Sunday, December 28, 2008

home for christmas

we went to my mom's house for christmas this year. it was a good time. and it was a treat for me to get to have that much time with my mom. being a stay-at-home mom definitely has its perks. like not having to ask the boss for time off - or to travel anyway. time off is scarce. :) so while loralai napped, we made cookies, cooked tasty foods, laughed, laughed and laughed. if mom gets the giggles, we're over. she laughs and i fall in line and then we're useless. but it's the best.
my brother and his three kids live a few miles away and so we got to see them a lot. and they're so much fun. loralai gave turner (the oldest) a big smooch on the face - an open mouthed smooch - and turner just looked at her like, 'umm, eew.' but i think he secretly liked it. he's such a sweet little guy. and wyatt, the middle child, did what all middle children do best...he slung his dinner plate on the floor one night. end of the day, no nap, in need of some attention....strawberries went rolling. i don't think it will be funny if my kids do that, but it was sort of funny watching him do it. i wish i had written down the things that they said while i was there. but i didn't. and my mama memory fails me. so just trust me when i say that they're funny. they are. and carly, their 4mo. old baby sister, is in for it. or maybe the boys are in for it. she might have them dressed in girl clothes before it's all over. but if not, she's sure to be the toughest little girl on their circle.
christmas is always sweet. and it's always a little bit of a let down when life goes back to normal. but such is life.

maybe this year we can try to hold onto the sweetness of christmas that is jesus - and not just the cookies or the excess christmas weight.

i hope everyone had easy travels and fun times with their families.
mom with her grandbabies.

a happy baby eating a christmas day snack of yogurt

loralai's christmas present to todd
making the present was a mess of fun

Monday, December 15, 2008

God is everywhere. Even Wal-Mart.

Today I had a divine encounter at Wal-Mart. I know what you're thinking: what could Possibly be divine about Wal-Mart? Well, God's everywhere ya'll. Don't be so quick to think that He doesn't work miracles at Wal-Mart...or answer prayer.

So the story goes like this: I made my way to Wal-Mart in search of a few little Christmas gifts to finish up my shopping. The shopping trip was a bust because I didn't find the gifts I was hoping they had. But I'm pretty sure that God didn't intend on me finding what was on my Christmas gift list anyway.

Let me explain.

As we (me and Loralai) were checking out, Loralai was eating her cheerios, I was making conversation with the woman behind me in line (mainly because Loralai makes it so easy to talk to everyone since she's quick to say hello to, well, everyone), and waiting patiently to get to the register. Wal-Mart is the pits for checking out. Anyway, so in front of me was a dear old woman. I don't know, maybe 80s. I'm a poor judge of age. But she was a little slumped in the back and completely white haired and just sweet looking. So it took her a little bit to get her items back into her cart after check out - no problem. But the cashier already rang up all of my items and told me my total before my cart had even reached the bagging area because our older friend was still putting her things in her cart. It hurt my feelings that the cashier was so quick to dismiss the help that our friend needed. So I told her I would wait; that I didn't want to rush our friend as she was loading her cart.

And then I prayed. I had a short little conversation with God as I stared at the back of my white haired friend and admired her green pants and pretty white knit sweater.

After my bag was back in my cart, we said goodbye to our other friend and made our way to our car. As we approached the car, there was a really apprehensive woman getting out of a car parked directly in front of ours. She started hollaring to the guy walking behind me and asked him if he could help her get their car jumped. Their batter had died. At first I thought, 'does she know him? wow. that's pretty convenient that someone she knew was walking by at the exact same time that she needed him.' Then I realized that she had no clue who he was but bypassed me to ask him for help because she thought he would more likely help her. He was black. So was she. And I guess she just thought that a little white girl would be less likely to extend her hand.

Man, this sucks. She was right. And not because she was black, so much, as she was just rough looking around the edges. So as I was getting Loralai out of the cart, I had this really fast internal conversation with myself and God. And it went something like this: ok, just don't make eye contact with them, get in the car and be on your way. That guy will help them. But then God jumped in and said, 'what are you afraid of? you're right there. just help them.'

