Friday, April 22, 2011

I've already cried twice today

I've already cried twice today and it's not even noon.

And it didn't even directly relate to the big scare I had on Monday with baby T. It will have it's own post, but in a nutshell-He had a small cold on Sunday that turned into a full-fledged scary asthma attack. All is well now (for the most part...I'm still not sure why it happened, but he is okay.)

So my last blog post on Saturday night was a quick rundown of my thinking after the intense, yet beautiful trip to Little Rock for Living Proof Live.
All of us that went were still reeling the next day from how God spoke to each of us and what we took away from the trip. Several of us attend the same church and as soon as we saw each other in our "Crazy Love" ladies bible class we gravitated to each other like magnets. Each of us wanted to be in proximity to each other so we could see how we were doing and how we were all processing what we've learned.
I have to admit, I'm intimidated to try and put it all down in words right now. I'm not sure I'm "there" yet. But what the heck, we are never "there," we are always a work in progress, albeit (I love that word, by the way, it's so unexpected the way it looks, but it's a word you hear all the time...sorry I'm a terrible where was I...) albeit the progress is messy sometimes and not linear. You'd think logically the more we learn and read about Christ we would progress straight up the mountain eventually reaching the pinnacle. Yet we are human, and we continually fail, fall backwards-sometimes HARD, and blessedly make baby steps as we go towards having a real relationship with God. And even once we "get it", (see last post) and we have the relationship with Christ, it doesn't mean at all that we coast to the end.
Quite the opposite. Oh, you may have a brief period of coasting along with everything going okay, but there will be trials and hard times. It's in the bible. I would say everyone has experienced these times.
But being a Christian doesn't mean we are immune to the trials that non-Christians have, however we have tapped into this free gift of help to carry us through the hard times. TREMENDOUS help that we would not have otherwise have if we hadn't accepted it as it is offered to every single human being
The help is Jesus' strength, but not only that-it's the relationships and encouragement from other Christians. The ones who also"get it."
What gifts God gives us in our relationships with others! God knew we needed Jesus to pay the price for our failings and He knew what we'd need to make it through the ups and downs of life: each other!
So why I cried twice today:
I was holding my sweet baby boy giving him his breathing treatment this morning and furiously reading "Heaven is For Real" by Todd Burpo. I was reading furiously because I do not have time to read other than the bible and my students' lesson plans, but I REALLY wanted to read it, and I borrowed it so I knew I would have to return it shortly. I'm only to the part of the book where the boy's parents were not knowing if their son would make it through his surgery, but after the week I'd had with baby Thomas and what my dear friend Kimberly has gone through, it was too close to home. I'll let you know what I think of the book when I finish.
Then I rush around to get Caroline to dance (and I'm hoping I am making an okay decision to get Thomas back out in the scary world to go with us.)  At dance myself and another mom get into a deep discussion about God and His will for our relationships and stressors of life (by the way I've come to realize my barometer for myself and how well my relationship with God is going is based on how much I talk about Him. I know I haven't nurtured our relationship if He isn't a topic of my conversation with everyone I come in contact with!)
I then head towards Chick-fil-a, I think my car could drive itself there, and I meet my sweet mom who brought me some milk, because grocery shopping is very low priority for me lately. I get in the drive through lane, since I have determined Thomas has had enough and immediately cars line up behind me as far as I can see. A poor red jeep came from the opposite direction of the flow to the drive through and I thought to myself, I am in no hurry and I'll let her in front of me because there is no telling how long she might have to wait to get in.
I make my order and get to the window and the lady hands me my food. I'm confused and she tells me the car in front of me had paid for mine.
What in the world!? I couldn't even remember what the car looked like in front of me and I didn't know what to say except "wow" and I pulled forward a little ways to get Caroline's chocolate milk opened and the act of kindness from a stranger overwhelmed me. It's such a little thing to do for someone, but what an impact it had on me.
I knew our local Christian radio station has a "pay it forward" day every so often and encourages people to do things like that, but I knew today wasn't one of those designated days. I told Caroline what had happened and how the person must have a HUGE, caring heart to help out a stranger without wanting a "thank you." I don't think at all it was a coincidence it happened today, when our bible study discussion last night and the conversation I had that morning was all about PEOPLE. I begin to drive again and in the background I hear on KLRC a song that moves me to tears even on "normal" days, David Crowder Band's "Oh How He Loves Us." That's when the tears came for the second time.
It seems I've been struggling with unbelief. I thought it was prayerlessness (see post,) and it is that, but also unbelief!
I totally believe in God, but I have trouble believing God.  It is hard to understand that He loves us so much. And it's hard to understand that He allows bad things to happen to us. I'm beginning to understand and accept this, but it is difficult.
Here's the song, it's so true:
He is jealous for me
Love's like a hurricane,
I am a tree
Bending beneath the weight of
His wind and mercy
When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
and I realize just how beautiful You are and how great your affections are for me.
Oh, how He loves us so
Oh, how He loves us
How He loves us so.

