Sunday, July 20, 2014

A New Adventure

Welp... since it's now on Facebook (meaning it totally wouldn't be official otherwise...*wink*) I finally feel free to spill my guts like I've been wanting to for a good long time. In case you haven't noticed (but you have, right?? You know my insecurities!) I've been a little MIA lately and as I've sort of alluded before, when I can't say everything I'd rather not say anything so... I haven't. Ordinarily I'd be more than content to just share my usual mindless drivel (speaking of, don't worry... I haven't abandoned my Disney playlist series!) but I've been SO busy that even those posts were not really happening.

So, this is the story all about how my life got twisted, turned upside down... oh, wait. I'm not moving to Bel Aire. (But bonus points if you can finish that song!) Anyway. Back to business.

As long as I've known Jonathan, he has talked about wanting to be involved in church planting/home missions in some way. He talked about it in high school, in college, and since we've been married. But clearly the Lord has had other plans for us for the past four years, and we've been content- happy even- to serve where we've been called, both Goldsboro and New Bern- "blooming where we're planted," if you will. But remember my word of the year? (If you've carelessly forgotten, it was delight... but more on that in a second.)

So, over the past few months, Jonathan started feeling more strongly about this home missions thing and wondering how and when it might work out for us to get involved in it. (Also, I was totally in the dark about this for much of the time... he's sneaky that way.) In April, we talked with Heath, our friend who happens to be a home missionary to Houston. And he asked us to pray about coming there. Huh. This was unexpected, but it wasn't really a shock. I mean, Jonathan's praying about an opportunity, and here comes one knocking... I believe that's called luck, no? (Just kidding; obviously it was all God's doing.) 

Clearly this isn't the kind of thing you just decide on a whim, so we were thinking and praying and worrying (well, I was) but it worked out for us to take a trip to Houston at the beginning of June... incognito, of course. 



This is my "Holy cow, what in the world are we doing?!" face. It was mostly attributed to my anxiety about the trip but partially to the fact that we were flying out of New Bern in what was essentially a toy plane. 

When we arrived going there was just a possibility, but when we left it was very clear that God wanted us at Woodforest. Both of us really felt in our hearts that it was right, and our "well, maybe" turned into "okay, how do we make this happen?" And so we continued to pray and figure things out, and while it's still not ALL figured out, right now we know that next week we'll be out of our apartment, living in Goldsboro, and spending the next few months raising support as associate missionaries. Wow! 

It's been a crazy summer... packing up our house, spending several weeks really having no idea what we were going to do, and then finally (after some setbacks) seeing things fall into place. I have a feeling that God's planning on teaching me a LOT over the next few months. I know this process so far has basically taught me that I have absolutely zero control over much of what happens in my life, which, as you can imagine, has made me more than a little crazy. =) But that's the beauty of following God's plan... even if I'm not entirely sure exactly what it looks like, I know that He does. He sees around every corner (and really, I'm kind glad that I can't.) This has been, and will be, an exercise in faith. 



Today... finally relaxing now that the news is out!


Naturally, this kind of news is accompanied by a myriad of emotions... excitement, joy, fear, terror (you know I love my anxieties!) but mostly peace that we are doing what God wants us to do. I mentioned my word delight earlier, and it's been really neat to see the promise of Psalm 37:4 unfold. Honestly, there have been times recently, and specifically the past two months, when delighting was the last thing I've felt like doing. It's not really easy to delight in uncertainty... in fact, it's probably my least favorite thing! But as Jonathan has faithfully sought God's will, faithfully served where we are, and delighted in the Lord, I've been able to watch God give him the desire of his heart... a desire that's been present since he was a teenager on his first missions trip. And, like only God can, He has given me- despite all my fears and insecurities- that same call to share with my husband. 

Things are going to be crazy for the next few months... and honestly, I don't know exactly how everything will go down, so I'm glad I know the One who holds tomorrow! I'll be sharing all of our progress as it arrives, so follow along. It's going to be an adventure! Oh, and please pray for us! I just know you will, because you are awesome that way. =)


Ash

Monday, July 7, 2014

When It Rains (Well, You Know...)

So, I was working on a really perky, upbeat post about how awesome camp was (I know! Can you believe it? Me??) but alas, life had other plans. I thought it would be far more entertaining- cathartic, even- to share with you a little glimpse into the last 48 hours in the life of the McNeese family. As I write this, it's after midnight, I'm staring with bleary eyes at this screen and the television, listening/watching The Parent Trap (1998 version... before LiLo went all cray-cray) and trying to ignore the fact that our AC is out. What? Oh, don't worry... that little calamity is only a part of my tale of woe. Enjoy.

