Monday, November 27, 2017

{7} Days in the Homeland

Oh, Monday.

Let's be honest. I'm a stay-at-home-mom, so Monday usually feels like Thursday or any other random day to me. But this Monday is the first back in Midland after a 7 day sabbatical in the beautiful backwoods of Arkansas.

Our trip "home" started the Friday before Thanksgiving. I say "home" because out of the 4 people in my little family, I am the only one who is actually from Arkansas and thus consider it home. People there will often ask Cash, "When do you think y'all will move back?" He always tells me later, "Avery, do they not realize that is not back for me? I am not from there." Point noted.

So we were a mere 10 miles outside of Midland when traffic came screeching to a halt. For. An. Hour. That was a good start. But the kids ended up doing great, and we finally rolled in at 2 AM. I had taken over driving duties around midnight and felt gas station coffee would do the trick to keep me going those last two hours. It worked! In fact it worked so well that when we got there at 2 I was a jittery mess and stayed up talking to my dad until 4:30.

Luckily, my sister and her kiddos came over the next morning to help with my kiddos so Cash and I could rest up. We had a big day ahead of us, so that was life-sustaining at that point.

Saturday afternoon we went to our sweet Hub sister Abby's wedding. Y'all. I cannot even explain how happy I am for this girl. She is everything I hope AnnLouise becomes. She has the heart of a saint. She is sweet and kind, truly beautiful starting at the very core of her heart. Her new husband is also made of gold. I can't get over how perfect they are together. They are a fairytale.

the beautiful bride and her sweet daddy (and my sweet daddy looking like a bodyguard at their entrance)

We got to see the Hub at the wedding. The Hub is my parents' group of friends. When one of the kids was little bitty, he couldn't say "club". He began calling it the Hub, and it stuck. He's a freshman in college now.

My little Aggie and Mac

eating crumbs, literally what her dad gave her (How do you like that retro highchair compliments of Calvary Baptist-Ozark?!)

The kid has never met a cupcake he doesn't like. Takes after his momma.

My Hub momma Mrs. Helen and my real momma

Cody was getting a drink and heard the lady behind him ripping some coaches. Not missing a beat, he turned around and said, "Ma'am, we're doing the best we can out there." Cody is a roper and owns a trucking company. He also had no clue who the lady was.

a Hub sister Heather

I don't remember life without the Hub. In Midland I have some really cool friends and get to meet people all the time. In my mind I'm always wondering will they be my hub?

Anyway. Beautiful (and freezing cold) wedding. Beautiful people. Beautiful hub.

Straight from the wedding we headed for Mansfield, where my nephew Braeson's team was playing in the Arkansas/Oklahoma River Valley District Championship in football. I can't even contain my excitement as I set out to type this. The game was so fun to watch, and it came down to the last play of the game with 5 seconds left. Ozark (our team) and Charleston were tied, and Charleston had just turned it over on downs. So Ozark got the ball back on their own 20 yard line (for those who don't speak football lingo--that's 80 yards away from the end zone they need to get into).

Braeson, being the QB, got the ball and threw a beautiful spiral about 20-30 yards where his buddy MJ caught it with 2 defenders on top of him. MJ took off down the field, the 2 Charleston kids at his heels the whole way. They finally tackled him..IN THE END ZONE!! Ozark WON!!!

I get it. It's a team sport. But I got to watch my nephew throw a game winning touchdown pass for a district championship. My little buddy Braeson. Gahh. How stinkin' cool.

Ozark fans stormed the field. Seeing how Arkansas's coach got fired less than a week later, you have to understand this may have been the biggest game Arkansas fans have seen all year. They even got a couple of shout-outs on various radio shows.

He was so happy he was crying.

Brae and his sister

one proud Uncle Cash
On Monday we made the scenic drive up to Oark (nope, different town, I didn't misspell Ozark) to eat at the Oark Café. If you are ever in NWA, this is a must do. You can thank me later.

Bumpy & Henry

Nothing like finishing lunch and seeing a horse parked by your car. They did have on orange though. After all, it is deer season.

Tuesday my parents watched the kiddos while Cash and I went up to the Fayetteville/Bentonville area to shop. Then that evening we met one of my high school best friends for dinner. My sweet, dear Natalie Jo. She lights up my world every time I get to hang with her. She is one of those friends that you may not see for 2 years, but you instantly reconnect with when you are together. Everybody needs one of those friends. I'm so glad Nat Jo is one of mine. This is the same girl who pierced my ears in the Agri room our senior year of high school. We've been skinny dipping in the creek, prom dress shopping together when our moms were both too busy turkey hunting to go with us, and took naps in front of Dierks Bentley as he played a VERY small concert at the National FFA Convention. We have done the countryiest of things together, but Nat Jo does it all in leopard print and make-up. You have to love people who can hang like that.

