Beautiful Covenant

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Saturday Yummm...Billy's Amazing Pizzas...

Billy's amazingly good taco pizza

One of the things we've missed most during the time we've been without an oven is Billy's amazing pizza creations.  Today we had two of our favorites...taco pizza and chicken/bacon alfredo pizza.  Yummmm.  We're split about equally as far as who prefers what.  The taco pizza is definitely my fave.  Everyone's runner-up favorite is his meatball pizza.  We'll have one of those soon. :)

So thankful for a husband who loves to cook and who cooks well!  I'm always glad to share the kitchen with him. :)  And thankful every day for our kitchen surprises

Forgot to get a picture of the Alfredo pizza before we cut it...this is what was left. :)

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More on the Church...

In follow-up to last week's post about loving or hating the church, I thought this video was well worth sharing: 

I'd love to hear your thoughts on his answer in the comments below! 


focused on Glory {in Surprises!}

The Oven

I was determined to finish this post on Tuesday.  For a number of reasons, including some bloody-gory kid stuff I'll spare you (just fyi...everyone is fine, and we even avoided the ER!), it didn't happen.  Then I decided it would happen on Wednesday...or else!  About 3:00 yesterday afternoon, I realized that there was no way.  I was *really* disappointed...I have several posts I've been trying to publish for days, and I just haven't been able to make it happen...and that drives me bananas! 

An hour or so later, though, I realized why I haven't been able to get this particular post up.  God wasn't finished with it yet! I had no idea at the time, but there was more to the story....

But before I get to the "more", I need to go back to the beginning.  Or sort of the beginning. :)  

A few weeks ago, we were in the midst of an incredibly exciting time.  God was leading us into a new adventure, and despite the scariness that comes with heading into the {relative} unknown and the sadness that comes with saying good-byes, it was very much a mountaintop time. We were, and are, excited about the adventure.  But as often happens on the mountaintop, Satan began to attack with a vengeance. 

In the midst of some strong "storms of life" in our family a number of years ago, I began to experience issues with anxiety like I had never experienced before.  I learned firsthand what a panic attack was, and struggled with major anxiety off and on for a couple of years.  God was very gracious to bring me through that time without any type of outside intervention, and the last several years have been {almost} anxiety free.  (Anxiety free as far as true anxiety...the kind that induces panic-attacks and the like...not just normal garden-variety worry. :))  

Then a few weeks ago...BAM!  Anxiety hit with a vengeance.  There were all sorts of triggers...concerns small and large...but the anxiety itself quickly became the major issue. 

I had learned early on in dealing with anxiety how to put on a {mostly} happy face and keep on going when necessary, so for the most part, that was what I did this time. But the lack of sleep and other physical issues caused by the extreme anxiety were taking a toll, and I knew that to keep up with the needs of my family, something was going to have to give.  The thought of cycling back into the anxiety/panic attack cycle at this point was horrific.

Not as soon as I should have, I poured it out to God.  I told Him that I knew He knew our circumstances...every single financial, physical, medical, spiritual, emotional need that was adding fuel to the fire of the anxiety...and that I knew that He knew and controlled all of the things that were stirring up the insomnia of the nights and the near panic attacks of the days.  I thanked Him for all the answered prayers and blessings of recent days and months, and committed the current needs to Him...including the "big ones" for which I saw absolutely no solution in sight save a real, live miracle.  

And then I went on about life...seeking Him moment by moment, and trying to rest in His sovereignty and grace...at some times more successfully than others.

Then two weeks ago, I got a phone call.   

But before I tell you about the phone call, I have to explain to those who aren't regular readers that we have been without an oven for...well, for a long time.  As I explained in this post, we've survived without an oven. There have been things we simply haven't cooked during that time, and things that we've learned to cook in other ways (sometimes they've been just as good, and others...well, not so much. :))  

With two old cars and a very old house, we've learned how to just "deal" with a lot of things.  We've realized that many of the things we think are "needs" are really "first world needs"...which are pretty different sometimes than "real needs".   Not having an oven has been an inconvenience, and even sometimes an irritation (like when I realize at 4:30 that I forgot to put anything in the crock pot for supper, and I just *really* wish I could throw a casserole in the oven :)), but it hasn't been a crisis.  

