The Woman at the Post Office

On May 11th, a friend sent me a Facebook message detailing a promotion by Scandinavian airlines where up to eight children could fly free with each adult ticket purchased.  I looked at it, chuckled to myself, and closed it.  The promotion expired on May 13th, and in those 2 days we had soccer games, a birthday party to host, Sarah's actual birthday, and Mother's Day, not that I was even considering it.  While my adventurous husband does like to plan wild and crazy "field trips" for our herd, this seemed like too much.  Even for him.  Through the events of the weekend, I didn't give it another thought.

Then, as we settled in for our Sunday afternoon rest time, he casually mentioned, "I think we should book the tickets."  After I picked my jaw up off the floor, we weighed the pros and cons.  Long story short, we booked the tickets for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

That's the beginning of the story that will end up being our European Adventure of 2018.  

With a momentous decision like "taking a family of nine to a different continent" comes a lot of planning, not the least of which includes upgrading the family passport cards for land and sea travel to passport books for air travel.  It took a few days to fill out the forms, take the photos, and get to the post office, but we got it all accomplished in about a week.  Yesterday, we took the entire family for our appointment to prove we are who we say we are live and in person.  We got situated in the "waiting area" in the center of the post office replete with two whole chairs, the entire family on display for the world to see.  I was sweating (because that's what my body does when I'm stressed out at all times).  It was already going better than the last time we went for passport cards and Noah peed in the middle of the floor.  The kids were mostly sitting still, mostly being quiet, and Ben had the foresight to bring the Switch for the kids to play a game of Mario Kart while they waited.  One of the postal workers looked at me and said, "Those all your babies?"  I confirmed the fact, and she replied, "That's great.  Large families are great."  Phew.  

We awaited our turn to go into the separate [less conspicuous] passport room for several minutes beyond our allotted time, when a customer approached us.  She commented on the kids, that we were a beautiful family.  (PSA - "You have a beautiful family" is *always* an okay statement to make.  To any family.  You should say this to everyone you see.  It's the nicest possible compliment.)  She told us she has worked with children for decades.  She didn't say exactly in what capacity, but mentioned books and reading to them.  She told us that she got to enjoy many firsts with kids and wished their own parents would have relished in those times as much as she did.  Her whole body and all of her language exuded joy in her work.  It was precious.  She told us she never had kids of her own, to which Sam replied, "Sure you did!  A whole bunch of them."  She loved it and replied, "Yeah, I guess about 1500 of them."  As she looked over our family she told us that she reminded the parents often that the kids did not really belong to them, they were God's children in their care.  What a mighty calling and blessing to be responsible for souls.  We nodded in wholehearted agreement.  At this, she paused and asked if we were there for passports (a logical conclusion, I suppose, since most people probably don't bring their kids to the middle of the post office and hang out for fun).  We said yes.  She inquired where we were traveling, and Sam answered, "Europe."  Upon hearing this, she looked us straight in the eye and said, "Y'all are believers?  Can I pray for you?"  

And right there in the middle of the Russell Parkway Post Office, this woman prayed blessings over our family and our upcoming travels.  She prayed for our safety.  She prayed that people would notice us and that we would be an encouragement to them.  She prayed that we would find a way to share Jesus with those we encountered.  

That's how it came to pass that I shed tears (not surprising) and hugged a stranger (totally shocking) in the passport line.

Seconds after her "Amen" our name was called, and I thank the Lord the postal worker was running a few minutes late or we would have missed meeting this beautiful soul.  With a "Bless you, sister" she carried on her own post office business at the counter, and it hit me so hard.  

She is my sister.  And this is how we should love each other.  

She might never know how much that meant to me.  God is already relieving me of my fears surrounding the trip.  Prayer is powerful.  And I pray the same things she did.  Mostly, even before we leave, that our lives, in word and deed, will be an encouragement and witness to those we encounter.

I also pray that when the Spirit moves me, I will capitalize on the opportunities to encourage and pray for the people around me.  Even the strangers.  Despite my introversion.  Because you know, I may not be the most gregarious person on the planet, but God can use anyone.  

And because I can't even stand how cute this is, here's one of Zachary's rejected passport photos.  He was having way too good of a time.  It doesn't quite meet the criterion for "neutral facial expression."



This post was written as a contribution to the Central Baptist Church website. I am copying it here.

