Saturday, December 29, 2018

Stained Glass Reflections

Here we are again on the dawn of a new year. The last eleven moons and  an Advent season gone by have given me much to reflect on as God has whispered defining words to our haven.

BROKEN BEAUTY: When brokenness and beauty exist simultaneously.

"Sometimes to get your life back you have to face the death
of what you thought your life would look like." ~Lysa Terkeurst

As a widow, there will forever be this bridge we live on embracing past, present, and future simultaneously. Much like stained glass pieces welded together to create a masterpiece of beauty, pockets of joy will be mingled with some twinge of sadness especially for my kids. Transitions invariably rip Band-Aids off hearts as the realization sinks in, this side of heaven a nuclear family of four won't be pieced back together. While there has been so much joy and peace this season, Christmas Eve I realized putting out the kids St. Nick and stuffing stockings alone will NEVER feel normal.  

FLUID: the act and art of practicing being flexible despite changed plans, disappointments, and chaos that comes your way. I am learning to adopt a new Ann Voskampism, "No expectations. Only gratitude because all is grace. " Amid the ever changing plans and hustle of the season, this new phrase has helped me be present minded and enjoy those present without getting my tinsel in a tangle! Most often God ends up righting plans or realigning schedules better than I could have ever dreamed.

GRAFTED: To transplant or implant (living tissue) into a bodily part; to replace a damaged part or compensate for a defect. 

Our Advent tradition is to read Unwrapping The Greatest Gift (Ann Voskamp) family devotionals and hang corresponding Jesse tree ornaments on our tree. The Jesse Tree tradition takes you through the genealogy of Jesus. Ya'll, this year I was squarely hit with GRAFTED IN and GRACE. In Jesus' lineage there are harlots, adulterers, and incest. (This sermon is a great walk through Jesus' lineage: (Ancestory of a King) His lineage clearly shows no one, no matter what they have done, is too far gone or excluded from the opportunity to be grafted into God's family. His lineage makes me want to be keenly aware of who our family has grafted in and to stay vigilant of who in my midst needs to be grafted in? The forgotten, the lonely, the battered, the grieving? 

VISIONARY PARENTING: Parenting with the focus and intention of creating servant hearted disciples which is evident by behavior shown to the nuclear family. 
Ya'll its been almost a full year since I penned the Home Sweet Home post. Almost a year since I sat my kids down and asked them to forgive me for believing "all siblings just fight" and "true character is who others outside our home tell me they are".  A year focused on building each other up rather than tearing our home apart brick by brick. 

I'm still in this campaign to create servant hearted disciples whose character in our home matches the behavior outside our home. Most days if I’m honest, I wonder if I’m making any ground at all . Truth be known, today in this house has been savage. Truly, the strife stirred up, the critical tone of voice, the bickering, makes anger flash in my heart. I'm emotionally drained; however, I've resolved, I'll do whatever it takes! I’ll do whatever it takes to keep instilling character and truth in love that who they are and how the people under our roof are treated is the most important ! It's important for now and also for the generations to come. 

"Let us not grow weary in doing good, 
for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we not give up." 
Galatians 6:9

I continue probing hearts--"Servant or selfish ?" "What kingdom are you serving ?-- The kingdom of Light or of the Dark? There are only 2 kingdoms ." I'm trying to make a conscious effort to hang up the hat of yeller and lecturer; to lecture less and pray for their hearts more ! When my words ring sharp and I think, "How many times does it take? When will they learn? ", I’m reminded of my own need for grace. I stop to ponder how many times my Heavenly Father could shake his head at me over the sin present in my own life .  But he doesn’t say, " I told you so!" or "When are you going to learn ?"  Instead He extends grace!

GRACE is..."undeserved, unearned, unearnable favor. Grace is the message of Christmas for Jesus came down to be love in a body. Love is GRACE and TRUTH all. the. time! Like life, GRACE is not fair, it's better than fair; disturbingly better than fair. For every sin has a GOTCHA. Jesus came to GETCHA!" (Andy Stanley; Undeserveable 12/2018) 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

When the World Stoppped Turning: Our Journey from 65 Roses to a New Bed of Roses

Seven years, seven months ago, April 13, 2011 to be exact was the day our quake happened! My friend, collegiate ministry partner of 14 years, husband, and father of two kids heaved his last breath in ICU at UAB Birmingham. I remember him hanging on; hanging on for three long weeks after a pulmonary bleed from cystic fibrosis complications. Our days during that storm were a roller coaster ride. We lived in a time warp from blood gas to blood gas draws, on ventilator, dialysis, through being in a coma, and waking up...

