it begins and ends with a mouse

Our kids have seen their share of this beautiful country. They were still in diapers when we started traveling on a “steel horse,” and KK was barely a month old for her first plane ride. They’ve done mountains and prairies and of course, the ocean. They have considered at least 5 cities home, or a home away from home.

And don’t even get them started on Disney World, thank you.

Because we have a share in the Disney Vacation Club, KK and Randa have been to WDW an obnoxious number of times in their short lives. Their Daddy and I have fed their addiction happily. After all, the time share allows us to stay in amazing places for relatively low prices, and once you buy an annual pass and stretch it across several trips, and it’s never the same twice and…

Yes. But even so, the trip we were to make last week just didn’t make sense right now. Tickets are expensive and so is eating with Princesses… so we decided to postpone and do something different.

We did something totally different.

After a very specific internet search, we found a place that was affordable, simple, scenic, and would allow us to give the girls a first time experience we’d all been craving: a real horseback ride.

Our 3 nights and 2.5 days at Sunburst Stables flew by quickly, but were filled with big breakfasts, many animals to play with, snuggly movie time on the couch, books to read, NO CELLS OR INTERNET, feeding peacocks on the front porch, a total of 12 fish caught, laughing as we explored LAKE BURTON, and one unforgettable trail ride.

On our last night there, after the girls were already asleep in their sweet loft bedroom and Rod and I were re-watching a favorite movie (Dan In Real Life), we discovered a little friend scurrying through the kitchen.

A mouse.

I never saw him save for a blur, but I’m going to call him Mickey. It was good for us to discover a different kind of magic together.

IMG_3758Time to feed the peacocks!

KK's first fishKK’s first fish

Randa's first fishRanda’s first fish

their first cowboyMichael… their first time meeting a real cowboy :)

 

IMG_3760Take multimedia away, and your children might just spend an entire evening pretending to be Avengers and seeing how big they could make their hair…

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Beautiful Lake Burton!

IMG_3681Just a swingin’

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I absolutely fell in love with Dixie the Wonderful Stable Dog

IMG_3714For those of you who know Rod’s song… yes, the whole time they were doing thing,
I was singing, “I’m going fishin’ with the Fisher of Men…”

IMG_3677These little piggies…

IMG_3725The trail ride took us right past our cabin, aptly named “Horse Whisper.”

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IMG_3683They’re better at conversation than at checkers… #lifeskills

IMG_3707One of these goats peed on me…

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I will never, ever forget riding with her for the first time. Our horse was named Bo. He was a little stubborn and a lot of fun, just like his riders!

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Their horse was named Nemo… surefooted and gorgeous like his riders.

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Loved everything about our time together!

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IMG_3737IMG_3719There are a few views that rival that of the ocean…

The biggest thing in the world

Originally posted September 10, 2011.

~

10 years ago…

I was working and traveling a lot. I owned a home. I was 24. I was about 30 pounds lighter than I am now. I had red hair.

I had just returned home from a week in Pittsburgh. I had 2 cats and a roommate. I was in love with someone I should not have been.

I was on the way to work, listening to a CD for a change. When we turned the radio on, still miles from work, the second plane had just hit to WTC. I didn’t know what they were talking about. I thought, for a moment, they meant the Sears Tower.

I worked in a cable company, so there were TVs everywhere. We watched the towers fall. I was on a conference call with others who had been working on the software conversion in Pittsburgh. We were all holding our breath to make sure everyone got on, because who knew who was flying where that morning. Some of our colleagues were stuck in different parts of the country.

I knew no one who was personally affected (meaning, killed or related to someone who was) by the 4 planes that were hijacked, the 4 planefuls and 3 locations full of people who were murdered. And with everyone else, I felt guilty, disconnected, and totally connected all at once.

~

That week, I was planning a surprise birthday part for my mom’s 50th birthday. No one felt like celebrating, but it felt good to be together. That week I had lunch with my dad and brother, to plan. It was the first time the 3 of us had ever really done that. While we were out, my dad ran into an old friend. We all talked, in just a few moments, about life, growing, being American, being friends.

People in the stores that week made eye contact. We reached out, even just with our minds, to feel hope.

