We serve a big God…

We serve a big God.

Some of you may be thinking, “Duh…that’s like lesson one in Sunday School when we’re 5 years old!”

But for someone like me who came to know Christ in my mid-20′s and is the daughter of a Jewish lawyer born during the Great Depression, sometimes I have to go back & analyze the facts and re-state the obvious so I don’t forget the truth.

And the truth is, we serve a big God.

How can I state that as a fact? Let me just share a glimpse of how my last 12 hours have transpired:

A series of events yesterday led me to question a lot of things in my personal and professional life. Obviously, the psychological burden proved too great until all of a sudden, around 11:30 last night, I started sobbing uncontrollably.

I’d allowed a couple of petty comments, texts & yes, even Facebook to eat away at me and for a little while, seriously started wondering if anyone liked me. (The enemy strikes best when it’s dark…have you ever noticed that?)

This morning, my husband blessed my by taking our son to school and our daughter (who I’m homeschooling this term) with him to help on a home decor job he had. (That’s how they bond…surely we all know she didn’t get that gene from me!).

All this to say, I found myself home alone for the the first time in about 4 months. My first instinct was to turn on the TV and drown out the voices in my head, but I felt like my soul needed the silence more.

I was literally about to sit down at my computer and type out a blog post entitled, “Am I a horrible person?” when my best friend from Florida called me.

This may not seem out of the ordinary for those of you that talk to your best friend or mom on a daily basis (or perhaps multiple times a day), but I’m not what you’d call a phone person…and neither is she. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we actually connected via the phone, but that’s ultimately not how we communicate love to each other.

But I digress.

The point is, before I could weep and moan and belabor over my keyboard about how I must be deluding myself into thinking people liked me and ultimately I must be horrible otherwise these things wouldn’t be happening to me, my sweet friend called out of the blue.

Thankfully, as only she can do with me, she gave me a ‘snap out of it’ talk and reminded me of the actual, verifiable, God-given truth that abounds in my life. (It is ultimately because of her that this post has transformed from, “Am I a horrible person?” to “We serve a big God“…)

While on the phone with her, I received a call from another one of my best friend’s in Atlanta who I also haven’t been able to connect with in forever.

As soon as I hung up one call, I got another from a local friend who I thought I had wronged because of the silence between us and realized that was in no way the truth, that they were in fact, like the rest of us, just insanely busy, but wanted to get a date on the calendar to get our families together.

THEN, immediately following that call, another sweet friend of mine (also equally difficult to pin down on a phone call) rang in, saying, “I don’t have much time, but just felt a strong urge to check in on you”.

Even as I type this, tears are welling up in my eyes thinking about the turn of events. 12 hours ago, I was believing a grossly-overexaggerated, nowhere near true thought that I was allowing to become my reality. Yes, I allowed it to take over my brain.

This morning, without me knowing, our big God orchestrated a series of events across multiple states, time zones, and work situations to allow some of the most important people in my life to converge on my heart all at once.

…weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. ~ Psalm 30:5b

So to all of you who think your life isn’t perfect (or worse, think my life is!), I wanted to transparently show you the truth: none of our lives are perfect, but we serve a God who is!!!

Life is too hard to waste time believing the lies of others. Ultimately, we shouldn’t spend even a moment worrying about whether people like us or don’t like us: our primary goal should be to live a live consistent in Christ that points people toward Him.

Yet how merciful is our God to know us so well that He would care enough to send His angels through our friends to remind us of His love when we need it most!

So to all of you out there struggling a bit like me today, know that I am praying fervently for you to receive blessing, peace and wisdom, much like I was gifted this morning.

And if you need a virtual ‘slap in the face’ to wake up out of your worry, just leave a comment below and I’ll send my friend your way icon wink We serve a big God...

we serve a big god psalm 30 5 We serve a big God...

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Hurting during the Holidays (aka Crying at Christmas)

172649 crying angel Hurting during the Holidays (aka Crying at Christmas)

Photo Courtesy of Oziris

While most of us know Christmas as the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, I would venture to guess there is a much larger population than we think who are hurting during the holidays.

I recently heard Mandisa’s new song, “Christmas Makes Me Cry” and it made me realize just how difficult of a season this can be, even for those of us who celebrate the joy of Jesus’ birth.

For one reason, I’d say it’s simply because we stress ourselves out.