When I arrived at his bed side that Wednesday afternoon, I knew! I knew today was the day, the day of his ultimate healing. The day he would step into the presence of the Father. There was no doubt, no escaping the jaundice look of death he wore. Guant, frail, lifeless. I also knew the “eye of the tiger” needed my permission to quit fighting; quit fighting to return home to the two babies he so wanted to see grow up! The babies doctors told him he would never have!

I bent low, mustered up the bravery to whispered in ear,  “I’m going to be ok, the kids are going to be ok . I’m just going to pray, I’m jealous you are with Jesus.” Mission accomplish. Within two hours the descent started.  Heart rate drop, blood pressure lower, breaths shallower.  That was the day our "65 roses" (cystic fibrosis) chapter slipped away .

I’m not sure I can articulate the fog I walked through or the seemingly insurmountable task of trying to settle an estate/restructure finances, and return medical equipment , all while simultaneously dealing with my grief and walking a 7 year old and a 22 month old through their own! I recall feeling lost, alone, and drowning in emotional exhaustion!

In December 2011, my friend, Emily, met us where our family story began on our college campus for family photo shoot. Seeing brown eyed boy and blue eyed girl fingers grasping my hands in photograph as we walked across front lawn with fountain streams in background, I made the resolute decision the time had come for party of three to move from "65 Roses" to a new bed of roses. I had the opportunity to show my kids love is win-win proposition (Davis Chappell) and pain doesn't have the last word. 

This morning on the eve of Thanksgiving, this beautiful journey of loss to restoration crossed my path. The Brookers story of becoming single parents, blending families, and creating a new bed of roses is hope-inspiring! Enjoy!

Daniel and Brittney Brooker's story
Brooker Blog

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Road Less Traveled: the day I walked away

This picture...I know to the ordinary eye, it's only two driveways. To me? Deep meaning lies in knowing to the right what awaits! What awaits? Colquitt County field, Center Hill farm, Cagle compound, a family that loves big! Dude's bear hugs and infectious, belly laugh. Cookie's cheek kisses; hands that cup face with the simultaneous declaration, "Welcome darling! So glad you are here! Can I get you red? or white?" See to Cookie and Dude, unorganized chaos and pitter patter of cherub feet are not only the norm, but to them the more the merrier. 

When I snapped this picture on Thanksgiving eve 2016, we were in the thick of walking through two years of my life I have dubbed the John Grisham years; 2015-2017. My marine, pastor dad has a saying, "Who needs soap operas? Real life is better!"  Maybe not better, but more shocking than any author could dream to pen. This picture takes me back, back to lots of memories; mostly to Easters gone by. Large family pictures on porch, grandkids scavenging for eggs post filling bellies with turkey, field peas, and Darryl's dumplings. Then the reality of why I have come to the farm hits like ice. 

Some people remember where they were when they learned JFK was assassinated or 9/11 when the twin towers were struck. On our defining day, the day life was ripped away and took hunk of hearts? For us, the summery May day in 2016, when the world stopped turning, lost all color, and faded gray, I was sitting in Moe's eating lunch with mom and Joy. Phone rings, I knew it was pastor daddy and he was dealing with tragedy. While usually it's someone else's tragedy more detached, sifting evidence would soon make it clear, this was our tragedy; one that never in a million years did we ever think would be part of our story. 

"Kate? There was a fire,...…..NO. ONE. MADE. IT. OUT!"

"Dad? What do you mean no one made it out? How do five adults not smell smoke and go wake any of the others? " Prickle sensation sting my arms in fear. Chest pains. Nausea follows. Over the coming days, we learn five young adult, full of life family-friends, murdered. Shots rang out, fire set to conceal. 

Sitting in the drive of the Cagle Compound Thanksgiving 2016, I was going to grieve, to hold hands and hearts when I was the one that received comfort. In some crazy twist, Bubba losing his life helped lead me to a place I realized it was time to save mine. The two roads diverging reminds me, in order to live out my calling, I had to choose the road less traveled, shed my people pleasing nature, and walk away from a dark, toxic presence that slowing drained life over 20 years.

Hard revelation to wake up to the fact to preserve your life you much leave and cut off another. Lives you have invested in, prayed for, sat holiday table around for many trips around the sun; yet, lives for the majority unleashed a steady stream of criticism and accusation. Long road traveled to the awakening that my true identify as a child of God, I possess a self worth that doesn't necessitate encompassing toxic or the murdering of me with tongue lashings, ultimatums, and threats. The time had come to shed the grappling for control and ploys of manipulation the dark brought to our lives, slowly strangling out life as if fingers gripped throat. 