On the 17th of September, my closest cousin gave birth to her daughter. Her tiny little 5 pound body personified life and hope.

~

Today, I am married to that same man I loved 10 years ago, the one who was with me in the car that morning. His 2 children became mine, and we have 2 more together. Being a mom makes my heart full enough to burst on any given day. Sometimes I feel like the grace given to us is the biggest thing in the world. Sometimes I feel like there can’t possibly be enough grace for all the evil in this world. But I know in my heart, that even in the midst of ugliness and despair and death, God is there. He makes all things new. He redeems all things. And He causes everything – I can’t even grasp it when I think of those towers falling, but everything, to work together for Good.

We lose, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in unfathomably large ways, because we are here, in an imperfect world.

But in the end, God wins. Grace wins. Love wins.

Let there be comfort for those who lost so big that day.

Let there be warmth and kindness returned to all the heroes who stepped up, who still do.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let us bless the Name that gives it to us.

Though I’ve never seen Him

It’s no secret that I love the beach. I mean, I love the beach. It is my absolute favorite thing about living in Murrells Inlet, SC… and working in Surfside Beach, SC… and hanging out in Myrtle Beach, SC and Garden City Beach, SC. I can pull up to one of those fab “Public Access” signs pretty much any time I desire (and many times not even pay for parking!) and automatically be reminded of something bigger, deeper, and more constant than anything else I can experience with all my senses.

Fifteen months in, our honeymoon is still not over. I still have my shoes off long before my feet hit the sand, I still show up at the store or the office with the bottom (ok, or up to my knees) wet because I couldn’t resist walking in just a little deeper. I cannot explain why I love it so much. It just feels like the purest air and the most beautiful sight and the most familiar home.

Today, without really thinking about it, I made it there earlier than ever, around 7:30 after I dropped the girls off at school. My routine on such days is to put in my earphones and walk awhile, and my plan today was no different. The only notable difference was that I was listening to my husband’s music, which I have not done for a long time. So much of what he recorded during the period of 2006-2010 just doesn’t sound like “him” anymore, but his most recent CD, The Difference, has some moments. One of them is a song written by Shane Roark that is one of my favorites Rod sings. It’s called, “There is a God,” and it happened to be playing as I walked out onto the beach.

I can’t quite describe what I saw or how it made me feel. Everything looked different. The water looked nearly white, like it was being illuminated from beneath. I smiled and nodded as I realized the words to the song playing at that moment were, “Though I’ve never seen Him with these human eyes, I know there is a God.” And then I saw 1… 2… 3!… dolphins swimming along, about 20 or 30 feet out from the shore. It was then that I broke my routine and sat in the dry sand and listened to the words of the beautiful song about our Creator and watched in awe the beauty of His creation.

~

I shared a photo on Facebook as I was experiencing this, and it received such a response that I wanted to share the others. I’m no photographer and these were taken with my iPhone… no editing, just as close as possible to what I saw.

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I also want to offer a little present for you if you are reading this…
– Click the photo below for a free wallpaper download
– and click HERE to download the full version of “There is a God.”
– And if you enjoy it, feel free to click here to download the rest of The Difference. (or order the CD here)

“He lives in me, He’s still the same, He’s never changed.”

There Is A God

The 3rd Day of School

For various reasons, both draining and exhilarating, the first weekend of the school year wore me out.

But this morning…

Oh, this morning:

On the third day of school, the first Monday, we turn to routine, which for us means that when Daddy isn’t out of town, he takes the girls to school. He likes to. (This is reason #EleventyBillionandTen why he is my love, my best friend, and my hero). And quite frankly, I do not enjoy it. The traffic disturbs my calm. The difference this year, today, of course, is that he not only took Randa, but KK too.

I gave extra kisses, and watched them drive away, and closed the door, and leaned on it, and sang a few bars of the “Hallelujah” chorus as I beheld this sight:

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That’s right…me, my house, alone. Oh, the plans we had! The things we did!

Right. I did manage to drink an entire cup of coffee while it was mostly warm and watch an episode of Damages (catching up on everything after the first season) while I was in my jammies. Exhilarating, y’all! But while I did that, I also cleaned the kitchen, straightened up the girls’ rooms, changed the sheets on their bunk beds, folded a load of laundry, cleaned my closet, and…

Well, I planned on what I will do with that one hour and fifteen minute time block for the rest of the entire year!

