The Obligatory Year End / New Year Post

It’s the last day of 2021 and all over SM people are reflecting on their year. Most of these posts are celebratory and I enjoy seeing their highlights. There are a few that are somewhat darker, more difficult to read as my friends share a snapshot of the struggles, losses and pain. Yet here they are and if they’re still drawing breath in my mind there’s opportunity for change, breakthrough and growth. I want to encourage and challenge them, “ what are you going to do with what you’ve GOT? “

That got me thinking about my own year. My initial reaction was “I survived a whole calendar year … alone”. That’s not really true, it just feels like it. I may live alone but I am not alone. I didn’t “just survive”, I’ve been protected, cared for, encouraged, included, loved, blessed.

I started the year living under the protection and care of my Lamar church family, was able to secure a mortgage AND buy back the home Mark and I loved so much in the place we considered home, moved back to our home church where I was wrapped up in so much love and accepted back with open arms, made some sweet new friends, dug in deep and worked very hard to begin healing my broken heart, working through grief which really really sucks by the way, took a week-long beach vacation at my all time favorite place so far with one of my very best besties, celebrated my daughters latest greatest achievement (her second 4.0 masters degree from Clemson), enjoyed TWO big family gatherings with most in attendance … while remaining healthy, finished reading the Bible in a year all the way through again with my Calvary lifegroup peeps.

I’ve been able to celebrate birthdays with my girls. My weekly coffee date with Gin that I missed terribly was re-established. I got a job that I love so much that I feel guilty accepting any compensation. I’m a short drive from all the family and most of my favorite people.

I have enjoyed the lords unmerited favor. Hot water. Air conditioning. A car that runs. A soft bed. Food when I am hungry. Friendships. Whatever the new year brings, I pray that I can more than just survive … that I will remain faithful …steadfast and obedient …and remember remember REMEMBER that God IS and HAS BEEN so good in my past that I can trust Him with my future.

2022 … God’s got you.

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Yesterday was a notable day. It marked the third anniversary of my dad’s passing. It was the third Sunday back at my home church. I attended the game changer reset meeting at church and made decisions to get plugged in again on Sunday morning. (That was huge step for me at this stage of my grief.)

With the help of a couple of friends from “that” lifegroup, the beast of a tv stand was finally assembled and the last box containing DVD’s was unpacked. Praise God, no more corrugated in my home.

What really stood out were the conversations. Until now I’ve kept pretty much to myself, thankful for the mask that helps me hide, inviting very few in (as I’ve literally been unable to string together coherent sentences without bursting into tears and I hate making people feel uncomfortable.) Words like ‘grief’ and ‘future’ still send me over the edge, but for whatever reason God gave me a little extra yesterday to be able to engage. I was able to meet new people and reconnect with old acquaintances, although there are certain people I still can’t face yet because when I get around them I just want to weep … and let’s be honest, Sunday morning before service just isn’t the time or place.

Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ Yesterday I had a sense of both. There are people here I can serve to sharpen as well as people who will sharpen me. Don’t we all need this, someone to help along in their walk with the lord, and someone ahead of us to help us along in ours?

There were the curious who had heard rumors and made assumptions and simply wanted details. I was able to tell a few stories here and there without getting too detached. The truth is that what the lord has done, how He has sustained me, comforted and provided for me is nothing short of incredible. I have to tell and retell my story to give Him honor and glory. The better I am able to tell, the quicker I think I will begin to heal. It’s just not easy.

There was a God moment during first service that I have to share. Back in 2011 a friend from church tragically lost her husband on the day we were all going to watch the Courageous movie. He left behind a young widow and three little girls. It was a heartbreaking time.

So, during service I happened to notice the pen I was using to take notes was a promotional item from that very movie and instantly Mary and her girls came to my mind. Her courage and faith at that time moved me, but remembering how she was THEN was impacting me NOW as a widow in a whole new way. So right then, during church I sent her a FB message. I knew her little family had moved back home to Nebraska, but I felt compelled to message her right away.

