Thursday, August 29, 2013

When I Was Weak

"It won't be easy, but we can do this."

That is what Josh told me on July 16th. With that, he kissed me goodbye. Somehow, those words sank in and I nodded. Not just a "yeah, whatever" nod, but a "you're right" nod. For what felt like the thousandth time, I let him go. The car disappeared around the long, winding driveway of my parent's house and I turned to walk into the home of my childhood. I turned to face the next seven weeks. 

Daddy embraced me when I walked in the door. I breathed deeply and knew that I had to stay focused, I had to live each day with only that day in mind. 

I spent the first few days cleaning out my old bedroom. I joked that cleaning your childhood bedroom alone in your old home, when your husband has just been deployed can't be good for your emotions.  A few days later, Daddy and I flew to Nashville to meet the rest of the family for the Fine Arts Summer Academy. FASA was exactly what I needed. The busy, sporadic living kept me occupied as I sang in the choir. Time flew straight to the glamorously, blissful performance at the Grand Ole Opry House. My beautiful sister, Kandace, clothed in a pure white, lacy gown stood at center stage to sing "Down to the River to Pray." I felt tears burn my throat at the organic, smoothness of her voice. I couldn't be jealous of her; this was too beautiful a moment to be stained by something so minuscule. 

FASA ended and time at home drug on. It was wonderful to be with my family, picking tomatoes, the remnant of blackberries and hundreds of green beans. Yet the thrill of being busy wore off. 

**I dug my toes into the dewy, late morning grass outside the fence of the garden. I pressed my cellphone tightly against my ear, pointing my head higher, hoping for better signal. I swallowed hard as I gripped the solid gate. My husband had said that same sentence again. It rang in my ears like a gong. 

"We are strong. You know we are."

But knowing and feeling are different. I was thankful that only my schizophrenic cat could see me swiping tears. When we both hung up, I couldn't decided whether I wanted to wither into the damp grass and cry or run into the house and sniff up the sobs. I began, unknowingly, to do what I often do when nothing else helps. My shaky voice began to hum the tune of "Love Lifted Me." The pitiful sound coming out brought me to a place of peace, familiarity and hope. 

When nothing else could help, love lifted me!

I let the last words drip off of my tongue like honey, and they were just as sweet. Nothing except for the pure nature surrounding me and God could see the innermost toil of my heart. The heart of a young wife, a big sister, an oldest daughter. A girl of a mere 19-years-old striving to remember that this is not her home - the earth isn't even her home. 

Twisting my wedding band on my finger, I lifted my face to the blue sky and remembered that though I was only a speck on the foothills of the rolling mountains - only a single person in a world of billions; I was a precious gem in the hands of the King. I was bought at a great price. He gently promised never to let me go. His words were as soft at the wind through the tall oaks, yet, as solid as steel. 

"I am strong, dear child. You know I am."**

Finding a new strength in God made things easier, but Satan must have seen my faith and allowed the evil forces to throw me a few curve balls. My strength wained a few times. People looked into my face when they felt like talking about the deployment and snapped, "You married it! Get over it!" I swallowed hard and kept many of my feelings to myself, offering information only when asked. Things got hard. Josh worked often and we would video chat when we could. The last few weeks, my countdown seemed to slow to a slug's pace. I got easily irritated and Josh was stressed. We caught ourselves arguing too easily, so with only a little ways left to go, we said it again, "We are strong." We focused on forgiveness and love and the days passed. 

After a week in Williamsburg, VA enjoying time with my family, they dropped me off at my house. I hadn't been home in over a month and a half. Having spent so much time with lots of noise, the silence for nearly four days grated on my nerves. I cleaned and prayed, listened to music and thanked Jesus that Josh would be home soon. 

Finally, the day arrived. The house sparkled and the refrigerator was stocked. I waited for Josh to tell me he had landed. At 10:00 p.m. I got ready to go get him on base. I sat on the couch with my phone's ringer on it's highest volume. A text came in at 11:53 p.m.

"Just landed. :)"

I grabbed my purse and keys and took off to go get him. The silent streets of my neighborhood were oblivious to the joy I felt as midnight came and went. 

I made my way on base to where Josh had said to go, but the parking lot was so big and the building beside of it so long that I was confused. I parked near the middle and hoped that I was in the right spot. My preconceived idea that there would be bunches of family members around in a small, well-light area were bashed. It was empty, huge and dark. I texted Josh as I walked down the street, looking for a gathering. A lone marine saw me and asked if I was waiting for someone. I was like, "Um, I am woman in a flowery shirt and blue jeans who looks confused. Of course!" But I just said, "yes." He just walked off after a short, "okay." I texted Josh over and over. The panic was showing clearly. He texted back that we would figure out if I was in the wrong location. He had arrived, but had apparently been dropped off on the other side of the building, where I couldn't go. I walked back to the car and leaned against it as I noticed a few vehicles on the far side of the long building picking up marines. I got in the car and sat there. Frustrated and beyond anticipant, I called Josh. While it was ringing, I noticed yet another marine walking across the parking lot. He had several bags and there was no car to pick him up. I was casually wondering what he was doing when he stopped and lifted his phone to his ear. On my phone, I was startled to hear, "Hey!" at the same instant. 

Being sometimes dumb, I thought how odd it was that that fellow should answer at the same time Josh did. Looking through the window, I squinted into the darkness at the man as he turned to face me. The street light shinned on his face and from even such a distance, I knew. 

The man was Josh. He motioned for me to drive around to get him and so I did. Shaking with joy, I parked and he dropped his bags. I was taken back to a year ago and it felt like one of our many reunions prior to our wedding, so forgetting we were married, I only kissed him on the cheek! He quickly reminded me that we could do better than that. 

