"May the God of hope fill you with great joy and peace as you trust in him." Romans 15:13

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I Get It Now!

I grew up in the church.  Like REALLY in the church.  My parents were key leadership, more often than not serving on staff or in "important" volunteer positions.  All the days of my childhood, I felt known, loved, important, and cherished in, and by, my church.

After Chad and I married, we joined that same church and began serving just as my parents had.  Though there were times I felt unqualified for the role God was calling me to, I always felt loved, supported, respected, and known by my church family.  It was not perfect, but it was my safe place - a place I loved.

And then a few years ago, I felt God calling me away from that safe place.  I questioned and fought that call.  For a long time.  You see, I loved my church family.  I also loved the safety and security of my little church.

But the Lord made it very clear that He was calling us away.

That was a very hard season.

God had made it clear that we were to go - but not clear where we should go.  And because we had wrestled with His will for so long, we left with a limp.  We were tired, wounded, disillusioned, disappointed, and burned-out.

And as weary, wounded soldiers, that were perhaps suffering from some spiritual PTSD, we began searching for the place God was calling us to.  As a family, we took turns choosing a church to visit.  We would go for a few weeks or even a few months, trying to discern if THAT place was THE place God wanted us to stay.  After about a year, at the very church I least wanted Him to send us to, we felt called to stay.

So we stayed.

Though we loved Jesus and were totally committed to Him, we were also quite spiritually messy.  We had NO interest in meeting and knowing the pastor.  We enjoyed his sermons, but we did not want to know him personally lest we were disappointed in his character away from the pulpit.  We also had no interest in knowing anyone else.  We just wanted to be invisible.  To sit in a pew and allow worship and the Word to heal us.

Over the past two years we have dipped our toes in the water just a tiny bit.  I have gone to a couple of Bible studies, Ladies Night, evenings of prayer and worship; and although I have not really connected with anyone, God has used those events to shape me.  Chad and I went to membership classes - but we have not taken the step to actually join the congregation.  We have lingered, vacillating, not quite in or out.

I have been constantly wondering if this was really where the Lord wanted us.  I would argue with Him that it was such a BIG church and I was sure I would never be known or missed.  They didn't even know I was there and they surely would not miss me if I stopped showing up.  In a year of much death (4 grandparents), I would lament to God that if I died there would not even be a pastor that knew me.  Who would do my funeral?  Where would my kids get married?  Though I was not very involved in A church, I was actively involved in THE church. . .

Slowly, after much prayer, God began to humble my heart.  I began to realize that the ONLY ONE who needed to know about me was GOD.  If I were serving Him, be it all alone on an island or in the midst of the most public organization on the planet, His approval and His knowing me was all that mattered.  I do not need to be known or respected or loved on this side of heaven by anyone but Him.  Having a Pastor say nice things at my funeral was absolutely NOT important.  (And my children are responsible to have their own relationships with Jesus, not merely piggyback on my faith in order to have a nice location in which to host their weddings.)

Our Pastor, who I still have not really met in any significant way, recently preached a sermon about being transplanted.  Feeling like a small plant in a huge pot.  Though he was speaking about totally different circumstances, I thought, "that is me!"  I feel very lost within this HUGE church I attend.  I feel unimportant and unrecognized. I feel unsure of my place.  But that picture of a tiny plant growing into a bigger pot has challenged me and comforted me.

One thing that I remember talking about a lot in my old church was the fact that people would come to church, sit in the pew for a year or longer and then disappear.  My former church (and perhaps all churches) struggled with a revolving door of new people.  Some came, others went, but not too many stuck. I could not quite understand it.  But I get it now.  You see, I did not just need weeks to feel comfortable in my current church, I needed years.  When we first started attending, people would greet us, seek us out a bit.  However, after just sitting in a pew for nearly two years, people don't quite know how to handle us.  They "should" know our names - but since we have not really spoken, other than shaking hands during coffee time - they do not.  They assume that since we have not gotten involved yet, we must not want to.  At the same time they are withdrawing, feeling like we are a nice looking family that doesn't really want to be known, I am starting to long for someone, anyone to know us.

That realization alone may be why God called us out of safety and into a BIG pot.

