Monday, September 14, 2015

I Think I Can

Mrs. Emily Smith was my kindergarten teacher. She had a classroom set up in her room where we went to school for 3 hours a day. It was private so I have no idea how my poor parents afforded it. I have a feeling my dad traded off surveying work for all of us kids to attend.

Mrs. Smith was a lovely woman who fed us chocolate milk on Fridays and read books galore and wiped the scrapes on our knees. What I remember most was that we would gather around her chair and she would read "The Little Engine That Could" fairly often. It was my first introduction to thinking about endless possibilities and tenacity. "Perseverance and diligence," she said. And I believed her. After all, she was Mrs. Smith, and no one was more perfect in my five-year-old mind.

Many teachers over the years taught the same message. It wasn't about what we learned as much as it was about how we learned to learn and loving to learn. "Keep at it," they said. And I believed them.

More importantly many significant people in my life have pointed me to Christ and encouraged me to "keep the faith." Stay strong and just put one foot in front of the other. In fact, I've said those exact same things. And they are true. But, they are hard. Very hard.

This past week was my very first time to try and run again. I run because God impressed it upon my heart several years ago. It is NOT from me. I can think of many other things I would/could choose to do, but none of them involve exercise!

It was difficult. Did I honestly think I would just be able to run 5 miles again? Apparently I did, or so I realized after I was disappointed for a few days.

But in my quiet time, I've been studying the book of Hebrews. That's just a book full of good stuff. The main theme of Hebrews is that Christ is superior to everything else - angels, Moses, Abraham, the old covenant, all priests, Melchizedek, etc. - and He is sufficient. He is ALL we need. He is our All in all.

And I believe that (not that what I believe matters in light of the truth). He is enough. And He is good. And He has a plan for me which involved surgery and recovery. And running again. I have to trust that He will enable me to do just what He desires in His timing. So, I run for Him and no one else. I run for His glory. May He receive all the praise and honor and glory for what He chooses to do.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Starting Over...

Back to square one. That's where I am. And it stinks.

But God, in all His faithfulness, has been good to remind me of the lessons He has taught over the past few years. And I'm sure I'll be relearning those important points and some new ones too.

This morning was a two mile walk but I also ran...please don't interpret that to be Sheryl sprinting and jumping might want to envision Vicky Lawrence from Mama's Family trudging along in house shoes at a snail's pace. There was a time when I could easily run 3 miles in that amount of time, but it's still a start. And since patience is NOT my strong suit, I'm asking you guys to pray that I would see the Lord first and foremost each day. Pray that I would seek His wisdom and discernment in getting healthy again.

I am eager to be on this journey with the Lord and I pray that He would be most glorified as I seek Him above all else.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Slow as a turtle in quicksand....

Our friend, Bill, always has the funniest responses when we ask him how he's doing - better than a frog's hair split in half; if I were any better, there would have to be two of me; and happier than a dog in a butcher's shop. It always make me laugh because it's just so much more creative than the typical, "I'm good" answer.

And today I found myself answering that question a lot but my words seemed more like grunts...with a few head nods and tilts. I think answers fall into two categories - good and not so good. And Southerners can hide a sickness/illness/death/impending death behind a good answer any day of the week. It's a gift, really. Not a good gift...a deceptive one.

I am now 10 days out from a hysterectomy, and I can tell you that I'm glad that it was done. And my excellent doctor was right, right, right. The full pathology report says so...I do not intend to go into the yucky details but it was a really good thing. Be glad to tell you more if you really want to know but it just showed me God's abundant faithfulness and grace, and I am so grateful.

Speaking of thankfulness, I have been overwhelmed with all the texts, emails, notes, calls, meals, and acts of services (including babysitting, cleaning, and bodyguarding) that have been done for my family and me. The body of Christ is alive and active and has been surrounding us with lots of care during this time.

As for me I was cleared to walk on the treadmill this past week, and as you can see from the picture above, I'm as slow as a turtle in quicksand. But, it's a start. When I asked the doctor about running, he just lowered his glasses as he always does and smirked. And slowly shook his head at me and said an adamant, "No!" But, he did promise that I will be able to run again (and I'm hoping he means soon).

Since January I've now gained 50 lbs without changing my diet or exercise until a month before the surgery. And nothing I did helped. NOTHING. So now I'm excited that I can finally exercise again without feeling the fatigue I had before. Yeah!!! I find myself jealous of people who are running because I want to so badly. And yet I know it will be a very slow process.

Please pray with me that God will still my heart and I will wait on His perfect timing. I love you all and thank you for your love, encouragement and support!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Houston, we have a problem...

Sometime around the first of this year, I realized that I was feeling "off" and couldn't quite explain it. Since most of our days were filled with running Madison back and forth to doctor's appointments and trying to figure out what was the culprit of four years' worth of symptoms, I didn't make the time to see the physician.

Then, I picked up a parasite from Guatemala in April and that pretty much wreaked havoc on my system. I returned to Guatemala in June and again came home with another parasite. Now, I can see God's plan in pushing me into the doctor's office using the parasite (whatever it takes). Accompanied by some other concerning symptoms (as a Southern woman, I'm required not to discuss such things, you know?), I trudged to my annual appointment.

