Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Steeple, the Pulpit and the Foundation

A couple months ago, a lawn service worker was driving a box truck and used the parking lot of the church I attend, Faith Baptist, to cut through to the street behind the church. He and others do this often since the church has a traffic signal making left hand turns in and out of that side of the road easier. This time, unfortunately, he was distracted and went under our canopy which wasn’t tall enough for the box truck he was driving. This resulted in our canopy being destroyed and the steeple having to be removed. Thankfully nobody was injured which is the most important thing. Without the canopy and steeple the front of the church looks kind of sad. As a kid, whenever I was asked to draw a church, my drawings always included a steeple. Many churches these days don’t have steeples, and I know that a steeple doesn’t make a building into a church, but my church’s building just doesn’t look complete without it.

About a week and a half after the canopy was demolished, my church’s senior pastor resigned. I don’t know all of his reasons as to why, and even if I did, I still might not understand the why. I’m not going to get into that aspect because his reasons are his own to tell. Whatever the reasons, his resignation has left me sad and a bit unsure entirely how to feel. I’ll start with a little background…okay, maybe not all that little, but background nonetheless. When my parents were pregnant with me, they attended a different church. They met my (now former) pastor and his wife when they attended the same child birthing class. After all the babies from the class were born, they all met up to introduce all of us newborns to each other. That’s when I met my friend, Rebecca, and we’ve been friends ever since. Over the next few years, my family would occasionally visit Faith Baptist if our church wasn’t having a service. When I was 5 years old, my family decided that we needed to find a new church. We visited quite a few in the area before ultimately deciding to regularly attend Faith Baptist. Twenty-seven years later, that’s still where my parents attend and where I’ve restarted going since life brought us back to the area nearly 2 years ago. I was talking to my dad recently and pointed out that the age I am now is the age he was when we joined Faith Baptist. Until a month and a half ago, we’d had the same senior pastor the entire time. Since I was such good friends with Rebecca, if I wasn’t at home or at church, chances were good I was at her house. I even helped build their house. I often tagged along with my dad when the house was being built and if Bec and/or her brothers weren’t there, I’d help putty over nails on the drywall or bring tools to the workers. Her parents were like another set of parents to me. They were a source of encouragement to me, and when needed, correction as well. After my biological family, they probably were the biggest influences in my life, and I consider them to be part of my “adopted” family. When Justin and I were about to be married, we went to Pastor for our pre-marital counselling. He told Justin that he considered my family to be part of his family and that Justin had better treat me right. After Justin was injured, while he was on the phone with me for that initial call, he asked me to give the nurse Pastor’s cell phone number so that he could call him later that day. That was (I believe) the 3rd post-injury call that Justin made. No matter how long I was away or how far away I was due to college, the Army, Justin’s injuries, my family and my church have always been two constants that haven’t changed all that much. Going back home meant I would see my parents, at least one of my sisters, possibly my grandparents, and I would go to church and at church, Pastor would normally be the one preaching. After living other places for about 6 years, so much had changed back home, but those things were relatively the same. Until now.

Like the front of the church building looks sad without a steeple, the pulpit looks sad without a senior pastor. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the pastoral staff are great and they are doing a wonderful job during this crazy time of transition that very few in our church have ever experienced at our church. There are only a handful of charter members left who were around when Faith Baptist’s first senior pastor stepped down to associate pastor and Pastor stepped into the pulpit as senior pastor, and that transition wasn’t nearly as…I don’t even know how to describe it. I’ve never been in a church that was searching for a senior pastor before. There’s so much uncertainty and so many questions. What will our new pastor be like? Will I like his preaching? Will I like him as a person? Will he be someone I’m comfortable talking to when I need advice? Someone that I can call to pray for my family if something goes wrong? Will he have a family? If so, what will they be like? Will his wife be someone who will encourage the other ladies in the church? Will his kids be kids that my son can look up to (if they’re older) or that he’ll enjoy spending time with? Will he lead our church and help us draw closer to God? The list of questions could go on and on. We’re at the beginning of the process and just elected the people who comprise our pulpit search committee. Only God knows who our next pastor will be.

With all the uncertainty at my church, and in the world today, I’m thankful that my faith isn’t grounded in a person or a country or anything here on earth. The foundation of my faith is God and His Word. Two things that won’t change. I don’t like change, especially change that I can’t control. It’s a comfort to me to know that God never changes, and while the future can look scary from a distance, nothing in the future is out of God’s control. He holds the future in his unmovable, unchangeable hands. Psalm 146:3-6 say, “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps truth forever,” Over the course of my life, I’ve learned that people will let me down. People will not always be there when I need them or would like them to be. People move away, and sometimes I’ve been the one to move away. People die. People change, and with that change, relationships often change. God never changes, and He has helped me work through many changes in the past, is helping me in the present, and I have faith that He will help me in the future…even when I try to do it on my own and fail miserably.

This time for my church is difficult, but even in the midst of this crazy transition, God is working to bring us the right senior pastor and to make us the right church for that man. John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Even during times that don’t make sense to have peace, God brings us that peace when we trust in Him to take care of the situation. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Please pray with me for my church. Thanking God for the years we had with Pastor and thanking Him for the rest of the pastoral staff. Praying for the current pastoral staff that God will give them strength and wisdom, praying for the man who will one day be our senior pastor, and praying for our church both now during the transition time and later when the new pastor is brought into our church family.

Monday, August 29, 2016

He is My Peace

Today in church, one of my pastors preached on the topic of anxiety. He started out by telling of his own personal struggles with anxiety, particularly during his first year in the ministry. He didn’t tell this very personal account to pat himself on the back and show how he was strong and overcame it. He told it to show his “own personal weakness to the glory of God.” To many, that might not make sense. Many people today are all about personal power. Weakness is seen as something to be ashamed of, pushed down, and hidden. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Our weakness is there so that God’s power can come. That idea runs so contrary to modern society. 1 Corinthians 1: 27 says, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;” God often uses things that don’t make sense, the small things, and the weak things to make the biggest impact.

Here is the main passage that we read from
Philippians 4:4-7
4 Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus

Here is the basic outline from the sermon.
I.                 Let your joy be in the Lord. He will never let you down.
a.      Anxiety can come when we place things in a higher priority than God.
b.      Our heart follows what we enjoy, so enjoy the Lord.
II.               Have a Reputation of being a gentle, reasonable, tolerant person.
III.              Remember that Jesus is near.
IV.              Don’t be anxious about anything. Pray about everything.
a.      Anxiety shows a lack of faith in God’s provision.
b.      Anxiety can be fruit of a lack of prayer in your life.
c.      Don’t wait for moments of crisis to pray and trust God.
d.      Develop a pattern of trust in God to combat anxiety in the long term.
V.               Recognize God’s blessings and give thanks. Prayer is more than just asking for stuff.
VI.              Peace comes to people of weak hearts who pray.

