Sunday, December 29, 2013

What's Your Purpose?

It is with mixed emotions that I report that we found a new home for Gator.  It's really bittersweet.  He was sweet and loved us all dearly, but he just wasn't where he needed to be.  The last straw came when he broke the gate that contained him in our backyard.  Without that, we literally couldn't keep him.  The great news is that a long-time family friend took him.  He and his wife (who's an animal lover) live on 100 acres in Arkansas.  They have another dog, 4 horses, a pond and many other opportunities for daily activities for Gator.  They called after his first day there and he'd already had several "adventures."  On his 2nd day they reported that he's the "running-est" dog they've ever seen and they loved him.  He gets along well with their other dog, whose name is... GATOR!  Yep, they now have 2 dogs named Gator.  It was destiny!  My heart is still broken and I still get a lump in my throat when I look out back and he's not there, but then I think of all the opportunities for fun he has now and my sadness turns to joy.  I actually feel guilty that he had all that pent up energy for so long.

As I think back to all the mishaps Gator had during the almost-2-years he was with us I can't help but draw a life lesson from it.  The first day he was with us, he OD'd on Clorox Clean-Up and ended up at the vet overnight.  Soon after that, he tore up the trampoline safety net, the sandbox and several chew toys.  Then came the time he swallowed a pair of Lydia's socks whole and shortly after that he ate a pair of underwear (that's a long story).  Then he graduated to the big leagues... eating the padded bench seat in the boat and the padded seat in the ATV.  He destroyed 3 "Jolly Balls" which are HORSE toys, ate several crepe myrtles and split a water hose into about 10 smaller ones.  These are just some of the highlights of his time with us and doesn't include the numerous knock-downs of the kids and bruises that covered my legs.  

Why was he so destructive?  Why was he such a nuisance?

I know why... he was not living his purpose!  He's a Catahoula Cur; a dog bred to hunt and herd.  He's a dog that requires lots of exercise and attention.  He wasn't hunting, herding, exercising and apparently not getting enough attention.  And so without a purpose, without a job, he was destructive and misdirected.  He used his energies and "talents" in places where they weren't needed.  He used up his energy for negative ventures.

I realize it's no different with people.  God has given each Christian gifts and has a purpose for each one of us.  When we spend our time serving in areas that God doesn't intend for us, we waste the gifts we've been given and can sometimes cause more trouble than good.

1 Corinthians 12:8-11 (Living Bible Translation):
To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching, and this is his gift from the same Spirit. He gives special faith to another, and to someone else the power to heal the sick. 10 He gives power for doing miracles to some, and to others power to prophesy and preach. He gives someone else the power to know whether evil spirits are speaking through those who claim to be giving God’s messages—or whether it is really the Spirit of God who is speaking. Still another person is able to speak in languages he never learned; and others, who do not know the language either, are given power to understand what he is saying. 11 It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives all these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have.

There have been times in my life when I served in a ministry that I knew I wasn't gifted in.  I was miserable and complained about it a lot.  I wasn't very good at what I was doing and it made me really uncomfortable.  I burned a lot of calories doing something that God never intended for me.  And I know a lot of others who are in or have been in the same situation.  We can't say "no" and so we get involved in things that God hasn't equipped us for and that God doesn't intend for us.  And sadly I know of even more people who aren't serving anywhere and the gifts God has given them are tucked away inside, wasting away.  Those are probably the people most like Gator.  The ones not serving at all; they are putting time and effort into other areas of their lives - work, kids, "stuff" and are completely unfulfilled.

I feel strongly that in early 2013 God told me not to serve, specifically not to get back into teaching, which is what I really wanted.  But he intended 2013 to be a year of rebuilding and abiding in Him, continuing to learn the lessons he had for me.  And now with only a few days left I am dying to know what 2014 will bring!  I know that teaching and leadership are my strongest gifts and maybe that's why God has allowed me to write these last couple of years - to fulfill those gifts to some degree.  I am excited and hopeful about what's ahead and I'm praying that I will be keenly aware of what he wants me to do at exactly the right time.

I know that the Kings and Queens Project (check us out on Facebook) will be something that God will use in 2014.  I pray that the KQP will be the way that God shows my children what gifts and service are all about - and maybe even that they may start to realize their gifts.  If you aren't on Facebook check out this video to see what God started for KQP in 2013:

Underwear Affair Video

I really hope that anyone reading this will take an inventory of activities and resolve in 2014 to find the exact place that God wants you and that God has gifted you for.  My greater hope is that you're already there!  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

'Tis the Season!