Little did I know that Mary and the girls were sitting in the middle section in the same service yesterday morning. I was able to hug her and tell her I love her. I can’t tell you how the moment impacted her, but it left a mark on me.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Holy Spirit was moving yesterday.

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Going Home

Any attempt at writing has proved difficult lately. I think that’s why I’ve avoided sharing anything in this space for such a long time. Dealing with my own emotions is just … too much.. It’s easier to do nothing and say nothing, to just let time roll on without any acknowledgement of the things that have happened. Today I needed to muster up enough strength to record these personal reflections. I am in a time of transition again. But one unlike any other time before.

Over the past 5 months I have written countless thank you notes for condolences received from all across the country. First as an orphan, then as a widow. I can NOT begin to describe the grief. The suddenness of loss made me want to question God. I had such a moment, I admit it. In that instant I had to decide, either God is good or He’s not … either He’s sovereign or He’s not. Either He is who He says He is, either He is WHO I SAY I BELIEVE He is … or He’s not. It was a fleeting thought, but very real. I concluded that God’s goodness is not defined by my comfort or my circumstances. His plans and purposes are higher than I can comprehend. He never promised I wouldn’t lose my mom or my husband, but I can show you a list of promises that we can both take to the bank

I digress. Almost immediately, God showed up to offer consolation in a number of ways. It was like the Lord was confirming and validating my husbands ministry and our obedience as a ministry couple. It was both humbling and uplifting to hear story after story from people whose lives Mark impacted. People who love us made a point to come and pay their respects from as far away as Colorado, Virginia and Georgia. Through the words and actions of others, God gave me assurance of that thing that we all secretly desire, to KNOW that our lives really made a difference. Even now, I’ll get the occasional message that serves to remind me … someone will share a memory, a helpful comment, a prayer, or encouragement that he was to them. It really is a comfort to have this assurance, to know that in our decisions and sacrifices and service, we were in God’s will. Nothing can take that away from me. Mark is experiencing right now the future hope that we profess. Here’s a trustworthy saying : ‘If you will honor God, He will honor you’. That, my friend, is 100% accurate.

Here’s some real talk. It is natural and normal for the initial outpouring of care and concern to die down after a few weeks. Even if you haven’t lived through it yet, you know it’s true because we’ve all done it … expressed our sympathy and heartfelt condolences the best way we know how and then moved on with our lives. No judgement or hard feelings here, it’s just the way of things. I like to think of myself as more compassionate than the average person, but truth is I could not empathize with the widow until I experienced it for myself … the loss of a spouse is overwhelming to the soul.

If you are blessed with a church family, then you are blessed indeed. There are a number of extraordinary individuals, whose ongoing care and concern help sustain you. These people are the lifters of your arms, the ones who constantly check on you, encourage and pray for you and remain a part of your daily life. These are the friends who scripture says ‘stick closer than a brother’. They might live right next door, or 2 hours away, or 5 states to the west.. These faithful few, these true followers of Jesus Christ are your community, regardless of geography (and if you don’t have a faith community, may I encourage you to go immediately and do not quit until you get one, because one day you will need them.)

Like I said, I am in transition again. Soon, I will be going back to the place we considered Home. They say leaving is bittersweet but that’s too simple a word for such complexity of feeling. I experienced this most recently when we sadly said goodbye to our Calvary family in IL, but were also looking forward to serving Mark’s first pastorate back in SC with hopeful expectation. We were sad to leave but excited for the new thing God would do with us, in us and through us.

Even now as I prepare for this move, I wrestle with a very real internal conflict. Leaving Lamar, even for the good things of Home, is harder than I can put into words. This church, these people, were the ones who walked with me through the darkest, most difficult time of my life. For months they have held my hand and cared for me in so many ways. They have been both home and family for me. They have been extraordinarily generous and extravagantly kind. They have given me precious time to begin to heal and get my life in order, time to make decisions and plans, and even more time for those plans to come to fruition. Yes, leaving here is bittersweet and then some. I’m beyond grateful for this time and these people, yet I am hopeful for what God will do next with me, in me and through me.

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Neighbors Loving Neighbors

This past Saturday morning, something awesome and wonderful happened in my town.  Harvest Hope PeeDee brought the Mobile Food Pantry to Lamar, an answered prayer.   

