Thursday, July 31, 2008

beautiful affectionate love

Today marks not only Mom and Dad's but also Carl and Beth's wedding anniversaries. These are two of the most precious marriages I know. I see such important similarities in these two marriages. Although there are definitely differences, some of my very favorite things about Mom and Dad's marriage, I now see in Carl and Beth's.

I was never one of those kids that did not like to see my parents show affection towards one another. In fact, it was the complete opposite feeling for me. I loved it. What a comfort it was for me to see my parents holding hands in the front seat of the car on family trips. Or seeing my Dad put his arm around my mom in the pew at church on Sunday mornings. Or my Dad giving my Mom a hug or a kiss in the kitchen before or after dinner. Or seeing them snuggle on the couch together at night while the TV was on....just being together. I love the way my Mom will just stay downstairs while my Dad is watching one sporting event on another ...even though she may have no interest in what he is watching whatsoever...or even if she is falling asleep on the couch....she is down there, just to be with him....just to be together...and Dad wouldn't have it any other way. And I love how just about every night they go to bed together. Then and now when I see these things, my heart is blessed. It is filled with such comfort. Such peace. Such thankfulness. Such joy. Bursting with love for them and love for my Father in heaven for this blessing in my life.

I see the same kind of things in Carl and Beth. I love that they give each other countless kisses even when others are around. I love that they often hold hands when walking side by side. I love that when we are all hanging out at Mom and Dad's they sit together, so closely, so sweetly. And I love that when we are at church, I look over and see them holding hands while hearing the Word and worshipping the One that created this precious love they have for each other. I love seeing these things, and I am so thankful that I do. Just like seeing my parents loving each other, the same feelings of comfort and joy fill my heart when I see my brother and his beautiful wife, my sweet sister, loving each other.

I praise Jesus for these marriages. I celebrate them every day, but especially today. I remember my parents love for each other then and now, and I remember Carl and Beth's wedding day four years ago...absolutely one of the happiest days of my life...and how their love has grown every day since. Thank You, Jesus, for the beautiful gift of these two loving and affectionate marriages. And thank you to Mom and Dad and Carl and Beth for blessing me with your constant and unending love for each other. Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

beach week

Ever since I was in 9th grade my family has been going to the beach for a week with the Briley family and the Welborn/Garcia family....that's 16 years and it's definitely one of my favorite traditions. I have so many fun and special memories during each of the beach weeks. We have had many friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends come and go throughout the years. There are so many people that have been a part of these beach weeks. We have stayed in several different houses and each house has their own unique memories. This year at the beach was no exception...lots of fun, relaxation, and of course....lots of pictures...I was only there from Sunday to Wednesday, but I was still able to make sure I took advantage of all the photo opportunities.

Sunday...I drove to the beach that morning...mostly everyone else had gotten there Saturday, so unfortunately, I missed Karaoke night. When I got there, I met everyone out on the beach. After some fun in the sun, lunch at the house, and some more beach time, Beth, Rebecca, Meredith, and I went shopping. While we were out shopping, of course we stopped at one of our favorite things about beach week, SWEET SPOT! It has the best ice cream...Hershey's. I would totally go there every day of beach week. If you are ever Emerald Isle, it is definitely the best place to get ice cream. I had a peanut butter and chocolate milkshake..yum yum....Carl and Beth had to leave that night after dinner, so I made sure I got plenty of pictures that night. :) Travis couldn't come because of work...sad that my whole family couldn't all be there together and that Carl and Beth had to leave so soon. :(

Meredith, Beth, Rebecca and I

It was such a blessing to get to spend some special time with my sister. We got to talk a lot and just be silly together. We have the most fun together, laughing and sharing and understanding each other. My time with my sister was definitely one of my favorite parts of this beach week.

Monday...Patrick and Meredith had to leave on Monday morning. I missed Meredith (and Patrick) every second she was gone. I miss the days when we were both there all week together...going to Sweet Spot at least three or four times :) Ohhhh, maybe next year....This was another day of playing in the water and dancing on the deck...great picture opportunities.

This was quite possibly one of my favorite pictures I took this beach week. I love Andrew and Gracie's expressions. Precious.

The sky sure was pretty on Monday night.