And so I ate my words, God's word, and all of the "wisdom" I've dished out and I did it. I moved. And I said, "do you need help?" And she started talking a mile a minute saying something like: my daddy's car is broke down and the battery died and we just need to jump it and he has jumper cables and... And then she started yelling at her dad. She was mad that he was on his cell phone and there she was trying to get them rescued and all he could do was talk on the phone (i'm sure he was calling for help, too. so he just ignored her)

So she was yelling at her dad. Hollaring and fighsty. And then I noticed that her t-shirt said, "Jesus is my lifeguard." And so I said to her kindly, "if Jesus is your lifeguard, just calm down and we'll get all of this worked out. He's got it taken care of. we'll get your car started." To which she replied, "you are a God bless-ed woman. do you see how my spirit is calmin' down right now as you talk to me?" (Oh jeez. I wanted to tell her that I'm a dang 'ole fool most the time, but thanks for the compliment.) And then she went blabbering again to her dad and so I kindly said to her, "If Jesus gives the sparrows exactly what they need, He'll do the same for you. It's going to be ok." And she said, "yea. that's right."

And so she stood waiting. And finally, out stepped this old man. He looked like he'd worked a hard life. He had few teeth, worn hands, a back bent forward but he was happy. He opened the hood of his car and propped up the hood with an old broom handle and proceeded to connect the cables from his car to mine. I praised him for being so prepared with cables.

I cranked my car and then stood by the back door where Loralai sat in her seat. And I just told her that we were helping some friends who needed it. And I stood there with her as I thanked Jesus for the awesome opportunity to be able to help - and for getting me out of my comfort zone to help some folks who might not have "looked" the approachable part but were. The more I stood there, the more I was convicted of my prejudice. I wondered how often I judge people for how they look, for how their car looks, or how often people judge me for how I look, or how my car looks.

I don't know their names. I just know that they were black. The woman was maybe in her 50s and the father was probably in his 80s. And I know that when I left the woman said to me, "thank you for your help. God knew we needed you and so he sent you out here at just the right time." To which I replied, "well, maybe I needed you too." And we hugged and off I went. (oh yea, their car started up smoothly after what seemed like a million tries).

And I was so excited that God used me to help someone and that he broke me out of my comfort zone that I got right on the phone to call Todd and tell him. But it wasn't until I was on the phone with him that it hit me - or that God revealed the sweetness behind it all. And then, while the phone was ringing, I was bursting with excitement.

God had answered my prayer.

While I was in line, waiting to be checked out, and waiting on my elderly friend to put her bags back in her cart, I asked God something. I said, "God, please will you bring an old person into my life? I miss old people. Please will you let me help someone?"

I had completely forgotten that prayer (that's the short 10 minute memory span of a mama, for ya) until I was calling Todd. And then it was as if God was saying so clearly, "Ashley, I answered your prayer. And you're right. You needed them just as much as they needed you."


What an awesome day. What a small but beautiful way that God showed himself to me and that father and daughter in need. And what a treat to get to show Loralai that we weren't made to be exclusive of folks just because of how they look. We're called to obey when God calls us to move - and to love our neighbors.

What a sweet day to get to see a prayer answered and to share it with such an impressionable heart.

i'm so glad that these sweet brown eyes got to see God working today.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

christmas blues. or pink.

(disclaimer: it's another long one. sorry.)

I say Christmas blues because it never fails. Thanksgiving and Christmas inevitably make me miss my family that has passed. And I say pink because I'm thankful for the pink rose colored glasses that God gave me soon after my dad died.

For the life of my blogging, for as long as I shall blog, you'll probably get to read about my dad. And I'm sorry if it seems like I'm rehashing the same emotions over and over, but I've come to learn that the process of grief isn't just in the passing weeks after we lose someone. Sometimes it takes a lifetime.