Just about everyone goes through times when they are anxious about something. I know I have. I’ve had times where I’ve worried and been afraid. I’ve stressed over things that might happen and over things that have happened. When it comes to fear, anxiety and stress, I’m my own worst enemy. The scenarios in my mind are usually way worse than reality. Matthew 6:27 says, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” Basically it’s saying that worrying doesn’t change anything. You can’t make yourself taller by worrying (because if you could, I’d likely be at least 6 foot tall). Multiple times in the Bible, it says not to be troubled, not to be afraid. John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Joshua 1:9 says, “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.” Peace and never leaving my side. What awesome gifts God has promised!

Let your joy be in the Lord. Notice it says “joy” and not “happiness”. Happiness is an emotion based on outward circumstances. True joy comes from God and doesn’t always make sense. The outward circumstances could be horrible, but the person has that peace which is beyond understanding like in Philippians 4:7 and a joy which can only come from God. I can’t say that my attitude has always been one of peace and joy when going through tough times. I’ll be the first to admit that I tend to be a worrier. But even with my lack of faith and trying to control situations rather than hand them fully over to God, He still hasn’t given up on me or left my side. His peace and joy are there waiting for me every time. I just have to let go of my worries and fears and trust that God is in control of them, and He replaces them with peace and joy. Easier said than done at times, but I’m still a work in progress and God is nowhere near done with me. Remember that God is near. Isaiah 43:2-3a says, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour”. Not only is God near, He also helps us through the trials. He calms the seas when we feel like we’re about to drown. He may not always remove the stressful situation, but He teaches us to have faith in Him and helps us through it. The times I’ve learned the most about God’s strength was when I was at my weakest point. I learned about His provision when I was in need. I learned about his healing when I was broken. I learned what it meant when the Bible said He would never leave me when I felt the most alone. I felt his joy and peace when I was struggling the most. Without those hard times, I might not have been in a place to be receptive to those lessons. That’s not to say I enjoyed them or pray for hard times. Hard times come without me asking for them. During those times, it was difficult for me to see any reason for it, but looking back, I can see how God’s hand was working to bring good out of a tough time in my life.

Don’t be anxious about anything. Pray about everything. Psalm 46:1, 10a says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Be still, and know that I am God”. Sometimes we get so worked up thinking about the problems in life, that we fail to see the answer in front of us. God is in control even when situations seem out of control. In our language today, it’s like God is telling us “Chill out. I’ve got this.” It’s hard to be still. We live in a busy world and most people are in a constant state of multi-tasking. I know I am. Take my internet browser for instance. It’s rare than I have less than 5 tabs open. And that’s just on one device. It’s not uncommon for me to be watching something on my tablet while doing something on my computer, and then I’ll take my hands off the keyboard/mouse and do something on my smart phone. It’s so easy to find out information and to be distracted by what’s on the screens. Then throw in the rest of my day – caring for my family, teaching my son and his cousins, communicating with friends, keeping my house from looking like a tornado went through, etc. Even with all of that, God still says to be still, and that’s something I need to work on. Making time during my day to be still and focus on God. I need to take time to pray, not just before meals and in those last few minutes before I fall asleep, but throughout my day. I need to focus more on thanking God and less on asking for my requests to be answered. I need to daily make the choice to replace the anxiety and stress with prayers. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a choice that I need to continually make until it becomes a habit and then keep making the choice. Recognizing God’s blessings and provision in the past helps to keep in the front of our minds that, not only is God capable of helping us through trials, we’ve experienced it in our own lives in the past. That remembrance helps us to be more confident in trusting God in the future. He has never left my side or let me down in the past, He’s someone I can trust in the present and also in the future.

The last point is that peace comes to people of weak hearts who pray. This ties in with some of the other points. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.” The God who created everything cares for me, and not only does He care for me, He wants me to give him all my stress and anxiety. I have a wonderful family and some awesome friends that God has placed in my life. When I’m having a hard time, I can go to them and share what I’m doing through. They can commiserate with me, give me words of wisdom, and encourage me, but they can’t take away my problems. As great as they are, they’re imperfect humans with limitations just like me. Not only can God listen to me tell him about my problems, He can carry me through them and make good come from them. When I’m at my weakest, God gives me strength to keep going. Matthew 11:28-29 says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” How many times have you needed rest for your soul? I know when I’m anxious and stressed, I feel completely drained. Anxiety is emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting. It’s during those times of utter exhaustion that I need that peace and rest for my soul the most, and during those times that God is able to show his strength to me in the most amazing ways. When Jesus walked on earth, His ministry wouldn’t have stood out as much had He not done any miracles. In order for Him to heal, someone had to be sick or injured. In order for him to bring someone back to life, they first had to die. In order for Jesus to give someone sight, they first had to be blind. Being sick, injured, blind or dead aren’t good things, but without them, Jesus wouldn’t have been able to show His power in as mighty of a way. If a storm hadn’t come while Jesus and his disciples were in a boat in the middle of the water, the disciples wouldn’t have needed to ask Jesus to save their lives, and He wouldn’t have shown His power over the wind and seas. If my life was always peaceful and stress-free, I wouldn’t need to ask God to help me. Like my pastor, God uses my own personal weakness to show His glory. My life is not free of stress, anxiety, and trials, but no matter the situation, I know that I never have to go through it alone. When I’m weak, He is strong. When I fall down, He lifts me up. When I feel like I’m sinking in the middle of a storm, He calms the storm and brings me peace. When I’m feeling run down, He gives me rest for my soul.

This is part of a song my church choir sings every so often. It’s one of my favorites and fits so well with what I’m trying to say.

He is My Peace
Words by Nan Allen
Music by Dennis Allen

He is wonderful.
He is marvelous.
He is Savior. He is King.
He is Comforter.
He is mighty God.
He is Lord of everything.
But more than all of these,
He is even more to me.
He is Jesus. He is my Peace.
Through the storms He holds me,
Through the dark He leads me,
Through the pain He calms me
With His quiet, tender voice.
Through the storms He holds me,
Through the dark He leads me,
Through the pain He calms me
With His quiet, tender voice,
So I rejoice!

If you would like to hear the full sermon, it is uploaded to my church’s website. Here is the link: http://faithpb.com/sermons/sermon/2016-08-28/rejoice-in-the-lord-dont-be-anxious

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Pray for Orlando

It’s been nearly a week since there was a mass shooting at a club in Orlando. It was said to be the worst mass shooting in our nation’s recent history. What happen was horrible, but it’s been amazing to see how the local community has pulled together to support those who were injured and the families and friends of those who were killed. Many lives were saved due to the quick response of the medical teams and first responders…and even some civilians who stepped in to help complete strangers. People stood in lines all over central Florida for hours to be able to donate blood to help the survivors. Restaurants have donated meals to investigators, blood donors, and others who were involved. Chick-fil-a even opened its kitchen (but not its cash registers) to provide meals on a Sunday. Churches and at least one of the local Christian radio stations have offered a listening ear and counselling to those affected by the shooting. The man who shot all those people went into that club with evil and hate in his heart. The community has responded with love. Political, moral, religious, and racial difference have been put aside and people are helping each other find healing.