There are places where people can receive assistance in Darlington County, however, there is nothing close by.  Everything is at least 20 minutes, or farther away.  Food insecurity here in the mostly rural PeeDee was real before March 13; the pandemic made hunger an even greater problem.  But while COVID had forced some programs to suspend operations and other agencies to pause services, Harvest Hope was there working hard to help fill the gap. 

After 8 weeks of self-isolation for safety’s sake, I couldn’t bear being at home another minute doing nothing to help.  I put out feelers with friends for somewhere to serve and finally got connected with Harvest Hope.  My first shift as a volunteer was packing food boxes for a mobile pantry.  In my mind, each box represented a family that would have something to eat that week.  That’s tangible.  When you’re packing a box with food for a real person, you know that you’re making a difference in their life.  So you make sure it’s a nice box.  You don’t skimp.   Every week is a challenge to see how many more families will be impacted during my 2-hour shift.    

It wasn’t long before our church decided to have a campaign to pack food boxes.  It started out as a youth project, but the adults didn’t want to be left out.  Young and young at heart had a great time serving together and were able to build 3 tall pallets, 6 high, in 2 hours.  216 more families ate that weekend because a handful of us took a little time to help pack some boxes. 

I discovered early on that the food is there and it’s available.  The trick is getting it pushed out into the communities where it’s needed.  Everything is so spread out here.  It takes many faithful volunteers to pack lots and lots of boxes over and over again for that to happen.  But what about my community?  People here are really hurting.  What would it take to host a mobile food pantry in Lamar? 

I can’t take credit for something I know that the Lord orchestrated. I’ll be honest, I’m just not that well-connected, talented or smart. The truth is that there were a number of VIP’s who all had important roles in making the Lamar Mobile Food Pantry a reality, so that no one can boast. From those who donated, to those who packed boxes, to all the Harvest Hope employees who work tirelessly behind the scenes (our volunteer coordinator, agency coordinator, driver, warehouse manager and others) all played a role in what happened in Lamar on Saturday morning. So did the mayor, the police chief, my husband, several pastors, community leaders and a host of others who showed up to help. Close your eyes and picture a diverse group of 20+ volunteers, united in service, neighbor loving neighbor, blessing our community with food and making each person feel loved and cared for.

This. This is why I volunteer with Harvest Hope.

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A View From The Sidelines

Apparently my feeble explanation of our current situation and the precautionary measures that are being taken left mom thinking that I am very sick in quarantine with a horrible virus.

Bless her heart, I mean seriously, who would have ever imagined a sy-fy movie come to life? So mom’s misunderstanding caused my phone to blow up. Ya’ll I’M FINE, nobody here is sick! I get it though, for an 88 year old who is isolated, blind and bedridden, any attempt to describe the indescribable just doesn’t make sense.

We who are very much dealing with the ever changing effects of closures and suspensions are also trying to make sense of what’s happening and are learning new ways of doing things. Adapting, stretching. You can feel the innovation and creativity in the air.

I have a new respect and admiration for this generation who are crushing it at a time of unprecedented social distancing and lock downs.

I mean, olives need pressed to get oil, grapes need crushed to make wine, right?

I’m so encouraged by the resilience and adaptability we’ve seen these past few days. If these qualities are indicative of this generation, then add to it faith, courage, a strong sense of community and social justice. We’re all going to be just fine.

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This may sound too simplistic but I think there are basically three kinds of people in this world; those who don’t know Jesus yet (or have rejected Him), those who have loved and followed Him since childhood, and those who after many years of self-inflicted pain and poor choices, decided they needed Jesus. Of these three I fall into the last category. Whether I was hard headed, hard hearted or some of both, I’m one of the people who remembers what life was like ‘before’.