I was really hoping for some answers, and after multiple blood draws, a few visits, some tests and a biopsy, we have discovered the reason behind the constant fatigue and weight gain. Have I mentioned that I have gained 40 lbs since the first of the year, and I eat healthy and run/exercise regularly? Cause that is a big pain in my southern hemisphere! It is frustrating and embarrassing especially when I KNOW that something is causing it!

The fatigue was the biggest symptom that worried me. From the time I get up, I think about going back to bed. While sometimes I can rest easily, most of the time, I just need to sit and do nothing. I can't walk too long or stand on my feet. It exhausts me. It's 8:45 in the morning right now, and I'm worn out already. I have done nothing other than shower, take one kid to a driving class and have my morning quiet time.

But now, we have an explanation, and as GI Joe and my brothers would say, "And knowing is half the battle." So the plan is to have a hysterectomy on August 21st to get all the bad stuff out. I had cancerous cells on my cervix over 20 years ago and now they are all over my uterus. Since I'm too old to be birthin' babies, it's the best option!

Hopefully, this will relieve the exhaustion and get me back into fighting shape. Just knowing that there is a reason behind the madness helps more than anything!

And no matter what, we recognize that the Lord is in charge. He is good, and He has a plan. We believe in Him. We love Him. We trust Him.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Another Parasite?

On the past two trips to Guatemala, I've brought home a souvenir. A little surprise guest. And not one that I like or enjoy. It's a parasite, and I didn't invite him on the trip home. But he came anyway.

He's a vicious little creature that can rear his head quickly at the end of a trip or even hibernate and appear a few days/weeks later. He can come in the form of chills, fever, headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, or a variety of other symptoms (once JT had one that mimicked a heart attack..that was a little concerning). I do not like him one little bit.

But getting a parasite is sometimes part of being in another country to share the Gospel. And I will take it. I will NOT be deterred from the mission at hand.

On this past trip, there was a night of discussion in the book of James. We talked about being people who don't just hear the Word but DO it. And all I could do was cry...ugly cry. Over 29,000 kids die every day, most of them from preventable diseases. How can we, as the church, sit by and do nothing? How can we call ourselves believers and do nothing? We can't.

So, how can I complain about a little parasite that causes pain, inconvenience and annoyance? I can't. It's nothing compared to what most of the world is dealing with each day. It is just a reminder of why we go to the nations. We go out of obedience to the call of the Father. Not for anything we will get (whether positive or negative)or anything we will give. We go because He calls us to go.

And we will continue to go. No matter the costs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


One of the most difficult parts of a short term mission trip is re-entry. From the time I get up early on departure day until now, I am in a world that seems to dangle between Guatemala and the US. I'm an alien in my own country. It's a no man's land, and I am smack dab in the middle of it.

Physically, it's not so bad. I get more rest here (only in the summer) and I can spend more time catching up on some much needed sleep. I think I averaged about 4 hours a night in Guatemala mainly because I was thinking about something from that day or praying about a particular family or kid.

Emotionally, it's a roller coaster ride. As I sit in Starbucks typing these words, tears come to my eyes thinking about kids who have no safe place to lay their heads in Guatemala. I am sipping my skinny vanilla latte, and they are scrounging for food every day. I am adding up receipts from the trip, and parents are working 12-18 hours a day to provide for their families. I am listening to a little girl read to her mom, and kids in Sacjavilla are using 25 year old textbooks that they share in the school (IF they even get to go). I am staring at a bookshelf full of of books in a coffee shop, and I have walked into homes where no one could read. I have multiple Bibles in my home, and there are people in Guatemala begging for God's Word. I hear the little girl read a book on recycling, and my mind drifts to the people of the dump who recycle every day just to be able to survive. I can see an urgent care facility right across the street that I can simply walk into anytime while people in Guatemala cannot afford simple medical treatment.

Spiritually, I am asking God over and over again why I am here. Why was I born here? Why do I get the physical comforts of living in the US while others do not? Would I even know Christ if I didn't live here? Would I seek Him? What would my kids be doing? Could we afford a home or food or school? How would God show Himself to us? Would anyone come and tell us the Good News? Would we listen?

These are all issues and questions that I face every time I return from being out of the country. And I do not know the answers. I simply trust in the One who does. And He is trustworthy. He is sovereign. He is faithful. He is sufficient. And I will rest in Him.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Little Surgery, A Lot of Stairs

We sort through the box looking for a missing puzzle piece. Where did that thing go? It just doesn't disappear. Okay, back to the drawing board. Make sure all the outside pieces are truly outside pieces. Put the similar colors together. Look under the table. Everyone stand up and look in your seat. Check your clothing. Searching everywhere but no one can find it.