So many of us look forward to Christmas for so long that once it’s here, we put unrealistic expectations on ourselves to create the ‘perfect’ month for everyone.

Secondly, and a close follow up to reason #1, no-one is perfect. So to think we can create the perfect anything is absurd. Even when nothing else is going wrong around you, people are still people, and face it: we disappoint each other.

Thirdly, most of us do have broken relationships in our lives, whether through death, separation or even just family fall-outs. Regardless of where you stand in this spectrum, this season that centers around family will make those relationships ever-more present in your mind and can make your celebrations slightly bittersweet.

I for one spent most of our Christmas Eve service crying my eyes out. I grieved over most of the reasons I just listed…and then was mad at myself that I couldn’t ‘move on’ and stay focused on the reason I was sitting in church in the first place.

I’m especially thankful to my friend Trish (who, with her husband, wrote an amazing book on relationships that JUST came out, “Beyond Ordinary“…everyone needs to pick this one up!) who let me cry on her shoulder and reminded me that not only is it impossible for me to control anyone else’s behavior, it’s OK for me not to have all of my own pieces perfectly put together all the time either.

Of course, there are the plethora of other valid reasons why crying at Christmas is more prevalent than we might think:
*Families separated because they are separated by members serving in the military
*Family members in the hospital or assisted-living centers who can’t be at home
*Families torn apart due to a recent tragedy, whether it’s a car accident, an affair or anything in between
*Foster children who have been bounced from home to home and find themselves, once again, without someone to love them
*Family members who desperately want to get home to each other, but can’t afford to travel
*Children with parents in prison
*The homeless who don’t know where to go to get a hot meal on Christmas

I could go on and on, and still may not even have touched on what you’re experiencing this Christmas.

I bring this up not to depress you, but rather to say you’re not alone. And as much as I love this time of year, I think I may have been living in a bit of ignorance to think that just because the calendar says it’s Christmas, everyone should therefore be happy.

But I’m reminded of song lyrics that say, “Though the sorrow may last for the night, His joy comes in the morning” and God’s promise from James 1:2-3 that tells us:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.

My tear-fest yesterday reminded me of what my Christian walk is all about: I’m not promised happiness on a day-to-day basis, but I can Choose Joy. In Kay Warren’s book with the same title, I learned that “Joy is deeper than happiness, lasts longer than excitement, and is more satisfying than pleasure and thrills”.

So if you’re hurting this holiday or crying this Christmas, just remember, we worship a Savior who Himself experienced the ultimate pain and humiliation: a criminal’s death on a cross. Reach out to Him with your troubles while also reaching out to those around you. Chances are if you’re harboring hurt, they just may be too, and you can comfort each other while challenging each other to choose joy this Christmas.

Wherever you are and whatever you may be going through, I pray the peace of Christ Jesus falls on you and your family. Merry Christmas!

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The Long Road Home

20120904 104620 The Long Road Home

We’ve started the long road home to Nashville…

It’s hard to believe that just a week ago I received the call from my husband that his dad had passed away and hours later I piled our two kids into the mini van to make the 13 hour trek down to South Florida amidst squalls from Hurricane Isaac.

It’s a blur.

In the past week we’ve planned a funeral, buried my father-in-law, sorted through his belongings, relived a lot of memories and hugged an entire community.

We are emotionally spent.

Yet through it all, we’ve clung to each other and learned so much from so many of you.

1. It’s not about me

I think this is fairly self-explanatory, yet it is something someone very close to me lovingly reminded me of icon wink The Long Road Home It’s easy to be offended when our expectations aren’t met…and I think it’s safe to say that when you bring a large group of people together who are all grieving in their own ways (not to mention exhausted and emotional), it’s not possible to meet everyone’s expectations. So the safest thing to do is to set your own aside. Max Lucado wrote a book on this very topic (It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy The Long Road Home) that included the following:

“The brevity of life grants power to abide, not an excuse to bail.”

Yikes. I know I still have a lot to learn in this area.

2. Slow Down

We are busy. And yes, I recognize our lives are even busier than most (at least that’s what I keep hearing from all of you!), but through this we have learned that we need to slow down and make time for God and each other. I think everyone can attest to the fact that there’s never a convenient time for tragedy to strike, but when you’re living your life on fumes, it makes those times even more stressful. In Bill Hybels’ book, “Too Busy Not to Pray The Long Road Home“, he reminds us that true prayer can’t “happen on the fly”, especially in this time when pain & distractions seem to be on the rise. While this week may have been a forced ‘slow down’ for us, I’m grateful for the people we were able to re-connect with (and especially for our multiple employers being so gracious in understanding the need to be with our family to help take care of the issues at hand).

