Friend-ed

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“Mom, will I ever have a friend at school?”

She had asked me the question before, but each time was like a kick in the gut.  No answer would suffice.  No response would make everything better.  This girl of mine left several close friends behind in Virginia; girls she has known most of her life.  This girl has a big heart for a ten year-old.  When she is accepted, she holds on and never lets go.  She is the most devoted friend, when she has the chance.  When she is rejected, she feels it deeply, to the bottom of her core.

I haven’t shared how this move has affected the children.  The “littles”, our five and three year old, just roll with it.  Kindergartners aren’t very selective about their friendships, they all seem to love each other without hesitation.  My three year-old daughter has two little girlfriends from our Tuesday morning Moving On group.  They love all things princess and babies.  Their mamas love to visit with one another.  Perfectly matched.

When we moved , forming friendships has been more challenging than I imagined. You meet some really great people, but many have lived here their whole lives and have long-established friendships.  Its as if you need a sign around your neck that says, “Hi!  I’m new here and I really need a friend.  Will you make room in your life for me?”  It may seem simple, but it is a lot to ask.

Last night, after living here for 3 1/2 months, my ten year-old had a friend over and my 12 year-old was out with her youth group from church.  They both had time with friends. When you move and have no one for 3 1/2 months, it is such a precious gift for your daughters to have someone.  Someone to laugh with, be silly with, and sing “Frozen” songs with (a complete production with costume changes requiring me as an audience…sacrifices people).  Both friends moved here the same time we did.  They are in the same place, just asking for anyone to make room in their world for a new friendship.

My girls and I have talked about going through tough times means God is growing your character.  This tough time is creating a sensitivity in them to reach out to the friendless. Although I feel like I have always encouraged my kids to reach out to those who are alone, now they “get” it.  They are the friend-less and they understand how it feels to have someone notice them in their alone-ness.

Perhaps our character building moments will be our greatest blessing here in the bayou.

Immersed

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As a child, I loved swimming.  I remember teaching myself to swim and the invigorating feeling of being submerged, racing to the bottom of a pool to retrieve a diving stick or a shiny coin.  I have no memories of being afraid of water.  I have been snorkeling in the Florida Keys, diving below the surface to view God’s miraculous handiwork on the coral reef.  There is such beauty beneath the depths of the sea.

Thankfully, my children also love the water.  The older three are able to swim very well. The youngest is on her way as she has no ounce of fear in her.  Our rental home has a pool and we have eked out every bit of swim time as possible since the Louisiana heat has lingered longer than we are accustomed.  For some reason, they can fight like animals all day, but once they are in the pool, they transform into mermaids and mermen, allowing the water to expose their imaginations and leave all animosity behind.

Just as some have a fear of water, I once had a fear of immersing myself in relationships; deep friendships.  For a long time, I struggled with getting to know women on a level below the surface. I was scared to reveal too much of who I was because I didn’t want anyone to see my flaws. For years, the seamless cracks of my heart kept getting bigger and bigger.  My pain ripped me in to so many pieces until I was a big pile of brokenness.  I couldn’t keep up the facade any longer.  It was exhausting.  There, however, in my shattered mess, began piecing me back together.  He did that through friendships with other broken women. God brought women in my life who didn’t necessarily share my specific pain, but were broken in their own way.  Through our shards, we could feel one another’s wounds.  One friend suffered the loss of her four day old infant.  Although I have never lost a baby, I have felt the piercing pain of loss.  We grieved different circumstances, but we shared in our grief.

There is a lot I miss about home.  I miss family, my church, and the beauty of the valley in the fall.  Above all, I miss those ladies I chose to dive deep with.  I still talk or text with them regularly, but there is nothing like the physical embrace of a friend, a sister, who knows your hurts as much as she knows her own.  Part of me feels like, when God started piecing us back together, he placed a few of my pieces in them and I have a some of theirs as well.

I broke through my fear of vulnerability and chose to dive in.  My world forever changed because I now have a burning desire to see past the facades of others.  I want to see their pain and their brokenness, because I can meet them there, better than I can on the surface.  Slowly, here in the Bayou, God is bringing women into my life who are not afraid to share their shattered pieces with me.  This is happening gradually because our fragments can be delicate.  You can’t trust those pieces with just anyone.  The relationships are not the same as those I left behind, but have their own intricate details that bless my life abundantly.