So, on Friday night at camp, Jonathan started complaining that he had the chills and felt achy. [Editor's note: this was AFTER I had spent half of Thursday in the bed moaning in pain from a heinous sunburn. Just wanted to throw that in there in case you were tempted to use up all your sympathy on a certain lanky McNeese). Since I can sometimes be a little mean somewhat lacking in sympathy and because it was hardly a convenient time for him to jump ship and abandon me with all the children, I was reluctant to buy his story. But I sent him down to our room anyway and followed when I finished eating (because the chicken was fabulous and I do have my priorities, people.) 

So, I went down to check on Sickie and, to my dismay, he was so hot (and while I think he's adorable, I mean his actual temperature.) He was burning up and his throat hurt and he was just miserable. It was pitiful, actually. So I gave him so medicine, dutifully laid a cold rag on his head (because that's what Laura Ingalls would do) and went back up to the service. And THEN during the service one of our boys, who had had pink eye the day before, came up to me with his eye swollen again so I went and got his medicine, shakily dropped it in his eyes, grabbed Jonathan a Powerade, and went back to check on him. 

He wasn't really any better, but he didn't want to miss the game time and fireworks (also, he was going stir-crazy) so he roused himself out of bed and powered through the next couple of hours. Bless his heart... he did get roped into doing a game/skit and I know people were probably like, "This guy isn't very funny..." (he's not really a skit guy, anyway) but I was really praying that he wouldn't pass out onstage. (That would have given the skit an unexpected turn...) Anyway, he lasted for an admirable length of time, but I sent him down to the room before it was all over. 



Right in the middle of his misery... he wasn't drugged up on anything, I promise... although he probably should have been.

I slept great that night, but unbeknownst to me, Jonathan was waking up, like, every hour. So, he didn't really sleep at all and then while we were loading up the van the next morning he threw up in the bushes. (It was as dreadful as it sounds.) And even though I offered to drive home, he insisted on doing it himself- a lack of confidence in my driving, perhaps?- and seemed a little more pitiful with each passing mile. (Okay, full disclosure: I was asleep for over half the trip and had the Aladdin soundtrack blaring through my headphones the whole time.) By the time we got back to the church, he was completely out of it and as soon as everyone was dumpedwiththeirparents picked up we headed home and promptly slept like the dead for four hours. 

Unfortunately things went from bad to worse (or worser, which is a double comparison but seems necessary to convey the level of despair in the situation) because when we woke up, Jonathan's throat was killing him and (lucky us) our ONE urgent care center was closed (since apparently we live in Mayberry) and so last night was a really fabulous bout of trying not to succumb to the horrible pain and only finding a little relief from some throat spray. Also, his fever was super high again, around 101, and one of his eyes was oozing something really gross... but more on that later. (During this time, I was sleeping like the compassionate nurse that I am.) Also, we kept wondering why it was so warm in the house...but, I am getting ahead of myself. Read on.

This morning, I was relieved to find that his fever had broken... but his throat was still really sore. It was my week to sing, so I left Sickie to go to practice, Sunday school, and church but rushed back home to his side (haha) and as soon as we could, we left to wait for the urgent care to open. Ah, Urgent Care... the great American oxymoron. First you get to wait for over an hour just to go back to the holding cell where they make you THINK you're going to see a doctor and then you get to wait for another hour. It's so much fun!!! It's even more fun for those of us sitting in the waiting room with screaming toddlers. Poor parents. (In the urgent care's defense, everyone there was super nice.) 

SO, the diagnosis was strep throat (obviously) and the nice people called in a prescription at Target and said it should be ready in about half an hour. We went and got some food, ate it in the car, and THEN went to check on the prescription and- shocker- the pharmacy hadn't even received the order yet. So, it was going to be another 20-ish minutes. Obviously, killing time in Target is one of my spiritual gifts but poor Jonathan was seriously about to keel over (since we'd been at the doctor, his fever had shot back up and he was achy again.) Finally, after we stocked up on the essentials (namely, orange juice and pizza rolls because we have the palates of broke college students), the drugs were ready and we were headed home. Home... where the air was set to 73 but the temperature was actually 78. Hmmm.... curious.

There was just enough time to rest a little and then head to church for me to run the kids class alone (well, with Mrs. Jo). Nothing reminds me how much more comfortable I am with teenagers than having to get up in front of little kids. Poor kids... thank goodness for Veggie Tales! (We watched Lord of the Beans and it was quite clever.) Also during this time, I got a text from Jonathan saying that his eye was swelling. (I told you that the eye would come back up.) I rushed home from church, distributed another round of drugs, and then noticed that the Oozing Eye was even more... oozy and was now completely bloodshot. Remember the pink eye?? Yep... that's it! On top of the strep, he's got an oozing, swollen, bloodshot eye. And naturally these symptoms are all compounded by... wait for iiiiiiiit.... 

