Just Do the Thing

Here I am.  I am still here.

The last four months were kind of an unexpected sabbatical from blogging.  It has been a really good time for me to focus on things at hand and get some good perspective.  Okay, the first few months I was just busy or lazy, but the last few weeks have been all about a new perspective and a fresh motivation.

Many years ago I was in a bible study group with several other wonderful women. (whom I love to pieces and miss like crazy!)  We took it upon ourselves to stop studying out of the usual published book format and instead to just study God’s word bit by bit.  We would each break down and analyze the same passage of scripture during the week, and then get together and compare our notes and impressions.  It was studying the word of God.  Plain, pure and simple.  We worked our way through several books of the New Testament and eventually landed on the book of James.  Yikes.  I still have all my notes from that time, but I have to say that my clearest memory of that particular part of the study was just – phew!  I can check that one off the list and be done!!  Ironically, my dismissal of James at the time goes against some of the very behaviors James teaches on.  And, perhaps one of the reasons God led me and my co-leader to pursue teaching a semester on James this spring.

The book of James is just a relatively short letter towards the back of the New Testament.  Why so intimidating?  Well, for those who are unfamiliar, the book of James is a very direct and practical book for Christian living.  Similar to, say, Proverbs, in that so much of it can be put directly into physical practice.  In my humble opinion, it is confrontational and challenging.  If you know me, you know that I am an organized, Type-A, list-making girl.  Therefore, it should be natural that these more practical books of the Bible would appeal to me…they are like a checklist of what ‘to do’ to be a Christian.  WRONG.  Yes, they are a checklist.  The only problem is that they reveal how many things I am not checking off the list most of the time.  I just don’t know if I can face an old checklist that I have not completed, much less one that will show just how insincere and disobedient I can be at times.  Which is exactly why it is good and time for me to dig into the book of James.  I can’t stand a coward…especially one in the mirror.

At this time I have really only gone deep only through the middle of the 2nd chapter of James.  What I have gotten a hold of so far is that there would appear to be two mega-themes in these chapters.  I call them mega cause they’re big to me.  The first would be that true faith results in actions.  The second would be that mercy triumphs over judgment (vs. 2:13).  But, on top of both of these themes I have sensed an even bigger message, which would simply be that God is God.  He is so much more amazing and worthy of praise than we could ever comprehend.  Once we genuinely recognize this truth it will manifest itself in practical ways.

First, it shows through our actions.  James 1:22 says, “Do  not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” God has given us the privilege of being His, here on earth, and we bear the awesome honor and responsibility to reflect Him to the world so that they can know Him, too.  I don’t want to miss that!  Practically, I need to study and then obey his Word.  Put hands and feet on my faith.  Some ways of doing that are to care for the poor, widows and orphans, and to not be ‘polluted by the world’ – in other words not choosing worldly values over Christ’s.  To rein in my tongue (yep, that one stings), be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”vs.19.  More often than not, the things He calls us to do don’t come naturally to me as a ‘passionate’ woman (that’s my husband’s word for me), but if I blend into the world, how will anyone recognize God in me?

Secondly, the truth of God’s awesomeness is manifested in the mercy I show others.  This has to begin with my heart.  I cannot allow favoritism to shadow how I consider or treat others, regardless of their appearance, background or status.  But, if I really think about it, favoritism can be so much subtler with me.  We all have relationships that are more intimate than others.  The apostle Paul was obviously close with Timothy.  This is not a warning against intimacy.  It’s a warning about treating them differently in my heart.  Let’s face it, we often give those we are closest to more of a pass with some things we wouldn’t let others get away with.  No matter how well we know or don’t know people, we can’t allow favoritism to rule our judgment.  If favoritism was a God value, let me assure you, I would not be a member of the in-crowd.  He is a loving, merciful God.  He has brought me out of the pit.  It wasn’t pretty.  It was grace and mercy from a loving heavenly Father that did it.  Favoritism has no place in Him, and should have no place in my faith in Him.

My new motivation is not to check things off the Christian ‘to do’ list.  It is to recognize everyday that Christ is worthy, God is worthy, of me giving up my worldly habits in order to look a little more like Him so that others can experience the mercy He has already shown us all through the sacrifice of His son.  But, as James would say – motivation isn’t enough. Just do the thing!

Out of the Ashes, Beauty

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since the attacks of September 11, 2001.  This week, as I have been reflecting on the events of that day, I found myself peering back in time, like through a telescope, at the girl I was ten years ago.  Yes, I was 25, but I was just a girl.  I still am!

