Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Jill's Story

Over Memorial Day weekend, David and I were able to make a quick trip to Atlanta to visit my family and celebrate my Dad's birthday! 

My cute parents! (Janet & Randy)

I love getting to go home to visit my family, and I always look forward to getting to go back to our home church, Passion City Church, for worship and teaching Sunday morning. 

Before the service started, Dad and I were sitting next to each other talking about human trafficking. I'd been struggling lately with where my role in helping to end human trafficking is. As Chris led us in worship, we sang the verse, "You are faithful," over and over again. I forced myself to speak the words. Although I believed them, I just couldn't see enough of God's faithfulness in human trafficking...

I asked God, "How are you faithful in human trafficking? All of these terrible things are happening to innocent people right now. Where is your faithfulness?"

Half of me expected to feel guilty for calling out God like that, but He immediately spoke to me, and I could hear a smile behind his voice... "I will be faithful. It will end."

I could have cried right there. I don't see the end. In fact, I'm just a human who can't see very far at all. All I see is the step I'm taking at this moment. 

But, God knows it all. 

Worship continued and an unfamiliar face led us in Hillsong's "Beneath the Water." 

I don't live in Atlanta anymore, so I wasn't too surprised that I didn't recognize one of the worship leaders at PCC. But, I knew I recognized her voice. 

When I sat down to work yesterday, I looked up "Beneath the Water" on YouTube and have been listening to it on my computer.

Today, while I was perusing through some other Hillsong music videos, I saw the "unfamiliar face, very familiar voice," female, worship leader who'd led us at PCC on Sunday.

Her name is Jill McCloghry, and she is one of the vocalists in my favorite Hillsong song, "Desert Song."

I noticed a clip titled, "Hillsong United - Desert Song (behind story)". I clicked on it and listened to Jill's story...

Listening to her, I couldn't help but remember how I felt during worship on Sunday. 

Her story encouraged me. At our core, we're wired to want to worship a higher power. And, I feel like when we are so desperately broken, crying out to God is what comes naturally. 

When we choose to cry out in worship, in those valleys, I can't even imagine how much joy that brings to Our Maker. That here we would be, hurting and suffering, but still choosing to proclaim "You are my God. You are my victory. You are faithful."

Even more so, what a powerful reminder to Satan that he has no place here. He's defeated, and when we choose to proclaim the name of Jesus, is deprived the opportunity to reap joy from our suffering. 

"All of my life,
In every season,
You are still God,
I have a reason to sing,
I have a reason to worship.

I will bring praise,
I will bring praise, 
No weapon formed against me shall remain.

I will rejoice, 
I will declare,
God is my victory and He is here."

Hillsong, 'Dessert Song'

*Jill McCloghry, thank you for choosing to lead so many of us in worship. You're a blessing.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Congratulations Sizzles!

Several years ago I felt God calling me to serve as a leader for the junior high summer retreat for the church I grew up in. Even though I'd served as a leader a couple years before, I felt like this trip would be a little different. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I was willing to see what God had in store, not only for the junior highers He'd be placing under my leadership, but for me. 

I'll never forget that morning as we waited for the kids to show up. They filed down the tables picking up name tags and signing in. I greeted two of the girls who'd be in my cabin and small group. I'm not sure if it was just too early in the morning for them or if my perkiness startled them. They looked a little unsure of themselves. I could read the terror, "This girl is going to be our leader? What are we getting ourselves into??" (Autumn, Caroline, I'm talking about you.)

I should have asked myself that question, because honestly I had no clue what I was getting myself into either. 

I had no clue that my heart was about to open and break for a bunch of junior high girls. I had no idea that becoming their small group leader would be one of the greatest joys I'd experienced thus far in my life. I had no idea I was about to be given so many new little sisters, that I was definitely going to require unlimited text messaging, and that I would be giving them responsibilities one my wedding day. 

These girls became such a huge part of my life, that I could hardly bear it the day when God told me it was time to step down as their small group leader. 

I had no reason to give them. Nothing. I didn't hear God call me to some other form of service. I didn't have to move to another State (yet). It wasn't a work conflict. It was just the clear voice of God saying, "Now. Now it's time to go." So, through the tears, as much as I didn't want to, I obeyed and let them go. 

