Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Struggle

This post may be fact, I may split it in two. And I have to go ahead & qualify, some of this is going to be vague...because while there are things that didn't happen to me directly they impacted me greatly. But they are not my stories to tell or they aren't the stories that I can tell right now. And finally, this post is going to be a little raw...a little transparent...a little hard to put "out there" and even harder to know that people are going to read it; however, I think it's important. And I've had these words swirling around in my brain for months...they demand to be put down on paper...or computer screen...or what have you...

So here goes...

In 2015 I participated in 2 missions trips...both extremely life changing. In ways that I couldn't have even imagined. The effects of these combined trips have affected my life from henceforth and, I believe, directly altered the path of my so many good ways. There will be more to this in the future...but for right now, vagueness #1. ;)

In coming back from Armenia the first time, I struggled. Struggled with seeing the world from a different viewpoint...struggled with reconciling my life here in the US after being out of the country...and, quite honestly, struggled to regain a normal sleep schedule after crossing basically 8 time zones. Jet lag is serious business & a monster that almost took me under. I could not sleep regularly for about 2 months. I don't really know if it was the jet lag or just the combined stuggles...but this was a tough period in my life. Jet lag is the only thing I really remember about the time period other than a small bit of depression. There were days that I had to make a chore list - do laundry, paint toe nails, watch this show - or I would just sit in a chair & stare at the TV aimlessly until I felt it was sufficient time to go to bed...and not sleep. Slowly, the fog lifted and life became "easier" know, as easy is life can really be. God had already been working to reveal some pretty major things in my life BEFORE I went on this trip...all good stuff...and He was continuing to work in my life.

Early in 2016, I committed for another trip to NYC & then with Dylan to Armenia. But what was more significant was the awareness that God was asking me to leave the Children's Ministry at our church. It was bizarre to me...and I truly struggled. I didn't understand. Children's Ministry had been my passion for as long as I could remember. I had been serving in one capacity or another in our children's ministry since the day they told me I could be a nursery 13 or 14. I had taught Sunday School, Children's Choir, worked in Children's Church...and I felt like that's where God had gifted me...but all of the sudden, He said "It's time to go." So, in June of 2016, I taught my last Clubhouse lesson and said farewell to Children's Ministry.

I don't find it coincidental at all that our church began to discuss hiring a Children's (& Youth) Minister as I was struggling to determine how God could ask me to give up this ministry. It was the confirmation to me that I wasn't mistaking what God was telling me; but it was still confusing to me.

When someone has their identity so tied up in a ministry, even if they aren't a "full time minister", leaving that ministry is hard. Even when God says to go. All of the sudden, I didn't really have a "place" in our church. And as much as I struggled to leave children's ministry, it was a struggle to find a new identity within my church. I re-joined our church's Praise Team because this was something I had done before I completely committed to children's ministry service full time on Sunday mornings. It was the one thing that I had missed so much and was so excited to come back to. I love music...I love God speaking to me through music. But once again, I struggled...I struggled with insecurity about my place in this team...even if I should be doing this. It was a hard place...

In October of 2016, I found out some news that left me reeling. Vagueness #2 coming your way. This one is certainly not my story to tell, but the impact of this left me hollow...grieving for a loss that I couldn't comprehend...that I couldn't wrap my mind around. This began a hard season in my life...watching, waiting, praying, hoping, etc, etc, etc.

As we moved into 2017, my aunt lost her fight with cancer. I simply had no idea how the loss of her life was going to impact me so greatly. The loss was bittersweet - no more suffering, in the arms of Jesus...but the loss on earth was a tough one. She left behind children and grandchildren that will miss her dearly...but she also left a legacy of literally hundreds of children that were taught by her as 4 & 5 year old children. She had been passionate about children's ministry for the majority of her life. My small 25 years or so in children's ministry paled in comparison to her 40+ years in children's ministry. It's not a contest...and that's not my point. But as I looked across her grandchildren, my eyes continually found James...the baby...the one who would not have the benefit of his MawMaw West. And I grieved for the loss that he would never understand.

The same weekend of my aunt's funeral, my car "died" for lack of a better word...which launched me into about 4 months of waiting, looking, trying to find a new (to me) car, and a lot of frustration.