As I explained in the post linked above, when the oven first went out, we were in a period of decision-making about what we were going to do about this house, so we were holding off on any major not-totally-necessary financial outlays for the time being (our hot water heater went out during that time as well, and we did replace it immediately...that falls under "totally necessary" for us even though it is technically a "first world need", too. :))

But...God has led us into "wait" mode (don't we all love wait mode???) regarding this house, and weeks stretched into months which were stretching into years, and we still weren't sure what it's fate would be.  And still we were using our little army of small appliances and on what seemed like an eternal hiatus from baking. 

So...fast forward back to that phone call two weeks ago.  Out of the blue, a friend calls and says, "There's an oven coming to your house on Saturday, and I've been told to tell you to clean your kitchen!"  

Turns out that this friend had decided that we needed an oven, and several friends had gotten together to surprise us with one.  One of those friends knew that I would want to clean out whatever might be under the current oven, which had been sitting there for almost 15 years, before anyone brought the new one...thus the "clean your kitchen" admonition. :) We won't talk about what the floor looked like under the old oven when we pulled it out.  Suffice it to say it was all clean before the new one got here! :)

I was overwhelmed.  Billy was overwhelmed.  The kids were even overwhelmed.  Not too overwhelmed to start a list of what they wanted me to bake first, though!  Chocolate chip cookies.  Muffins.  Banana bread.  And frozen pizza. :)  They've *really* missed frozen pizza!   Not to mention Dad's homemade pizza.  And cornbread.  (Okay, so cornbread wasn't on their list...but it was near the top of mine! :))

After the oven was delivered and connected, I stood in the kitchen in front of it all by myself with tears pouring down my face.  I knew the tears went way further than the oven itself, as grateful as I was for it.  I knew that in large part they were flowing out of a heart abundantly blessed with friends, and overwhelmed at their generosity. 

I knew, though, that the tears went even further than that.  While our "oven fairies" (remember the "concert fairy"? now we have oven fairies...not to mention another fairy you'll hear about in a minute :)) didn't realize it at the time, and in fact for the most part had no idea of the anxiety issues with which I'd been plagued recently, their response to God's prompting in this case did much more than provide our family with a new oven.  I realized all over again how important it is to follow God's promptings...because we never know how God is going to use our obedience to work in ways we never imagined. 

In providing this oven, and this time, through these friends, God very lovingly reminded me that He *is* truly in control, and that He *has* promised to meet all of our needs...physical, financial, emotional, medical, spiritual, whatever...He has promised that, and we truly can rest in it.  

And in the provision of the oven...which wasn't even a true "need", but a wonderful convenience which has helped and will help in many ways...God gently reminded me that He IS working, in every area, whether we see it or not, and that His faithfulness will not waver in the future any more than it has wavered at any time in the past.  

Not only did the crushing anxiety disappear, but God began to work in some other areas of my life as well, causing me to make needed changes and giving me renewed motivation in several areas.  

But...He wasn't quite finished yet. :)

Last Sunday morning, as I was getting ready for a church fellowship, my stand mixer went out.  I haven't had a hand mixer in years, and have always just pulled out my trusty stand mixer when a wooden spoon wouldn't do.  It wasn't anything fancy, but my parents bought it for us in our early-married years and I loved it.  

I was a little sad about the timing...here we had just gotten a new oven and had all these plans for baking, and now my beloved mixer was headed to the appliance graveyard.  I decided that for now, I'd pick up a hand mixer at Wal-Mart on shopping day on Friday, and make do with that.  

Unbeknownst to me, once again there were friends conspiring.  One friend heard from another friend about our mixer's untimely passing and decided she wanted to replace it.  Apparently she had heard about the oven after the fact and wished that she had gotten to be part of that surprise, so she had charged the other friend with keeping an ear out for something else we might need.  

So yesterday the "other friend" called and said she had something to drop off at my house...pineapple preserves, which are a whole different story, and which may find their way to the blog in the form of a recipe someday soon. :)  

As I went out the door to meet her, I was stopped in my tracks by two rather large boxes on my front porch.  Further inspection showed that they were from Amazon.  I knew I hadn't ordered anything, and I'm the "orderer" in the family, so I was quite perplexed.  The only thing I could think of was that one of the kids had accidentally hit a "buy now" button while looking up something on Amazon.  I was trying not to panic!

