Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Letter 2016

I keep telling myself that one of these Christmases I am going to use the "outtakes" of the Christmas pictures for the card.  All of our yuletide greetings would be a lot more entertaining. I have pictures of us at the beach where in one take we are all serious with the discipline face, complete with finger cocked in scolding position and in the next frame, all smiles and joy-ever- after-Hallmark happy.  This year as I was setting up the tripod I broke one of the legs off and it became a very short tripod so this year we are all sitting DOWN— and because now our kids are older, they sit still just fine- no vice grip on the toddler arm-  and we are finished in like 15 minutes. {Hang in there, young mommas.  Your 15 minute session is on the horizon.  Quicker than you can imagine.}  Still, one year I am going to send you a really funny card.

We officially have two teenagers in the house this Christmas.  So far, so good and so very different than even just one year ago.  Inches have been gained, tweener pounds have disappeared, toys have all but disappeared, bathroom drawers have lots of new things filling them, conversations have changed, and sleep has become a hot commodity for them both- and if they sleep late enough, you're down to 2 meals— brunch and dinner!  It's astounding the rate at which all of this happens— and NO ONE prepares you!  It's all very normal - heels, razors, make up, zit cream, phones, cologne, homecoming…. but it hits you before you, as a mom, are ready for it.  {These are the things people don't tell you—- and it makes me wonder, what else are THEY not telling us?!}

Julia and Brighton made the switch to our public school district this year which was definitely bittersweet.  Bitter— losing the time we've had at home together for the last 9 years, the flexibility of our schedule and leaving a university model school full of incredible families, friends and staff.  The sweet part— MY KIDS ARE IN SCHOOL FIVE DAYS A WEEK!!!!!!!  EVERY morning they go.  The consistency astonishes me.   Seriously though, it has been an easy transition as the Lord provided them with friends WAY before we made the switch.  Both are in classes with people they have known since they were toddlers and have made brand spanking new friends who I've never met and maybe won't ever— which is strange for moms like me coming from a homeschool/small school history.  But as I said, so far, so good. The decision has felt right since the summer and we have had a great and interesting time learning the ways of public school.  Dinner conversations are quite fascinating some nights.  I am impressed by the availability of the kids' teachers and their willingness to help.  God has His people everywhere-strategically— and I pray we are fulfilling our role.

Julia continues with ballet spending about six or seven hours at the studio per week.  Her movements are lovely and graceful and I really love to watch her dance. Brighton plays the sport in season.  His football practice started at 6:45 am every school morning so that was new to him but he stuck it out and we saw him improve and contribute the second half of the season.  And I've always said- and it's a favorite thing to me about him—  he's worth his weight in gold on the sidelines.  They are still taking piano…..  and I know there will be a year I won't be able to type that but so far, we are hanging on. : )

Jeff and I are doing great.  I married a good one, for sure.  All of my overreactions in parenting are tempered by his steady voice telling me everything is going to be okay.  We find ourselves scratching our heads in confusion at times but then we find ourselves praying to the One who knows and loves our kids better than we do.  Only God can shape their hearts and grow their desire to love and serve Him.
"The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."
Jesus brings hope- the THRILL of hope— to our weary selves.  Bask in the glorious celebration and morning of Christmas.  He makes all things NEW.  We love you.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A Reminder from Julia to Me to You

The Spirit of Christmas
  by Julia, age 10

I love Christmastime with its festive lights and colors. It comes only once a year with trees and Santa Claus and reindeer and wishes of good cheer. 

People fill the stores— traffic jams and long, long lines are the stressful part of Christmas this year, but on Christmas Eve the presents come unwrapped and joy fills the air.

And you hear the story of the years gone by when the story of the Savior fills the ears and we remember the real and the true meaning of Christmas. 

Not the lights or the tree not even the presents but how Jesus came to save the world and love us all the years. So please, remember the beautiful story of that Midnight Clear.

She wrote that on Christmas day 2012— had to have been while in Soperton and I wonder now what all was going on when she penned it.  Was she still anticipating our big Christmas at Nana and Papa's or was it over and she was reflecting?  I don't know— a mere four years later— but I love it.  I know it's not terribly original.  It follows the same pattern of other poems and songs- even movies and conversations we've had as a family, but at 10 years old, it was original to her.  Those thoughts were stored within her somewhere and they came out like that.  She was beginning to get it.

