Saturday, December 24, 2011

2011 Christmas Letter

Yes!  Finally--Finished!  Technical difficulties overcome!

Dear Friends,

Oh, how I am praying that God's Spirit will indwell my fingertips like never before and write this story. You see, this is His story--this journey we've been on, this 'ultra marathon' that we have lived, breathed and endured over the past year.  It's a glorious testament to His realness.  I am begging Him to knock me out of the way and to put pen to prose, to leave absolutely nothing out and give His story the justice it deserves.  So (deep breath), here we go...

2011.  We rang in the new year with a few of you.  Those of you there may have remembered the goofy video our family made as part of a white elephant gift.  I have to say, it was hysterically funny--I still get a stitch in my side thinking about it.  The video was poking fun at the fact that Eric had recently lost his job, a subject not very funny to say the least.  Yet we were coping with it the best we knew how, and one of those ways was to stay light-hearted about it and laugh as much as we could.  After all, laughter is the best medicine, right?  Little did we know, we were going to need to draw on that reservoir many times over 2011 and that reservoir was going to need to run deep.  But we were going to need more than surfacey laughter; we were going to have to dig deep into the well of Living Water and ask for joy.  This unemployed season was going to require an endurance of supernatural proportions and only the 'joy in all circumstances' that comes form Him and Him alone would be able to sustain us.

Let me back track a moment for a few of you whom may be in the dark.  In November, 2010, Eric lost his job.  Thus, we entered the Christmas season with a new and unfamiliar title--unemployed.  God led me to purchase a journal at this time to record all that we were going to experience in this season.  I vividly remember dragging my feet up to the check-out counter at Michael's and almost not buying it.  You see, I had a little nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach--that ominous sense that if I was going to purchase a journal than it was going to have to be filled with prose.  Prose of the difficult kind.  Ironically (yet of no surprise to God), the front of that journal was covered with the words 'Jump for Joy'.  Yes, He knew.  He knew we were going to need joy by the heapfuls and the only way to unlock the reservoir of unending joy was through praises of thanksgiving.  One of the first verses I memorized after becoming a Christian was 1 Thess. 5:19: 'be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.'  God asks us to memorize His Word so that we can carry it with us wherever we are, coming to our aid whenever it's needed.  Over the following months, that verse, along with Nehemiah 8:10, 'the joy of the Lord is my strength', became the mantra of my mind, playing like a broken record over and over again--keeping me grounded, keeping me sane, but more than anything, giving me a supernatural 'fill-up' whenever I needed it.

With the beginning of a new year, we were hopeful.   Surely, a job would materialize before long, right?  Right, God?  Right?!?!  Unfortunately, God doesn't always answer our prayers with a 'yes'.  Sometimes He says 'no' and sometimes He says 'wait'.  Strangely, in the months to follow, every time I got frustrated with God's silent waiting room, the words of a song would immediately come to my mind:

'I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden.'

I know, weird, right?  Those words may be from a song of a different era, but they are true, nonetheless.  God doesn't promise that things are always going to be rosy and perfect.  What He does offer, though, is His hand to hold onto tightly in the midst of the trial.

We prayed.  We hoped.  We thanked Him.  We prayed.  We hoped.  We praised Him.  All the while, Eric interviewed.  Yet, God said no to this job, and no to that job, while simultaneously extending His hand and providing for needs.  Need after need after need, He provided.  Journal entry after entry after entry, we recorded.

Then, as if on a divine timer, problems and breakdowns of epic proportions began occurring.  Murphy moved into our back bedroom and wasn't about to budge...not one inch.  I think many of you started calling us the Bad News Bears hehind our backs.  I wouldn't have blamed you.  It was true.  Yet it was all in His timing, because impossible situations are His specialty.  Gigantic problems set the stage for the grandest of entrances and He was about to make a scene, causing quite a stir that would leave no denial--absolutely no denial--that His involvement was all over this thing.

Enter problem numero uno.  Our washer died.  As much as a family of seven needs a functional washer, we felt clearly the Lord saying, 'Don't go buy a new one on credit.  Pray and wait'.  So we prayed and waited...and dragged ten loads of laundry to the Laundromat.  Fourteen days later, a friend just 'happened' to move into a new house where the prior owners just 'happened' to leave a washer.  And not any old washer, mind you.  The exact brand we would have bought had we went out and purchased a new one!  You bet we recorded that one!  Journal entry #64 to be exact.

Next, our sewage backed up into our home.  We had to move out of our house for four days AND figure out a way to come up with a couple of thousand to fix it.  Some suggested we borrow the money and get it fixed.  The washer still fresh on our mind, we were determined more than ever to rely on the Lord, pray, and wait...and to roll up our sleeves and do whatever we could ourselves to fix it.  Eric pulled together a team of faithful friends, rented a backhoe and began digging.  They dug until it got too dangerous.... We prayed.  We waited.  And wondered... Just as we were about to throw up our hands in surrender and put it on credit, a group of anonymous givers (many of them being you!) went in together and collected more than enough to fix it.  Recording Journal Entry #94, we were beyond humble and grateful.  Oh, but God wanted more glory than that.  Just as we were about to cut a check, the city informed us that it was their bill to pay.  Thus, they fixed it for free.  Journal Entry #95!  We were thrilled beyond reason!  We praised Him up and down!  Yet, we couldn't help but wonder why.  Why, God, did it end up costing nothing when you provided the funds to cover it?  Maybe because His foresight is 20/20...

...Because two weeks later our transmission blew.  Yep.  There we sat, on the side of the interstate with a busload of kids in tow.  Being responsible Triple A membership owners, we smugly pulled out our Triple A card and called them up to collect on our free tow.

'We're sorry,' they said, 'but your large van is over the weight limit for towing.  To get that service you need the upgraded 'RV membership'.'

'Can we upgrade??!!'

'No.  But we'll get you a tow back to Louisville for a mere $300...'

Crickets chirped in the background....along with all of the children complaining and whining, asking what we were going to do.  So I sent them down in the ditch to play on the side of the interstate.  We stood there, our heads spinning.  The weariness from the past several weeks began to turn to anger.  I WAS SO DONE--COMPLETELY DONE--and I was going to let God know it!  I stomped.  I cried.  I sulked.  I yelled.  I had a tantrum of the grandest sorts while those eighteen wheelers sped by.  And when I stopped to catch my breath, I heard ever so clearly and quietly:

'I beg your pardon.  I never promised you a rose garden...What I do promise, though, is to walk with you through the landfill.'

The part of me that is His knew that these words, as hard as they were to hear, were truth.  The part of me that is pulled by, taunted, and anchored to this world and luring promises continued sulking.  That battle between flesh and Spirit raged for the next few days...until one morning in sweet surrender I finally stretched out that hand.  And a supernatural 'fill-up' of the tenderest kind occurred, resulting in His peace, His joy and His strength despite the present circumstances.  Gratefully I recorded Journal Entry #110: 'transmission paid for in full for van with money collected for sewage problem'.

As the first half of the year ticked away, jobs presented themselves that seemed too good to be true--perfect fits if there ever was such.  Perhaps an excerpt from an email I sent to several vested prayer friends paints the picture best:

'Whether we win or lose, we will praise the LORD'--my favorite line of Facing the Giants--favorite yet most difficult, too...

Yesterday, we got a 'no' on the through our 'tunnel vision' and our 'world lense'... we automatically think this is a 'loss', not a win.  And rightly so--we have been praying, focusing all of our energy on this company for the last several weeks and 'going for it'...doing so because circumstance after circumstance kept lining up that this was 'the job'--interview after interview made everything appear as if this was 'the one'.  It 'appeared' God was working behind the scenes, lining things up, etc., etc., the manager was pulling for him, all of the other sales reps were pulling for him but in the end, God's answer was no.

God closed the door with a resounding thud...