Dive deep.  There is too much beauty under the surface for you to miss.  God wants our relationships to be a blessing to one another.  Hold your breath and slip below the surface. You may find more than you ever imagined.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Encouraged

After the Boxes are UnpackedThe God of Angel Armies, who went before us to prepare our way for the move, not only cared for us physically, but put plans in place to care for me emotionally and spiritually.  He gave me a group of women who have become more precious to me than I ever thought possible.  When God bestows a blessing that you never even realized you would need, its indescribable.

On Tuesday mornings, from 9:30-11:30, I gather with a group of ladies who have all been through the process of moving.  That’s it.  We have moved.  Some have moved multiple times,  others have moved internationally.  Some of us have only come from one state over.  We have all been through the relocation process and lived to tell about it. Our fearless and hilarious leader,  felt God calling her to begin a group for women who were new to the area.  She has experienced this so many times herself  and was inspired by, “After the Boxes are Unpacked” by Susan Miller.  This book guides readers through the physical, spiritual, and emotional aspects of moving.  She had always wanted to be a part of a moving group, but instead, God wanted her to start one.  Several years later, the group is still going strong.  Some have moved away (because movers move) some have been in the group since its birth, hanging in there to help other new movers.  When you go through a move, only fellow movers can fully relate.  I had no idea the impact this group would have on me and how much I desperately needed it.

Moving is an emotional roller coaster like no other.  To have been born and live your entire life within a few hours of your home, then all of a sudden move 13 hours away, I never imagined the emotions I would feel.  No matter the mindset you try to have, the grieving will come, in waves, then you think you’re over it and you feel it all over again.  Someone may have on a t-shirt of your college rival, or you catch a glimpse of a passerby who looks exactly like a familiar face from back home.   This group of women gets it.  The unfamiliarity and frustrations,  the sadness and pain. They feel it with you and are there to pick you back up again.  These friends walk with you as you help your children grieve because someone in the group has a child who has gone through similar emotions.

Yet another blessing in the midst of uncertainty.  A blessing that I had no idea I would need, but God knew,  He always does.

Undefeated

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I can not imagine what it must feel like to go to war, to physically enter a combat zone, flying full force into enemy fire.  I do know what it feels like to go into a spiritual battle.  At times the enemy of fear surrounds me.  When it was confirmed that we would be moving 13 hours from everything comfortable and familiar, the enemy pressed in, looking for an opening in which to infiltrate my soul.  Fear of: the unknown, “what if”, how it was all going to come together, and being away from family and friends who happened to be the greatest support a mom of four could ever have.  Enemy artillery surrounded me from every side.

There have been countless times God has used my love for music to speak scripture into my heart.  Every time I am walking through dire circumstances, God creates a “playlist” of songs that breathe scripture over me.  During our preparations to move, Chris Tomlin’s song Whom Shall I Fear brought me to my knees every time it was on the radio or sung in worship.

I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side

His lyrics come from Deuteronomy 31. Moses is speaking to Joshua and the Israelites about crossing the Jordan River and heading into the promised land, the home they had been anxiously waiting to enter for 40 years.  God said to Moses, “The Lord your God himself will cross over ahead of you.  He will destroy these nations before you, and will take possession of their land.”

I am sure the Israelites feared numerous foes.  They considered the “hows” and the “what ifs”, but God was going before them.  He was crossing the river first, to prepare the way for them to enter and not be defeated.

God went before our family as we prepared to enter the Bayou.  He made a way for us to come here and not be defeated.  I am sure He will reveal to me countless ways he prepared our path, but already I have seen evidence of his hand and his angel armies that had gone ahead.

Two weeks before we were to move, we had a change of housing.  The original rental home to which we were assigned was not to be.  We had circulated the address and had friends send us pictures of this home.  The school system within the district was a concern, so we went through the arduous process to secure alternative schooling.  We made many accommodations to live in this house.  For whatever reason at the time, we were moved to a second rental house 10 miles away from the first.

Three days after moving in,  our alternative schooling option fell through. We made the choice to place our kids in the public schools.  Originally, this would not have been an option, but the second house happened to be in a better school district, one of the best in the area.  Despite the new curriculum, school, rules, and location our children are excelling.

A few days later, after the flood, we drove through the neighborhood of the original rental and saw piles of debris from flooded homes.  Had God’s army of angels not moved us to a different location, we would have been flood victims.  The debris would be our belongings and would have added a whole new level of stress to our already crazy situation.

The God of Angel Armies went before us and prepared a way for our family not be defeated. He placed us precisely in the house and location we needed to be in, for our family to thrive.