This weekend, my sweet sizzles are graduating from high school. I couldn't be more proud of all of them. They've all grown into the most beautiful young women. I can't wait to see what God does in and with them during this next chapter of their lives. 

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; 
and everyone who loves is born of God and loves God." 
1 John 4:7

The week it all started - Shaving Cream War, Camp Awanita.


 DNOW, Fellowship Bible Church 

Day of Hope, Roswell, GA

Christmas Cookies, Clark House


Junior High Summer Mission Trip - Medical Missions Ministry, Guatemala

Girl Time with Jenna before Small Group

Congratulations sweet Sizzles on your high school graduation!! Watch out world; here they come!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Whatever things are lovely...

We bought this bird feeder several weeks ago. Originally, we hung it just outside the back room of our house, right by the window. (We recently moved it to a shepherd's stand right in the middle of our backyard.)

For the first few days it just hung there with no attention. We wondered if the birds would ever discover it. About a week later, we noticed one bird, which we accidentally spooked away. Later, it came back. The next day, again just one bird. The day after, two birds. Before we knew it, our backyard had become a popular bird hangout spot.

Whereas before there was little to favor in our backyard, now it feels very much alive with activity. Every single time we look outside, there's a bird in our backyard, either on the bird feeder, on the deck, on the swing set, on the ground. They're everywhere! And, they're all pretty birds.

The cardinals are incredibly vibrant - even the females. And, we have these cute little finch-like looking birds with beautiful red tops and bellies. Most recently we have a pair of turtle doves. They're so cute. I'm even kind of liking the blue jay because he gets mad at the squirrels! (I've even seen him chase a squirrel away from the bird feeder! It's so funny to watch.) 

I love watching all of it - God's nature living behind our house. 

Getting a bird feeders was mom's idea. Mom's full of great ideas. : )

This morning, we got to talk on the phone for a little bit before we each got our day started. Towards the end of our conversation this morning, she encouraged me with Philippians 4:8. 

"Whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy - meditate on these things."

I'd been thinking about so many heavy things the day before, and had mentioned to her that I'd hoped today would just be an easy-going, no drama day. She encouraged me to find a way today to focus on the things described above.

So, after lunch, I grabbed my camera and stepped into the backyard to hopefully catch a picture or two of the birds.

I could hear them all above me in the trees. But, I guess they were full from their breakfasts. Only one bird came down to play in the yard.

But, that was okay. I had lots of other lovely things to dwell on.

Like the little sprouts of mystery flowers growing in our neglected flower bed.

And the sprouts who've decided to neighbor with the struggling, potted aloe vera plant...

And the purple flowers/weeds David spared for me over the weekend while doing yard work. (They just appeared within the last two weeks and they're all along that fence there. Aren't they pretty?) 

And of course the sunshine and it's warmth. How could I not bask in it? How could I not feel God's love and peace through that sunshine? Sperry felt it, too.

I wish I could have sat out there for the rest of the day! To some, the things I was dwelling on would be considered to be so simple. And, yes, perhaps they are? But to me, today, they were praiseworthy things! 

Thank you God for placing such simply, lovely things right in my back yard for me to dwell on and remind me of You.

"You alone are the Lord; 
You have made heaven, 
The heaven of heavens, with all their host, 
The earth and everything in it, 
The seas and all that is in them, 
And You preserve them all. 
The host of heaven worships You." 
Nehemiah 9:6

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Spicy Bean Burritos

I love to share. Really I do. Whether it's a great deal I know of or a recipe I've tried or good news and encouragement, sometimes I can't help but feel it ooze right out of me!

So, I have to share this recipe that I found on Pinterest for spicy bean burritos

Don't they look yummy!?! And they're so easy to make (and a lot healthier than going to a Mexican restaurant). *Disclaimer, I did not take that picture. It's the picture from the website where I got the recipe. By the time we have dinner assembled, David and I are just ready to dig in and almost always forget to take a picture!

In an effort to help us slim down a little, I'm trying to get David to eat less meat with me during the week. It hasn't been his favorite idea of mine, but these burritos have helped going meatless once a week much easier for my husband. The first time he tried these burritos David's words were, "You can't tell there isn't any meat inside. It's hearty enough. They're good. I'll eat them again."

Inside, I did a major victory dance! Outside, I just smiled. 