On Monday afternoon, Rebecca and I took at little road trip down the beach to Pine Knoll Shores to see our good friend, Jaimee, and her adorable and happy little boy, Cole. This was the first time I had gotten to spend an extended amount of time with Cole since right after he was born because he was sleeping during my other visits. It was such a joy to be with him and see his sweet personality. My favorite thing about my friend Jaimee is her faithful spirit. She has the gift of faith, and I am so thankful to have her faithful friendship in my life. This was another highlight of my time at the beach.
Tuesday...Rebecca left me on Tuesday, but not before another morning on the beach together and shopping with mom. I especially loved sitting together on the beach that morning, just being together. I love the pictures I took that night on the deck after dinner. I told everyone to wear their best outfits because I was going to be taking a lot of pictures since it was my last night of beach week. Kristen and I gathered the three little ones and the young girls and we all went for one last outing to Sweet Spot. This time I had an outrageous oatmeal cookie milkshake...delicious! We missed Travis Welborn Tuesday night, too...he definitely makes things more exciting :)
Another pretty sky Tuesday night.
I like this picture of my parents and me. I love them and I am so thankful for how sweet they are to me. So many times and in so many ways, every time I am with them they show me how much they love me. Beach week is no exception.
This picture is going to be framed in my townhouse. I love the Briley kids so much...I missed Taylor and Emmie....they came the day I left :(
This was actually the worst night to take the group picture because it was the night with the least amount of people. I should have thought ahead and got a picture Sunday night...Oh well, I think it's a good one. There are about 15 or so people missing from this picture...some were there before and some came after and some didn't get to come at all. I remember the days when all of us got to stay the entire week...I miss that, but with growing up and having jobs and kids, our summers aren't as flexible as when we were in high school and college. No matter what, though, beach week is always fun and special.

Wednesday...I left after lunch on Wednesday, but I had the best time taking pictures on the beach of the kids that morning. These children are so beautiful that it is hard not to get some pretty pictures. I really think these are some of my favorite pictures I have ever taken. There are many, many more, but I chose my favorites. Also, I love each of the pictures I took of Abbie and Caroline...pretty girls. The children loved "helping" Katie dig a big hole in the sand.

I took this picture just before I left. I thought the water was prettier than usual this week at the beach...such a pretty blue. As always, I enjoyed looking at God's wonderful creation those few days at the beach.

I am so thankful for these six people...Dick and Donna, Chris and Lynne, Mom and Dad. They sacrifice and provide a fun week for all of us. Thank you all for renting the house each year, the wonderful food, and for making year after year fun. I appreciate you all and treasure our time together! I love you...we all do!!

Until next year....

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

saying goodbye

Tonight I had to say good-bye to Jenny. She is leaving on Saturday for Bolivia to be a missionary for two years. I am sad to see her go and shed a few tears when I got in my car after leaving her, but mostly I am so excited about the Lord's plan for her in Bolivia. After going to Nicaragua this summer and reading about my friend, Marianne's, experiences in Peru while she is there as a missionary for a month, my excitement for Jenny has really grown.

Please keep her in your prayers and if you are interested in giving monetarily, she is still raising funds. Kelly put together a scrapbook of letters and pictures for Jenny. Here is my letter, this girl is amazing:

Dear Jenny,

I remember the first time I met you so clearly. I remember that sweet spirit from the beginning. It was December of 1993, and that was the night I met a precious little third grader that would eventually become my friend, my sister, and one of my role models. Then and now and all the times in between I have absolutely adored you. I am honored to not only know you but also to be blessed with our special relationship the Lord began all those years ago.

Now you aren't in third grade anymore and have quickly and beautifully grown into an exceptional young woman, a GODLY woman! It is really no surprise to me that I am getting ready to have to say good-bye to you as you go to serve our Lord Jesus in Bolivia for two years. My favorite things about you...your humble heart, your maturity in Christ, and your determination to follow the Lord's will for your life...are why I know you are going to be prepared to be the biggest blessing and to glorify the Lord in Bolivia.

The quality of humility is one of my favorites a person can possess, and you definitely possess it. You are selfless, you know how to apologize, and you give glory to God. With all the changes and struggles that are surely to come up over the next two years, your humble heart will definitely make it easier when you have to deal with unexpected inconveniences or common distractions.

For as long as I can remember, I have been amazed by your maturity in Christ. I remember first talking to Kelly about this when you were a freshman in high school. You stray from gossip, want to learn more more and more about your Lord, and you know the importance of confiding, sharing, and asking for advice. What a wonderful quality to have as a missionary in an impoverished country! The Lord has blessed you and given you everything you need to go over there and serve Him in maturity, which will bring peacefulness.