Coming to the fork in the road, I see what an idol I made out of this mission to convert this "vat of poison" into something good and wholesome (Jen Hatmaker). How many times had I humbled myself and apologized for actions I did not commit, or for my perceived words uttered that were twisted into half-truths just to restore peace? All the while, a piece of me was chiseled away and dies a little each time.

Only after trying the professional attempt (counseling), the spiritual attempt to no avail. Over an over beating my head against an unhealthy emotional wall, I conclude healthy was not going to surface. I emerged with two kids still alive, although bearing some deep emotional scars. For the love, of a bleeding widow, mother's heart! As if loosing your father is not enough collateral damage for two babies, let's just add some insult to injury on this train wreck! Ya'll, hurting people, hurt people!

Beloved, it's been a hard fight back to joy. Standing here nearly three years out from the landslide that rocked my haven and nearly took me out, I can say I'm put back together. More like shards welded into stained-glass, but He "pieced me back together" beautiful and "reintroduced me to His love".  The litmus test for people who get to stay in your circle? If they breathe life and liberty; make you a better version of yourself,  those are the ones that get to stay! (Todd Tillman) Otherwise, trimming your tree so you can be fruitful and prosper is a perfectly legit act of self preservation!

I'll be forever grateful to the "roses" in our December that helped love us back to life and helped us break free. Thanks to all who have given us roots and helped us find our wings!

Until the whole world hears (the Good News),
Much love and thanks,

P.S.--Special thanks to the Edwards and Cagle Clan for allowing me to include part of their story to share how their pain has helped my pain! Thanks for loving the Ward fam so well and showing us family isn't always what you are born into, but family is who walks beside you down the "road less traveled". Love you the Little House and back!

Music Behind the Post:

I Miss Me More--Kelsea Ballerini

Landslide--Fleetwood Mac

The Road Less Traveled- Lauren Alaina

Defender--Jesus Culture

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Dream A Little Dream

In the fall of 2015, I knew God was birthing a new vision and nudging me to a new path. A way to meld my speech therapy skills and ministry with MOPS International into one entity; a venture this single mom could potentially get paid to do! In November of 2016, I formed an LLC, Roots & Wings Educational Consulting. I didn't have answers to when, what, or how? But I most definitely knew the WHY!! 

God was calling me to make a difference and give a voice to the least of these. Calling me to educate others on how to support special needs families and how to keep the least of these safe from emotional and sexual abuse. As I signed the dotted line, all I knew is that I was being obedient . 
"Truly I tell you, 
whatever you did for one of the least of these 
brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 5:40

Fast forward two years, God has placed me in a new job; a job that allows me to be more present physically and emotionally for my family. A job that allows me to pour into even more people and help pass down my skills to another generation of therapists. Also opened wide the gate and time to receive training that until now has only been a pipe dream! God is showing me, I don't have to choose speech or ministry, I may can have both simultaneously.

Recently, I started researching leadership certificates. Long divine appointment story short, I was totally blown away during my first phone interview with my Cornell University advisor. After a short time on the phone,  I realized he was NOT in New York as I originally thought. He was in ATLANTA. Not only is he in Atlanta, he is on staff at the  church we attended while my late husband was at Georgia Tech . 

My advisor has been under the leadership of the very pastors/writers that made me want to embark on this leadership journey in the first place. Mind blown!! To say I had Holy Spirit goosies as I hung up is an understatement! This fall I begin taking online classes from Cornell to obtain an Organizational Leadership Certificate in the Psychology of Leadership. The same week, I was presented with  the opportunity to receive sexual abuse prevention certification for church/camps/educational settings from Ministry Safe in October.

I share this to encourage you and only to boast in the Lord. He is so big and put all of this in motion. Some of you out there, God has given you a God-sized dream. You know it's God sized when there is no way you can reasonably achieve it by your own merit . You may have shared it, had others scoff in your face; maybe been misunderstood. I want to encourage you to keep circling that dream. Give your dream this spiritual litmus test by asking:

In light of my PAST EXPERIENCES 
(Experiences are unique! My past isn't your past ) ,
( My current single mom with kids may not be your current reality), 
my FUTURE HOPES AND DREAMS , is this a WISE thing to do? 
(Andy Stanley: Just Ask It).