My oldest daughter was born in June of 2001, so I have a very visible marker of the time that has passed since that fateful day.  We had just moved to a new city about a month before her birth.  I remember that time as being challenging and insecure and wonderful, all at once.  New location, new baby, new job, as I had decided to leave my paid employment to stay at home full time.

Some of the ticks on my timeline since then represent difficult seasons we have lived through.  Two consecutive miscarriages, a time of self-imposed isolation from God, struggles and loss in my extended family.  But, they are accompanied with so much to be thankful for – a flourishing marriage, two more healthy babies, growth and maturation spiritually, forming lifelong friendships.

There are times we are caught up in some pattern of life that is making us miserable, and we think – I am never going to stop feeling this horrible or frustrated.  And, it can seem like those dark days go on forever.  Until we are standing at the end of a decade looking back, realizing that in the bigger scheme of things those days don’t look as big as they felt on the timeline of the last ten years, much less an entire lifetime.  Yet, even though time makes our toughest seasons look smaller, they are still a significant force that molds us into who we are when we put them in the hands of the Heavenly Potter. (Isaiah 64:8)

When I was younger, my testimony was all about me.  My teenage angst and pain.  My emptiness.  My needs.  And, yes, by the way, God saved me.  But, did I mention me?  I have found that this level of self-involvement tends to accompany immaturity, and I was very immature.  What amazes me is how God has transformed that testimony into the truth that it is all about Him.  How others see Him through me.  What amazing things He has done.  Because He is Almighty God who loves us and He is glorious.  I can give specific examples of God’s mercy and grace on me through the years, but they are not nearly as powerful as seeing the big picture (or at least, the portion of it that has been lived to this point!)  Trust me, whatever bad choice you could think of – I’ve probably already made it at some point.  But, as selfish, foolish and arrogant as I have been at times – God’s grace has brought me to where I am today.  He has taken little broken puzzle pieces and placed them together perfectly.  Not that I am perfect – noooo.  Or finished, for that matter!  But, if I had been left to my own devices I would not be who and where I am today.

I did not lose someone that I knew personally in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, or a Pennsylvania field that day now ten years ago.  For those of you who did, I cannot even attempt to imagine what the last ten years have been like.  What sorrow and loss you have known.  What healing, joy, or redemption you have been able to experience in the days since.  But, I do know that even though our experiences might be different, God’s love and desire for all of us is the same.

It just isn’t enough for me to tell you what God has done in my life.  I want everyone I know to be able to brag on what God has done.  I think this special anniversary for our nation is the perfect opportunity for us to be introspective and look back over the last ten years.  Look for God’s mark on your lifetime calendar.  It cannot be missed.  For those of us who are currently in a dark season, I pray that through endurance and getting into God’s word you would know what real hope is, and that hope would encourage you through this time.  When I think of the image of the twin towers with the smoke rising into the clear blue sky, it always summons the following verse to my head, perhaps because of the association with ashes.  It is spoken to God’s people people being held captive in a time of trouble.  Ultimately, Jesus is the fulfillment of this verse for all captives.  If you can relate to that condition, physically or metaphorically, then this is for you (and, I am including all four verses, ’cause they are just that good) –

‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.  They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated.’ (Isaiah 61:1-4)

Summer Trip Log Four – Sea at Last!

It is September.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that I am finishing my journal about our JULY trip back east.  At least, if you could be a fly on the wall of my life lately, maybe it would be clear that we have been b-u-s-y going back to school, getting revved up for a new year of activities.  Since the fall is coming on strong, though, I do want to finish remembering our journey from the summer, because unfinished projects drive me crazy and take up space in my head that I cannot afford to waste.  Plus, I have actually gotten a request or two to do this – and for those of you who have been holding your breath – or have at least been looking forward to the next installment, cause you would not be reading this if you had been holding your breath this long – I cannot thank you enough for staying with my very sporadic blog as of late.  I’m hoping that with the organization of our day-to-day routine will come enough organization of my thoughts to record them here more often again.  I hope.  It is possible I left all my good brain cells with a big chunk of my heart on the Atlantic coast this summer.  So, at last, it’s time to delve into some nitty, gritty sand.

We became good friends with the rest stops in Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia before we finally arrived and saturated our senses with some salt and sand.  Some cousins and boogie boards.  Some boiled peanuts and boiled shrimp.  Some sunburn and sunscreen.  Catch my drift(wood)?

Before I begin to bombard you with my pictorial representations of wonderful times at the beach, I just have to say – in my lifetime of family vacations, they have all been good.  Occasionally, though, they are hugely good, like good on steroids.  Great location, yummy food, clear weather, no trips to the emergency room, no stress.  (okay, okay – one little trip to Urgent Care for an ear infection doesn’t really count) Besides that, perfect memories.  This year was one of those years.