We know He closed it because we have been seeking Him, pursuing Him, and had every inch of this covered in prayer--so, so many people praying for this... so we can be assured God's purpose and plan is in the no.  We can rest in it.  Thank you, Lord, for the 'rest of faith', the resting in the shadow of your wings...

God is upside-down, topsy turvy and works outside our neatly pressed, slick suited interview system.  Unimpressed with impression, His ways are not our ways because our identity is not in a job, it's in Him alone.  Thankful that we are learning this on a field trip and not in the classroom--so thankful.

He said no to the future yes.. and faith of the holiest sorts is built in the waiting room of God. 

Well, God did not make us Grogans runners for nothing.  So yesterday we thought we were in the 25th mile, coming up on the finish line...but today we realize we are on the sixteenth mile with ten more to go.  It's okay.  We've been here before.  We know what to do...our training is going to kick in , our fans on the sidelines have made sure we've got plenty of water and gel packs :), and we are going to push through this race...there will be some pain but it's the good, stretching kind of pain...when we get tired, our Father is going to whisper in our ears that we can do it...our friends will be right there on the sidelines, cheering us, no--I must change that.  With the kind of friends we have, they are going to jump into the race, run with us, and then carry us over the finish line.  I'm sure of it...'

Summer emerged.  As the sun beat down and scorched everything in its path, our family was experiencing a drought in more ways than one.  Job opportunities...dried up.  Job leads...dried up.  We were tempted to let our hope...dry up.  While Eric continued to do menial work to make ends meet, I baked bread to provide extra income (you can read a funny post about that here :) ) , and God creatively filled in the gaps.  We now had over 120 journal entries to date.

Sports.  We love them.  It's what our family does together for fun.  Our boys' smiles are biggest when they are competing.  Our two favorites are baseball and running.  And--truly--God used these two things to keep us 'up' during a very down season.  With four boys playing baseball--well, for a couple of months out of the year, we are totally, 100% immersed.  This past season we went to approximately 872 baseball games (that number might be a little high, but not by much :) ).  As much as we love baseball, and as much as it helped keep our spirits up, running is what kept us sane.  So much so, that Eric and I decided to spend our summer training for a marathon.  As we trained our bodies to endure the pain of a marathon, God trained our minds for the marathon of our circumstances.

Some days we hit the road full of frustration (a polite word for anger) with God. Venting and complaining, we'd lodge our arguments. Mile after mile, He would diffuse.  His Spirit would minister.  Mile after mile, He would share His perspective and enlighten us with His promises:

'....Wait...strength will rise as you wait upon me...My ways are not your ways...My power is made perfect in weakness...A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold...Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (run)...So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (emphasis added), and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own...'

And so we waited, and we ran. Day after day, through His Word, a devotional, a song, or a podcast, He sustained. And on the run, He ingrained. He turned fears into faith, He turned sadness to joy, He turned complaints into thanksgiving and He turned strife into peace.

And through the discipline of running,
we found His rest.

And as summer came to a close, our circumstances hadn't really changed. God had chosen to remain silent in regards to our many heartfelt cries of employment. He chose to say no without an explanation and without direction. Just simply 'no...and wait.' In fact, we seemed further away from an answer than ever.

And yet, by the route of the road He had supplied Himself...quenching our thirst along the parched path. Yes, we had experienced Him as more than enough. As tears and sweat slid down and off, converging together--paining and training colliding into a stream--along the route of the road in the desert of discipline, He gently and firmly established that: 'For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.'

God often works behind the scenes, strategically arranging events and circumstances to accomplish His plans.  Unbeknonst to us, He was about to make a climatic alignment...

One August day, Eric got a call from the local Area Representative of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).  He asked Eric if he could become the Huddle chaplain for the North Oldham High School cross country team.  Because he didn't have a job, he was able to say yes to this weekly afternoon commitment.  One thing led to another, and soon he was also leading a FCA Huddle group for our children's cross country team.  As I reflected upon our past year, God may have closed door after door to job opportunities, but he had opened door after door to be 'fisher of men' (Matthew 4:19).  I had spent the first part of the year as the prayer coordinator for Deeper Still.  Now, Eric was spending the last part of the year as a FCA Huddle group chaplain.  Neither of these jobs could have been accomplished had Eric been working.  As I stood on the sidelines, watching my husband combine sports and Jesus, I watched something start to come alive in him.

In our family, the fall means one thing:  CROSS COUNTRY!  We live, love and breathe it.  We spent Saturday after Saturday traveling to cross crountry meets and cheering our children on.  As proud as we were of their running accomplishments, we were more proud of them leading their team members in prayer before a race, more proud of the moments they chose to represent Jesus to those around them.

While our childen hit the prime of their training, us marathoners began to taper.  The Columbus race loomed on the horizon and all systems seemed a go...or so I thought.  Until my knee injury ten days prior to race day.  I'll admit, I did not handle this news gracefully at first.  Remember that temper tantrum beside Interstate 64?  Yep.  I threw another one. 

You see, at this point, God, Eric and I--we had some mileage going on. Along the route of the road--day in, day out--it had become so much much more than a marathon.

We were a team.

I just had one question on that lonely Monday, one question to His 'no' that was the straw breaking the camel's back:

Why--why are you kicking me off the team?

One question followed by a few more:

'All summer long, your answer has been, 'No, no, to this job, no to that job'...all summer long... and now you are going to say no to this too? This, this way of worshipping, this thing we got going on, this really good thing--you are saying no??!!!'

His retort came quietly the following day through my Oswald Chambers devotional, befittingly entitled 'Getting Into God's Stride':

'It is painful work to get in step with God and to keep pace with Him--it means getting your second win spiritually. In learning to walk with God, there is always the difficulty of getting into His stride, but once we have done so, the only characteristic that exhibits itself is the very life of God Himself. The individual is merged into a personal oneness with God and God's stride and His power alone are exhibited. It is difficult to get into stride with God, because as soon as we start walking with Him we find that His pace has surpassed us before we have even taken three steps. He has different ways of doing things, and we have to be trained and disciplined in His ways....It is God's Spirit that changes the atmosphere of our way of looking at things, and then things begin to be possible which before were impossible...Getting into God's stride means nothing less than oneness with Him. It takes a long time to get there, but keep at it. Don't give up because the pain is intense right now--get on with it, and before long you will find that you have a new vision and a new purpose.'

...And suddenly, I felt small. And my wailings, they felt small...

'Oh forgive me, God, for once again making my life and circumstances all about my wants and my desires. Forgive me for not trusting you even when things don't go my me to remember it's not about the results, it's about the relationship.'

My rebellious spirit submitted.  As we bowed our heads during our family prayer time, I chose to thank Him for this newly aquired difficulty. I chose to thank Him that He might be delivering another 'no'.   As I did, His Spirit of Peace filled me with sweet surrender to a marathon Sunday that might or might not involve me as a participant.

As Sunday approached, my knee slightly improved. I decided to go forward by faith, run it and give it my all--until I couldn't.

Thursday before the marathon, Eric interviewed for another medical sales job.  It was really weird, but I was not excited about the interview; Eric was not excited about it either.  He needed a job (with exclamation points!!!), yet it felt like we were just going through the motions.  After the interview that day, Eric went to lunch with some  friends.  One of those friends asked him if he had ever considered trying to combine sports with ministry.  Over the past year, several friends had asked him that same question. We just never knew how to make that happen--it seemed like a pipe dream.  Now that he had gotten involved with FCA, this question got his wheels turning.  When he got home from that lunch, Eric got on the FCA website and saw a job posting for an Area Representative in Western Kentucky--where he had grown up, where we had went to college (Murray State), where we had met.

I had felt with everything in me that this race was playing a significant part in our employement trial, that when we crossed the finish line and finished this marathon, our jobless marathon was also going to be over.  As I reflected on the timing of this job opportunity and our race day, somehow--I really can't explain it--but somehow, I knew.  I knew that this job with FCA was going to be God's answer.  I told a friend that day, 'This is it...this is what we have been waiting for.  This is what God has been preparing us for.'