As 2017 has continued, I have struggled in many ways...but I would be remiss if I didn't also mention the victories. In January, we were awaiting word on Dylan's scholarships. His sophomore year was tough...he had his own struggles but just slipped by with the minimum required GPA for his scholarship to renew...and it only renewed for the Fall semester pending his performance in the Fall. He worked hard & I know it sounds sappy (because he told me so) but I was so proud of him. He gave it all he could...and if he wasn't able to continue, he was OK with that. There was a small back up plan that would keep him in school, but it wasn't one we wanted to go to.

On January 4th, I received his statement...where I had been expecting about $4500 to be due for him to continue, his statement was showing double that. I remember sitting on my bed, praying & weeping. I had no idea how we were going to make this happen. One thing I noticed, though, was that his loans were not showing against the balance...which made up the difference between what I was expecting & what was shown. I emailed Financial Services and received the explanation that the statement was dated January 1...the loans hadn't been applied yet, but if I looked at my "daily status" I would see that they were applied. I logged on and about fell out of my chair. Instead of the $4500 due, Dylan's account showed a $500 credit. Not only had the loans applied, but his scholarships had renewed.

Later in February, I was able to sell my "dead" car to a lady who had offered to buy my car several times. I didn't get what I could've gotten for an "alive" car, but I got enough to pay off Dylan's car a year early. And in May, I was able to buy a new-to-me car that is just amazing.

So, why do I share all of this?

Because I'm still in, day out. There have been victories...but there has still been grief & disappointment...heartache...sadness...pain...etc...etc...etc.

And I see others around me struggling as well. And I guess I want them to know...they aren't alone.

Even if...God is still good.

This is something that has been resonating with me lately. A month or so ago, I was heavily into the life of David. I listened to Andy Stanley's messages about the life of David and in my own personal Bible reading (oh yeah...I've struggled with this too) I was reading about the life of David at the same time. I have been fascinated with David. "A man after God's own heart"...certainly not a perfect man...and that's what has caught my attention & made me just sit in awe of David. Even before he "messed up royally" with Bathsheba, David's life wasn't easy. David was anointed as the next King of Israel while another king was still on the throne...another King that David not only respected, but went up against a giant to honor the King & rid Israel of this enemy. Later, David is hunted down by this same King who is jealous of David. And I have to wonder...when David was running for his life from King Saul...when he was hiding in other countries...hiding in the very cave where King Saul came in to "do his business"...knowing the whole time that God had called him to more...I think David must have struggled himself. In fact, I'm fairly certain of it when you read the Psalms. David was a man after God's own heart...but I know from the book of Psalms that he often wondered where God was in the midst of his struggle. BUT over & over, David reminds himself...and now us thousands of years later...that his trust is in the Lord. The Lord who brought victory over the giant...the Lord who has promised to bring him to the other side of this...the Lord who surely protected him from King Saul...and finally made him victorious over King Saul.

Even if...He is good.

Even through my struggles...I'm reminded that God has brought me through so much that I can't NOT believe that He has left me in this. Every day I pray (or as often as I pray...because, you guessed it...struggle) that God will use these struggles to refine strengthen make me a woman after His own heart.

And I'm clinging to the fact that God's goodness is not dependent on me or my circumstances...but His goodness is constant. Even if...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So...Here We Are...More than a Year Later

Well...what I wanted from this blog and what actually happened are two different things.

I wanted to blog about my missions opportunities...the process...the struggles...the victories...the actual I was changed.

But it never happened! I looked back and the last entry on this blog was about NYC - BEFORE I went.

And now, I've been to NYC twice on mission, once to Armenia on mission, and am preparing for trip #2 to Armenia.

I have only one excuse - life. Life has remained busy. This summer is crazy. So much to do...and I'm feeling the time crunch. We are half way through July. In less than 2 weeks, Dylan & I will be heading out of the country...and 2 weeks after we return, he will be headed back to school. For his 3rd year of college.

I swear I just blinked...and it all happened. we are.

