Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Project 365: Week 7

I bought this little bench for Snapper's American Girl dolls. Pixie--our resident diva--had other ideas.

Pepper has come so far this year in his writing! He is starting to put words together.

Pepper helped me make lemon bars. He did most of the work himself! 

On Good Friday, Matt and I went with our friend Ira & Brandee, Curt & Tracie, to go see a stage performance called "The One." To say it was wonderful would be an understatement. I was blown away! It was a perfect way to prepare my heart for Easter.

Brian and Carol are some of our best friends. They--along with their girls--are here on vacation, staying with us for a week!

Easter family photo. As Matt pointed out, each face tells a story. A lizard ran over Snapper's foot. She screamed and scared Pepper. The rest of us caught the hilarity of the situation. My favorite photo from the day!

Morning devotions with Daddy/Uncle Matt

Project 365: Week 6

We enjoyed the splash pad on a hot, April day.

At Awana this night, I got to walk Payton through the process of receiving Jesus as her Savior! There is no greater joy!

Ever the sense of humor! Snapper was clowning around in her new hat.

Remember my friend Bev who has leukemia? She came down to Orlando for vacation with her family. We loved getting to spend some time with them.

Hanging out with swim buddies while waiting for the meet to start.

My faithful, dependable friend Mt. Never Rest!

Snack break during a long afternoon spent car shopping

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Glorious End and One Bright Beginning

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore, we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved;
He uttered His voice, the earth melted.

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has made desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariot in fire.

Be still and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

The last year has been an incredible journey. In the last 13 months, we have:
  • Prepared our house in Little Rock to sell
  • Finished a 6-year ministry with FamilyLife
  • Sold our house
  • Packed all our stuff and put it in storage
  • Drove 10,000 miles through 24 states (I think 24) in 6 weeks
  • Took all our stuff out of storage, said goodbye to our wonderful life in Little Rock, and moved to Orlando
  • Adjusted to a new life in Orlando
  • New school, new church, new friends, new swim team, new everything
As if this wasn't all enough stress, add in that our full-time job has been raising support for our ministry. Both Matt and I have been home all day, every day, doing whatever we can to connect with people and identify the funding we have needed in order to start our new ministry. It would be a fat lie to say this year--particularly the last 8 months--have been easy and fun. Yes, there have been awesome blessings, and we have come to love Orlando. But going through life without any sort of routine, and knowing that there is no specific date when life will return to "normal," is extremely stressful.

There have been some other factors that have raised the stress as well: difficulties with the overpriced rental we live in, the sad death of our car, lingering illness, and wads of red tape from the parent organization we work for. During the last week, I have clung to the words of Psalm 46, because even though all the difficulties I listed aren't squat compared to war, and the mountains falling into the sea, they are still very difficult. The greatest difficulty has been not being able to work at the job we moved to Orlando for. 8 months living here without the job has been HARD.

This too shall pass.
This is only temporary.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I AM GOD.
Sorrow may last for a {long} night, but joy comes in the morning.

And joy does come in the morning. This morning, God allowed Matt to meet with Ellis, the man who is in charge of all support raising for Campus Crusade. Ellis looked at our funding, looked at our budget, pulled out his machete, and chopped right through the wad of red tape. On Tuesday, we get to set up our office! And we get to start working with Discover God 4 Kids! This is the part of the story where I jump up and DO MY HAPPY DANCE ALL OVER THE HOUSE!

There is a "but" in here, though. We still need to raise $300 of new monthly support. It is, however, only because Ellis has our best interests in mind. He believes in us and wants us to succeed, so he has put up a matching gift! For every dollar of new monthly support we receive, Ellis will match it for a year, up to $1500. I can't even begin to express how cool and how generous it is for him to do this for us. It is an amazing shot in the arm, the encouragement we have needed. We are confident that God will flood in the last $300 of monthly support that we need. As soon as that $300 is identified, we can work full-time.