It's what our lives have been like for the past few years with Madison's health. Starting with her face drooping on one side but not all the time. Allergies that won't go away in various seasons no matter what medicine she takes. Wheezing and not being able to exercise without feeling like she was about to pass out. Extreme fatigue that led to sleeping over 18 hours a day. Mono and flu-like symptoms with a diagnosis for both. Then, trouble walking up the stairs to the point that she wouldn't and couldn't do it. Fog-like brain with no ability to focus (for an A+ student, that was hard to grasp). Dark days of knowing she was sick but no diagnosis. Being told it was "all in her head." It didn't take long for all those factors to lead to some lonely and isolating times for our sweet second child.

In January of this year, we finally received a diagnosis of dysautonomia, specifically POTS, that we accepted gladly. All of her symptoms made sense and the puzzle was beginning to form. However, it's not a simple puzzle, and even the doctors don't agree on how to treat it. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, the Cleveland Clinic and Vanderbilt seem to agree on a protocol treatment but patients all respond differently. So, it's trial and error until the right combination of medicines/exercise/vitamins work for you.

So you can imagine our concern when we learned that Madison needed her tonsils and adenoids out as well as a turbinate reduction (honestly, I still don't know what that is except that it has something to do with the nose). I mispronounced it approximately 8 times at Children's including calling it the terminator and turbine reduction...I'm sure they were all impressed. Let's be honest for a second - who is ever going to say turbinate reduction again in his/her lifetime? No one. So, we should just call it the terminator and be done with this silly argument.

However, Madison was awesome as usual. She enjoyed the anesthesia a little too much and to be frank, I wish they would have just let her sleep for a few days to allow her to catch up on some rest. She said it was the best sleep she had experienced in four years. That sinks a mama's heart really quick like.

Her blood pressure was adequate during the surgery but her heart rate remained low. They monitored it continually, and she came through the surgery like a pro. The kind folks at Children's Hospital let us go home the same day.

The dysautonomia complicates recovery as she already takes quite a bit of medicines/vitamins to regulate her condition. So, she has about 14 pills that she takes each morning and 4 at night. Now, we give her pain medication every two hours. With the brain fog aspect of POTS, it is vital that an adult administer the required medications so that she doesn't forget what she has taken! So, we tread up those stairs every 2 hours all day.

Can I just tell you that I would walk those steps every day if I knew my child would improve? I would do it the rest of my life. With gladness. And it makes me awfully grateful for those single parents and parents of special need kids or those with chronic illnesses or long term impairments that have to deal with this kind of stuff day in and day out for life. They are my heroes. I salute them.

Would you pray with us that Madison will improve quickly over the next week? She needs her strength to fight the POTS, and it takes a lot...mental, emotional and physical wake up each day and keep working at it. We pray that she will become the physician who finds the cure one day so that others won't have to walk this road.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Changing Seasons

As winter finally gives way to spring (feels like we are about a month late on that front), I sense the need to be nostalgic. Maybe it's because I have an 18 year old living under my roof who used to be a toddler. Or a young lady who is about to be a high school graduate and is heading off to Tennessee in just a few months.

Someone once said that "the days are long but the years are short." It is SO true, and I'm living those words each and every day. Our lives will never be the same as they are now. Things are changing. We are changing.

I cannot tell you that I've handled this well as I have found myself crying fairly often. I am so excited for our girl to be graduating and going off to college. I am proud of the woman she has become. She has learned the value of true friendship, how to stand firmly in her faith, how to pursue Christ relentlessly, the importance of a good joke (Laffy Taffy has nothing on her), the art of making coffee, and how to love her family and friends well. I am blown away by the privilege of being her mom.

At the same time our oldest will be leaving the nest. And that leaves four other kids who will miss her. The dynamics won't ever be the same. And that's a good thing. I'm trying to believe that.

When I don't know what to do, I simply repeat these truths (and that is happening a lot these days). God created the world. He loves us and wants us to obey Him. He can be trusted, and He is faithful. I will trust Him no matter what comes. He is coming back soon.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.....

Monday, March 16, 2015

Just logging miles

That's all I'm doing these days in regard to exercise...logging miles. And I'm seeing improvements SLOWLY. In fact, I saw a shirt at a race recently that said, "I may be as slow as a turtle running through molasses, but I run!" I think I'll adopt that mantra.

Since the half marathon debacle in November where I felt like I totally failed, a regrouping had to occur. There was a "come to Jesus" meeting involving me and well...Jesus. A realistic plan was developed, and with the exception of only ONE day, I have finished each and every workout. And I must state that the one day was a weather day where our gym didn't open during the early morning hours, and we had a doctor's appointment that afternoon with one of our kids that lasted 3 hours, and I just never made it around to the gym. And heaven forbid if my body is asked to exercise later in the day...because...major revolution people!

That's one aspect of running I've discovered. I NEED to run early in the morning and generally without any food and only 6-8 oz of water in me. Otherwise, it does not go well. Maybe that's a mental barrier...I'm still working on that!

I'm now running a pace run every Monday, and easier run on Wednesdays, a regular run on Fridays and a long run on Saturday. Tuesdays and Thursdays are for cross-training (which has kicked my tail, by the way). Mileage this week will be 18 or so I think. But here's the bottom line...I'm running. I'm following the schedule that has set up for me and it is working. I'm improving daily although it's a snail's pace!