What would Jesus have done if He were in a physical body in Orlando early on Sunday morning? I don’t presume to be an authority on what Jesus would or wouldn’t do, but I can read in the Bible what He did do when He was on earth.

He typically addressed people’s physical needs before addressing the spiritual ones. When people would come to hear Jesus teach, it wasn’t typically a scheduled meeting. They didn’t have a schedule to meet by the sea at 11:00 every Sunday morning and the lesson end between 12:00-12:15. People would hear that He was in town preaching and drop everything to go listen to Him. Sometimes they would listen to Him for hours and even days and miss meals. The disciples would go to Jesus asking Him to send away the people so they could eat. Instead, He took a few fish and small loaves of bread and multiplied that food so that thousands of people could eat. He took care of their very real physical need of hunger before continuing to teach them. Another time, the religious leaders were trying to trip Jesus up regarding the punishment of a woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn’t try to preach to her while men had stones ready for killing her. He took care of her literal life and death need first by telling the religious leaders that whoever was without sin should cast the first stone. After they were all gone with not a single stone cast, then He told her to go and sin no more.

He had compassion. Matthew 9:36 says, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been in human form this past Sunday morning in Orlando, this verse would have applied. People were injured, scared and confused. They were desperate to know what happened to their friends and family members after they were separated, to make sense of this horrible tragedy. Jesus was able to calm horrible storms and He can bring peace in the midst of troubles and hard times. The kind of peace that doesn’t make sense because it came during the worst circumstances.

He healed the sick and injured, and He raised people from the dead. It’s very possible that Jesus would have been working alongside of the first responders healing and bringing comfort to each one He touched. Maybe He would have been in line to donate blood – after all, what’s one pint of blood to someone who gave far more than that, including His life, so that we could be saved.

He rebuked the hypocritical religious leaders. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were more concerned with keeping every aspect of their law and adding new laws that they neglected to be concerned with what was in their hearts. To all appearances, they looked fine on the outside but on the inside, Jesus compared them to a tomb with decaying bodies inside. I believe that if Jesus were in human form today, He would rebuke the people of Westboro Baptist (and I really hate calling them Baptist because they DO NOT represent the vast majority of Baptists or Christians). I believe He would come down hard on them for the way they twist the Scripture to justify being hateful toward people. No, the Bible does not condone sin, but it also talks a lot about being kind, speaking the truth with love (something they are desperately lacking) and loving people as you love yourself. Being hateful is doing nothing to spread the gospel to anyone, in fact, it’s probably doing more harm than good…assuming anyone takes them seriously and actually thinks that their doctrine of hate represents actual Christians. The Bible never said that our job as Christians is to convict people of sin. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit. No, we shouldn’t water down the Bible to some feel good, lovely dovey thing where the Bible has clear “thou shalt not” statements. We’re called to be the light of the world and to let our lights shine before men to point them toward God. There’s a difference between using a flashlight to help someone find their way in the dark and shining it right in their eyes and nearly blinding them with it. The first is something people will respond better to. The second is a good way to get yourself hit, give the other person a headache, and make them want to get away from you as fast as possible. Yes, technically both are still being lights, but the first is a much better option if you’re wanting the person to actually listen to what you’re telling them.

Jesus accepted people as they were, but never left them as they were. They were changed because of knowing Him. The Bible said that Jesus had meals with “publicans and sinners”. Nowhere does it say that He converted them first. A changed life wasn’t a requirement for spending time with Jesus and receiving His love; it was a byproduct of it. The woman caught in adultery wasn’t changed when Jesus met her, but her life was never the same afterwards. His disciples weren’t changed men when Jesus found them. He didn’t tell them to go spend a few months in the synagogue first and then follow after Him. No, He said to follow, and they dropped what they were doing and followed. It was after they followed, that they changed.

What do I believe that Christians should do in response to what happened in Orlando? The #1 thing is pray. Pray for those directly impacted by the shooting. Pray for those who were injured. Pray for the family and friends of both the injured and those killed. Pray for the first responders and medical personnel who were overwhelmed with injured, yet kept going and likely saved many lives. Pray for the investigators who are trying to determine if the shooter was indeed a lone wolf or part of a bigger plot to kill more Americans. Pray for our country and its leadership as we live in a crazy world and the decisions they make impact us now and the future of our country. Another thing that is important (for both Christians and non-Christians) is blood donation. When you donate blood, you are literally saving lives. Just in my family, I have two people that I love dearly who might not be alive today if it wasn’t for blood donors – my grandfather and my husband. There were people injured this past Sunday morning who are alive now that might not have been had it not been for blood donors. Have compassion. Many of the victims may be living a different lifestyle than you are, but we’re all flawed humans in need of a Savior, in need of grace, in need of comfort at times, and in need of compassion. Pray that people will turn to God for comfort and salvation in the midst of this terrible tragedy. We may have to agree to disagree on things at times, but we can still show God’s love and compassion to people of all walks of life. Pray that in this difficult time, God can use it to bring our community and country together. There are so many things that people use to divide us. It’s time to come together as Americans and show those who try to terrorize us that we will come through this stronger and more united.

Here is a link to some resources that one of our radio stations out of Orlando has pulled together if you live in central Florida and want to know how you can help.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The VA and Disney

As a Floridian who is married to a service connected disabled veteran, I have been to both Disney and the VA on multiple occasions. So, here are my thoughts regarding Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald’s comparison of VA wait times to Disney wait times.

If Disney was run like the VA…
If you met the criteria, you’d automatically become a lifetime annual pass holder which sounds great, but there are limitations. First, you can’t just show up to the park of your choice whenever you want. You have to contact the Disney pass holder line (if you can get through at all) and be assigned a personal ticketing agent. Before going to the park, you’ll have to meet with the ticketing agent in person to schedule your park visit. You will not be able to choose which park to visit or which day. They will mail you your visit date via the US Postal Service. You will watch your mailbox each day to anxiously await your letter from Disney and hope that the day they picked for you won’t have scheduling conflicts because chances are slim that you’ll be able to call in and change it. Make sure not to go out of town because often, the letter will come just within days of your visit date and sometimes on the day of.

Finally the letter arrives and you go to the Disney park they have chosen for you. You get there only to find that you are limited as to what rides and shows you are allowed to visit. Half of the ones on your list are closed for maintenance. The lines for the rides go out the door and around the building, so you end up standing in the heat for hours for a 5 minute ride. The line moves slowly because the ride is understaffed. The only time it moves quicker if when someone ahead of you in line passes out from heat exhaustion and has to be taken to the infirmary. Overall, your trip was less than satisfying, but hey, it’s Disney, right?

After a while, you decide that you want to go back to Disney, so you call the pass holder line again. You ask to speak to your ticketing agent only to find out that she is no longer employed by Disney and you are assigned a new ticketing agent. Because you have never met with this person, you have to meet in person to schedule your visit rather than just being able to do it over the phone. After jumping through the hoops, you get your visit date. As the visit gets closer, you’re watching the weather and see that there’s a hurricane supposed to hit central Florida. You figure that the park will be closed, so you don’t bother going. Two days later you get a notice in the mail that if you wish to visit a Disney park again, you have to fill out 5 pages of forms and restart the whole process. Funny how those notices get to you immediately but visit schedule ones take months, isn’t it?

