The Unexpected Obstacle (Part 2 of 2)

Written by Janet Kibler

Edited by Becky Tankersley

Some people may skeptically raise their eyebrows at the mention of healing. But I believe what the Bible says about the power of Christ to heal. I myself was miraculously and instantaneously healed at the age of 13 after battling depression and OCD for years. My mind has been free from the prison of dark and obsessive thoughts from that day until now, so I know now nothing is impossible for God.

It took us about six weeks to get through all of the insurance and paperwork to set up early intervention, but before that even began, Braxton started to do very surprising things. The entries in my calendar went from one or two new things a week to dozens and dozens of observations a day-words spoken, changes in play, reduction in repetitive behaviors, and more. When therapy began, imagine my surprise as we discovered that all the work I had been doing with Braxton closely resembled Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy! ABA is considered THE most effective treatment for children on the spectrum. Over and over, therapists made suggestions and handed me sheets of activities and I would say, “Oh, I’ve been doing that already!” I believe God gave me supernatural wisdom and put those ideas in my mind. He gave Braxton a jumpstart on recovery!

Braxton kept making rapid progress. My calendar was crammed full of new and exciting signs in teeny tiny writing to get it all to fit, but strangely, I kept battling disappointment. I think I truly was expecting to wake up one morning, peer into the crib, and find God had completely healed him overnight. I struggled to trust in the Lord’s ways. At one point I threw up my hands and said to myself, “Okay, it just is what it is and I’m going to have to accept that!” That very Sunday as our pastor was praying to open the service, he felt the Lord give him a word for someone in the congregation. He said that someone was discouraged with a situation and had decided it is what it is, but God was saying “It is what I say it’s going to be.” I sat up very straight in my seat after that. The Lord revealed to me this was going to be a stitch-by-stitch deal and I needed to decide right then whether to trust in Him even when the situation wasn’t looking so good. I marvel at His mercy in picking me up and putting me back on the path of faith even when I was ignoring all of the amazing things we were seeing in Braxton.

Looking back, one of the most wonderful things about facing this obstacle has been how God revealed his character to me, how he gave me scriptures to address my worries, and sent people to speak words of encouragement just at the right moment. Jesus is intimately acquainted with our sufferings and wants us to know how deeply he cares for us.

At a critical moment in my journey,  I began to go over and over in my mind what happened, and tried to figure out if there was something I had done (or hadn’t done) that caused Braxton’s condition. I was burdened down with feelings of guilt, wondering if I should have spotted something earlier, or fed him a special diet from the beginning knowing my family history. I asked Jamie over and over if he thought the changes we observed coincided with any vaccinations he was given. Should I have paid more attention to him instead of leaving him to his own devices during the first trimester of my second pregnancy? I was making myself nuts, no question about it. Out of the blue, a good friend texted me. Our conversation  went something like this:

Friend: I hope this doesn’t sound weird, but God has been putting something on my heart to tell you. He wants me to say, “Remember, it’s not your fault.”

Me: (crying a little) Wow! Just yesterday I wished I could know for sure that it wasn’t something I had done to cause Braxton’s condition. God was spying on my thoughts! Well…obviously.

Friend: Oh good! I didn’t want to sound crazy!

It amazes me how God knew my thoughts and cared too much to let me stay in that place of negativity. He wanted to set me free so I could continue to move forward and see all the marvelous things he was going to do. The reason I’m sharing my testimony is because the Lord spoke to me and asked me to begin giving Him the glory now, before seeing the completion of the work. My task is to “declare the victory while triumph is still on its way”. It’s a huge risk. I could very well end up looking foolish, but I feel this is what God is asking me to do. This is my act of faith.

The journey with Braxton continues. We have watched his repetitive behaviors disappear one by one. He has gone from signing to telling us jokes and enjoying saying his bedtime prayers. We have seen him go from complete indifference to hugging his little sister when she cries. I see a charming little boy with a giant smile and a very well-developed sense of humor. I cried when he asked Jesus into his heart and again as I stood beside him during his baptism and heard his simple profession of faith.

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This journey has become an amazing gift. I’m not sure when it went from an obstacle to a springboard for my faith, but it has. I am privileged be Braxton’s mom and see life from his unique point of view. I have been given deep insights into the character of God and His unfathomable love for me and my family. The very notion of writing this story was born of the revelation of God’s love for each and every mother and the challenges we all face. God has asked me to be a part of sharing His love with you. What an amazing thing!

I can tell you with certainty each one of you has a special place in the heart of God. He is concerned about your hurts and struggles and the thoughts that weigh you down. He longs to speak into your life as specifically as He has spoken into mine. If you will let Him, He will walk beside you every step of the way and help shoulder the load.

The Unexpected Obstacle (Part 1 of 2)

Written by Janet Kibler

Edited by Becky Tankersley

Braxton was a typical baby. His birth was healthy and not out of the ordinary in any way (a typical C-section delivery, hardly uncommon these days). As new parents, we worried about all the usual things…how to get him to latch properly, how to get him to sleep through the night, and so on. He hit every milestone on time or even early. He was an extremely outgoing and flirty baby. He babbled and did anything to get the attention of the room. I was head over heels for the little guy.

Sometime between 11 and 12 months of age things began to change. Right before his first birthday, Braxton suddenly rejected all of the finger foods he had been enjoying and only wanted the smoothest of pureed baby foods. I heard the term “regression” before in connection with autism and other disorders and panicked, calling my mom. She suggested he might be teething and would be fine once the worst of the pain and soreness passed. It sounded plausible to me and I didn’t want to overreact, so I accepted it. It was better than the alternative and besides, he was still a happy little guy who was learning to walk right on time.