This past week I ran with an old friend and a new one. I was scared because their pace is faster than mine, and I didn't want to slow them down. And do you KNOW what they do WHILE they run? They each other. That simply quickens the pace by another 30 seconds to a minute per mile because it takes more oxygen to talk...I do not know that to be true but it sure felt like it! I have to improve my endurance to run with them. But that talking thing sure does help the time to pass more quickly!

This week I will be running in Mexico for our 25th wedding anniversary trip. I'm in much better shape now than when we got married although I weighed less then. I eat healthier. I go to the gym or run outside 6 days a week. I take care of 6 other people and run a household. So, I consider myself to be much healthier!

For the sake of the Gospel and taking it to the nations in such a way that brings Him the greatest glory, I will continue to run. The goal is still in sight...a full marathon. And maybe I'll get some half marathons in along the way! Thank you all for encouraging me and supporting keep me going!

Monday, March 9, 2015

God's Village

As I think back to the fire and the devastation it caused our family, I am reminded of God's great faithfulness. He used the fire to remind us that we are not the "all in all" for our children or ourselves for that matter. We cannot be everything to everyone including our own families. God allows other people to come into our lives to teach, guide, invest and help along the way. And, we are BEYOND thankful for that.

What I have experienced guilt and shame around is the concept that I cannot be the perfect mother to my kids. I am not always patient or kind or encouraging (ask my kids, they will surely tell you). What I can do is constantly point them back to know Him, to rely on Him and to trust Him. He will never fail them. And I am slowly understanding that He allows the strengths of other people around me to help me raise my kids.

Sidenote...this is not a free pass to allow other people to do my job. I still have to invest almost every waking second into their lives, whether teaching school, driving someone to practice, playing games, cheering them on or praying for them. It is time consuming. It is exhausting. It is good.

So, how do we do that? Most of you know the difficult that adopted children can have with attachment. And it's a pendulum issue. Attachments to family members take a LONG time or are not made at all. Or attachments happen too quickly and are made to the wrong people (the UPS delivery guy instead of dad or the cashier at the grocery store instead of mom)! It's a huge obstacle for families to tackle. And it was one we took very seriously.

So, when our younger kids find someone that they "click" with, it's kinda a big deal. A really big deal. They are certainly attached to us, our families, and our close friends. But other people tend to come and go in their worlds, and they don't attach easily to them. They may see the same people week in and week out but they take a long time to establish trust and a genuine relationship. Another sidenote (because I know how much you like them)....people who visit orphanages really need to be trained in how their behavior affects future families. Because my kiddos got the "white people come for a week to give us presents, play games and leave us" mentality, and it doesn't bode well when they come home.

Well, Zeke Turner exemplifies the child who has few trusting relationships in his life. He loves everybody he meets, but he has an affinity for only a select few. Mr. Dale is one of those people.

I cannot tell you what it is about Mr. Dale except that he loved Zeke first. Zeke adores the ground Dale walks on. When Mr. Dale walks into church every week, Zeke begrudgingly tolerates the time it takes Mrs. Wanda and him to get to their seats. Zeke stares at them as if it is taking an eternity. Music is being sung but he never utters a word. In fact, I think he may be holding his breath. JT has to hold him back until they are settled in. Then, Zeke barrels across the aisle (no son, don't mind the 1500 other people in here who are being distracted by you), dismisses everyone in between Mr. Dale and him, and basically tackles Mr. Dale with a huge hug.

And I cry almost every time. Mainly because I am reminded of a little 3 year old boy in Uganda who wandered the dirt roads of Africa without food and someone to care for him who now leaps over people to get to someone he loves. I recall a distended belly and bare feet that didn't know the embrace of a man in his life that runs to Mr. Dale every single week now. And we are reminded that God has brought people into our kids' lives to show them God's love in a tangible way. Oh how grateful we are for His faithfulness to our children!

Monday, February 23, 2015

You are My Shelter...

The first few weeks after the fire are a total blur in my brain. As the years have passed, I am able to slowly but vividly remember a few things:

As we sang in church on January 30, 2005, one song stood out above all the rest. The words, “You are my Shelter, strong Tower, my very present Help in time of need,” was my heart’s cry that day. We knew that all we had was God, and He was enough. He was all we needed. In fact, just yesterday, our worship team led us in “Shout to the Lord” which was another song we heard that day. As we sang these words, my heart began to burst:

My Jesus, my Savior,
Lord, there is none like You;
All of my days
I want to praise
The wonders of Your mighty love.

My comfort, my shelter,
Tower of refuge and strength;
Let every breath, all that I am
Never cease to worship You.

I thought I would jump out of my skin in praise of the One who provided so much for us. He knew what we did not know. He saw the three kids of varying shades standing next to us ten years later. Oh, I cannot adequately explain the gratefulness I feel just at the thought of that day.

Pastor Rick mentioned our fire in the service and asked people to pray for us. As people surrounded us and called out to the Father on our behalf, my heart was overwhelmed with gratitude for the saints of the Body of Christ. After the service a gentleman approached the pastor and told him that his mom had just moved to an nursing home. Her house in Inverness (close to the church) was available for us to live in for six months. God provided exactly what we needed when we needed it. What a huge blessing!