I have three people that I plan on holding onto as tight as God will let me, as soon as I enter heaven. One is my grandmother. My mom's mom. I was only six when she died. But I still can't talk about her without crying. Isn't that weird? Maybe. But I remember specific things about her. I remember how her arms felt - sort of flabby, actually. But her skin was like velvet. And I remember her hands. I would hold her hand and press on the veins on the top of her hands - I loved how they felt. Her hands were soft, too. I remember her hugs - she pulled me in tight and squeezed good. Not one of those pat-you-on-the-back kind of hugs. And most importantly, I remember how she smelled. And somehow I managed to get her after bath powder that she used - it had this big puff thing and I kept it safely in a drawer. Every now and then I would open the box and lift the puff thing just to smell the powder. To smell her. She was a heavenly woman.

And I miss my grandad (my mom's dad). Oh my goodness how I miss him. It wasn't until my grandmother passed, his wife, that his edges softened. He was a Col. in the army and was rigged and stern from his career. But after grandmom died, he didn't have a choice - well I suppose he did - but he chose to let us hug him and love him. Somewhere in the midst of college exams, boy troubles, job interviews and buying my first house, I realized that my grandad was morphing more into a dad and a friend and less into this grandfatherly figure who I used to place in a glass box and only get out for special occassions. I found myself calling for advice - or calling just because I needed to hear his voice. And when he found out that he had cancer, I sat in the parking lot of a Chili's restaurant and cried my heart until I couldn't catch my breath. Surely at 92, one's time must be running out. But it still didn't seem fair. He was the healthiest man I knew. But alas, his time was near. And even despite his fear and pain, he would call me and ask me if I was ok when a boyfriend broke up with me. And he would tell me that I would get through it. And he would drive over to visit with me. He was a friend of all seasons. I admired that about him. I admired his heart. My most favorite memory is with he and my mom. We sat at our kitchen table one Christmas and played a game of scrabble. To this day, I crave that game of scrabble. I don't think the three of us have laughed so hard, together, ever. Grandad's face was a deep shade of pink and he kept stomping his feet as he laughed and gasped to grab some air to at least breathe a second in between giggles. It was the best.
And when I would visit him at his house, I felt like I was home. He lived in a condo. But wherever he was, that's where home was. To be in his presence was to feel like I was home. I think he would be every woman's romeo. That sounds dorky, I'm sure. But he was chivalry at its best. To greet me when I arrived, he would often times walk across his living room with his arms open wide and say, "hello Ashley!" in his loud booming voice. Then he would hug me and kiss me right there on the soft part where you can feel your pulse just above your collar bone. I used to feel like the most beautiful woman in his presence. I just knew, without fail, that I was completely loved by Carl Whitney. He was such a delight. A cheerful giver. A cheerful receiver. A neat freak. Never a hair out of place. Never a shirt unpressed. Never a piece of paper unfiled. A contagious laugh. The best joke teller. The reason I believe I got down and dirty and dug deep and regained my relationship with Christ....well, part of the reason.

The other reason is and was my dad. If you knew my dad, then you probably have your own idea of who he was. And that's either really good or really bad. ;) But even if you did know him, there was a lot he didn't let on. He really struggled. He was abused as a kid and his mom was abused by his dad. And my dad was the oldest boy in the family. A family of 5 kids. And so all of the dysfunction really worked on my dad. Give a man 50 years to let all of that kind of resentment settle in, nest and work its way around and you've got yourself a royal mess. When God says that sin can multiply, he's not kidding. But don't mistake yourself by thinking that your own sin will only affect yourself. It was the sins of his parents that started the unwinding of his heart. As parents we play such a huge role in nurturing the hearts of our babies. But as individuals, we also have a choice. And while the choices were laid out before my dad, it was his choice to deny God for most of his life. I can only imagine the vantage point that God had, all the while, of the race for the finish. Victory was, inevitably, the Lord's but getting there was brutal. I'll not exploit my family by going into the detailed accounts of dad's life but I will say this: times were hard at our house. But they were good, too. And as soon as my dad died, I had a conversation with my brother. And through his sweet tears he told me that all he could think of were memories of my dad that he loved. I wanted to shout a hallelujah praise when he said that. But I held back for fear that I'd ruin his moment. But that was it. Death had lost its sting. Screw you lord of evil, deceiver of our world. When Jesus saves, your power is like the snake that was stepped on. Dead. But what was alive, finally, was life. I know that my brother had tried so hard to forgive my dad for the hurt he had inflicted but it was hard. It was harder for Bryan because he had babies. And he couldn't understand why his own dad was absent in their lives. But finally, those sweet rose colored glasses covered his eyes from the old and the pain was washing away. I don't make excuses for my dad's decisions but I also don't resent him either. It's remarkable, really. And I don't say that to pat myself on the back or to fluff up my pride. I say that because I stand in awe of the grace of the cross in reflection of the forgiveness I was able to receive and give.