Until I looked out to my friend's vehicle. 

And saw the grin on her face, which I knew was a substitute for the laughter she was trying desperately to hold in. 

I rushed out to the van and said, "There are two boxes on my porch.  From Amazon.  And I didn't order anything!"  Barely able to contain her laughter at that point, she raised her eyebrows in an attempt to look innocent and said, "Well, go open them and see what they are."  

Which I did.  And it's a wonder I don't have a broken jaw from it dropping to the porch below.  Not one, but two, mixers...a stand mixer *and* a hand mixer, both with mixing bowls and attachments galore. 

And then I rushed back out to the van.  I'll spare you the conversation from there, because it involved a good bit of arguing and even more laughter, but I finally discovered who my "mixer fairy" was.  

And then I came in and cried all over again.  God's glory and love are shown in many ways, often through His people obeying His promptings.  And we never know when we obey those promptings what God is going to do through our obedience that is more than we could possibly imagine.  

Every time I turn on our oven or walk by my mixers on the shelf, it is a reminder that if God can and will provide such "extra blessings" as ovens and mixers, how much more will He provide for every need as He has promised?  It is a reminder that we are richly blessed with loving friends.  And it is a reminder that God loves us even more than we love those friends and they love us...and that He has given us the greatest gift of all!

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. ~James 1:17 

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  ~Philippians 4:19

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~Ephesians 2:8-9

The Stand Mixer

The Hand Mixer

And a Bonus...New-to-Me Gifted Cast Iron for the New Stove!
(There is nothing better than eggs cooked in cast iron...reminds me of my grandmother! :))

Thanks so much for visiting Ponderings of an Elect Exile!  Please take a moment to "like" Elect Exile on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. And I'd love to hear from you via the comment section or the email option on my profile page!  

focused on Glory is a collaborative effort with Creative Confetti.  Be sure to visit Creative Confetti for more focused on Glory, as well as crafty fun and miscellaneous musings. 


Worship the Creator, not the Created...

I shared this quote by Paul David Tripp in an earlier blog post...it really spoke to me when I first read it.  God's creation is so amazing, but it is never enough to delight in the creation...we must always see the creation pointing us to the Creator.  

Mandisa then tweeted this tonight: 

Was watching a reality TV show & saw someone pray to the "universe". How strange God must think us to pray & worship His creation over Him.

It reminded me again of this quote.  And these verses from Romans 1:19-25, which someone else tweeted in response:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,1 in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 

As amazing as the creation is, we must never let it take the place of the Creator in our worship.  He has given it to us to point us to Him.  What an amazing thought!

Thanks so much for visiting Ponderings of an Elect Exile!  Please take a moment to "like" me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter. And I'd love to hear from you via the comment section or the email option on my profile page!  


{Post-Birthday Week} Daybook

August 20, 2012

Outside my window...
Sunny, but much cooler day.  89 degrees at 4:15.  Loving the almost-early-fall-type weather!

I am thinking...
About how glad I always am when "Birthday Week" is over!  It's non-stop fun having two girls with birthdays six days (well, 2 years and six days :)) apart, but oh-so-exhausting!  Especially when this is always such a busy time of year otherwise! We had great fun Saturday celebrating our Em's birthday...birthday shopping in Hobby Lobby twice in one week was a little crazy...our girls are so different!  Bayley had had planned for months EXACTLY what she was buying, and immediately bought everything on her list.  Emlyn bought a few things she really, really wanted, but has saved over half of her birthday money.  Last year she finished spending her birthday money the following February after Ammah Grace's birthday. :)

I am thankful...
for a great day at Grace yesterday...wonderful time of worship, "surprise" birthday lunch for Bro. Gary, and the beginning of our new study in 1 Peter on Sunday afternoon.  SO excited about this study!! (Local friends...if you don't have a place to worship, feel free to message me for more information about Grace Lavaca, or click on the link to learn more.  We'd love to have you!)

I am remembering...
Sweet time Friday with Oak Cliff friends for Bro. Gary Don's funeral meal...sad for everyone who misses him, but celebrating that he is singing in Heaven now!  We didn't end up helping much, but God knew that I needed to be there for a couple of encouraging conversations I needed at just that time.  

