Saturday, September 26, 2015

Stuck in the Muck

I haven't written in two months. I know. Not good. Because I really love it. It's therapeutic. But I've had no desire or urge lately.

I'm stuck in the muck. 

Not stuck in a rut. That's too easy to get out of. You just lift your foot up and step out. It may take a little desire and gumption, but it's not impossible. But stuck in the muck, now that's a different story. When you think about muck, what comes to mind? I think of dark, gooey, sloppy mud. It's smelly. It's thick. Your feet literally sink into it - perhaps all the way to your ankles. You are actually stuck. Every attempt at lifting your feet out sucks you deeper and tighter. On your own, there is no way out. Pretty dismal. 

And that's where I am.

Jackson and I returned from JH Ranch different people: Conquering fears. A heart of gratitude. A soul of obedience. A mind of dependency. Godly parenting. Honoring our parents. Deepening our relationship with each other. We still talk about our experience daily and what it meant to us.

As I've mentioned before, I subscribe to Proverbs 31 daily devotions. You'd think that because they are readily available in my inbox every morning, I'd be so faithful. But to be perfectly honest, sometimes I look at them and think, "I'll read it later." Then I put it in an email folder where I save those I really find inspiring or timely. Anyway, that's where I found their "Stuck in the Muck" devotion.  You can read it here.

Boy, did that speak to me. You see, I am sooooooo stuck in the muck. And (as I journaled about this yesterday) it shows in almost every aspect of my life:
1. My weight is creeping back on. I lost 35 pounds (goal was 45) and have gained 7 back. No will-power. And that is so depressing. 
2. I am being sucked in by the unhappiness of someone close to me.
3. Teaching is stressful! And therefore, I come home emotionally exhausted every day. 
4. My solo time with God has gone down the tube - as well as Jackson's. We were so on track and held each other accountable for the two weeks following JH Ranch.   

It's funny how as I wrote this, I felt such comfort. It was a confession to God that I am stuck and can not get out alone. To quote the author of the devotion, "Does He, in His love, let us fall into a muddy puddle so we can feel the discomfort of life without Him? Isn’t it true that when we find ourselves stuck in the muck of life, we long more deeply for God’s loving arms to come and take our hands and lead us out? We cry out, "Daddy, I need You. Please pull me out of this mess!'"

So I prayed.

Lord, I need you.
Oh I need you.
Every hour I need you.
My one defense, my righteousness.
Oh God, how I need you.
I am not unhappy. Yet I am not fully joyful as I was a few short weeks ago. I know is is my own doing and my disobedience. You desire a full relationship with me, and I know that to be fully blessed, I need to be completely engaged in your word. I need your help. I thank you for the wise counsel of Godly friends. Thank you for a loving husband and sons. I also pray for them that they will continue to grow in their desire for you.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Countdown to JH Ranch

The countdown app says 10 days, 3 hours and 26 minutes. He's filled with excitement, anticipation - and a bit of the butterflies. We've known about this trip for months, been planning the travel logistics for weeks and are now finalizing our packing lists.

Jackson and I are flying across the country to northern California where we will be attending the Mother/Son Week at JH Ranch.

From their website:
The content of our programming at JH Ranch is taught primarily through the challenges of practical experiences in the great outdoors. With each purpose-driven program, our goal is to teach and model the Great Commandment: love God and love others. Through this, our guests leave JH Ranch with practical Christian principles for everyday life, not simply inspiration.

This week long gift from my parents to Jackson and me was one that grew from the intense prayer and discernment of my mother. It's been almost four years from the fatal wreck that killed my grandmother. Jackson was only nine at the time and was trapped in the car with her leg on his shoulder. The other sights and sounds he experienced those moments scarred him in ways that were not so evident to us at the time. This happy, funny thirteen-year-old has not spent a night away from his family since then. He can't do it. This athletic, cool kid can't bring himself to try new things that might challenge him or take him out of his comfort zone. It's taken this many years for him to finally admit that he might possibly have a form of PTSD. My mother was convicted by the Holy Spirit that she was to give us this week to help with his healing -  and that we were to receive it. (And how do you argue with the Holy Spirit? You don't! You are obedient!)

At first I was worried that when I showed Jackson the website, he would say no. Because there are many challenges throughout the week - and times of quiet reflection from the Biblical teaching sessions. But he didn't. He was kind of interested. Going in a trip, just the two of us to a place his brother hasn't been? That's pretty neat. In the mountains? That's cool too. And as we continued to talk over the next months, then weeks and now days, the excitement grew. Tonight, we watched a video from a week earlier this summer. It painted quite a thorough picture of all we will experience. And he could hardly contain his excitement. He is so ready!

Afterwards, we were talking about what he would want to keep in the backpack he is using as his carry-on. I mentioned his iPhone and charger, Eno, GoPro, gum - all the things I though he would be interested in. Without skipping a beat, he said, "Oh yes. And also my Bible." (How big was my internal smile?!)