I hate to admit this, but here goes.  I've had a scrooge-heart the last few Christmases.  I didn't show it outwardly (not that I'm aware of) but Christmas and the materialism of it all really got to me.  Our family has slowly been making changes to our approach the last few years.  I don't share any of this to make you think we're wonderful and holy and giving.  It's just what's on my heart.  Two years ago we started the tradition of 3 gifts per child, plus whatever Santa brings.  Last year we went to 3 gifts per child from us and 1 from Santa.  For the record it's hard to tell 7-year-olds why Santa only brings them one gift when all their friends get multiple gifts from Santa.  I tell them that Santa knows what mommies and daddies want for their children and he honors those wishes.  Last year we also sponsored some children who will not have Christmas without families like ours providing the gifts.  We bought them things like clothes, coats and shoes (stuff that we have a multitude of and take for granted) and we made sure every child we sponsored got a bible.  We did the same thing this year and hope that in years to come we will tip the scales where the families we buy for get most of the gifts and we get fewer and fewer.  

The thing that bothers me the most is the stress this time of year causes everyone.  I've been asked (and admittedly I've dutifully asked), "Are you ready for Christmas?" more times than I can count.  I give the response that's expected, "Yes, I've got almost everything bought and wrapped."  But I really feel convicted to say, "I'm not ready for Christmas... I'm so overwhelmed and bombarded by all the marketing, all the hustle and bustle that I've spent less time than ever focused on Jesus - the WHOLE REASON we have Christmas.  What about you?  Are you ready?"  Maybe next year I can be that bold.

I read a very convicting blog several weeks ago.  If you want the whole version, here's the link (for the record, I don't necessarily condone some her word choices):

Here's an excerpt:

What happened to Christmas? What on earth happened to it? When did it transform from something simple and beautiful to what it is now? How insidiously did the enemy work to slowly hijack Jesus' birth and hand it over on a silver platter to Big Marketing, tricking His own followers into financing the confiscation? 
Here are some things I'm taking away from her perspective plus some thoughts/challenges to myself:

I find myself intentionally NOT talking about Santa, not asking my kids what they want for Christmas and I have almost burned all my brain cells trying to tactfully tell two 7-year-olds why every other kid they know has a creepy elf sneaking around their house every night and why we don't.

I am SO on the verge of telling my kids there is no Santa.  Close family tells me to not ruin it for them, not to "take away their childhood."  But honestly, I am sick and tired of hearing my kids talk about Santa and being good because of Santa.  I refuse to adjust their behavior by telling them, "Santa's watching," even though I would get them to stop whatever they were doing wrong.  As Jen's blog said, Jesus can't compete with Santa when you're 7 and you believe.  And when my kids see Santa as more important than Jesus I feel like a failure (as I well should).  It's not that I want to be cold-hearted and "take away their childhood" but I want them to have a healthy perspective on the "magic" of knowing Jesus, not the magic of Santa, reindeer and elves.

I am intentionally throwing away all the Toys R Us, Target and Walmart sales sheets immediately.  The less they're exposed to, the better.

I do feel that it is critically important to show love to others and honor them, but why do we do it on someone else's birthday?  Why not dedicate our efforts in 2014 to honor loved ones on THEIR birthdays so that when Jesus' gets here on December 25 we can focus all of our attention on Him.  I think it's ok to still celebrate and honor people during December, but not if it causes strife, grief and ulcers!!!!!  Think of this: for as many times as you've thought "Oh no! I "have" to get a gift for (fill in the blank of the person's name you forgot)," (usually at the last minute when you have to run out for "one more thing"),  you've been the (fill in your name as the person who was forgotten) on the other end of that.  Do you really want someone stressing out and buying you something at Christmas because they "have" to?  I don't!

My birthday was about 8 weeks ago.  I felt loved and honored and received lots of nice cards and gifts.  When people ask what I want for Christmas several weeks after my birthday I am 100% honest when I tell them I don't need anything.  And this year I am honest when I tell people that I truly don't WANT anything.  Please, I would rather you spend money on someone else who needs it.  I know you love me and want me to know it, and you can show your love by buying a gift in my honor for someone who actually NEEDS it! (whew, I feel a little better now)

Go ask your kids what they got for Christmas last year.  Can they name any of the gifts?  I cleaned out my kids play room recently and they never even noticed.  They still don't know things are gone.  They have so much stuff yet I still hear, "I'm bored."  Are you kidding me?  And now that it's December I'm supposed to go broke restocking a play room of toys that they may never even play with and won't miss when they're gone?!

On the bright side, it does appear that more people are looking for families to sponsor, through angel trees and local organizations.  What if we added up our receipts from this year spent on non-charitable gifts and cards and vowed to spend 1/2 of that amount on needy families next year (which would mean spending 1/2 of what we spend this year on people who really don't need any more stuff - i.e. kids, family, friends)?  If every  one of us did that we could really make a difference and be able to truly share more of Jesus at Christmas time.  The most stress-free shopping we've done the last couple of years has been the shopping we've done for others.  It's fun buying things for people you don't even know; knowing that they will appreciate it more than anyone else you buy for.