Ahh, the beach house.

It could be ours.  If we sell one or two of our children.

The view might be worth it, especially at night:

All seven cousins in the ocean.

Jumping waves.

Do you remember when you could do that for an entire day?  I can.

They can.

I love seeing them all together.

Man time happens where the waves break.

Caroline & Anna

If 1800 miles on land can’t keep these two soul sisters apart, certainly no silly waves will.

Cat and Will in action.

They formed a pretty

sweet bond this year.

This pose reminds me of something.

Baywatch.

Kinda.

Uncle Wes surprised the kiddos with boogie boards one day.  They were the hit of the week, especially with Marfy.  She is a soul surfer, for sure.

We did a little bit of sightseeing in downtown Fernandina and at the port.

Shrimp are big there.

They have statues of them everywhere to prove it.

It’s no secret that I love my sister.

When I am with my sister, I laugh about 95% of the time.

About nothing.

About everything.

It’s why I took a picture of this shop sign in Fernandina:

And, why I have to include so many pictures of us together.

It’s also no secret that I love my man.

I would love him even if he didn’t fully support me finding a beach house online, sight unseen, then driving 30 hours to get there and spend a week with my family.  And, take lots of pictures of me laughing with my sister.  But, he does.  So, I do.

As a matter of fact, this next photo is his favorite and that is why I am including it.  Some pictures really are worth a thousand words.  This is my sister’s family.  Can you guess how they roll at picture time?

I can’t believe we caught this moment on film.  Perfection.

The girls got into some ringin’ around with Will.

To the left is my nephew, Matthew.

Matthew Bieber.

He is not ashamed of how much attention he pays his ‘do’.

I love that boy.

And his hair.

This trip will be remembered as the year of the turtle.  We had a lot of sightings, so I have to include at least one:

Sorry, it’s a bit hazy, I grabbed my camera from inside the house and took this picture before the little guy got away. (he was faster than the average tortoise)  The haziness resulted from this thing called humidity smacking my cold lens with some moisture.  Being in Colorado, I have almost forgotten what that is.  Almost.

This picture is the opposite of a thousand words for me.  It’s short and sweet.

Family.  Love.  Memorable.  I’d go back if I could.

(Wendy, this one is for you – thanks for the push!  And, thanks for reading!!)

Why we do what we do

Several years ago I watched a miniseries called ‘Band of Brothers’ that tells the story of the U.S. Army’s Easy Company during World War II.  It is such a well done film all around, from the cast and characters to the presentation of soldier life in the European Theatre during the war.  The series consists of ten episodes based on the testimonies of actual Easy Company members compiled with research.  The episodes detail battle moments as well as the hardships these men faced during Easy Company’s entire trek across Europe.  Frostbite, hunger, injuries, missing loved ones, witnessing their friends killed on the battlefield.  I cannot imagine the experience these men had in real life, and none of us really could who were not there.  Personally, though, the thing this movie had me thinking about the most was the insight into the motives of the men who fought.  In the 21st century, we have so much information about the events and horrors of that time that the fighting makes perfect sense to us.  An enlisted man in the 1940’s, however, did not have access to all of the knowledge we have now.  They knew about German aggression in Europe and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, of course, but they were ignorant of the truly monstrous things going on under Hitler and the Third Reich.  In the series Band of Brothers, it isn’t until episode 9 of 10, after several years’ journey from England to Normandy and then fighting through France that the American soldiers cross over into Germany and come upon a concentration camp in Germany, shocked to discover that the starving and pathetic prisoners were not criminals but Jews and Gypsies.  The episode is called ‘Why We Fight.’

I am so thankful that the script of my life did not have me waiting until my last days before I learned the reason why I should do what I do.  My pastor gave a great sermon on Sunday covering Matthew 6:1-18 – Seeking the smile of God over the Applause of men.  It is hard for me to do it justice with a quick summary, but essentially Jesus is telling us it is okay to be motivated by Heavenly rewards because God gets pleasure out of rewarding His children (see Luke 12:32-34, Hebrews 11:6, and Matthew 6:19-21).  Note that it is heavenly rewards we seek through diligent service on earth, nothing earthly or material, and certainly not the approval of men.  Also, please know that this is not about working to get into heaven.  None of us are capable of that.  There is nothing we could do to get there – Jesus did it all.  This is about after we have surrendered our lives to God, and not settling for a shack in heaven – for the least of what He is offering.

