Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Circumstance and Perspective

It's not a normal Tuesday. Today is New Year's Eve. Tonight I'll be working at a restaurant and my husband will be hanging out with friends probably until it's time for me to come home. Christmas wasn't a normal Christmas... but I'll have to go back to explain that.

Remember my last blog post? At the end of September I wrote about the family across the street and how we had decided to bless them with gifts for Christmas. I had lost my job two weeks before that but we were still sure that we'd be able to pull it off. Well, about a month after that Hubby lost his job for standing up for what he believes and trusting and following God's word instead of trusting in a paycheck.

Now let's look at the big picture... in a matter of 6 months of marriage we had lost a car, and both of our jobs. The stress and worry overtook me. How were we going to do Christmas for our neighbors when we couldn't even afford to do Christmas for ourselves or our own families? It was our first Christmas together as a married couple. Weren't we supposed to be able to lavish one another with hand picked gifts meant to bring a smile and the element of surprise? And WAIT - how would we afford to go see my family (mainly in Virginia) for Thanksgiving or Christmas? And as much as that scared me, what really broke my heart was that we wouldn't even be able to afford a tree.

This Christmastime I've learned that circumstance can completely change your perspective. It wasn't too long ago I was spending the holidays with family... but alone; no husband by my side. For most of those years I was a "gypsy" moving from place to place and therefore didn't have much as far as a stable job goes. Financially my Christmases were strapped, but the last few years I've been quite comfortable and very proud of myself for the gifts I've been able to give and travelling I've been able to do. I got used to that, and now Christmas seemed doomed. However, once I started seeing the blessings and focusing on them more than throwing a pity party for myself, God started teaching me a very important lesson.

The blessings were rolling in, I just wasn't seeing them until my perspective changed.
-My dad got a new car and in turn gave us his old Jeep!
-Because of the Jeep we were able to afford a one-way flight to VA for Thanksgiving and then we drove back down!
-A church small group "adopted" our neighbors and bought ALL the gifts for them!
-My husband took time out of his day to build me the cutest pallet Christmas tree!
-My father-in-law paid us a surprise visit from Pennsylvania!
-Loved ones gifted us mainly with restaurant gift cards so we could have date nights again!
-We spent quality time together as newlyweds putting together a Christmas puzzle, making our ornaments, and shopping for the kids.
-My cousin proposed to his beautiful girlfriend (finally haha) so we're even getting a new family member!
-Hubby surprised me with a song he wrote and recorded just for me <3 <3 <3 !
-I found a restaurant job for at least the season!

I know I'm forgetting so much but these are just a sample of the ways we were blessed by family, friends, and even people we barely know. See... getting fifty dollars of "play money" in a card from a family member is fun, but getting fifty dollars that's going to help with your car payment from a family you've only met three times will shake you up. I'm not sure fifty dollars ever made me cry before.

When my husband was fired I was so scared, but we trusted that God would bless us for our faithfulness and surely my husband's courage. But even when God is blessing you, a lot of times we feel so entitled to what we've always had or our expectations are so different that we miss seeing the ways He takes care of us. My husband proposed to me LAST Christmas and I never would have thought that in a year's time so much
would "fall apart", but while putting together a puzzle with him this year I saw the big picture. God had broken us into pieces so that he could rebuild us in our new perspective. He put our focus back on the miracle of Christ this Christmas and off of shopping and the other little things that don't really matter.

He has a plan for us, and even though I don't know where we'll be or what we'll be doing next Christmas, I know we'll know how blessed we are.

He said to her, “You’re talking like a godless fool. We accept the good that God gives us. Shouldn’t we also accept the bad?”
Through all this Job’s lips did not utter one sinful word. - Job 2:10

Monday, September 30, 2013

Love Thy Neighbor

Can I just say that God is so cool?

A few weeks ago my Big Man was out mowing the lawn and he noticed the guy across the street was doing the same. About halfway through, however, the man across the street's lawn mower gave out. Kaput. So the hubby went over and offered our lawnmower to our neighbor to which he responded with many "happy expletives". 

Let me back track. We live in the hood. It's definitely a change from the Virginia suburbs I grew up in, but I'm learning that God is using us here. Javie likes to say that we can't be missionaries elsewhere until we learn to spread the gospel first in our home, and then to our neighbors. I've been fighting to move because I simply don't feel safe here most of the time, but I'm trusting that God has us here for a reason. 

So today... as I was cleaning the house I could hear the man across the street mowing his lawn. I figured he either fixed the one he had or got a new one, but really didn't think much of it. Big Man and I have been talking a lot lately about maybe doing something for the kids that live in that house for Christmas so I made a mental note to listen out for when the mower turned off so I could go ask the guy if he could give me all the kids' info. He works two jobs so it's hard to find a good time to talk to him. About 2 minutes later I heard the mower stop, then start, then stop again. I looked out the window and he was struggling to get it started. Here's my chance.

I walked across the street and simply introduced myself and said we'd like to get the kids some small gifts for Christmas. His only reply was "You need to talk to my wife", and then he lead me to the front door. I could only make out her silhouette from where I was standing and he kept telling her "Just come here the lady wanna speak to you. It's for the kids." So she got up and came to the door.