My trip to NYC last May was amazing. I fell in love with the city. In love with the ministry of Graffiti. As much as I am not a city person, the energy in NYC is something I've never found anywhere else. I can't even explain it. We went to NYC again this past May...and it was still the same. Full of energy, full of people, full of busy-ness. And I loved it all. This time, we took a couple of guys with of them Dylan. He had been to the city before but was not able to spend as much time as we did on this trip. He loved it too.

And Armenia in September of 2015? Equally amazing! I'm not a fan of international travel...the travel itself, that is. 12 hours on a plane is hard - especially coming West. The jet lag when I returned...a BEAR. Two months I spent trying to get back in a regular sleep pattern. But at the end of the day, when someone asked when I was going again...the answer was always "as soon as possible". we are.

T-minus 11 days. It just doesn't even seem real. Dylan & I are going with a different team than I traveled with before. We will be doing different things and in different areas. We will be doing Vacation Bible School in different areas throughout Armenia. I'm looking forward to seeing some parts of this beautiful country that I didn't see before. I'm excited to see familiar faces that I left behind almost a year ago. I'm anticipating meals lovingly prepared for our team. In other words, I cannot wait to be back in Armenia.

Three different times on Sunday alone I was asked about how the events transpiring in the Middle East were affecting our trip. Each time I had to explain that I have to compartmentalize...almost ignore these events. Because, yes, they are scary...and there is a call to safety. But, I know that God has called us to go...and go we must. There is great peace in knowing that the One who physically holds this world in place is holding me...and cares for me...and is protecting me...and will use me in whatever way HE chooses.

Surrender is hard...but so worth it. And almost always, it's easier to submit than to fight. That's what I've learned over the past couple of years. The struggle is not worth it; laying it all down before Him is. we go...into the Land of Noah. To serve. To love. To surrender. To Go.

Friday, May 8, 2015

But first...NYC Mission!

While I'm already looking ahead toward Armenia, making plans, etc., I don't want to neglect my first mission trip of 2015 which is happening TWO WEEKS FROM TODAY! It seems like just yesterday I was signing up to go...never even knowing what was really ahead of me. I, along with my best friend and two others who have become dear friends in a very short amount of time, will be traveling to New York City.

Our NYC Mission Team

While we are there we will be working with Graffitt 3 Ministries, an inner city church located in Brooklyn. I'm not 100% sure what we will be doing right now, but I know it's going to be great!

The process between signing up and our going has been quite interesting. Just a small glimpse of our lives from March to now:

 - Ashley had a stress fracture in her foot.
 - My dad was hospitalized for chest pains, was told he'd had a heart attack, they did a heart cath, and placed a stint. Found out later the artery that was clogged is called "The Widow Maker".
 - Lisa found out that she was most likely going to lose her job in the coming months.
 - Renae turned her life upside down and decided to purge & move.

If I truly tried to list out all of the things that we've faced over the last few months, it would appear to be a laundry list of complaints or negative things...however, I believe that each thing we've faced has just increased our faith! This trip has already been an amazing journey and we haven't even left.

The more amazing part? Our trip has been OVER funded! Less than a month after we formed our team, we were fully funded...and other contributions have continued to come in.

I KNOW that God wants us to go...and I KNOW that he's going to do some amazing stuff.

Please keep our team in your prayers over these next two weeks. I know that anxiety is going to increase, life will seemingly "get in the way", and we will encounter other obstacles. But I also know that God is going to richly bless us through this trip as well!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Go! (aka Get out of the boat)

Initial disclaimer: I created this blog it appears about 5 years ago. Sometimes I blogged a lot...sometimes not very much at all. I don't plan to go back and delete posts...some of them are silly...some are personal reflections...some are deeply personal things that I put out here with no thought of "real life" people finding. Just know that what is here is all me...some parts that maybe I didn't want to show everyone...but I'm ok with it now. That being said...feel free to poke around...see what you can see. From this point forward, this blog will become an online journal of sorts. Because you see...there are some big things on the horizon for me. :)

I am not generally one to put a vague Facebook post out fact, if you know me at all, you know that this is truly one of my pet peeves. However, yesterday...I committed the Facebook cardinal sin and posted a vague status -
"When God says "go"...its best to just go...stay tuned...big things ahead!"
I know that some people were VERY curious...because they commented! And it's not that I didn't want to share the BIG things ahead, but I needed to do so with much more explanation. Because the where I'm going is important, but to me the how I got to where I am now is even more important. So, I figured the best way to truly let everyone in on what's going on was to post part of an e-mail that I sent to Ashley (my BFF) on Friday (slightly edited...because I have a tendency to ramble).