After several visits to Disney that were more hassle than enjoyable, you decide to check out other theme parks. Your decision has nothing to do with the cast members. Most of them worked hard to make your experience pleasurable, but there just weren’t enough of them to handle the number of people visiting the Disney parks. Honestly, you wonder why anyone would choose to work at Disney with the low pay and poor treatment of employees and aren’t surprised at the high turnover rate. You’ve heard great things about the rides and experience at another park. It’s closer to your house, and while you’d have to pay out of pocket, you decide that the hassle you’d save would be worth the money you’d spend. You call the other park and talk to a person after the 2nd ring – no waiting on hold only to be disconnected and no leaving voicemails which are never returned. You get to pick which of their parks you visit and when you visit all over the phone without having to meet with a ticketing agent. The lines at the rides are well managed and all the rides are open. You had a wonderful time and feel bad for the people who desperately want to visit a park, but because they couldn’t afford a different one, they’re stuck facing heat stroke at Disney. You figure that government funding and people without other (better) options are the only reason Disney parks still are in business.

As someone who enjoys going to Disney, man am I glad the VA doesn’t run theme parks! In all seriousness though, we aren’t really talking about a day of fun with Mickey Mouse. We’re talking about men and women who have served our country and became sick or injured as a result. The flaws in the VA are extremely serious because a wait in a theme park ride (which by the way, Disney manages quite well) cannot really be compared to a medical situation which a long wait could become a life or death situation. Or maybe not quite as serious, but could directly affect quality of life. My husband is a double leg amputee. To get new prosthetics, he has many hoops to jump through. He first has to get a referral from his VA primary care which changes often. Then they have to write him a script for a civilian prosthetist to make him new legs because the VA near us doesn’t have those capabilities. The scripts have an expiration date (why I’m not sure because it’s not like his legs will grow back such that he’ll no longer need prosthetics). The whole process can take so long that he would essentially need to start the process before he had a need or he’ll be stuck in his wheelchair unable to do the things he enjoys like fishing in his boat. It’s easier for him to pay for a plane ticket to go up to Walter Reed for a week to get new legs than deal with the VA and civilian prosthetist which could take months. VA Secretary Robert McDonald said something along the lines that satisfaction with service is more important than wait times. Yes, satisfaction with service is very important, but it’s irrelevant if you can’t even get an appointment. People have died waiting to get in to see a doctor at the VA. And to be honest, we haven’t been all that satisfied with our experience with the VA once getting those appointments.

I’m not sure what the answer is on how to fix the VA’s problems, but the first step is acknowledging that there are problems with the system – both the wait times and the service itself. Maybe Secretary McDonald should go to Disney and see how they manage wait times and customer satisfaction. I read an article last week suggesting Disney should take over management of the TSA lines at airports, and I found it odd that he would be bashing wait times at Disney and making absurd comparisons like that while another group is praising them. Disney actually responded to the comparison and told how they have a team to identify problems and make the experience better for visitors. One example was the Dumbo ride. I remember as a kid, my Grams would take us to Disney and we’d always bypass Dumbo because Grams didn’t want to wait in such a long ride when we could spend our time going on more rides. Fast forward to now, Disney saw the problem and fixed it by adding a second set of flying elephants and an indoor, air conditioned place for the kids to play while waiting – an area that the kids enjoy so much that they hate to leave it to actually ride the flying elephants. I think Secretary McDonald could learn a few lessons from Disney, the first being listen to the veterans in the VA system and understand their needs/wants. Their medical and mental needs are so much more important than Dumbo the elephant and deserve to be taken seriously and that includes both wait times and service.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


The other day I looked through my Facebook friends list and counted the number of people who I would not have had opportunity to meet had Justin not been injured. The number surprised me because I didn’t expect it to be so many. There were about 130 people who I wouldn’t have met and become Facebook friends with if Justin hadn’t been injured with an additional 15-ish that I might have met but likely wouldn’t have been more than passing acquaintances with had circumstances been different. That isn’t even counting the people from my home church that I probably would have met briefly on visits but wouldn’t have really gotten to know had we not moved back when we did. And that number just represents those on my Facebook friends list. As I looked at the faces and names of those friends, it made me think of how blessed I am to have them (or you if you’re one of those people and you’re reading this) in my life. God has richly blessed us, not just in spite of Justin’s injuries, but in some cases (like with these new friendships) because of his injuries. Our time at Walter Reed was a difficult time for our family. Thankfully, God sent various people to encourage us along that part of our journey. Sometimes it was someone keeping us in their prayers. Other times it was people with a non-profit getting us away from Walter Reed to enjoy some of Justin’s hobbies. Many of the new friends were either volunteers with various non-profits or others who we met through them. We’ve been welcomed with open arms by so many people all over the place. People that barely knew us made us feel like part of their family and towns we had never even heard of before made us part of their communities. Looking back over the last nearly 3 years, it’s amazing how God used so many people to help us along the way in both big and small ways.

There are also quite a few places we’ve been, both as a family and Justin by himself, that we likely would not have visited had Justin not been injured. Justin’s gotten to check some things off his “bucket list” with some more coming up before long. We’ve been on more road trips than I can remember and have visited states that we’d never been to before.

A few weeks ago, we went to a state we’d never visited, Indiana…and drove through some others we’d never been to before. On this trip, Justin got to go hunting with a wounded veteran organization and Corey and I visited with people we likely wouldn’t have met had Justin not been injured – the family of one of the soldiers Justin was deployed with when he was injured. Unfortunately, Justin didn’t even see a turkey to shoot, but none of us would consider it a wasted trip. On the way there, we got to have lunch with one of the guys Justin deployed with, and on the way back we got to spend some time with a couple we’d met on a different hunting trip and Justin’s medic from the day he was injured and his fiancĂ©. While we were in Indiana, we met so many people who, even though we had never met them prior to this trip, they’d been praying for us for years. We were treated like friends who they hadn’t seen in a while rather than strangers and greeted with hugs rather than awkward small talk type introductions. Our trip was such a blessing to our family, seeing friends on the journey, and making new friends and having an all-around wonderful time at our destination.