Friends spending the night in the home God provided for us free of charge!!!

We moved out of the Acton's home (where we were generously taken care of and didn’t have to think about anything) and into the house God provided. We were able to get back to homeschooling to provide some normalcy for our girls. We immediately put the girls into counseling so that they could deal with their feelings about the fire. Little did we know this would come in handy years later when the adoptions brought a great sense of loss and grieving.

You remember the yard sale we were going to host? Yeah, me too. I was so prepared for that sale...I mean like "proud of myself, hear me roar" proud. I had sorted through every closet, drawer, cabinet, shelf, and bag in our house. I had touched it all. I knew everything we had. That was God’s timing and His prodding for sure! The insurance company required a list of the contents of our home with an estimated year of purchase and value. When I submitted that Excel spreadsheet, the agent said, “This is the most thorough list I have ever seen.” Ha! God reminded me of every bottle of shampoo, place setting, toy, and book that we owned.

People from the church filled our pantry and refrigerator. They brought us meal after meal. Gift cards and cash randomly appeared in our mailbox. We saw God’s hand providing for us through the Body of Christ for months.

And the house, well it was torn down, and we watched it fall to the ground. And God reminded us that He was in control. He had a far bigger plan than we did.

I recall the new house plan which looked much like the old house except with a larger kitchen and dining room. We wanted to add a couple of hundred feet to the existing layout. Everything else would be the same. Brian Roberson, a friend from our church and small group, drew the plans, and we were so happy with how it was going to look.

Fast forward a few weeks and we get a call that the city of Alabaster has denied our plans. WHAT? We were devastated. What was the problem?

Well, I don’t know about you, but our family has never kept up with zoning requirements and laws. It’s not really an area of interest or concern for us. But, apparently, it should have been. You see, our neighborhood had been built out ten years prior, and the authorities that be had decided that the zoning laws wouldn’t allow for any new houses to be built without being a certain square footage and have certain acreage requirements. Who knew?

So, to accommodate our city’s laws, the house had to be reworked. But, the insurance company insisted that the house had to look similar to the way it did before. So, God took a 1800 square foot home and allowed it to burn to the ground. He used zoning laws to require the main floor to be 1600 square feet. Then, he used the insurance companies regulations to make it have 3 floors like it had previously. Do you get it? Now, there had to be 1600 square feet on the main floor with a basement the same size and another floor on top with 1600 square feet. Yeah, my God TRIPLED our living space, and the insurance company paid for it. Ha!!! God did that. We had no clue, and we had no idea what He planned for our future.

Praise God Almighty from Whom all blessings flow!!!!

Monday, February 16, 2015

After the Fire

Just last Sunday one of our pastors taught from 2 Corinthians 1:3-7. What a great reminder to our family about how God comforted us after the fire! And I wish I could honestly tell you that I remember how people cared for us during that time, but it is an overwhelming blur. I do recall a few things though:

As we got in our van that night, Barry and Joy Coffee took some of our clothes (our closet just had smoke damage) to their house and washed them for us. Somehow those clothes magically appeared back in our possession.

Jim Houston showed up at our neighbor’s house the night of the fire. He immediately secured a hotel nearby for three days so that we didn’t have to worry about shelter. Without a doubt, Pastor Jim is one of those people that arrives before anyone even knows there’s a crisis. And he genuinely cares for people.

The ladies of our small group led by Pansy Merriwether knocked on our hotel door just a few hours later. They had clothes for our girls, toiletries for all of us (we hadn’t even considered the fact that we had no toothbrushes), and essentials for the next few days. Just seeing their faces brought us to our knees with gratefulness.

Jodi Oliver brought us a meal the very next day. Chicken spaghetti. I can still remember it not because it was delicious (which it was…in fact, it was amazing) but because she took the time to make us food and we had ability to do that.

The Church at Brook Hills….our home church. We showed up the next morning because it was Sunday, and that’s where we NEEDED to be. Our pastor, Rick Ousley, called us by name that day and had the people around us pray over us. I remember this well because our friends had intentionally surrounded us that day (not where they normally sat) just to provide a sense of family and comfort.

Jim and Kristen Acton offered to let us live in their home that week. And I had to swallow my pride big time because I never wanted to be a burden to someone else. Living in another person’s house…well, that takes a lot of inconvenience and thought and cleaning and you get the idea. What a blessing to have a place that we could relax and regroup!

My dad. I have never missed the ability to talk to my dad more than the week that followed the fire. I can’t just call him since he’s in prison, and I had no way to get him to call me. But someone did. And my dad was able to use the phone in the chaplain’s office to call my cell phone. Obviously, I wasn’t expecting his call, so when I heard his voice, I wept. And like my dad always does, he wept with and for me.

Jim and Pansy Merriwether were our small group leaders at the time. They called us almost daily for several weeks. They were shoulders to cry on and ears to listen when we needed them the most.