I have learned so much through my years as a church seeker.  I have learned what it is to feel isolated, though surrounded by people.  I have learned what it is to feel like an outsider while the insiders chat about another member of the church that all of them have known for years.  I have learned what it is to feel welcome, yet not really included.  It has been so rich, yet so humbling, to learn to find my identity as a christian in Christ alone, rather than in the relationships and responsibilities I had at church.

Though I very much regret dragging me feet and refusing to listen to the Lord's call to go, I have no regrets with the going.  It has been one of the hardest times I have had spiritually - which also means it has been a time in which I have learned the most.  I know God so much better than I did a few years ago.  And I have allowed Him to be a much more central part of my life.  He stripped many relationships and distractions from my life so that I would focus on Him and His will.

And though I am far from known in our new church, the greeter at the door last week knew my name.  I can not tell you how wonderful it felt to have someone say, "Good Morning, Alicia!" with a big, sincere smile.

It is my prayer that will hide all the emotions and lessons of the past years deep in my heart, I always want to remember how it feels to be unknown and unimportant - so that I can reach out to the people God places in my path in a more tender way.

And to all of you church "insiders". . . don't stop reaching out to the people who sit near you in church.  Ask their names again.  Be brave, invite them for coffee or to a small group, even if they didn't want to come last year.  Knowing someone sees you is so valuable.  Whether the "new" people in your pew are ready for relationship or not, knowing they are seen is important.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Officially a Stylist

Krissy graduated from Cosmetology school this week.  She is officially a stylist.

She graduated Tuesday and started her first professional job on Thursday.

While in cosmetology school Krissy was nursing/pumping for Wyatt, planning her wedding, got married, became pregnant with Sophia, endured 9 months of pregnancy on her feet all day long, gave birth, and ended school once again pumping/nursing.  Whew!  When I type it all into one sentence, it brings tears to my eyes.  She worked her tail off - both at home and at school - and SHE DID IT!

I am so, so proud of her.

If you are local, stop in at Cost Cutter's on Third.  She has gotten quite good at men's cuts, kids cuts (including ethnic hair), and color.  She's done my hair the last six months, and I have had many compliments!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

TayTay Hope is THREE!

Over the weekend, my littlest ray of sunshine turned three.

Mataya is ALL that three should be!  She is all-in. . . enthusiastic and energetic and sparkling with life.  She is smart and inquisitive.  She loves to pretend.  She loves to color and cut and create.  She loves her siblings and nephew and niece and grandparents and daddy.  But most of all she loves me.


I love that.

If I leave the room, she is yelling to discover where I have gone.  If I go anywhere, and I mean anywhere (even the mailbox), she races to the door when I return, flings herself into my arms, wrapps her arms tight around my neck and declares, "MOM! I missed you SOOOOO much!"

One day she was missing Jamison.  She told me, "Mom take a picture of me. . . like this.  OK now send it to Jay."  (I'm sure he was thrilled.)
She is NOT a diva girl.  She hates shoes, having her hair fixed in the morning, and she definitely has her own sense of style.  However, she ADORES having Krissy cut and style her hair.  She feels so important sitting in Krissy's chair chatting with the other ladies in the salon.  It is a hoot!

 Mataya is Joshua's shadow.  When he is home she is constantly wanting him to play with her.  He is so patient and kind.  They sit side by side and watch TV.  He plays hide and seek with her.  He takes her on his ATV with him, even helping her get into her warm clothes.  On weekends, he often lets her sleep in this room.  They are precious together.

 She still takes a nap almost every day.  I have been trying to break her of the habit, but she loves to nap.  If I don't send her to her room for a quiet time, she climbs onto the recliner and snoozes all on her own.
She is mischievous, sneaky, and very resourceful.

Above she is wearing Brenna's lipstick.

Below, she wanted to brush her teeth and I was too busy to help her right away.

 She continues to come with me to work.  Some days she gets dressed first, some days she "works" in pajamas, but she rarely wears shoes.  She has no idea how lucky she is!  I know how lucky I am though!  I adore having her at work with me!!!
 She has a love/hate relationship with Sierra.  She adores Sierra - but Sierra is gone a lot.  Mataya hates that.  So all too often she is ignoring Sierra because she's mad and sad that they do not have more time together.  I commonly hear this conversation:

"Mataya I love you!  I missed you today!"  