It wasn't until I was literally half way home that I remembered letting that red jeep into our line. Instead of a random act of kindness, this stranger was saying a BIG thank you to me by buying our lunch. It's the little things we do for each other that matter...and the big things that we do.
God, thank you for speaking to me so clearly today. And all before noon.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In Christ Alone

Wow. All I keep thinking is, Wow.
Okay, that's a lie. That's not all I keep thinking. I'm also thinking about a bajilion ways I could write this do I put into words what I experienced with 8,514 women (and 4 men) in attendance at Verizon arena. We all feel like we had the best and hardest workout of our lives. And- I can't sleep until I post about it!
I've blogged in the past about our Thursday night ladies bible study that's going on year 6. Well, 12 of us went to Little Rock last night to praise God and listen to a message about how we can live a fulfilled life through Christ during our short time on Earth. Beth Moore spoke to us using 2 Timothy Chapter 4 as our focus. In an extreme nutshell, we can't do this thing called "life" alone, as an island, relying on our own strength. We can only make it through Christ and how we reflect His love in our relationships.
(What I'm about to admit makes me shake while typing, but it's the truth...)
It wasn't that long ago, that I just didn't "get" it.
I would hear Christian music and it didn't do anything for me.
The thought of heaven as a place where we praise Jesus all day, didn't sound that great to me.
I knew I was missing something! Why are so many Christians in love with Jesus? I knew I believed in God, I knew I wanted to live a "good" life, but I also knew that I had an unfulfilled longing.
It wasn't until I took the risk to be vulnerable and took the giant leap of faith to be baptized at the ripe 'ol age of 20, did I really GET it. OH, HOW I GOT IT. (Thank you, Jesus.) And it wasn't until this year that I really understood why accepting Jesus opened my heart up to feel what I knew I was supposed to feel when praising God, because when I accepted Jesus I received the holy spirit and that is what stirs us! It's what MOVES us.
I began thinking I would just post the lyrics to this song "In Christ Alone" and let it speak for itself, but then I realized you can experience a sliver of what we experienced by listening and watching (and singing along if you really want to be bold!) to the youtube video.

 I lose all composure I manage to muster during the first half of the song, when this verse is sung: No guilt in life, no fear in death; This is the power of Christ in me; From life's first cry to final breath; Jesus commands my destiny.
Only by God's grace am I sitting here typing out my redemption story for anyone who will listen.
That verse is my 2009. Thomas took his final breath and his son took his first cry.
Hallelujah and Amen, Jesus, that you held on tight to me even before I knew you. You had people in place in my life who listened to you and taught me about you, because you knew what was in store for me. You knew I would need you AND them.

Only you know when I will take my final breath, but by your mercy that I can never earn, I will open my eyes and tell you to your glorious face "WE MADE IT!"

So I want to beg every single one of you (even those of you saying, "yeah, that's a great song" or "I already know it" or "I don't have time") to at least listen to it. And at the very, very least listen to the part from 3:19-5:21. Promise me you'll do it.

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm

What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless Babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save

Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again

And as He stands in victory
Sin's curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life's first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny

No power of hell, no scheme of man
Could ever pluck me from His hand
Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I stand.

Ps Dori feel better and we will tell you every single detail! We love you!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Where I've been!