Sunday.  Marathon Day.  We prepared that morning before the race with some time in God's Word and prayer.  My Jesus Calling devotional stood out as a bright light:

'Look to me continually for help, comfort, and companionship.  Because I am always by your side, the briefest glance can connect you with Me.  When you look to Me for help, it flows freely from My Presence.  This recognition of your need for Me, in small matters as well as in large ones, keeps you spiritually alive.'

My mother-in-law had given Eric and I a bible verse to pin on ourselves during the race.  The verse she had chosen for me was Isaiah 41:13: 'For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand.'

Companionship--this is what our journey, our race, had been all about this past year--choosing to grab hold of his hand and walk with Him whether the terrain was tough or easy.  As we chose to do so, He infused us with the ability to keep going.  Today I was going to have to do the same and look to Him when it got painful.

It didn't take long for the pain to set in.  Eric said my face at mile seven said it all.  I told him to go ahead as I wasn't sure that I would be able to finish.  As I slowed down, I watched he and our pace group run ahead, my dream of a 3:45 finish disappearing with them.

I had all intentions of quitting.  I really did.  But every time I was about to stop I got a little more strength, a little more stamina to keep going.  It was as if Jesus was literally running this race beside me, squeezing my hand every time I needed a boost.

My performance that day didn't even compare to my prior two marathons.  I had to completely walk miles 22-24.  Throughout the entire race, people past me left and right.  Two perky girls in bright pink blew by me, the back of their shirts sporting, 'this is my first marathon and I'm beating you!'  I thought about accidentally spitting on them, but they were too far in front of me.

My performance may have been less than par, but what I experienced along the way that day was more than enough.  His companionship.  Him and Him alone.  It was more than enough.

As I hobbled along that day on the race path, I saw clearly the path divinely forged for us in 2011.  We, too, had been thrown off the peformance train.  We, too, had been forced to hobble along, forced to watch people pass us left and right.  Yet His companionship had been more than enough.  Strangely, while he had never promised us a rose garden, we had been forced to move slowly through what we had initailly considered a landfill.  Forced to linger in the landfill, we had found roses in the most unexpected places, yielding the most unexpected blessings.  Beautiful blessings, over 200 recorded, so many more that had never even made it to paper.  And I realized  He does promise a rose garden...we just have to be willing to stop and smell the roses, His divinely planted roses.

From the world's perspective, my marathon was not a winner.  From the world's perspective, our family's 2011 wasn't a winner.  Yet, could it be that the winning was really in the losing?   Losing pride in a job, to gain humility in our Savior's identity.  Losing the grasp of the allure of riches, to gain eternal treasure.  Losing our desire to trust in ourselves, to gain the faith to trust in His provision.  Losing our self imposed plan and purpose, to gain His.  Yes, I could see it now...The winning had been in the losing.

We crossed the finish line that day.  That finish line represented the end of an aimless wondering in the wilderness.  The end of a long season of waiting.  In the weeks that followed, God unfolded His plan, a plan to take us to Western Kentucky--Paducah to be exact--to spread His Word among coaches, athletes and students. 

We can look back now and realize that He has been right beside us every step of the way, preparing us all along.   The year of preparation, that's what 2011 has been.  A preparation that occurred through recording and remembering.  The journal purchase last December was not a mere chance occurrence, but rather a divine appointment  to build faith, to build trust, to infuse peace .

The verse He has continued to put on our heart is Matthew 9: 38: 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'   We ask, as we prepare over the coming months, that you pray for us.  Pray for His grace, His help, His plan, His purpose.  Pray for the harvest field in Western Kentucky, for workers to emerge, for a plentiful harvest.  Moving and leaving Louisville is going to be the hardest thing our family has ever done.  We will go with tears streaming, but we will go with excitement brewing.  Excitement over the adventure the Lord has us on...we are pumped about following His lead and 'running with perseverance the race marked out for us!'

Yes, just as 'the Shepherds returned, praising and glorifying God for all that they had seen and heard' (Luke 2:20), we too stand in awe of the year behind us...and in awe of a God who invites us to participate in what He is doing.  As I flip through our 'Jump for Joy' journal, I realize there are still so many blank pages yet.  This adventure, this reliance on the Lord--oh, it's only just begun.  With divine ink and hand, He is writing His heart pumps in anticipation just thinking about what's to come.

As you enter 2012, we pray that you would grab a hold of the hand of the One and Only, the sweet Savior of this world--Jesus--and let Him write your story.  We promise you, you won't regret it.

With Much Love,

The Grogans
Eric, Maria, Joshua, Sophie, Jeremiah, Wes and Owen

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A View of our 2011 Cross Country Season...

Cross Country--near and dear to my heart for many reasons...  This video is a snapshot of how our entire family has spent the last three months...and whom we spent them with.  We've spent four out of the seven days of every week with these kids and their families and our coach--they've become like family to us.  We made this video as a 'thank you' to our Coach at our end of season party/bash.  Enjoy and come join our team next year! (but make sure you pause my playlist (on the lower right) so you can hear the music on the video)  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Too Legit to Quit

This Sunday Eric and I are supposed to be running the Columbus Marathon.  My prayer is that all systems will be a go, because this forty-one year old body has taken a beating and is screaming, 'nnnnnooooooo!'  My IT band has decided it doesn't want to support my leg anymore and is causing quite a ruckus to my outer knee.  While my knee has been screaming no, no, no, my head is refusing to comply.  You see, I have spent the past four months of my life training for this day and to have to throw in the towel at the end would be the ultimate disappointment. I liken it to the artist who has spent weeks on a painting or an actor who has spent months preparing for the big show, only to be told that someone dumped paint on and ruined his entire masterpiece or that there will now be no performance.  Such circumstances are just hard to accept.

Two weeks ago I was supposed to begin tapering, which means easing off the miles.  It is the honeymoon phase of the whole marathon training process (if you could even say there is such a thing!).  It's supposed to be the enjoyable time.  Instead, I have been doing IT band exercises, foam rolling, icing and taking lots of ibuprofen. Tuesday I even got a cortisone injection. 

Why?  Why, you say, are you still going to go ahead as planned?  Why not set this one out?  There will be plenty of other marathons, right?  Yes, this would seem to be the most logical answer, just based on the facts, based on the surface of things.  Yet let me share with you that which is going on beneath the surface...

Sure, running is one of the best ways to stay physically fit.  It is great exercise, etc, etc, etc.  True statements, right?  True, but surfacy...You see, these are all great benefits to running, and I am glad they are true, but they are not the reasons I run.  I run because it is a form of worship.  I run because it brings things I have been wrestling over in prayer into focus.  It makes that which looked fuzzy become more clear.  I run because it puts me into a position to hear from and listen to God.  I leave all the activity and noise behind and I can just nestle in and listen.  He then infuses me with His strength so that that which appears difficult and unbeatable in my life becomes manageable and conquerable.  He transfers His peace and His quietness into my spirit, and thus,

                 through the discipline of running,
                                                    He gives me His rest.

On the surface, choosing to run this marathon was about finishing what I came to do last year--qualify for Boston.  Unfortunately, I missed my time by nine minutes.  I was determined to come back this year more adequately prepared so I could accomplish that goal.  Yet, this training turned into something much deeper than that.  You see, we began this year (2011) with a newly acquired identity:  umemployed.  Jobless is scary for anyone and is especially so when there are five little younguns' depending on you.  So we started down a path that we had yet to venture on with God.  It has been a daily battle of choosing faith over fear.  It has been a precious time of watching our God come through in the most creative ways.  In 2011, the name Jehovah Jireh (the Lord will Provide) has become very real to us, and is a dear Name to our family. 