Are you about to cross the Jordan River into an unknown place or circumstance?  Does fear envelope your every thought?  If we were sitting down together, having coffee, I would look you in the eyes and tell you, without a doubt, that the God of Angel Armies has already crossed over ahead of you.  He is preparing the way and you will not be defeated.

Chris Tomlin Whom Shall I Fear

Endured

pit-600x369[1]The journey of faith is tough.  There was I time that I didn’t believe there was an “enemy”. I didn’t really think that there was a being “out there” that impacted my daily walk with God.  I could not have been more wrong.  The enemy doesn’t want us to be happy.  He wants us to wallow in our grief, forgetting our faith and losing our hope.

“The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy;

I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. John 10:10

We don’t like change.  We don’t like it because we are not in control.  We want to have a say in what happens in our lives.   The enemy likes to take advantage of fear of change, so when it happens, we spiral, question, and crawl into our pit.

Please don’t get me wrong, there is a time for grief and mourning.  I’ve been there, I know pain, I know how it feels to be in a dark pit, but Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to stay in that pit.  God didn’t raise his Son from the dead for us to live in darkness.

“…a time to weep and a time to laugh,    a time to mourn and a time to dance…”  Ecclesiastes 3:4

Friends, I encourage you to push through your grief.  We all go through the process in different ways and within a different time frame, but if you feel like your grief has kept you from laughing and dancing for too long, find help, through a counselor or pastor trained in grief counseling. Seeing a counselor doesn’t exhibit weakness, but great strength, by acknowledging you have a need and you are tired of pretending everything is okay.

Do not allow the enemy to steal your joy any longer.  Do not allow him to keep you in your pit of despair.  This is his greatest desire, to keep us from living the joy-filled life to which we are called.

*Side note:  This was written with no one in particular in mind.  I write what I feel God has laid on my heart, most of the time sharing from personal experiences.

Diminished

img_3504During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina,  I remember someone starting an “undie” drive.   Simple reasoning, because these people who lost everything, deserve new underwear.  I wondered if I posted something on social media, for 10 friends to send socks or underwear to donate to the distribution center at church, would there be a response.  Apparently more people read my Facebook feed than I realized.

Responses were immediate.

~My home church began getting the word out to donate socks and undies.

~College friends purchased items and mailed them to my doorstep.

~High school buddies (whom I haven’t spoken to in person for over 20 years) sent numerous packages of toiletries, pet food, and school supplies.

~Dear neighbors from home gave cleaning supplies and donated money.

~Family members purchased items as well as collected items from their friends.

Sometimes I think I underestimate my people.  Not that I ever thought my friends wouldn’t step up to help, but they have their own lives, crazy schedules, and disaster relief going on in their own homes.

But in reality, I diminished my God.  How often do we do this?  How often do we set the bar way too low for God?

Natalie Grant’s new song “King of the World” resonates this as well:

How could I make you so small
When you’re the one who holds it all

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we may ask or think.”  Ephesians 5:20.

As if God hadn’t done enough already.  He was ready to show me the true meaning of the word infinitely”.

My parents called one Sunday afternoon in the middle of all of the disaster relief.  I was an emotional wreck already; overcome with the fact that we had just moved and seemed to have been placed smack dab in the middle of a mission field, without a chance to catch our breath.  My father had taught Sunday School that day and had chosen to base his lesson on generosity.  He shared my posts about the distribution center, documenting the supplies sent in by friends. He used these posts to share with his class the amount of generosity he had been witnessing.

After class, one of the older gentlemen pulled him aside and offered him all of the money from his wallet.  Seriously, the man didn’t count it out, but just grabbed it and handed it over.  He said he felt the Lord leading him to give all he had to what was going on in Louisiana.  My parents waited until they got to the car to count the money.

$820

A man, whom I do not know, gave my father $820 to mail to me.

WHO DOES THAT?  God does.  God does infinitely more than we could ever ask or imagine.

Since then, many other churches have send money and donated supplies.  I do not know any of them.  God knows and used them to do infinitely more.

4 schools have held school supply drives to help area schools.  I had one contact with those schools (1 in VA and 3 in PA).  Through ONE CONTACT in VA and PA, 37 boxes were shipped here, full of needed supplies.  God does infinitely more.

Mutual friends drove 13 hours to deliver supplies from friends back home.

A former neighbor was shopping for supplies and someone approached her, randomly asking about her items.  The lady proceeded to give more money for more items to be purchased.