"I don't love you, Sierra!  I am mad at you!"

"Well, I still love you, Tay."

"UGH!" and stomping of tiny feet as she flees the scene.

Mataya is ALWAYS pretending.  Last weekend she decided the shower was actually an elevator.  She gathered all the kids in the house and took them on a ride to a zoo in Africa.  When they arrived in Africa, she marched them across the house showing them the way to the zoo.

She is always making up things like that.  It is so fun!

She absolutely, positively adores her niece Sophia.  Most of her dolls are now named Sophia.  And she talks about how much she loves Sophia every day.  When Mataya gets to hold her tiny niece, she is so content.  She snuggles close and sits as long as Sophia allows.

Although I no longer nap with her every day, I try and snuggle up with her every chance I get.  These moments are fleeting!

We celebrated her birthday with family gathered close.  She had so much fun!
Before her birthday when asked what she wanted she would reply, "pickles and olives"  her favorite foods.  When asked if she wanted presents she would yell, "Yes!  A lotta presents!"  But she had no idea what should be inside of them.  She was thrilled with each gift.

Her joy and innocence was precious.

The highlight of her day was that her cousins could be there.  She was SO THRILLED to have kids to play with her.  She is still talking about how much fun she had!

I always miss half the guests in photos, but here are a few pictures of Mataya's favorite people.
 He's holding his niece!  (Jay is not a baby guy.  He's holding Sophia because I plopped her into his arms.  He was very happy when I removed her!  He is a hoot with toddlers though!)
 Sierra and Sophia
 Alexa, Wyatt, and Addi
 My Wy-guy!!!
 Hide and Seek is her favorite
 (Great) Grandma Donna and Sophia
 Krissy and Wyatt
Addi and Ahlera
On her birthday she talked her dad into using his IPad.  I walked into the bedroom and she said, "Mom.  Leave please.  I'm talking to my dad."

Yep.  I knew she was up to something.

Turns out Dad has UTube for Kids on his IPad, which I have outlawed.
He didn't know.
But she did.
She had a BLAST watching UTube until she fell asleep.
(Yes, we told her later that mom and dad have the same rules and we expect her to be honest...)

She is definitely three!

Oh, TayTay Hopie girl, I do not know what I would do without you.  You keep life exciting and joyful and unexpected.  And the way you LOVE makes my heart swell.  I thank Jesus for you every day girlio.  Every day.

PS - The week before she turned three we were driving to town and I was telling her Bible stories.  She loves it when I tell stories in the car.  Mid-story she says, "STOP mom.  Stop talking."  So I did.  Then she says with eyes squeezed shut, "God I want you be in my heart.  help me to not say naughty things.  I love you God.  Amen"  She popped open her eyes, told me that God was in her car seat with her, and would I please finish the story.  I told her, Did you know that angels are having a party in heaven right now?" and I finished the story with tears on my cheeks.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Can you Praise ME now?

One of my New Year's Aspirations was to memorize scripture.

It has been a most interesting journey.  I am truly in awe of it.  I thought it would be so cut and dry.  So simple.  So scholarly.

Instead it has been a life changing journey of my heart and a true bending of my will.

As I was choosing my most recent verse to memorize, I felt a stirring in my spirit directing me to choose a verse of praise.  And I thought, "Good idea God.  I am way too focused on me.  My troubles.  My worries.  My needs.  On all of the ways that I long for You to serve me.  It would be so great to focus on praise."

I expected it to be a joyful, yippee-skippee kind of assignment.

It has NOT been simple.

The passage I chose in Psalm 103:1-5.

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise His holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul;
and forget not all His benefits - 
He forgives all my sins
and heals all my diseases,
He redeems my life from the pit
and crowns me with love and compassion, 
He satisfies my desires with good things
so that my youth is renewed like the eagle's.

I have heard this passage many times.  In my mind it has always been celebratory.  David is dancing and singing - wildly and joyfully praising God.