When I first met Todd and told him about my dad, all he could see was the pain that I held onto. The resentment I had towards my dad. The entitlement I held onto - my dad owed me something. He owed me every hug he denied me, every night I wanted him to be sober, every Christmas that he was grumpy, every moment that I felt like he had offended me - he owed me an apology. Todd didn't seem to flinch when I told him all of the "stories" that came from living with an alcoholic. Instead he offered me one thing. Well two. The first was for me to call him. Ooooh no. I wasn't ready for that. But the second thing he said was, "have you trie forgiving him?" Isn't that so simple? Forgiveness. What a frickin novel idea. And as much as I loved Jesus and had just been worked in the recent months during my grandfather's final days, I was dumbfounded that he suggested I forgive my dad.

But why?

I was so selfish. Still am in a lot of ways. But really. (stay with me. i know this is long. but i'm getting there).

Jesus tells us that we are to forgive as many times as it takes, daily, hourly, in order to keep our hearts postured for Him and not for anyone else. And as long as I kept hating my dad, I was missing out on two things. Loving my dad and receiving the love of Christ. I was so busy hating my dad and replaying horrible events that I had forgotten who my dad was. And I was so busy thinking that I deserved an apology that I had put up a block between me and Jesus. Why on earth would God continue to rain down a parade of blessings on my life when I wasn't willing to even try to forgive the man that He had ordained to be my earthly father long before my dad was even born. Who was I to deny that kind of forgiveness?

And so I tried. It wasn't easy. But it happened quicker than I imagine. In less than a year, i found myself loving my dad. I found myself replaying old memories that I loved about my dad. And I started consciously telling Satan to hit the road any time an old memory would creap in. To this day I will only reccount old bad memories if only it allows me to witness to another. I refuse to open up that can of pity and sit in it. It denies God of the glorious redemption he offered my dad - it denies God the beautiful life he created through destruction.

And so when Thanksgiving and Christmas come creeping in, I miss my dad. I'm getting a lump in my throat just writing this. I miss rubbing noses with him. Lately Todd has rubbed noses with me and I say, "nope. it doesn't feel like his nose." God I miss him. I miss the thickness of his hands and his short stubby fingers and the callouses on his palms. I miss his hairy legs (please know that this isn't meant to sound creepy and weird -i think it's just things that, as as kid, you know about your parents). I miss his blue eyes. I miss his laugh. I miss his phone voice. I'd know his 'hello' anywhere. Which leads me to say, I miss his voice. I just wish I could hear his voice. I miss his hugs and his smile. I miss watching him rub his beard down and then massage his moustache with his pointer finger. I miss watching him mow the grass. I miss so much about my dad and I ache for the day when we'll be reunited wholey. Holy. I sometimes ask God this, "God, if you have time, would you mind finding my dad today and just hugging him for me? will you please tell him that I can't wait to see him. Kiss him for me and rub noses with him. Please tell him I love him."

I miss waking up Christmas morning, running downstairs to get my brother's and my stockings, running back upstairs to open the presents with my brother in his bed - and then running to my parents' bedroom to jump on them.