...Our AC is out. SHUT UP. ("I beg your pardon? Shut up? Your majesty, in America it doesn't always MEAN 'be quiet'; here it could mean 'wow, gee whiz, golly-wolly.'") So, my husband is basically the Walking Dead and on top of that it's a billion degrees in our house. Since it's always too hot upstairs even when the AC works, our only option is sleeping downstairs with the fan cranked up, a move that's sure to give Jonathan a sinus infection by morning. Poor thing... his immune system is like Jacob in the Bible... all wimpy (and, since I never get sick, mine is apparently the hairy, burly Esau. What a lovely comparison for us as a couple!) 

So, The Parent Trap has ended... I forgot how much I love that movie. I laughed AND cried. Jonathan is conked out on the floor... I know he's going to be sore but it's been so hard for him to go to sleep that I hate to move him. (Well, wake him up so he can move. You know I don't have the upper body strength to lift a grown man.) But anyway, pray for us. Well, mostly Jonathan. Not only is he being hit at with illness from all sides, but he also has the world's most disorderly orderly (me) trying to take care of him. But even if you forget both of us during your Quiet Time, please pray for our AC situation. A broken unit in July? No. Just no. It's SO hot. 

And that is the tale of woe that I so pitifully spun for your enjoyment. I'm off to Lysol everything in sight and Google "how to fix an AC unit for dummies." Maybe I'll set the house on fire... not that you'd be able to notice.

EDIT: I finished this post and it was sometime after 3 A.M. So, like the insomniac that I am, I still couldn't sleep and started cleaning instead. I was only intending to "straighten up" the kitchen but I reached under the sink to grab the dishwashing detergent and smelled something... horrifying and mysterious. Turns out, there was a leak coming from somewhere (the sink or the dishwasher... don'tknowdon'tcare) and it had soaked through a bag of potatoes, leaving them a moldy, soggy pile of nastiness that smelled like the bottom of a filthy pond. 

So, picture me, if you will, completely freaking out over the mess (and the smell) and standing on my back porch at 4 in the morning, swinging a bag of rotten potatoes and hurling like a discus thrower into the woods behind our house. And then scurrying back inside with Kronk-like, awkward humming ("He's got his own theme music?") and saying (in my best Kronk voice), "I hope that doesn't come back to haunt me." I'm still freaked out just thinking about it! Oh, and since that apparently gave me an adrenaline rush equal to scoring a goal in the World Cup, I proceeded to clean the rest of my house, take a shower, and organize the guest room. Guess when I went to sleep? Around 8:15. And so ends a crazy night and this crazy story. The only plus to all this is that my house is spotless... stifling, but spotless.


Ash

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Stepping Up to the Plate

Sorry to disappoint you baseball fans and myself at age 12, but this post is actually not about baseball. Just want to start with that disclaimer in case anyone scrolled through and thought, "She didn't talk about baseball at all!" Carry on.


My list of fears does not include ice cream.


It always amuses me when people make these grand, dramatic statements in an attempt to share something about themselves, when in reality the "super unique" trait that they're sharing is something pretty common. For example, if I were to ceremoniously declare that I struggle with fear, then every other human being (especially the 13 and under crowd, with whom I closely identify) would have to admit to also being afraid of something. I mean, who doesn't have a major fear of at least one thing?

Of course, there are remedies or "cures" for different fears. For example, if you're afraid of snakes, you can solve that problem the way I do- by rarely venturing outside. =) Every child knows that a fear of the dark can be solved with a nightlight (or "nighty-light" as my 3-year-old nephew says, which is an unessential fact but one I'm including because it's adorable.) And if you're afraid of being inadequate, unsuccessful, or just a big old flop, you can...

Huh. Is there a cure for those feelings? It's kind of raw deal. We finally realize that there are no monsters under the bed, no "bad guys" lurking in the closet (well, at least I hope not, but that's why I don't watch crime shows), and no other unknown danger promising a fate worse than death... only to be plagued by grown-up fears that, let's be honest, are a little bit harder to overcome. Everyone has their own way of dealing with these fears (deny, deny, deny?) and their own go-tos when feeling afraid. I remember lying in bed as a kid (okay, last week) and chanting "What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee" over and over again while I tried to block out the creaking noises of my house that I was absolutely positive meant a murderer around the corner. But now that my fears are a little more... reality-based, if you will, I find I have to dig a little deeper. Not that Scripture isn't deep... I mean deeper into Scripture and other resources to silence that nasty little voice of doubt, worry, and criticism that comes from yours truly.

Lately I've been feeling really fearful in a lot of ways... but one of them has been in my writing. Life has been a little crazy the last few months and, in an attempt not to spill my guts about everything, I just haven't really written much about anything. And, as is usually the case when I'm not writing, I start feeling like it's not that great, that I don't have anything interesting to say, that I'm never going to write a book, or be a real author, or write anything worthwhile. (I'm a very positive person, eh?) As Jon Acuff says, it's easy to think that every topic has already been covered by "a million writers who are smarter than me." For whatever reason, it's easy to grow especially morose about topics like this when it's late and I can't sleep, last night was one of those times. Of course Jonathan, who is way too nice and always indulges my stupidity, helped talk me down from the crazy a little bit but he's required by law to tell me I'm not completely devoid of talent so... I take his praise with a grain of salt.