I do have specific plans… I don’t want to be all legalistic about it, but I will try to keep that hour time for me, and not just errands and chores, so hopefully, at least 3 hours a week will be spent on writing and exercising. Both are key to my health!

Other observations from today:

mannyI actually love Mondays. This has much to do with loving my job, probably for the first time in my adult life…really, really enjoying what I do, and feeling comfortable in it, feeling freedom in it, feeling supported in it.

I still get a lot of questions about what I do: I work on the staff of our beloved church, journey. After the theatre sailed on, I was honored to be asked to remain and work for the church. I’m not totally sure what my title is, but I stopped caring a few months ago :) I work on the website, social media, publications, and communications, and I also assist the Executive Pastor, and sometimes the Generations/Youth pastor and sometimes the Lead Pastors, in all sorts of things…. project managing, resource creating, hunting down 50 pounds of chicken thighs for the village employee luncheon, cleaning a toilet or two, whatever. I model my work after Manny Trillo, a utility player who spent some of his best years on the Chicago Cubs playing short stop and third and outfield and generally rocking Wrigley. If it needs to be done, and I can do it, or find someone to do it, bring it. And Mondays on a church staff, especially after a great day like yesterday, are just fun. Crazy, but fun!

 

My children, like me, are night owls. They look like this every morning, yet they hit the ground running off that school bus in the afternoon and they don’t want to go to bed. Help me, Rhonda! Maybe the end of daylight savings will actually help this year…?
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Playdates are the bomb. Dot com. We used to be pros at these. The moves have hurt us. But now, we have enough friends in the neighborhood (and elsewhere) to make these impromptu gatherings happen. It’s a win-win for all of us.

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Homework time can be pretty awesome, at least on the first day. Today I got to observe Randa rocking her addition and doing better in her reading, in spite of the fact that we pretty much blew off formal summer reading for our special brand of practice (signs, brochures, menus…) And KK did not have any formal homework, but she did practice writing her name in proper case and read her first school library book with her Daddy. She is a much more focused and intense learner than Randa, who prefers to sound out words while looking away and dancing. It will be “interesting” to see how this all plays out through the years…

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“Surprise!” We will never be normal people. This was confirmed once again on Saturday, when I was with my future daughter-in-law as she chose a beautiful and far-from-conventional wedding dress for their big day. It was re-confirmed today when I tried to be a Cool Mom. I had 10 minutes from the time I got home from work to get to the bus stop, which is a half mile away. KK really wanted to ride her bike, so I started off at a brisk walk, trying to juggle both the girls’ bikes. I made it to the end of our street before I realized it was awkward…with a side of awkward. So I waved to the guys finishing a new house there and told them I was leaving the bikes for a few minutes, and then proceeded to walk/jog the rest of the way, in my jeans and flip-flops (It was around 88 degrees, which we are calling “fall-like” weather here. To say I was sweating at the end of all this is like saying Miley Cyrus caused a few raised eyebrows last night). Anyway, I made it to the bus stop with 2 minutes to spare, and the girls actually did not complain the whole way home. What was awesome though, is that about 2 blocks from home, the construction workers rounded the corner with our bikes in the trailer, and delivered them to the girls! How cool is that? I love nice people! I will take that over normal any day…

There are benefits to being awkward weirdos. Feel free to ask me about this, or about my feelings on the Ben Affleck as Batman news. Happy 3rd day of school… or happy Monday, whatever the case may be.

Grace Unplugged: Go ahead. Chase your dreams.

I am cynical about entertainment that is marketed to the mainstream and labeled Christian or faith-based, and there’s a reason for that.

… a lot of it is bad.

Sure, there is the Veggie Tales franchise… fun, educational, and sometimes downright brilliant. And there was The Passion of the Christ, but as excellently done as that was, it was like being beaten over the head (painful and life-changing), so it’s not exactly on my frequently played list. Occasionally we get a gem like The Blind Side or Walk the Line or even Angels and Demons or Constantine (I will be happy to make these arguments some other day), that isn’t overtly Christian in its message, but the message shines through anyway. (I had a hard time coming up with those examples. Surely there are more…!)