Christmas really is precious. Jesus really was born. The Savior of the world really was born to a precious young Mary as her sweet Joseph helped her labor and deliver sweet baby Jesus. And Jesus really did come to save. And he really does still live. He is alive. He's not just a tale or a legend. He is King. The one and only true God.

And somewhere in the time before I was born and the early 1900s, God created a beautiful thing. He made a beautiful woman, Dorcas Sheldon, amidst twelve children. And he made a determined man, Carl Whitney, in a small town outside of Boston. And from them he created a precious girl, Kay Ellen. Who fell in love with an insanely talented and intelligent Bill Fagundus. And from them, he created me. And in my heart he set eternity.

And if I can't be thankful for that well then heaven help me. And don't you know it was only heaven that did.

God, thank you for Christmas. Thank you for showing Mary and Joseph the means to persevere when they were terrified of the outcome of the birth of the Messiah. And thank you for choosing my heritage for me. Thank you for giving me a choice - to forgive. Thank you for showing me how to forgive - for giving us Jesus.

I celebrate You. You are Holy.

Monday, December 8, 2008

the poorest of poor

In a book I'm reading right now it says this: "I learned a powerful lesson: We can admire and worship Jesus without doing what he did. We can applaud what he preached and stood for without caring about the same things. We can adore his cross without taking up ours. I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor."

Do you read the Bible? If you do, you'll know that it is filled with direction for us to love the poor, the needy, the lonely, the widows... God never says, 'when people make you feel uncomfortable or hurt your feelings, walk away. they're not worth it.' Just the opposite. Jesus tells us that we should take in the lost and be the love that they need.

How often do you see a homeless person and just pass them by? Be honest. How often do you have three dollars in your wallet and think, 'they'll just spend it on booze anyway' and you pass them by but then you go to the store and buy a soda or a magazine or a hamburger. Which is more nourishing, booze or a soda? If you said soda, I say you're wrong. It's when we're feeding our desires and our flesh that we're living outside the will of God. And if you're annoyed with me right now, then good. God says that if you agree with everything I said then I'm just as good as the false profits.

It's time that we push each other. It's time that we're real and honest and we get out of our comfortable pretty Sunday clothes and start being the hands and feet and eyes and ears of the One who created us. The One who gave us salvation and entered inside of us a covenant, his spirit, so that we would die - WE WOULD DIE. Jesus didn't say that our old self would sort of stick around. No. He said that our old self would die...that we would be made new in Him. That just as much as he is in the father, so is He is in us. We are Jesus walking. When we accept Jesus as Lord, we aren't supposed to sit in front of our tv's and keep the secrets of eternity to ourselves.

When we see brother Will on the street, lonely, grumpy, angry, hating life, down and out, dirty...we are to extend love. So what if he spends his money on booze or cigarettes or worse. I don't know about you, but God loves me right where I am. And I've done some pretty disgusting things. Haven't you? Wasn't it us who hated our husband, wished we hadn't gotten married, smoked cigarettes, dabbled in drugs, ate obscene amounts of food just because we wanted to, lived with our significant other before marriage, were intimate before marriage, went out and drank ourselves drunk with friends and called it 'good fun', drove our friends around drunk and felt righteous because we were the 'good one'? Wasn't it us who did all of these stupid things that could have killed us or destroyed the very relationships we adored? And wasn't it our God who loved us and continued to call us to Him despite our hard hearts and hard heads?

So tell me, why then do we put ourselves above the person who is destitute on the streets, addicted to drugs? Why in the world do we think that we're an ounce better than them? Because our sin seems cleaner than theirs? Because our sin hasn't gotten out of control like theirs? Or because we're just so stinking comfy sitting at home that surely we're the blessed ones who have gotten it right and those people will just have to figure it out and work as hard as we have... Because after all, we earned all this stuff that we have? We went to college, got our degree, busted butt to get our job, climb the ladder, save our money...