So…a little over a year ago (which I know thanks to the glory of TimeHop) I really began to feel like God was calling me to "something". I know that sounds vague, but I really wasn't sure at the time what He had in mind…just felt a calling, if you will. I know that it was about a year ago because it was when we started learning Oceans…the words…oh my word. If you really think through and really MEAN the words of that song…well, you know. J

Fast forward almost a year to our last Youth Leaders meeting. Now…this leaders meeting has nothing to do with anything other than a marker of time…just so you know. When I left & went home, I just felt heavy/burdened/what have you. I was still doing my quiet time in the evenings…and we were right in the middle of our Bible Study. I *think* the lesson that night was on God's plan for your life. And I lost it. I cried…I SOBBED and just really cried out to God…please let me know what you want with my life. Sometimes, I feel like my life is stagnant. I know in reality it's not…but it feels that way sometimes. Like I'm always waiting for something to actually happen. I began praying that God would reveal His plan. That I would want to do what He wanted. I confessed that this scared me but in that good way of I can't even imagine what God wants to do…and fully surrendering…sometimes it's a little scary. I mean, you know that He's got you…but you know if you really surrender, God will take you where you never thought you'd go.

Literally a week after this…NYC happens. I don't have to tell you about all of that…you've seen it unfold before your very eyes.

On Wednesday night, Renae comes up to me and says there's another opportunity to go to NYC that I'm praying about…it's in August. A whole week. The trip starts the weekend that Dylan moves back to Wake…so I don't think I can do it. BUT…here's where things get interesting. ;)

The August trip is being offered by the NC WMU (our other trip is through the national WMU).  I've been bouncing since NYC on the NC Baptist website to see other opportunities. As Bill mentioned the other night, the NC Baptists have their own women's ministry since WMU broke away from SBC as their own entity (I mean really…can't we all just be friends???) called Embrace and they have a trip in the fall like the one we are doing to NYC but it's to Boston. So…yesterday I decide to look & see what the NC WMU has…and get this…they have a trip to Armenia. What?!?!?!? That little country that Andrew's grandparents are from…from which his great-grandparents immigrated.

So, I emailed the lady. The do a "retreat" at the seminary for women - they have 2 groups that come. They teach them how to minister to the other women & children. It's all basic because most of the women haven't grown up in church. This will be their 3rd trip. They have 3 people committed to go and need 3-4 more. They will be teaching, doing worship, and doing crafts with the ladies.

I'm seriously thinking about it.

And I'm scared, for sure. I mean…it's on the other side of Turkey. Right under Georgia. The country.

But, woah…what in the world?

So…this is where I'm at…and I need some serious prayer help. I'm praying really hard that God will let me know what I should do. This is HUGE. BIG. I can't even believe how BIG this is. 
Yesterday...I committed to this trip. I will be heading to Armenia in September. You cannot even imagine all of the different emotions I've been rolling through since I saw this opportunity...excitement, anxiety, name it. I'm feeling it. I've never been outside of the country...and I'll be going half way around the world.

But, I'm so sure that this what God wants from me and for me.

I shared with someone yesterday that this is truly a "get out of the boat" trip. Committing to the NYC Mission trip I'm going on in May...that was a no-brainer. I knew as soon as I got the e-mail that I would be doing that trip.

But this is HUGE. I have to get my passport - ASAP - so I can officially join the "team". I have to raise funds. I am joining a team that I don't even know if I will know one other person.

And I'm scared. Armenia itself seems to be a fairly stable country...but it's right in the middle of a whole bunch of countries that aren't stable.

So, I'm going. Because God said "go".

I would appreciate your prayers as I prepare for this trip, as well as the NYC Mission trip in May. I know that God is going to do great things with both of these trips. I look forward to seeing how God is going to provide, grow me, and stretch me with this Armenia trip.

Stay tuned...more to come...


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

One Year Gone...Another Beginning

Here we are on the eve of a new year...and, as many others are certainly doing, I've been reflecting on 2014.

