Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Road To Ephraim...Explained

As you probably have read in recent posts, I started writing an article for a bi-monthly magazine publication in middle Georgia.  It's been such an honor, really.  Usually, I post the article on the blog once it has been pubished, but did not do that this month, and last night received a sweet email from a sister in Christ in Macon, Terri Hamm, that asked me to do that.  So, Terri, here you go!!!  Ask and ye shall receive!  ;)

The article should have been up long ago, as it it a bit of an explanation on "my" Road to Ephraim.  I hope you enjoy it.  I will get another post or two written before Christmas...promise!

Merry Christmas, ya'll...


The Road to Ephraim

I grew up in one of those homes that you used to see on television…like the Cleavers, for instance.  There was a mom and a dad who loved and encouraged one another, and clearly respected and supported each other.  There was plenty of love to go around and a fair amount of discipline.  There were sibling rivalries and jealousies and the occasional drama of not-so-epic proportions, but at the end of the day we were a whole family that not only loved one another…we just plain liked each other.

I call them now the Wonder Years…those years of Sunday School on Sunday mornings  and Mission Friends on Wednesday nights.  The years of playing outside til dark, dinner every night around a family table, and Daddy coming home in time for dinner.  There were bedtime stories and homework, Daddy’s pipe and Mom’s diet cokes, and Alex in his footie pajamas and Chad coming in from a run.  My family…my beautiful family…in its Wonder Years.  The only problem was, we didn’t know it until they were gone.

I have sometimes lamented that everything I seem to write has the same theme.  It all revolves somehow around the day the door to the Wonders Years was slammed shut, and life as I now know it began to form.  It seems that every experience I may have or thought that I may process, somehow and some way, can all be traced back to that day.  They say that we all have a life-marker, some moment in our lives that we measure everything before and after.  For me, that day was February 26, 2004.  And on October 1, 2006…2 years, 7 months, and 1 week from the day we found out that he had melanoma...my older brother, Jonathan Chadwick Sullivan, “Chad,” went Home to be with Jesus. My life since then has had one theme.

Ephraim.

What is Ephraim?  This is likely your thought.  Take some time and set it aside to read the story of Joseph in the Bible.  You will find it in the book Genesis, which is the very first book of the Bible, chapters 37-50.  I’m telling you, you won’t be bored…the story of this man named Joseph is mini-series material.  It’s one of the most incredible and compelling stories in all the pages of the Bible, and the faith, strength, character, and wisdom that Joseph displayed throughout his life is a daily inspiration to me.

“Ephraim” was the second son of Joseph, and his name has a very important meaning…

The second son he (Joseph) named Ephraim, for God has made me 
fruitful in the land of my affliction.” –Genesis 41:52

In moments of affliction and suffering, in my moment, when my Wonder Years came to a sudden close and life was all the sudden a scary and dark place where it never ever had been before, there was a choice to make.  Am I going to focus on the situation, and find myself bitter and angry and resentful and scared all the time, or am I going to focus on and seek Christ in my turmoil, and trust the road He placed me on?

Which road will we choose?  One is easy, but leads to destruction.  The other road?  The other is far more difficult…but the journey and scenery and destination are without comparison, and rich beyond description.

In the last week, I have met with several women.  One is about to lose her husband because she can’t seem to stop herself from stepping outside her marriage to seek companionship, and the faith and trust her husband had in her is obliterated.  One of these women just found out her husband has had not just one, but several affairs, and she is making the decision herself to end the marriage and move forward without him.  The third woman is nearly fifty years old, and still hurting so profoundly from an abortion she had over 30 years ago.   These are real people, just like you and me, who are hurting.  Some are hurting for their own sin.  Some are hurting because they have been victimized over the sins of others that they placed their trust in, and others are hurting for decisions they made years and years before they became the women they are today.  What on earth do I say to these women?  What on earth do I say to speak to that hurt, and the desperate need for restoration and hope?

Ephraim.

I heard a Bible teacher say years ago that, if you listen, you will find the theme God has laid on your life.  It will be the subject He brings to your attention over and over, the common thread that you find in your day to day life, in your conversations, and in your heart.  You just can’t escape it.  It will be your perception of every situation that graces your days. 