In conclusion, please know that I don't judge you.  These are my thoughts and my convictions.  I don't want to have a scrooge-heart at Christmas.  I want to have joy and more importantly I want to share this joy and the significance of Christmas with my children.  I want them to know it has nothing to do with buying, spending, charging, stressing or big marketing.  But it does have to do with the greatest gift ever given, in the form of a baby when history was forever changed.
    Isaiah 9:6
    For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And part of the story of our lives, the Gregory's, is that a diligent faith and many, many prayers have brought the greatest gift after two long years - my restored health!  And maybe that's part of my conviction - leading a life that is counter-cultural because of the incredible journey through the desert we've been on these last couple of years.  Spending time in the valley certainly changes your perspective on everything - even Christmas!

Whatever approach you choose, I do wish you a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Sky Gazing

At a funeral service I attended last week the minister shared that the sweet lady who had passed away kept a copy of this story in her bible:

The Best Day of My Life
By Gregory M. Lousig-Nont, Ph.D.

Today, when I awoke, I suddenly realized that this is the best day of my life, ever! There were times when I wondered if I would make it to today; but I did! And because I did I'm going to celebrate!

Today, I'm going to celebrate what an unbelievable life I have had so far: the accomplishments, the many blessings, and, yes, even the hardships because they have served to make me stronger.

I will go through this day with my head held high, and a happy heart. I will marvel at God's seemingly simple gifts: the morning dew, the sun, the clouds, the trees, the flowers, the birds. Today, none of these miraculous creations will escape my notice.

Today, I will share my excitement for life with other people. I'll make someone smile. I'll go out of my way to perform an unexpected act of kindness for someone I don't even know.

Today, I'll give a sincere compliment to someone who seems down. I'll tell a child how special he is, and I'll tell someone I love just how deeply I care for her and how much she means to me.

Today is the day I quit worrying about what I don't have and start being grateful for all the wonderful things God has already given me.

I'll remember that to worry is just a waste of time because my faith in God and his Divine Plan ensures everything will be just fine.

And tonight, before I go to bed, I'll go outside and raise my eyes to the heavens. I will stand in awe at the beauty of the stars and the moon, and I will praise God for these magnificent treasures.

As the day ends and I lay my head down on my pillow, I will thank the Almighty for the best day of my life. And I will sleep the sleep of a contented child, excited with expectation because I know tomorrow is going to be the best day of my life, ever!

It reminded me of how simple life should be (and could be).  As we’re already beginning to feel the holiday frenzy, I am thankful to know that keeping perspective is really not complicated, although it takes a lot of discipline and forethought. 

It also reminds me of this scripture in Habakkuk chapter 3:
His glory covered the heavens and his praise filled the earth.  His splendor was like the sunrise; rays flashed from his hand, where his power was hidden.

One of the things my friend, Summer, got me hooked on is sky gazing.  It’s become a habit of mine to stay watchful for beautiful scenes painted in the sky.  She and I often share sky photos with each other.  It’s a pause in the day to remember that God’s POWER is like rays that flash from His hand.  Here are some of my favorites:

This next one is my absolute favorite.  I took it one morning as I was walking.  I didn’t feel very well and had the spiritual and emotional “blahs.”  Yet this was the sight as I neared my house (that’s my house in the picture).  It hear a choir of angels singing in my head and heart when I look at this picture.  

I was reminded that in all the gloomy gray clouds (in the sky and in my heart), God still finds ways to reach out and touch me.  How stark in contrast the rays of the sun (Son) are to the gray clouds over us.

 Life Stuff

Things are going really well.  I think I’m at the point where I can accept the new me!  And it’s the simple wins… Jonathan’s been traveling a lot and I’ve taken the kids to life group, church and Awana on Sundays by myself 3 of the last 4 weeks.  I volunteered in Awana this “semester” at our church and only missed 2 Sundays (one of those I was in Mexico).  I can drive most places most days.  I still have to pace myself but honestly I’m glad for that.  I feel like God has given me the gift of a physical infirmity to keep me reigned in, to keep me focused on what matters and to keep me depending on him for EVERY day.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Fog

I was driving the kids to school one day last week and it was really foggy; so foggy that we couldn't see the school until we got right up on it.  As we were driving through the fog, Lydia said, "I wonder if the school disappeared." Beau said, "No, I can still see the outline of it."  I was busy looking intently right ahead of me so I wouldn't wreck.

I realize that sometimes when we're on the road of life, God has plans for us even though we can't see them.  They're on the road up ahead somewhere just beyond our visibility.  On that foggy day, God reminded me that even though He may have plans that I can't see right now, there are still things right under my nose that are clearly visible and need my attention.