In the kitchen...
Having a BLAST with our new oven.  (More about it tomorrow, I hope!  Check back then, or subscribe in the box in the sidebar. :)) So thankful that the sweet gift brought with it cooler weather...I've been baking up a storm.  I still have a whole list of things we can't wait to cook again. :)  It's making Pinterest a WHOLE different world now...our oven had been out since before Pinterest came to be, so I've always looked at so many of the recipes on there and thought, "I can't cook that!"  Now I'm going back to find all the things I've seen and wanted to try and adding them to my "to cook" list! 

I am creating...
plans and schedules for the fall, oh my! :)

I am going...
heading out with Billy and the kids soon for a library run and a trip to my mom's for Emlyn's birthday cake.   

I am reading...
an advance copy of Mary DeMuth's book Everything.  So hoping to get a lot of things done for the launch team this week, and looking forward to posting more about the book here on the blog, as well. 

I am hoping...
that the super-hot weather is over for the summer.  I'm loving the {somewhat} cooler weather, and would LOVE to have an early {and LONG} fall this year!

I am looking forward to...
Homeschool Mom's Renew tomorrow night on homeschooling boys, presented by two ladies I admire so much.  Looking forward to the information and the fellowship! 

I am learning...
I think I may have posted this in my last Daybook, but I am learning so much in the Bible Study I'm doing right now on obedience. The running theme is that obedience is ALWAYS connected to blessing.  Why then do we so often connect it with drudgery? 

Around the house...
We've done a BUNCH of decluttering in the kitchen lately, but need to do more.  I'm ready to attack this dining room/schoolroom very soon.  

I am pondering...
some changes here on the blog.  Keep an eye peeled! 

A favorite quote for today...
May the variegated glories of creation not be looked at to fill your heart, but be fingers pointing you to the one satisfying glory; God. ~ Paul David Tripp 
Love that!! Not worshiping the creation, but letting it point us to God.  

One of my favorite things...
seeing my children dig into the Word.  Bay has started a new Bible Study she is SO excited about, and we've had some neat discussions about it. What a blessing!

A few plans for the rest of the week:
Birthday photoshoot with the girls tomorrow, homeschool moms' meeting tomorrow night, church at Oak Cliff Wednesday night, and then *hopefully* a calm and productive Thursday before our two-week shopping trip on Friday. 

A peek into my week..

Bro. Gary's birthday lunch yesterday. :)

The view across the highway from our little church...Love it!

Linking up with The Simple Woman's Daybook today...


On Loving the Church...

Hate the Church?

It has long grieved me...very deeply...that "church" has become almost an ugly word in our culture. Several years ago, a local "church" put out signs all over our area that read, "Love God but Hate Church? So Do We!" It almost made me physically ill every time I saw one (which was every time I went anywhere...they were everywhere!)  

I wanted to scream...HOW do you love God and hate His church?? 

I'm sure I know where they were coming from. I know that there are people who have had bad experiences with churches. I know that there are organizations that call themselves churches that are not, in any way, shape, or form doing the work of Christ. I know that no church is perfect, and I know that sometimes people in the church who don't act like Christ followers can cause pain and confusion. 

I also know that I have been incredibly blessed to have been in good, solid, Bible-believing churches all my life. I know that in some areas those are few and far between, and I hurt for people who long for a true church family and have trouble finding one.  

But variances from one end of the spectrum to another aside, how can one possibly say they love God but hate His church?  

What is the Church?

The church, as we know, is not a building.  The church is not an organization.  The church is people...people who have been chosen by God according to His purpose and who have accepted His free gift of eternal life. The church is Christ followers who together make up the body of Christ, both globally (all Christians around the world) and locally (individual local groups of believers).  (For more information on the global church and the local church, listen to the Fundamentals of the Faith podcast linked below.) 

Aside from the fact that churches are made up of people, and therefore churches aren't perfect because people...even saved people...aren't perfect, there are two other things that factor in to problems in the church: 

First, there are organizations who call themselves "churches" that have nothing to do with the Biblical meaning of "church".  One example of this would be the notorious "Westboro Baptist Church".  There is nothing "Baptist" or "Church" about Westboro.  Just because an organization calls itself a church (and perhaps meets the legal definition of a church) does not mean it is a true Biblical church. 