I'm a dreamer.  I don't necessarily dream when I'm asleep, but when I'm mowing the grass or taking a shower or trying to settle down for the night, my brain kick-starts and I dream up lots of big ideas.  I call myself a dreamer because I'm not always the best at implementing these big ideas, but I do enjoy tossing them back and forth in my brain.  I dream of ministries I could start up, places our family could travel, ways to improve my home organization, blog posts I could write, or what I might want to be when I "grow up."  Then, I put the lawnmower away, walk out of the bathroom, or roll out of bed the next morning, and it's back to reality.

Sometimes when I'm caught up in the daily grind of life, I find myself wistfully preoccupied with "someday."

Someday life won't be so fragmented, and I'll be able to concentrate on writing.
Someday life won't be so busy, and I'll be able to pour myself into meeting the physical and spiritual needs of my neighbors in big, tangible ways.
Someday life won't feel so chaotic, and I'll be able to get organized and finally be able to accomplish  tasks efficiently.

What I have to remind myself is that I'm not guaranteed someday.  These fragmented, busy, chaotic, noisy moments are precious.  They are a gift.  I need to utilize them to the fullest.  Maybe the daily grind doesn't feel glamorous.  Maybe my current calling won't make headlines.  Maybe humble, small gestures aren't just the starting point, they're the whole point.
"Jesus said it wouldn't be what we said we believed or all the good we hoped to do someday. Nope, He said we would identify ourselves simply by how we loved people.  It's tempting to think there's more to it, but there's not." -Bob Goff
Maybe it's just me, but in my desire to make some sort of  big splash for the kingdom of God, I find myself missing the little opportunities that can add up in big ways. I forget that life is made up of countless moments in which we can minister.  In his earthly ministry, Jesus did some amazing miracles, yes, but you know what he also did?  He noticed when someone touched his robe.  He sat for a chat with the social outcast.  He had a lot of conversations over shared meals.  He welcomed the children.

Instead of waiting and hoping to do something big someday, I am challenging myself to do what I can, today.  
"There are many of us that are willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things." - DL Moody
Someday I might go on mission in a foreign country, telling others about Jesus as I go.  Someday I might decide to pursue some great and noble career.  But right now, I will practice what we preach to our Girls in Action on Wednesday nights.  I will live a life on mission.  I will love my neighbor right where I am.  I will praise Him at my kitchen sink.  I will teach my kids about the love of the Father.  I will exemplify my need for forgiveness by asking for it when I wrong my family and friends.  I will send notes of encouragement when God leads.

Life is made up of moments.  Let's make them count.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Children in a Broken World

This post was written as a contribution to the Central Baptist Church website. I am copying it here.

Sam and I have seven children. Because this is an atypically large number, I usually try to present this information right up front to people. It’s not as if I can keep them a secret. A family of nine simply does not sneak around or easily blend into the crowd. As one who prefers anonymity, it has become abundantly clear that it is God’s plan to stretch the limits of my tiny comfort zone by growing our family.

Having a large family opens us up to a variety of friendly inquiries. Typically, we are asked how big our house is, where all of the kids sleep, what kind of vehicle we drive, whether we are going to have more, and sometimes –

“Aren’t you afraid to bring more children into this broken world?”

Honestly, despite my inclination to worry unnecessarily, this particular concern is not on the list.

If the Bible were our only history book, we could see that this world has had a brokenness problem since the beginning of mankind. Since the serpent asked Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” we have been under the curse of sin. One must look no further than Genesis to find accounts of deception, murder, natural disasters, marital infidelity, famine, slavery, genocide, plagues, and war to name only a few. The thousands of years following the first encounter in the garden have been a repeating loop of consequences from living in a sinful world. Solomon said it best in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” We should not be surprised that sin and evil exist in our world. God, though surely grieved by it, is also not surprised. The good news is that He does not leave us without hope.

The good news is that as a follower of Christ, I have been given power through the Holy Spirit to combat the sinfulness of this world. I have been given God’s Word as a weapon, a sword of the Spirit. When all else feels bleak and dark, I have God’s Word as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. If I teach these words diligently to my children, if they write God’s Words onto their hearts, they will be ready to face whatever this world can hurl at them. It is my privilege to be raising arrows ready to launch into this world, as speakers of truth. It is my job to equip them to fight the battle by pointing them to the Word.

Worrying about the world our children face is evidence of a lack of faith and an indication that we do not trust that God is in control. I choose to trust God with the future of my children, and the future of our country and world. I will make it my primary goal to point my children to Jesus at every turn, to teach them that in spite of our sin and because of His grace, we have every hope in Christ. During this season of life, my primary mission field is my family, and I pray that God would multiply His kingdom through us. I pray that in the uncertain future that God holds in His hands, He would use each of my children in mighty ways to bring glory and souls to Him.