This is WAY personal but at this point I've pretty much laid my life out there so I guess I won't stop now.  When I pray and journal I often just open the page and ask for God to give me guidance and when I write it's the stream of thought that comes to me; although it's not an audible voice, it's how I feel God communicating with me.  Here is my journal entry that followed that foggy morning:

Journal Entry

Sometimes I am like a dense fog.  I hide the things you can usually see.  I allow this fog to settle so that you literally can't see (or think) too far ahead.  You have to take each step (moment) of the day as it comes.  Do not get ahead of yourself.  Don't think about where you will serve next - serve me now, where you are.  After hearing two sermons on parenting the last couple of weeks, your Legacy Path book you're reading and the New Kid by Monday book you're reading, you've got plenty right here in front of you to focus on - I want you to focus on your family.  I have given you a gift that I have not given to anyone else you know - the gift of TIME.  Use it wisely.  Use it to minister to the things close by and right in front of you.  If you keep looking further out, all you see is fog.  Stay here - become the best mom and wife you can be.  I will help.

This is just another way that I feel God giving me peace to quietly serve my family and not to seek out other "flashy," more-prominent ministry opportunities.  Maybe those are out there covered by the fog and maybe not.  I realize that the gift of time is precious and priceless and that moms that have to work outside the home have a tremendous amount of pressure to fulfill their many roles.  I am truly and humbly thankful that God has bestowed this gift on me and I pray that I will faithfully fulfill my roles as wife and mom to His glory.

Ephesians 5:15-16:
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Birthday Blessings

I’m 41 today!  And how blessed I am…

·        God’s grace and mercy covers me EVERY day
·        My exodus from captivity (pre-Meniere’s) and being on the precipice of the Promised Land (health restoration)
·        God’s unfailing love
·        My husband – who has taken the vow of “in sickness and in health” and shown how it’s lived out
·        My beautiful, smart, healthy, funny, loving kids
·        My supportive and encouraging parents
·        My mom – who took me to church and taught me about Jesus very early on
·        My friends – true friends who have proven their love for me over the last two years
·        My best friend, Summer – a Jonathan/David friendship of two souls
·        My church, North Monroe Baptist – who cares and prays and encourages, without ceasing
·        My Faulk & Foster job, which is so much more – it’s family
·        A beautiful home, reliable car, comfortable clothes and abundant food
·        My health!

Psalm 103:1-5
1Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,

    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases,
who redeems my life from the pit
    and crowns me with love and compassion,
who satisfies my desires with good things
    so that my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
I can’t imagine anyone having a better birthday than this!  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Happy Anniversary Meniere’s Disease!

Two years ago today this journey began...  I woke up knowing and feeling that something wasn’t quite right.  In the last two years I’ve experienced anger, fear, sorrow, worry, resentment, confusion, desperation… peace, hope, joy, faith, humility, steadfastness and perseverance.  Instead of looking back and rehashing the last couple of years, let me share my latest revelation with you.

I met my friend, Summer, about 6 months in to this journey.  I often tell her “I’m a different person” and she always wants to know, “In what way?  What were you like before?”  She recently challenged me to really flesh that out.  So I began to pray and journal and seek the answer to the question, “How am I a different person?” 

A few days ago, God laid the answer on my heart.  Definitively, conclusively and simply the answer is… “I’m not a different person!”  HUH?????  How can that be?  After all I’ve been through?  Then what’s all this for? 

Through more prayer, I realized I am the same person – my appearance (other than some extra gray, wrinkles and pounds), my stubbornness, perfectionism, OCD, competitive spirit and other hard-wired traits and personality components are all the same.  But something very significant has changed: my perspective!

I wear contacts because without them I can’t see.  I wake up each morning to a world of blobs and blurs, fuzzy shapes and outlines.  The moment I put in my contact lenses, things are clear, sharp and very distinguishable.  I always tell my kids, “OK, now I can see you.”  What I see is completely and markedly different, but what they see when they look at me is totally the same; the mama they saw before and after I put in my lenses hasn’t changed.

It’s kinda like I’ve put new lenses on my mind and soul over the last couple of years.  I have been so hard on myself, worrying that people don’t see a different me – they don’t see a peaceful, calm, passive, fruit-hanging-all-over-me Nicole.  I’ve been thinking all along that the culmination of this journey would result in some new ministry, some life-altering obvious change.  Instead this journey resulted in a complete overhaul of my heart and soul, a change deep within that isn’t obvious to the world; a change that has brought a new perspective on how I see God, how I see people, how I care about people and how I pray for people.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is 1 Kings 19:11-13 where the prophet Elijah encounters God:
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

God moves in small, subtle, personal, private ways sometimes (a gentle whisper).  I have found such peach and comfort in this realization.  We should always expect God to move, but sometimes we must be willing to see the movement in places we never expect!