But for every one of those, we have a Left Behind…or a Joyful Noise… movies that are so cheesy (the former) or so blatantly cliche or even disrespectful to living a Christian life (the latter) that I’d rather disassociate myself with them than talk about them at all.

I also want to note here that I am talking about mainstream entertainment. I don’t consider movies like Courageous to be mainstream. There might be some crossover, but these movies are mainly going to appeal to churchgoers. 

grace-image7Bring on the email invitation to a screening of Grace Unplugged that was sent to our church staff this week. A free movie? Check. A movie featuring a Taylor Swift-esque teenage girl, original music, and a former rock star Dad? Check. (This upped my intrigue considerably). Along with two other families in our church, we went.

You know how you know in the first few minutes of a movie if you are going to like it, hate it, or tolerate it? That happened. And I knew… I was going to like this movie. What was surprising to me? I identified with, was touched by, and absolutely loved this movie. I have been Grace, I have been Grace’s parents, and I, too, have been touched by the grace that is the thread through them all.

Grace Unplugged is the story of an eighteen year old girl, an only child of a worship pastor who was once a one-hit rock icon. The Dad, Johnny Trey, has distanced himself completely from that past and enjoys a quiet existence with his wife and daughter. Grace and Dad lead worship together at church, but it’s clear from the first scene of the movie (which is cleverly communicated through facial expressions) that they don’t jive musically anymore. He wants to keep things pretty straight-laced, and she wants to set them free.

Enter plenty of teenage angst, nothing new, nothing far removed from Ariel and her dear ol’ preaching daddy in Footloose. Except around this time, Mossy also enters. He is Johnny’s former manager, and through a series of “only in Hollywood” events that are somewhat believable because of our reality show/You Tube age of entertainment, Grace ends up in Los Angeles with a record deal, an AR rep, a sizeable advance, a music video, and plenty of… new angst.

I won’t tell you how it all ends (I will say it is not totally predictable), but because I think this movie is so worth your time, I’m going to tell you why this stands out as a quality movie~

GU__039111. Christians are people, too
How many TV episodes have you watched in which the protestant character was a freak of some kind? Hollywood makes fun of everything from prayer to intentional virginity as though those behaviors are alien or sinister or unheard of. Characters are often portrayed as one-dimensional, as though being a Christian means we exist in a tunnel of our beliefs and nothing else matters to us. Guess what? We dress like normal people. We argue like normal people. We have friendships, dreams, contentions, jobs, and desires like normal people. Grace Unplugged got this right all the way through, and that, simply put, impressed the crap out of me. (Yep. Even my pastors say “crap”).

Of note: the pastor and his wife (played by Chris Ellis and Mary Shaw) were friends of Johnny and Michelle, Grace’s parents. Though they were dressed a bit formally, they were also portrayed as human… warm, gracious, knowing, everyday people, who offered friendship and wisdom to a hurting family without thumping a Bible or quoting a bumper sticker. They were only in the movie for a few scenes, but I loved them.

Another favorite little subplot was Michelle’s struggle out of the spotlight. Her husband was obsessed with their daughter’s career and her rebellion, and though Michelle was quiet and prayerful in her reaction, she was also determined. She wanted her husband’s attention and his love. You go, girl. Get yours. Christian women have needs, too!

2. Christians do not live a life of constant extremes
One of my favorite scenes in the movie was a small one, but it involved Grace LYING to her parents and SKIPPING YOUTH GROUP to go to… the movies, alone. Why did I appreciate this so much? Because pastor’s kids or Christian kids are often portrayed in media and in society as all good or all bad, and that is such an unfair picture. So many other movies would have shown her skipping and going to a bar or meeting up with some skeezy guy, and while that happens sometimes, most of the time, the decisions kids make that go against their parents are more innocent than that. They are striving for independence and identity, not necessarily hellfire and brimstone.

GU__026713. Established actors are capable of playing Christians
It was good to see familiar faces in this movie, James Denton (Johnny) and Kevin Pollack (Mossy) being the most familiar. And while I had personally not heard of AJ Michalka before, she has been around, and her portrayal of Grace was lovely and solid, as were her musical performances. I didn’t once feel like I was being pandered to, or that I was watching someone’s daughter get a chance at her big career. And I’m sorry, but it was nice to have a break from Kirk Cameron. Seriously.