So this morning, while having my devotions, I turned to a chapter in Resolution for Women that I knew was right up my alley. (By the way, ladies, if you haven't read this book you really should.) Anyway, I'm reading along, enjoying Priscilla Shirer's writing style, as always, when this paragraph hits me between the eyes:

"Some readers will only hear, understand, and accept certain things when they read it in your words, from your perspective, written in your voice. We were each created by God to do our part. And if we fail to do it because we don't think it's valuable enough, great loss will be suffered. Someone, somewhere, needs you- in all your uniqueness- to step up to the plate of your calling." 

Um, okay. That slapped me around a little. It would be a cop-out to tell myself that these words don't apply to me, that they're for someone who is more talented, or more experienced, or more... different. But Jeremiah says that before we were even born, God knew, sanctified, and ordained us with specific gifts for specific purposes, so I have to believe that this is true for my life. Because to ignore that fact would be a contradiction of God's plan. I don't know always know what that plan entails, or what it looks like. Sometimes that makes me crazy, but mostly I need to remember that all it really requires is for me to do what I'm called to do. And whether that means writing poetry or ranting about grammar or sharing Disney playlists, I better be doing it... stepping up to the plate of my calling, whatever it is.



Ash

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Unbroken

Warning: this post contains spoilers. If you still want to be surprised, just go read this book right now. I'm just dying to talk about it with/to someone.

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Since it's finally summer and I actually have the time, I've been reading like a crazy person for the past couple of weeks. Last week, before heading to the library, I first clicked over to Janssen's book index, as is my custom before a library trip. And, as usual, she did not disappoint. Her review of Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand completely sold me and I checked it out, then plowed through it in just a few hours.

If you've been around me since then, chances are you've heard me talking about this book. Oh, my. I haven't been able to shut up about it. I've probably described it, in varying levels of detail, to at least ten people (number one being my husband who is probably weary of hearing the summary over and over... and over again.) So instead of talking the ears off of even more people, I decided to be efficient and blog about it. =) Buckle up, folks. It's a long one.

Unbroken is the biography of Louis Zamperini, known throughout the book as Louie, a boy from an Italian family who got a pretty rough start in life. Growing up in California, he was constantly in trouble and pretty much terrorized his neighbors, teachers, and friends. Louie was bullied at an early age and decided, as just a little boy, to never let anyone beat him down again. And as the local troublemaker- from stealing to fighting- he refused to be overcome by any obstacle. He simply figured out a way around the problem. This defiant spirit, although misplaced, would eventually serve him well in much more serious pursuits. 

By the time Louie reached high school, his parents were terribly worried that he would end up in prison (or worse.) So his older brother Pete began training him to run track, and by the time he graduated, Louie was the fastest high school runner in the country. He now had a purpose in life and set his mind to another goal- the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. Louie qualified and made it to Germany. He did not win his race, but ran his last lap so fast that Adolf Hitler himself personally demanded to meet him after the race, calling him "the boy with the fast finish."
Soon Louie had to put his dreams of running on hold as the world went to war. Joining the U.S. Air Force, he became a bombadier and, along with his crew, completed several dangerous missions while stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. After one terrible flight, Louie's crew was horrified to count over 500 bullet holes in their plane, a B-24. Ironically, it was on a fairly routine reconnaissance mission- not in combat- that Louie, his best friend Phil, and the rest of a crew were shot down over the Pacific. Only Louie, Phil, and a gunner named Mac made it through the crash. Mac eventually died as well, but miraculously, Phil and Louie survived on a raft in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days with practically no provisions other than their own smart thinking. 

After drifting over 2,000 miles in shark-infested waters, Louie and Phil made it to an island. Being stranded in the middle of the ocean with practically no food and only occasional rainwater had been a nightmare, but unfortunately, their hardships were only just beginning. Both men were captured by Japanese soldiers and imprisoned. They would be captive for over two years.

Louie had always held onto the indomitable spirit he had developed as a child, but even his enduring attitude and sharp intelligence could not lessen the agony of being a POW under the Japanese. His years of imprisonment held unspeakable acts of  torture, cruelty, and injustice, not to mention the heartbreak of watching his fellow soldiers experience the same treatment, often fatally. One guard in particular was especially cruel, sadistically beating POWs as if it were a game. He was so deranged, in fact, that even though he was not actually an officer, those who outranked him deferred to his preferences because they were afraid of his violent, unpredictable mood swings that usually left at least one prisoner nearly dead from a beating or other punishment. 