Wow. I knew it had been a long time since my last post, but this is ridiculous! I've heard I can change the dates on a post and catch up that way, but it's not my style. I have to ramble on and on in one post at a time and when Caroline and Thomas read their blog books (because I know they will be fascinated by them one day! I'm saying that a little sarcastically, but I hope they will!) they will realize by the gap in the dates that this was a very busy time for their momma!
We went to Cancun the week after Christmas and had a wonderful time with the entire Culp clan! Well, it was wonderful once I realized we had survived the plane rides, customs/immigration, eating in airports, changing diapers in a two square foot sized bathroom all by ourselves! I enjoyed meeting some very nice people on the planes and waiting areas to board. Several even helped me carry the stroller and bags. (So my faith in humankind is still a positive one.) We only had one "shhh" from a sleeping actor (I was told he is on some tv show I don't watch) on the flight to Mexico. So I think one shush out of all four plane rides there and back is called "SUCCESS."
Thomas in Mexico! December 29 2010

It was super emotional for me to see my sweet kiddos put their feet in the sand and see the ocean without their dad there. I let myself be sad for a few minutes, then gave it to God to deal with (Thank you, God for your undending care for us!) and then we enjoyed ourselves playing in the surf with the cousins, eating bowl fulls of guacamole, and making memories.
I was very excited to get to see the Mayan ruins, because I LOVE history, but Thomas wanted to just run 100mph all over the site, not taking time to reflect and learn...I guess I'll have to go back when they are older, sigh. :-)

January: I had a birthday, but who is counting anymore? Not me. And we had snow. Lots of it.

February: Caroline turned 4!!! Yes, FOUR on February 2nd. We enjoyed a ton of friends and family at Boingo Bounce, although the weather tried to impede us. Nothing could stop families from letting their little ones burn energy at her birthday party after being cooped up for days after two huge snow storms. We had a routine down from all of the snow days. Waking up to chocolate chip pancakes, taking thirty minutes to bundle up, spending an hour sledding down our steep driveway, warming up inside with hot chocolate, lunch, resting, eating "snow ice cream,"  and repeat. For four straight days. Good times.
Also in February, we had our exciting engagement!

Since then I have been cherishing my sweet children. Thomas is talking so much! He is 20 months old. He says: Bye-bye, I did it!, book, milk ("muk"), Jett, choo-choo (for anything that moves or rolls), and a bunch of jibber jabber like he is really telling me a whole story. He brings me Chicka Chicka Boom Boom at least twice a day for me to read to him and everytime I stand him up from changing his diaper on the changer he points to the letters on the "THOMAS" painting sweet Lindsey made for us and he points to the letters saying "O, O, S, O" He has the "O" letter down! He gives real kisses to us and folds his hands to pray. He is a charmer and a very strong little boy. He's 95% in height and weight for his age and lately he has been resting his head on my shoulder when I hold him. (That's the sound of my heart melting into a puddle.)
Caroline continues to amaze me with her intelligence and heart for God. We have deep conversations every day about where God is in our hearts and how the earth rotates to make day and night...She is a very curious and thoughtful little girl. She will apologize to me when she realizes she sounded exasperated or sarcastic when she talks. She will say, "Sorry, mommy, I shouldn't have said it like that."She is becoming very independent and it is sad and wonderful to watch. She will say to her brother, "I just love your cute little toes!" and if I say something she is thinking she will say, "You have the same brain as me!" Just like when she was 2, she still recognizes our USA flag and start singing "You're a Grand Ol' Flag" and make me sing along. She is on the verge of reading independently and recognizes all sounds and letters. She can rhyme words and we are enjoying our Raffi CD Mollie and Julie gave us..."Willoughby Wallaby Whomas and Elephant sat on Thomas!" and we've just discovered Trout Fishing in America thanks to Uncle Skip. Now whenever one of the three of us wake up with crazy hair she starts singing, "My hair had a party last night, it must have been in a terrible fight! When my head hit the pillow it was lookin' allright!..." and Thomas will dance while she sings.

  Tyler and I continue to build a strong foundation for our upcoming marriage as I continue wedding planning, continuing three bible studies (more on that in just a bit,) enjoying teaching my seniors in their literacy class (but, whew, are they a lot of work and how I will miss them when they graduate!), and not praying.
Yes, you read right. Not praying.
God sure has been working on me these last few months and He has opened my eyes in a BIG way. I've really reflected on how I got to this point of not praying and I sort of figured it out. (Although it doesn't really matter how I got here, but just what I plan on doing about it!)