I admit it. I've been so concerned about his head being open and ready for this adventure. But I now know that his heart is too. And that is where God will work in Jackson's life - and mine too. In our heads, but mainly in our hearts. We are being obedient. Our hearts are open. And we are excited with the anticipation of what great things He will do in our lives!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

I Respectfully Disagree

I've never been one for confrontation and conflict. My family and friends can attest to this. I tend to clam up and hold things inside when I am directly or emotionally affected. (Not very healthy, because I finally explode in tears.) However, when asked to mediate between others - or (when I'm forced to) on my own behalf - I try to be very careful and deliberate with my words and intonations. The less conflict the better. I want everyone to feel that they have been heard.  Really listened to - and with dignity. It upsets me greatly when I feel others are more interested in making sure that their point is the only one that matters. They yell. They curse. They mock. They belittle the others person's opinions and life's experiences.

I find that happens more and more in this age of social media. We live in a world where not only can we write an initial post or article, but the rest of humanity can comment and even battle back and forth between themselves. One time I posted something on my own Facebook page and two friends who don't even know each other battled back and forth for what seemed hours. Neither one wanted to listen to the other. Their conversation was smattered with snide comments and innuendos as to the other's intelligence and moral fortitude. It was like hosting a dinner party where two belligerent guests had overstayed their welcome and would not leave. I finally had to politely ask them to stop.

These past two weeks have provided much to show the divisions and differences in opinion in our country. And the comments and posts from friends showed the passion, and sometimes mean-spiritedness, from both sides. 

I too got involved and shared my excitement of the Confederate BATTLE Flag coming down in my state. Goosebumps abounded as my husband and sons watched it live on television.

I consider myself a conservative (See, you can't lump us all together in our views!) and follow the website/blog Chicks on the Right. They also agreed that the flag should be removed from our State House grounds. After reading some of the comments that strongly and rudely disagreed, I felt the need to share my own views. You can see my exchanges with two other readers that ensued and the lessons learned...

Politeness Lesson Number 1: If they pick up that you won't get hostile, they will drop the conversation.

Politeness Lesson Number 2: Someone who strongly disagrees with you can honor your views. (You might also make a friend.)

And so I thank you for listening!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Memorial Service

We walked into the beautiful church. It was smaller than mine. Then again, most churches are smaller than mine. It was also older. And more traditional. A beautiful stained glass window depicting Jesus kneeling in prayer was over the pulpit. The organ played softly. A woman greeted me warmly, handed me a funeral home fan and guided me to an empty seat in the pew. My youngest son looked around expectantly. He had never been here before. Neither had I.

It was the first time either of us had set foot in Cumberland AME Church. And had it not been for the horrific event of Wednesday, June 17, 2015, we would still be strangers to the sanctuary.

But it did happen. And I read about tonight's memorial service on Facebook. I told Jackson that we were going (my oldest son is out of town), and another friend of mine was joining us. I told him that he might not get why it was important for us to be there, but he would later.

The sanctuary was full - almost equal black and white. But I still felt a little like an outsider. Not that any of the others there caused my apprehension. At all. It was all me - because I was not affected in the same way as they were. Of course, as a South Carolinian, I was deeply saddened, horrified and pained. I cried many times over the past few days. But never had anyone in my family been murdered in cold blood because of what they looked like. What did I know about any of their experiences?

But it was important that I be there.

It was lovely and somber and appropriate. The organizers and staff of the church had made it a beautiful memorial. And then people were invited to come forward to share. And what words. What strength. What hope. The faith of these men and women of God, young and old. As their words poured out, I furiously scribbled notes on an envelope I found in my purse:

~ "We must love this young man. We must pray for him that the evil will leave him."

~ "It's not easy to understand what God does or why He lets things happen. But I know this: God will make a miracle out of this mess."

~ "Do not hate. We are all brothers and sisters."

~ "We forgive. For God forgives us every day."

~ "It is not about skin color. It's not!  It is about the evil presence that is trying to take over. But God and His love will prevail!"

~ "Let us love one another for we serve the same God."

~ "Some of my friends want to start 'packing' (a gun) when they go to church. Not me! I am going to be packing something much stronger: the Word of God!"

And finally, a woman stood up and started singing "It is Well with My Soul". The entire congregation stood up, clasped hands and joined her.

It's one thing to hear people say all these things on news reports and interviews. It's an entirely different emotion to hear it in person a few feet away. And I left feeling not as an outsider. I left feeling as a true member of God's family, as a sister in His larger community. And although we know there is such evil out there in our sinful world, I left feeling hopeful - and in a sense, emboldened and empowered by my time with my brothers and sisters.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Birthday...