People give different names to that defining moment of change …. from ‘before’ to transformed. It’s that a-ha moment when one recognizes there is a God, that we aren’t Him and we need Him so desperately. Born again, saved, surrendered, reconciled, redeemed, justified. Depending on the denomination, Christian language has a variety of dialects. It’s interesting really, considering my family of origin was Catholic, and their families before them were all Catholic. When God finally got my attention we were new attenders at a modern worship style evangelical church with guitars and drums and a very young preacher who wore jeans and plaid shirts. This was a first (and a shock to the system) at age 48, after having run away from any kind of religious influence since I was a kid.

I remember everything about my spiritual birth day. Looking back I can see all the events like stepping stones …. a pathway to that momentous decision. I remember where I was, the day of the week, who was there, my posture, how the carpet felt on my forearms and my private conversation with God.

A lot has happened in these 10 years since. Good and not so much. Change, challenge, learning, serving, tears, moving, success, death, failure, preparing, loss, joy and spiritual growth. Like with any relationship, you have to invest and give it your all, you have to honor and love and obey …. prioritizing the things of God. Now, 10 years in, my relationship with my lord is sweeter, more tangible, and oh so necessary to daily life. Like air and food. I don’t know how I ever got by ‘before’.

Today we’re surrounded by these three kinds of people … the new Christians, the always been Christians and the ones who don’t yet know that they don’t know what they are lacking. My hope is that God will use me as a stepping stone on their faith journey. One of the great things about God is that with Him there is no age limit when it comes to making things right.

““Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

‭‭Isaiah‬ ‭1:18‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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Our transition from the QC to PeeDee ends tomorrow. Finally, praise God! My sweetie and I have been on the move since May 22, staying here and there with friends and family for several days at a time. We are blessed, without a doubt, by our hosts’ over the top kindness and hospitality. Please don’t think I’m making light of homelessness by this comparison, but in a way we’ve experienced a type of squatters lifestyle, living out of suitcases and the back of the car, trying not to leave too much of a footprint anywhere. Although we tried to be “good guests”, I know it can be an imposition to have extra people in your home.

When Mark and I went on our first mission trip, my eyes and heart were opened, and my life forever changed. These past 36 days have raised my thanks and gratitude for the simplest, most basic things to a whole new level. So, in addition to having precious time visiting dear friends and family, we had the humbling experience of being a nomad and by the grace of God have not been banned from anyone’s house!

As grateful as I am for this time visiting with people, I am so eager, so ready to get settled again. To have some of our favorite things around us. To put folded clothes in a drawer. To sleep in our own bed. To start new routines, to learn the lay of the land, to add more ladies to my circle of friends. To discover what God has in store for us in this new season. Oh Lord, my God, have your way.

Tomorrow morning our things will get picked up from storage and delivered to our new home, a home that has been lovingly updated and freshly painted by our church family to make us welcome. The lord has truly blessed every moment of our journey, and we are undeserving of such favor. And to top it off, my girl Angie is coming down to help me get unpacked, organized and put her decorators touch on our space. Again. Because these are some of the ways the lord blesses and shows us His care.

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Two months have passed since the announcement. Eight weeks have now dwindled down to a handful of days. Yesterday was my last Monday staff meeting. Today my last weekly outreach meeting with our senior pastor, last coffee-shop meeting with a local ministry partner, last bi-monthly meeting with our wonderful outreach council. This Thursday will officially be my last work day as Outreach coordinator. 10 months in this role, almost to the day.

This coming Sunday, we’ll have two worship services with our Calvary family. Ugly cry guaranteed.

A week from today Mark’s time on staff at Calvary will be completed. I’ll be tied up at the house all that day, as the movers pick up our belongings. A week from tonight we’ll enjoy the evening with our lifegroup. I get a lump in my throat just thinking about the goodbyes. Mark and I will spend next Tuesday night in a nearly empty house on a blow-up mattress, taking down the shower curtain the next morning, locking the door behind us on a house not yet sold.

In the meanwhile, every day and every night, from this moment on is full in a good way. Time is precious, budgeted not for packing, but for people. For ministry to continue through a smooth transition. Our desire and focus has been to finish well and to love well to the last possible moment.

We’re here, until we’re not. And we ain’t gone yet.