Then other unusual things started popping up. Braxton got quieter and didn’t really babble much anymore. I didn’t hear “dada” or “milk” (which was his first word). He played very busily and didn’t like to be interrupted. He developed an obsession with pulling up grass and sprinkling it from his hands. He never got tired of it. It was cute at first but after a while became concerning. At 14 months he was the ring bearer in my sister’s wedding. As I stood beside my sister as her matron of honor and watched Braxton being led up to the altar, I noticed instead of looking around at all of the guests, Braxton stared up at the lights the entire time. I thought, “That’s odd!” At his 15 month appointment I asked the pediatrician if he was concerned to see Braxton acting so busy and not making eye contact with him. My pediatrician felt I was overly nervous and reading too much into things. He gave me the screening questionnaire to pacify me, but between him and my husband, I felt pressured to adjust some of my answers. Is he making eye contact? Well, not NEVER, but I felt like he should have been making a lot more. I checked the yes box anyway. At 16 months he was still not talking, but I was a month away from giving birth to our daughter and couldn’t really deal with anything more. I decided to keep an eye on things and gave myself a deadline of 18 months old to see if Braxton started hitting milestones again.

About two months later we were all relaxing together as a family. I was nursing Ainsley and watching Braxton play. He was standing at my dresser flicking the handle over and over. My heart suddenly sank and I just knew Braxton was nowhere near where he should be for his age. Something was definitely up. I turned to my husband and asked him to call the pediatrician immediately and get us an evaluation. He protested, but as I listed all the reasons for my concern I could see his countenance drop as he began to realize what I said made sense and was not an overreaction. Children at 18 months are pointing at things and watching their parents’ faces to take social cues from them. They find pleasure in animals or pictures of recognizable things and can usually identify them by name or the sounds they make. Braxton didn’t care about any of those things. In fact, he only cared about the flashing lights on his toys, not comprehending their larger meaning. He smiled up at the foyer light as if it was his best friend.

We arranged to have him evaluated at Kennedy-Krieger Center. We completed the phone interview in November but the first available appointment was February 10th, my birthday. I didn’t care--I just wanted answers.

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We started the waiting game. We prayed, we researched, and we tried to convince ourselves it wasn’t autism. I have been a Christian since four years old. I tried my best to keep faith, but I bounced between faith and anger. I questioned God’s will…a LOT. I was angry with him many times and told him so. I told him I didn’t think that it was fair to put this on us after going through all the fertility treatments to conceive Braxton. We had paid our dues up front and deserved a break. It was wrong to make Braxton struggle with this. I told him many things. But God is merciful and loving. He can handle our true feelings, including our anger, and wants us to be honest with him. He knows what we are thinking anyway, so why try to hide anything from him? He would much rather help us carry our burdens than have us pull away. Despite my struggles and faltering faith, He sustained me.

During this breathless time of waiting, something miraculous started to happen. I suddenly had an enormous burst of energy and began trying anything I could think of to break through the darkness that settled over Braxton. Between caring for an infant, I talked to him all day long… non-stop. I paired it with sign language. I tried all sorts of social games to get him to interact and make eye contact. I played with him hand-over-hand to show him how to properly use toys, what they do, and how they relate to real life. It was extremely intense.

At my mom’s suggestion, I began to jot down any type of progress on a yearly calendar she gave me. I did anything I could to help us stay positive. Then it was February 10th, my birthday. After a long trip to Baltimore and an even longer evaluation, the doctor told us he was confident Braxton would fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. When we finally got back home, we shared birthday cake with my parents, but it was pretty quiet and somber. We were all in a daze trying to absorb the news.

Numb and filled with grief, we asked my in-laws to take the children for the weekend so we could take a little time for ourselves. It truly was like mourning the death of a child. You have this little boy who you know and love and suddenly he is replaced with a total stranger. That Sunday morning in church, I sat there like a stone. I didn’t hear a word that was said or have any idea what was going on. All the possible implications of the diagnosis were hitting me. What if Braxton never learned to speak? Would I ever hear him say he loved me? Would he ever be capable of affection? Would we ever be able to make him understand what it means to have a relationship with Christ and walk in His ways? As I sat there grieving, I felt what could only be described at the presence of God stealing over me like a gentle embrace. I knew the Holy Spirit wanted to comfort me. His presence grew stronger and stronger until I became aware of this all-consuming desire… to worship! I could think of nothing else. My whole situation faded away as it was replaced by a powerful sense of the sovereignty of God. By this time, the pastor was making the call to prayer. I flew up to the altar and fell face down praising and worshiping the Lord. I couldn’t stop! And as I did, the Lord spoke scripture after scripture to my heart and assured me Braxton would be able to fulfill the purpose for which he was created… to worship the Lord and enjoy him forever. I went home filled with incredible peace and ready to face the challenge.

I knew the Lord would do one of two things:

A. He would give me the grace to handle whatever this diagnosis meant.

Or

B. He would heal Braxton.

I’ll Be a Better Mom...Tomorrow

Written and Edited by Tara Sanders

Her squishy little face and those big blue eyes were looking right at me. 

“Mommy, are you awake?”

“No,” I said with a wink. 

As she crawled into bed with me for a quick morning snuggle I could hear her baby brother screaming from the next room.

Was it already time to get up?!

Since her little brother was born, I haven’t made it to bed before midnight or slept longer than 7am. It takes what feels like forever to unwind, but then the morning comes so quickly. I keep telling myself that I’ll go to bed earlier, but I have yet to execute on that plan. 

Before having kids, I had dreams of being this super mom like the ones I see on Instagram. Their kids are decked out in the latest outfits from Mini Boden and the mom looks so cute. Her hair is done and she has full make-up on.

It’s so dreamy to imagine a life like that, but who are these people? I’m lucky if I get to shower, and my kids are probably wearing what they wore the day before (if it’s still clean). Make-up? Perhaps a smithering of mascara to look less scary, but that’s usually all I have time for. 

The homes of these illustrious Insta-moms are decorated with the latest thing from West Elm, while most days my house looks like a scene from the movie Twister and my kids are running around me like whirling dervishes as I try to vacuum for the umpteenth time.