The countless people at our church who brought meals, gave sacrificial gifts to our girls, provided gift cards, and asked how we were doing…just a word aptly spoken, a smile, a hug…it was a blessing beyond measure.

We were comforted in countless ways…ways that I can no longer vividly recall. I wish I could. Perhaps I should have recorded them all. But I know this. God comforted us through His body. And we were forever changed by the people who obeyed Him. And now we can comfort those who experience the same tragedy. Praise His great name!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Back Into the House

The next few hours after the house fire are quite a blur to me. I recall using the phone at the neighbors to call my brother David (as I had his number memorized) and the Hardys (the parents of the girls who were staying with us). Even those calls are quite fuzzy in my brain.

I have flashbacks to seeing certain people but no clarity...

The mayor Alabaster coming to the door and asking if we needed shelter for the night.

Jim Houston, one of our pastors from church, was one of the first ones there to check on us.

Several people from our small group who came immediately. I do not know how they found out.

My brother bringing food for the girls as they had missed dinner. It seems like it was McDonalds or Burger King.

Those are the only images I can seem to conjure up from those hours of waiting at the neighbor's house. I don't remember how we even came to the realization that we could look into the house.

Going back into the house was not really on my radar for January 29, 2005. I naively figured we would just go to a hotel for the night and sort it all out in the morning. Somehow I found myself standing on the porch of our home with a couple of guys from my small group by my side. I don't remember anyone except Barry Coffee.

As I stepped one foot into the living room I saw black everywhere...the smell of smoke was destroyed....everything I had known in my home that very morning was gone. Never to be recovered. My heart raced. My first words were, "Dear God, please help me. I don't think I can do this." Barry said, "Yes, you can," and helped me to take the next step.

I barely recall walking in and out of rooms but I had the distinct feeling that I needed to find something for the girls. Anything. Those men were so bent on helping me that they dug through their rooms until they found some trinket for each one of them. And I was so thankful.

Somehow our closet had escaped the fire and only had smoke damage. Several friends were going to take our clothes and wash that putrid smell out. We found JT's Bible and tried to salvage that as well (that was a five year process, by the way). Other than that, we had NOTHING. Not one thing. The song, "All I have is Christ" could have been our anthem. He was never more present to us in those moments.

As we loaded into our van to head to the hotel, I remember the look of terror on one of our girl's faces. She had no adequate way to process her pain. She looked so helpless and hopeless. She took both hands and scraped her chest...I held her tightly and wept with and for her. I could not imagine what we were going to do now.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

JT Lives, but I think you already knew that???

Four little girls and I stood on the front porch of a neighbor’s house. Nightgowns. Wet hair. Bare feet. I barely recall my own feet beginning to feel prickly from the temperatures. But, the most prominent memory I have is standing there not knowing where JT was. Smoke was pouring out every window. Glass was shattering. Flames were climbing the walls. I watched helplessly.

I prayed fervently that the Lord would allow my husband to survive the fire. As smoke billowed out the broken windows, I could hear more explosions from the back of the house. What I didn’t know at the time was that the kitchen fire had blown out the bay windows, eradicated the deck and sent several kitchen items on a projectile path into the back yard (finding our engraved wedding server in the wooded section of our lot was a blessing). The kitchen fire also jumped up the back side of the house and moved into the attic. With fire above and below, the heat caused the room in between (Kaitlyn’s) to spontaneously combust.

Meanwhile, I am pleading with the Lord and debating coming back into the house to find my husband. I am straining to see him anywhere, and the girls are beginning to sense the desperation in my voice as I cry out to the Lord. Just like a dramatic take from a movie, I see the front door open wide and something fly out onto the lawn. It was as if the whole scene was in slow motion. Seeing the colors that were on the ground, I realize that JT has thrown my scrapbook photo albums outside. That means he went into the smoke to rescue those pictures. My heart overflows with gratefulness that JT was alive! At that moment I also recognize that those photo albums are nothing compared to the family I have been given. Every tangible item in our house is eternally worthless. And God breaks my heart for ever considering those things as valuable.

To backtrack just for a second, JT had waited to make sure we were all out of the house. Then, he had the presence of mind (bless him) to turn off the gas on the fireplace and the gas on the grill located on the back deck. When he went upstairs, the house was already beginning to fill with smoke. After grabbing the photo albums, he dashed back to the steps but had to feel along the wall to find them. He couldn’t see one single step but since he had walked up them a few hundred times before, he knew how far down it would be. He jumped as hard and as far as he could. His shoulder hit the wall at the bottom of the steps (thus, the rotator cuff surgery years later). He was able to get out with smoke inhalation and a messed up shoulder only…praise God Almighty!

The details begin to get foggy at this point because the girls were still crying and screaming. I do remember trying to process what needed to happen as quickly as possible but my brain kept stopping and starting in random places. I just needed the Lord to calm my spirit. And He did. I looked across the neighbor’s yard into my own surreal dream. My house was burning to the ground. No firetrucks had arrived. My husband was on his knees in the driveway with his hands lifted to the Father. I KNEW what he was saying, and he confirmed it later. “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Amen and amen.