There is still work to be done for the kingdom. There are lots of necks to hug in the next 7 days, dear friends who have become family that we want to see before we go. There are more seeds to plant and water until we move on to the next mission field, and although we won’t be here to reap what was sown in the QC, we know that the harvest is coming. It’s just a matter of time.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself and risk missing out on these last moments. Instead, I want to slow way down so we can soak up each and every one.

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View from the 2nd row

When I gave my life to Christ it was without fanfare. In that moment of surrender, simple words lifted from my heart to His. Kneeling on the floor in Livermore, CA, face buried in my hands, feeling so exposed. It was the most silent I remember ever being before God. I didn’t know what to say, and it certainly wasn’t fancy. Just these humble words …. “Ok Lord. I don’t know what this means or what’s next, but ok”. In an instant everything changed. I had made the decision and there was no turning back. God’s love had redeemed me. I was His and He was mine.

At first you couldn’t see it on the outside, but it was happening deep within. Over time the lord did His work of healing, growing and pruning, shaping and developing, challenging and encouraging.

Jesus led me into unknown places. In following I learned to trust Him.

I followed Him into my third and final marriage. I followed Him from CA to Lyman SC, where He planted us at LifeSong Church and nurtured us. I followed Him to the Quad Cities of IL, where we have been serving this house a little over 14 months. And the journey of obedience continues, as we’re about to follow Him into my husbands first pastorate, back in SC.

As I prepare my heart and home for yet another move, I reflect on this season. My seat has literally and figuratively been in the second row. Symbolically having my pastor and his wife’s backs, but also physically and spiritually behind them in every way. Now as my husband answers the call to pastor, it occurred to me that someone I don’t yet know will soon direct me to take the empty seat in the front row. Me. The second row girl. I don’t know whether to laugh at the lord’s sense of humor, or cry in humility.

If you’re like me you don’t take proper stock of things until you’re in transition. There is so much that has happened in our time here. So many people we love and will miss. So much I have learned.

If I had to boil down everything gleaned from Calvary into one thought, it’s this …. loving deeply is worth the risk.

Thats true for those who have loved us and true for those we have loved. Loving deeply is worth it. As true as it is has been here, it will also be in our first appointment. As Mark and I leave this place to go to our new one, that love both remains and goes with us. As God has loved us, so we will love, choosing to risk and experience the joy of loving others deeply.

“Ok Lord. I don’t know what this means or what’s next, but ok.”

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We had been talking about short term mission trips. I showed her pictures from our first trip to Haiti, played a voice recording of my goddaughter singing Mighty To Save, shared a few special memories. “You mean, there’s things I could do, even if I can’t help with construction”? With emphasis on the word “I”, her soft voice quivered, her eyes brimmed with tears.

Oh yes, sweet lady. Yes there is. That glorious crown of gray hair proclaims your wealth of life experience, useful to the kingdom of God.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭12:6-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’ve really wrestled the past few years with the bad rap short term missions has earned. My heart sank the first time I read “When Helping Hurts”, my cheeks got hot with shame. In several ways I was as guilty as the author charged. It kind of messed with my head and heart for a while.

At the end of the day, if you love Jesus then living your on mission is the correct response. I’m not going to debate the how we should be doing it, or elevate one organization over another. I acknowledge that in our well-meaning desire to help, American Evangelicals may have at some time or another done harm through our ministry efforts. Ok I said it.

Regardless, we are told to go. Serve. Encourage. Preach and teach. Care for widows and orphans. Protect the vulnerable. Seek justice. Put our God given gifts to work. It is His love put into action.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

‭‭1 Peter‬ ‭4:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Your mission field can be in your home, across the street, next town over or thousands of miles away. Wherever it may be, Christ Follower, you do have one. I personally have found it to be true, that simple obedience brings great blessing. Giving yourself away blesses you as you bless others.

The conversation with Ms Kathy yesterday brings to mind the many people I know who don’t recognize their gifts, think they don’t have anything to give, or mistakenly believe their gifts aren’t useful. I’ve had similar conversations before. The idea is far from true.

I wish you all could spend some time in her presence, because Kathy’s sweet spirit and gift of encouragement breathes life into those around her.

“Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭15:32-33‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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