This guard, known among the prisoners as "The Bird," became almost immediately fixated on Louie. The Bird hated all officers, especially those with distinction, and since Louie was an officer and an Olympic athlete to boot, The Bird took a special pleasure in hurting and degrading him. All POWs agreed that physical pain, while brutal, was nothing compared to the loss of personal dignity. The Bird sensed Louie's defiant spirit and did everything in his power to break him. When The Bird was transferred to another prison camp, Louie got a brief reprieve, but The Bird, in his sick manner, demanded that Louie be part of a group to be brought to the same camp, and the torture continued, sometimes multiple times a day. 

Finally, the war was over and, miraculously, Louie survived, despite multiple injuries, horrible diseases, and a broken spirit. His family welcomed him back with hysterical joy, having no idea the atrocities that he had been subjected to during his time as a prisoner (all the torture, starvation, and other inhumane treatment contradicted the requirements of the Geneva Convention and led to thousands of Japanese officers and guards being imprisoned for war crimes later on.) Soon Louie married and tried to start a new life, but two heartbreaking realities made it nearly impossible.


This photo was taken after the mission that filled Louie's plane, Super Man, with over 500 bullet holes. Later, his sister would be haunted by this image during the two years that the family had no idea whether Louie was dead or alive.


First, Louie's dream was destroyed. Having never been to college and living in a veteran-saturated job market, he turned his ambitions back to his passion- running. The 1946 Olympics became his new purpose. But a war injury that had seemed healed flared back up when his training began again, and a doctor told him that running competitively was out of the question. Louie was heartbroken and began spending his days fantasizing about returning to Japan, finding The Bird, and murdering him. 

Louie was also plagued by terrible nightmares, or worse- flashbacks to prison camp, in which every sight, smell, taste, and touch of his time as a POW became extremely real to him. In these days before PTSD, no one knew how to treat this type of ailment, so Louie did what so many other POWs did... he began drinking. Soon he was an alcoholic and his marriage was falling apart. He had violent outbursts, fought for now reason, and did little during the day (or night) but drink and plan his revenge. 

Then his wife Cynthia, who had already taken their baby girl and separated from Louie, went to a Billy Graham tent meeting. She came home eager to reconcile with Louie, for which he was grateful, but when she asked that he attend the meeting with her he wouldn't even consider it. What began as three-day meeting stretched out for over two weeks, and during that time Cynthia begged Louie to attend. Finally, he agreed. He was gripped with conviction throughout the message and left as soon as the invitation began.  During the service, Louie kept thinking back to a time on the raft when, desperate for rain and fresh water, he had prayed fervently and promised God that if it rained, "I'll serve You all my life." When Cynthia asked him to return the next night, he made one stipulation: "We leave as soon as he starts praying at the end." But Billy Graham practically forbade anyone from leaving that night, and during the altar call, Louie stopped wrestling with the Holy Spirit, went forward, and gave his life to Christ. 

This man of never-ending endurance, who had become a pitiful, usually drunken shell of his formerly vibrant self, was transformed. The bitterness and despair that had consumed Louie gave way to a new purpose: sharing the redemptive power and work that the Lord had done in his life. He had already been invited to graduations and other events for years, but now that he had a positive message to share, he eagerly accepted the invitations. At long last, he was able to fulfill the promise he had made in a desperate, thirsty moment on a raft in the Pacific Ocean. 

One of the most amazing transformations Louie experienced was his feelings towards the Japanese officers and guards from the prison camps. In 1950, he traveled back to Japan and visited a prison where many of his former guards were being held for their war crimes. Of course, he inquired about The Bird, but no one had heard from him since the war's end. Still, Louie walked among the men with a smile, forgiving each one as he passed. It wasn't until decades later, at age 81, that Louie was contacted and told the shocking news that The Bird was alive. Louie requested a meeting and was denied (even after all those years, The Bird refused to admit to doing anything wrong) but Louie wrote him a letter of forgiveness, stating that "my hatred for you has been turned to love" and hoping that one day the man who had caused him so much physical, mental, and emotional pain would accept God's gift of salvation. 

Louie became a noted speaker, founded a camp for troubled boys, and participated in many Olympic games as an honored guest. He is 97 today and a movie about his life (same title) is coming out later this year. 

WOW. This book (which was incredibly well-written, by the way) taught me so many things. It taught me that I should slapped for complaining about petty inconveniences when there are American soldiers who have suffered unspeakable horrors to make my cushioned existence possible. These men and women are HEROES, plain and simple. Louie was a hero, certainly, but he was only one of thousands upon thousands of Americans who showed the same courage and resilience during this time. It taught me that God orchestrates the events of our lives... Louie didn't survive as a POW just to drink his life away, but to become a Christian and share his incredibly inspiring testimony with others. And it taught me, most of all, that forgiveness is possible, even for the most heinous wrongs. I find myself withholding forgiveness for the smallest things, when Louie found it in his heart to forgive those who did everything in their power to break him and literally take his life. But, as Louie said, how can we possibly refuse forgiveness to anyone when Christ has forgiven us? 