3. Receive Help

Though I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with asking for help in a time of need, I understand how difficult it is to bring yourself to that point. Luckily, we never even had to ask this week icon smile The Long Road Home But for some who are used to being the ones offering aid, it can be equally difficult simply to receive help. This week I learned that as much of a blessing as it is to be the recipient of such a gift, there are those who truly enjoy giving in times such as these…and to deny them that would be robbing them of their joy. Their is an art to graciously receiving and while I am still learning that art, I loved witnessing the act of all of you sharing your blessings with us!

4. Life is a Gift, not a Guarantee

When we found out on June 7 about dad’s brain tumor, we couldn’t fathom that he only had 6-8 weeks left to live. Can you imagine being told that? What would you do differently? But then we realized – none of us know when we will die. Although dad was given a rough estimate, the reality was that any of us could have lost our life before he did. We’re thankful for the memories we were able to make this summer, but also came to the bigger realization that we need to start living each day with more passion & purpose.

Listening to a Joyce Meyer podcast on the road yesterday, I was reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan and how he did exactly what he could do in the moment without shirking his current responsibilities. As we drive home today, I want the memory and lessons of these events to influence my day to day role as a wife, mother, friend, worker & volunteer, while not distracting me from my ultimate goal.

Our lives are fleeting, even if this car ride is not icon wink The Long Road Home

20120904 104629 The Long Road Home

What lessons have you learned in grief?

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Talking about Dying with Kids: “Heaven is for Real for Kids” giveaway

20120620 100909 Talking about Dying with Kids: Heaven is for Real for Kids giveaway
With all that our family has gone through with Dad Cone in the past week and a half, there has been an inevitable topic that we’ve had to broach: talking about dying with our kids.

At first we tried to shield them from it, but as they were around Pappy more and more, the Hospice nurse said that they needed to face the inevitable: their Grandpa was dying.

We’d already been on the go so much in the past month that it was hard to believe that as fast as we had unpacked from our trip earlier this month, we had to re-pack and jump back in the car to go down to Florida again. Now here we sit, with my 58 year old Father-in-law who’s been given just weeks to live after being diagnosed with one of the most ravaging brain conditions known to man.

This was not in our plans.

In many ways, we have peace:
-There is tremendous peace in knowing our lives are not our own. Isaiah says, “My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts…” Realizing that God’s plans are much bigger and better than ours has helped us release the need for control over this mind-boggling situation…and further serves as a reminder that we cannot hold on to anything to tightly, regardless of whether it’s as meaningful as a relationship and as inconsequential as our own schedule.

-Though we have had issues in our relationship with my Father-in-Law in the past, my husband has experienced great conversation and reconciliation over the last few months when it comes to their past & present relationship.

-We see the time we have been given with him as a gift. The majority of us will have no clue as to when our time comes to leave this earth. My FIL has been given a glimpse into that gift; it is a gift that has allowed him the opportunity to make his heart right with others, but most importantly, his Heavenly Father.

At the same time, these past few days have been incredibly heavy and painful. We have been in and out of the hospital, learning the ins & outs of Hospice care, making very complicated life-altering decisions, comforting family from in & out of town and finally, what’s been most difficult for me, walking my own children through this process.

“It’s ok for his grandkids to know that he’s dying,” said the Hospice nurse, “It’s part of life. It’s not an easy part, but that doesn’t mean you should shield them from the inevitable. Talk with them, involved them in the process and most importantly, let them enjoy him while he’s still here.”

So I sat my two kids down on the bed in front of me and started with, “Pappy’s really sick.”

Before I could continue on with my rehearsed speech, Kariss quickly retorted, “We know; he’s dying.”

I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there. I asked how they knew and they said they had overheard us talking, so we proceeded to talk as candidly as possible without invoking fear or unnecessary worry into their little heads.

I brought back out the book, Heaven is for Real for Kids, to remind them what heaven is like and most importantly, who God is. What I love about the book is that it captures the frankness and honesty of a young child dealing with some very adult concepts…and paints a beautiful picture for children to learn and grow from in the process.