I am very serious when I say that there are very few people that I have met in my lifetime that have been so determined and dedicated to following the Lord's will for their life as you are. I hear it in our conversations and I see it in your actions. You have encouraged me and held me accountable with that unique quality more times and in more ways than you know. It is why you are even going to Bolivia and why you can go there in confidence.

The Lord has you ready....He has been preparing you since I met you in third grade and even before. He has taught you and prepared you through both celebrations and struggles. He has you taught many valuable lessons, and you have humbly listened to your Teacher. And because He is your Teacher, you are going to be a wise and wonderful teacher in Bolivia.

He has certainly made sure you are ready. I will be praying for you. I will be missing you. And I will be loving you.

In His humility and love,
Be strong and courageous...the Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you. Deuteronomy 31: 7-8

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

grandpa perry

Just recently I got to spend a few hours with my grandparents. I always look forward to spending time with them for many reasons, but this time with them was even better than I anticipated. I could go on and on forever about all the reasons I love them, adore being with them, and admire and respect them. I will save that for another day.

Last fall my Grandpa was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer in which abnormal cells collect in the bone marrow and form tumors, commonly affecting elderly men. My Grandpa has always been one of the strongest men I know, if not the strongest. He has always taken care of my Grandma so sweetly, once comparing his love for her as Solomon loves his wife. He is probably the hardest working man I know. Even in his 70s, going to take care of the farm daily...and he does it so well and loves it. He is the most patient man I know. He is strong yet senstive...a perfect balance of the two. He loves the Lord and I have seen His faith grow rapidly over these later years of his life.

Over the past months I have seen and heard of my Grandpa struggle like I never have before. So sick and so tired. One week he felt good....the next week was a different story. Unable to go to the farm daily to do what he loved. In the hospital and unable to be with our family for our annual Christmas get-together. Unable to attend my sister's wedding in January. My grandparents have always seemed so young....they never seemed old. Even in their 70's, still doing things many in their 70's can't do...When I found out he had cancer, the reality of the fact that they aren't going to be around forever really sunk deep. I prayed about finding joy in this situation and that my family and my grandparents would do the same. I can't deny that it made me sad to see and hear about my Grandpa suffering, but the JOY in it all is that my Grandpa knows Jesus. He knows Jesus, and that's all he needs. It is so simple, yet so hard to grasp sometimes. I have learned a lot about the love and certainty of Christ through this experience, and I pray that the rest of my family has, too.
A few weeks ago, my Grandpa had another doctor's appointment. The doctor told him that the medicine was really working and he is now in remission! Isn't it ironic that the medicine that made him feel so awful is one of the things the Lord used to make him better?! Even though Grandpa will have this multiple myeloma for the rest of his life, it has been slowed down. His medicine, which is mostly what has caused him to feel so yucky, is now being lessened....It was so neat to see my Grandpa so much closer to his old self again when I spent time with him recently. It was so sweet to see my Grandma so excited that her best friend that she has taken care of so well over the past few months was finally starting to feel better. I am so thankful the Lord worked it out for me to go for a visit to spend this special time with my precious grandparents. It surely did my heart good. And no matter what the future holds for my Grandpa concerning this multiple myeloma, we can be joyful because Jesus is my Grandpa's future...his eternity.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

birthday blessings

Last week was my birthday, and I celebrated all week long. I think I ate more dessert last week than I have eaten all year...not really, but I did eat a lot. I am so thankful for the people that celebrated with with me. They surely did make me feel pretty special.

Carl, Beth, and I met Mom, Dad, Rebecca, and Travis at Cracker Barrel in Wilson. My mom even brought a candle and some matches. She put it in a biscuit, lit it, and I quickly blew it out. Rebecca told her it was probably the weirdest thing she has ever done, but I thought it is pretty clever. I opened all my presents sitting in the rocking chairs outside of Cracker Barrel with an audience...I didn't like people watching me, but I loved my thoughtful presents from my family. They surely blessed me with lots of cool items to make my house cuter and better equipped. My birthday wouldn't be complete without celebrating it with the ones I love most...When Carl, Beth, and I got back to their house in Fuquay, they took me to the coolest ice cream shop. They have unlimited samples of about 60 different flavors of homemade ice cream. Beth and I definitely took advantage of that. I love trying new ice cream places...Sunni Skies is delicious.