So, to answer the question, no. I’m not afraid to bring children into this broken world. Quite the opposite, I’m honored to have the huge privilege and responsibility to raise kingdom warriors. I think that is precisely what this world needs.

Servant Leadership

One of my favorite accounts of Jesus in the Bible is when he washed the feet of his disciples.  I don't love feet.  I think they're gross.  Also, I know just what my feet look (and smell) like after a day of bare-footing around my less-than-sparkly home and flip-flopping around the yard and all over town here in central Georgia.  I can imagine pretty well that the sandals-wearing, desert-walking disciples' feet weren't looking or smelling so hot either.  Nevertheless, Jesus, God incarnate, in an act of service and humility, stooped down to wash the dust and day off his friends' feet.


Because He didn't just want to tell us what to do, he wanted to show us.
You call me "Teacher" and "Lord," and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:13-15
When I think of Jesus, the ultimate authority, acting in the humblest service, I cannot help but think of the amazing staff families at my church.  Over the past couple of years, we have been blessed with the most sacrificial, serving men and women, and I just want to brag on them.  They are the epitome of servant leaders.  They saw what Jesus did and the follow his example day in and day out.  Not one of them is too important or above serving their church family.  It's an honor to do life with them.

How do these men and women love with servant's hearts?  Let me list some ways.

-They've helped us carry dinner trays on Wednesday nights when my children grossly outnumber the number of parental hands available.
-They've carried our trash and helped strip down tables after events.
- They carry bundles of walking sticks intended for a VBS craft on their shoulders in a long sleeved-collared shirt on a hundred degree day.
- They rushed to the aid of a young teen who slipped in a puddle of water, cleaning up her spilled tray before she even had the chance to be embarrassed.
-They've offered to babysit, so we could go on a date night or take the big kids somewhere.
-They have offered to take children home from sports practices.
-They go out of their way and make a point to say hello.
-They encouraged me in the parking lot after voicing fears on Facebook.
-They brought me food when I had a baby.
-They hung out with me in the ER for far too long as we awaited test results.
-They offered to sit with my kids at home while we waited in the ER for far too long.
-Though surely taxed by other areas of ministry, they still find time to lead the childrens' choir.
-They snuggle babies while presiding over a deacons meeting.  And any other time they can get their hands on one.
-They teach their children to find ways to serve others, like holding our baby while we eat dinner or warch our bigger kids play basketball.
-They show up at the hospital to pray over my babies, sometimes praying over the delivery - like during the delivery.
-They have made countless phone calls, sent texts, and written notes.

These are just a few I thought of, off the top of my head with very little effort.  Now realize that I represent just one of hundreds of families in our church.  I suspect each one can name a time they witnessed or were personally blessed by the leadership in our church family.

The final example requires a bit of a back story, but it's one of my favorites.  Last soccer season, Sam coached a group of Pre-K and kindergarten girls.  At the same time, we had three other kids playing so Saturdays were pretty hectic.  When it came time for the end of the year celebration, Sam had to travel for work.  It's generally expected that coaches show up to these things, so I was the next in line to serve as substitute.  This event so happened to occur the night Leah was fitted with a full-arm cast.  In addition to the Sam being gone and Leah's arm being broken, I was stressed to the max because we were leaving the next morning to take a trip to Maryland, and I was beyond overwhelmed at how to be in four places at one time for the after-ceremony pizza party.  Each team had a designated room in the Family Life Center in which they'd hang out one final time and eat some pizza.  When we arrived before the awards to drop off our supplementary snacks, I expected to find my kids' rooms scattered on different floors and in opposite corners of the building.  (That's what I do.)   What I discovered was that the gym also had tables set up.  I found the first team on the back wall.  I took a few steps further to the next table, which belonged to my second child.  As I proceeded down the wall, I started to wonder if it was just a cool coincidence that they were together.  Then I reached the third.  And finally the fourth.  All four of my childrens' team tables were on the back wall.  With dozens of teams, it couldn't have been accidental.  Our precious recreation minister had orchestrated the pizza party so that parents with multiple children celebrated in the gym.  Because he's amazing.  I almost cried right there.  (I did cry, later on.)  It was such a sweet, sweet gesture.  He did not have to do that, but it meant the world to me that he had.

Guys, these folks are TOP NOTCH people.  They exemplify Christ. With love like this flowing down, I cannot help but get excited about what God is going to do at Central Baptist Church.  You should join us!  