It was a BIG year...a crazy BIG year.

Probably the biggest year for me since 1996.

In January, I wrote a post on a word that God had given me for 2014 - TRUST. And let me say, this has been an interesting journey.

At the beginning of 2014, I had plans. Plans for the year. Things already in the books. Dylan's graduation, follow up trip, leaving for college, etc.

But I could not have even FATHOMED what 2014 was actually going to bring.

Nor how much I would be leaning on that word TRUST.

When my heart was breaking because I just knew that Dylan would move far, far away from me for school...I whispered "trust".

When I looked at my bank account and wasn't quite sure how we were going to make it to the next week..."trust".

When I was lying in bed mulling over every little thing in my life at 3am..."trust".

And just like that...God came through every time.

The school thing, I admit, was the hardest for me. How in the world could I imagine the person I had wrapped my entire life around for 18 years living 9 hours from me? I remember grieving over this thought before the decision had even been made.

And finally, one day, I just had to give it up. I had to trust. I had to say "God if you want him in Florida, then I have to know that You are going to make this OK for me."

Although, I have to say...I'm extremely thankful that God & I were on the same page about keeping him in North Carolina. ;)

Ultimately on the school thing...I just prayed that God would make it crystal clear where He wanted Dylan.

Boy, did He.

I don't think I'll ever forget the day that the envelope came from Wake Forest...I didn't even open it...I gave it to Dylan to open it. He just looked at it...didn't say a word...and handed it to me.

Oh, by the way, he had already committed to High Point University. We'd paid the deposit.

I looked...and couldn't believe what I was seeing.

Basically after it was all said & done, his college would be paid for. With very little loan money. All grants.  All scholarships.  I basically couldn't afford to NOT send him to Wake.

It took a little more time for everything to process for Dylan. For me, the final decision was made. For Dylan, he wanted to consider. But a day later, he said "get the deposit back from HPU" we are.

Dylan has completed his first semester at Wake. He has made friends. He has adjusted somewhat (I think there's more of that to come). He did well in his first semester. And in about 13 days from now, he'll start with his second semester.

Sometimes trust is easy...but often times it's hard. It's hard to trust that everything is going to turn out OK when we can't see the end. This year, I've definitely learned a lot. And my God has never been proven un-trustworthy. Which I kind of knew...but needed to be reminded.

I don't know what my word for 2015 is going to be yet. I have a few rolling around in my head, but I'm waiting to see what word God gives me.

But I do know that I can't wait to see what it is...and what He has in store for me this year.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Safe Friend

I was reading a blog the other day and the blogger mentioned having a safe friend. A safe friend, per her definition, is one that you can whine, complain, moan, cry to...basically someone that you can dump your stress on and they will hear you out. I would concur that this is extremely important...not only to your own mental, emotional, and physical health...but also for the health & well being of those around you.

Trust need to be able to check a little anger before unleashing it on some poor, unsuspecting soul.

My safe friend would have to be my bestest, Ashley.

I have no idea when this picture was taken...I think it was after I graduated high school - either in the summer or during my Freshman year of college. I have known Ashley since she was 13 & I was 14. I know I actually have known her longer because there's a picture floating out there of a church event and she's in the background of my sister...but my first memories are from our teenage years.

Our teens at church think its crazy that we've been friends this long. I would have to say that this is probably a rare thing...

Anyway, Ashley is the one I call when I'm having a bad day...when I need to check a response that may not come across quite like it's intended...when I want to know why the skinny little boys with no shirts on are running around Walkertown...when I need someone to vent to, to cry to, to complain to. She understands when I say "my child is about to make me him"...and she talks me down from actually harming him.

She's the one who (finally) gave me a Magic 8 ball to sit on my desk at work...because I wanted to use it to answer the ninety-eleven stupid questions that I get asked at work.

We've cried together, laughed together, done stupid crafts together, worshiped together, ministered together, and fought together.

At the end of the day...I know that if I need to unload 24 hours worth of crap on her, she's there.

And the road goes both ways.

Of course, sometimes she betrays me...and joins in with our youth to photobomb my phone...