Mine, without one single doubt, is Ephraim.  Allow God to take your pain, your sin, your disappointments and failures…everything ugly and shameful or sad and tragic that you wish you could erase…and ask Him to make it a thing of beauty.  Ask Him to bring the best parts of your life right out of it.  Ask Him…to redeem it.  Ask Him to make your land of affliction a fruitful one. 

My point here is not to sell you on my theme…my point is to inspire you to find your own, even, no, especially in your times of darkness.  I have found that anytime a woman comes to me seeking help or advice, it’s generally the message that Ephraim brings that she is needing to hear.  It’s the message He has given me.   We all, at some point, need to hear that our life isn’t blown.  We need to hear that there is a God that is powerful enough and loving enough and good enough and merciful enough to not just clean up our messes and tragedies, but gives us blessing upon blessing right out of them if we only look to Him.  Every now and again we all need to hear…our pain matters.  If it didn’t, He would never have allowed it, beloved.  

Believe that.

So what is your theme?  What message do you have? What road did you take, and what is the story of your journey?  What can you tell the world, what do you now know, what has He taught you, that you need to be sharing?  So often, it’s those treasures we brought out of those times in the darkness that others need to hear.  If you’re in the darkness, seek the Lord and find the treasures!  If you’re out of the darkness, share the bounty of the treasures you found!  If you have never let go of your darkness…maybe even after years and years of anger and bitterness over that darkness…and no treasure was found, then seek the Lord and ask Him to help you find the treasures.   It isn’t too late.

That’s worth repeating:  it isn’t too late.

Which road will you choose?

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
-Robert Frost, from The Road Not Taken

Ephraim.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Meet My Little Love, Mia...


Can you stand the cuteness?  
Ladies and Gentlemen...Mia Elizabeth Senter


Back in June, I posted about my sweet sister-friend, Brooke, having her first baby.  Brooke really is a friend that doubles as a sister after the road she and I have trod together, which means I am TOTALLY the above baby girl's Fabulous Aunt Marti.

That's what I'm gonna have her call me.

Too much?

Maybe.  

Anyway, the child really does slay me.  Her smile will stop your heart and those chubby little legs could be dipped in chocolate.  What can I say?  I'm totally hooked.  And you know what else?  The most exciting part?  This little baby...this precious baby girl...is Ephraim brought to life.  She is the beauty that sprang right up out of the ashes, and it makes me want to sing His eternal praises and scream and cry all at once.  That's the bittersweetness of wounded lives that have chosen to move forward and to live on...but ones that will never ever forget.

"I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  
He has made all things beautiful in their time..."  
-Ecc. 3:10-11a

Beautiful...and precious...and chubby...and smiley... and so so loved.  Beauty from ashes.  It just took some time...  ;)

And she was totally worth the wait.  ;)

Ephraim.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

PJ and Doyle

When we were kids, my grandparents, Mimi and PJ, still lived in Kentucky.  Both of my folks are originally from Kentucky, but my mother's parents eventually moved to North Carolina to be closer to us.  Chad and I, my older brother, were teenagers by then, though.  When we were little kids, they lived in a tiny speck of a town in Kentucky called...Tompkinsville.  Ahhhh.  Just that name causes me to sigh for simpler days.  Tompkinsville was small town at it's best, at least to my young eyes.  It had a beautiful courthouse surrounded by a town square with a 5 & Dime, a group of old men that sat on benches day after day and whittled small mountains, and a girl's dress shop where my Mimi bought me my first pair of big girl tights.  It had a Piggly Wiggly and a Cleva's Hair Salon, a Druthers and a County Bank, a few churches and cemeteries...and I think that just about covers it.

You get the picture.

We used to visit several times a year back then, and Tompkinsville was one of my favorite places to be.  Mimi always had Cocoa Puffs, pickled bologna, and a fresh Reader's Digest.  My PJ was always running around working on on this and that.  PJ always had very important things to do...things that involved heavy equipment and fire and lots of other manliness.  He had this fella, Doyle, that seemed to be his deputy, helping him with these important things.  I wasn't sure exactly how Doyle fit into the picture, but he was sure around a lot.  Anytime my PJ was working outside or in his shop, you better believe Doyle was close by.  One time I remember asking my mom if Doyle was related to us.  She told me no, that he and PJ just helped each other out.  I could see that was true enough, so I was satisfied.  But, I could tell that somehow Doyle was different than us, even if my little mind couldn't quite figure that part out.