If you can answer YES!  Go after it !!!! Don't fall into that cistern of self doubt or God-doubt. Believe the voice that whispered vision to your heart! The God-sized dream He placed in you, hold tight to it! Keep pressing on . He will open doors, set people and opportunities in motion you could never imagine or ask for. If He can orchestrate David becoming a king and Mary conceiving the Savior, beloved, He has a dream for you!

May the posture of your heart remain surrender. Keep praying your dream through, so when your Father moves, you will recognize His thumbprints. You will know He is in the timing and details ! 

Until the whole world hears, 

Dream For You by Casting Crowns

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Prepare Your Field: Sowing Seeds of Life

*Originally penned 11/2016

"A value of a life is always measured in terms of how much of it was given away!"
--Andy Stanley

Lately I have been reminded, there are clearly people who have put thumbprints so deeply impressioned  on my heart that have become part of the fabric of my soul simply because I remember how I felt in their presence . Actually about four years ago, I began sowing seeds of life and love  into my family deposited by one person in particular.

 Our before school ritual exists because more than one time one generous Colquitt County farmer would reach his wrinkled, spotted, work-worn hands across his chair in his living room and pat mine. "How's speech school? You are doing a good thing. You will be used! " Then he would slip me a $20. Lavishing words of affirmation, he planted seeds of life.

 I can also recall sitting round the holiday dinner table at the Presbyterian mans. The Farmer invited to be part of our family.  His presence brought warmth, peace, and sparkle of eye. Out of preacher daddy’s sight, he would slip us girls some money to help our poor college student budgets. Now because of him, every morning I "hall" in those seeds of encouragement as I cup cherub faces in hands before Viking buses arrive.  I declare over their lives: 

"Do your best because God is going to use you to do mighty things !" 
John Davis gives an eye roll and exclaims in a deep baritone voice,  "Ok! I Got to go! " 
Joy sighs in frustration, "Mom! You say THAT EVERY morning , I know, I KNOW!"

 After my marine , pastor daddy blessed a life, held hands and hearts, and lowered The Farmer into the Georgia red clay he tilled,  he continued to live on in us . Lives on in me. Now The Farmer's son's impressionist paintings deck our "halls" and sanctuary. The Farmer’s grandsons pass on those seeds of life to us in their own creative mass media way. See, his grandsons have gone on to write and produce movies that have greatly impacted our haven. Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Courageous, War Room….

 Who knew? Who knew all those years ago, their gifts would help my family so much. Help us through every phase of grief and many uncertainties! They have taught my fatherless son to be a courageous man, to know that circumstances don't have to dictate your destiny ;  to walk with love, walk with integrity, and we are called to be more than chameleon Christians. These Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen,  teach how to battle spiritual warfare and "Face the Giants" and to make a "War Room" . Run your race with passion, purpose, and perseverance. 

 I invite you to prepare your field. Don't waste your gift. Leave a legacy so that others will remember fondly the way they felt in your presence. Your words of life will impact the generations to come ! The Farmer sure did. His encouragement and sowing seeds deposited life in me and many others, no doubt. My aim is to prepare my field and sow the same life and love in others. Henry "Buster" Hall, I’m forever thankful for you. Thanks for sowing seeds of life and showing us how to pass on a legacy of love.

Until the whole world hears,


Friday, April 6, 2018

Give The Rose of Hope

The past few days weight has been heavy on chest and I have felt tears close to welling in eyes. Short on temper and words a bit terse. I realize a steady steam of stressors on this single mom, widowhood-walk have left this servant feeling empty and love tank bare. A fresh refilling, full measure of spirit- love, encouragement, and hope  needed to rain down and replenish my soul. Ever been there? Ever held up hands and declared, "Yes Lord,  an emotional resuscitation is in order!"

I exit the car and mount the terra-cotta brick steps at the accounting firm. As I approach the desk, the assistant exclaims, "Oh! I have your return right down here!" Honestly, I was surprised she knew my name and told her she was good at remembering. "Well, I have been here for quite a long time!"

What didn't register for me was just how long I had been a client! Seven years. Seven springs ago, they began helping me wade through all the financial questions I didn't know how to resolve in the business of death and settling an estate. This was in fact the 8th tax return they had filed for me.

As I give a couple of pages my John Hancock, I hear her musical voice comment, "I love your ring!" I glance down to focus on what ring she is referencing.

"Oh.....thanks! It has special meaning. The first book I read after my husband died was Roses In December and my blog is A New Bed of Roses."