Second, there are people within solid, Bible-teaching churches who are not true Christ-followers.  There are all kinds of statistics on this...in a quick web search I've seen anywhere from 50% to 90%, based on all sorts of  factors that may or may not be accurate.  However, the fact remains that whatever the percentage, there are people in the church who have walked an aisle and been listed on the church rolls who have never truly accepted Christ's gift of salvation.  The Bible itself tells us that there will be people in the church who profess to know Christ but don't.  

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." ~ Matthew 7:15-23

So Why Love the Church?

Since the church is filled with sinners (and sometimes lost people), and there are people and organzations masquerading as churches that truly aren't, why love the church?  

Because Jesus does.  And we love Jesus.  The church is precious to Him; therefore, it should be precious to us. 

Josh Harris says," We love the church because we love the Savior who redeemed the church." (Josh's article "Wrong Reasons to Love the Church" points out why people often have trouble loving the church...because they are loving it for the wrong reasons.)

Christ's love for the church is pointed out as an example of the way men ought to love their wives:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her  to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,  and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. ~ Ephesians 5:25-27
He gave Himself up for the church, to make her holy, and He will present her to Himself as a radiant, perfect, holy church.  Those words indicate that the church is a treasure to Christ...and therefore, as His followers, it should be a treasure to us. 

Christ Himself established the church, and guaranteed that it will remain standing when all else falls:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ~ Matthew 16:18
I love this video by David Platt!  He says: "A radical commitment to Christ inevitably results in a radical commitment to the church...There is no question that if we are surrendered to Christ, that will automatically mean that we are in love with the church and we want to be a part of it, joining together in churches that are spreading the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth."  

Here are some excellent resources on what the Bible says about the Church:

Fundamentals of the Faith: The Church ~ Podcast by our former pastor, Bro. Kent Sweatman.  This is long but excellent. 

The Church - A Display of God's Glory ~ Article by Mark Dever in SBC Life on displaying God's glory by being a Biblically sound church. 

Wrong Reasons to Love the Church ~ Article by Josh Harris on the wrong...and right...reasons to love the church (and how the wrong ones get us into trouble!)
And I really appreciated this short and simple but thought-provoking post by fellow Everything Launch Team member Julie Sanders: How Dirty Is This Word to You? 

Linking up with Better Mom Mondays...


Sex Trafficking...Another Topic Heavy on my Heart...

A must-read article on a tough topic: Facing Up to Sex Trafficking

Justin Holcomb is one of my heroes. He is one of the few Biblically grounded voices speaking out about abuse today. His book Rid of My Disgrace is a must-read for anyone who has been touched by abuse in any way, or anyone who desires to minister to abuse victims and their families (which should be every church member). His article on sex trafficking on the 9 Marks blog is a hard but excellent read.

The story with which he begins the article is all-too-familiar. "Kim" could very well have been a young girl I worked with when I was at DHS...except that our "Kim" was 13 when I met her and had been prostituted for several years already. She had already had her first child at that point and was hard as nails. And in case you are wondering, no, I never worked in the inner city. This was right here in our small southern city in the middle of the Bible belt. I actually worked with more than one "Kim"...this one was just the youngest and most memorable. :-(

Our family also came all-too-potentially-close to the world of sex trafficking several years ago. As the article says, "at risk" kids are particularly targeted, but that doesn't mean that children in stable homes are "safe". Given the right opportunity, any child can be a target. Not nearly all go willingly.

Holcomb's questions about how Christians and the church should respond to women/girls like Kim are vital. More importantly, he gives some practical answers.  He shows how one church is digging in and meeting this need, and then addresses what the rest of us can do.

I challenge all my readers to take the time to click over to Justin Holcomb's article, and read it through to the end. I would add this to his list of what we can do: pray.  Pray for those involved in trafficking, as victims or perpetrators.  Pray for those involved in the fight.  Get educated about trafficking and pray about how God would have you to be involved.  (And as I said in the Anthony Case post, "...pray for me as I seek to do that as well...it's easy to type those things sometimes, and harder to actually get up and do them...")

Related Posts:

The Anthony Case...My Thoughts (Well, Mostly Mine...)

Moralistic Therapeutic..What?