I dream about having a clean house with all the laundry done, but I’ve been told that won’t happen until they go to school. I’ve also been told that I should drink in these days of having Little’s before they grow up and start hating everything I say. But sometimes I just wish they could feed themselves breakfast and change their own diapers. 

And that’s not the tipping point. You know it’s really bad when you hide in the bathroom to check social media. The bathroom is honestly the only place I can be totally alone at any given time, and even then there’s always a risk that someone will come and find you. 

I’m overwhelmed. 

But every time I think those little dervishes are going to break me, something happens to restore my faith in motherhood. Sometimes its a good behavior or putting into practice something that I taught them. Sometimes it’s a moment of sheer joy or contentment when I feel like I’m their biggest hero. 

On the days when no one gets a bath and we eat grocery store pizza for dinner, I think to myself, “Tomorrow I’ll do better!” 

I’ll do better the next day. I’ll be on top of things. Everyone will have a bubble bath, we’ll eat roast chicken, and peace will reign in the Sanders house once again.

One of the most important lessons I learned about parenting was in college and the advice was from one of my guy friends. It was an unlikely source of deep parental wisdom, yet it became a moment that I go back to again and again when I feel like a total failure as a mom. 

After a disappointing summer as a camp counselor, I met my friend at a local coffee shop to catch up. I was in the middle of venting about my horrible summer and what a terrible camp counselor I was, when he chimed in with a piece a wisdom far beyond both of our years and something that has always stuck with me. 

It went something like this: 

Jeremiah: Tara, did you feed those kids lunch everyday?

Me: Yes

Jeremiah: Tara, did you keep those kids safe everyday?

Me: Yes

Jeremiah: Did you love those kids well?

Me: Yes

Jeremiah: Well then, you did your job by taking care of those kids the best you could. If you don’t see the fruit of that it doesn’t mean that you didn’t do a good job.

Phew!

Wherever you are Jeremiah, thank you for those words. I’m holding on to them when I feel like the worst mom ever. I’m also trying to remember that I’m not the source of their ultimate joy and satisfaction in life. I’m learning day by day to surrender that to the Lord.

So for now, I’ll kiss those sweet faces, feed them nutritious food, change all the diapers, read them lots of stories and not wish away today for what may or may not be a better tomorrow. 

 

 

 

Out of Hiding

Written by Becky Tankersley

Edited by Tara Sanders

My 6-year old and I went shopping for some t-shirts for school. (We live in Atlanta which means it can be chilly in the morning and hot by noon, so we layer up!) She picked out a shirt with text message emojis because she thought it was super cute, and she felt excited to wear it.

Later that week I helped her pick out her clothes for school. I held up the shirt and said “Hey, do you want to wear your new shirt tomorrow?”

She shuffled her feet and looked down. “No….” she replied. “Why not?” I asked, surprised.

“Well… I’m afraid the other kids at school won’t like it, and they’ll get mad at me or think it’s dumb.”

I felt a bit stunned. I knew this day would come; the day when the opinions of others and the judgements of this world would impact her choices and her feelings about herself. But I’ll be honest—I didn’t expect it to start at 6. I thought this was one of those tween or pre-teen problems that was a few years ahead of us; certainly not now. A small piece of my heart broke for her, and hurt welled in me over our broken world—a world that would make my precious girl ever doubt how amazing and incredible she is. This—the doubts—starts now; at the sweet, tender age of 6.

As a woman, and as a person, I certainly relate to how she feels. Can’t we all? Doubt is always there in the back of our minds, making us question what we say, what we do, what we wear, and how we behave. It’s exhausting.

This week as I spent time in God’s word, and the Lord spoke to me about these feelings we all experience; the doubt, the fear of judgement, and most of all our inclination to hide. These are not new concepts.

“But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”” 

~Genesis 3:9-10 (NIV)

From the beginning of time, actually, since the fall, we’ve been hiding from God. In Genesis we’re told God was walking through the garden when Adam and Eve, ashamed for disobeying God, hid from Him. They were afraid, and doubted His love for them. God was there… God was seeking them out… God was looking for them. Why? Not because He was angry, but because He cared for them and He loved them. Yet they hid. It’s in our core to hide ourselves when we’re afraid of what others will think of us or when we feel doubt or shame.

One of the beautiful qualities of children, especially young ones, is they have no doubt or shame or guilt… they love who they are, know they are loved, and walk confidently in that knowledge. But as we grow, at some point, the world creeps in and whispers “Are you sure? Are you sure you’re enough? I don’t know about that….”  And my, how strong that whisper is.

Yet there’s another whisper that calls for our attention. The whisper of the Lord saying “I’m here. I’m enough. I’m walking through the garden of your life, looking for you. Seeking you. Loving you. Yes, I know you have doubts, but there is no doubt in my love for you.”

Of course Adam and Eve had to face up to what they had done. Of course the Lord reacted accordingly. But lest we forget, He acted in love when He made the first clothes to cover them and help them to deal with the shame they felt. In the midst of their shame, God clothed them not only to cover their nakedness, but because He loved them. Where we feel doubt, He feels love and compassion.

Back to that moment, as I listened to my daughter share her fears, I took a deep breath and hugged her and told her what other people think doesn’t matter. I told her that I understood how she felt… and life and growing up are hard. But if she lives her life trying to make everyone else in the world happy, the one person who will never be happy is her. She is enough, just as she is—the beautiful soul God designed her to be.

Over the past few days, once my daughter is asleep, I go into her room and look at her, trying to figure out how in the world she grew up so quickly. Six years seems like it should pass a lot slower than it has. I lean down and place my hand on her and pray for her. I pray for her heart… her spirit… her mind… and her soul. I pray God will wrap His arms around her every day. And I remember that as much as I feel like she’s mine… she’s not. She belongs to Him. I, as a mother, am simply a steward. God has plans for her, and right now it’s my job to protect her, build her up, and remind her how much she is loved, just as she is.

When staring down my own doubts a year ago, I heard “come out of hiding” and immediately caught my breath. When I replayed it, I broke down in tears. We’ve all been hiding, and doubting ourselves, for so long. It’s time to come out, friends. God is waiting for us with open arms.