The fire truck arrived and I do not even recall where the girls were at this point. Were they on the porch with me still or inside with our neighbors (that we barely knew)? I’ll have to ask them. Twenty-six minutes after the call was placed, the fire department arrived at our home. Now, at the time I was more than a little upset that it took so long for the arrival of the emergency personnel. The security system company had called, I had called, three sets of neighbors had called. But now, I can tell you this with assurance….it was God’s plan that they arrived when they did. It allowed our house to burn all the way with no hope of salvaging any of it. That was God indeed.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Through the Fire

After posting pictures of our fire from ten years ago, I was suddenly struck by the notion that I’ve never written about this event that changed our lives. In fact, I've shared details with only a few people. I've talked about it plenty but the details have always been hazy. And so, today, that changes. This make take a few posts as I’m not quite sure how it’s going to develop...

It was a beautiful, cold Saturday in January of 2005. Kaitlyn had just turned eight years old the month prior, and Madison was a whopping five years old. We had lived in the house for 2 1/2 years and were finally in a rhythm with homeschooling a second grader and kindergartner. Sure, the room where tackled academics each day could have doubled as a closet, but it was perfect for us! We had been at our church (The Church at Brook Hills) for four years, and we were content with where God had us!

Only one little issue….nightmares had awoken Kaitlyn for several weeks with the thought of a fire destroying our home. Each time, we had reassured her and hugged her tightly. The child was known to sleepwalk and sleeptalk, but this was different. The screaming in the middle of the night was enough to frighten anyone…especially a parent in deep sleep! Then, one night, I had the same dream. It was as clear as anything I’ve ever seen, and I relayed the details to JT the next day as we were driving in the car.

JT’s question was fairly nonchalant, “If our house did burn down, what would you want out of the house?” Without question I wanted the scrapbooks that contained all of the girls’ baby pictures. And conveniently (or perhaps not), those books were located in the guest room closet which was the furtherest room in the house from the front door.

And, as a side note, I had just cleaned every closet, room, cabinet and drawer in the house in preparation for a yard sale. My hands had touched it all, and I was giddy to be getting rid of so much stuff. This little bit of knowledge would come in handy later with the insurance company.

The girls had friends who were spending the night that day. I was a little proud that the four of them had sat down earlier to make a schedule for their plans. They were trying to maximize their time together. To my delight they made a list on paper with times and activities...only colored markers could've made it better. So, in good old fashioned ingenuity, they worked backwards from bedtime to a movie they had chosen to dinner and baths. Thus the reason that they were taking baths at 3:30 in the afternoon.

At their ages it was easiest and most effective if I brushed out the tangles, so they took turns trampling down the steps into my lap. Straight haired kids went first because they were the fastest! Madison was the third girl to plop into my chair, and I took my time brushing out her curly locks. Meanwhile, JT had fired up the grill for hamburgers and placed a pot of oil on the stovetop on very low heat in order to cook fries. Brownies were in the oven, and the smell was delightful.

Backing up, I need to tell you that the stove had superheated prior to January 29, 2005. Once JT was cooking and one of the back eyes had produced a small fire. I recall that I was brave enough to run into the living room, scream at my brother Daniel to go help and then did nothing. Such courage, I know. What we didn’t know at the time was that this particular stove had a history of superheating elements.

Now, back to the day at hand. I sent Madison downstairs to help her daddy blow up air mattresses. I specifically remember that Madi Grace (that’s what we called her at the time until a few years later when she insisted on being called the sophisticated Madison) ran into the kitchen, retrieved some cleaning wipes and whisked past me to the basement. As she went down the stairs, I heard a loud boom from the kitchen. My first thought was that Madi had jumped down the bottom few steps. But, then my brain kicked in and realized that the sound was from the kitchen.

I set Kaitlyn out of my lap and went in the dining room which was right next to the kitchen. As I entered the room, I looked into the bay window at the end of the kitchen and saw the reflection of the fire on the stovetop. I saw smoke and KNEW that this was it. Our house was going to burn to the ground. No doubts whatsoever.

As I exited the dining room, JT had bounded up the steps and met me. I told him that the stove was on fire and he instructed me to get the kids out.

I grabbed the cordless phone and began screaming for the girls to come downstairs. They later told me that they only heard Kaitlyn scream from the front porch. She was yelling their names and telling them to get out of the house. I will never forget the pitch of her voice or the desperation in her shrieks.

It was 33ยบ outside and none of us had shoes on our feet. We didn’t care. I herded the girls through the yard and tried to call 911 at the same time. Our security system had already captured our phone line and I couldn’t get through.

Four little girls and I stood on the front porch of a neighbor’s house. All blonde heads. Wet hair. Nightgowns. Bare feet. I recall my own feet being numb from the temperatures and my heart feeling the same from the reality before me. But, the most prominent memory I have is standing there not knowing where JT was. Smoke was pouring out every window. Glass was shattering. Flames were climbing the walls. I watched helplessly.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Stressed or Overwhelmed? Just EAT!