Peekaboo! Sweet cousins. March 2011
 It's hard for me to remember what my prayer life was like before the accident, but I know for months following it I relied on others to pray for me. I even blogged about how I could feel the prayers and what they did for me. It was so very hard to pray then. I felt like I "talked" with God a lot in spurts throughout my days, but my emotions and questions got in my way of hearty praying. So I let others do the praying. I slowly began to get out of the grief fog, and began to pray again. But I was just praying for others: My kids, my family and friends with prayer requests etc. This has worked well for me for some time.
Fayetteville Farmers' Market April 2011! Thomas pushed her everywhere!

Then I think God decided I was ready to REALLY pray again, but I didn't. We began Beth Moore's Breaking Free with my single moms' group last fall and it was AMAZING. Beth's best study ever. So we decided to do it beginning last month in our Thursday night ladies group. I couldn't wait for EVERYONE ELSE to find out what THEIR strongholds/obstacles were on THEIR path to freedom.
How silly of me to think since I just finished the study that I had my work on myself finished (as far as this study goes; I obviously know I will be continually refined until the day I enter heaven.)

Hmmm...then we get to the five benefits of being in a true relationship with God. Week 2 of the homework. I realize: I am missing out on the benefit of peace! I am not peaceful. I run from one event/agenda item/playdate/appointment to the next so much and so fast that my head spins and I was hardly able to enjoy any of it, because I was "BUSY."
You know what God says about that? So what. So what you were "busy." (He also said to me, hmmm you were so busy that you still managed to watch American Idol!?)

I say all that not to say the things I do aren't important and I'm not saying we shouldn't stop and take breaks to watch TV,  but after the last two weeks of Breaking Free homework I realized I am missing out on God's peace in my life. I realized more than once in a given week when someone asked me how I am and I answered them "I feel as if I run around like a chicken with my head cut off" I knew something needed to change. Also, I knew other people juggle far more than I do and they do not act like headless chickens-that was when God decided I was ready to hear this message about prayerlessness.

Don't get me wrong, I "talk" with God all day, kind of like a running conversation, and I pray for requests from my friends, at meals and with the kids at bedtime, but I do not spend focused time in prayer. Beth Moore said on page 69 of the workbook "Without a doubt, avoiding prayer is a sure prescription for anxiety, a way to avoid peace. To experience the kind of peace that covers all circumstances, the Bible challenges us to develop active, authentic prayer lives...the enemy would rather see us study the Bible into the wee hours of the morning, because he knows we'll never have deep understanding and power to live what we've learned without prayer. Satan knows prayerless lives are powerless lives, while prayerful lives are powerful lives!"

WOW. I was actually making Satan happy and God sad that I was too busy with church instead of praying!
I have not rolled this boulder out of the way on my path to freedom yet, but I see that it is there and I'm trying to push it away.

 In Sunday morning ladies class we discussed chapter 4 of Francis Chan's "Crazy Love" and how we tend to give to God our sloppy leftovers as an offering instead of our very best. For example,  a "mumbled three minute prayer when I'm half asleep" (this author sure knows me!) I know I can do better.
Trout Fishing in America concert spring break at the Jones Center !!
My passion I had last spring for being the best mom I can to my precious children hasn't lessened at all. I think it has intensified. I feel God has blessed us through this past year of new beginnings and Tyler and I are excited about what God is doing in our lives.
I feel like a broken record, but I want to say it again. I do not have it all figured out. I am having to answer new questions from Caroline "Did Thomas get to see Daddy?" "Will Daddy be sad when he sees me in heaven all grown up?" (I tell her USUALLY people go to heaven when they are old.) "Daddy didn't get to see me when I'm four." Whew. Tough stuff for a child to be thinking about. We talk it out and I share what I learn from the bible and just when I think I can't take the direction of our conversation anymore, she will look at me and say "Can I paint my fingernails?"
Instead of dwelling on how sad it is that she (and soon baby Thomas) has to deal with so much at a young age, I think about how much more of a grasp they will have than most people their age on life... and it's briefness and it's ups and downs that are inevitable and how God took care of us in our time of need. They will be able to remember how He took care of us and draw on that strength when they go through valleys as adults.
We are still learning each day how to live with our grief and joys in life. One of my favorite quotes from GriefShare helps me: We may be thinking that the absence of pain is a sign of healing. Real healing is characterized by the presence of both joy and pain."

Thank you, God, for opening my eyes through this study in your word so that I may experience all of the AMAZING benefits of loving you.