I told her what we wanted to do, half expecting her to get offended. Instead she just smiled from ear to ear and kept repeating "God is so good!" I just nodded in agreement and kept talking. She stopped me and said, "No you don't understand. We just went to the pawn shop to get another mower and on the way back we were talking about Christmas. I told him I just didn't know how we were going to get them more than one group gift and just said a little prayer that somehow God would help us figure this out. And here you come walking across the street saying you want to help?! God is SO good! Lady, I just lost my job and he has the only car so I'm stuck here all day while he works both jobs and it makes me feel so guilty!" I had to laugh and tell her I knew exactly how she felt and then started explaining our situation. I let her know that because of our car situation and me not really having a job that it wouldn't be much, but that we definitely wanted to help. And she assured me with an exasperated sigh and said "Anything helps." 

I told the man that he could use our mower again if he'd like. They both walked over to the house a while later and we ended up talking for about an hour. They told me about how they'd been here 2 years but have been looking for another place to move because none of the neighbors talk to them. The woman said she doesn't sleep well at night because he's always out working late and she waits for him to get home. We made a deal to watch out for each other. I told them that it's our goal to get to know our neighbors and build an actual community where we can support each other and she replied "Now that's exactly what we've been looking for". 

So I have two questions today; 1) Why aren't we building our ideal neighborhoods? Rather than keep complaining this whole time that I didn't like our neighborhood, all I really needed to do was follow Jesus across the street. Back in the day people took care of their neighbors and they all looked out for each other. Most of the time now we either don't know our neighbors or we gossip about them. We make excuses that we don't have time or that we can't trust strangers, when really all we're doing is isolating ourselves from anything new and possibly uncomfortable. So I want to challenge you to either meet your neighbors, or if you've already done that then find out how you can serve them. 

2)Who else wants to help? From what we've seen there are at least 4 kids in the house across the street whose clothes are all worn and over-sized. I'm sure a Christmas dinner for the parents would be a blessing too. I'll post info on the kids as soon as I get it from the mom but please be praying for how you can help out with clothes, toys, food, or gift cards this Christmastime. 

And to think it all started with a broken mower~ like I said God is so cool!

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
    when it is in your power to act.
28 Do not say to your neighbor,
    “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
    when you already have it with you.
29 Do not plot harm against your neighbor,
    who lives trustfully near you. -Proverbs 3:27-29

The poor are shunned even by their neighbors 
but the rich have many friends.
It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor,
 but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.
Do not those who plot evil go astray?
 But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness. -Proverbs 14:20-22

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In a Sea of Ugly...

The past few weeks have been especially trying for me. I always marketed myself as the girl who could do anything. Give me a task and I will make sure it's done. I took a job a few months ago that I honestly thought would be a piece of cake and for whatever reason I have just been struggling to keep up. Every time I got to a breaking point I'd start praying and asking God why something that seemed so simple to so many other people was so difficult to me. I'm the hundred pound girl who can use a jackhammer, I've managed other people's households, I made Lebron say please and thank you! Why can't I grasp this simple task? And God kept responding "This isn't what I created you to do." 

The hardest part is the disappointment. I didn't want to let my husband down and the financial burden fall on him, I didn't want to let my boss and close family friend down who was counting on me, I wanted to prove everyone wrong who doubted me in this position. And I certainly didn't want to admit I wasn't capable of excelling. 
Hubby is happy to be alive-I am clearly worried about the car

Rewind a little to Labor Day weekend and picture my beautiful Scion XB t-boning a chevy pickup. Cue the panic attacks. A woman ran a stop sign and now I have no transportation. My first new car, the car I put hundreds of thousands of miles on in only 5 years, the car that took us away from our wedding and to our honeymoon suite, the car I thought we'd be transporting our children in... it's gone. And the whole time I'm asking God why we, His servants, are now in a rut, while this woman barely has a scratch on her door. And God replied "Because it's the one material thing you took the most pride in, and I'm freeing you from that." Ouch. Of course He's right. He's God. And I get it. But it sucks. 

So my boss took me out to lunch to discuss my very apparent struggle with this job. I was very honest with him about how much of a failure I was turning out to be. He asked what my real dream was and I started going on and on about Raising Shiloh; the non-profit I want to start to help teens that age out of the foster care system. So he said he'd like to help, and pretty much fired me on the spot. Goodbye to one stress, hello to a whole new anxiety. 

So once again I talk to my go-to guy... "C'mon God, you've got to be kidding me right? What are we going to do with only one stable income? How am I going to find a job without a car to drive?" and once again a very calm reply came. "You said you'd give up anything I asked. I've shut the door for you to do my calling. Depend on me and I will provide." 

Not that I don't have full faith, but ya'll I am SCARED. I'm only 3 days in to not really having a job and I feel like I'm a teetering mess. Push me one way and I'm manic and excited to get this thing DONE! I'm about to do God's work for His glory and there will be kids whose lives are changed in the meantime! Push me the other way and I'm insecure, distrusting, and unable to control the tears and anxiety-ridden worries.  