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From Advent to Lent: Finding Hope in the Waiting

Written by Amber Crafton

Edited by Janet Kibler

I love Advent, but the 2017 season was especially meaningful. I experienced a fresh intimacy with God as I worked through readings from IF:Equip, an online discipleship resource, that touched on various encounters people had with Jesus while He walked the earth. I was especially convicted when one of the contributors suggested that Advent is really about the labor of waiting and God’s faithfulness in it, but because waiting is hard and often painful, we gloss over it, focusing instead on the joy of the celebration and missing out on the gifts found only in the waiting. I instantly nodded to myself in agreement, but spent the following two weeks ruminating on that idea, wondering if I was subconsciously trying to skip the waiting God might be asking of me, thereby missing out on gifts from Him that could only be unwrapped in the waiting spaces.

That idea haunted me, and the more I meditated on it, the more sense it made. After all, waiting is such a prolific theme in the Bible and a fundamental part of the human experience—one I prefer to avoid whenever possible! I felt God impressing on my heart that I needed to slow down, discover the waiting spaces that exist in my life right now, and press into them rather than try to avoid or ignore them, and in that way observe my own year of Advent, waiting for Him to come.

I spent the first couple of weeks this year figuring out what that would look like. After all, there are tons of resources for observing the Christmas Advent season but none for a year-long observance. I decided to start by reading the book Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent by Enuma Okoro. It focuses on Zechariah and Elizabeth and considers themes like waiting individually and in community, the grief of unanswered prayer, and what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of prolonged waiting.

The book arrived around the middle of January, and I dove in . . . right around the time I dove headlong into a cancer scare, financial setbacks, and unexpected emotional backlash related to childhood trauma that was triggered by the medical tests. My original plan had been to follow the book’s structure and spend four consecutive weeks reading through it, but I was struggling just to get through my days emotionally intact, so it felt like a monumental feat to read just one day’s reading per week. Praise God, I do not have cancer! But on the other side of those horrific two weeks, I found myself drowning emotionally and feeling discouraged over my inability to follow through on this Advent experiment.

It took me four weeks to get through just one week of that book! But I told myself I could still make it work, since I would finish week one just in time for Lent, at which point I planned to begin a Lenten study through Exodus. The timing seemed providential; after all, there’s a lot of waiting that happens in the book of Exodus and a lot of waiting and vigil implicit in Lent. So that would keep me perfectly in step with what God had set before me. I could pick back up with the Advent book after Lent was over and take my time finishing it. Course correction accepted, and problem solved!

Except . . . I’m a nanny working for three families, and the night before the Lent study began, I got a text informing me one of the kids was sick and asking me to work full days until he recovered. He was sick all week. Once again I found myself stumbling through my days, just trying to keep up with regular life and a higher-than-usual time demand from one family or another that has continued ever since.

I never did begin that study, and now Easter is upon us and I feel like an utter failure. Don’t get me wrong; my observance of Lent is completely voluntary, and no one is heaping shame on my head. But I love Lent and believe in its purpose and effect, so I feel like I’m failing myself in a season when I am most in need of its benefits.

In my grief over the loss of that Lenten richness, I find myself thinking back to past observances, and the one that impacted me the most is from Holy Week 2016. That year She Reads Truth, another online Bible study resource, did a “Holy Week in Real Time” series in which the daily readings followed Jesus’ activities each day of his final week. It was a profound experience to meditate on His activities, conversations, and interactions leading up to His death. He took His time walking through that week, and I don’t blame Him! I imagine He was savoring the time He had left, but also dreading where He was headed.

What impacted me the most was the experience of the disciples the day after Jesus was killed. They had started the week on a high, entering Jerusalem with their Lord to the cheers and jubilation of the crowds that hailed Him as the long-awaited Messiah. They ended the week watching their Hope suffer an unjust trial, brutal beatings, humiliations untold, and a horrific, public execution.

The next day, they sat in a room together, stunned, frightened, and confused. Trying to wrap their heads around what happened. Wondering what now. Waiting.

While I can’t fathom what that was like for them—what it must have felt like to be alive on this earth during the two days when the Son of God was actually, truly dead—I still resonate with those moments on some level. I came into this year expectant and hopeful, excited even, and right now I feel like that has all been ripped away from me in a whirlwind of trauma, frenzy, and chaos that blew in and blew out before I could process that something was even amiss. And I feel powerless to do anything about it. Except wait.

Psalm 40 has been especially comforting to me in this season:

I waited patiently for the Lᴏʀᴅ,

And He turned to me and heard my cry for help.

He brought me up from a desolate pit,

out of the muddy clay,

and set my feet on a rock.

making my steps secure. (vv. 1-2)

I think of those disciples, waiting in the desolate pit of their grief, fear, and confusion, crying out to Yahweh for help. And then suddenly Jesus showed up. Flesh and bone. In a garden. In the room. On the road. By the seashore. He showed up, and He kept showing up. And every time, He kept saying, “Don’t you remember what I told you about all this? Weren’t you listening?”

And He is showing up for me too. In these Easter-predicting verses. In a reverberating whisper.

[I] do not delight in sacrifice and offering;

[I] open [your] ears to listen.

[I] do not ask for a whole burnt offering or a sin offering.

See I have come. (vv. 6-7)

I hear Him gently saying, Don’t you remember what I told you? Are you trying to sacrifice, or are you listening?

And I respond.

Lᴏʀᴅ do not withhold Your compassion from me;

Your constant love and truth will always guard me.

For troubles without number have surrounded me;

My sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.

They are more than the hairs of my head,

And my courage leaves me.

Lᴏʀᴅ, be pleased to deliver me;

Hurry to help me, Lᴏʀᴅ. (vv. 11-13)

 

Lord, please open my ears to listen.