God is faithful. He has been our refuge and our strength though the last, rocky year. He has been ever present. And you know the cool thing? That will never change, even as we move forward.  Today, April 21, 2011, we exalt Him! We will be still and know that He is God. To God be the glory!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Project 365: Week 6

Poor car! The fuel pump went out, leaving us high and dry, without a registered, running car.

Once a month, my Bible study group takes lunch and an activity to a very special private school. This school provides a free, Christian education to children with special needs that come from impoverished families. This month we took pizza and told them the story of Easter using FamilyLife's Resurrection Eggs. I love these precious kids.

My husband is incredible! He replaced the fuel pump, fuel filter, spark plugs, and plug wires in the Windstar. Alas, 3 days later, the Windstar lost its cruise control, and a day later, the transmission said KA-THUNK. Later this week the poor, old Windstar will leave us for the salvage yard. We are now immediately in the market for a new(er) car.

Our car was not the only sick member of our family this week. Fortunately for me, it was a 24-hour bug.

After a rough week, we needed some fresh air and relaxing, so we went to the beach. Pepper learned how to ride the small waves on his boogie board!

My gift to my friend Tracie's son for his first birthday was photographing his birthday party. Man, does this kid know the right way to eat cake!

Snapper and her best bud DD are great helpers with DD's little sister. She loves the big kids!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Putting It Into Practice...

I am so glad I wrote that thankfulness post this morning. I am glad because it gave me the right perspective for what happened this evening.

On our way to a hotel to visit friends who are in town, we stopped at a red light. Our car shut off. Matt started it. Then he put it in gear. Well, he tried to put it in gear. The car said, "KA-THUNK!" And then it wouldn't move. You guessed it...it was the transmission.

It is now 10 p.m., and tomorrow, Teal Windstar will be leaving us for the salvage yard. At a whopping 15 years old with 225k miles on it, the cost of a new tranny is far more than the car is even worth. We are once again without a legally driveable vehicle. Am I complaining or depressed? Nope! Here's why.

1. I am thankful for the 2 years we had that car. It was given to us by a family that didn't need it. It gave us 40,000 miles, and lots of great memories.

2. I am thankful that it died on the way to the hotel at 4 p.m., instead of on the way home at 10 p.m.

3. I am thankful that Matt was driving, and that it didn't die when I was alone on my way somewhere in rush hour traffic...like I would have been if we hadn't been going to the hotel.

4. I am thankful that it happened right as we got off the freeway, not on the freeway during rush hour.

5. I am thankful for the nice man who left his car running at the stoplight in order to help us push our car to the gas station a block away.

6. I am thankful that Enterprise car rental agency was 1/4 mile away from the gas station.

7. I am thankful that the AAA tow truck was only 3 miles away, and not occupied with another call when our call came in.

8. I am thankful that a mere 30 minutes after the car died, the tow truck was hauling our car home, and we were on our way to the hotel driving the new rental car.

9. I am thankful that the money was in my bank account to cover the cost of renting a car for a week.

10. I am thankful that God already knew this was going to happen, and that He already has a solution to this car problem prepared for us.

Now we embark on the great adventure of buying another car. I am not worried about where the money is going to come from, nor am I worried about what kind of car we'll end up with. I am anticipating that God is going to do something really cool, and one week from now, I'll be driving a car that is just right for us. Stay tuned!

11. I am thankful that it was the van with no air conditioner that died!

The Thankfulness Solution

If I look around and put my eyes on me, it is easy to find plenty to complain and get depressed about. But as I discussed in my last post, thankfulness is the solution to my issues. This morning I am choosing to give the struggles of the last few weeks to God, and focus on thanking Him instead--not the general "thanks for my warm home, loving husband, and great kids" kind of things. Specifics.

Emily is very thankful for:

A pantry and fridge full of healthy food to feed my family, and the money God provided in order for me to purchase it.

A husband who is handy, and was able to put a new fuel pump in the Windstar without much difficulty.

The functional Windstar, with windows that roll down. Natural air conditioning of sorts...

My Culligan water filtration system, that filters the "swamp" out of our Florida tap water.

Getting to live 30 minutes from the beach! I love the beach, and go as often as I can.

