmen and angels and snowbabies and Hallmark ornaments and sportsthemed ornaments... but there were probably more nativity scenes than there were trees.  Beautiful decorating, and it got me thinking as I wrapped my presents.

I'm not the best gift wrapper.  I never sent out Christmas cards this year; in fact, I've never sent out cards the entire time Wallace and I have been married.  I always mean to send them out. I buy them, and they sit unopened...

But I love.  I think of those I love and say special prayers for them... so even if you don't get a card, know I'm thinking of you this Christmas and wishing you and yours the very best. 

And as I'm getting older, I'm realizing it's less about the gifts and more about family, and being together, and loving.  Of laughter and memories and belonging. And I'm sending up a special prayer for those who might be hurting, who have lost a loved one this year or who are estranged from those they love.

Above all, I'm remembering the best Christmas gift any of us could receive.  Ironically, He came to earth as a helpless babe.  Mary was a young teenage girl who had to be scared to death, and Joseph wanted to privately divorce her when he found out. Not the best of circumstances to come into... but then He grew, and that Word made flesh became the Savior that all of us needed.  The best gift is the fact that even though I deserve nothing, He gave everything.  No pretty packages, just Him on the Cross.  For me.  And for you.

And if you don't know Him, He doesn't have to be a stranger.  He loves you.  Give yourself the best Christmas present.  Grab a Bible and read Luke 2.  Get to know Him, because here's the catch.  He's a soon returning King, and our gifts will be many in Heaven... because His grace is sufficient.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Live Like Its the Last

Tomorrow is December 21st... the end of the Mayan calendar.  It's been the talk for the last couple of years... what will happen on this day, if anything?  I've lived through a couple "end of days" days.  Everyone feared the millenium... that we'd wake up and nothing would work, all of our digital lifestyle would have gone haywire, banks would be robbed and electricity would fail, etc. etc... and then we woke up, and nothing had changed.

I'm not a believer in the Mayan prophesy... I'd much rather hold fast to the Word given over 2000 years ago, that says that noone, not even the Son of God, knows the time nor the hour.  I do believe, however, that time is running out.  Signs such as wars, and rumors of wars, and endless killings, and earthquakes in diverse places... those are all biblical in nature, pointing to the time that Jesus will come back to set up His kingdom, a Kingdom where peace will rule and chaos will be no more.

Just this morning, I read in James.... my paraphrase.  You spend your time saying tomorrow I'll do this and go here and buy this... but what is your life? It is but a vapor, here for a little while, and then it fades away.  And I am so guilty of that.  An obsessive planner, a compulsive to-do list maker.  and that okay... but today, as I sit here reading the twitter feed and the facebook updates talking about the Mayan doomsday, I got to thinking. 

If today really was my last day on earth, what would it look like? I'd like to think it would be spent with those I loved the most.  I think if I knew my time was short, I'd laugh more, and care less about things that didn't matter.  I'd be more giving.  I'd not be quite as serious, and not get so consumed with what I don't have and what I can't do.  If today was really my last day, I'd want everyone to know just how much they mean to me.  I might pick up the phone and call old friends I haven't talked to in a while.  I might not spend as much time on the computer, and spend more time thanking God.

Even though we don't know when the end of the earth is going to be, or even when the end of our life will be, we do know that we only have a short time to make a difference.  In the end, it's not going to matter how many friends we have on Facebook (even though I love Facebook) or how many pairs of shoes we have or even how expensive our house is.  In the end, it's going to be how we pointed others to Him.  We have the opportunity every day to live as if there were no tomorrow, and to fully embrace the opportunities we are given today.  Opportunities to be a light to others, to serve as Jesus did, and to love one another. 

As if this was our last day...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

All Things For Good

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28 NIV84

All things...

The week before Christmas, two weeks before the new year, and I'm pondering all that has happened in 2012 and wondering what 2013 will hold. Lots of hype about the craziness of the end of the world happening... and it makes me wonder how much longer.