Training began at the beginning of summer when the heat came in with a vengeance.  Our family was experiencing a drought in more ways than one.  Job opportunities from the first of the year had come and gone...dried up.  Job leads...dried up.  As the three long, hot months of summer loomed before us with all its heat and intensity, we were tempted to let our hope...dry up.  But God had a plan, and that plan included running.

So we ran.  Some days I hit the road full of frustration (a polite word for anger) with God.  Venting and complaining, I would lodge my arguments.  Mile after mile, He would diffuse me...His Spirit would minister to me.  Mile after mile, He would share His perspective and enlighten me with His promises:

'....Wait...strength will rise as you wait upon me...My ways are not your ways...My power is made perfect in weakness...A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold...Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you.  In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk (run)...So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness (emphasis added), and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own...'

And so we waited, and we ran.  Day after day, through His Word, a devotional, a song, or a podcast, He sustained.  And on the run, He ingrained.  He turned fears into faith, He turned sadness to joy, He turned complaints into thanksgiving  and He turned strife into peace. 

                           And through the discipline of running,
                                                                    we found His rest.

And as our training began to taper and summer came to a close, our circumstances hadn't really changed.  God had chosen to remain silent in regards to our many heartfelt cries of employment.  He chose to say no without an explanation and without direction.  Just simply 'no...and wait.'  In fact, we seemed further away from an answer than ever.

And yet, by the route of the road He had supplied Himself...quenching our thirst along the parched path. Yes, we had experienced Him as more than enough.  As tears and sweat slid down and off, converging together--paining and training colliding into a stream--along the route of the road in the desert of discipline, He gently and firmly established that:  'For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.' 

And four hundred or so miles later, one week before the marathon, I was supposed to be tapering.  Yet, I was staring at an injury.  Honestly, I didn't take it well.  You see, at this point, God, Eric and I--we had some mileage going on.  Along the route of the road--day in, day out--it had become so much much more than a marathon.

            We were a team.

I just had one question on that lonely Monday, one question to His 'no' that was the straw breaking the camel's back:  

                                               Why--why are you kicking me off the team? 

One question followed by a few more, a tantrum of sorts:  "All summer long, your answer has been, 'No, no, no...'...all summer long... and now you are going to say no to this too?  This, this way of worshipping, this thing we got going on, this really good thing--you are saying no??!!!"

His retort came quietly the following day through my Oswald Chambers devotional, befittingly entitled 'Getting Into God's Stride':

'It is painful work to get in step with God and to keep pace with Him--it means getting your second win spiritually.  In learning to walk with God, there is always the difficulty of getting into His stride, but once we have done so, the only characteristic that exhibits itself is the very life of God Himself.  The individual is merged into a personal oneness with God and God's stride and His power alone are exhibited.  It is difficult to get into stride with God, because as soon as we start walking with Him we find that His pace has surpassed us before we have even taken three steps.  He has different ways of doing things, and we have to be trained and disciplined in His ways....It is God's Spirit that changes the atmosphere of our way of looking at things, and then things begin to be possible which before were impossible...Getting into God's stride means nothing less than oneness with Him.  It takes a long time to get there, but keep at it.  Don't give up because the pain is intense right now--get on with it, and before long you will find that you have a new vision and a new purpose.' 

...And suddenly, I feel small.  And my wailings, they feel small...

Oh forgive me, God, for once again making my life and circumstances all about my wants and my desires.  Forgive me for not trusting you even when things don't go my me to remember it's not about the results, it's about the relationship.

My rebellious spirit submits and I match His pace and catch His stride.  As we bow our heads during our family prayer time, I choose to thank Him for this newly aquired difficulty.  I choose to thank Him that He might be delivering another 'no'.  As I did, His Spirit of Peace fills me with sweet surrender to a marathon Sunday that might or might not involve me as a participant.   

As the week went on, my knee slightly improved.   I've decided to go forward by faith on Sunday and run this thing and give it my all--until I can't.  Today's Jesus Calling was most fitting:

Be prepared to suffer for Me, in My Name.  All suffering has meaning in My kingdom.  Pain and problems are opportunites to demonstrate your trust in Me.  Bearing your circumstances bravely--even thanking Me for them--is one of the hightest forms of praise.  This sacrifice of thanksgiving rings golden-toned bells of Joy throughout heavenly realms...When suffering strikes, remember that I am sovereign and that I can bring good out of everything.  Do not try to run from pain or hide from problems.  Instead, accept adversity in My Name, offering it up to Me and My purposes.  Thus your suffering gains meaning and draws you closer to Me.  Joy emerges from the ashes of adversity through your trust and thankfulness.  

Sunday I am running into the wilderness of the unknown, an unknown that is more than likely going to involve some pain.  Whether my body can withstand the race, only God knows, but since He happens to be a team member of mine, I figure He'll keep me posted.  My goals have lowered a bit; I honestly will be ecstatic with just crossing the finish.  Anything better than that is a long-shot.  But since God specializes in long-shots, I am going to go in with everything and give it my all, knowing His power is perfected in my weakness. 

Sunday, as I'm running along and hearing 'Too Legit to Quit' blaring in my ear, I'm going to be praying for His help, His power, His ability...remembering that yes--

He is definitely TOO LEGIT, so there is NO WAY on this side of heaven that I am going TO QUIT.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My Life Story

Had to repost this--it just can't be told enough in my opinion :).  Thankful every day to God for drawing us to Himself!

It is with great joy that I share this story with you. This story involves my husband, myself, our wedding day, a friend who gave us a Life Application Bible and our Almighty Father in heaven who orchestrated it all. It is a story that truly reflects the words of the verse ‘that God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believe in me will have everlasting life – John 3:16.’ God is a personal God. He loves each of us so dearly and cares so deeply that He woos us and draws us to Himself through people and circumstances. This story is my personal account of experiencing the ‘Lord of All’ in a very real way.

Growing up, my family didn’t really go to church—just on occasion. My childhood began as a very typical childhood full of the norm. I had parents that loved me and cared for me. The school year was spent at various sporting events and activities; the summer was spent swimming with friends and vacationing with my family. I had the typical American suburban life; we were living the ‘American dream’, I suppose. However, as I grew and matured, I began to have questions that I believe we all have -– those questions that pop up in all of our heads at one time or another. Questions such as: Why am I here? What is life all about anyway? What will happen when I die? Who is God? Is there a God? Who is Jesus? I asked many people around me these questions from whom I got a myriad of answers: ‘just be good’; ‘you need to be baptized’; ‘make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad’. My best friend in first and second grade, Chrisi White, gave me an answer that would stick with me, though: "You have to ask Jesus into your heart," she told me. I didn't understand what that meant, but from that time on, I consistently began praying that Jesus would indeed come into my heart. I also looked for the answers to these questions in a King James Bible that we had in our home. However, I always got hung up on the ‘thee’s’, ‘thou’s’ and ‘thy’s’ and couldn’t quite interpret what it was saying.

When I was in the eighth grade, my family life fell apart. My mom and dad got divorced and everything about my childhood changed. To say my teenage years were rocky and difficult would be an understatement. To this day I do not like to think back on those years. Those years conjure up memories hinged on emptiness, loneliness and a sense of not belonging. Statistics show that young girls from divorced families often go looking for love in all the wrong places. I could be a poster child for that statistic.

I graduated from high school and was ready for a fresh start. I couldn't wait to go to college and leave behind all of those memories. Unfortunately, I didn't choose to do life any differently than I had in the past. I don't really think I understood how to live differently. Thus, my college years compared to my high school years were very much one in the same.