And I'm still "getting it".  Just last week, I had to pull myself away from all of the Christmas boxes littering the house to check my heart regarding my own mental to do list that no one else could see but me.  I had to let go of any expectations I had of anyone but myself and decide to enjoy preparing the house for Christmas………….until the outside garland lights wouldn't come on.… and then Saturday when the tree lights wouldn't come on. Y'all — I think if we looked close enough-somewhere on that little white tag of clear lights on a green electrical cord, it would say, "Made in H-E double hockey sticks".  Seriously.  They are so beautiful and cheery but maybe after 5 years, they turn diabolical or something.  They stole SO MUCH time from us last weekend. I may not know traffic jams, really or even terribly long lines, but I know the distractions of Christmas.  I don't even have to leave my house.

And that's why I zero in on my two favorite phrases in her little poem—  "the story of the years gone by"  and "[Jesus came to] love us all the years" .  That's what I want to be distracted by….  THAT story and THAT love.  Wouldn't it be so wonderful to get so caught up in the story of Christmas that we just plain forgot to buy the presents?  Or make the candy?  Or send out the cards?  Just take a minute to turn the world around — we live so upside down, don't we?  Imagine if we had to really work at remembering to buy and wrap presents instead of why we are celebrating, why God sent Jesus to us — in the flesh— the fullness of time {Galatians 4:4} bursting forth this part of the plan when time could hold it no longer.  "The time came for the baby to be born." {Luke 2:6}  Emmanuel.  God, here, with us. He has come as closely as He possibly can.

It is THE story of the years to remind us year after year that He came to save us and love us all the years.

I don't want to miss any of it.  I don’t want to miss any of Him.  I’m so grateful for all the years.

Let's let that be a little distraction for us.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Small Town Wedding

It's hard to describe a small town wedding but you know me— I'm going to give it my best shot….  especially when it's my own, small town, that is.  Especially when it's the first born of my favorite brother. When this boy came to us October of 1992, I had just gotten married and lived about 3 hours away.  That was bad but not as bad as when Jeff and I packed up and moved to Texas adding about 12 MORE hours between us.  Now, I was excited about the move to Texas but I was NOT excited about being that far away from family, especially that little baby boy who had stolen my heart.  I kind of knew we wouldn't be back.  I knew Texas would become our home— and it has but all those years ago I determined that I would figure this aunt/nephew {and then later aunt/niece} thing out from 15 hours away.  Some things worked and some didn't.  I could have done much more and there are things I regret missing, but over the years something worked.  And we know each other.  And they know how much I love them.  I've been known to tear up at random texts or pictures they send— just to know I was missed or that they wanted to share something with me. I teased RJ at his rehearsal dinner that I was honored to get pictures of baseball injuries over the years.  I doubt I missed a one.  That counts for something, right?!  But the biggest honor was the question to Jeff,  "Will you perform our wedding ceremony?"  Honor.  To get to be a part of the months leading up to that big day and for Jeff to lead them through the covenant of marriage….. no words work.

Not even a set of pictures or videos can recreate an experience and they certainly can't stand in for what makes these kinds of things so very special.  As I watched my nephew get married that weekend in October, I was reminded of the only thing that makes life as sweet as it can possibly be— relationships.  No value can be placed upon them— they are simply God's grace to us in the form of people.  What joy comes from an event if there is no one with which to share it?  How much richer a life changing moment is when people who love you are there to celebrate it with you.  Relationships. His gifts to us— gift upon gift upon gift……And our family is undeservedly blessed to love many and to be loved by many.  You know who you are.  It’s all grace. YOU are grace.

Talk about grace.  Seriously.  This girl.  I remember when RJ called me-- or texted-- honestly feel like it was a real-live conversation but maybe not-- after their first or second date.  “She’s great.  I know you are really going to like her.” And he was spot on.  “Like" is a mild word, really.  We couldn’t have combed the world over and picked anyone more suited for RJ and the family.  This one is special.  Megan, I am so very thankful for you.