 

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A New Season

Written by Toni Shiloh

Edited by Tara Sanders

There’s a beauty in the spring season that I always look forward to as I watch trees sprouting greenery and colorful flowers blooming. As I walk in creation, listening to the birds chirp as if they’re welcoming me into a brand new day, I’m thankful for the opportunity God has given me to see His creation and the beauty of the changing seasons. From winter to spring, there’s a beauty that’s indescribable and a reminder of God’s truth that beckons me to recognize His ways.

Our faith life can mimic nature in many ways. In a winter season of faith, we can be beaten down by the cold and the death of things we longed for. A barrage of storms can bend us and tear us down like trees, but it is not our end. God promises to do something new in our life, just as the newness of spring greets us.

I’m patiently waiting to leave a season of sickness. In the past month I’ve dealt with surgery, my youngest child being admitted to hospital with pneumonia, and my husband and other son having to deal with the common cold that’s prevalent in the winter season. None of these came with a break in between but slammed up against one another.

Still, I hold onto God’s promise:

“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

~ Isaiah 43:18-19 NKJV

I’ve learned that hard times are not meant to last. Death to dreams does not mean nothing better will ever come. We need a season to grieve and a season to mourn, but we should also embrace the season to rejoice and to embrace the newness God is offering us. While I haven’t left this “old” season, I look forward to the new things that God has in store for me as I turn the next corner.

So this spring season, as you walk in His creation, seek His glory. Seek the new He has for you and embrace the fresh air of a new season.

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How Do I Get There from Here? Making Those God-breathed Dreams a Reality.

Written by Janet Kibler

Edited by Susie Kumah

Getting older is such an interesting process. When you are young, life seems to be made up of all sorts of small disconnected experiences strung together. What does it all mean? Where is it all leading? You have no idea. You have the whole rest of your life stretching before you. Anything is possible and it’s almost as though you are looking down a bleached desert highway squinting into the blinding sunlight. The future is an indistinct outline against the harsh rays. You can’t see how the difficulties and traumas of growing up are forming you for the future; what those experiences may be fitting you for. It’s only with time that you begin to see how all the pieces are coming together to prepare you for the work God has for you to do.

I’ve been there. In fact, I’m there right now. At least these past weeks have been ones of delving deep into God’s heart to see what it is he wants our family to do. It doesn’t scare me in the paralyzing way it once did. Oh sure, I’m still plenty scared-but I’ve come to think of that as a good thing. It means that I’m about to be challenged and I think it’s good for the soul. The thought that I could do something that could possibly fail, but on the other hand, could succeed in a big way is intriguing. I’m old enough to have failed enough to see that I will, in fact, survive. As long as I don’t take risks like base jumping or sky diving, I should be in pretty good shape! And when I have made a mistake, it’s typically not as horrible as I imagine it will be. So it’s become a prickly, back of the neck sensation, like when you are about to crest that first huge incline of a really insane roller coaster. Adventure!

How did I get from that place of fear to this place? How did I come from curling up in the fetal position to that tickle of excitement?

At this point, I’m beginning to see how my past experiences have come together to prepare me for bigger responsibilities. Those painful high school years have taught me what it means to forgive and give grace. Then, as a young adult, filling the needs of a small church’s youth ministry instilled patience in me, especially in dealing with the rough family backgrounds of many of the kids under my supervision. I am who I am today because of the lessons I learned during those early years of ministry.

Right now, God is speaking to me and my husband about being involved in ministry to support families of special needs children. Having a child of our own with different abilities, not to mention, the countless events leading up to now, have prepared us for what is about to be. We can speak into the lives of others in the same situation, having walked a few miles in their shoes! We can see that so clearly. It’s such a peaceful feeling to know that nothing in your life has been wasted when it has been entrusted to the Lord’s capable hands.

But what does this ministry look like? Are we educating local churches through public speaking? Are we spear-heading a children’s program in our home church? Are we staying or moving on? The light is so bright, we have no idea what’s more than one or two short steps ahead. But our feet are on the path and we are saying, “Yes!”

What is it that burns in your heart? Or what is that dream that you can see vaguely taking shape on the horizon? How do you get there from here?

I have a few suggestions and I hope that they will encourage you to take that next step or two!

Start with prayer and the Word! I don’t know how God is tugging at your heart. It can happen in so many ways. But being in prayer and in the Word helps you to be sensitive to His leading. When the Lord spoke to me several years ago about starting a MOPS group in our church, it simply started at the intersection of two separate needs. The group I belonged to had ballooned to over eighty moms with over a hundred children. We were out of room! Many of the ladies expressed concern over our ability to intimately connect with so many moms. At the same time, I was just sorting through the diagnosis of our young son with autism spectrum disorder. He was evaluated through the county and placed in a preschool autism class in the public school nearby. In the course of conversation with his teacher, MOPS came up. The next thing I knew, teachers were contacting me, asking me to invite mothers of children in their class. Over and over, they expressed a desire to see lonely, overwhelmed moms receive support and friendship. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment it happened, but the Lord presented me with these two needs and gave me a burden. I remember sitting in one of our meetings when God suddenly spoke to me saying, “These women need a place to go. If they can’t find a place where they will hear about my love for them, they will find some place, any place, where they will grasp at anything that seems like the truth.” My honest-to-goodness response was, “Oh no! But I am so comfortable here! Isn’t there someone else?” His response: “I am doing something here. You can be a part of it or not. The choice is yours.” I realized I didn’t want to miss the chance to be a part of what He was going to do. I’m so glad I said yes!

Seek the counsel of trusted spiritual mentors! It can be a close friend who sharpens you in the Lord, a family member, or pastoral leadership. I have a business associate who has an amazing walk with God. I learn so much from him, especially from his role as both a business leader and a witness for Christ, but honestly, I can call on him for any sort of advice. He is a second “spiritual dad” to me. This was our next step after prayer. I personally spoke with three trusted friends prior to a meeting we had with the leadership of our church to discuss how a ministry like this could look.