Perspective is a premature baby in an incubator at UK, weighing just shy of 2 lbs. I've followed her progress on facebook. Tiny in pictures, I can only imagine how small she is in person. Her Mama posts daily, and I stalk her site for news. I may never meet Jaycee, but she has captured my heart.

Perspective is the 16 year old I follow on Facebook as well. States away from me, I've followed her journey through chemotherapy and exploratory surgery, as she shaved her head and is homeschooled and makes the most of her life. I know I'll never meet her, but again, I pray for her daily.

Perspective is all of those who have lost loved ones and jobs this close to the Christmas season. Money is tight, especially in these weeks ahead, as credit card notices come in. The necessities in life are just more and more expensive...

Perspective is a young soldier coming home to his wife. For much of their marriage, he's been deployed. Now, on home soil, they will share the holidays together.

Perspective is all that is wrong in the world... and all that is magically right. Daily, He is good. He is good in prayers, and through people, and in the magic of the human race, which triumphs in times of tragedy through small, insignificant acts of kindness. And though we may never realize, or we may not understand, He is working good in our lives. In our ordinary, run of the mill, mundane lives.

We heard the wonders after 9/11, people who lived because their alarm clock didn't go off or they missed the subway or they called in sick to work, and it's easy to see how he works for good in those ways. But even in the ugly, in the death and the sickness and the hardship, He's working for the good. In the marriage that seems like it is on the brink because of unfaithfulness, He's using that to turn them around. In the death of a young child to cancer, He's using it to bring others closer to Him. Stories we may never hear, He's using it for good.

I thought it was interesting that this was our verse this week, because He uses all things to work for the good so that we can be greater in Him, yet as a nation we are pausing, or have been pausing, to figure out just what could be good in times like this. I don't pretend to have those answers... but He does. And He is all good, no matter what. Even when we don't understand, His way is not our way. And I'm so glad for that, because my way would be a bungling mess.

Look up... our redemption draws nigh. And it's going to be so good... dare I say it? Greater than anything we can imagine.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blue Skies

The wind is whipping outside my window, causing the bare tree branches to flap around.  It's mid-December, and the weather is finally starting to act like it.  A week until Christmas, and not yet a week from the darkness that seemed to descend...

I'm far away from Conneticut in my office at work yet it seems like it could be my backyard.  Caleb is just up the hill from me, safe and secure in a locked down school with signs on the doors detailing stricter pick-up policies, and although I know in my heart of hearts that right now everything is fine a Mama can't help but wonder.

And Jesus came and was the light of the World, but that light seems to be fading day by day as the TV reports more death and more shooting and more sickness and more hardships.  We wonder why, yet I think of the letter Wallace got from the state department after he prayed at a volleyball game.  I'm thinking about freedom of religion and freedom from oppression, yet why does it feel like it's a bad thing when I speak His name, the most powerful name?  Why should I feel uncomfortable, wondering what others will think?  Oh, Lord... help me show Your light...

And as I'm thinking these dark thoughts and praying for the families of Grace and Noah and Victoria... all 26 families who are facing much darker days than I am... I look out my window, where the gray clouds are rolling. And there, peeking out in the middle of all that gray, blue skies.  Reminding me that even here, in this darkness and worry and fear, in our grief and questioning and hoping that good can come... God is here.  He is our Immanuel, and it is for this very reason that Jesus came to be the Word made flesh to dwell among us, God with us.... to comfort and heal and save, and to defeat death.

"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."- Isaiah 9:6

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My Christmas List

When I was little, Christmas was all about the presents. Oh, I still like presents, but Christmas means so much more now.  Time with my family, laughter, celebrating all of our blessings... and time off to read.

I LOVE to read.  I'll read about anything. Right now I'm reading about 9 different books.  There's Plum Spooky, book 14.5 in the Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series.  I'm also reading Julia's Chocolate by Cathy Lamb, a novel about a woman who has left her abusive fiancee and retreated to her aunt's house.  There's The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, a book I got for free on my Kindle, which I am really enjoying.  I love books about small communities and hope and love for God, all wrapped into one. 