So my question is this; do we get out of the boat and walk on water, or stay where's it's "safe" because we're too scared to drown in a sea of ugly? I think we, as Christians, keep having this expectation that things are supposed to be comfortable and only mildly challenging. We think that because we're living for God and striving to be righteous that things should go the way WE want them to, life should be beautiful. But really, God has called us to notice the ugliness in the world and do something about. And on top of that, there are no guarantees that we won't get hurt while doing it. In fact, it's more likely that we will be persecuted AND hated while doing His work. AND EVEN HARDER, we're supposed to REJOICE and BE GLAD while all of this is happening. Let me tell ya'll, I haven't gotten to the rejoicing and being glad yet. But I know it will come. 

Please pray for my husband and me. Pray for his ministry to thrive and that we see students coming closer to Christ.Pray that our home life is a safe haven from everything going on in the outside world and that our finances are used wisely.

 Please pray that God provides for my soon-to-be non-profit and that the right people are put in my path to help me on this rigorous journey. Pray that funding comes through to start it and to run it. Pray that volunteers find US! Pray that this business card isn't the only thing I ever do to get this thing going. And most importantly, pray that God's will (not mine) be done.

He didn’t doubt God’s promise out of a lack of faith. Instead, giving honor to God for the promise, he became strong because of faith -Romans 4:20 (GWT)

Almighty Lord, you are God, and your words are trustworthy. You promised me this good thing. -2 Samuel 7:28 (GWT)

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

God's Gift to Marriage

     For those of you who didn't know, Javie and I got married on May 4th. I would totally go into a whole blog about it, and I may one day... but for now you can check out K.D. Burke Photography's blog about our wedding and view the GORGEOUS pictures the crew took on our special day. (Including this one!) 

    Even in the (almost) 2 months that we've been married we're learning that it's TOUGH! Thank goodness we were prepared with lots of great pre-marital advice and we continue to be blessed with amazing support and godly counsel, which I'm beginning to realize is the best wedding gift you could ever receive. 

     But over the course of the last few weeks God has very clearly shown me what His wedding gift to us was. Now it's not salvation (because you don't have to be married to receive that), and it's not the fact that we get to bless each other in the bedroom (children close your eyes), it's quite different than anything I ever would have thought of. 

     Marriages in God's eyes are made to be healing, edifying, and humbling, because how else are we to be made holy really? So God gave us the ability to apologize.  

     If you think about it apologizing is one of the QUICKEST ways to show your spouse that you're willing to drop your pride and put your emotions in check in order to honor them. Talk about HUMBLING! And then when you're the one that's hurting, how amazing of a feeling is it to know that your spouse is willing to do the same for you?

     When we hold grudges, snap at each other, or refuse to see our responsibility in the cause of an argument all we're doing is hurting each other even more and when this goes on for days, weeks, and years at a time little teeny tiny problems never get resolved or healed and turn into BIG problems. 

      Learning how to apologize has really been a big blessing to us as we adjust to living together and working closely together most of the time. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I like to hear my husband say he's wrong, but when he humbles himself in front of me and God and says sorry there's a big part of me that knows how difficult it is to even say the words and is comforted that he's taking such a big risk for me, and then there's a part of me that's proud of him because it's a sign that he's growing and learned something.

     Every time I apologize to him not only do I feel closer to him than ever before, but I feel like I've grown too. You can't grow and learn without practice, though. And as much as it sucks, you can't practice apologizing until you've put yourself in the hole somehow... which is somewhere we all strive to stay out of. Don't go starting fights or hurting each other, but the next time it happens here are some of my personal tips to remember:

1. Only apologize when you're genuinely sorry for what you've done or said. It's the same as lying if you're not being real.

2. Apologize as quickly as possible for the two of you. The longer the hurt sits, the harder it will be. Or the problem will fester under the surface until something else happens.

3. Name what you're apologizing for. If you just say "sorry" it doesn't signify to the other person that you even know what you did to cause the hurt. Make sure they know that YOU know where you went wrong. 

4. Make eye contact or gentle physical contact while apologizing! It's tough! I know! But it helps. And admit it, you would want the same thing.

5. No BUTS about it! I'm a firm believer that it's not a real apology if you try to justify it. It's okay to explain your actions or why you felt or reacted the way you did, BUT (haha) never give the lame old "I'm really sorry for doing this and saying this, BUT YOU did this and this and this and so I did what I did." It's not a real apology if it includes a "BUT". Just saying.

     With barely two months under my belt I know I am nothing near a relationship expert. But as soon as I started viewing the ability to apologize as God's wedding gift to us my perspective changed. What if we weren't able to apologize? We would live our lives really trying to build thick skin because there's no way someone could ask for a marriage mulligan. There would be tension, bitterness, and hurt that all have no outlet. Don't take for granted the fact that YOU can heal people with the very same tongue you may have used to hurt them, whether intentionally or not.  Use the gifts that God has given you. Learn to apologize and it will open the door for a stronger relationship for both of you over time.

Careless words stab like a sword,
    but the words of wise people bring healing. -Proverbs 12:18