Take it one step at a time! The Lord has confirmed the direction you are to take. Now what? Starting any kind of ministry or venture is huge and can be daunting. When those tribal drums start beating in the deep dark jungles of your brain, and you start heading to that crazy place where you KNOW you must be absolutely insane to think you can ever start chipping away at this mountain with a toothpick, and the ideas are swirling around like a tornado, throwing your entire life into chaos--------just take a deep breath! If God has called you to do something, He is not going to abandon you now! All you really need to do is take that first step. What is one small thing you can do today to move this forward? For me, that first step is to put together an intake form for parents to fill out, so that we can determine how best to serve each child. (They are all so different!) And that’s it...that is all I am going to worry about today.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! Try out some ideas. If they fall flat, scrap ‘em. It’s fine…really! This is how you learn. Accept that mistakes will be made and that this is part of the process God WANTS to take you through. Any calling, any ministry that you are involved in, is not solely for the benefit of those you will serve. It is also for the purpose of drawing you into a deeper, more intimate relationship with the Lord. When I knew without a doubt that I would be starting the MOPS group, I looked up to Heaven and said, “You are going to teach me a lot about loving people, aren’t you?” And boy, did He ever! I made so many mistakes, but it was so worth it. What an adventure!

Now, here I am with those same prickles of fearful excitement, ready to begin a new adventure. I can’t wait to see what God has in store. Dear reader, wherever you are, I hope you will say yes. You will never regret it!

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Women's Retreat Talk

In October of 2015, I had the privilege of speaking at a Women's Retreat. Today, I came across my talk while going through archived blogs, and felt the need to share it again.  

That day, I spoke about finding your identity in Christ. It's a subject close to my heart because of my own struggles with identity. I also feel that a crisis of identity has led many other women, like me, down paths of self-destruction, depression, and the loss of any sense of self-worth or value. While this talk was a testimony of sorts, it was also a plea for women to come to a place of being fulfilled, satisfied, and confident in the Lord's unique plan and purpose for each one of us. 

In order to prepare for my talk, I worked for a month every night from 9 p.m. to, at times, 1:30 in the morning. I don't think I have ever poured myself into something more. This talk was woven together from life experience, God's faithfulness, scripture, and the Holy Spirit. I am not a professional speaker and this was my first time giving a talk at an event like this. With that said, I hope that you can "hear" past my own shortcomings in order to gain some perspective on where you find and place your identity. 

The file size is large, so it is in Dropbox. You can listen to it by clicking the link below.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/fnjz3gosv1y3g80/2015-10-24_Sanders.mp3?dl=0

 

 

 

When Love Takes Flight

Written by Deborah Hackett

Edited by Alexis Martina

Looking back, I thought God had shown me the testosterone-fueled gift he had selected to be my husband five times before I met The Actual One. That’s right, five times. Discernment isn’t my gift. All I can tell you is that God’s plan blew mine out of the water.

The real love story of my life began on December 19, 1998. I needed to be at a soccer game but instead found myself on a cold airfield in Northern England, going flying with a fighter pilot, thanks to – I’m now going to insert two words that will horrify many of you – my mother. (Who wants their momma to fix them up?)

My mother had deemed my life to be devoid of fun: I was running a busy radio news team and had joined the Reserves. My life revolved around working, working out, or soldiering, and momma wasn’t happy. So she spoke with Derek, a dear family friend who flew sailplanes, and asked him to take me to his gliding club to meet new people and develop a new interest. His response: “I know just the person.” 

Shortly thereafter, literature about the Royal Air Force display pilot Flight Lieutenant Willy Hackett began appearing at the house. Then one day, Derek said that he had been telling Willy about me, and Willy had offered to take me flying. I had no interest in flying, but as he was a friend of a very close friend, I didn’t want to seem ungrateful. I accepted the offer, unaware that my life was about to change forever.

My first impression as Willy walked across the blacktop toward me was that he didn’t look much like my idea of a fighter pilot. “Danger Zone” was probably playing in my mind. He didn’t look desperately healthy, and not one item of clothing matched. (It turns out it was the morning after his station’s Christmas ball and he’d had three hours of sleep.) But then he extended his hand to shake mine and he smiled.

Hello, sparkly blue-grey eyes. They still slay me.

We went flying and he didn’t feel like someone I’d just met at all. I’m sure the flight was fine (I know he greased the landing because he has crazy mad skills), but all I remember is how easily the conversation flowed. Afterwards we had a cup of tea while we completed the required paperwork (British, y’all), and he explained he had done dozens of interviews as a display pilot. When I learned that he had never been to a radio station, I gave him a business card and said if he’d ever like to look around one, to get in touch. Hand on heart, I wasn’t flirting. I’d just come out of a bad breakup and thought a fighter pilot would be way out of my league.

A week later, he called and we made plans to meet for drinks on New Year’s Day (two diet cokes - I’m not high maintenance). Again, I was fascinated talking to him. I always tell people I fell in love with a storyteller.

We went back to his apartment, where I had parked, and he invited me in for a cup of tea. (That’s not code for a little extra: we are British. It really was a cup of tea.) I was excited to be spending more time with him, but although conversation flowed easily as we sipped our tea, he kept looking at his watch. So I decided to put the poor man out of his misery and leave while I still had some amount of dignity left after apparently boring him rigid. Out of politeness, I thanked him for the drinks and said if he were ever in the town I worked in I’d return the favor. I was dumbfounded when he suggested the following night.

Instead of drinks, we attended a party for my boss, who was a hobby pilot; I knew he’d love to meet Willy. It was there that Cupid struck. As I walked out to meet Willy, he was just turning around and it hit me: he was here with me. A lovely, handsome, intriguing and successful man had agreed to come to a work party with a woman he barely knew and a bunch of strangers. That night, I was taken aback by his patience, kindness, and humility.

In the months that ensued, I learned the difference between crush, infatuation, and love. My feelings for and reactions to Willy were totally different. I had dated some great guys. But dating my intended was very different. There was a compulsion to see him whenever possible, like someone had stretched the elastic between us and let go. And I wasn't excited to see him, I was ecstatic to the point of nausea and actually had a mix tape (19 years ago) to help me relax as I drove to see him.