I can't say I wouldn't do the same to her. ;)

At any rate, if you don't have a "safe friend" need one. You need one so that you don't unload on every unsuspecting person who has the decency to ask you "how you are doing". You need one to keep you sane.
Proverbs 12:25-26: "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad. The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray."
Of course, be careful who you choose as your "safe friend" must be someone that won't just tell you what you need to hear. It must someone who can be a secret-keeper...or at least know when the secret should be told (for your safety or the safety of others).

Choose wisely my friend...choose wisely.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Why I Do Youth Ministry - Part Two

So, yesterday I gave you some of my "not reasons I do Youth Ministry"…and promised today I'd share WHY I do Youth ministry.

Let me tell you…Youth Ministry (and really any kind of ministry) is not for the faint of heart. If you think you can just show up, you are so totally wrong.

Because teens are difficult people. They are trying to balance being young with growing up, add in a HUMONGOUS dose of hormones making them slightly crazy…well, you just have a recipe for disaster.

But in spite of this, I love working in our Youth Ministry. Because…

#1 - I really enjoy being around teens. Some days are better than others…but I think that's true about all of us. Teens are fun loving people and I'm a fun loving person. Teens love teen-y shows, movies, and books…and my 38 year old tastes are not far off from the tastes of a typical teenager in that respect. There is nothing that can make you feel younger…and then older all at the same time…than hanging out with a bunch of teenagers.

#2 - This is the important one…I just feel this need to love on them. Our teenagers have so many negative things pouring over them that they need to go somewhere to feel some kind of positive love energy. Unfortunately, church is not always where they can find that. And I'll be the first to admit that some of our teens are harder to love than others. Some of that is a clash in our personalities. Some of that is my frustration in seeing our kids not living up to their full potential. Sometimes it's just that I'm not lovable for a moment…and that makes it hard for me to pour out what I'm not feeling. BUT, I think it's so important for teenagers to feel love from someone. They've got to have it…and unfortunately they aren't always getting that at home.

#3 - Many of our kids need people who will not only love them, but actually hear what they say. I can be honest - I don't always "hear" what my kid says. Because he is mine and my agenda in raising him is to raise him to be a responsible adult. And there are days that I don't want to hear his opinion, his reasoning, or just his general words. But someone, somewhere needs to hear those words. And I know that he has places to get those out. More than that, our kids need people who can give them wise counsel…and I don't know about you, but I never saw my parents as "wise" people (that has changed by the way…but at 16, 17, etc. they were not wise in my eyes). All kids are like that, though…they don't think their parents know jack-diddly-squat…but someone who is not "raising" them? Those people have all the knowledge. I want to give them a good Godly place to receive that wise counsel...because if they can't get it from me, they'll try to find it elsewhere. And there is no guarantee that what they will hear is truly Godly...or even good.

#4 - I am constantly brokenhearted for our teens. When our teens mess up, this weighs heavily on me. I take responsibility. I want to make sure that whatever has happened doesn't happen again. I want them to see that I truly understand what it means to make stupid, teenage mistakes that have important, adult consequences. I want to grieve with them…I want to weep with them…I want to get angry with them…and I want to heal with them. I pray for them often…sometimes collectively…sometimes individually. I just want to see them be the best part of who they are. I want to do whatever I can to encourage them in this…to encourage them to use their talents…to see that they become the best version of their self.

#5 - Not only do I want to love on them, I want to pour the love of Jesus on them. I want them to understand and know what real-time grace & mercy feel like. I want them to understand that so well that they have no other choice than to pour that out on others around them. I want them to SHINE with the love of Jesus in this very dark world. There's no way I can effectively explain God's love…I don't think I really & truly understood exactly what God did for us until I had my own child. And I know that I could never do for anyone else what God did for me. The best way for me to try to make our teens understand this is by loving them with this amazing kind of love.

I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not trying to say that I am. I've made mistakes…I've messed up…and here's the truth - I'll probably do it again.

At the end of the day, though, if I'm not willing to love our students, then I might as well not even bother showing up.

And THAT, my friends, is why I DO youth ministry. It's not for me…it's only for God's glory…to bring honor to Him. And for this time, He has given me this awesome opportunity to do all of the above. I can't imagine a more important and more fun ministry to be a part of.

Other than children's ministry…and He lets me do that as well.