When I was a junior in college, I met Eric and we began dating exclusively. He and I experienced and lived what I guess you would call the typical college scene: studying during the week, and partying hard on the weekends. Drinking and hanging out with our friends was a huge part of our life. I guess you could say it was the center of our life. Yet, I can remember standing in the middle of a bar, surrounded by all of our friends, looking around at everyone…and again those questions would come to mind—Why am I here? What is life all about anyway? Someday I am going to die, this life will be over—what then??? As I tried to ‘fill’ my life with alcohol and fun, I felt very empty inside. There was a deep void within me that I was trying to fill with everything under the sun, but it just wasn’t working…

Fast forward a few years. Eric and I were engaged and about to be married. It was the summer of 1994. It was a very exciting time as we were planning our wedding and about to begin the next chapter of our life! What I didn't realize was that God was very much there working behind the scenes through this union between Eric and I. You see, He led a friend of ours to give us a Life Application Bible as a wedding gift. Little did we know that this gift would dramatically impact our life and the generations to follow.

Over the next two years of our marriage, I picked up that Bible many times. This Bible was so different from any Bible that I had ever seen or read growing up. It had footnotes and answered many of the questions that no one had seemed able to answer for me. The footnotes and commentary explained every passage that I read.
The more I read it, the more I was drawn to it. You see, the emptiness/that void within my soul seemed to get satisfied every time I read His Word which made me long for it all the more. When I read it, I experienced a peace I had never quite known before. Reading this Bible gave me a yearning to go to church. Eric had grown up going to church and felt it was ‘the right thing to do’. So, we began going to church on a regular basis.

During this timeframe, we also bought our first house which just happened to be right next door to a sweet, Christian couple who happened to be the same age as us. I was so impressed with the fact that they were so much fun, yet went to church. And they did all of this without drinking. Our very best friends from college, Christy and Doug, also began going to church right around this time and I could see a change in them occurring. Partying and drinking seemed to be less and less important to them.

Through the combination of reading God’s Word, going to church, and observing these friends around me, I learned how I was a sinner just like everyone else in this world. I learned that I will always make mistakes and mess up on this side of heaven. I learned that God had come to this earth in the form of His son—a man named Jesus—who had lived a perfect, sinless life. After performing many miracles and teaching many about how to have eternal life, He was crucified upon a cross. While He could have stopped this from happening, He didn’t, because He loved us so much that He took my sins, your sins, and all of humanity upon Himself. He died so that we can have life—eternal life. After being dead for three days, He came back to life and ascended up to heaven where He sits at this moment at the right hand of God. I learned that all I had to do was believe that I was a sinner who needed Jesus as my Savior and all I had to do was believe this and accept this to be a child of His. Yet, I still wasn’t quite ready to claim all of this for myself--I was still holding on to my way of doing life...

Then on January 1, 1997, I met my best friend Christy for lunch. She talked about how they had spent New Year’s Eve with some friends from church—playing games and then praying the New Year in. I remember sitting there, feeling yucky, nursing a hangover and—-well—-embarrassed. I was not proud of the fact that I had spent the evening drinking with friends. It all felt so empty and hollow and I felt so empty and hollow. Right at that moment, more than ever before, I yearned for what I was seeing in her. Again, all of those questions I had been trying to answer all of my life were ringing in my ears. Yet, now I realized God had given me the answers. I just needed to claim it for myself.

A few days later, I finally let go; I relinquished control of my life. I was in the car on my way to work when it happened. I cried out to God and surrendered everything to Him. I prayed and asked Him to forgive me of my sins. I thanked Jesus for dying on the cross for my sins. I asked Him to become the Lord of my life. The peace I had felt each time I had read His Word flooded my inner being in that moment in a way that I’d never experienced before. I felt new--I felt different! I had a joy within that I had never felt before. That emptiness within me that I had tried all of these years to fill with so many other things was finally filled with the One and Only thing that can truly satisfy—Jesus Christ.

God works so differently in all of our lives. Each salvation experience is a work of God uniquely befitted for that person. For me, God instantaneously took away a desire to drink and honestly, for several years the thought of doing so repulsed me. Drinking felt like such a cheap substitute after experiencing being filled with the One and Only Holy Spirit. Please understand that I am not saying to have a glass of wine or drink a beer occasionally is wrong, nor do I believe the Bible says it is wrong.  In fact, my husband and I do enjoy drinking a glass of wine or having a beer now and again.  However, I do believe the Bible has a lot to say about drinking too much (or doing anything too much, for that matter). In fact, I have friends who are alcoholics and me choosing to drink in front of them would put them in a tempting situation. I believe we have a responsibility to those around us and we should weigh carefully whether drinking will influence them negatively when choosing to partake.

The word 'repent' means 'to turn'. If you can picture me turning around and completely changing after this day, that is exactly what happened. Let me be clear. I didn't quit sinning on this day, nor will I ever quit sinning on this side of heaven. We sin every day, if not outwardly, than inwardly in our thoughts. What He did do is put conviction in my heart. He gave me His eyes for sin and made my heart break over things I did and do that are contrary to His Word. He gave me a desire to infiltrate my life with His Word so that I could live for Him.

God was working in my husband’s heart over this time period, too, through our friends and through church. But the thing that he says had the biggest impact on him was the change that he witnessed in me. He could not deny the fact that I was different—a difference that he found appealing. He, too, surrendered His life to Jesus about five months later at a Promise Keepers rally.

The past thirteen years have been the very best, fulfilling years of our lives. Of course, there have been struggles and difficulties. Yet through it all, God has been our anchor and our strength. He has been and continues to be the glue that holds us together. He has never left us, nor forsaken us. Oh, how I praise Him for this!

Sometimes, I think about how God chose to work in our lives and I am just awestruck. I am blown away by His grace and His love for us as I contemplate the imagery He used in our personal life story. You see, in God’s Word, He tells us that His followers are the bride and Jesus is the bridegroom. He uses the picture of marriage to show us the union between Himself and His children. The fact that He began drawing Eric and I to Himself through the gift of His Word as a wedding present to us is a beautiful picture of His redeeming love. He loved us before we ever even knew how to love Him. That day, I thought I was walking down that aisle to marry Eric. I thought that it was the beginning of our journey together. What I didn't realize was that there was also another Bridegroom standing there ready to begin a journey with me. It was Jesus--standing there with His arms outstretched to receive me, His beloved Bride.

…and it all began because a friend gave us a Bible…that one decision changed the course of our lives and the lives of the many generations that will follow in our footsteps. It is a fact that cannot be denied: God's Word changes lives. It just does.

‘For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’ Hebrews 4:12

Monday, September 5, 2011

17 on 17

On Saturday, August 6, Eric and I celebrated seventeen years of marriage.  What does one do on the 17th year anniversary, you might ask?  Go on a date?  Check into a local B&B for the night?  Go to Hawaii for the weekend?  Well, we did go on a date.  And we did get away for the week-end, but not to Hawaii.  No, we went to Cleveland.  It was a B&B of sorts, though--we stayed with some dear friends who have just moved up there.  When we arrived on Friday, our friend Tom, took our luggage and told us he would lead us to our Fantasy Sweet.  We could forego our Fantasy Sweet, if we should choose.  We chose not to.  They led us up to their third floor, now converted to the 'Chez D'amour':

Ross thought of everything. She even had a mint and a piece of Trident gum on each pillow.


On Saturday, we awoke early, put on our running attire and headed out to do what every married couple does on their 17th anniversary:  run seventeen miles.  We didn't plan to run 17 on our 17th.  That's just what our training schedule had us do on this particular Saturday.  You see, we have been training together for the past three months because we are running the Columbus Marathon together on October 16th.  Well, I don't know if you could really call it 'together' since I'll beat the pants off of him (ok, that was a big fat lie, but it felt good to say and make whoever is reading this believe it for a mere moment).  But the truth is, Gladiator has been beating the tar out of me.  Yep, been doing it all summer.  I'm getting used to running behind him, his sweat flying off and hitting me right in the face.  I'm getting used to him talking smack to me, doing his little 'speed walking' beside me like I am running standing still...anyway, I'm not bitter.  I know my day will come and he'll be eating all of his little comments.  Um-Umm.  One day.  One day I'll leave him standing still in my dust...(buddy, don't even add 'in your dreams' to that last sentence.  Don't even...)