My fun friend, Lauren, surprised me and took me to Cheesecake Factory for lunch and dessert. For dessert, I had my favorite, Vanilla Bean Cheesecake. They sang "Happy Birthday" to me and wrote "Happy Birthday to you" on my plate with chocolate syrup. Very pretty, I wish I had a picture...Lauren and Rebecca lived together in college. When I moved back to Greenville for Graduate School after college, I was blessed to spend more time with Lauren and get to know her better. We very quickly clicked. I love her openness and honesty and I love that I can talk to her forever about anything and everything. She moved away to Baltimore just as we were becoming close. There is no doubt that the Lord created and has sustained our friendship because with all those miles between us He has brought us closer and made her one of my most dedicated friends. I am so thankful for that....
Before and after lunch I got to hang out with with Lauren's husband, Brian, and their son, Carter (or "Darter" as he calls himself). I hadn't seen them since March because they had been living in New Orleans until recently, so it was so fun to see how much Carter has changed, grown, and matured over the past few months. He was so silly and sweet...posing for all the pictures I took. We had fun. I love being with this family...every time I laugh and laugh. I love how much they love each other. And I love that they are about the have a new addition in November...another sweet little boy.

Ashley and I met Rebecca, Shannon, and Emily in Wilson at a Mexican restaurant. Shannon's birthday was the day before mine and Ashley's was in June. So, we were celebrating all the birthdays. Even though we all don't live together in the same town to meet together for Bible Study anymore, the Lord has made our friendships so strong even in the distance. I love our dinners together in Wilson, meeting halfway to laugh and catch up. There was only one thing that was missing....Marianne...she's in Texas now. We love you and miss you so much, Marianne. You were there in spirit, but it just wasn't the same without you. After dinner, we walked over to Chili's to split some desserts. A delicious ending to a lovely evening.

Two of my wonderful J.Crew friends, Jan and Stephanie, really showed me their dependability last week. Stephanie was preparing a nice meal for us for lunch at her apartment in Durham. I went out to my car to head over to her house, and it wouldn't start. My nice neighbors helped me jump it, and thankfully it ended up only being the battery. But, I decided I probably needed to go ahead and get it checked out. So, I drove to the car shop, and Steph and Jan left the sure-to-be delicious lunch to drive to Cary to come get me. So, instead, they took me to Olive Garden in Cary. When I got in the car, they lit a candle on the most beautiful cupcake I have ever seen. They even sang to me. After lunch, we went to Rita's for some yummy Italian ice. I am so thankful for these friends of mine. They are two of the greatest friends I have made since moving to Cary. I know that I can count on both of them, and I love all the laughter we share. They are amazing and two of the most disciplined, generous, and caring people I have every met. Truly...those qualities describe the both of them perfectly. What a fun day...even with the car troubles.

Melanie and family had me over for dinner. She found time to make me a delicious meal even with working and raising her three little girls...How could I ask for a better friend?! Melanie cooked the best enchiladas ever!! After dinner, Hannah and Sara made brownies....with just a little bit of help from Melanie ;) When the brownies were finished, we ate them warm with ice cream on top. The brownie really hit the spot. What a wonderful way to celebrate my birthday....a fun and relaxing night with my best friend and her family. (The pic of Mel and I is totally unrelated from July 4)

I went to Greensboro for Jenny's Going Away Party. Before the party, I spent some time with Kelly, Charlie, Madison, and Jenny at their house. We had planned to go to dinner to celebrate my birthday beforehand, but we ran out of time. That was okay with me, though. Actually, what they did to make my birthdy so special was the card they gave me. There used to be a time when I would get a pile of birthday cards, but now with text messaging, email, facebook, and voicemail, people just don't send birthday cards like they used to (myself included, unfortunately.) I did get some very sweet cards, but not as many as I once did. I can always count on Kelly to give me the sweetest, most thoughtful cards. What made this card so special is that there was a note in it from her, Charlie, Jenny, and even little Madison. The words they wrote me encouraged me and made this birthday girl feel so loved. What a blessing!!

I am so thankful for these people and so many others that filled my week with birthday blessings!!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Nicaraguan children

This a poem written by Sandy Carter. Sandy started the orphanages we served in Nicaragua. Her ministry is surely a blessing to Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan Children
by Sandy Carter, 1998

Hungry children, Dirty children, Abandoned, expressionless children,
Children without one nurturing person, in their lives
Lonely children in a godless society.

Street children, Slum children,
Children left alone all day in dark, empty shacks,
Children with no future, trapped in a culture of death.