On a serious note, I'm still fumbling through War and Peace.  I'm not much farther than I was when I posted last about my reading list.  I was telling Holly yesterday how far I was into it and she said, "If you can make it through the first 600 or 700 pages...", so it's looking like I've got a while before it turns good.  I'm determined that I'll finish sometime... just because she says it is worth it. I'm also reading Greater by Steven Furtick.  It highlights the story of Elisha and how God calls us to be greater... right where we are.  I'm really enjoying it. 

And then there is my to read list, which grows daily.  I've always been a tad bit addicted to books, but that's okay.  Over Christmas break, I plan to read... a lot.  Some of the titles on my to read list: the rest of the Stephanie Plum series (total of 19, so I've got 5 or 6 to go, depending on if there are any .5 books), the 3rd book in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo book (I've still got to buy it... but I know I'm going to read it).  In my bookshelf includes The Sound of One Hand Clapping, The Red Tent, Shoes Addicts Anonymous, The Silver Boat, The Kite Runner, The Postmistress, Their Eyes Were Watching God... just to name a few.  And on my Kindle are too many to name, too... but off the top of my head, Water for Elephants, Saving Max, and some small e-books of Sweet Valley Confidential (follows the Wakefield Twins of Sweet Valley High... love me some Sweet Valley). Then there's Crazy Love by Francis Chan, The Well, and several other books by Christian writers I can't wait to ruminate on.

And as always, Christmas stories, for free... I try to read those right before Christmas to get myself in the spirit.

Lots to read, little time to do so... but books are my best friends, and they'll always be there when I get to the shelf. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Happy Early Birthday, Papaw!

We each live a life, a tale to be told.  I've always thought about whether my story is worth reading or not.  Some people just have that kind of life, the one you want to know more about.  They seem superhuman, almost, or at least have that something special.

I've been blessed in my life to know all four of my grandparents.  I love each of them for different reasons... they are all special because they are unique.  Their stories are those worth telling, and they tell them well.  But there is just something about my Papaw Paul. 

Papaw has always looked like Santa Clause.  A head full of white hair, a bearded face, rosy red cheeks, twinkling blue eyes.  I never will forget when my Great grandpa Barlow passed away.  I was in the 8th grade, and a couple of my younger cousins (on the Clemons side) looked up reverently as Papaw Paul walked into the funeral home. "Wow!" one of them exclaimed.  "Papaw Barlow must have been special. Santa Clause came to his funeral."

No, he's not Santa Clause, but his generosity can match Santa's.  Papaw would give you the shirt off his back.  Raised poor, he worked hard to help support his younger brothers and sisters.  He graduated from high school with honors and went to Michigan to work hours a day to provide for my dad, uncle, and aunt.  He came home and on the weekends worked on his farm and fed his fish and built in his basement.  The smell of sawdust still brings back memories of Papaw downstairs, making me homemade microphone stands. I spent a lot of time there, and there was nothing like Papaw's cornbread crumbled up in a glass of milk. 

As I got older, Papaw was always there for me.  He had his own "bank" and the reserve never ran out.  I'd sign an IOU, and every year at Christmas, Papaw would give me a notecard saying someone had paid off my balance.  He told me that it was his pleasure to help me out, but it was my responsibility to help out my younger sisters in the same way. 

Papaw is the smartest person I know.  He can figure out anything, can think outside of the box better than anyone I know.  A few years ago, his ice sculptures (made out of trees, branches, and water through water hoses) amazed everyone who drove by Hollybush.  He even was mentioned in the Herald Leader and was featured in the book Kentucky: Off the Beaten Path. 

He has a wicked sense of humor.  I will always remember Wallace's first Christmas with us.  Papaw got a hot pepper and dipped a toothpick in it. He was the one laughing the hardest when Wallace realized just how hot Papaw's hot peppers were.