Anyway, back to the story.  Both Eric and I have trained for marathons.  But this is the first time we've ever trained for one together.  And, well, it hasn't been easy.  It has been a sacrifice on both sides.  He has had to sacrifice running faster.  I have had to sacrifice running slower.  Often, I've had to follow as he leads us on a route I've never ran.  He's had to wait while I take a pit stop in Panera Bread.  I've had to trust him to not add extra mileage 'just in case' we haven't ran far enough.  It seems that every run has been a test of our marriage.  Quite often, it has brought out the worst in both of us.  As we have sweated through the heat, our tempers have flared.  As we have had to bear down through the pain, our mouths have flapped when they needn't.  Not long ago, Eric was running along and going straight at a street at which I wanted to bare right.  He was far ahead of me.  When I yelled at him three times, he didn't hear me due to the music blaring in his ears.  Of course that made me mad.  So I defiantly said in my head, 'Fine, forget you,' and turned and went my own way.  As my rebellious self was running along, I heard God's quiet voice:

'that's exactly your reaction too often in your marriage, you know.  You vehemently turn and choose not to follow.' 

Knife to the heart, I had no comeback.  Because I knew it was true.

Oh, how God has shown me my shortcomings through these training sessions.  He has shown me that my tart reactions while we run is often similar to how I respond in everyday circumstances within our marriage.  Far too often, when I don't feel like 'submitting' or 'following' Eric's lead, I make a snappy comment.  I choose my own way, elevating myself over my husband.  One of our pastors at our church is fond of saying, 'Marriage is a slow death.'  That statement is so true.  Marriage is a slow death of selfishness, self centeredness and every other word derived from SELF. 

Maybe right about now you single people are thinking, 'wow, what a morbid picture of marriage you paint...a slow death you say? Why on earth would I want to subject myself to that?'

Well, at first glance maybe it does seem less than desireable. 

And, at first glance, the cruxificion--too--appears desolate, dead and downright ugly. 

Yet, read between the lines, look intensely upon the cross and it begins to turn into something quite the contrary.  And death and ugly transform into life and beauty.  How?  How can such a desolate scene become one full of so much hope?

It's simple, yet complex...


It's a man choosing to lay down his life for mankind's blatant, defiant sin.  For your sin.  For my sin.  For the lie you told last night...for the short tone I had with my kid's today...for our entitlements and our self consumption.

And the success or defeat of my marriage hinges upon this very thing--sacrifice.  Every time I choose sacrifice over self in regards to my sweet husband, I am choosing to know my Savior more intimately.  Every time I turn my gaze up--up towards my sweet Jesus--my vision becomes clearer, more focused...and I choose to lay myself down for my spouse's benefit.  And round and round it goes...this circle of life hinging upon the sacrifice, in the giving, not the taking.  That is, if I choose.

With every sacrificial step, God does something truly miraculous, transcendental to the hilt.  He creates a love in my heart, hand spun...turning superficial into supernatural.  He makes what was skin deep, rock solid. 

And my petty, worldly attempts at love turn into the real deal.  That is, if I choose.

Because it's in the choosing.  It's in the obedience.  And if I don't choose the 'seemingly' harder thing, I won't experience the sacrificial depths of real, true love. 

Which brings me back to 17 on 17.  The picture I am so thankful God gave me on this anniversary day.  The running of seventeen on our seventeenth that I am certain was no coincidence.  Serving as a memorial marker, lest we forget... 

A memorial marker because:  our run was set up from the beginning to be a dismal failure.  August 6, 2011 was about as humid as they come in Cleveland.  Inadequate fuel on a long run in the thickness of heat is not a good idea.  This run should have been a bust. 

Should have.  But it wasn't.  Sweat drop after sweat drop, step after step we pushed on...together.  I wanted to quit at fourteen.  I felt weak, depleted.  Eric encouraged me to keep on: 'You'll be so glad that you did.'

He's right.  I'll be so glad that I did. 

17 on 17.  I couldn't get the phrase out of my head.  It became my mantra.  My victory cry.  And mile after mile we ran.  Grabbing onto his shirt at times through dizzying spells of heat, I let him lead me through the rough terrain.

It was tortuous.  It was about as unfun as you can get.  Yet in that last step we were flooded with the satisfaction of victory.  In the difficult, we had chosen not to quit.  We had done it.  We had conquered. We had overcome.   

Marital ties of the upmost strength are woven through the difficult.

17 on 17.  A marriage memorial for the long haul.  Not for the faint of hear because marriage is not a little stroll or jog in the park.  It is full of sweat, grit and determination.  But trudging through all that effort is worth every sacrificial step that turns into a binding allegiance. 

To choose the sacrifice
                        is to find greatness in the journey...

and inevitably---

                                  love that endures.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Baseball and the Big O

Everything the Big O does is big.  He lives in the land of extremities.  If he laughs it's going to be a really, loud, goofy laugh.  If he throws a fit, stand back.  It will be a whopper.  If he wants to give you a hug, watch out--he'll probably knock you down.  If he sings, turn up the radio if you were hoping to hear the song and not him.  He plays hard, lives hard, feels hard.  That's just the way he is.

We, as parents, wondered how baseball would play out with him.  We knew it could potentially be a disaster...or it could be a complete joy.  There was no way of knowing; we'd just have to risk it.  One thing we could guarantee, though--he would do things completely different then any of our other kids.  He would put his own off-kiltered twist on things, thus earning a few more badges on his nickname:  the 'O Factor'.

So the O Factor had some choice moments on the field, for sure.  Like the time when he ran off and on the field three separate times in one inning, straight to his momma to share something (in a really loud voice):

'Mom, is Miss Wite here yet?  When she gonna get here?' 

'Mom, I am weally sorry I pooped in my pants earlier.  I am weally, weally sorry Mom.'  (ummm, thanks for the confession.  Such pristine timing.  Really.)

 'Mom, can I have a piece of dat bubba bum (translated bubble gum)?'

The other proud moment was when he danced around and did a little jig in the outfield for five whole minutes.  Yes, that was mighty fine.  I believe this coincided with when he told us that he no longer liked the 'baseball ready' position and wouldn't be doing it anymore.

Then there was his last game when he got called out at third.  Coach Dave was standing at third and said, 'You're out O--go sit down.'  I held my breath and waited to see what he would do.  He had never been called out before.  And his biggest thrill each game was sliding into home.  I watched his face and saw his mouth cock up slightly on one side as he processed this.  He took two steps towards the bench and I started to breathe a sigh of relief, but then caught my breath again when he whipped himself around and put himself back on third.  I guess he thought Coach Dave might not notice.  However, Coach Dave immediately said, 'You're out O--go sit down', once again removing him from the base and pointing him towards the bench. 

Finally realizing Coach Dave meant business, he went and sat down.  Phew--my tense shoulders could finally relax.  Of course, he had to rehash the story to all of his teammates.  But since his speech impediment is slightly serious, no one understood a word he was saying.

After the final game, Coach Dave did a little presentation, giving each player a game ball and their 'end of the season' trophy. The Big O walked up, received his trophy and then swaggert and strutted he did, all the way to his seat. O-ee-O the overly confident showboat...such proud parents we are.

All in all, aside from the outfield jigs, the running on and off the field to discuss his bowel movements, consistently losing his hat on game days, and the 'near-fit' misses, I would say that it was a pretty successful first season.  Yes, I think next year we will once again be chanting for all to hear:


Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Pirates -- Season 2011

The past week and a half has been consumed with Rookie baseball.  While it might have been all consuming, there is not anything we would have rather been doing.  This was Wes' second year to play on the Pirates and the second year to play for Coach Matt, who is also his coach for the travel team he is on, the Patriots.  Last year the Pirates had an undefeated season and ended up beating the Rays in the championship game (you can read about it here).  It was hard fought and well-deserved.  Of course, every returning Pirate as well as Coach Matt dreamed of coming back and winning the championship again, making it two years in a row. 