Lord Jesus, what can I do to bring Your light into these desperate young lives?
Their needs overwhelm me, Where do I begin?
By your grace I am here, available.
I will not shield my heart from the pain of their reality.
Let me feel as you do for them,
Let them live as I live; Through your grace,

Empowered by your Spirit.
Allow me Lord, to point them to you.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Magnify Him

As a social worker, I work with some of the poorest of the poor in Wake County. I see poverty everyday in our country. I have been to their homes, heard their stories and struggles and frustrations, cried with them, found resources for them, and loved them. I consider my job as a social worker one of the biggest blessings in my life. Before I became a social worker, I was clueless about poverty...that quite possibly the student sitting beside me in class in high school hadn't had a warm shower in a few days because their utilities had been cut off because his or her mom couldn't make ends meet at her job at Big Lots...even when working overtime....that even though my classmate's mom may have wanted to help with homework or get the supplies for a school project, she didn't have the time because she had to work too many hours to keep her family fed...because paying the bills and putting food on the table was more important than buying poster board and other supplies for the project (she couldn't afford to do both)....that this student might have had to get up hours before school even started because they were bussed across town to go to school even though there was another high school just seconds from their own home. Why is it that the kids they always seem to bus across town up to 30 minutes or more away from their homes are the ones that already have so little resources? Why do they make it even harder for these people...harder for the kids to stay after school for help sessions or basketball practice because they have no one that can drive across town to pick them up...harder for the parents to come for meetings and actually be involved? Being a school social worker has opened my eyes and even though I could NEVER fully understand their struggles, the Lord has humbled me and given me much greater compassion and understanding than if He hadn't blessed me with this job and these people.

All that to say, the Lord showed me a kind of poverty that I had never seen in our country while I was in Nicaragua. What I saw is unimaginable unless you go and see for yourself. MOST of those living in poverty in our country would be considered rich or at least middle class in Nicaragua. I have been to many poverty-stricken areas in Raleigh and Greenville, and I have not seen anything that even compares to what I saw in Nicaragua. And most of the country lives that way. Not like in our country that has plenty resources to help the poor. The resources there are slim to none. We traveled on a 5 hour bus ride from one orphanage to another, so I got to see areas from the beach to the mountains. Shack after shack after shack. Many still use outhouses. And those that do have toilets cannot even flush the toilet paper. The water is too dirty to drink. Homes without doors. No security and safety. Death and disease that could be prevented with the proper medical resources. Schools with no electricity, old run-down buildings with no textbooks. I heard stories about the corrupt government and the awful crime. Parents sending their children out to sell their bodies in order to make ends meet. Desperation. Feelings of fear and hopelessness. Keep in mind that most of the country lives in this deep, deep poverty.

But I saw so much thankfulness and humility in its children. They have so little, but they have no knowledge of anything different. The children from the community that came to Vacation Bible School were so attentive and even almost in awe of the songs, puppet skit, relay games and crafts. These are things that quite honestly many of the children I, poor, and middle-class...would have lost interest in after a few minutes and taken for granted. At VBS, the children were given T-shirts and given the opportunity to decorate them with markers. Many did not even want to write on them because they were so thankful to be receiving a brand new, clean t-shirt.

I saw orphans working harder than I have ever seen a child work in our country...planting crops, chopping weeds, planting flowers. They are disciplined, more disciplined than me. I saw the teen-age girls caring for their younger fellow orphans in such a sweet, nurturing, and mature way. The children I met in these orphanages are learning and living out Jesus' love. They are getting a second chance. And it began with one lady answering God's call to serve Him, the orphans, and this impoverished country. Beautiful Nicaragua.

Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His name together.--Psalm 34:3

I am not saying that every believer is called to do something like that. But I do believe that we are called to serve him and be a missionary whether it is in another country on our own with our daily lives. There is so much we can do, so much I can do, to share the priceless love of our Savior. The Lord reminded me of this in such a new and special way while in Nicaragua.

13for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"--Romans 10: 13-15

On another note, I have often heard people question missions in other countries because we have people in our own country that need help. While that is true, please realize that there are many countries in which the entire country needs help and many countries that have never heard the precious Name of Jesus. The opportunities for those living in America to hear about the love of Christ are endless with churches on just about every corner. God loves us ALL and wants us ALL to be His. He loves each human and each country the same, none more than the other. I very strongly encourage every believer to go on a mission trip to a country like Nicaragua or China or Nigeria....It will change you. It changed me. He changed me.

18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

--Matthew 28:18-20