This guy keeps things lively-- he’s a favorite to have around.

I got to Soperton a couple of days ahead of my family which was such a treat. I had missed all of the wedding festivities being so far away so I was itching to get there!   This sweet niece of mine surprised us by coming home a little earlier than expected which made my night!  Blake cooked a yummy meal on his egg in his “man world” in the backyard.

Love her t-shirt.  It was the last day she could wear it.  Her energy around Nana’s house buzzed all day. 
You’ll see a lot of camouflage... because a lot of hunting took place.. even the morning of the wedding.
Jeff, Julia and Brighton made it in time for the rehearsal.

Three Favorites.
I couldn’t resist this pic of Blakes’s sweet little pose.

Jeff and I were married right here as were Blake and Adele.  Our church -- as any church - was not/is not perfect but  it’s my home church and so many significant things happened here for me.  This place is full of people who loved me well and   taught me profound things.  

If you are not from the South, I am not sure if you are ready for the next picture.  So brace yourself.  

I know.  Yes.  That’s a pig.  A real one.  And as the menu says “pik’n” pronounced “pickin”-- no “ing”.  Got it?  And the second “yes” is that yes, you PICK it OFF the pig and then you EAT it.  I know.  It’s a tad disturbing.  I cannot convince you that it’s yummy because I know you cannot get past the ears, and eyes and nose.  A true Southern girl just looks at the meat and nothing else.  NO lady, I don’t care where she’s from,  embraces the whole head thing.  Can’t.  

And there they go.  But it’s a party, y’all.

Love these two.
Proud mommas and daddys.
Many kind things were said at the rehearsal dinner but this childhood friend and neighbor, Blake, stole the show.  He’s a good and faithful friend.
Saturday morning I gathered these beauties {Confederate Roses} from Mom’s yard for the Wedding Day Brunch.

Mom, untangling the asparagus fern
Megan’s sister did her make up.  Something tells me they have done this a few times before!

I’ve often referred to my parents as a “gatherer of people”.  I am sure there is a cuter title or a better word but either way-- they are great at this.  Here they are in their element welcoming people to the Wedding Day Brunch-- all their friends and family and out of town guests.  I’ve seen this scene many, many times in my life-- Daddy greeting and saying a FEW--never too many-- and SOMETIMES, not always-- awkward words, but they are heartfelt, for sure.  {Oh... and momma looking on.  She’s fine to let him talk.  And doesn’t she look pretty in this picture?}  Their graciousness and generosity has come back 1000 fold-- and spilled over onto me and Blake and now we are getting to see it splash on to the 3rd generation.  Thanks, Mom and Dad, for all of the seeds sown into our lives by loving and blessing others.

Friends as LONG AS I CAN REMEMBER.  I don’t know Soperton without the Bowers’ family-- and so many other families.  But these two-- attached at the hip all growing up.  So. Many. Memories.  {Notice Brian has on NO camou.}
He’s worried I was going to stick him.  I was too.
Our amazing Arkansas family-- minus the littles.  RJ was cool as a cucumber all weekend but I sense a little anxiety in this picture?  
There is a story.  There was a cake.  It landed on the floor before RJ and Megan came in.  Bill had a grand time helping clean it up.  
RJ and his pretty momma
These next photos were made by Wendy from Apartment B Photography.  They were super sweet girls who worked HARD all day!

I can say this-- MY favorite pastor
My favorite picture of the whole day
Cousins-- Brighton was outside duct taping RJ’s trailer hitch. Yikes.

Julia and Ivey
Fun shot

These girls danced ALL shoes that weren’t made for dancing.

Well, Soperton.  You were wonderful.  I’m not talking about the places, or even the food, but YOU--  friends and family, YOU were wonderful.  Thank you for loving our family and celebrating with us.  We all have much to be thankful for and RJ and Megan’s wedding weekend was solid evidence of that.  You know who you are-- we love you and are better people for having you in our lives.