The next couple of days we devoted to Thanksgiving celebrations. I saw someone write a while back, "Why do we get so dressed up for Thanksgiving when we just walk around our house and eat a bunch of food?" I laughed so hard at that, and it is all I can think about at Thanksgiving now.

feeding the chickens

petting the bull

Oh, Dad, when will you learn not to be ridiculous when I'm trying to take a picture?!

Henry got to be a Hillbilly for an hour and visit the new primary school to see where Aunt Sis works
playing with Brother's new toy

somebody has to check the cows
Cash, my sister, my brother-in-law, and I all gave into peer pressure and were consumed into the Black-Friday-but-really-Thursday shopping. I know a lot of people are against shopping on Thanksgiving, but here's the deal: after you eat and visit a bit, there is literally nothing else to do on Thanksgiving day. I don't have a problem with people who do Black Friday shopping. I have a problem with people who don't.

Friday morning we were up bright and early as our friend Kit (she married a Hub brother) came out to the family farm to take pictures. I am going to post some of these pictures, but first I want you to understand why you should hire Kit. Our photo shoot was probably 1 1/2 hours. About 87 minutes of that Henry was crying. Those 87 minutes were not fun for me nor were they fun for Cash. But Kit captured the 3 minutes in there that Henry smiled. And, guys, those 3 minutes were not consecutive. That's just the cold, hard truth about photo shoots with a 2 year old. But I absolutely love the mess out of the pictures.

I met this guy on this blog almost 7 years ago. So much has changed, but the fact that I still think he's the hottest thing that has hit this blog remains the same.

That evening we had Henry's birthday party: a hayride with the Hub and grandparents. Henry is obsessed with 3 things right now: tractors, trucks, and his Bumpy (my dad). He got all 3 that night, and the kid was in Heaven. We had chili in the dutch oven, hot dogs roasted over an open flame, and all the hot chocolate a kid could want on a chilly night. We had the Razorback game going and watched the end of the Bielema era, and Henry got to play until his little legs could barely even go anymore. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful week.
Nana & Bumpy gave him a tricycle

getting all set up-- Bumpy had to move the hayride inside the fence since the cows were eating the hay

no hayride party is complete without a firepit for your chili, hot dogs, and hot cocoa

Bumpy getting ready for the hayride

even Sissy got to help set up

Cash helped too--he kept us up to date on football scores :)

my sister--the only person who wakes up at 7 AM on a Saturday to come watch my kids so I can sleep in

Happy birthday, farmer Henry

Saturday we came home so Cash could get a jumpstart on the week and go into the office on Sunday. It is always hard to leave The Natural State (yes, Dad, it is The Natural State now. It is no longer the Land of Opportunity. Not since 1995.), but it is always good to see those desert sunsets too. After all, there is no place like home.

driving a long 600 miles

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Finding Our Purpose

On Thursday my Bible study group went to lunch together for the first time. While sitting in a little nook in Panera Bread we all shared how we met our husbands. Funny, warm memories abounded. I am sitting here laughing at my own memory now--meeting Cash on this little ol' blog. This blog has seen me through a lot of phases in life and has been my outlet when I needed to sit and just hammer out my feelings in words. But I beg of you as I did of them, please don't go searching my old posts. I. Could. Shutter. One of the ladies asked me what I even wrote about before marriage and children. I don't know. Stupid stuff I'm sure. But it was my outlet for that season of my life too, and even though it would be downright humiliating to be forced to reread those posts I am so thankful for getting to express my life through writing.

Lately I've had on my heart what purpose means to me and to my family. A lot of times when we are kids or raising kids, we wonder what their purpose will be. For the first few months of AnnLouise's life I would stare at her in awe and think, "Baby girl, what are you going to do? What is your purpose? I know it will be huge."

Then about a month ago it hit me. She already has a purpose. So does Henry. So do I.

We began visiting folks from our church, mostly shut-ins and widows. It did not matter where we went, the kids were a hit. They adored AL's smile and laughed at Henry's boyishness. One day I sat there and just took it in and watched as little ladies at a local retirement home lit up when AnnLouise would throw a smile their way. And the men, oh those precious men, they would laugh at Henry daring his mother to chase him around the parlor.

You could almost see the memories in their eyes as they watched my children laugh and play. One lady, whom we had merely passed in the hallway, was overjoyed with their smiles and waves. I heard her tell another resident, "I needed that today."

When I got to my car, I could have wept. Neither of them have to wait for a purpose. They have a purpose today. Their purpose may change as they grow older, of course it will. But today, today they already have a purpose. And those shut-ins? They have a purpose too. They STILL have a purpose, and they need to know that.

We all have a purpose. I mean, we are told that from day one in the church. For me I think I've always looked at that as "big picture" purpose. Sure, I have a purpose--something that when I look back in life it will be the really big thing that sticks out. Yet I've come to realize our purpose is daily, hourly even. Our purpose changes over time and evolves. It can look big and life-changing. Or it can be small and life-changing too.

all giggles before a football game

He only takes a picture standing still if I am with him. He also had to have his rain boots. The high was 84. No chance of rain for about a year.

playing with Mr. Lion

The Bible study I'm in right now has the theme of making room. They've talked about making room for your kids, the brokenhearted, our neighbors. Then Thursday they talked about making room for orphans. I thought I would zone out. I mean, I don't even know any orphans to make room for.