A church in North Carolina donated 250 pounds of school supplies and backpacks.

How could I make you so small
When you’re the one who holds it all
When did I forget you’ve always been the king of the world
You will always be the king of the world 

God is not to be diminished, for he will do infinitely more.

King of the World ~ Natalie Grant

Flooded

The weather had been unusual the moment we arrived.  There was a rainstorm every afternoon around 4pm.  Humidity builds, the clouds give up, relinquishing all of the moisture they possess.  This pattern was ongoing for about a week, however everyone said that it was strange.

Thursday, August 11 it all changed.  The torrential rain began and didn’t let up.

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31 inches of rain

48 hours

146,000 homes flooded

In that time frame, we sensed that something was not right.  The rain didn’t slow down.  It didn’t drizzle or mist, it just poured out, like a damn was opened up with no warning to those in its wake.

Our eyes on the news, we immediately became familiar with local rivers, their names and locations, and whether or not a bayou was connected to it.  We especially searched our map app to make sure these rivers were well away from us.  Our road, thankfully, did not collect water nor did the neighborhood pond crest its bank.  We didn’t know the amount of rain, but we did know that it had to have been a huge amount, as we had to open the drain of our swimming pool 5 times.

The news reports poured in, of families being rescued and shelters opening.  Nearby fire stations were sandbagging and churches were mobilizing to deliver aid.   Our first Sunday at church, the pastor said, “First we’re going to worship, then we’re going to pray, and then we will mobilize.”  I emotionally moved by the immediate response.  Many lessons had been learned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and there was no waiting, people needed rescuing and there would be a great many needs to meet.

Here we were, strangers to this land, yet it felt like God didn’t want us to remain that way.  4 weeks after the shooting, the people were again in turmoil.  My heart grieved for this community in a way I had never thought would.  I literally knew 3 people by name, other than my own family.  The church began a donation center and we volunteered as we were able.  It felt strange dropping my young girls off in a strange place to help a community they didn’t know, and yet it felt like it was exactly what they needed to do.

I felt great guilt that I wasn’t doing enough.  We had a home.  We had our belongings.  The need was so great and yet I wanted to do more.

Its as if the flood that escaped my home didn’t escape my soul.

Awakened

God was pressing on me to open my eyes to the community around me.  I felt his nudging as I looked at my surroundings and breathed in the simplicity of their offering.  I began to find humor and amusement in this random, yet quirky place.  I had asked God to open my eyes to his blessings.  He seemed to awaken every sense in order to fully grasp what a wondrous world he had brought me to.  I am sure there will be many more, but here are a few little blessings I have found in the bayou, that amuse this Virginia girl.

TREES – The trees here are enormous and mysterious, yet beautiful.  I had seen these live oak trees before, dripping with Spanish moss, but had never fully appreciated their majesty.  To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect of the landscape here.  I knew it would be flat. I just assumed flat meant barren.  But there is lush greenery everywhere you look.  Which makes my heart sing.  Back home, I desperately missed the vibrant colors during the winter months, now it seems green will be a mainstay.  The trees here are broad and strong.  This journey has required more strength of me than I could have ever imagined. Before strength comes growth.  These trees have been growing for hundreds of years and were once not so strong.  I am sure they faced many hardships before becoming the symbols of strength they are today.

GOOGLE MAP – I had no idea how gratifying it was to be able to get to a location with out the use of map app on my phone.  I have never been so thankful for my Smartphone and unlimited data in my life.  (All the credit goes to my sister on that one).  Type in the address to get to where you want to go.  Type in the address to get home. Repeat. Relying on my GPS for going EVERY.WHERE. was frustrating.  Walmart, grocery store, gas station, home, I felt helpless.  But that moment, where I realized, “I think I can drive 5 miles without directions and return home” was HUGE.  I can be taught!  I can remember!  Then came a point where I actually gave my husband directions, well now that was pretty most glorious.

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FERDINAND the BULL – There is this bull, in the back yard, of a house around the corner.  Its not really in a neighborhood, but its not in on a farm either.  Its more like a side street with houses and a bull in the yard.  Every day we look for the bull. Sometimes he’s standing up and you can really grasp how massive this brown, hairy animal is.  Other times, he is laying down because it is just too hot to stand any longer.  No matter what however, he has his little buddies surrounding him.  There are beautiful, dainty egrets that stand on and around the bull, eating the bugs he attracts.  It is the strangest sight to see this vast bodied animal being tended to by delicate white birds.  He makes me smile every time we pass by, which is sometimes multiple times a day.  My kids always look for him.  I think they get my amusement.