Life stuff
Things are still going really well.  I continue to function fairly “normally” most days.  I pace myself more, I sit down and take a “guilt-free five” more often, I say “let me think about it” before I commit to activities rather than agreeing to do things that 1) I don’t want to do, 2) God doesn’t want me to do or 3) may be good, but not great things for my family and me.  I am still reading through my Bible – I just finished Ezekiel (that was the toughest book so far for me to get through).  Counting pages, not books of the Bible, I am 90% through the Old Testament and 63% through the entire Bible.  I can’t believe I waited 40 years to do it.  I pray that my kids will not wait until mid-life to read God’s word all the way through.  I have seriously missed out on SO MUCH in terms of bible study over the years.  I always thought it would be a tedious undertaking but it’s truly a most liberating exercise.

Thank you for hanging with me these last 2 years – in prayer, in love, in support.  God is good… ALL THE TIME!

Thursday, October 3, 2013


My journey that began almost two years ago continues to change and evolve every day.  It seems in my life now that no two days are the same and I truly must take each day as it comes.  I do make plans but I must be flexible.  And as hard-headed as I am, that’s not easy.  When I had my shunt surgery a year and a half ago, the surgeon used a diamond cutter to drill through my skull.   Jonathan thinks he’s being funny when he tells people that the surgeon broke 3 bits before he finally got through.  And while he does get laughs there’s some sad truth in there somewhere.

Over the last two years God has broken me completely down and apart.  There were days when I laid in bed and sobbed because I couldn’t do anything.  PRAISE GOD those days are behind me!  I really don’t pray often enough that my Meniere’s Disease will NEVER again rear it’s ugly head in that way EVER again!  Now that I am doing better and able to participate in more life activities I am finding it very challenging to “rebuild.”  My goal throughout the days in the miry pit was to rebuild my life so intentionally and God-inspired that I would be God’s beacon of light to anyone and everyone I encountered.  But I’m realizing that’s not God’s plan (for now anyway).  I still have to live in the same body that God gave me the day I arrived – with all those flaws that he knows intimately. 

My best friend, Summer, and I are reading an awesome book called The Legacy Path: Discover Intentional Spiritual Parenting by Brian Haynes.  We read together so we can share, challenge and encourage.  It’s based on Deuteronomy 6:4-9 

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

At one point the author says, “There is an art to sacrificing the good things to experience the best things.”  I cannot get over this idea.  As I rebuild there are SO many good things I can begin doing again.  But are they the GREAT things God has in store for me and my family?

I’ve had invitations to join different weekly bible studies, to teach life groups either as a sub or permanently (and I SO MISS teaching), to join a heart to home group in my church.  And I’ve said no to every one of those very GOOD things.  But I feel certain for right now, those are not the GREAT things God wants for me.  Do you see why this is so hard and confusing??? And I know I’m not alone; almost everyone reading this probably struggles with the same thing.  I don’t have an answer, don’t know the secret.  But I do feel that God is rebuilding me and adding in activities that He designed for me.

I will write more about one of the projects in the next couple of weeks – how it came about and where it’s going.  In short, it’s the Kings and Queens Project and it’s 4 kids in Northeast Louisiana ministering to others in need.  Yes, the 4 kids belong to my friend, Summer, and me.  Yes, it’s part of our “legacy path” and intentional parenting.  Yes, it’s to educate our kids so they know how blessed they are.  Their current project is The Underwear Affair, a children’s underwear drive.  (Quick plug: If you would like to donate new, unopened children’s underwear to the cause, please let me know and we will make it happen.)

  For more information visit Kings and Queens Project on Facebook.

In short, I’m doing MUCH better.  I am still working via phone with my doctor at the Mayo Clinic as we continue to tweak my medication.  I am attending church regularly, visiting my kids at school regularly, and attending practices and games and birthday parties regularly!  I still have days where I can’t drive or do much, but in a way I’m thankful for that (I know, I’m weird).  A recent journal entry: “I have been very remiss laying my days’ activities at God’s feet.  I know that without Him I can’t do anything.  Not one single activity can I accomplish on my own.  I am thankful to have down days to remind me of my limitations and boundaries.”

I hope that anyone with a physical impairment that stumbles onto this blog finds encouragement that God is more than capable to see you through the desert.  He can bring you out of the deepest valley.  Life as you knew it may be gone forever but the “new you” will very likely be more content than you could have imagined!

I was out walking last week and the wind was blowing the trees so they were all beautifully “speaking” as I walked by.  The rustle of the leaves was a sweet melody.  I looked at those tall trees wavering in the wind and at the same time my phone was playing “He Said” by Group 1 Crew featuring Chris August.  There’s a line in the song that says, “I might let you bend, but I won’t let you break.”  I was watching those trees dance and bend, not even close to breaking.  I realized that those big tall trees that don’t break have deep roots holding them steady – roots that took years to develop.  You get my point right?  I hope after 2 years my roots are MUCH deeper than before.  And I know they’ve still got a lot of growing to do!