Still a hero!

Unbroken brought this period of history to life for me, but more importantly, it brought the power of redemption to life. Louis Zamperini is not just an American hero; he is a beautiful picture of God's sovereign grace.

Thanks for being a part of my book club! If you made it all the way through this post, I'll give you a multiple choice quiz and you probably deserve college credit. =)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Practically Perfect Post

Today is the birthday of one of my very favorite people. My baby sister is turning 22 (what? WHAT??) and I decided that I should probably let you all in on some her more endearing secrets (don't worry, darling... not THAT one. What kind of a sister would I be?) 



Each of us sisters has our own little place in the Circle of Baines, and Amy's was always firmly secured as our mom's favorite. (Trust me... no one will even bother denying this.) So you can imagine my resentment growing up in our Jacob and Esau situation; since I was the tomboy, I guess that made me the Esau. If the partiality had only been implied, it would have been one thing, but my mom literally described Amy this way her entire life: "She's practically perfect in every way." 

Excuse me? First of all, HA. No she is not perfect. Take the blinders off, Gigi. Secondly, Mary Poppins was my favorite movie and having my little twerp sister described in the same way as my favorite flying nanny was just too much. Insult to injury... UGH. But despite the whole "mommy dearest" act that Amy put on for all those years (that's right; I said act) and the fact that we shared a room for 13 years, this little person ended being one of my best friends. Love really does conquer all.

                             
Sweet and salty (but mostly sweet. Maybe not.)

Seriously though... it's funny to me that even though we're all close, each of my sisters plays a very different role in my life. Amanda and I talk a LOT and have pretty deep discussions about life in general (or Disney movies, but whatever.) April makes me laugh harder than anyone in the world and is great for getting worked up on my behalf but we don't get to talk that often because she's a dork and her phone is dead 90% of the time. And Amy seems to know how badly I want to talk to her and thus answers only rarely... like she's some kind of prize to be won. Ha! Not really... she's just busy at her Real Job being a Grown Woman or whatever. 


I disturb her.


But when we do talk, it's fun for me because she's one of the few people in the family who doesn't laugh quite as readily at my jokes (April's always good for a snort or two) so making her laugh is more of a challenge. She's also more quick to make fun of me (which is usually my role with everyone else) and that's... wait, did I say I like her? Anyway, I also love that she's my only younger sister and that makes me feel like I'm old and wise (three whole years of experience, of course).

Some things I know and love about Amy, in no particular order:

-she is a total YouTube junkie and will spend hours with me trolling for different videos.

-she is the world's WORST at looking for something ("I looked and couldn't find it. Oh, you mean that thing right in front of your face??")

-she pretends to be annoyed by the kids (our nieces and nephews) and calls them names but they still adore her. I want to know how she does this. 

-she hates drama of any kind (I wonder if watching three older sisters grow up has anything to do with that?)

-she has the ability to untangle any necklace. That sounds dumb, but I can't tell you how many times I would work myself into a sweat trying to loose a snarled chain and then watch her fix it in like two seconds. 

-she loves a good steak. I've always said that the way to Amy's heart isn't shopping or anything like that... it's steak. The girl loves her beef. 

-she loves food, period. And she's still friends with her metabolism. The jerk.

-she is faithful. I can't tell you how many times since I've been away from home that I've tried to get her to come visit or stay longer and she'll say, "I can't because I have ___________ at church." Sometimes it's annoying, but I do admire her dedication to her ministries. 

-she really is good with kids. I kind of already said this, but it applies to all kids... she has a kind of way with them that is just the right balance between nice and mean... which will come in very handy in her classroom someday.

-she breaks the ice with strangers by making fun of me, especially if I know the people and she doesn't. ("Oh, my sister's your teacher? Sorry, kid. She's the worst." Sweet, right?)

-she's pretty easily embarrassed unless she's in a certain mood, so bursting into song (or something similar) in public is a sure way to make her run away. 

-she's not terribly affectionate (except maybe to my family's dogs... ew) so a big hug is a great way to make her scream, "get off me!"

-she is, hands down, the best lip-syncer in America. Seriously, if I had a video in my possession (and if she wouldn't absolutely kill me) then I would post it. MAN, she's good. I really wish you could all have a glimpse into the absolute delight of watching her sing, in perfect sync, "Feelin' Good" by Michael Buble. A true delight.

-she memorized all the words (in Italian) to some Dean Martin song in high school and if I beg very hard she sings it for me and I love it.

-she's usually pretty quiet, so when she does come out of her shell she's absolutely outrageous and I usually end up in tears from laughing so hard. "MOM! STOP!"