Protecting Children, Part 1


25 Years...

(Note:  I started this post Saturday night when the reunion was actually happening.  As often happens, most of the post sat in draft the rest of the weekend as life got a bit busy. :)  I'm leaving the part written Saturday "as is" rather than changing tense, etc.  Today's additions are in green. :))

There's nothing to make you feel old quite like your 25th high school reunion.  Mine is going on this weekend in Conway.   I didn't technically graduate from CHS, due to having started homeschooling at the beginning of my junior year, but the CHS class of 1987 is the closest thing to a high school graduating class I have.  (There was no such thing as a homeschool graduation in those days, at least in our circle!)

When I first saw the date for the reunion, my thought was "Well, THAT won't work!"  Mid-August is crazy around here, with girls with birthdays 6 days apart.  Would I have gone if it hadn't been Birthday Week?  Who knows. :)  

Has it seriously been 25 years??  Gracious.  Let's see...25 years ago, I think I was working at Fu Lin?  And maybe about to start working at TableGrace?  Daddy was working in MO, and we had been trying to sell the house in Conway for almost a year.  We were still living there, and Daddy was driving to MO early on Monday mornings and coming home late on Friday nights.  We were helping start a new church...one of the great experiences of my young adult life. :)  I had just turned down a National Merit Scholarship to go to school in OK, and was instead about to begin classes at the school I'd said I would NEVER attend...UCA (an early lesson in "never say never"!)

I'd turned down the Merit Scholarship because things had gotten crazy in our family and I didn't feel like I could go that far away to school.  With Mother and Daddy's situation up in the air and my grandparents needing attention, I needed to stay close to home.  So...I would live at home, go to UCA, and make frequent trips to Fort Smith.  My plan was that after I got my undergrad degree in Psychology, I'd go straight to grad school and specialize in gerontology.   I planned to someday get married, have children, and homeschool.  I also planned to live in Conway forever and raise my family at Woodland Heights.  

It seems like class reunion time is often a time when people compare their past, their plans, and their present reality.  I found myself doing a bit of that this afternoon when I remembered this was reunion weekend.  At the time, we were out shopping with Bayley for her birthday.  I couldn't help but reflect a bit on my plans 25 years ago vs. life now.  Funny how those high school graduate plans don't always mesh with real life!

Grad school didn't happen.  A career in child protective services (which was the LAST thing I ever expected to do) did.   I did get married, although I certainly never expected to marry someone I met in court and spent my first date with in the ER!  We do have children...four of them...and we do homeschool...although almost none of the details of having children, raising children, or homeschooling have gone according to those long-ago "plans"!  Staying in Conway didn't happen.  I've lived in Fort Smith for 20 years this month!  (And I really can't imagine living anywhere else now.)  And I've had three church homes now since Woodland Heights.  

When I moved here, I joined Grand Avenue...that was where my grandmother was, and she was beginning to have more trouble getting around.  I loved my years at Grand...going to church with my grandmother, singing in choir with people who'd grown up with my parents, and building relationships with some really special people.  

But Billy and I knew that that was not the place for us to raise our family, so we began visiting other churches during our engagement.  We visited, and visited, and visited some more.  We still hadn't found a church when we discovered a couple of months after our wedding that my parents were moving to Fort Smith.  Suddenly we were looking for a church for the whole family!  Just when we were about to give up, a friend of my parents in Conway mentioned a church she had heard of through her parents...who didn't attend there, but who had heard that "one of the staff members homeschools".  

After our first visit, I called Mother and Daddy and said, "I think we've found  a church."  Sure enough, we had.  Oak Cliff has been home and family to us for 16 years.   I cannot even describe how God has used Bro. Kent, Lyndel, Bro. Phil, and Andy to work in our lives over the years.  It would take a book to tell what they and our Oak Cliff family have meant to us.  They've been through a lot with us!   And we with them.  I decided years ago I planned to be there for the rest of my life. :) 

But again, God's plans are not ours, and as of a week and a day ago, we are members of  the sweetest little country church ever and loving every minute of it!  (Well, every minute but the few seconds that seemed like an eternity at the end of my offertory Sunday morning when I couldn't find a right note to save my life, and then the moments I spent feeling like a total doofus because  I simply could not figure out what should have been a relatively simple task for our pastor this week.  Those weren't on the "most-loved minutes" list.  But we're loving all the rest of them! :))   It's been one of those unexpected turns in the road that turns out to be a huge blessing and delight.  We're on the edge of our seats to see what God is going to do from here!