BELLS – Behind our home there is a Catholic church.  Which isn’t so strange here in Cajun country, but this church has a bell tower.  Sitting on my back patio and listening to the bells is one of the most peaceful times of the day.  Sometimes the bells toll, announcing the hour or beckoning the parishioners to mass, but other times the bells play hymns. Either I’m humming along or feeling like Fraulein Maria running down the mountain with habit in hand.   Beautiful hymns reminding my of growing up years because I have known these hymns all of my life.  Its almost as if a piece of home still surrounds me, comforting me in the throes of this new place.

These little things I will ponder in my heart.  These little things will remind me that God is here, directing my path,  and in the process of showing me our purpose and place in here in the bayou.  No matter what waters may rise.

 

Wounded

Exactly three weeks prior to our moving truck arriving, three police officers were fatally shot in retaliation of a police shooting that happened two weeks before.  I knew we were entering what appeared to be a racially divided city.  Driving around the area, blue ribbons were on mailboxes and for sale in the grocery store, in support of the police officers.  I knew these people were hurting.  God didn’t just want me to know their hurt, he wanted me to feel it.

One of the men that showed up to move our items into our house was the father of Montrell Jackson, one of those officers whose watch ended just three weeks ago.  He left behind a 4 month baby boy and a sweet wife.  He left behind a Daddy who dearly loved his “Baby Boy”.  He said when he heard the news report that morning, he immediately called Montrell.  His son always answered and if he couldn’t talk, he would say, “I’ll call you later, Pops.”  His son never picked up, after three attempts to reach him.  He turned to his wife and said, “We aren’t going to church today, Montrell’s dead.”  I remember reading about this young police officer with a passion for his community.  He dreamed of being on the force in order to make a change in the world in which he grew up.  He had posted on Facebook after the first shooting, sharing about his love for his community and his love for the police force.  His father is convinced his son had prophesied his own death.

Later on, my 3 year old and I went to the store to pick out some items for that little baby who would never know his father.  I ached for the family.  I ached for the community.  I wondered why God placed this father in my path.  I truly believe God wanted me to bond with the community faster than I could do on my own.  Why, I have yet to figure out, but while I have only been here one month, it feels like I have lived here longer.  I miss home terribly, but God’s plan is not my own, and it never has been.

Arrived

Two months since I have written.

One month since we have moved.

I struggle to wrap my brain around all that has transpired.

In short, the move went perfectly.  As flawless as a move with four kids and 13 hours can go.  There was crying, screaming, whining, fighting, and utter craziness, but we survived without a hitch.  No one was left behind at a rest stop, nasty convenience store bathroom, or on the side of the road.  I call that pure success.

Wednesday, August 3rd, we pulled into our driveway, beyond exhausted, yet knowing we had a full night ahead of us.  Our rental house was empty and would remain so until the following Sunday when the rental truck was scheduled to arrive.  Other than the items that protruded from every crevasse in the vehicles, we had very little to move in.  No beds, no chairs, no tables, no kitchen items.  Our first stop would be Walmart for air mattresses and a few odds and ends to get us through breakfast the next day, then on to grab a couple of pizzas.  Finally we were able to rest in order to fully explore our surroundings the next day.

On Thursday, after a day of exploring and trying to occupy 4 children who didn’t have their belongings yet, our new friends, The Stones, came by and brought dinner.  Leave it to me to make friends BEFORE actually moving to a new place.  Especially friends who bring you a yummy meal and offer the use of their washer and dryer.

Friday morning was spent doing laundry and visiting, until the realization hit me that my plan for the kids’ schooling was not going to work out the way I wanted.  I had chosen an online option to give the kids a more relaxed transition into school.  I didn’t want to drop them off at a unknown place, in an unknown town.  But God had other plans.  The kids were wait-listed and I had no option, but to enroll them in public school.  I had to do it IMMEDIATELY.  School started on Monday.  Uniforms were to be found and purchased. School supplies were to be gathered.  I cried out to God, threw a fit, and took a deep breath, remembering the advice of a dear friend, “Just do the next thing.”  So, for me, the next thing was finding their schools and enrolling them.

Sunday didn’t come soon enough.  We were so thankful for that moving truck to arrive. Little did I know, with that truck, God would begin to immerse us into the aching heart of this community.

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