I didn't cry then, but later, when I did, I didn't cry because I was just happy he was home. I cried in joy and humbleness and I remembered that day standing outside the garden. That day when I couldn't see the finish line. I remembered singing Love Lifted Me and when God said, "I am strong. You know I am." 

It was then that I realized that His strength alone had carried us every step of the way. I knew that He would. I look back on the last month and a half and I am thankful. I'm even thankful for those hard days, because that was when we grew. 

We did cross that finish line. And there will be more races to run in the future. But for now, I will praise my Father for His faithfulness. I praise Him that when I was weak, He... yes He, was so very strong. 

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

** An exert from my upcoming book

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Where Children Belong

Wednesday night my Dad was doing revival at a church, so the Praise Team at Mt. Pleasant performed a praise concert. As I sat with my sisters on either side of me and my Mom on stage, I thoroughly enjoyed it, even as I truly missed being a part of the team. Kandace and I sang along, allowing our lower voices to carry the alto. I suddenly noticed the most pure, beautiful voice coming from the right during one of the slower songs. The music was sweet and slow and I quitened my own voice to hear the voice as I turned my head to figure out who was singing in such a lilting soprano. My ears told my eyes to look down... into the face of my little sister. My little Clara's face was upturned as she stared at the screen on the wall with the words on it. In perfect, smooth pitch, she sang.

I had never heard Clara sing like that. Her voice wasn't the squeaky, immature sound of a small child. It was focused and mature. That was when I thought:

And to think she could be forced off into a Children's Program class right now. 

I'm not saying that a Children's Program is necessarily bad, I'm just saying that as I sat there listening to my sister sing, I could think of no better place for her to be than surrounded by all of the Body of Christ and singing praises to her Savior. Yes, her Savior. Not just the "big church" Savior.

In one monumental peak in a powerful song, Clara beat her leg with her hand and closed her eyes. She was worshiping and it was pure and holy.

I tell you this story to tell you that children in the "big church" is not a bad thing. Children don't have to be pushed off in a class with a bunch of sweet old ladies who are about the only ones willing to babysit them and teach them separately from the adults.... And where in God's Word are children pushed away from "services" anyways? Did Jesus say on the Sermon of the Mt., "Hey, um, Peter, Matthew, you guys take these kids and have church with them because see, I am afraid they might disrupt the service for the adults"? He never said that. He said, "Let the children come to me." (Matt. 19:14). So, is Jesus' way of having church not good enough? Of course it is good!

Children can and will behave in church services if you expect them too. They will worship right along with their mommy and daddy, if you expect them too. They long to be involved. How do I know? Because I was one of them. I wanted so badly to not be shuffled into a pile of children just like school because I was somehow unwanted in "big church." I even thought that the preacher preached different doctrine when the kids weren't in there... I thought it was a secret that all of us kids would learn one day when we were grown.... The "rest" of Christian doctrine could only be found in big church. Sounds crazy? I wonder how many other children have wondered the same thing.

As I watched my sister sing, using her gorgeous voice and listening intently to Scripture taught, I was reminded that children are a BLESSING. Churches, please, please consider letting your children into your services. Welcome them. You may never know the lasting impact it will have on their lives. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Someone Else's Shoes

I can't imagine!

It is a simple sentence that we have all heard more than a few times during our lifetimes. When someone goes through a difficult time or experience, we often look into the his face or into someone's face nearby and claim, "I can't imagine!"

Most of the time we are right to say so. Most of the time I don't understand the circumstances of other people and how it feels to be in their shoes.

Only a few months ago I could have been accused of assuming I knew more than I really knew. I admit it. It was easy for me to look at others lives and say one of two sentences that are of two extremes. "I could handle that!" or "Oh, I just can't imagine." The first is worse. The second isn't bad as long as one doesn't just leave it at that. But to say "I could handle that." Hmm. To say "wow, that must be tough.... Can't imagine those shoes. Glad they aren't on my feet." Hmm.

Yes, that was me. Was that right? No. What has changed? I'll tell you.

My life has changed. Right now things are hard sometimes. A little more uncomfortable than normal. I'll lay it out. I feel "single" again. My husband of a short 9 months is deployed and has been for a month with a few weeks to go. I am blessed to be with my family, but I still miss my house, my husband and my new life. It is hard when you learn how to be a wife and then you are forced to be a "long-distance wife."

So you get that. But, this is my blog and I feel like I can be very clear here. So, with the many kindhearted voices saying "I can't imagine" and some brash, harsh voices saying, "get over it"; I have learned a lesson.

They can't imagine if they have never been through this.

They don't know what it means to say, "I could handle it."

It puts me in a place where I'm easily persuaded by my sinful heart to wallow in self pity. Yet. Yet. God's grace taught me another lesson.

He whispered to my soul that He knows how it feels to be misunderstood. He knows how it feels to have people who supposedly "love" Him say, "could handle this, God!" He let me hear Him say that there are many many other children of His who walk by me everyday. Their crosses to bear are hard too. Katy, maybe you shouldn't keep saying how hard or how easy their lives are and instead say, "I will keep my mouth shut and I will only speak words that are true and encourage."

Encourage. That is a far cry from what many Christians do these days. We are all about throwing out our opinions, but the ONLY opinion (and it is not an opinion) that matters is the Word of God. Other than that truth, your opinion and my opinion may be wrong. It may be rude. It may be from a warped perspective.

Our words need to focus on what is beautiful and true. I don't know your burdens, so I won't make them heavier. Kind words go a long way.

If we won't be kind and truthful, then who will be?