As the lady spoke I tried to choke back tears numerous times. I'm not a crier in public. When I told my group last year that we were losing the child I was pregnant with I just said it stoically and did not shed a tear in front of them. So when I was choking back tears throughout the talk on orphans I did not know what to think. Where was this even coming from?

The speaker described one of the foster children they ultimately adopted. When he was first placed with them they were shocked to find out (after some time) that the child has a rare condition. When they took him to an annual check-up in Austin, the doctor told them he was doing great as usual. And then she recalled his words, "It is amazing what love can do."

That came full circle for me. Purpose. Making room. Love. That's it. That's what we are called to do. Love--that's our purpose.

Whether it is the widow in the nursing home, the pre-teen boy who can't quite figure out how to navigate his way through middle school, the innocent girl who was thrown a medical curve ball, the orphan who longs for a home--our purpose is the same. It is to love. When we do that, we will be amazed at what God can do.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Looking Back One Year Later

Last year on the first day of the Bible study I attend, we were just starting up when the doctor's office called and told me we were having a girl and thus our child would not survive. My world crashed around me with that one devastating blow.

Today was the first day of that same study. The entire time I thought through this day 1 year ago, the month of funeral planning that followed, and the miracle with which God blessed us. Though I never tire of telling AnnLouise's story, this week it has been on my heart and mind even more. A week that could have been eternally imprinted on our hearts with pain is now a week in which I can share God's grace and mercy and shout from the rooftops that His miracles are not over.

It is still hard to remember those days of suffering. Last night at church and this morning at Bible study I shared the pain of walking into the funeral home to plan our daughter's funeral as she turned and kicked inside of me. Now I stare at her smiling face when she looks up at me from her crib. Bone chilling.

Sometimes it is easy to get stuck there, thinking of the heartache and bringing back the misery. But God never ends our story, our purpose, in misery. He did not do that with the Israelites. He did not do that with Jonah. He did not do that with His own Son. We see them in their misery. Oh, we see their sorrows and we see our own sorrows when we are there. But He didn't leave them. And He doesn't leave us. Even when the fiery furnace is so hot that our faces already feel the flames, He doesn't leave us alone in it. He stands with us. We may come out a little burned from the heat and a lot tired from the endurance, but God uses that to share Himself.

So while it is easy to get stuck in how hard things have been, I want to push past that and focus squarely on the love of Christ, the grace of Christ, the mercy of Christ. For us the other side of that pain was the sparing of AnnLouise's life. For you it may look differently. But for all of us, I can promise you one thing: it doesn't end here. We are assured that God uses all things for His good.

One year. As I reflect on this journey these are my top takeaways that God has taught me:

1. Miracles still happen. Big, small, seen, and unseen. Miracles weren't reserved for just Lazarus.

2. Get on your knees. It is easy to pray for something as big as praying for my child's life, but it is so hard to remember to pray for something as small as Henry having a good night of sleep.

3. God really does have a purpose, maybe even multiple purposes. When I met Cash, I was love struck immediately. However, when it came time for me to say I would move 600 miles from my family, well, that was a bit harder. But I was reminded last week that Cash and I didn't have 1 town or 1 church praying for us. We had 2 towns in 2 states and multiple churches in both praying for us. God allowed us family and friends literally all over the world. We were covered, no, SLATHERED in prayer.

4. You're not alone. Sometimes I got stuck in a bubble and felt so bad for myself and my little family. But it wasn't just the 3 of us going through it. We had mommas who were crying and praying for us daily. We had dads who had protected us our whole lives struggling with how to still do that. We had sisters and brothers trying to figure out the words to say to their own children. And we had those very nieces and nephews who ached at the thought of losing their cousin. We had friends, clergy, co-workers and bosses who wanted to give so much love and never knew how much that hug meant. We had doctor's offices who felt lost knowing they couldn't help. God was with us, we knew that. But looking back it is easy to see God shine through all of these people. Yet these very people were also going through our hurt. They may have hurt in their own way and dealt with it in their own way; but they were hurting nonetheless.

5. Be still. Be still and know He is God. Be still and maybe just listen to your friend instead of giving advice. Be still and quit trying to take control of a situation. Be still and quit going to the next big thing or the next big job or the next big house. Stillness is so hard, especially in a world where life happens at our fingertips and through our phones right here and right now. Just. Be. Still.

Thank you for all those who prayed us through this year. As I've said many times, I often could not pray for myself yet you prayed for me. I count AnnLouise your miracle as much or more than she is mine. Thank you. I am reminded of your thoughtful prayers and God's good, good grace every time I see that big, toothless grin.