There have been lots of other things along the way that didn't exactly jive with those early "plans".  Unexpected job and health issues over the years.  My dad's sharply declining health over the last five years of his life, and his death from cancer almost 8 years ago.   The birth of our 30-week preemie and her six weeks in NICU.  The crimes perpetrated against two of our children.  An epilepsy diagnosis.  And even still living in this ramshackle little house many years after we had planned to redo and sell it. ;-)   Those are the things you don't write on your "plans for the future" list as a high school senior.  

And yet, God has reminded me over and over this weekend that His plans are always best.  Always.  No matter how traumatic or shocking or just downright crazy they may appear at first to us.  The verses that God kept bringing to mind this weekend...even before I realized it was "reunion weekend"...were these:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  ~Philippians 4:11-13

This whole last week has been a microcosm of the last 8 years, in a way.  We've experienced some great sadness and loss, and we've experienced some knock-your-socks-right-off-your-feet blessings.  I've had some days where I've struggled massively with anxiety and some days when it just seemed like my heart couldn't hold one more ounce of joy.  Health issues have flared one day and been unusually invisible the next.  There have been days when I've fought tears almost every waking moment, and days when I've laughed so hard my sides and my face hurt.  

Through it all, though, there's been a constant theme...a realization that God has truly given contentment in all things.  Through all the challenges, through all the joys,  I've stopped so many times this week and just breathed one of those big huge deep sighs of contentment.  I have no idea what God has planned for us from here.  I have no doubt that there will be high mountaintops and deep valleys along the way.  I have hopes, and prayers, and dreams, and even some plans...but I am well aware that just as those "25 years ago" plans were far from reality, today's plans may be as well.  

What an amazing blessing to realize that not only has God known every detail of every yesterday and every tomorrow from before the foundation of the world, He actually planned it all, and He has promised that every bit is for His glory and for our good.  

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!“For who has known the mind of the Lord,    or who has been his counselor?”“Or who has given a gift to him    that he might be repaid?”For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. ~Romans 11:33-36

 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28


A Very Noble Man...

It hardly seems possible that my grandfather...my much-loved Papaw Brown...has been gone for 26 years. This is what I posted about him a few years ago:

A true gentleman. That is the most often-heard description whenever people talk about my grandfather, who died in 1986 at the age of 85. A hard-working man who often worked 7 days a week, 364 days a year, a gentleman who was rarely seen without a long-sleeved white shirt, tie, and his ever-present hat until he was well into his 80s, a faithful husband who had been heard to say during his last fight with cancer, "I just hope I live until our 56th anniversary." He did, and he died less than a month later. An incredible family historian who compiled a 3 inch-thick, legal-sized *book* of our family history by typing with two fingers (he typed *everything* and typed amazingly fast for someone who only used two fingers :)) and copying on an old xerox copier at the library. A dyed in the wool worrier (who passed that trait on to his oldest son and his youngest grand-daughter. :)) A stern man who also had a wonderful dry sense of humor and could make me laugh faster than almost anyone.

Papaw and I had a very special relationship. I was grandpa's girl and everyone knew it. When I was two, my mom was hospitalized, and while my other grandparents were still working, my grandfather was ten years older than the others and had already retired. This man who had spent most of his own children's childhoods working suddenly found himself in charge of a two year old while my daddy was at work. Some of my earliest and best memories are of the time I spent with him during that time. Years later I would pack up my books and head to Fort Smith in the spring of 1986 when he was diagnosed with cancer for the last time. I spent many hours in the hospital with him, and then many days with him and my grandmother after he went home. One of the greatest blessings of homeschooling my last two years of high school was having the flexibility to spend most of those last few months with him, and time with my grandmother after he died.

My Aunt Jessie...his sister-in-law...wrote this poem for my grandmother six months later:

He was a very noble man.
Forget him, we never can.
It was so very plain to see
He was devoted to his family.

He was kind and understanding,
Never harsh or commanding.
He was honest and forgiving
Working hard to make a living.

He is missed so very much
That gentle smile and loving touch,
That vacant chair that seems so quiet,
The long, long days and silent nights.

We miss you, Foy--
Feb. 87
Jessie Robertson