The Awana program, and how much truth it has instilled in Snapper and in me over our years of participation.

CoffeeMate Italian Sweet Cream creamer to go in my morning coffee. There is something so comforting about starting my morning with a cup of hot coffee.

iTunes and my collection of music. I have music for every mood, and music that speaks truth to me at the darkest of times.

My friend Tracie. We spend as much time together as we can, which ends up being several times each week. She encourages me, prays for me, laughs with me, and makes really great coffee.

My best friends in CA, AR, and TN, who continue to be sources of love in my life, even across many miles and time zones. Noel, Karon, and Carol, I am thankful for you!

Swim team. Watching my sweet daughter glide through the water brings me such joy, because swimming is a sport she loves, is really really good at, and that has helped her grow in all areas of her life.

Our pastor, Pastor Dale, who has an amazing gift to teach the Word of God in a way that is simple enough for a child to understand, but deep enough to grow a mature believer.

Thai food, bliss for the palate.

The funny things my children say.

The "artsy fartsy" craft genetics in me. Life is so much more enjoyable because I can work on a scrapbook, sew doll clothes, make a new wreath for my front door, stitch a quilt, or make note cards to send to friends.

Two soft, fluffy, cuddly kitty cats named Pixie and Zoe, who love me without question, and make my home a happier place.

The really cool wildlife that lives in our neighborhood, especially the Sandhill Cranes and the red-throated lizards.

The anticipation of a whole week with Brian and Carol in just 11 days!

The anticipation of working at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember in New Orleans in June!

The anticipation of a visit from my parents in October!

Getting to live in a place where people will come visit us. In our 8 months in Orlando, we have already had more visitors than we had in 4 1/2 years in Little Rock.

Guacamole and hummus. But not together!

The fun of saving money by using coupons and shopping the sales.

NASCAR. Yeah, baby, yeah!

The Legos that frequently attack my feet on the family room floor, and keep my son happily occupied for hours on end.

My Reef flip flops. Foot hug and paradise!

The delightful fact that our neighborhood has trash pick-up TWICE each week!

Pepper's teacher, Mrs. F, who makes school a delightful experience for Pepper each day, and has taught him more in this year than I ever could have managed!

Snapper's teacher, Mrs. P, who understands Snapper's many quirks, and nurtures Snapper's love of learning, while still challenging her to stretch herself.

My delicious camera. Yes, I called it delicious. It is as satisfying as my favorite meal!

The Word of God, which is more satisfying than anything else in my life. Pure truth, guidance for life, and assurance of God's great love for me.

Yesterday, God taught Emily:

Even though we have not been allowed to report to our new ministry, we are not "without ministry," or "without work." Yes, Matt is home full-time. But because of the lack of constraints on our time, we have been available to do so much. Whether it is fixing the kitchen sink for a lady with a bedridden husband, or sharing pizza and the true story of Easter with a school of children from severely impoverished families, or helping a disabled widower get moved into a new house, or helping lead a women's Bible study, or caring for the 5-year-old son of a working mom, we have a ministry. God is using us here for His purpose, even if it is, for the time, different from what we thought we came to Orlando for. If Matt and I are available, and if we are willing to act when God gives us the opportunity to serve others, He is using us. We eventually will begin work with Discover God 4 Kids. In the meantime, we can rest knowing we are doing what He called us to, because this is where He has us.

Okay, I think I am done. I am thankful to be thankful!

A Lesson Taught, A Lesson Learned

My son taught me a lesson last night. The funny part was that I thought I was teaching him a lesson. It all started at the dinner table. Matt made dinner last night, a delicious dinner of shake'n'bake chicken, rice, and caesar salad. Pepper climbed into his seat, took one look at his plate, and began to whine.

"EWWW! Not THAT again! I don't want chicken. And I don't like salad. And I don't want rice. Why can't we have mac and cheese? I don't want this dinner!"