Some final thoughts and reasons to smile:
·        My family and I spent a week at the beach in early August – it was AWESOME! 

·        My “babies” started 2nd grade mid-August. 

·        Jonathan and I went to Mexico for 5 days alone together last week to RELAX! 

·        Gator is still with us and he’s still a royal pain in the tush.  J

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Mid-Summer Report

I have felt compelled for several weeks to post and give all of my faithful prayer warriors an update and I am ashamed that I have not.  Please forgive me!

The news....
It’s all positive.  The last 3 weeks have been incredible... "normal" incredible!  I have driven my kids here and there - errands, outings, appointments.  I have been to several movies.  This week started with a 3-day trip to Arkansas which included a trip to Magic Springs (an amusement park) where I actually RODE a couple of rides.  Is that not awesome?!?

This is a link to one, which is considered a "thrill ride" so it's not for sissies...

And the "Old No. 2 Logging Company Log Flume" which is similar to the one in this photo from another park...

Three days after the trip there, my friend Summer and I took all 4 of our kids to Shreveport for the day, shopping, eating and enjoying a movie.

I added a third medicine to the line-up about 3 weeks ago and it has seemed to make all the difference.  Know what's really ironic?  It's the medicine that I weaned myself from last summer b/c I HATED taking it!!!!  I have been resistant to it and finally gave in to give it another try.  For some reason it works wonders in combination with the other 2 meds I'm on.  Of course, God couldn’t put it past me the life lesson that sometimes the things we dread and hate the most bring us the most relief.  I don't dread evenings and bedtime anymore - I actually look forward to a good night's rest.  And the fact I actually went on some theme park rides and didn't dream about them all night is SO COOL!

Our family is going to the beach for a week before school starts - a vacation that we had to miss last year.  And I have no qualms or reservations that I will enjoy every minute of it.

I eased back to running on June 2.  I used the Couch to 5K program and am now running 4-5 days a week.  That helps enormously with my overall mood and disposition.

Spiritually I feel a little held up.  I feel that several months ago God just went silent on me.  And I'm slowly realizing it's not a bad thing.  It's testing my fervor and commitment to him.  If I continue to seek and knock and ask when I don't "feel" his response then I am giving him just what he wants - a passionate pursuit.  Admittedly it is difficult to have deep, lengthy quiet times every day with two 7-year-olds underfoot and for that reason I am looking forward to school starting back in a couple of weeks.

I still keep thinking that a "hallelujah, I'm healed" moment is coming, but everything is just happening very gradually.  I regularly attend life group and church now on Sundays... I can't really pinpoint the moment that part of my life became normal again; it just kinda happened.

So I guess I'm still on the uphill climb out of the valley and I haven't reached the summit yet where more of this makes sense and my purpose or calling from the peak becomes clearer.

Thank you for your continued prayer.  Thank you for being so joyful when you see me out.  Please pray that I will stay grounded and not forget a minute of this journey.  Please pray that God's calling will be crystal clear when his timing is right.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Closer Look

There was a dead horsefly on our back patio when I woke up yesterday morning.  Seeing as how Gator eats pretty much everything, it was a miracle this little bug was still there.  It was on its back and I bent over to look more closely.  As I looked I noticed its little fly eyes and its stinger.  I then got the kids' magnifying glass and tried to look even closer.  The reason I say I "tried" to look closer is because Gator-the-Holy-Terror was trying to jump on me, eat the magnifying glass and step on the fly all at the same time.  I finally shooed Gator away long enough to gaze.  This fly, which usually is annoying, ugly and sometimes painful, became beautiful under the glass.  I could see many intricate details of its body, its large stinger, its scales, its amazing eyes. 

Over the last 2 weeks I have received at least 6 different words of encouragement from 6 different people in 6 different ways.  I want to share them with you, not to be proud or boastful, but just so you will know exactly what I mean:
1)      A family friend that I see once a year at most told me how much she enjoys my blog and how helpful it is to others.  She encouraged me to write a book or compile my postings in some way.
2)      A friend that I have seen about once in the last year sent me a Facebook message sharing her valley story and encouraging me with her words and lessons, so many of which I can totally relate to.
3)      A friend sent me a text acknowledging that every time she sees me walk into church she gives thanks that I am able to be there; knowing that for a very long time church attendance was difficult and I didn't go for a very long time.
4)      A friend sat next to me in church during a sermon from 1 Peter 1:3-9 entitled "Life Under Assault."  She looked at me after the service and told me she thought of me the whole time and about how I've stayed positive throughout my trial.
5)      A friend has been going through a very scary, physical ordeal for the last week (she's better - praise God!).  I was able to send her some encouragement and get hers in return.
6)      My mom called the twins' birthday into the local Christian radio station last week.  She also told the DJs what a great mom I am and that I read scripture and pray with my kids every morning.  It was a slow birthday morning (theirs was the only one), so the DJs spent some time relaying this story on air.  As I sat down to pray that morning I realized that if absolutely nothing else changes or I don't have a new ministry or calling as a result of this trial, that this one change in our life alone is a gift and a treasure and can have a significant eternal impact.  If I were still working full-time and running wide-open, I would have said, "We don't have the time in the mornings; we can't be late for school!"  And I realize this incredible gift of time that God has given us - time to spend training my children the importance of reading God's word and talking to Him every morning.