Over the years, more dates followed, along with deployments, joys, struggles, and triumphs. Almost twenty years and two children later, I love him more dearly every day. When I see him snuggle one of our little girls, when I watch him get in a plane or talk about flying, when he tears up at a chance to help someone out, when he bows his head in prayer, I am ever reminded how thankful I am for this miraculous gift.

Oh, and we solved the mystery of him looking at his watch on that New Year’s Day date so long ago: he’d just been given a brand new Brietling watch with an image of his plane on it!

But here’s the kicker. It turns out that first day we met, he’d been told I wanted to interview him, while I’d thought he had made a kind offer to a friend of a friend. What began as a secret set-up changed our whole lives.

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Adventures in Dating: Vignettes from Dates Gone Wrong

Written by Heather Waldorf & Laura Pedemonti

Edited by Kathleen Morris & Tara Sanders

Three brave women came forward to tell us about their hilarious dating mishaps, misunderstandings, and misadventures. The great thing is that we can (almost) all relate to them and laugh with them about it now. This is all in good jest, so we hope you have fun reading them!

Story #1: The Ride of My Life and "The Allergy"

Fact: On a first date, one should refrain from bathroom talk.

Many years ago, I used Match.com, right when it first came out, before it was actually a reputable thing.  I'm pretty sure their filter system could have used a few more tweaks to it.

A certain young man and I discovered we were a “match” and chatted back and forth via email for about a week before deciding to meet for dinner. Since he only lived about 45 minutes from me, we figured, “Why waste time on email?”  Looking back, “wasting” a little more time might have actually been a good thing and could have spared me a great deal of embarrassment.


When he picked me up, I was pleasantly surprised by his “easy on the eyes” appearance.  My mind did not have long to wonder about why he was still single.  Within 5 minutes of being in the car with him, I knew.  His driving. Not kidding. For some reason, he found it necessary to make eye contact with me as he proceeded to ask me about 50 questions while driving in a straight line down a curvy road during rush hour traffic. I am pretty sure my life flashed before my eyes a few times and I screamed "Dear Jesus!" at least a dozen times. Luckily, the restaurant he chose was only five minutes from my apartment, or I am sure I would have actually met Jesus that night.

As the night went on, I came to fully understand why he was still single (and his driving was only a small part of it). Before we even ordered our dinners, he was mouthing off very rudely to the waitress. As she walked away, he continued to make fun of her. I was cringing on the inside hoping no one around heard him because he was loud.

At that time, I was not much of a drinker, even socially, but that night it was clear that a huge glass of sangria was necessary.  When he offered to order something, I very eagerly accepted. After we ordered dinner, he excused himself to go to the bathroom. I think, no joke, he was gone for ten minutes. I ordered a second glass of sangria and started eating my dinner, praying that maybe I was not what he was looking for and he had left.  Maybe I was going to have a nice night alone! But no, he eventually returned. After he sat down, he apologized and proceeded to tell me he was lactose intolerant and something he had eaten caused some “potty problems.” He proceeded to talk, in detail, about his experience. I must have been five shades of red and was totally ready to throw up my bang bang shrimp.

The evening did not improve.  He was, of course, unhappy with his meal and made a big stink about it, totally embarrassing the waitress and me. I’m not sure if it's because my memory was trying to forget about this night or if I had too much to drink, but I think I ordered a third glass of sangria as dessert – but only because I knew I had a terrifying five-minute drive back to my apartment and thought taking the edge off with another drink was my key to survival.

Obviously, I lived to tell this story. And I'm glad that online dating sites have since become a reputable way of meeting someone; however, that night I decided, as I disabled my match.com account, that I would simply stick to the old-fashioned way of meeting men – getting set up! At least then I could have someone else to blame if it turned out bad! This experience? Well, this experience was totally my doing.

~Heather

Story #2: Dinner and a Tournament (of Sorts)

Fact: Italians take their food (and dating) very seriously

I dated this guy several years back.  One night, he asked me over to his house for dinner.  While I definitely thought it was a wee premature to invite me, practically a stranger, into his house for our third date, I knew he was harmless.  Well, kind of…

Let me just start off by telling you that, as an Italian with two parents who are very competent cooks, the only jarred sauce we ever had was sauce they’d made (and jarred) themselves with tomatoes from their organic garden.  And if the jar did have a label, it was a homemade, masking tape one that said something like “Marinara - July 1999."

Full disclosure: my expectations were definitely high going into the dinner.  

As I watched him "make" dinner, my heart sank a little bit when I noticed he was making me pasta….with jarred sauce…that had a label. He said he "made" me garlic bread, but it turned out to be bread from a foil bag that had been under UV lights at a grocery store all day. Ugh! (Take note, my non-Italian friends, this is indeed not garlic bread. And even if the bag says “Garlic Bread,” be warned, it’s not what it professes! It’s more like oily dough with green, fake parsley flecks and burnt, granulated garlic-like grit.)  Next was bottled Italian dressing on a salad that came in a bag. And honestly, this would not have been an offensive meal (to a red-blooded Italian) had he just said that he didn’t really MAKE anything but rather "arranged" everything. Needless to say, it was an awkward dinner at best. But something in me kept wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt, though; I may have been wrong.

After he cleaned up from dinner, he told me to go into his living room.  He said he'd be right back.  I had no idea what he was doing until I saw him come out of the basement.  He was wearing a brown Jedi cape.  He was holding two light sabers which were full length and fully working. Specifically, the kind that makes the laser sounds when you swing them.  One was for me.  He told me to get up and duel with him.  “Duel with him?” I thought as I scanned the room to find my coat in an effort to miss our first (and what would be our last) Star Wars fencing tournament.  I swore I left my body. My mind tried to understand how I (of ALL of the 7.442 billion people in our non-fantasy world) was literally getting off the couch to take the saber.  I held on tight, and I waved it.  That’s what people do when they hold those things, right?  Had I known he would see this as a mating call of sorts, I would have kept it still and could have also avoided his return swing which left me with a bruise on my right upper thigh.  