Complaining at mealtime has been a struggle with our little guy recently, so I took the standard response and sent him to sit on the stairs until he could come back with a thankful heart. As I finished pouring the drinks, I could hear him stomping his feet and crying on the stairs. I went and sat with him, prepared to scold him for his bad behavior. Then I am convinced God gave me an idea. I picked up my son, cuddled him in my lap at the computer, and googled "images of malnourished children." For ten minutes we looked at pictures of starving children Pepper's age. Bloated tummies, shriveled limbs, transparent skin, and desperate faces filled the computer screen. As we talked about those children, Pepper grew more and more solemn, his eyes finally filling with tears.

"Mommy, how could I ever complain about a nice chicken dinner and yummy rice and healthy salad? Those poor children would love to eat a dinner like mine. I am so so so sorry, Mommy. I need to tell Jesus I am sorry, too."

He did. And he prayed fervently for the starving children. And he cheerfully ate his whole dinner, frequently commenting on how delicious it was, and how he wished he could share his wonderful, healthy food with the starving children.

While I assured him we would take action as a family to meet the needs of desperate families in our community, that was not the lesson I learned.

The past few weeks have been really difficult for our family. Our ministry work is on hold, due to some red tape that we are trying to work through. We have encountered some mechanical problems with the house we're renting, and we're frustrated with rent that is higher than our budget can handle (long-term). I have had a persistent cold, or maybe allergies, that have left my ears plugged and my sinuses screaming. We are waiting on the California DMV to send us a replacement title to our Caravan so we can get it registered. This has been a 7-month battle, trying to get that title! The tags on that car have expired, rendering it undriveable for now. To top things all off, our Windstar died. Needed a new fuel pump.

I would love to say that I have focused on God, trusting Him to work things out. I wish I could say I was thankful, cheerful, and content through it. But no. I am a whiner, just like my son.

"EWWWW, God! Not MORE problems! I don't want to keep waiting to start our work! I don't like being sick. I hate having a weak hot water heater, and I am sick of paying so much for rent. Why can't the DMV just send us our title so we have a working car with working air conditioning?" Whine whine whine! Moan moan moan! Complain complain complain. Mentally stomp my feet and kick things. Sit on the couch and cry. Grump at my husband. Snap at my kids. Neglect my housework. Feel sorry for myself.

And then I showed my son the pictures of the starving children. And he showed me the solution to my problems: thankfulness to the ONE who loves and cares for me.

I had a talk with God this morning, and I told Him how sorry I am for losing sight of how much I have to be thankful for. He changed my attitude and my perspective, and revealed some things to me. If I write my list in this post, it will be too long, so I will post my list later this morning.

Do you ever struggle with this like I do?

Friday, April 8, 2011

True Beauty

I have a beautiful daughter. She was beautiful when she was born, with long, delicate fingers, enormous, blue eyes, and a full head of black hair. She was a beautiful 8-month-old, when she surprised us by going blond. She was an adorable pixie of a preschooler, charming everyone she met with her generous smiles and outgoing nature. Now she is 8 1/2, and grows more beautiful every day. When we walk her through the halls of her school each morning, she is greeted by kids of all grade levels. On Sunday mornings at church, she is loved by her teachers and classmates. Each day at swim team, her teammates and coaches are delighted to see her. Everyone knows and loves my girl. She is truly beautiful, and her beauty is magnetic.

As I list her features, I know how physically gorgeous she is. She has:
Sparkling, blue eyes
Clear, soft skin
Silky, healthy, blond hair
Slightly irregular teeth and an infectious smile
A toned, muscular body
Graceful, delicate hands
Adorable dimples

But the kids at school and church and swim team aren't drawn to my daughter because she is gorgeous. The beautiful spirit inside of her is the source of her magnetism. In this era of obsession with physical beauty and the sexualization of younger and younger girls, I believe it is important to teach my daughter that true beauty comes from within.

I wanted to take her away for the weekend during spring break so we could spend time together to discuss true beauty and the power of modesty. However, our budget took some unexpected hits (root canal, car repairs, rising gas prices), and the getaway was not feasible. So we went away for the day instead.  Here are the highlights of what we covered.

1. God gave us the gift of our bodies. It is important that we are good stewards of this precious gift, which means learning how to properly care for and present our bodies in a way that honors the Maker.