Our trip is a lot like the past nearly 3 years. It was a long drive to get to Indiana and a long drive to get home. Likewise, it’s been a long journey to get where we are today. On the drive, we had friends along the way to help break up the discomfort of being in the car for so many hours and interesting scenery and cities to see to keep it from being too monotonous. Over the past few years, we’ve had friends and family to help us along the way and to just enjoy their company. We’ve been to interesting places and have seen the beauty of God’s creation in many different places we’d never been before. Then there’s the destination – when we arrived in Indiana, we were met with open arms and felt right at home. When we got back to Florida after our time in Walter Reed, we were also welcomed with open arms by family and by friends that we’d known from before Justin joined the Army and before we were married. We also met new friends and have really enjoyed the life we’re now living. We are blessed in more ways than I could begin to list, but a couple that I will list are the blessing of the friendships we have and the blessing of the prayers and support of both friends and strangers that have encouraged us along this journey. If you fall into either of those blessing categories (or both), thank you for being a blessing to me and my family.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Our Florida Keys Trip with VetCatch

Since we’ve been back in Florida, Justin’s been keeping his eyes open for a local taking veterans fishing type organization to get involved with. We love Project Healing Waters, but with the way Justin’s boat is setup, it’s difficult to use it for fly fishing and he’s wanting to take people out on the boat to fish. In his searching, he recently found VetCatch and contacted them. He told them about himself, that he was a wounded veteran, and offered to volunteer with their organization by taking veterans out on his boat. They responded back quickly and told him they had an upcoming trip to the Florida Keys and wanted to know if he was interested in going. They had found a videographer and wanted to get some photos and video of the trip to put on their website to help people know more about VetCatch. When Justin found out the dates of the trip, he told them he wasn’t sure if he would make it because it was my birthday weekend. They invited me to come along too, and my parents agreed to keep Corey for the weekend, so we started making plans.

We started down the road on Friday morning. It’s about a 4 hour drive from where we live, so we timed it so we’d arrive at lunch time. We had a nice, relaxing lunch at a restaurant on the water and then wandered around the Bass Pro (because if you know Justin, you know how much he loves Bass Pro lol). After a little shopping, we made our way to the hotel. VetCatch had booked us a room at the La Siesta resort. It’s right on the water, so once we got checked in, Justin got out his fly rod and tried to catch some fish. The fish weren’t biting, but he managed to catch an octopus…and then didn’t quite know what to do with it. We relaxed for the rest of the afternoon and then met up with the VetCatch guys at the marina where we’d be leaving from in the morning. We met Bill and Jeremy, 2 of the 3 VetCatch staff (the 3rd guy, Kyle, was still travelling), Nick, one of the trip sponsors, and Capt. Steve, captain of the Warrior – the boat we’d be fishing on the next day. The guys worked out the details for the next morning, and then we parted ways for the night. Justin and I decided to go for a drive and watched the sun set before finding a place to get some dinner. It was a great way to spend my birthday!

Justin and I were up before the sun on Saturday morning. Not my ideal wakeup time, but after a Dr. Pepper, I started to wake up a bit. At the dock, we met the 3rd member of the VetCatch staff, Kyle, the videographer, Matt, and Capt. Steve’s friend, Anna. The guys loaded everything up and then we pulled away from the dock. This was my first time going offshore fishing, and even though I knew I likely would get a bit sea sick, I was looking forward to being out on the water and getting some pictures. Justin was hoping to catch a type of fish he’d never caught before. The morning started off kind of cool (for Florida) and with the wind from the moving boat, we all had on multiple layers of clothing to keep warm. I was thankful that Bill had given Justin and me both VetCatch long sleeve shirts because it added another layer. Once the sun started coming up more, the temperature warmed up quite a bit. We trolled along for a while trying to see if the sailfish were biting with no luck. Then Capt. Steve took us out to a spot where he knew they’d catch some fish. Once we got to the spot, Justin reeled in the first fish of the day – a blackfin tuna. He’d never caught a tuna before, so he was pretty excited. Once he caught that first fish, it seemed like the fish were practically jumping into the boat. The guys typically had 4 lines out, and many times, they’d have fish on 2 lines at the same time (and one time fish on 3 lines which was pretty exciting). I think the total count of tuna for the day was 15. Definitely a success!

Once the guys started getting tired (and I felt pretty seasick), we decided to call it a day. We headed back to the dock. The closer we got to the dock, the calmer the water was, and the better I felt. Bill, Jeremy, and Kyle all crashed on the couches in the cabin of the boat (did I mention how nice the boat was? It even had a real bathroom, beds, and a TV). Justin, Matt, and I enjoyed the beautiful weather out on the deck of the boat. By the end of the trip, even though we’d just met everyone, I felt like we’d known them a lot longer. It was a really fun group of people. Out of the 9 of us on the boat, 7 of us had spent time living in Germany due to the Army. Justin, Nick, Bill, Jeremy, and Kyle due to being in the Army and being stationed there (Bill, Jeremy, and Kyle were there around the same time and Justin and I were but at a different location), Matt was there as a child because his dad was in the Army stationed in Germany, and I was there because of Justin. When we got back to the dock, they cleaned up the boat and filleted the fish. Then Justin and I headed back to the hotel room to get cleaned up a little before going to dinner with the VetCatch guys. It was a nice dinner at a place on the water. After dinner, we headed back to the room and weren’t up for too long before we were both ready to sleep. I think I fell asleep around 9 pm which is unheard of for me, the night owl. It was a fun, busy day and Justin and I were both worn out – in a good way though. Justin had fished all day and had been on his legs pretty much all of it without his surgery spot being sore. About 2 months post-surgery, I think he’s about as normal as he’s going to get, and he’s feeling like himself again which is a huge relief to both of us.

Before we left the marina on Saturday afternoon, Matt did some on-camera interviews of the VetCatch guys. During this, I learned a lot more about the organization, how it got started, and their vision for the future of VetCatch. The “Catch” part of the name is actually an acronym. It stands for Casting Away Troubles & Connecting Heroes. It got started after Bill got out of the Army and had that “what now” moment like so many veterans have. Bill, Jeremy, and Kyle all served in the same Army unit together. Bill and Jeremy are out of the Army now, but Kyle is still active duty. After getting out, Bill and Jeremy were talking about how serving in the military gives a sense of pride in serving their country and a camaraderie with their brothers and sisters in arms that you don’t find in most civilian careers, and that’s how the idea for VetCatch got started. I know that camaraderie is something Justin misses about Army life. He actually came to the realization on this trip while we were driving that most of the friends he spends the most time with now are also former military of various branches (I had realized that a while ago). He finds it easier to be around people who have served and have experienced similar things. I think the “connecting heroes” part of their mission statement will be a great thing for the ones they reach with VetCatch. For Justin, fishing has been a huge part of his healing process. He never has had many of the emotional/mental struggles like so many have, but being out on the water has been a stress reliever, and by relieving the stress, his body has healed faster. He’s looking forward to both participating in future events and volunteering by taking veterans out on his boat and helping them with “casting away troubles” like he has on the water.

For more information on VetCatch, check out their Facebook page and website. They’ll be adding pictures and video from our trip soon and once they set dates for upcoming events, those will be added too.

If you’re in the Florida Keys and looking to charter a boat to go offshore fishing, I highly recommend Capt. Steve. Here are links to his Facebook and website

And if you’re in the Keys and need a videographer for a wedding or fishing trip, I highly recommend Matt of DockLight Productions. I can’t wait to see the video he’s putting together from this weekend!

Justin and I both had a great weekend, and we’re looking forward to seeing awesome things come from the VetCatch organization and what our family can do to help make some of it happen.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Love Is...