During a brief conversation with a friend on Facebook this week, she told me that she is an emotional eater. Wow...that immediately got my attention as I am one too.

Here's the problem with that...I am a female, so my emotions can be all over the place at any given time. I can be happy and sad in the same few seconds. Overwhelmed and content, stressed and relaxed, confused and matter what the emotion, I want to eat.

Second problem...what I want to eat is NEVER healthy. I want bread with butter (lots of it), pizza covered with cheese, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, brownies, and so much more.

So, who created me and the feelings that go with me? The Creator of the Universe. Yet, he commands us to "take every thought captive" and to be self-controlled. He demands that we take care of the temple He has given us. Yet, my flesh desires the very opposite of His statutes! And doesn't He tell us that too? Isaiah 55:8-9 says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Just this week I have been reminded of the difficulty of controlling my thoughts. When I run or exercise, I just want to quit pretty quickly (about 5 minutes into it). I think of every excuse under the sun. Even with the best intentions of how hard to push myself and what will be accomplished, I can easily dismiss those goals within a few minutes of starting. Yet, God uses the Holy Spirit to remind me of His promises, and I trudge on. I cannot tell you that I do it with a heart of contentment or joy. In fact, it's just the opposite.

But, something inside of me changes slowly (way too slowly for my liking) as I run a few more minutes. Or I make it a mile without stopping. Or I choose a healthy food over my desires. And He is honored when I choose Him over me. Every second of every day, it is a fight to glorify Him more than myself. A fight.

You may be struggling with something different, and you find yourself in a battle of your own. Don't give up my friend. One foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. Rely on Him alone. He is all we need.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Week of the Unexpecteds

It's been two weeks since I've posted, and well, I have good reasons..or at least one. JT had knee surgery this past Monday (the 12th), and we were up early and ready to go. He had torn his meniscus at some point this summer and just kept running in spite of the pain. The ability to bear the pain decreased as time went on, yet he was still able to run a half marathon in November. The month of December brought us to the realization that a surgery was inevitable.

When the doctor came out of the operation, he told me that this was the worst case scenario for JT. While we were hoping he would be able to begin rehab immediately, it was not to be so. He is not allowed to bear any weight on his left leg for a month. Do you know what that means in man terminology? It means FOREVER AND EVER AMEN! Yes, it does.

What was my first thought? I wonder if JT can just sleep in the car while I stop at the store on the way home and buy ice cream and Whoppers and Laffy Taffy and brownie mix and anything else chocolate I can find. I wanted to pitch my neatly organized menu for the week and just eat whatever was available. And exercise...well, who has time for that when you have to take care of a recovering adult along with four other kids (the oldest is babysitting across town for a week and is unavailable to be a driver here). So, giving up was my main option.

But God, in all of His great goodness and patience with me, quieted my heart and mind on the way home. There's no need to go crazy because things didn't go as planned. I still need to eat healthy, drink plenty of water and stick to the exercise plan. And so I did. And I have. And I will continue to do so.

He is a God of consistency. He is always faithful to His great promises. He never fails. And He never will. And He can be trusted. I know that. I believe that. I will live it.

Your prayers and encouragement mean more to me than I can communicate adequately on this blog. I cherish you all.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Humiliation ALERT

Well, this is embarrassing, humiliating and disappointing all wrapped up into one statement: I have failed miserably.

Over the past year I have managed to generously pack on 30 pounds that I had lost. My harsh realization came the last weekend in November as we were running a half marathon. I knew I wasn’t fully prepared. And clearly, I was NOT. It took me 15 minutes LONGER than the last time I ran it. And, I was so mad at myself by the end of it that I couldn’t even relish in the fact that I had finished it.

Here’s the facts:

My exercise has been consistent in running 4-5 days a week with some cross-training thrown in for good measure.
My eating has been horrendous….Little Debbie snack cakes, biscuits with apple butter, chocolate chips, ice cream…you name it, I’ve claimed it.
My study of God’s Word about health issues has been non-existent. I’ve danced around those passages gladly while ignoring them willingly.

So, what do I do now? I start over. I REMEMBER….what God has already taught me and shown me along the way. REMEMBER, REMEMBER, REMEMBER!!!!

And, here’s the plan to get there:

1. Reread Made to Crave and study the Scriptures intently in regard to our physical well-being.
2. Set goals for the next two years concerning weight, clothing sizes, and running.
3. Hire an online running coach to help me reach my goals in 2015/2016.
4. Sign up for races to help keep goals in sight.
5. Stick to the healthy eating plan that we already know works and do not deviate from it. We know that we are WEAK in this arena and will need help.
6. Blog about the weekly/monthly progress to make sure that we are held accountable in a public forum.

With that being said, I weighed 184.4 when I stepped on the scale yesterday (that was December 1st). I am 5’6 so that’s overweight. My goal is to get back to 150-155.

I cannot think of anything more humiliating or transparent or scary to post right now other than that.

PS I originally wrote this blogpost on December 2nd but we've been so swamped during December that I didn't post it. In the past month, I've already hired a running coach, signed up for a 5K this month and lost 9 lbs....progress!