Punching Fear in the Face

Several years ago, I was driving with the kids.  The road we were on wasn't a busy one, and I can't remember where we were going or why.  What I do remember is that we were, of course, stuck behind a car that was obviously not on a schedule.  Maybe it's because I'm always late, but cars out for a Sunday cruise in the middle of a week frustrate me to no end, especially when they're traveling under the speed limit (or as I like to think of it - "the minimum speed").  It was a rural area, one lane in each direction, and the road had a dotted stripe down the middle.  I kept easing toward the center line to peek around the car in front of me, and every time I considered passing, I opted not to.

That's when Ben chimed in with something to the effect of, "If Daddy were driving, he'd have passed already.  He's not scared."

Offended, I retorted.  "I'm not scared!"

"Yes, you are.  You're afraid of everything."

I eventually passed the car.  But not without a lot of internal huffing and puffing at the suggestion that I was afraid.  Of everything.

I'm hardly a psychologist, and I cannot speak to the validity of the claims made in a Pixar movie.  Nevertheless, I think there must be something right about Inside Out.  For me, instead of a dominant personality trait, I have two duking it out for the head seat.  Anyone want to guess which two?  A year or two ago, I wrote a blog post detailing my propensity to get angry.  That's still true, but after several eye-opening conversations, a little soul-searching, and, actually, an enneagram personality test, it has become abundantly clear that I'm afraid of just about everything.

A few weeks ago, determined to create better habits for myself and our family, we took a little walk around the neighborhood to a nearby playground.  We don't have sidewalks, and the main road through our neighborhood is used as a cut-through for several adjacent housing developments.  Knowing that all routes from our house require passage on this street has stopped me from doing any kind of exercising with the entire herd.  I sabotage my healthier habits with fear.

"What if that crazy black Camaro hits one of the kids?"
"What if Leah veers to the middle of the road on her bike?"
"What if someone falls out of the wagon?"
"What if Zachary starts screaming at the farthest point from our house?"
"What if someone falls?"
"What if we really hug the corners and walk against traffic and we still get plowed down by a distracted driver?"
"What if we get 0.1 mile into the walk and everyone starts complaining?"
"What if someone robs our house while we're gone?"
"What if it starts raining?"

Literally.  These were my thoughts.

At the beginning of 2018, I made a decision to be Brave.  It doesn't seem like I've made much progress, does it?

As you can probably imagine, we survived the walk.  Everyone got 1.7 miles of fresh air and exercise.  No one was injured.  Our home was untouched.  The weather was gorgeous.  And I thought to myself, what in the world would I have robbed myself of if I'd given in to my fears?  (Answer: 1.7 miles of fresh air and exercise with the family on a gorgeous day.)

A similar situation arose this past weekend where I had the opportunity to spend a Sunday afternoon with the families in our Sunday School Life Group.  One of the couples organized a low country boil, and I never responded knowing that Sam would be traveling for work and that left me alone to deal with seven kids. Near a pond. In an uncontained area During naptime. Trying to peel shrimp. "No way!" I told myself.  Then, Saturday morning, I thought about how fun the last time was that we'd done it, and how my kids would be so sad if they knew we missed out, and how if I can't take my circus to a picnic with my dearest friends to help me, where can I take them?  I made an apologetic, last-minute text message, stopped at the store to grab a few picnic essentials, and we were ready to roll.

Would I rather Sam have been there?  Absolutely.  Did we have a great time in spite of me?  Yes.  Would I have regretted missing it?  Without a doubt.

Thinking over the events of Sunday afternoon, which far surpassed my grave expectations, I took a mental inventory of the times in my life where I was most terrified and contrasted the fear to the outcome.

Moving from Maryland to Georgia to go to college
Getting married at 19
Raising a baby while finishing my degree
Presenting my senior design project
Finding a job
Sitting for the PE
Losing my job and not being able to find another
Growing our family
Traveling the country with 4, 5, 6, now 7 kids

Can I tell you something?  Fear is a punk.  It doesn't matter what we are facing, God is faithful to see us through it.  I couldn't tell you what of my fears are rational, how much of my anxiety is normal.  I only know I spend too much time fretting about things beyond my control and not enough time giving it over to the One who wants to bear the burden for me.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me.  He freed me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4
When I reach the end of me, that's when God shows up and shows off.  I'm so grateful for the gift of retrospect so I can see God's unfailing work in my life.  My current prayer is that instead of looking back to see what He has done, that I will trust him when my fears try to prevent me from living life, before I see what He's going to do.

Let's face it, if I'm not the one taking my kids to a low country boil, who else is going to?

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