So, notes on the recipe:

- I didn't have any cayenne pepper, so I just used extra chile powder. 
- I also used double the cumin (I love cumin).
- I rinsed a can of rotel tomatoes and used those in lieu of fresh salsa. 
- I used EVOO instead of canola oil.
- Since it's just two of us, there are plenty of left overs! 

The first time we ate these, we ate them as burritos. Last night, we opted for no tortillas and just did burrito bowls instead. Either way, they're incredibly tasty (and spicy!) and filling. 

I hope you enjoy them as much as we do!

Monday, May 13, 2013


I've spent the last several Friday nights downtown at the Arkansas Dream Center hanging out with girls ages 4-11. Each week we've talked about the different aspects of being a princess of God. Since I first saw the curriculum, I couldn't wait for this past Friday. I knew I wanted to take ownership of that evening and be the one to talk about etiquette.

My mom, for a few summers, hosted etiquette classes in our home for girls ages 9-11. They were so much fun! We learned all kinds of things - where your name tag goes, rules to shaking hands, how to sit in a chair, how to get into a car, how to eat a multiple course meal, how to do the whole standing/eating/buffet thing, how to fold napkins into really neat shapes...  Many of us who attended those classes have found ourselves in formal situations where we were incredibly grateful someone had taught us which fork to use, how you're actually supposed to butter bread, and which direction the serving plates should be passed.

As I conducted my first etiquette class, I wish we had been videotaping. While some of the girls were a little too distracted by the salt and pepper shakers I'd saran-wrapped closed, I loved watching the others as they learned the different places and reasons behind how to place their silverware, why salt and pepper are always passed together, and when the correct time to start eating is.

As I recapped the evening with David after returning home, he replied, "Most people don't follow all the rules of etiquette even if they know them."

As I prepared for this lesson, I was reminded of how our actions reflect those who've influenced us, and I'm not just referring to table manners. Maybe your parents didn't model good behavior or good decision making in an aspect of their life. But, it doesn't mean their children have to follow in those foot steps. If someone else can provide an example of how it should be, that model can be adopted and applied.

We joke because my brother Paul, although never an official attendant of the manners classes, knows all the rules of etiquette too. While he would sit at the top of the stairs above the kitchen listening for when he could come down to steal a piece of cake, he absorbed all the proper rules of etiquette. Just because he wasn't formally instructed, it didn't stop him from adopting and applying the etiquette he'd learned.

Before teaching my etiquette lesson, I bought a copy of Miss Manner's Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. I knew that I remembered enough information on my own to create the lesson, but I still felt it necessary to consult the handbook on etiquette in case I'd forgotten something. It's easy to laugh at some of the situations presented to Miss Manners via letters posing questions as to how one should respond to those situations. Many situations were irrelevant to me. But, one day I might be glad to have learned how to address certain dignitaries - you never know whose path you might cross.

Likewise, maybe life is okay for you right now. You've got a good handle on things all on your own. You know how to cope with your anxiety or depression or stress level in what you believe is a healthy manner. Your way is working for you. You don't need to consult anything else for help or a reminder on how things actually should be. If things change, maybe then you'll seek out someone else's guidance and assistance.

I'm beginning to learn that it's a lot easier to handle the curve balls of life if we've already read the handbook. And the great news is, most of us have at least one copy of the handbook in our homes already.

The Bible covers a wide range of topics from which we can glean insight if perhaps we didn't have a good model growing up, or maybe a situation we're facing today isn't a situation we've ever witnessed or personally experienced.

When my lesson was all over, some of the other adult women asked me how I knew so much about etiquette. I answered, "My mom taught etiquette classes when I was younger, so a lot of things I learned from her. Other things I know because I've read the Miss Manner's book."

Even if we've had good examples, it's important to read the handbook. We can't expect life to stay the same or for our circumstances and opportunities to never change. I may never need to apply any of the weird etiquette rules I know, but if the event arises, it's comforting to know that I'll be prepared.

Likewise, I know I will experience far more than I can imagine during the rest of my life and reading God's handbook (The Bible) helps me be more prepared for the seasons that will come.

"Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." Psalm 119:105

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Big Flat Weekend

This past weekend, David and I had the fun opportunity to travel north to Big Flat, AR to visit some of David's extended family and celebrate his cute, (2nd) cousin Sawyer's birthday. Since it's a 3 hour drive to Big Flat, David's grandparents rented a cabin near Sawyer's house and invited the North Little Rock crew to spend the night. 