BUT this winter, I could not approach it that way.

This winter, I have struggled.  I have been anxious.  Sad.  Nervous.  Dissatisfied.  Tired.  Gloomy.  Questioning.  Weary.

In my season of heart, I could not meditate on this passage and dance a jig.

Rather, I memorized this passage and used it to boss my heart.  Instead of wild dancing and boundless praise, this passage was a lecture.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.  
Are you paying attention, soul?
All my inmost being, hear me, praise His holy name!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!  Just do it!
Seriously, do not forget all His benefits!
He forgave all my sins.
He heals all my diseases. 
He will redeem me from this pit of despair
and He will crown me with love and compassion
even though I do not deserve any of it.
even though I am wallowing and grumpy and lacking trust.
He will satisfy my desires with good things
maybe not the good things I think I need - but the good things I actually need
and my youth - my carefree spirit of joy and trust - will be renewed like the eagle's.

Now - I am NO Biblical scholar.  I am NOT saying that this is how the Greek translates or how David/the Lord really intended this passage to be read.  AT ALL.

But it is how I have worked through it these past 5 weeks.

For five weeks, I have been memorizing this passage.  Although my mind has known the words for some time, my heart and soul needed time to process them.  Time to accept them as true.  Time to work them out.

During these five weeks, the Lord has revealed much about where I find my security.

And sadly, all too often it is not in Him.

All too often I find my security in a financial plan, a clean house and organized life.  So basically, when I feel like my life is under MY control, I feel secure.


That is definitely not how He wants it.

Sure He wants me to take good care of all that He has given me - BUT my security should be in HIM and HIM alone.

All of that other stuff, it is just an illusive idol that I created.


And yet really looking that truth in the face is freeing.  Asking for forgiveness and really, truly seeking Him in all of it has set me (much more) free.

I do not have it figured out.  I do not know how to be a good steward while also seeking Him as I make purchases, pay bills, give and save.  I LIKE goals - but I need to constantly check my heart to make sure that my goals are His will.

I have been working on saying, "God the desire of my heart is to pay off my vehicle/help Jamison with some college expenses/grow the business/etc, etc, etc BUT more than I want the desire of MY heart, I want to follow You.  Make it clear, Lord.  The ONLY good goals I want to pursue are the one's that You have for me." 


"Lord, right now life is feeling out of control.  My natural reaction is to attack the laundry or reorganize my pantry - but will that glorify You?  What do you want of me?  Search my heart, Lord.  Teach me how to submit all of my time and emotion to You."

Because I am a life-long control-a-holic, I believe this will be something I have to be conscious of for the rest of my days.  Planning, organization, structure, routine are things I am good at.  They are gifts, when used in accordance with His will.  They are who He created me to be - as long as I use those gifts with a heart bent to His will.

Five weeks later, I am not quite dancing on a mountaintop - but I AM much closer.

As I have been submitting my will to HIS,

As I have been reminding my heart and soul to bend and praise Him who is WORTHY,

As I have chosen a much more humble posture,

my heart and soul feel lighter.  I think that is what happens in that last line (which I nearly chose not to memorize because it did not make any sense to me at first).  My youth - that freedom of heart I see in my TayTay as she buoyantly dances through the day - is being renewed and set free like the eagle.

His Word is life changing and living, there is no doubt about it.

And yes, Lord.  I can praise You now.  Thank You for teaching me.  Thank you for satisfying my desires with good things, Your things, so that my youth is renewed like the eagle's.  Search my heart, Lord.  Reveal my idols so that I can truly pursue You and praise You with all I am.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Panama - Final Thoughts and Pics

One thing that I always try to do when visiting a new place is see the countryside.  I am not a city girl.  Shopping is not my thing.  Nor are crowds.  I love to see landscape and nature.

On this trip there were not a lot of options when it came to seeing the countryside because many regular tours and attractions were closed for Carnival.  So, we opted for a tour of an "authentic" visit to an indigenous village.  Because we have seen people groups that have not been exposed to many outsiders and ARE living as they have lived for many generations, we were a bit skeptical as to the "authenticness" of this tour - however, it was still fun to see the rain forest and catch a museum style glimpse at how the Panamanian people once lived.