Next Wednesday, Papaw will turn 80.  I think he's lived a life worth living, and his tale is definitely worth telling.  There is not enough space in this blog to tell how much I love him, and all of my granparents.  All I know is I'm one blessed girl =)

Friday, December 14, 2012

We Need God

I can picture him at that age, glasses sliding down his nose, that gap in between his teeth.  A little mischievious, he's always ready to pick on Kami and to drive his cars all around the house and to make as much noise as possible.  He speaks with a slight impediment, just enough to make it cute when you can't hardly understand what he says.

He started preschool and my heart broke as I drove across Shoulderblade Hill toward town.  My baby, in another county, with his daddy across the road, his hand reaching out to pull me back into the classroom.  Two years later, I walked him into school every morning, to kindergarten.  He  made me sit by him as we said the Pledge of Allegiance, and sometimes even held my hand.  I took what I could get, because I knew it wouldn't be too much longer before he'd restrict me to the parking lot.

Time moves fast, and while he is just in 4th grade, he seems so far away from that little boy. Now he stands almost as tall as me.  Yet my heart stops as I read my Twitter feed today...

I think all of America stands still as we turn our eyes and ears to Conneticut, to the small town of Newtown and Sandy Hook Elementary and  20 children and 6 adults, plus the shooter, and the horror in our hearts is too much.  Just too much. 

Grades K-4th.  This morning, those mamas and daddies dropped their babies off, and never thought they wouldn't pick them up this afternoon.  And I think of Caleb, how he needed reassurance as I dropped him off. "You promise you'll come back and get me?  Or Daddy? Or Papaw?"  Every day, the same conversation, and everyday I reassured him.  I can not imagine, nor do I want to.

This afternoon, I got home and went straight to Papaw's.  Caleb was on the couch, watching the news.  I pulled him up in my lap and hugged him, hard.  He just let me for a minute... after all, he's getting too big for that now.  I've stayed glued to the news.  My heart goes out to the families, the first responders, the other children, the police officers, the faculty and the staff at the school.  Above all, I'm praying for America.  What we need, more than anything, is  God.  Only He can turn us around. 

We don't understand why.  We question and get angry and point fingers in all different directions. What we do know is that the Prince of this world is evil and walks about like a roaring lion, seeking who he can devour.  However, we have been sent the Prince of Peace, a soon returning King... and He is enough. 

Lord, comfort the broken hearted and bind up our wounds.  We need you now. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012


If you've read this blog any at all, you know that one thing I sometimes struggle with is confidence. I beat myself up a lot about stuff that really doesn't matter. I second guess decisions and am hesitant to try new things because I'm afraid that I'll fail. This summer, I read Grace for the Good Girl by Emily Freeman, and it really helped me recognize my tendencies in doing these things, and realizing that it's okay to not be confident in myself...

Because I can be confident in who I am in Christ. This week's Bible verse for the Greater study really hit home. Yesterday, I read it in three different email devotions I subscribe to, so I'm thinking that God's got a "greater" message for me. Hebrews Chapter 11 is probably one of my favorite chapters in the Bible (if you've not read it.. stop. Open your Bible. If you don't have a Bible, go to Glance through it. But please come back.). As you read those hall of fame names, realize that they. are. everyday. people. Everyday people God used to do extraordinary things. They really weren't anything special. Some of them were downright scandalous until they met Jesus.

"Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1. Without faith it is impossible to please God... because He wants us to rely fully and completely on Him. Faith, by definition, is confidence. You may not see how something will happen, but you know that it will. It is full assurance, no doubting. No doubting... that's the hard part.