I woke up this morning to my younger son bringing in me breakfast in bed. He made me a double coffee, cut up strawberries "real fancy", and picked a flower bud from our yard. What a great way to start my 46th birthday. I took my dog for a walk and came back to wonderful birthday texts from my dearest friends. It started our so much better than last year - which really s*****, because it seemed to kind of fall by the wayside. I felt pretty special this morning!

And then I turned on the news.

The horrific murder of nine African-American Christians, who were praying in their church. In my state. One block away from where my family was staying this past weekend for the joyous celebration of my cousin's wedding. These adults were studying The Word and digging deeper in their relationship with their Savior. Worshiping with their families. In a safe place. A church. A place which has institutionally and historically been a sanctuary for all - the faithful or not. Why? Why? Why?

I wish I had the energy to find words of comfort or understandingly this TRAGEDY. But I can't. I am overwhelmed with grief for my fellow South Carolinians. I am numb. I lift up those families and their children who are weeping. And again, why? Why? Why?

So on a day that celebrates my birth, I am crying over the heinous death of the innocent. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

White Knight

And yet another YouTube video has surfaced about hateful people. No, I'm not writing about the horrible ESPN reporter. I read on the Huffington Post (which I read selectively) about a young woman from Australia defending an elderly Muslim couple as another elderly woman harasses and berates them for her headscarf and their religion. The altercation was also apparently filmed by the Australian woman.

The young woman has been hailed as a hero. And I wholeheartedly concur with everything she said. How hateful the harasser was. Do I agree with or even begin to understand many of the tenants of the Muslim religion? No. And this is not even considering the crazy, sadistic ISIS beliefs. But what happened to this couple would be like someone coming up to me asking why I am wearing a cross or reading my Bible, considering the horrific and unbelievable actions of Westborough Baptist Church or the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. That is wrong to categorize me with them. It was wrong to categorize this couple as well.

However, I then read this article, and what Ashitha Nagesh, the young woman who wrote this, said hit home. As a white woman, is it my place to be the (no pun intended) "white knight in shining armor"? Do I feel the need to be the savior in such a situation? Am I doing it solely because of my strong beliefs? I want to believe it is. Or is there also just a teeny, tiny tinge of wanting to show the world that "Although I am a white woman who exudes WASP-iness and a bit of privilege, I need to show you that I really am a champion of the persecuted and descriminated". Am I alone in wondering this? I hardly think so. But in today's culture, it's a very slippery slope. Because I believe standing up against what I think is wrong and I am pretty passionate about it. 

Just something to think about...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Good Kids

Yesterday was the Aiken Steeplechase. We decked ourselves in our brightest togs and hats and celebrated a beautiful day of horse racing. Under our tent, we sat sipping cocktails and eating delicious food. We bet on the horses and had a marvelous time. 

My husband and I 

Our teenage children checked in every once in a while and then went off to visit friends and "see and be seen". Sumter spent most of the day at the Young Life spot, so I was only able to catch Jackson for a picture.

We are lucky. Our kids don't drink.

I say this because social events such as Steeplechase are havens for pretty girls in Lilly dresses and boys in seersucker pants and Vineyard Vines ties to get completely fall down drunk. Most of these are college students, but you may see a high schooler as well. And it's never really bothered me as much as it did this year. I guess it's because we - and all our friends - have teenagers.

But by the end of the afternoon, we saw a precious girl trip and fall down on the ground.  She just lay there for a few seconds until one of the boys she was with pulled her up.  We saw a young man with an almost empty handle of Jack Daniels just standing there, staring off in space. Later, another girl saw her date storm off and immediately burst into tears. She stumbled around with her girlfriends as if lost.

And this year also provided us with an event we have never experienced before. Towards the end of the day, our pastor and his family stopped by to visit us. It was not ten minutes later, and not fifty feet away, that we saw around ten uniformed police and sheriff deputies bust up a party and arrest seven people. It was quite a spectacle. Some of them were underage, some legal - but all were incredibly drunk and physically confrontational.

We all stood, watching and commenting among ourselves at the stupidity and blatantly belligerent behavior. And then, our pastor said something that - at the time - I thought was almost a little too saccarine and optimistic.  He said, "How sad. They're good kids." I looked at him next to me and smiled at his kind remark. But what I was really thinking was, "Really??? No, they're not. Our kids are good kids. Those guys are punks with no respect for themselves or anyone else."

It was not until today at church that I got a deeper understanding of what he meant. I don't know whether it was the songs we sang, his message, or God's voice. But I was drawn back to what our pastor had said the day before: "They're good kids." Maybe not to me. But they are to God. Because He created them. He brought them into life. He loves them. And we know that God loves what is good.

So it was then and there that I prayed for those who were loaded into those paddy wagons the day before. I prayed for His precious children who I don't even know. I prayed that if they didn't know God, that they would open their hearts to Him. I prayed that if they did know God, they would come to Him and listen to Him lovingly tell them to turn away from behavior that could destroy them.

Because just like you and me, they're good kids. They're God's kids.