-speaking of singing... Miss Thing has a voice like Karen Carpenter. I'm SO jealous of her bass low alto abilities. Little nasty hides her light under a bushel, but she's really, really good.

-she has an uncanny ability to pick out any actor/actress from any movie and remember them from some other project, no matter how obscure. And thanks to IMDB, she can always prove me wrong if I correct her. Charming.

-she was always easily manipulated by guilt as a kid. For example, if all of us were going somewhere without my mom, Amy would stay home because she felt bad about leaving Mom by herself. (Then she got smart and refused to fall for our tricks... not that staying at home with mom was a trick... okay, this is deteriorating quickly... moving on.)

-if she knows you want something, she's going to make you beg for it or at least provide food. "PLEASE come downstairs and talk to me while I pack for college." "Are there chips? No? Then no."  

-she does her own thing (in a good way.) Case in point: she doesn't wear jewelry, or high heels. (I know... how are we related?) But no matter how many times we beg her to "put on a necklace for crying out loud!" or remind her that "men seldom make passes at flat-heeled lasses" (a family joke from an old movie that I am snickering about even as I write this), she refuses to do something just because we (and, you know, society) want her to. Sometimes she's stubborn, but I am too often a people-pleaser so I can appreciate this about her.

I could go on and on, but I'll stop. If this list sounds a little scattered it's because Amy is not that easy to describe. I've always called her an emotionally complex little person, and she can be. She's just more to herself, unlike the rest of us who love to share our feelings (lucky us.) But thank goodness that our little anchor is (mostly) emotionally stable for the rest of the gang. I am so proud of her. She loves Jesus, loves our family, and means more to me than she could ever know. 


So, little one, don't say I never did anything for you. (And really... would it kill you to put on some wedges? I'm just sayin.) Just kidding... happy birthday, Amy Jane! How old are you- like, 12? 


Ash (your new favorite)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Mornings with Dad

When I was a kid, one of my very favorite things (a list that included climbing trees, reading historical fiction, and watching White Christmas multiple times a day, mind you) was to be able to ride with my dad to church on Sunday mornings. Really, I loved riding anywhere with him (sorry, Mom. Dad always stopped for drinks and there was no guarantee of that with you. Loyalty can be bought!)

But on Sunday mornings, especially when I was a little older, we would go to church, put my older sisters on the bus going out to pick up kids for church, and walk around getting other things ready (filling the baptistery, folding bulletins- every preacher's kid's solemn duty at some point in life-, straightening the literature table full of missionary cards and tracts, etc. Such is the life of many pastors and definitely ones in home mission churches that meet in rented facilities.

Then, we would lock up and head to McDonald's, where we'd each get a sausage biscuit and drink and hash browns with salt and pepper. I'd casually read the newspaper left behind on our table, as if that was the normal, intellectual activity of all nine-year-olds, trying to soak in the sports columns and Seattle Mariners stats as best I could (this was pre-at home internet when anyone could appear smart by looking up information in seconds.) And my dad would silently eat his biscuit, salt and pepper his hash brown, drink his Diet Coke (one habit that did not get passed down... yuck) and study for the morning's Sunday school lesson and message (from his notes always written out in his beautiful penmanship on notebook paper.)


I really wish I had a picture from my childhood, but this was taken on a Sunday. Close enough.


It was useless to try to have a conversation during his study time, because that was what the time was for- studying- not asking about Edgar Martinez or Ichiro or the definition of "steroids." (I was an innocent child.) And if I should ever ask, "What are you preaching about today?" the answer was always the same.

"Jesus."

"Aw, come on, Daddy. You always say that. What ABOUT Jesus?"

"You'll see." (He might give a hint, if he was feeling generous.)

The older I got, the more rare those visits to McDonald's on Sunday morning became. (Before long, it was my and Amy's turn on the bus. Yay us.) But I love thinking about those mornings, getting our church ready for Sunday ( I do get my obsessive need to pick up trash from my dad.) I can picture that McDonald's in Kirkland, Washington, so clearly. Dad would give that glib answer mostly just to make me laugh and beg to know what he was really preaching, but "Jesus" was what it all really boiled down to. I'm glad that for all these years, my dad loved, worshiped, and preached about Jesus. And that's what he taught us girls, what he wants for our lives. (Well, maybe not the preaching part.)

Happy Father's Day, Dad. If I were home today, we could go get a sausage biscuit (but this time, I'd get my own hash brown. No sharing!) I love you!


Ash

Monday, June 9, 2014

Special Music

If you've grown up in (or just visited) a Baptist church, you know that we have some little phrases that are all our own. One of those is "special music" (typically the song/songs that are sung right before the message). 

"Who's providing the special music?"

"So-and-so will now come and render (render???) the special."

"Special music provided by..."