I loved the Message Translation. "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see." Fundamental and foundation... because without true faith, our religion is just that, religion. Without faith, confidence in God, we can't experience the true relationship He wants to have with us. And that relationship is what makes life worth living... when illness comes, when we don't know where we will get money to pay the light bill, when relationships crumble... when we lose all we have... when we see our children smile and laugh... in the good times and the bad, this faith, confidence, trust in God makes it all worth living... makes it possible to get up in the morning and do this whole thing called life again, day after day, trouble after trouble... because He is still good. He is still God, and part of having faith is knowing that no matter where you are, He's there, and a better day is coming. Even on our best day, a better day than we could every imagine is coming... because His grace is sufficient.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

To be With Those I Like...

The smell of chocolate chip cookies permeates the air and I breathe in deep. There's just something about your Mama's kitchen that makes all right with the world. Family, home, memories... Caleb has talked Mamaw into baking cookies and he asks to crack the eggs... but is satisfied with stirring them in the dough and pinching off a piece before she puts the spoonfills out on the cookie sheets. Outside, the creak of the swing can be heard, back and forth, back and forth... even in these ice cold temperatures. The screen door slams and she smiles as she points for me to sit down. Mom is pulling more cookies out of the oven, and Kami comes back in with her laptop and sits down. She seems a little older, but maybe it's just that I've not been around her much. I stare over her shoulder as she shows me the laptop screen. Caleb comes and crowds in, muscles his way right next to her. We watch videos and before I know it my belly hurts and tears are flowing. Caleb has lost his breath and Kami giggles... and Caleb begs to watch another, then another. It's Christmas break for her and almost break for us and I realize how quickly time flies. It doesn't seem like so long ago she believed in the magic and she sang Santa Baby, and we put him in his carrier under Mom's Christmas tree with a bow on his head. Tonight, I'm pausing to look at them as they are, beautiful and young and full of life and hope and promise. Today, I'm unwrapping the here and now of family and laughter and love, and it feels good. Hope wherever you are, you're relishing the present as a gift... “I have learned that to be with those I like is enough” ― Walt Whitman And above all that... His grace is sufficient.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Blessings Personified

Rainy days and Mondays always get me down... and I don't know why.  There's just something to returning to the hustle and bustle of  a work week (although I took a vacation day today to get caught up on my stats project.  It's due Friday but my goal is to get it submitted by Wednesday... or at least ready to submit so I can ask questions during office hours on Wednesday night. Any prayers will be greatly appreciated)... Anyway, the whole Monday issue should be a call to excitement... a new week, new opportunities.  Sometimes I feel that way...

But when combined with the rain ALL day, just nasty, gloomy rain, it's easy to become down in the dumps.  God's Word tells us instead to focus on true, noble, lovely, pure things... and as always, I am reminded to think of my blessings, to practice gratitude on this dark day. 

Blessings are easy to count if you have the right perspective, yet even though I have been very intentional this year about looking for blessings, even in the unordinary, I still sometimes find myself at a loss, feeling ungrateful.  It's easy to be thankful for material things... but today I want to talk just a little bit about blessings in the form of people.

Of course, I am thankful for my family. This morning, I was taking Caleb to school and he was chatting away in the passenger seat, and my heart was just full.  It's amazing to think how God can take something tiny and exponentially grow it into this manchild that is so smart and funny.  It seems as if I only blinked and he had changed from that toddler who couldn't say so many letters to this articulate human who has no difficulty expressing his feelings.  Then there is Wallace, and my parents and my sisters and my in-laws, and baby Will, who I am just fascinated by.  Not to mention my whole extended family.  Wallace and I have the same conversation every holiday, how extremely blessed we are to live on this holler with all of these people with no fighting or discord.  How our families have melded into one over the years.  It's a beautiful thing... and completely a God thing.  I hear of too many family disagreements to not give credit where credit is due.

Then there are my friends, whom I have very blessed to have.  Just this weekend, Jenna and I drove to Bowling Green and back.  A wrong turn took us a few minutes out of the way, and it was dark and rainy the whole time, and the drive seemed like it took forever, but I know that if I didn't have her by my side it would have been much longer.  Through laughter and stories and talk of music and work and families and shopping and cupcakes... she gets me.  And I need someone that gets me.  I'm so blessed to have good coworkers that are more than peers. 