2. God designed boys and girls differently, and for unique purposes. The soft curves of the female body are meant to be attractive to boys. 

3. Because God designed boys to be visually intoxicated by girls, it is important that a girl keep certain parts of her body covered. Those parts of her body--her breasts, her belly, her bottom, and her upper thighs--are secrets meant to be saved for her husband.

4. It is possible to dress in a way that is cute, fun, and attractive without exposing those secret places.

5. Ultimately, the way my daughter dresses should draw attention to who she is, not how her body is built, and should bring glory to the Creator of her body--God. 

Before we left for our day together, we discussed these points. Then we talked about some easy shopping rules to help determine whether an article of clothing received an A (acceptable) or an F (fail).

The Tummy Test: When I raise my hands all the way up in the air, does my tummy show? If so, is it the shirt or the pants that are the problem? An easy remedy to this is to layer a long cami or tank top under the shirt.

The Sweat Test: If I were to get sweaty, would my shirt stick to me like a second skin? If so, the shirt it too tight. Get the next size up.

The Booty Test: When I bend over and touch my knees, can you see the outline of my underwear? Do I feel like I need to pull up my pants? If so, the pants are too tight, or are too low on the waist. An easy remedy for too-tight pants is just to try the next size.

The Criss-Cross Test: When I sit Indian-style (criss-cross), can you see a lot of my inner thigh or all the way up to my underwear? If so, the shorts or skirt are too short. Try bermudas, or get a longer skirt.

The Joy Test: Does the look and style of the clothing make me look and feel joyful? Styles that are too dark or too mature for my age get an F on this test.

We went out to lunch. Then we visited several stores, hunting for good bargains and cute, summer clothes. Thanks to the Goodwill and Ross's bargains, and awesome sales at Kohl's and Children's Place, we outfitted Snapper for the summer--including her Easter dress--for $65! Everything she got gets an A grade, and is as cute as can be.

As she got an adorable, new hair cut, we talked again about how true beauty comes from inside. A girl who is confident and humble is beautiful. A girl who has positive relationships with her parents and siblings is beautiful. A girl who puts the needs of other before her own is beautiful. A girl who is living her life to bring honor and glory to God is beautiful. Kindness, generosity, gentleness, joy, loyalty, friendliness, compassion, humility, patience, respectfulness, and faithfulness all contribute to creating a beautiful girl. Without those inner traits, a physically beautiful girl loses much of her beauty.

How thankful I am for my beautiful daughter! Yes, she is physically beautiful. But her beauty goes much deeper than her skin. Her true beauty is found within.

Oh, I am so proud, I just must add that Snapper's relay teams--both Freestyle Relay and Medley Relay--are the new State Champions in their age division! Way to go Snapper, T, C, and A!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Project 365: Week 5

This photo will get a whole post of its own. I took Snapper out for a day of celebrating femininity, learning about what true beauty is, and the power of modesty.

We had two very stormy days during spring break. By the time I took this photo, the hail stone had been melting in my hand for close to a minute. It was silver dollar size when I picked it up!

Though Snapper has always been a strong reader, she has never really loved to read. On this day, she discovered for the first time the joy of getting lost in a good story. She read for 4 hours!

When the storms finally passed, we enjoyed a day at the beach with our friends John and Laura and their sweet kiddos. We love the beach!

One of my very best friends, Carol, is having her fourth daughter this summer. I spent much of spring break at my sewing machine, working on the quilt I am making for my new "niece."

Snapper finished her spring break with a bang, getting to attend a swim clinic with Olympic gold medalist swimmers Ryan Lochte and Josh Davis. Not only was meeting them and getting to wear their medals very cool, Snapper learned a lot, too.

I had to post a second photo from the clinic. They spent some time working on powerful starts and strong streamlines. Snapper's start is looking beautiful, and I am blown away by how muscular she has gotten!

Though I have only known my friend Tracie for 7 months, she has already become one of my dearest friends. I got to have the fun of doing 1st birthday portraits of her son. Isn't he adorably edible? Yes, I want to eat him all up!