RJ and Megan-- it was an HONOR to be a small part of it.  I am SO proud of both of you-- WHO you are.  It will be a joy to watch you over the years.   I just know it.  I love you both.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Letter to a 13 Year Old Boy: Brighton’s Birthday Letter 2016

Dear Brighton,

When you were three— blonde hair flopping around your darling face with those bright eyes— it was hard to imagine you grown up.  The days of Thomas the Train and Matchbox cars seemed endless as does now your need for clean clothes and showers. Your long self fills your bottom bunk and somehow this fall, you have almost caught up to mine and Julia’s 5’7” frame.  I’m okay with that, but your sister won’t be.  I don’t think she’s noticed yet.

You are thirteen— a teenager.  I forgot to ask you if you were a “real teenager”.  When Julia turned thirteen 21 months ago, you were quick to tell her that 13 wasn’t really a teenager-- saying that the 13th year was just for pretending, but 14 would be the real deal.  We’ve barely had time to talk about your becoming a teenager—- and YOU are the kid that would really have something to say about such an event.  A couple of friends of ours came over the night before and gave you a “charge” so to speak.  I wanted to push my way in and hear all of it but I didn’t.  It was “men” time and you will just have to tell me about it.  I am grateful for kind and strong men in your life who love you and want to see the best of you in the years to come.

So what does a momma have to say to her, now, teenage boy?  I’ve been thinking about this for a while because I have read many amazing letters through the years.  But only I know you like I do and I want my words to come from that place— knowing you as a mother knows her son. Most of that will be just be between you and me.  I can’t let all my secrets out about you right now, can I?  Some of those things are for me to know and me only.
You needed a haircut and you were resistant to pictures for the very first time.  So.........I’ll try harder next year or make your daddy do it ; )
There are many things that can be said to a 13 year old boy— and I will probably say most of it at one point or another because I am like that— wanting to cover it all, trying not to miss anything important, using lots of words.  And I know how much you LOVE that.  However, only one thing is needed— a vibrant, growing relationship with Jesus, the One who loves you more than I do and the One who holds you in the palm of His hand, and the One who has plans and purposes for your life that I know nothing about,,,,,,,, yet.  This one things covers a multitude of conversations.  But to send you from our home, loving Jesus with whole hearted devotion, committing to following Him all of your days, serving Him with courage and integrity— what more could I ask for?  And if I care about anything else a whole, whole lot, I need to check my own heart.

You're spiritually minded.  It’s in your head.  I think a lot has descended into your heart but much is still in your head.  You think about God and, right now, you want to do the right thing. You are quick to admit wrong and quick to ask for forgiveness.  But like many of us, especially your momma, very slow to change.  You’re 13 so I know we still have much foolishness to wade through— spur of the moment bad decisions, words you’ll wish you’d never said, grades that won’t reflect your capabilities, girls who aren’t for you, actions you’ll wish you’d never put your hands and feet to— it’s all part of growing up.  All part of learning as you mature.  But of course my prayer is that those things will never satisfy, that they would come up empty and disappointing— and that the consequences would be an effective teacher to steer you back to wisdom and not have to follow you the rest of your days.

I hope you will find much satisfaction and FUN in days well chosen, days well lived— that seeing the difference is more obvious to you than when someone takes your Halloween candy.   ; )  Instead of feeling hemmed in or trapped, I pray you would feel the freedom you DO have and run free and clear in the space laid out for you— and that you would feel that the boundary lines have fallen for you in pleasant places.  And Brighton, this is where you’ll find blessing.  That word is real- “blessing”.  It is thrown around a lot, but when it comes to God and “blessing”, it’s a big deal.  With obedience comes blessing.  It may not be the blessings for which you are hoping, but over the long haul- living faithfully before the Lord and WITH Him, there is blessing-- like you will never know anywhere else.  And I am as sure of that as I am knowing where your Halloween candy is. ; )

So, that’s the page, darling, that anything else I could ever say is written ON.  Having that kind of relationship with the Lord—that’s the piece of paper I’d write any other advice on.  Without that relationship, nothing else will work or matter a hill of beans.