Does this mean if we are foreign missionaries we get a better zip code in eternity?  I don’t think so.  As a stay at home mom whose travel destinations usually include a grandparent and not necessarily a third world country, I certainly hope that this is not a criteria.  I believe we are all called to ‘go’ in the name of God, but where each of us is supposed to ‘go’ depends on Him.  Not that I don’t want to get out to as many nations as possible someday or am justifying rejecting a foreign opportunity for the security of home, but I am also confident that God gave us this place and this life right here and now for a reason.  I don’t want to miss the mission here in my backyard because I’m too busy pining for faraway places.  (For the record, my backyard is almost 2000 miles away from the place of my birth.  Does that count just a little?)

Lost people are lost people, whether they are starving in AIDS infested African villages or deliriously ignorant in suburbia.  It might seem more attractive to reach one people group because we can work through their physical needs, but we also need to take up the challenge to reach people whose material needs are met and so they don’t think they need anything, but they are missing everything!

If I haven’t lost you somewhere in my film review or my mission preaching, I’ll try to make some sense of what I am trying to express.  (I haven’t blogged in FOREVER, I might have forgotten how!!)  As the last weeks of summer have dwindled down and we are facing getting back into our routine, I have gotten a little down-hearted.  Why do we do all this?  What purpose am I serving?  What kind of legacy will I leave?  Does it make a difference if my kids play soccer, take ballet, have a PTO mom?  None of these things seem important in the big scheme of things.  However, who I am to say what God can make important, as long as I do everything to serve and glorify Him.  I mean, He is Almighty God.  If people can see Him through me, then it is bound to be important.  Period.

‘So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.’  (1 Cor 10:31)  If we can honor God with something like our meals, then how much more so in the way we interact with our neighbors, the service we do for those around us, the way we lead our families.  Actually, we can incorporate food into a lot of these things.  Sorry…I’m a Baptist and a southerner, we just love food.  We live life, knowing in the end it’s about pleasing our Heavenly Father and honoring His sacrifice for us, and not about human recognition.  (Not even from other Christians, although we should certainly encourage one another. )  In Band of Brothers the advertisement tagline for the series said ‘There was a time when the world asked ordinary men to do extraordinary things.’  Well, we are all pretty ordinary.  But, we have a God who is extraordinary, and he will use us to do amazing things everyday if we are willing to serve Him.  It is why we should do whatever it is we do.

Footnote:  If you love studying WWII experiences like I do, read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.  An amazing true story, a wonderful uplifting ending, I highly recommend!

Summer Log Three – (middle) Georgia on My Mind

Our journey continued southeastward (and we were going to drive until we hit salt water!) Before our final destination on the trip, we got to see some fabulous people in Forsyth, GA.  They don’t all actually live in Forsyth, but since it was en route, some of them were willing to meet us there, too.  And eat more pig.  And caramel cake.  And play with little birds and bunnies.

We are boys, therefore we eat.

By the way, if you’ve never tried white sauce on barbecue, I highly recommend you try it today.  Mr. Kerry, pictured here, makes the best in the world, but you can probably come close to imitating his delicious flavor (he says you can google white bbq sauce).  Trust me, you might not go back to the red stuff ever again.

Richard had a good ol’ boy greeting for Tee.  Yup, that’s how we do it in the south.

Once again, playing with the shutter burst is so fun.  Especially when Caroline, a little bird, and little Tee work their action.

Where’d he go?

These are my fabulous girls.  Minus one, who could only be present via a lovely picture.

These ladies play such a special role in my life.  We were called together during a season when we all lived minutes from each other.  Not a perfect life among us, but we have a perfect God who brought us together.  They know my nitty gritty.  I know theirs.  They call me out on my nitty gritty.  I repay the favor.  It takes prayer, love and humility to be accountable to others.  They are amazing women.  Even hundreds of miles away, when I talk to them it’s like we are only minutes apart again, yet only one remains in our original town now.  I love you, my fabulous friends.

Here are all the kids who were present, plus my nieces who were making this leg of the journey with us, too.  They didn’t have trouble fitting right in.

I am not sure what was going on with little Jack’s eye, but I had 10 shots and this one had the most of his sweet little face.  I love this adorable group!!

Finally, the grown-up group shot.  Taken by Caroline, our budding photographer.

Pretty good pic, sweet girl!  Some people think that in the south we know at least half the people, and we are related to the rest.  Well, it’s true.  We are so blessed with all these folks, sometimes it feels like we are shoving a lot of memories into just a few precious moments.  That is true of our time on this trip, and we treasure these memories as well as the technology that keeps us together when we are apart.  Love y’all to pieces!