Earlier this week was Valentine’s Day. It’s a day used to celebrate love – typically love in couples. The problem is that so many times, people are confusing romance with love. At the start of the relationship, everything is new and exciting. The first date, the first kiss, the ring, the wedding, first house together, etc. All of those are great, but what happens after those have passed? What happens when the newness and excitement wears off? That’s often the point where one or both people “fall out of love” and are no longer are “in love”. Maybe one of the people cheats on the other or maybe they just part amicably and move on to the next relationship. Regardless of why or how they part, they’re missing out on so much. If Justin and I had called it quits after the newness of our relationship wore off…I honestly can’t imagine what my life would be like right now. Our life and our marriage aren’t perfect, but there’s nobody else I’d rather spend the rest of my life with. He brings out both the best and the worst in me and still loves me when the worst part is showing. It’s not the big romantic gestures that make what we have so special, it’s the little things that are priceless. Sure, I love getting flowers and going out for a special dinner just as much as the next girl, but those things without love behind them don’t really mean all that much. Our Valentine’s Day this year wasn’t all that romantic, but it was full of love. We didn’t go out to eat at a fancy restaurant…or out to eat at all. We didn’t get each other mushy cards or extravagant gifts. We decided on a joint gift of signing up for the chocolate of the month subscription from a local candy company. I cooked steak on the Foreman grill, heated up a thing of pre-made mashed potatoes in the microwave and cooked Rice-a-roni. It was far from gourmet, but we avoided long wait times and huge crowds and got to enjoy watching a movie together as a family while eating. For dessert, I had an apple turnover that Justin had picked up from Winn Dixie and he and Corey had heart shaped chocolate chip cookies that I got them from Publix. It’s not about what you do to celebrate love, but the moments you spend with the people you love. Those moments are a gift, and you never know how many you’ll have, so make the most of them.

The Bible talks a lot about love in various forms. The most important being God’s love for us. John 3:16 is probably the most well-known verse in the Bible. It says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Romans 5:8 says, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” John 15:13 says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I don’t think I can say it any better than those three verses already have. How amazing is it that the God who created the universe and everything in it loves us so much that He sacrificed Himself so that we could be saved! God shows His love for us in more ways that I could begin to tell. 1 John 3:1a says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” God loves me and has called me His child. I have been adopted into the family of God! 2 Timothy 1:7 says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” This verse isn’t just a statement; it’s a promise. I’ve held on tight to this promise especially over the past few years. Psalm 56:3 says, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” During the times I’ve been afraid, I’ve had to make a conscious decisions to trust God to take care of things. It’s not in my nature to be able to let go of that fear. I tend to worry over things that could happen. That fear and worry aren’t from God. He brings me peace when the situations trying. He gives me strength to keep going when everything in me is ready to give up. He gives me love – not just His love, but also helps me to love even when it’s difficult. He gives me a sound mind even when everything around me seems to be going crazy – and believe me, I’ve needed that sound mind more times than I can remember. As a Christian, life isn’t always easy, but knowing I have someone who loves me who can handle the situations helps me take that next step when I feel like I’m about to fall down. Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing at all can keep me from God’s love. What an amazing comfort to have that kind of love!

Another type of love mentioned in the Bible is the love we have for one another. There are so many types of relationships where we can love the other person: spouses, children, parents, siblings, other family members, friends, and church family. Most people in those categories, I find easy to love. Loving my family comes naturally. If I didn’t love my friends, chances are that they wouldn’t be my friends – they’d fall more into the acquaintance category. But what about people who aren’t in those groups? What about the people who treat us poorly? Does God expect us to love them too? Matthew 5:44 says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;” Ouch. That’s a tough one. When someone wrongs me or hates me, the last thing I want to do is bless them, and I sure don’t have any loving feelings toward them. The sin nature in my wants to lash out and hurt them in response. And have you tried praying that God will bless someone when everything in you wants to pray that God will punish them for how they treated you? It’s extremely difficult. I’ve been there and struggled with that. I’ve had to pray that God will change my heart and help me to love the person before I was able to get to the point where I could pray for God to bless them…and even then, I still struggle with it sometimes. John 13:34 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” It doesn’t say to love the people who love you and are nice to you. It says one another which includes everyone, whether they’re easy to love or not.

I Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” of the Bible. It talks about many things regarding love. It says how words and actions without love as the motivation aren’t worth much.

I Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love suffers long. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.
Some traditional marriage vows talk about vowing to remain together for better and worse, good times and bad, sickness and health. Sometimes the hard times will be because of the other person, and other times they are hard times that you have to go through together. I’ve found in my marriage, that having gone through some tough times together, our marriage is stronger than before the tough times. No, it’s not a perfect marriage, but perfection is impossible to attain with two imperfect people. A loving, strong marriage is definitely possible though. Sometimes it’s easy to lose hope when things are tough and when a marriage is strained, but love never gives up on the other person. God never gives up on us no matter how bad we mess things up in our lives. 1 Corinthians 13:13 say, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Even when we lose faith in someone and hope is hard to find, we can still choose to love the person as God loves us.

Love does not behave rudely and is not selfish. I’ve heard people try to justify bad behavior by saying that they did (fill in the blank with a negative behavior) out of love for the other person. Loving a person doesn’t excuse selfish choices. If a man robbed a bank, and when asked why he did it, replied that he loved his wife and wanted to use the money to buy her a diamond ring. Does that make his actions okay because his motives were out of love? Absolutely not. Loving motives or not, what he did was wrong and selfish. Sure, on the surface, it might look like he was being giving with his stolen money, but for me personally, a gift would mean so much more coming from the hard work of the person I love than him taking what someone else worked hard for and using it to buy the gift. The man choosing not to work hard for the money to buy the gift and choosing to take from someone else is incredibly selfish. Not behaving rudely also applies to how you treat the person you love. Sometimes this one is more difficult because when you’re around someone a lot, it’s easy to get on each other’s nerves and take each other for granted.

Love puts others’ needs before our own. Romans 12:10 says, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;” The best relationships (of any sort, not just marriage) are the ones where both people are putting the other person’s needs above their own. If there isn’t that balance and one person is giving and giving and the other person is taking and not giving back, it won’t be a healthy relationship. It also doesn’t say to neglect your own needs while putting others first. I’ve learned that sometimes I need a break to refresh my own body and spirit. I can’t love Justin and Corey and take care of their needs like I should if I’m running on empty. Sometimes that “running on empty” is physical, sometimes emotional, and sometimes spiritual. Thankfully my loving Heavenly Father is able to meet all of those needs. Isaiah 40:28-31 says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” I am so thankful for that love that gives me strength.