I'm blessed with some great students, who overcome adversity on a daily basis.  I'm blessed to love a group of basketball players like my own kids.  I'm blessed with a good church family, who I know I can count on in difficult situations.  So many people... so little space.

Then there are all of you... and others I connect with online.  I have a group of sisters that I've grown to love through an online Bible study group on Facebook.  Our group is as varied as they come, and span the nation, but we've grown close through chatting and sending cards back and forth.  And then there are some of my favorites, like Ann Voskamp and Beth Moore, Lysa Terkeurst and Renee Swope.  I look forward to reading their blogs and following along in their Bible studies...and while I've never met any of these individuals, they have impacted my walk with God.

As we move into Christmas, take time to tell those you appreciate how grateful you are for them.  Every person is in his  or her own way a blessing from God, just proof of how his grace multiplies, as do his blessings.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Mary Did You Know?

It's Christmas time, full fledged, and I am thinking of that little baby swaddled in the manger as I stare at my Christmas tree.  I've got about half of my shopping done, but nothing wrapped, so there's nothing under the tree right now but a Santa bear and a snowman.  I know I've got plenty of time... after all, my last day of work is December 19th, almost a week before Christmas. 

As I've gotten older, my favorite thing to really think about though, above the presents and the lights and the get-togethers and the time off, is about that little baby.  Immanuel... God with Us.  A child was born, unto us, within us, to us... and He was so much.  I wonder how much He weighed at birth and how long He was.  Did he have much hair?  I remember looking at Caleb's ten perfect fingers and toes, and those big eyes staring up at me, mouth opened into a yawn... did Mary think thoughts like that as she stared at God in her arms?  Mary, Did You Know is one of my favorite songs because of this... she knew she had been chosen by God. She knew He was God's Son... but did she know what that meant?

This morning, I read in my Chronological Bible the story of Jesus's crucifixion.  Mary looked on as this precious boy she had held in her arms, she had pondered about in her mind, hung on a cross for her sins.  For my sins.  For your sins.  I'm sure a million things flashed through her mind... her frantically scanning the crowd as she looked for Him when He was lost, only to find Him in His Father's house.  Probably His first steps.  His first words... words from the Word of God himself.  As she stood there, seeing our shame on His face, did her mind wander back to that first night in a manger, when she, as a young teenager, encountered God in the most physically intimate way possible?  Did she know... even then, even after it had all played out, what it all truly meant, not just for her, but for me, a mother sitting on  my couch and reading Advent devotions, reading Jesus's earthly geneology through messed up people like Rahab and loyal people like Ruth and pure people like Mary...

And did she know what victory would be seen three days later? Did she really believe it... she must have, or otherwise all of the angst and worry of those early years would have been for naught.  Oh, to read the words, "Why seek ye the living among the dead?  He is risen..." Risen, He who made Himself lowly to be born into flesh in a filthy manger, who traveled dusty roads and had little here on earth, who served others and put them before Himself... is risen, and is now sitting at the right hand of the Father, a soon returning King.  Oh, Mary, I'd love to have known what you knew... because I can't hardly imagine.  And the Christmas story cannot stand alone; it must be told with the bookend of He is risen.  That is the greatest Christmas gift of all

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

At Once

Am I the only person in the world who is a procrastinator?  I know the answer to this question is no, but somehow it feels that way.  I have never been the kind of person who jumps right out of bed in the morning; I have to lay there and stretch and open one eye at a time.  Then I fumble through the bedroom, and I'm usually just waking up as I'm leaving the house.  I wish I was a morning person... but I'm not.

And then there is the whole Christmas shopping thing.  Some people have their gifts bought in July.  Not me... in fact, I've been known to make a late "Santa" run the day before Christmas.  Case in point?  I've only bought one present as of today...

Papers are written the day before.  I'm always behind on grading.  It works, but sometimes I feel like a madwoman as I try to get it done before the last day of class...