Summer Log Two – Georgia On My Mind

Our summer journey saga continues – the first 1000 miles ended in a family-filled week at Lake Barkley in Kentucky.  The next 400 or so miles took us to my homeland of Georgia, specifically Decatur which was loaded with pork ribs, fossils, and good times.  We had a blast visiting with my dad, stepmom, sister and brother.  And eating pig.  And a big orange cake shaped like a T.

My kids had a little bit of fun spazzing out with Aunt Becca and Uncle Hank.  Uncle Hank had a little bit of fun spazzing out with them.  Can you guess where he’s going to college next month?  Hint:  it is NOT the University of Texas.

To celebrate Hank’s impending induction into the Vol nation (that’s University of Tennessee, ladies and gentlemen), my stepmom made him a big ol’ orange T carrot cake.  It was delish.

I forgot to take a picture before we devoured.

But, I got some during and after:

Before we arrived we asked to bring some fried chicken so that Fran would not have to do all this work.  Our offer was rejected.  She wouldn’t really want me to mention much, but she is fighting a battle right now, and in the midst of all the challenges she faces daily, she still insists on feeding us good home cookin’ and laughing with us till we’re all worn out.  She is a warrior.

My dad has developed a new hobby in the years of my marriage.  He loves to go out to the Dakotas or scuba diving in Florida to hunt for fossils.  He is very passionate about his paleontological interest, and Marfy might have caught on to some of that.  After dinner we found she had snuck off to check out some old bones.

Cute thing.

Paleontological is a big word, by the way.

This is the mandatory group shot (sans Ricardo, who was photographer) from the littles and myself, to Becca, Hank and her beau, to my parents.

We were only in the state of Georgia for 18 hours, but it turns out it will take two installments to detail our time of fellowship there.  In the south, there is nothing like a short story turned into a long, tall tale.  I wouldn’t want to depart from tradition.

Summer Trip Log One – I almost forgot I had a blog!

We have spent the last 18 or so days touring around the southeast visiting family and friends.  There was time in the car, time with wonderful people, time in the car, time eating barbecue and boiled peanuts, time in the car, time skiing on the lake, time in the car, time enjoying family and sweet moments at the beach.  Did I mention there was time in the car?  Which might have been a good time to work on the blog.  Except I surrendered the use of my laptop to my eldest to enjoy the occasional DVD distraction.  Don’t judge, the trip home alone was almost 30 hours of time in the car spread over 3 days.  Oi.

I want to chronicle our trip in my blog, but there was so much to it, the saga of our voyage will have to be written in installments.

The first leg of the journey (after we survived the drive through Kansas) was the week we spent with my mother-in-law’s family at their lake house in Kentucky and the various home visits we made to Tennessee while there.   Being at the lake is wonderfully quiet.  There is no telephone, we get very sketchy cell service, and thus no internet.  It can be frustrating to be so communication isolated, but it also forces you to spend time doing active things and interacting with flesh and blood folks while you do it.  Face to face.  It’s a little sad we have to lose technology sometimes to really focus on the people around us.  Not that I’m giving up my laptop.

First priority was some face to face with Nana and Grundaddy:

Then, the Pedigo family reunion.  Time with grandma/great grandma:

And with cousins and cousins’ kids (which are also cousins, and look like Shirley Temple):

And,

last

but

most absolutely, definitely not least, Uncle Patrick:

aka the Crocodile Hunter

After all the reunion-ness, my mom and stepdad drove out from Lexington to spend a couple of days with us over the Fourth of July.  The first day of their visit was rainy, and the ladies were trapped inside playing Perquackey while the men braved the wet elements for their own mini British Open.  They called it Geezers vs. Geeks:

The geezers stomped ’em, with a little help from ‘age, wisdom and treachery’.

By the way, Perquackey is one of the most awesome games ever.  Just sayin’

We did have some goofy fun of our own with DeeDee:

Before the weather improved and we got to have some real water fun:

Looking at these pictures reminds me of how much fun we had, how blessed we are to share some family recreation, and how I should wear mascara the next time I partake in water sports where our camera will be present.

We took a break from the lake to visit some Tennessee family.  Grundaddy’s parents, Momma Ann and Daddy John:

And more time with Grandma Pedigo, Uncle Joe and Aunt Marty before heading back to eek out as much water time as we could.  I’ve got to brag on my sweet Caroline.  She is rockin’ the wakeboard.  Check her out:

At the end of the week, we all kind of felt like

and it was worth every fun moment.

Finally, a sweet memory we capture each year on the bench swing.

Hard to believe this is only the first installment of the trip.  It was a full vacation unto itself.

We really do treasure all the time we are given with our family, no matter how much car time it takes to get it.  They have invested so much in who we have become and in spending time with our little ones and imparting their love and faith legacy to us all.