I’m not exactly certain of the events that happened next.  I think he actually wanted a kiss?  This was a while ago, and I know the mind tries to forget nights like this one.  But I’m pretty sure I was so flustered that I neglected to thank him for the fake Italian night and for the once in a lifetime chance to cut air with someone.  I’m also pretty sure we went out another time (I mean, someone can’t ALWAYS be THAT weird, can they?), but it just got worse.  Fearing that I would one day have to name my child “Hans” or “Leia,” I decided it was best to use my force and put an end to something that would never, ever be.  

~Laura

Story #3: A Very Unfortunate Event

Fact: A date can go wrong, but still end in matrimony.

It was date night with my (unbeknownst to me at the time) future husband. We had been officially dating for about 6 months, and I was still a bit reserved around him because I was pretty young and new to the whole dating thing. Aunt Flo happened to be in town, and I hadn't had the opportunity to “freshen up” all day at work. The only backup I had came out of its wrapper in my bag, and I thought surely my insides will not appreciate this ratty piece of pen-stained cotton. With no replacement to work with, I had kept in what I was wearing all day long, not unlike a high stakes gambler. 


My beau and I worked together and had an early staff Christmas party at a nice restaurant to start the night. I instinctually (read: I’d done this before) made a makeshift pad to prevent further leakage. You’re hoping that something embarrassing happened there at the holiday party, aren’t you? Well, it didn't, but I needed to get that thing out FAST, or it was going to do it all by itself. My dilemma was that, after dinner, we were going back to his place before we left again for our actual date. (His place being a house full of men.) 

“Hey,” I said as we stood outside waiting for our car, “I need to go to the bathroom again before we leave the restaurant.”

“Why’s that?” he asked. “We're two minutes from my house and the valet driver is about to pull up.”

So I caved, embarrassed to make it seem too urgent, and decided I'd remove the product at his place - with no replacement, mind you, but I am not above wadding up TP to create a temporary solution. I knew, however, that I only had two options for disposing of the used item, and neither were going to work for me. 


Option # 1: Dispose of it, wrapped tightly and neatly, in the [empty] bathroom trashcan shared by two guys. Problem: they had a dog in the house plus cream colored carpets. Dogs love digging through the trash. Also, what bachelor regularly changes out the powder room wastebasket? 

Option # 2: Flush it. Problem: I have lingering trauma from living in a century-old house full of girls who naively flushed their feminine products and created horrific plumbing backup in our house (and consequently, the house full of jocks next door). We are talking MAJOR issues and I will spare you the details. My boyfriend’s house, too, was older and I didn’t know a thing about their plumbing situation. So, do I really need to explain? All I needed was to picture the face of a repulsed college boy discovering a wad of flushed tampons in his yard (that the annoyed plumber had thrown there) and place it on my suitor and his 30-something professional roommate.  

What was I to do? Thinking on my feet in a stark white bathroom merely yards away from the man with whom I was falling in love, my third and only option was to find a fast, clean way to store it temporarily. So, I wrapped the item up extra tight, placed it in the tupperware that I used for lunch that day, and stuck it in my bag and carried it around for the rest of our romantic date. What he didn’t know didn’t hurt him, and I wooed him with my charm and crisis-averting wit instead of scarring him with a plumbing fiasco.  

With several years of marriage now under our belt, I’m confident to say that I’m partnered with a man who would have said yes to me no matter what the disaster had been.

~Anonymous

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The Date Night Jar

Written by: Ashley Gibert

Edited by: Becky Tankersley

After the birth of our first daughter Caroline, my husband and I had a hard time connecting. She had bad colic, so we were up to our elbows in diapers, Windis, and gas drops. That summer, we went through the entire series of Top Chef. Night after night my husband sat holding her while bouncing on an exercise ball. This was the only thing that seemed to calm her down.

Pretty soon, our regular date nights went from staring into one another’s eyes over long cups of coffee to staring catatonically at the TV while munching on ice cream (I’m still trying to work off those pounds, but I digress….). When we did talk, it was generally about our daughter or the content of her diapers! I vividly remember crying in the car on our way from one Thanksgiving Dinner to another because we just {sob}…weren’t {sob}…connecting {sniffle}!

ENTER: The Date Night Jar. My husband says he’s not romantic, which may be true in a Barry White & candles sort of way. But when it comes to being thoughtful in ways that really set my heart aflutter, he TOTALLY gets it. He took to Pinterest and came up with a jar full of date ideas. He wrote them on individual hearts, which he cut out of construction paper!—and almost all of them could be done at home, no babysitter required.

IMG_5044.JPG

 

We set aside Tuesdays as our date night. Each Tuesday, we picked a date idea out of the jar for the following week, giving us time to plan ahead and purchase items as needed. Getting time together to talk and laugh, and hang out over something OTHER than Netflix, did wonders for our marriage.

These were a few of my favorite ideas from the jar:

·       Pick a RomCom from our collection and watch it together.

·       Make homemade pizza together.

·       Pick out three types of cheese, crackers and cheap wine—wine & cheese party for two!

·       Play a favorite board game.

·       Picnic on the front porch.

·       BLACKOUT! Turn off all the lights and devices; light candles; see what happens (my personal favorite).

Three years and another daughter later, we’ve managed to find a new normal. These days, it’s just naturally a little easier to connect in the midst of the chaos, so we haven’t dipped into our jar in a long time!  But we still set aside one night a week for an at home “date night” (which may still involve ice cream and Top Chef—why does watching that show make me so hungry?!).

What really touched me about the Date Night Jar was the time and thought my husband put into creating something that would make me feel loved. It really warmed my heart, and helped us connect in a whole new way. Maybe your sweetheart doesn’t need a Date Night Jar…but figure out what makes them feel truly loved. That’s romance. 

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