The Pirates played well throughout the regular season, yet they seemed to be missing that extra ummph, that extra something.  While they tended to play strong defensively, they struggled a bit at bat.  Even so, they only lost one regular season game, ending the season with a 15-1 record.

The tournament began and we all held our breath.  Could the Pirates make it to the championship again?  There were three or four other teams that were pretty tough.  Specifically, the Rays.  Since they were in the American League division (and we were in the National League), we hadn't yet faced them.  They had been blowing teams out all season long, though.  Not only did they play well defensively, they had some heavy hitters in their line up.  They had plowed over teams all season, ending with an undefeated record.  Then there was the Blue Jays to contend with.  They also had been a force to reckon with last year.  They proved to be just as tough this year.  Other teams we needed to look out for were the Reds, the Cardinals and the White Sox.

Because we had won our division, we got a bye in the first round of the tournament.  Thursday night we played the Astros, winning 15-0.  Late Friday night we played the White Sox, resulting in an 8-1 win.  Now there were  four teams left:  the Pirates, the Rays, the Blue Jays and the Yankees.  At this point, it became a double elimination tourney.

Early Saturday morning we came right back to the ball park to face the Blue Jays, which would be the most difficult team to beat yet.  The Bluejays came out strong in the first inning, quickly taking the lead 5-0.  Strangely, after the first (maybe second?) inning, the pitching machine quit working due to a short in the extension cord.  There was a thirty minute delay as the umpires hooked up a new cord and buried it under the dirt.  Coach Matt took advantage of this delay to rally the team.  It worked.  The Pirates did rally, eventually taking the lead and winning 9-6.  This was the first game all season where it felt like the Pirates came together and played like a real team.  They had that extra umph that had been missing prior to this game.  They made some amazing plays and catches in the field and had some incredible bunts and hits.  Oh, I love to watch baseball games like that!  They are deeply satisfying.  Deeply satisfying.   I can tell you that the fans in the stands got some air that day.  I know that I personally was screaming and jumping around like a lunatic!

Sunday came.  It was time for the dreaded face-off against the Rays, and oh, they were playing for blood.  They were ready to get some revenge after last year.  We didn't play until 3:15 PM; my stomach was in knots the whole first half of the day.  You would have thought they were playing the World Series.  Some friends had us over after church for burgers and then went on with us to the game.  I am thankful for them--it kept me from being overly-ridiculously-anxious! 

What made this game more fun than usual was the fact that there were two players on the Rays that were on our travel team (the Patriots), of which Coach Matt is the head coach.  AND the head coach of the Rays is an assistant coach of the Patriots.  So it was Patriot Coach vs. Patriot Coach!  This dynamic made us parents a bit less competitive, as we knew these players and coaches personally and wanted them all to do well!

Nevertheless...a tournament game is a tournament game.  And, oh my--it was a bit brutal.  The Pirates were somewhat rattled at the beginning, making some mistakes in the field.  They just could never get the upper hand in the game, resulting in a loss of 9-2.  We might have been beat, but we were not down for the count.  We still had a chance to come back and play the Rays again for the championship.

Thus, we came back on Monday night to square off against the Yankees (who had upset the Bluejays the day before).  Our Pirates had another incredible game, both defensively and offensively, resulting in a win of 11-3...

The Pirates had done it again!  For the second year in a row they had come back to face off the Rays in the Championship game!  Of course, it would be the challenge of all challenges.  The Pirates would have to beat the Rays twice to win the championship title.  The Rays only had to beat us once. 

Coach Matt did up the championship game, just as he always does.  He rented a sound system and had music playing in between innings.  He had the players announced at the beginning of the game and every time they came up to bat.  This is how Coach Matt operates.  He likes to make it extra-special for everyone involved.  And extra-special it was.

Coach Matt has a knack of squeezing every bit of talent out of a player that can be squeezed.  Oh, in this game every bit of talent came forth.  The Pirates shone.  They played the game of their life.  They held the Rays to three runs for the entire game, something that no team had been able to do all season long.  It was a great defensive battle.  In the end, though, the Rays just had a few extra hits in them then we did.  It was a rather fast and furious game, ending in a score of 3-1, Rays. 

While we would have liked to have won that first game, I don't think there was a parent there that didn't feel as if the Pirates had played 110% that night.  It was a great game--almost everyone hit the ball.  It was a defeat to not be ashamed of.  And they were runners up, which was no small feat. 

That game was quite emotional for my husband and I.  There had been something special about that Pirate team and now--well--I suppose it was the end of an era.  It was the last game of rookie recreational ball.  The last time ever for Wes to play as a Pirate.  The last time ever to play for Coach Matt as a Pirate.  What a run it had been these last two years...what a run. 

And now we get to do it all over again this week with Joshua and Jeremiah...  Oh, I can't wait!  :)

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Grogan Homeschool Graduation

At the end of May we held our second ever homeschool graduation for Grogan Christian Academy (GCA).  Our first graduation was two years ago...then we skipped last year because we were just too tired.  But somehow we got a second wind this year and decided to have one.

Sophie made programs of the agenda.  I made a slideshow of our year.  I also printed off award certificates to give out at the end of the program.  We borrowed a 'podium' (a.k.a. music stand) from our neighbors.  We borrowed caps and gowns from our other neighbors.  We borrowed a big screen and projector to show the slide show.  Then we held a graduation practice to make sure everyone knew what they were doing.

Here is the set up of the room:

As our guests filed in, Sophie handed out the programs.  Then our graduates lined up in the dining room, awaiting their cue to file in.  Their 'cue' was not 'Pomp and Circumstance', because that song just didn't seem to fit.  No, instead it was 'Kenkraft 400' by Zombie Nation (you know, the music that is played when the Louisville Cardinal starting five is announced).  So Principal Dad announced each of our graduates and they grooved on in.

Here are our graduates.  I know you are wondering why Sophie and Jeremiah are wearing caps and gowns...well, it's because the others didn't pass this year.  Kidding!  Sophie is going into 6th grade and since this the big middle school transition she is wearing a gown.  Jeremiah is going into 1st grade, but since we were too tired to have a graduation last year for Kindergarten, we thought he could graduate retroactively.  And Preschooler Owen has his baseball hat on backwards, of course.

Next, Principal Dad opened us in prayer and then gave his speech, pulling out his I-pad to give us some statistics in regards to homeschooling for all the sceptics in the room.  Actually, this was just to be funny--but the statistics were definitely interesting. 

Then we watched a presentation by Preschooler Owen and 2nd grader Jeremiah.  They did a dance with motions (choreographed by Sophie) to the song 'Do the Mooshu' by Vegetales.

2nd grader Jeremiah did some recitations:  'Thirty Days Hath September' and 'Mr. Nobody'. 

7th grader, 6th grader, and 4th grader Joshua, Sophie and Wes did scripture recitations.

Wes Grogan read aloud his Abraham Lincoln report

Joshua and Sophie presented the History timeline.

Then, I presented the awards.  Our 7th grader got the Excellent Writer Award and the Science Award and the Leadership Award.  Our 6th grader got the Excellence in English and Math Award and 'Best Helper' Award.  Our 4th grader got an Excellence in  Math Award and Spelling award and the 'Most Obedient' Award.  Our 1st grader received a Reading award and 'The Peacemaker' Award (this basically meant he kept the peace with his rowdy playmate Owen all year) and the 'Best Hugger Ever!' Award.   Last, but not least, Preschooler Owen received the 'Best Singer' Award and the 'Most Polite' Award (this got a few raised eyebrows) and also 'The Best Hugger Ever!' Award.