As parents, we desperately try to protect our children from any hurt, yet we often grossly underestimate their minds and capabilities. By not being honest, I was actually creating more stress and tension in my daughter (who is already quick to internalize pain), instead of opening the door for her to feel free enough to come talk to me at any point about all she’s experiencing and how it relates to her life.

In an effort to protect our kids, we too often prevent them from letting them discover some of the most important qualities of life.

I’m sure many of you have had to walk a similar path with your own family, which is why I wanted to offer you the chance to win a copy of Heaven is for Real for Kids for you (or maybe to give to someone you know who may be going through the same journey).

We appreciate your continued prayers for Dad Cone and will continue to update you as things progress.

Simply enter via the Rafflecopter widget below if you’re interested in winning a copy of the book:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Finding Comfort

medalceremony Finding ComfortThe Winter Olympic Games of 2002 had one controversy that stood out among the rest: the Pairs Figure Skating competition.

As I, along with the rest of the world, sat in shock and watched the Canadians lose the gold medal to what seemed to be unfair judging, I wondered how they would recover emotionally.  They skated a perfect routine, the audience gave them a standing ovation, and even the commentators had voted them the winners.  So when the ordinals came in and put them in second place, it felt like the entire stadium took an emotional hit.

Sale & Pelletier had done everything in their power to win the gold.  When the end result was not what they had expected, they didn’t seem to be able to recover.

Where do you turn to when you feel like you’ve done everything right and still don’t get the end result you were looking for?  Do you blame someone else, or do you rest secure that God will reveal himself in every circumstance?  Above all, we must remember and rejoice in the fact that God is the source of our comfort.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. -2 Cor 1:3-4

If we only relied on the reward at the end of the road to determine our behaviors during the process, our lives would be very shallow and unfulfilling.  Scott Hamilton even commented just before the medals were awarded, “It’s always the process and rarely the result”.  The only end result we can be guaranteed of is salvation through Jesus Christ.  I think you would all agree with me that there could be no greater reward than that.

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. – Phil 2:1-2

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Savannah's Story: Love amidst Loss

We just returned from Savannah Clark’s home-going service: a celebration of life and the mourning of the tragic loss of a 17 year old gone too soon. How was it that someone that was such a light and encouragement in the lives of so many was herself plagued with never feeling good enough or loved enough?

As her youth pastor, Kieron Shape, elaborated, “We can’t belabor ourselves by asking, ‘Why weren’t we there? Why weren’t we aware?’ Instead we need to rest in the fact that the Good Shepherd was there.” Even though her peace was taken from her through deception, She was still redeemed for eternity. The Good Shepherd was imploring her not to be deceived, but the thief is masterful in trickery and destruction. Though Jesus came in through the front door, Savannah left the back door open, and that was where the enemy of our souls was able to reach her.

Savannah’s father, Ian Clark, even said, “I will never be the same.” He prayed that his heart would always remain broken so he would be softened to the needs of those around him. He admitted that this act was wrong and hurtful to all who love her. Though God himself was grieved by her decision, He was still there. (Heb 13:5 – I shall never leave you nor forsake you). Mr. Clark implored the young ladies in the church not to be swayed by the pull of the world and its focus on external beauty rather than the heart.

Walking away from this morning and reflecting on the past week, I’ve realized something very important:
We’re of no use to others unless we take care of ourselves
By no means am I saying to be selfish instead of selfless, but if we continue to pour out without being poured into, we will inevitably run out of steam. I heard an interview with Phil Vischer this morning on the radio. The founder of Big Idea and Veggie Tales, Phil was deemed one of the top 10 people to keep your eye on in global religion in 2000. By 2003, he had lost it all and found himself in bankruptcy court. To quote him directly, “I made the work I was doing for God more important than my relationship with God.” Because he was so busy with his ministry, his personal devotions suffered, his family suffered, his relationships suffered and ultimately, his company failed and because the noise of his life drowned out the quiet whisper of God. How can we ever expect to help others live a godly life unless we ourselves are sitting at the Master’s feet daily?

Our prayers go out to the entire Clark family and the church and friends that surround them. Savannah’s oldest sister, Brittany, works with Ricky and has even watched the kids for us. There are three surviving sisters and we pray they will follow the call to stand up and step out for God, even in this troubling time.

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