Again, I'm not sharing these stories as testaments to anything I've done.  I just want you to understand how over the last few weeks I've taken inventory of the last 19 months and am re-assessing just what it all means.  Somehow, with God's grace, I am able to look through the magnifying glass and see an ugly, painful, annoying situation as beautiful and precious.  It's a process, but I believe God has ignited a renewed sense of purpose for me.  Just like Gator distracting me from fly-gazing, many, many things have distracted me from having the right mindset over the last year and half.

I was lying in bed last night and shamefully remembering a conversation I had with the Young Singles Life Group that I taught up until the time I got sick.  One day in class I asked how many were ready to go to heaven and I sadly admitted that I wasn't quite ready yet.  Because I had a completely blessed life here, I didn't yearn for any more.  I had a great job, husband, kids, home, friends, HEALTH.  Through this journey, the priority of those things has been stripped away.  For so many days the only thing I could focus on was God's grace and the things of this world became "strangely dim" as the song says.  Now I cannot wait for the day that I can burst forth through those pearly gates.  I am ready NOW.  I realize that all I have is temporary and none of it is mine anyway.  It's all God's.  Now that my fingers have been pried from the grip I had on things of this earth I can spend time with my magnifying glass looking more closely at this journey and appreciating it for what it is and even finding beauty in something very ugly.

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
 ---Habakkuk 3:17-18

Other Stuff
I've been on the new meds for a week and it's actually been a pretty good one.  I'm cautiously optimistic.  Nights are still not fun at all, but at least I am getting a little relief in daily activities. I'm still having some trouble setting boundaries and not pushing myself - I'm sure that will continue to be a work in progress.

School is out for summer and I am so thankful for lazy mornings and no homework!

Tomorrow I will celebrate 14 years of marriage with a wonderful husband who has quietly born the brunt of the family burden for a very long year and a half.

Monday, May 20, 2013

May 20 Mayo Visit

Thank you, thank you, thank you for the continued prayers.  Even though I don't sit and write very often anymore I still know you are faithful in remembering me.  It's been a rough couple of months physically and emotionally and I know I've been withdrawn.  I'm not sure why and can't really describe how I feel.

I had 2 appointments at the Mayo Clinic today.  I told Dr. Staab, the doc I speak with via phone regularly, that it was surreal being there again.  Last October when I left, I truly thought I would never be back.  But 7 months later there we were today. 

What a blessing that we didn't have to fly commercial; we left our house at 6am today and pulled back in the driveway at 5:45 this evening.  We ate breakfast and lunch and had 2 one-hour doctors appointments - pretty incredible!  I know of one doctor in West Monroe that may keep a patient waiting close to 12 hours just to see him (Ok, I'm exaggerating but you get the picture).

So, the long and short of it is that we must continue to try different combinations of medicines to treat my chronic headaches and my dizziness.  My doctors feel we have pinpointed what may be a good combination for me so we are going to try and find the right dosage with those 2 meds.  Dr. Staab was so wonderful, so reassuring, so knowledgeable.  He re-emphasized that I'm not alone; that he's going to continue to work with me until we find the answer and that we have to just "build on the little successes" to figure out what's best for me.  We're trying to get my brain to shift out of the "high risk dizziness" mode and the headaches are "throwing gas on the flames"... so we have to treat both, which is more complicated than just treating the dizziness.

Since I continue to have terrible nights - waking up from dreams that I'm riding carnival rides or dizzied up on heavy meds - I may also begin taking something at night to help me sleep.

Finally, I have to make some "lifestyle" changes.  Instead of cramming all kinds of activities into "good" days and then crashing from it and/or refraining from any activity on "bad" days, I have to pace myself during the week.  Being the OCD planner that I am, this shouldn't be too tough.  Although I don't do well with boundaries and saying "no" so Jonathan is also going to help keep me on track!  Dr. Staab wants me to plan a week out at a time; one or maybe two activities a day so that I don't overdue the good and that I push a little on the bad.

Last October when we left, Staab said to "go home and make (getting well) your fall/winter project."  Today he told me to go home and work on getting my meds right this summer.  And so I face another literal "season" of working through a recovery (if that's what I would even call it) period.  So, that's the gist of it all.  I'm sure this is Greek to many and I probably don't explain it well.  Since I've lived it now for a year and a half, it's all lingo that makes sense to me, but I realize it's very confusing!