How self righteous have we become? Didn't we read Job? Don't we know the character and heart of our God? Don't we know that as quickly as he can give life, he can take it away? Don't we know that when we choose to walk, he'll let us walk. Away or towards Him. He will LET us walk.

What a blessing to be financially stable. And what a blessing to have money stored up. But we're deceived if we think that the money we have stored up should stay stored and not shared. God doesn't want to force us to give him our money - he wants us to get it into our hearts that the money that's ours was never really ours but only his and it was he that gave it to us. So why then are we so scared to give it away? To give it back? Don't we want to be a blessing? Don't we want others to come to Christ?

Tell me something - if brother Will walked up to me and was drunk and said he needed money, what should I do? I think you listen to the Spirit's prompting. And if you don't know how to hear God's voice, ask him. Ask God, the one true God, to help you to have eyes for just Him and ears for just Him. He won't hold back. But brother Will, he'll stand there looking you in the eye and he'll wait. And you can deny this or you can chew on it - but he doesn't want your money so much as he wants life breathed back into the places of his heart where it's dessolate. He wants the breath of life - he wants Jesus. And so what if it costs you $3.00 or your entire fortune...if ten minutes of your time with Will costs you everything, then so be it. What if those ten minutes you took to tell him about the love of Christ were the final seeds that needed to be sewn so that Will would surrender?

I had a boss who reached out to me when I was hurting. He invited me to come and give to others. But I was grieving a lost relationship. I didn't understand how me giving to others could help ME. I wanted someone to give to ME. I didn't go. But his words stuck with me. It was years until I knew what he meant. It's Christ in us, the hope of glory. We aren't to keep it tucked away inside for just us to sit and feast upon. It's for us to share. And share big. Jesus didn't tell us to be afraid of the faith that we received. He said to share it - but to know that because of it we would lose everything. Our old self. Our old ways. Our old life.

Oh ya'll, let go. Let's let go of our old ways and cling to the new. Let's be rich in faith. Let's quit just saying 'Amen' at church and be the Amen in the world. Let's quit agreeing with Jesus' teaching and let's be Jesus walking. Let's quit being such wimps for the cross and start moving for the sake of the one who was nailed to it! Let's quit being afraid to talk about the suffering that our Jesus endured for us. Let's share it with the world. Let's quit avoiding eye contact with the cheater, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the homeless, the broken, the poor, the grieving...they need something. They need Jesus. It may not be the moment that you love them that they're healed, but let that not stop you from loving. In your eyes they're seeing a reflection of the Savior's.

And remember: Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

Let's be bold this December. Let's step out of our comfort zones. Lock your doors still - yes. I don't deny that we live in a broken world. But let's quit being afraid to show the world the Spirit inside of us.

Monday, December 1, 2008


i haven't really been in the blogging spirit lately. i was away for a week, at my mom's, while our house was under construction - or fixing. in any case, it required me to be away for the week while todd played boy scout and went without heat for a bit. thank goodness for space heaters. and then i returned and two days later we headed to richmond and charlottesville, va where his little sister got married. so it's been a bit of a whirlwind of a couple of weeks. and now we're home. aaah, home. home sweet lovely home with a comfy bed. oh i love our bed. so when i think of something to blog about, i'll blog some more. but for now, i wanted to grace you with a few pictures. loralai dressed up girly style for the wedding. pardon the one picture where her dress is tucked into her britches - it was the only way we could keep the dress out from under her very busy crawling knees. she was a trooper and did so well for the traveling. and she wore her little bonnet well. i can't wait to see the real (when i say real, i mean good, really good) pictures of her and the wedding that my sister-n-law will probably post soon. she's a photographer - a good one. it was cool to see her in action on saturday.

this is the sweetest picture of my two sweethearts.
loralai with her uncle jonathan and reaching for (no doubt the nostrils but her hand didn't make it there) her new uncle justin.

loralai practicing walking with her daddy.

this just makes me laugh. we hand to bundle her up for the outdoor super cold wedding. and i had to feed her gerber puffs the entire ceremony just to keep her from making this monkey squawking sound 'aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!'