I even kind of sort of procrastinated when it came to this whole God thing.  I was raised in church, one of those every Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night girls.  I believed in God.  I even asked Him to be my Savior when I was 12, and was baptized in a swimming pool at a church camp... but I didn't really get it.  Fast forward fifteen years.  I'm married and don't have to go to church unless I want to... and that whole Savior thing?  I didn't know Him, know Him, if you know what I mean.  Then I had Caleb.... and I remembered the whole "raise up the child" verse and knew I wanted him to have someone to cling to in this crazy world.  A friend introduced me to Beth Moore Bible studies, and I really started listening to sermons instead of working on my to do list... and here I am.  Not perfect, but madly in love with Jesus Christ and trying to figure out why He never left my side, even when I let dust gather on my Bible and kind of misplaced it (although I'm happy to say I have more than made up for that with my current Bible).

Jesus calls us all different ways and in different  circumstances.  It doesn't matter where we come from.  What matters is that we are willing.  It doesn't matter how long it took us... it just matters that we finally answer.  I'm ruminating on this fact as I contemplate our Bible verse for the week for the Melissa Taylor online Bible Study.

"Walking along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers: Simon (later called Peter) and Andrew. They were fishing, throwing their nets into the lake. It was their regular work. Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.” They didn’t ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed."- Matthew 4:18-20, The Message.  See, Peter and Andrew were just minding their business, fishing, doing what they always did.  Jesus saw them where they were... and called them to become who He knew they could be.  Greater than fishermen... making them Fishers of Men.

"At once they left their nets and followed him.".  At once.. as it says in the Message, they didn't ask any questions.  No hesitation. No procrastination... They just dropped it all and followed Him, to greater things, to more than they can imagine. 

I'm thinking it's time we do the same.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Unwrapping the Good Gift

His head is lowered, concentrating on coloring in the lines. He is too old to be coloring, but he does, as he listens to me read. Today, Abram and Sarai, and the gift of Isaac. God granting Abram a son, and then later, much later, the little boy coloring can be adopted into that covenant.

The tale goes on, this observing of Advent that is anything but traditional. Eating McDonalds french fries as he colors, ketchup piled high. "Does God know my name?" He asks. "Yes.",I answer, pausing in the story. "And does he know your name?", as he dips a french fry again. "Yes, Caleb. He knows all of our names. He has us engraved in the palm of HIs hand." He looks up, adjusting his glasses on the end of his nose. "But there have been millions of people born since then. How can He know all of us?"

And I take a deep breath, because how do you answer that? How do I, the imperfect mother, put into words the love of a perfect Father, who knows what we need before we ask. "He does. Knows everyone. I'm not sure how, but He's that great. He knows every grain of sand on every beach, and you know how many that is." That's a pretty good answer, right?

"So, He knows that I put more salt on my fries when you told me not to?" Caleb asked. And I look up, and smile. My heart fills with love even as I start to lose my patience. How is it that this good God could send us the greatest gift, us who are so unworthy, who do things even when He tells us not to? "Yep." I answer.

I look around... in this mess of a moment. A living room mess... books piled up on the couch. "He loves us, even when we disobey. Even when we are a mess."

Unwrapping his gifts with Emily Freeman at Chatting at the Sky... especially the good gifts that come out of undeserved grace. This moment... one moment in time, but in Caleb, affecting eternity. Eternity in my heart, as well... because His grace is sufficient.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas Love all Month Long

A month of gratitude flew by, and now it is December. I'm feeling the noose around my neck as the year comes to an end.  We're down to 28 days, and those days are full of finals and papers and homework, of shopping and birthday dinners and basketball games, of a Pittsburgh game and wrapping presents and running... and before I know it, 2013 will be here and I'll be jotting down my resolutions.  They'll be similiar to this year's, because nothing is ever perfect and there is always room for improvement, and God is still working, thank goodness.