I'm not really sure where God wants me right now in all of this.  I am struggling with that too.  I desperately want to write, but I feel empty.  And that makes me really sad.  Please pray that I will listen and act when and where He wants.

On a light and exciting note, Beau & Lydia turn SEVEN on Thursday.  We had their party at Chuck E. Cheese last Saturday and 18 kids showed up.  It was WILD!  Both docs at Mayo knew that I was serious when I told them I’d made major progress getting back into normal activities.  They agreed that any “normal” person would get dizzy in an environment like that and commended me for my bravery!  

Thank you, again and as always, for the many continued and faithful prayers.  I feel like a broken record but I very sincerely mean thank you.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Promises in the Wilderness

I made it to Nehemiah today!  I'm about 1/3 way through the Bible.  I cannot believe I have missed out on this historical perspective for the last 32 years since I became a Christian.  My goal is to ensure that my kids read the bible cover to cover early in their lives so that they will have a fuller, richer experience in all of their bible studies.  I want them to know who Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah were, what era they lived in and what their roles were. 

I've learned a lot of in-depth, beautiful, historical things and also random pieces of trivia.  For example, I want my kids to know there's actually a person named Nimrod in the bible and he wasn't a doofus or a dunce.  He was a mighty warrior! (Genesis 10:7-9)

Today I was referencing something back in Deuteronomy and ran across notes I had written in the margins throughout Chapter 8.  In this chapter, Moses is telling the Israelites to give God the credit due Him for all He has done, even in the midst of their wilderness wanderings.

Here's a link to the entire chapter:

Excerpts from Deuteronomy 8 (my highlights added)
1Be careful to follow every command I am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you.

15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.
Some of my notes from this chapter:
1) We reap God's promises when we are obedient
2) Desert experiences reveal who we are
3) It's all for our good
4) It's all for a reason
5) It's all because of love

This passage reminds me that in order to please God and reap His blessings we must first behave as he commands and expects us to.  We must live close to Him and not by our own or the world's standards of "good enough".  It also reminds me that when the fire gets hot, our true character and the core of who we are comes out.  We either negatively internalize and combust or we channel our hurts and devastation to the One who can see us through.  And in the end, through everything we experience - whether good or bad - it's all for our good.  V
erse 16 assures us that there's a purpose in what we go through:  "so that in the end it might go well with you."  God doesn't humble and test us because he can.  He does it because He knows best and He wants it to end well for us.  No matter how bad things get, his covenant is to LOVE me (Deuteronomy 7:9 says, "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.")

Over the last 18 months I have certainly felt I was in a dreadful wilderness, a thirsty and waterless land.  But I have also received His manna and water too.  Even through the hard times, God gives us what we need.  There have been some senseless events take place in our country this week.  And these things are happening all over the world.  I've also heard of horrible personal tragedies striking families close to my community.  My wilderness in no way compares to the ones these people are in and will go through for a very long time and some of them for life.  I've often asked it and I'm sure the people in Boston have asked it this week. 


I refer myself and others back to the answers found in Deuteronomy 8:
1) Desert experiences reveal who we are
2) It's all for our good
3) It's all for a reason
4) It's all because of love

I can't imagine life without these promises of God.  I don't think God punishes the innocent to get our attention, but if getting our attention is a by-product of tragedy and wilderness experiences, then all is not lost.

Other Stuff
It's still been tough for my physically.  I should have started writing a book about all my crazy dreams at the beginning of this journey...  I have dreamed about more carnivals, amusement parks and high-cliff adventures than I could have thought possible.  It may make for entertaining reading one day!  I've added another medicine back in the mix since when I came off it, I got incredibly dizzy with no relief.  Jonathan and I are headed back to Mayo in Minnesota on May 20.  Talk about blessings in adversity... God planned our first trip to Mayo in October (beautiful weather; no snow) and now this visit in May (beautiful weather; no snow)!  We missed the Minnesota winter and we are soooo grateful!  I'll be meeting with my regular doctor and the first neurologist I met with back in October.  I am certainly looking forward to going over the last 6 months with them but at the same time I'm a little apprehensive.  I know that it's Satan trying to get me to believe that they won't have any answers or it will be another 6 months of trying different medicines and treatments.  I've resumed the practice of earnestly seeking God's divine healing.  Quite honestly I gave up on that several months ago and quit asking.  I've never lost faith that He CAN; I guess I quit believing that he WOULD. 

Thank you for continued prayers, love and support.  I still need them and appreciate them more than you know.  When I see people from time to time that I rarely talk to and they tell me they're praying for me every day, I almost get a little embarrassed.  I guess sometimes I don't feel I deserve so many dear and faithful people praying for me.  And I shouldn't feel that way.  I have come to realize that prayer is one of the most loving and generous gifts we can give each other.  And so I sincerely thank you for your faithfulness.