I know I kind of rambled a bit and jumped around a little, but these are some things that have been on my heart. I hope and pray that if you do not know God’s love that you will come to know Him and His love.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Cups, Christians, and Christmas

I don’t go to Starbucks…not very often anyway. It has nothing to do with my religious beliefs or whether or not the company has taken a stand on issues that I agree or disagree with. I just plain don’t like coffee or coffee flavored things. Yes, they make some amazing hot chocolate, but it’s been 90 degrees here in Florida and that doesn’t exactly make me want to run across town for a piping hot beverage. They also have tasty frozen drinks, but if I want a milkshake, I’ll go to Steak and Shake. Since my trips to Starbucks are so infrequent and the most I see of their disposable cups is from the newsfeeds of my friends who enjoy their drinks and post pictures of them, I was unaware that, as a conservative Christian, I was offended by an undecorated red cup until social media informed me. I was also unaware that said undecorated cup was any different from last year’s cups which I also didn’t see. For that matter, I didn’t even know that Starbucks had special seasonal cups to go with their seasonal flavors which I have never tasted but have heard much about. I feel like my head has been buried in the sand on coffee related things that seem to be of the utmost importance based on how much I’ve seen in my newsfeed this week. I think the only time I’ve seen so much chatter about Starbucks in two days on social media is every year when the “fall flavors” are out. Apparently this pumpkin spiced latte is a popular seller. The funny thing about the red cup issue is that even though everyone is saying how conservative Christians are offended by them removing Christmas from their cups (which from what I’ve heard never actually had any graphics or words with a Christian Christmas message to begin with), not a single one of my conservative Christian friends have posted that they’re offended. They think it’s as ridiculous as I do, and unlike me, the ones who enjoy coffee are still going to Starbucks and buying their drinks even if they’re poured into the undecorated red cups. What??? No boycott like the media has led everyone to believe? Of my hundreds of Christian friends, not a single one has posted that they’re offended by a cup. Imagine that.  I’ve seen plenty of posts from my non-religious friends bashing petty Christians who get offended by cups, but I have to wonder how many of them actually know any Christians who are offended by a cup. Whoever it was that started this offended by an undecorated cup thing, I wish they’d find better things to worry about and keep their mouth shut about stupidity like this. As a Christian, I don’t want to be associated with people who get easily offended by cups. I want people to know me by how I treat people, by showing them God’s love. John 13:35 says, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” It doesn’t say that all will know we are His disciples if we take a stand against undecorated cups or whatever petty thing Christians are being accused of being offended by this week. We should be known for our love for one another.

Christmas has nothing to do with cups, snowflakes, ornaments or presents anyway. Many might associate those with Christmas since Christmas has been commercialized to the point where it’s no longer recognizable for what it original was – and what it should be. It’s about what took place a little over 2000 years ago in a stable in Bethlehem. The Son of God took on the form of a human and became a baby, born into the most humble of circumstances. There were no gifts, no royal dignitaries present for the birth, no stockings over the mantle, and certainly no Santa Claus. The only visitors to see the new baby were a group of shepherds who had been told by the angels about His birth. People have been claiming that the undecorated cup is part of a “war on Christmas”…or at least that Christians say that it is (and again I wonder where they’re finding these Christians that make such statements). While many things might be considered a “war on Christmas”, I don’t believe a cup is one of them. The first thing that I would consider to be a war on Christmas took place when Jesus was around the age of 2. Wise men (of an unmentioned number) from the East read the prophecies and followed a star to Bethlehem to find the baby who, according to the prophecies, would be the King of the Jews. Since he had the title of King, they started out at the palace. King Herod knew nothing of Jesus or His birth, but didn’t want someone else with claim to his throne. The wise men went on to find Jesus, and Herod got his advisors to find out where to find Him so that he could kill Him. Jesus and His family escaped, and the wise men went home rather than reporting back to Herod where exactly Jesus was. Matthew 2:16 says, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.” Since Jesus is the reason for Christmas, it could be said that Herod tried to wage war on Christmas. He may not have killed Jesus, but many baby boys were killed. He makes the Grinch and all the other “Christmas story bad guys” (included Starbucks as some are said to think I suppose) seem like Santa’s elves in comparison…and unlike the Grinch, Santa, and the elves, Herod was real and really did have all the baby boys killed in an effort to eliminate what he perceived as a threat to his throne. That’s a war on Christmas. A red cup is not. The commercialism of Christmas and the political correctness that make it nearly taboo to even say “Merry Christmas” aren’t either in my opinion. They’re just distractions. Yes, some of them are fun like the gift giving (notice, I said giving, not receiving), but they aren’t what it’s really about. Christmas is about Jesus coming to earth and bringing salvation, hope, joy, sacrificial love and so much more. We give each other gifts at Christmas and the wise men brought Jesus gifts, but those are no comparison to the gifts that Jesus gives us if we are willing to accept Him. Romans 3:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,” Wow. Can any other gift really compare to the gift of salvation and eternal life? Jesus sacrificed His own life so that he could give that gift to anyone who would accept it. That was the whole reason He came to earth as a baby so many years ago. That’s what Christmas is all about. Let’s show the world that we are His followers, not by denouncing a coffee company and its cups, but by showing His love to those around us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Heroes Haven 2015

The past couple weeks have been busy for our family. Justin was able to schedule a trip to Walter Reed around our trip to the Eastern Shore for the Heroes Haven hunting trip. His sockets hadn’t been fitting properly and the local civilian prosthetist just isn’t as fast as the people at Walter Reed. So, I dropped him off at the airport and he flew up to Maryland to get some leg work done. While he was there, he was able to tie some fishing flies with our Project Healing Waters friends. He had hoped to go fishing with them, but the trip was cancelled due to a water main break on the road in front of the hospital complex. He left our house wearing one set of legs and with another set in his suitcase. He came home with 3 ½ sets (the ½ is just the feet with no sockets – the sockets can be taken from one set and put on those when needed) and another set is being mailed down because they weren’t ready when he left. He now has more legs than an octopus. One of his new sets of legs puts him back at 6’4” (his pre-injury height). This is the first time he’s been that tall since he was injured. Now he can pick his legs based on how long the pants are that he wants to wear. He has a pair that was a little long with his other legs, so they should work perfectly with his new legs. With his new legs, sleeves, and liners in his possession, he was ready to go on to the next part of the trip.

Last week on Tuesday, Justin got a ride out to Sharptown, MD and Corey and I packed up our truck to start our trip to meet him there. Thankfully, Corey and I had great weather for the drive and traffic moved at a steady pace the whole way (and considering some of the sections we traveled, that’s just about a miracle). On Wednesday, we were able to meet up with one of my Army wife friends that I met in Germany. We’ve kept in touch and chat often, but it’s been a couple years since we’d seen each other. When I told her we would be heading to Maryland and would pass by where she lives on the way, we made plans to meet up. I wish we could have hung out longer, but I still had a few hours left to drive and Justin was waiting for me to bring his muzzle loader for him to sight in before the hunts. While we were driving, Justin and the other guys who were there for the Heroes Haven event were at the gun range. They sighted in their muzzle loaders and then had some fun trying out the guns that local gun manufacturer, LWRC, brought. I arrived after the guys had finished shooting the LWRC guns and the last few were sighting in their muzzle loaders. Justin sighted in his, and then took Corey over to a shorter ranger and let Corey shoot a few rounds through his little .22 Cricket before we headed over to the skeet shooting area.