It sounds funnier the more you say it, especially since "special" reminds me of the lunch combo of the day at a diner and also because, as we all know, sometimes the special music is... not so special. (Those are always the best services, aren't they?) 

Despite my trembling voice and need to grip the microphone with both hands, I'm lucky enough to be involved in the "special music" now and then. And this week, when our trio was scheduled, we planned a time to practice and discussed, like we always do, what to sing. We didn't have a lot of time, so we picked a song we've done before that wouldn't require a ton of practice. But when I got to the church to meet Blake and Lauren this week, I started flipping through an old choir book and found a song, one we sang in college sometime, and felt a little nostalgic, stumbled played through it, and told Blake, "Hey, maybe we could sing this one."

I'm not a spooky "spiritual experience" person, but the minute we started singing it I thought, "The Holy Spirit must have changed my mind about the song." It's a good thing I have nerves of steel (ha!) or I wouldn't have made it through without blubbering. It's amazing how God puts things in our path that just so happen to speak just the right words into our circumstances, and this was one of those "coincidences" (not really) that made me think WOW. 

When we sang the song in church yesterday, I got chills all over again singing (and thinking about) the words. 

In the storm, the wind, and rain
We have found a hiding place-
Jesus, the Refuge for our souls.
So we're clinging to His plan,
And our testimony stands.
No matter what He leads us through,
We joyfully will go.

Though we may not understand,
We are sheltered by His hand.
Jesus is fully in control. 
So we'll press on in faith
Til we see Him face to face.
Yielding to the highest call,
We'll let the whole world know.

Whatever it takes, whatever it costs,
We'll give our all and take up our cross
For the glory of Jesus and the gospel's sake.
We'll carry on doing His will;
Through every trial praising Him still.
We'll proclaim 'Jesus saves!' 
Whatever it takes.

It isn't often that a song just slaps me upside the head, but this one did. Praising Him still? Fully in control? Joyfully will go? I don't know about you, but when life gets hard, praise is usually the last thing on my mind. (Does that make me a terrible person? Oops. Now you know.) And when God asks something of me that seems scary, I don't know that I go "joyfully" every single time. (You're learning just how rock solid I am. Be inspired.) Seriously though, it's SO easy to get up and sing a "special" (well, not that easy for me, actually) but still... sing a special, nod your head and "amen" through one, whatever. We hear these songs and words and think, "That's nice. I wonder why that alto is shaking uncontrollably?" instead of "Man, will I follow Christ and trust Him and share His gospel... WHATEVER it takes?" 

I love the way this song ties two ideas together. It's usually one or the other; "Jesus is awesome and takes care of me" or "I'll give my life to God no matter what." But they go together, don't they? Life is hard and we all face things we'd rather not deal with, but there is still a world in need of salvation and we have to (get to) do the work of God regardless. We have to take up our own crosses- whatever it takes. (We also get a reality check when reading the Gospels and remembering that no cross Jesus asks us to bear, no matter how painful, comes close to the agony of Calvary. Ouch! That's always a brutal reminder of how pathetic I really am.) 

But since life IS hard and problems DO abound, how do we go about being all gung ho for Jesus? We trust. We have faith. We obey. We put aside what usually boils down to petty problems (not all, but most) and realize that we minister and serve and live "for the glory of Jesus and the gospel's sake." Not because it's easy, or because it always feels good, but because it's His will. 

Speaking of "the will of God..." someone said to me recently that walking by faith is just obeying one day at a time... doing God's will TODAY and not worrying about tomorrow. What is God's will then? Is it a big, empty thought bubble floating above my head that I wait for God to magically fill with just the right words? Nope. It's living for His glory and the gospel's sake- TODAY. It's doing whatever it takes to share God's truth- TODAY. And it's putting aside worry, doubt, and fear and resting in the promises of Scripture- TODAY. 

Another line in the song says, "We will not offer God that which costs us nothing- no sacrifice too high for us to make." Sometimes God asks things of us that are hard. I don't know about you, but I'm not all that crazy about being pushed outside my comfort zone. I believe that's why it's called a "comfort zone" and not a "discomfort zone"! But all the discomfort or inconvenience or uncertainty in the world is not a sacrifice great enough for the Lord... again, remember the cross? Doing something a little scary can't even BEGIN to compare with giving my life for strangers who don't deserve it. Most of what I consider a sacrifice doesn't really cost me more than a few moments of awkward conversation (which, clearly, isn't that unusual for me).  I think Jesus proved what true sacrifice is once and for all.

So, I'm grateful that I chose this song (and that we finally got the soundtrack to work... a whole different story.) And I'm thankful that I get to sing with my friends. But mostly I'm glad that Jesus IS in control, that He IS a refuge for our souls, and that I am sheltered in His hands. And because all that is true, I should be willing- excited, even- to give my life to Him completely. Easy to sing, not always so easy to remember. 

Thank goodness for the "special music" to remind me! 


Ash