Even with the relationship intact, much temptation will come.  And remember, temptation is NOT sin.  Only your response to it has potential for sin.  This is where your strength has to kick in— those muscles of courage and bravery we’re trying to have you exercise because Brighton, there will be situations where YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE choosing to have courage and say, “no way”.   This may make you feel amazing but it might make you feel like a lame-o, stupid loser for a short period of time.  But remember, “I wish I had chosen to do the wrong thing”  SAID NO ONE EVER.  You will never regret a right decision, my son—one that is in line with the Truth.  It just won’t happen.

I wish I could take Proverbs 2, make a delicious pizza, hamburger or nachos out of it and make you chew it up and eat it — if that helped me get it INSIDE OF YOU.  Maybe an IV would be more effective?!  Take this to heart, sweet B.  These are words of life.

My son, if you accept my words
 and store up my commands within you,

turning your ear to wisdom
 and applying your heart to understanding—

indeed, if you call out for insight
 and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver
 and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord
 and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;
 from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

He holds success in store for the upright,
 he is a SHIELD to those whose walk is blameless,

for he GUARDS the course of the just
 and PROTECTS the way of his faithful ones.

Then you will UNDERSTAND what is right and just
 and fair—every GOOD path.

For WISDOM will enter your HEART,
 and knowledge will be PLEASANT to your SOUL.

Discretion will PROTECT you,
 and understanding will GUARD you.

{CAPS mine-- all words that a momma loves.}

That Proverb goes on to talk about the “wayward woman with her seductive words” and how her path leads “down to death” and causes them to forfeit the “path of life”.  Don’t forfeit the “path of life”  by giving into your curiosity for a few moments of pleasure.  Death comes in many ways and you want every part of you to be ALIVE as you go out into this world to DO and BE all the God calls you to.  Guard yourself, B.  Be fierce about it. {You will hear this again— and again. And you will be okay with it because you love me.}

I see glimpses of the man God is making you to be, Brighton.  If I can wade through the dirty clothes, your papers everywhere and the things you just can’t seem to keep up with, I see a young man capable of leading, serving, loving, and making a significant difference in the world around him.

You have what it takes, B.

I am so very proud to be your mom.  

A picture of the 6th grade school picture 
Basketball was REALLY fun last year-- you guys won lots of games.

And came in SECOND! {Thus the TWO fingers}  You guys wore your MEDALS to school.  Yes. You. Did.

This might be the only night of the year that the two of you get along.... Christmas Eve

This is the first of many pictures that I want you to remember that YOU ARE LOVED by MANY.  You have a strong support of family AND friends around you who want the very best for you.

The Badlands-- NPT 2016
You are so proud of your cousin RJ and Hunter’s boyfriend, Jason.  Some of this is random but most of it’s theirs that you laid out.
Cousins.  You are the baby and you are loved.
This guy loves you too-- and he doesn’t HAVE to!  
Saturday morning AFTER the late night sleepover...  Good friends.

Young Life Camp-- Wyldlife-- 2016
This one HAS to love you but I think she would anyway. ; ) {Rough Riders!}

You’ve spent a lot of time checking your muscles this year.

Yes-- this means love.
New experience with Daddy
It’s “the smile” we get for pictures these days...

More love.

Teaching beach family -- You can’t see me!!!

Your first “Dallas Experience”-- girl drama and lots of hard work

Rough Rider game with friends
Fort Worth family-- known all your life

First football camp-- with Luke-- known him since babyhood too.
These moments make a momma happy.  She can’t help but yank out her camera.  No matter how she talks to you, B, she LOVES YOU.
You did a big new thing this year-- you started public school!!  And YOU LOVE IT!  And the coolest thing-- look who the first people you saw that first morning were-- life long friends.

More friends you’ve known all your life-- after school Costco run

It’s been a great year with lots of memories-- but I want you to remember these people.  It’s the relationships that will mean the most to you through the years.  Be grateful.

THIS  YEAR- 2016

Goodbye 12. Hello 13.

P.S.  Things to note:  shaving adventures, 6:30 am football practices, saluting after a deflected pass {no sir}, dabbing, lost baby belly, brand names {ugh}, loves cafeteria food, bow ties, your response after Julia left the house for homecoming with Nate's family {"Nothing like that has ever happened to me before.}, camp out DRAMA-- will add more as I think of them.