After the shooting, it was time to head to the Sharptown American Legion. Since this was our third year, we knew what to expect, but some of the new guys were clueless and it was a bit emotional for them. The weather was beautiful and there was a great turnout of bikers to escort us and people lining the streets to welcome us to Sharptown. Our first year, it was strangers welcoming us. This year, like last year, it was friends welcoming us back…and it was very good to be back. Over the next few days, the guys went out hunting. There weren’t as many deer shot this time around (sadly, we saw 10x the number that were shot that had been hit by cars on the interstate), but I don’t think that anyone would say that Heroes Haven 2015 wasn’t a success. You see, hunting is what may bring them to Sharptown, but it’s the community, not the deer, that make Heroes Haven something special.

Two years ago, Justin, Corey, and I were the first family to come to the Heroes Haven event. Previously it had just been the guys who were hunting. This year, there were several families who came. On Friday, some of us went to a pumpkin patch and let the kids pick out pumpkins. We had planned to pick some apples, but it wasn’t open that day. On Saturday, a bunch of us went to a corn maze. The kids had a blast…and the adults tried to keep the group from getting too lost.

Then came the banquet on Saturday evening. As always, the banquet was a wonderful evening. The new guys were presented with keys to the city of Sharptown, memberships to the American Legion, and their guns that they’d used throughout the week. This year, Heroes Haven had someone who hadn’t served in the military. The board voted to open it up to law enforcement that had been wounded in the line of duty, and this year was the first year they had a police officer. Since he had never been in the military, he wasn’t eligible to join the American Legion, but he was accepted into the Sons of the American Legion. It was a very special night for all of the new guys. Then the guys from previous years were given the trophies from the previous season. Ray, the man in charge of making everything happen, was given a crossbow by the guys from previous years and he was speechless. It was nice to see the guys giving back. At one point during the evening, several of the guys from last year announced that they would pass around baskets and if enough money was collected, Kendall would shave his beard and if even more was, he’d shave his whole head. A couple men from the community jumped in and offered to shave their beards as well. Nearly $2400 was raised!

Sunday morning was, as Corey calls it, the good-bye breakfast. We enjoyed one last meal with our friends before we had to hit the road to head back home. We took a different route home and went through some underwater tunnels. It was a more scenic route, but traffic was lighter, so it wasn’t too bad. We made it home yesterday evening. I’m so glad we made the trip to Maryland, but man, is it good to be home.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Founded By God

On June 5th, I received an email that my college alma mater, Clearwater Christian College, would be closing its doors forever on June 30th. Within 24 hours, my facebook newsfeed was filled with posts from my CCC friends about it. It wasn’t long before someone started a group to share memories and encourage each other. Many people requested that there be a final service at the college before it was closed. That service was this past Sunday. I’m very thankful that I was able to attend.

The service was led by Mr. Ben Puckett – a CCC alumnus who had been on staff for many years post-graduation. He was on staff during my time at CCC and one of his daughters and I had a few classes together. CCC had been a huge part of his life, and I honestly don’t know how he made it through the service without being more emotional than he was. I don’t think I could have done it if I had been in his shoes. He did a great job putting just the right about of humor and seriousness. He gave a brief history of the college decade by decade. He asked people from each decade to participate in the service by speaking, playing the piano, or singing. Here are the lyrics to one of the songs that was sung. I think it spoke to a lot of people because the closing of the college hit a lot of people hard – especially those who have invested a huge part of their lives in the school and the students and now are at a bit of a loss as to what comes next.

By Laura Story
We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we have faith to believe

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know that pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

'Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You're near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the achings of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

At one point in the service Mr. Puckett led the whole gym full of people singing Holy, Holy, Holy. It sounded absolutely beautiful. Then came the preaching part of the service. Mr. Bob Carver had been chosen to give the final message – something most (and likely all) of his former students were very happy about. Like the lessons he taught throughout the decades he taught at CCC, his final message at the college was filled with wisdom, encouragement, and it pointed to God. I’d like to share the main points of his message. Like in college, I took notes, but they might be a bit paraphrased since I don’t write nearly fast enough to keep up.

1)      We are completely dependent on God. (Psalm 63:8)
2)      We don’t know what a day may bring forth. Live every day with urgency and to impact eternity. (Proverbs 16:9)
3)      Live in constant prayer and thanksgiving.
4)      We have a constant need to confess our sins and repent.
5)      God is not finished with us yet.

Clearwater Christian College may be closed now, but the impact the college made lives on through the students whose lives were changed because they attended it. God’s plan for CCC may have come to an end, but God isn’t done with the alumni, faculty, and staff. It may be a change of direction for some, and a feeling of loss for many, but God’s plan isn’t over. To close the service, Jonathan Steele (son of the college’s founder) led us all in singing the school’s song which had written many years ago. It was so fitting that he closed the service by leading his song one last time. I had never met him, but I’m thankful that he was able to attend and have that part in the service. Then Dr. Ebert closed us in prayer.

For me, the day was very bittersweet. It was great catching up with college friends. During the service, I sat with my friends, Jenny and Bill. During my college years, I often sat with the two of them for morning chapel services, so it felt like being there took me back 9 years (aside from the fact that I had my 5 year old son there for the closing service and during my college years, his daddy and I had probably only spoken a couple words to each other ever). I got to see some of my professors, former roommates and unit-mates. It was really nice. I got to show my son various places around the campus and introduce him to people. I wanted to stay longer, but Corey had had about all he could take. A two hour service is a lot for a 5 year old to sit through and he was starting to get hungry. As I drove away from the campus for the last time, I wanted to turn around and go back. It hit me that that was likely the last time I would ever see many of those people this side of Heaven. There will be no more alumni events. No more newsletters telling about alumni marriages, births of children, and new jobs. I was sad that I had never made it over to attend any of the alumni vs current student sporting events. Most of the years since graduation, I had lived out of state (or out of the country) and the timing was never right for me to be able to go, and now I’ve lost my chance. I feel sad that my son won’t have the opportunity to attend my alma mater (and even the community college I attended as a dual enroll student while in high school and during summers while I was on break from CCC has since changed its name, so he can’t attend there as it was when I was there either). Yes, it’s a bit early to start thinking about college for my 5 year old, but up until the announcement was made about the college closing, I liked that he would one day have the option to attend CCC as I had done. After the service, they had tables set up with logo items that people could take. One of the items was one of those was one of those rubber bracelets with the words “The Cougar Challenge: Proverbs 27:17”. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” I found that to be so fitting both of the closing service and of my years at CCC. Looking back, I can see so many times where God used people during the 3 ½ years while I was there to sharpen me, to teach me, to challenge me, to encourage me, and to minister to me. During the closing service, God used those who sang and spoke to continue in that work. Clearwater Christian College may be closed, but we are its legacy. We are Clearwater.

Please pray for those directly affected by the closing – the students who will have to find new schools and the faculty and staff who will have to find new jobs. For many, they will be starting over after decades of working at the college. That will be quite a transition for them.