(5 minute walk from cabin = Beautiful view) 

We had such a great time visiting with the family. And, couldn't soak in enough of the beautiful scenery. 

Growing up just a short drive from the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains, I'd come to take their close proximity for granted. Being in the foothills of the Ozarks this weekend brought back so many wonderful childhood memories of family, lake/cabin trips. And, I know it was good for David to get away from school for a little while (even if it was just a weekend) and take a breather before starting finals this week. 

(Brenda and David)

David loves to be outside. Without study materials and internet access, he was actually able to enjoy the beauty and family time too.

(David holding his newest (2nd) cousin Dawson while keeping an eye on the birthday boy, Sawyer)

(Another pretty view near the cabin)

(I had to take a picture of these flowers because they're purple)

(Not quite ready to leave)

We'll have to plan another short weekend getaway to the mountains soon. At least they're only 3 hours away. : )

Thursday, May 2, 2013


It's a silly thing, really. To be excited about a dog's birthday. I struggle to smile at Sperry as I try to take a picture to document the milestone.

It's hard to celebrate a birthday for a dog when the doctors say our loved one might not celebrate another...

It's hard to process so many feelings. Hard to not be there. Hard to feel sadness and heart ache and want... Grateful that the hard feelings are enveloped in a blanket of hope.

I think about the human side of Jesus, and it comforts me.

Jesus cried and grieved. Jesus loved his friends deeply. Jesus suffered. Even in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asked if God could do things differently. (Matthew 26:39)

When Jesus saw the soldiers entering the Garden of Gethsemane, I wonder what His heart felt.

He'd already prayed and asked God for another way. But, the soldiers came anyway...

He was Jesus .... When the soldiers showed up, He could have just thought it and knocked them all to the ground. But He stayed. He let them take Him away. He knew where He was going. He knew it was only going to be more painful when He got there. But He trusted God through it. He trusted that God would be faithful, even if it meant He was going to suffer and die... God would still be faithful.


As I've tried to process all of these feelings, I've been thinking about how I've processed feelings of sadness and want in the past. I've been remembering different phases of my life, life events, and the different ways I went about dealing with things.

At one point during this self-reflection, I remembered farther back than I wanted to. But I let myself go there because that day is a very important reason as to why I am able to process the feelings I have now.

I think back to the day our team was car-jacked in Kenya. After our car-jackers ran off into the bush with our money and possessions, our missionary Isaac quickly drove us back through the tall grass toward civilization. Once we emerged from the Gnong Forest and climbed out of the van, I found my face cupped in Chris' hands. My whole body shook and tears ran down my cheeks as he looked me in the eyes and said with a smile, "God is sovereign."

For years I hated that word. Sovereign. Everyone would say it. "God is sovereign." And they'd always say it with a smile, like they were trying to be encouraging.

Sovereign means "supreme authority."

I knew it was through His sovereignty that we were not tortured and killed in the Gnong Forest.

But I was suffering regardless; I lived with full blown post-traumatic stress disorder, that didn't just affect me but my family also.

"If God is sovereign then why did He let this happen at all?" I would wonder as I cried because a simple stop during our family vacation at a gas station triggered me into flash back.

I didn't doubt His sovereignty. I didn't doubt God's presence in the van - even while our backseat carjacker felt my body for hidden possessions - I didn't doubt that God was there. I doubted His faithfulness in the purpose of the suffering.

Now, I can look back and see the immeasurable ways He's used that awful, painful experience to bless so many other people. I can see how God was faithful - how He used our hurt for good.


I can process the feelings I have now through the lens of His faithfulness.

I praise God for His sovereignty, even when it hurts, because I trust that He is the same God today as He was yesterday, and that tomorrow and forever He'll still be the same. (Hebrews 13:8)

That just like how God used His own Son's death, a painful, horrific experience to save the world, that He will be faithful to use the painful, unexpected, horrible situations we walk through for good.

We trust, like Jesus did, that God will still be faithful. That even when it hurts, He'll never leave us. (Hebrews 13:5).

That morning by morning new mercies we'll see...

"But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you." 2 Thessalonians 3:3

"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield." (Psalm 91:4)