As I walked back to the car I was reminded, a compliment so small
spoke so much to my heart. This ring and this bracelet I clothe myself in each day had fallen from my sight and become
mundane rather than the hope and "65 roses" (cystic fibrosis ) reminders they are meant to serve.  Her compliment was God reminding me of His  promises to bring beauty out of ashes and that sometimes earthly miracles still happen among us. She unknowingly gave me a rose of hope!

On this side of Easter, thankful for his resurrection and for laying eyes on his earthly "65 roses", life with new lungs miracle in the flesh! Grateful a compliment reminded me to put on love, keep looking at others with eyes of grace, and find the gold within ; to build others up, to give them a rose of hope in the midst of life's chaos. You never know when a seemingly small word may speak volumes to renew another heart!

...let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardship (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance, and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance (of eternal salvation). Such hope (in God's promises) never disappoints us, because God's love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5 AMP

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Home Sweet Home: The day I ask my kids for forgiveness

Our holiday, winter break was truly sweet. Those days are etched in my memory. I didn't want it to end. The most peaceful Advent season we have had in years. We were truly able to keep our eyes on anticipating the Christ child's arrival; marvel at a baby coming to earth to be God with skin on.

To be sure we were intentional with our time, we made a "joy jar", filling it with ideas for quality time and fun excursions to experience around town. We enjoyed movies nestled beneath warm blankets while flames danced in the fireplace. Balsam and fir wafted in the air, while little hands constructed gingerbread houses and arranged sprinkles on cookies. 

With the clinic closed, we savored a whole week lounging in PJs and sipping coffee while gazing at twinkling lights on tree. After New Year's, an unexpected gift arrived....SNOW! I delighted in being witness to the first time my kids have felt flakes tickle noses and melt on tongues. The glee of hands scooping cold mounds and hurling through the air pelting sibling. We recounted my own childhood memories of snows in metro Atlanta where their granddad bought us make shift sleds from Ace Hardware. Black concrete mixing tubs gave us hours of rides down our steep driveway. Our southern region had not received snowfall in decades! Isn't that just God? He gives unexpected gifts just because he wants to bless his children. The break truly felt like home sweet home!

Yet, peppered throughout the break were scenes not so picturesque. Squabbles and screams. Jeers and tears. Sharp words that penetrate soul. Loud verbiage, slammed doors. Savage. My kids can turn savage. I am left perplexed  as to how this mean chaos happens again and again? If you were to ask me if I teach my kids? If I seek to discipline and disciple my kids? If I  probe their sinful hearts and point to their need for Christ? If I get them to examine their behavior in light of God's commands, fruit of the spirit, and love for others? ......My answer is a resounding YES!


As I seek retreat to the master suite to escape for encouragement, I hear conviction and truth  through a series of sermons. Rob Rienow's words made my toes and heart ache a bit. Thought I was probing little hearts and steering them in the right direction with great intention. I came to realize, I have been fooling myself. I have been believing lies.                                                                       
I sat my kids down at our kitchen table with a bag of marshmallows, a cardboard house, and their bibles.                Joy reads, Proverbs 14:1......

"The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers downs (brick by brick MSG)."  

Then I humbled myself. "I need to ask for your forgiveness. Please forgive me. I have discovered I have been believing two lies. Lies that I have allowed to tear down our house. "

Silence. Amazement sat on faces. "I've been believing, 'Siblings just fight!' When in fact, siblings are God's design to give you an encourager, a prayer partner, and accountability.  I've also been lulling myself into thinking your true character is who others say  you are outside this house. You are who your teachers, friends, and youth leaders compliment; brag about. When in fact, your true character is who you are in this home. If you want to know what kind of friend you are, it's how your treat your brother. If you want to know what kind of husband you will be, it's how you treat me."

"See this house? This house is a visual representation of our home (pouring in marshmallows) . We can build it up or tear it down! I love you enough to teach you how to make a home, a sweet home. Will you do your part?"  
During an interview for her role in the film, Wonder, Julia Roberts commented on the script that gripped her. "Compassion.... Compassion is not something you want to be lectured about, you want to be infused with it. " My prayer is our home is infused with love, empathy, and compassion. Since we constructed our marshmallow abode that final day of winter break, it sits as the centerpiece of our kitchen table. When harsh words ring out, marshmallows removed symbolize to little hearts they are choosing the foolish way, tearing down our house brick by brick. I wish I could tell you this teaching tool has totally transformed life under our roof; that sibling spats have ceased and encouragement from mouth abound! Not hardly! But, I do believe I've seen the aroma of my kid's hearts become a little sweeter.

"For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing."

2 Corinthians 2:15 

Rob Rienow: Visionary Family, Visionary Marriage