But today, the Monday of finals week. All is quiet on campus and I work in my office, listening to K-love and singing along with Christmas carols. Once again, the sky is blue, and the 60 degree weather puts me in a decent mood.  I walk outside, gravel crunching under my feet, and think about how the greatest gift is love and I have that to offer.  God is love and Immanuel was born, and I am unworthy yet He is still who He is. 

And if God is love, and He is in me, does this not mean that I must be love, too, in my finest being?  Yet I struggle, because love is not jealous and love is kind and love is patient... and I am at times none of these things.  I look at the Christmas tree in my living room, and think of the cross, how He was nailed on that tree for love's sake, and how I so casually take that for granted.  I am full of requests when I pray... give me this and give me that and be with so and so... yet never do I really think of what He wants, He desires. 

The greatest gift came from love, and the greatest commandment is love, and the greatest thing we can do for each other is to love... as in love the verb, love an action.  There is no finer time to do this than Christmas.  So last night as Caleb and I talked we decided that love can be given, and we can be the blessing, we can be the Jesus that this world needs so badly.  Join me in being a little more intentional about loving? An open door, a kind word, a hug when  friend needs it... the extra money for someone a cup of coffee or donating to a toy or food drive?  So many small things that we can give, we, who have so much...

like books to read and papers finished and warm blankets, laugher from little boys from deep within their bellies, time with Mom and a text from Kami and the feeling of belonging on Twin Cedar.  Sunshine and unexpected warmth, and the realization that because God is love, He loves me, everlasting.  New music on my iPhone and new mercies every morning...

Counting his blessings... near 1000 now.  Because He is more than enough, and His grace is more than sufficient.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Beginning of the Season

I'm sitting on the bus, in the dark.  I'm a little old for a bus ride, but that's where I'm found, night after night.  It's cold and it's loud.  The music is playing and the girls in the back have finally settled down, althought the occasional giggle can still be heard.  There's something about those giggles that make me smile.  I'm staring out the window, at the moon high in the sky.  In the reflection, his head is lowered, and he's concentrating on his cell phone as he texts someone.  It's never far from his hand, and I'm learning to live with that.  I don't think I have ever loved him more.

Two nights ago, we sit in a gym, again.  It's funny how pivotal a gym plays in my life, yet it never gets old.  I don't think that it ever will.  I picture us in our 70s, going to watch the local high schools play. By that time, the kids he is coaching will have kids playing... and I'm sure we'll hear all about his glory days.  On that night, he's pretty rowdy.  The first game of the season.  Lots of jumping and yelling and stomping.  The crowd of kids on the other side of the gym are mocking, and he is playing right to it.  It's always funny to me how the other fans and parents don't like him. "I'd never let my kid play for someone who acts like that..."

What they don't see, though, is the back scenes.  The next night, a 40 point loss, and as he has finally settled into the fact that they are going to lose, he subs in his second five and comes over to those on the bench.  There's even a smile on his face as he bends over and talks.  And on the bus, as we get off to eat, he gives one of the seniors a high five.  "Keep your head up.", he smiles.  "It's going to be a good year."

I am a student of the game, because even after all of these years, I don't know much about it.  I'm learning different defenses and offenses.  The girls asked me about a team earlier on in the year, and I laugh as I tell them I really don't know enough about it to tell them.  I'm still learning who is a 1, a 2, a 3... that's all his business.  My business is to let him rant and rave when they do bad, and to encourage when there wasn't anything else they can do.  I'm the one behind the scenes, who sees him worry before a game and who listens to the game plan and who hears about "what if we had..." following a loss.  And I'm a student of him, because after sixteen years, things change. People change.  Relationships change... and staying in love means never staying, but changing and adapting and sacrificing. 

And on that bus, someone starts talking, and he looks up and joins in.  I'm content just to sit and listen. And the girls in the back laugh a little, and sing along to Taylor Swift, and even after a loss, all is right in the world.  Tonight, and every night, It's great to be a Jackson Tiger.