Here I am presenting awards, looking very serious-teacherish.

Owen, anxiously anticipating his awards.  Looks so angelic--maybe awards are the way to his heart?  Tedd Tripp might not agree with me on that one.

A finale was then performed by Owen, Jeremiah and special guest Polly Bates, followed by a slideshow of our year.

Here is a portion of our lovely audience, looking on:

Lastly, Joshua and Wes performed a piano concert while we wined and dined on chips and salsa.

A graduation dinner of grilled hamburgers and hotdogs was enjoyed by all.

And that, my friends, was the GCA Graduation.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Faith Walk

It was January, 1997 – a cold, blustery day with sunshine in full throttle…I sat in my car, unaware that I was about to make a decision that the very breath of existence hinged upon. All around me, there was a battle raging in the heavenlies over my weary-worned soul, the forces of evil fighting intensely with the forces of side fighting for death, one side fighting for life.

Straight down through that sun-filled sky, the Lord of the Universe beckoned me to Himself. The election, the Call—so strong that I couldn’t resist. Heavy-ladened and sin-stained, I fell into the arms of the Son. The Son held me with nail-scarred hands, the Father nodded His approval. While eruption of applause of deafening proportions filled the heavenlies, my soul experienced an eruption of another sort. Supernatural peace flooded in, squelching the chaos and noise that had filled it just moments before.

I experienced my very first brush with faith that day, initiated in me by a Father through the grace of His Son. The Divine Paintbrush reached down and lavished His first bit of color on His masterpiece. A hue of brilliant color began the painting, as I put my confidence and assurance in that which I could not see. The nail scarred hands embraced mine, and we began to walk together, my Companion and I.
Over the coming years, the colors my painting lacked would be added little by little, one faith step at a time. You see, God deepens and strengthens our faith along the journey of our life’s experiences. My faith walk had begun steady footed, but it was in need of some testing. We are told in 1 Peter 1:7 that we face trials so that our faith can be proven genuine in order that Jesus Christ may be glorified and honored. Yes, my faith would need to be proven genuine, and only walking some mileage with Him could accomplish that.

The next thirteen years proved to offer a variety of mileage for my walk of faith. There were seasons of down-hill coasts with the wind pushing me along, and there were uphill climbs with gusts so strong I thought I might not make it. There was treacherous terrain and there was safe, stable ground. My Guide, my Companion, my Jesus holding my hand through it all.

My first mountain pass came with the death of my mother in 2008. All that we experienced in that hospital on the day of her passing can be summed up in a few desperate phrases:

mistaken doctors, mishaps, chaos, confusion…gasping, gasping, gasping for breath…praying, begging for God’s intervention...more confusion…more gasping…code blue sirens…doctor’s rushing…life passing on…stillness.

I sat in that cold, dark, waiting room—in the deafening stillness--with a myriad of questions imprinted on my soul:

‘God, where were you? Where were you? Why did you abandon us? How could you have been in the midst of –of that?’

My faith walk was in a moment of crisis. There was a fork in the road and I had a decision to make. Which way would I go? Both directions included a steep hill climb over treacherous mountains. The only difference between the two paths was that one offered my Companion with nail scarred hands and the other I would walk alone.

I didn’t make my decision immediately. I fumed. I paced. I yelled. I cried. I sulked. I finally spoke it outloud:

‘But you abandoned me when I needed you most. Can I trust you? Really? Can I?’

There. I had said it. How relieving it is to throw off the mask and speak the truth, even ugly truth.
I waited. I braced myself for the blasting dissertation that Job experienced when he, too, questioned God.

It never came. Instead, God beckoned me to Himself with His all-encompassing height-and- depth love.

‘Dear Child, take my hand and bring me your hard questions, even the ugly ones. This is going to require a step by step walk of focusing on Me and not on the rough terrain of circumstances. Remember, true faith is not faith at all if you are not willing to tarry when things look bleak.’

He stretched out His hand. Timidly, I took the nail-scarred one in mine and let Him lead me along the path. Step by step through the grief and unanswered questions of the weeks to come, I learned that faith is stretched, refined and deepened through the deepest valleys. I wrestled through many faith-filled questions such as: Was I really living with an eternal perspective? Or was the here and now, my focus? If the Lord chose to take home another loved one, would I be okay with that? It’s easy to praise Him when things are going well, but what about when they aren’t? Am I going to praise Him even in the hard? Would I be able to say as Job had, ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord?’

Zechariah 8:10 kept me afloat during those days. I don’t know how many times a day I quoted ‘the joy of the Lord is my strength’—more than I could count. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that ‘His Word is living and active…’ I can attest to that, for God took those Words right off the page in Zech. 8:10 and breathed them straight into me. Step by step I experienced His joy and His strength within the grief. Step by step, my faith in Him became stronger and deeper. Step by step I learned not to be marred by life’s circumstances. Step by faithful step, the Master Painter added new colors to His masterpiece.
I am thankful He took me through a crisis of faith when He did. He knew that it would be the training grounds needed to face the years 2010 and 2011.

2010 was the year that we lost two grandparents, an aunt and an uncle. 2010 was the year that Eric’s pay decreased by less than half while he had to work harder and travel more than he ever had in all of his career. 2010 was the year that Eric would be laid out flat with back pain for two weeks. 2010 was the year that he would lose his job just days after his back went out and just days before Thanksgiving.
Strange that his termination occurred amidst the Thanksgiving season. Because that is exactly how God taught us to tarry through these difficulties—with thanksgiving.

As we walked forth in obedience, choosing to thank Him in our adverse circumstances, He began to transform our hearts. Stone by stone, the hard wall in my heart came down. Down came stones of bitterness, down came stones of self-pity, down came stones of entitlement. A river of liberation flowed in its place, one of life-giving peace and joy. Phil. 4:6-7 tells us ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God that transcends all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.’

Sure, I had read these verses a thousand times, even memorized them! Yet, only when I began putting the ‘thanksgiving part‘ of these verses into practice did I begin to experience this truth. You see, voicing our thanksgiving to our Savior must precede experiencing His all-surpassing peace. It must.

As we have been thanking Him for the hard things, we are learning another important lesson: Our hope is not in a job, nor is it in money or any kind of security this world has to offer. No. Our hope is in Him and Him alone. Thus, whether He provides a job or not, He wants us to continually praise Him, praise Him, praise Him. While waiting on the Lord for His timing can be excruciatingly difficult, we are learning life’s biggest lessons are most often learned in His waiting room. Faith-building lessons of the holiest sort. We are learning by experience what it means to trust Him for our ’daily manna’, for daily manna just happens to be His strong suit.  We have been keeping a thankful journal and we are up to 128 ways the Lord has provided for us so far on this journey. We’re truly speechless by all the ways God has come through for us as Jehovah Jireh (the Lord will provide). We have seen answers to specific prayers when He provided a washer for us when ours went out. He has provided specific amounts of money right when we were in need. He provided a way to pay for a new transmission when ours quit. He has provided vehicles to drive when we have needed them. When our sewage backed up into our house, MSD fixed it for free. Over and over, when we have had a need, God has shown up to meet it. Through His faithful provision, our faith has been strengthened.  Provision upon provision…brush stroke upon brush stroke…paint is being added to my canvas of faith, my husband’s canvas of faith, and our childrens’ canvases of faith.

Mile after mile, step after step, my faith walk isn’t over yet; it’s in process, as is yours. Your journey will probably look much different than mine. He uniquely plans each of our walks of faith for two sole purposes: 1.) that we will become more and more dependent upon Him and 2.) that Jesus will be glorified in the highest.

Paint stroke upon paint stroke, the Artist of Artists will add paint to each of our canvases of faith until the day He leads us home…until then, may we grab hold of that nail-scarred hand, keeping our eyes off of our light and momentary circumstances and keeping our gaze upon the Author and perfector of our Faith.