I should also mention here that newish Christian contemporary star Jamie Grace has a small role in the movie as Grace’s BFF. I appreciate the use of Jamie in a small role (it was her first acting role, and she was passable, but not earth-shattering). This allows for some name recognition in the church-going community without putting someone in a starring role who would not have been successful. Kudos to the movie makers here.

4. A good movie stirs conversation
We brought our 5.5 and almost-7 year old daughters to this movie. Our youngest was enthralled by the music, and as she is a fellow blond with a guitar and an attitude, her dad and I could totally see her going the way Grace does. Our 7-year-old leaned up to me at one point and asked, “Who is wrong? The daddy or the girl?” I told her, “They both kind of are… we will talk about it later.” I love that my child was noting the family dynamics at play, and I will have the opportunity to reinforce that parents love our kids a lot, but we don’t always get it right. I appreciate the kind of entertainment that opens up the door for heart checks and heartfelt discussions. In this case, family relationships are forefront. That time of transition from adolescence to adulthood is hard – on kids and their parents. When Johnny looks up and tells God, “She’s yours now,” I was rocked… because I have had to have that conversation with God about ALL my kids, even the little ones.

5. A life of faith permeates our actions, all the time
Perhaps this seems contradictory to points one and two, but it is not. I personally enjoy a relationship with Christ and a relationship with pop culture, but one will always trump the other. When you are a believer in Christ, His teachings and His character affect everything about you… to different degrees because we are in different places on our journeys. I love how this was shown in the nuanced reactions of Grace to things like alcohol, provocative dress, and manipulative relationships. She wasn’t all in or out… she struggled with these complex issues, with trying to balance what her heart knew to be the right thing and what her own intense dreams had convinced her she needed. So she drank a little, and she kinda of liked it, but she didn’t become an alcoholic, she didn’t drink and drive, and she didn’t sign up for AA and Christian counseling after a few weeks of social drinking . Sometimes, we need to calm down and trust that people, even our kids, will figure things out because the Holy Spirit – the voice of the Father – their relationship with Christ (pick your favorite/they’re all the same) IS leading and guiding. Some people listen too late, but most people are not going to listen to finger-pointing and craziness.
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Another fine example of this was the character of Quentin, played by Michael Welch. I admit: I loved him. I loved him in a “I wish I had known him when I was 18/I hope my daughters know him when they are 18” kind of way. He was sincere, helpful, and kind. When he said, “My mom made these cookies for you” and “I’m praying for your song,” it wasn’t hokey… it was sweet. It wasn’t, Grace, you’re supposed to be a Christian. Quit acting like a pagan and get to the altar. It was, I see you’re out of your comfort zone and exploring, and getting close to a dangerous place, and I’m here to point you toward safety, ok?

6. Chasing our dreams/art is not a sin
Rod and I related to this movie on the level of entertainment versus {music} ministry. We have been involved in both. We have followed our own dreams, and we have followed God, and we have tried hard to find the merging of the two, and sometimes we have failed, and by His grace, we have come to a good place. But here’s the deal, folks: God made us. He gives us the talents and drive that we have. I know we can get lost in those things and glorify ourselves, but there is nothing abjectly wrong with a singer singing, a writer writing, an actor acting. We don’t tell football players they should only play on church leagues, and we don’t tell doctors they should only have Christian patients. So why in the world do we give our young people such a hard time about how they use their talents? The main pop song of the movie is called, “Misunderstood.” It made me want to shout just as much as the main Christian song, “All I’ve Ever Needed.” I love music. Music speaks to me. Music made by the Beatles, Tori Amos, Bon Jovi, Ella Fitzgerald, Amy Grant, The Isaacs, Johnny Cash, Oak Ridge Boys, Chris Tomlin… it all speaks to me.

I admit, the ending of the movie and how all of this was reconciled in Grace’s life and career was a bit safe, but I do appreciate the idea that you don’t have to stop being yourself where you start serving God. The two co-exist. And that is a message worth repeating:

“Sometimes, chasing your dreams leads you right to where you belong.”

That is a mainstream message of faith!

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