It was beautiful and hot.  My perfect combination.
 They took us on this canoe down and around the river for about 30 minutes.

We saw bits of the rain forest and a couple of monkeys!

 The monkeys that we saw definitely knew that there would be treats on the boat.  They came swinging through the trees when they heard the boat motor.  They swung close enough to grab a banana from the hand of a person on board.

 I wish Mataya could have been with us.  She adores the spider monkeys at our zoo!

 The village was at the end of a small channel of water.  It is inaccessible except through this channel.  It was beautiful.

The Chief enjoyed photos.

 I honestly do not know if the people live here all the time or not.  They claim to. . .  They were all very accustomed to the show.  Tourists come and go daily.  The tribe is actually planning to make a couple of huts that they will allow people to stay in live a low tech hotel.  The people dressed like they would have years ago.  They cooked the same way.  But they did educate their children and they used cell phones.  They explained that they used technology when it suited, but that they wanted to also preserve their culture as much as possible.  

While I am not sure the whole truth - I did enjoy my time in the more natural setting and learning about their culture.
 They fed us fried fish and plantains.  It was delicious.
 This bird - was lovely - and scary!  It got way too close for my comfort, begging for food.


I only like birds in trees!
heading back to the hotel, I received an "island tattoo."

 And Chad got to dance with an island girl (except that Panama is actually an isthmus).
Whether or not it was 100% authentic, the tour was interesting.  The air was fresh and pure.  The view was amazing.

We spent our final day chilling at the beach and pool at the hotel.  

All too soon we were headed back to America.
 I joked with Chad that if it were not for the kids, I was not sure I would have left.

But I sure missed those faces, hugs, and stories!

On the way home - which was looooong - 20 hours of travel time between buses, planes, and layovers - we had one fun surprise.  On our middle flight we were bumped to first class!  That has NEVER happened to us before.  It was so nice to lay down and rest in the middle of a long day of travel chaos.

OK - so here is my final thought.  And really my only important thought in regards to this trip.  

Are you ready?!?




It had been years (2 to be exact) since Chad and I had spent more than 24 hours alone.  To be totally honest, I did not realize how friendly and business like our relationship had become.  Chad and I are partners in life and in business.  We work well together.  I spend ALL of my time focused on our family.  I have chosen that as my career.  Chad knows me better than any other person in the universe knows me.  He can tell by the way I am holding my shoulders how my morning has gone.  He understands me and respects me and listens to me.  We are very connected.

And yet we were not.

I spend all my time taking care of Chad - BUT really taking care of his heart is different than making sure he has clean laundry, a hot supper, enough sleep, and his office is organized.  We had been meeting each other's needs flawlessly but it was all busy and business.  It was all rush and routine.

And that is the reality of marriage and family and business.

BUT after spending a few days getting enough sleep and not rushing to get kids ready or meals ready or bills mailed, we were able to really connect.  To talk long.  To dream.  To silently connect.  Seriously, there is NEVER silence at home.

It was healing in places and in ways that I was not aware healing was needed.

Listen. I know leaving is nearly impossible.  It is so, so, so hard on so many levels.  

Do it anyway.

We were lucky and had a free trip to a great resort in a warm location - but we could have connected just as easily in a tent at a cheap campground.  The location is not important.  The connection is.

So be creative.

Be bold.

Ask for help.

But do it - go!

And if things are not dreamy right away, do not give up.  The first couple days away we struggled.  Relaxing is hard when you are not used to it.  Connecting is a lot of pressure when you are accustomed to busy and chaos.  I actually walked on the beach alone one day, praying for the Lord to help us truly connect, wondering if it would happen - knowing that Chad and I were totally committed, while longing for connection and intimacy that is not possible in our day to day reality.  Although we both desired connection, we did not walk off the plane relaxed and ready.  It took time and grace and rest and maybe even a glass of wine, but we returned so very refreshed heart and soul.  We returned connected in a sweet and special way.  And that connection was not left behind in Panama.

Thank you God, Chief Buildings, mom, dad, and Angie for helping Chad and I recoop and refresh and reconnect.  It was a very valuable and much appreciated time away.