It turns out that my PJ had several "Doyles" over the years.  "Doyles," I learned as an adult, were fellas down on their luck, or with a problem or two that needed a hand-up and a friend.  They needed a stable influence, and some grace and provision from time to time.  They needed a model, guidance and accountability, and the truth to be told to them.  They needed someone to look up to, and a man to look them in the eye.  "Doyles" needed to know that they mattered to someone...that they were capable and productive men, and they could be respected and loved.

"Doyles" needed to see Jesus, and my PJ was just the guy to show them.

I'm not sure whatever happened to Doyle.  I'll ask my PJ the next time I see him, but he may be too old to recall now.  Today, my PJ is 90 years young.  He lives with my mom and dad in Mount Pleasant, SC, and he is one loved and well-cared for old man.  He isn't a rich man, but he has never been without and in his twilight years he is cherished and spared nothing he wishes.  He doesn't have much left in savings, but he receives a nice monthly pension from the state of Kentucky, as well as a small social security check but, truth be told, even if he had none of that he would still live just the life he does.  My mom and her brother honor and provide for their dad, my PJ, because he is worthy.  They will care for him in just that way until he goes to see the Lord.  Why?  Because you reap what you sow.  My PJ reaped generosity in his lifetime, and now he enjoys a harvest of it in his twilight.  I truly believe that.  You reap what you sow in this life.  It's the Law of the Harvest.

It's Biblical...and that means I believe it.

I didn't write this before the election because I didn't want to start anything, and I feel as though now it could be received with more gentleness and open-mindedness.  I hate to upset folks and really just want everyone to get along and be happy,  However, that doesn't excuse the fact that sometimes the truth must be spoken, always in respect and love, and I pray you will find that here.   Many of you will disagree with what I have to say, but I hope we truly can agree to disagree and still be friends, still treat one another with that same love and respect, and a heave dose of kindness.

So often I hear things like, "I'm just not political."  I used to agree, but that doesn't cut it any more.  If we care about our culture, and we care about our future, we simply must do more than vote.  I used to be that girl...the "I vote, but I am just not political" girl.  No more.  Politics are beginning to vividly show an enormous cultural divide in our society, and the time to address it has come.  How do we do that?

Biblically.

I've been thinking for a long while, even before the recent election, that you don't see too many Doyle-types and PJ-types these days.  You don't see folks investing in one another's lives in that way.  Those who are able may give, but we don't form relationships with the needy in the way that PJ did with Doyle...it might get messy or uncomfortable, or cramp our calendar or our agenda.  Those in need of help simply apply for government aid, and have no need to look anyone in the eye and say thank you for that money...someone's hard-earned money...and therefore want to do better, not only for yourself but to respect the generosity of the person that blessed you with that gift.

And so, we see a great divide in our culture.  Don't we?  Many of us who work and pay our taxes are becoming increasingly embittered about giving.  We give so much of our paychecks to a government who hands it out for absolutely nothing, is spending us into strangling debt, and continually rewards the laziness of many recipients in exchange for a vote in the next election.  It makes us mad.  It makes me fighting mad, if I'm honest.  We have a hard time giving anything else...aren't we giving enough???  Then you have those receiving government aid...generation after generation of people who know no better.  They are simply doing what they have been taught and what the government offers them, and not nearly enough people look them in the eye, tell them the truth, invest in them, invite them over, and give a part of our lives to teach them better so that they want to do better for themselves.  We might write a check or give a donation of food or clothing, but we keep our distance.  Why?  Because we can't be inconvenienced and, the truth is, we're ticked.  And so able-bodied individuals continue to take from a broken welfare system, continue to abuse the system to their advantage, continue to take what they did not earn...and it is killing them, one check at a time. It's killing them.

It's killing us.

The Bible teaches generosity...absolutely and without question.  It does not, however, to my knowledge, teach generosity through government.  It does not teach impersonal generosity.  It teaches generosity from me to you, that costs me a slice of my life and my time and maybe even my bank account, and blesses you for that sacrifice.  It teaches discipleship, it teaches mentoring, it teaches investing in one another's lives for the greater good.  It teaches accountability to one another.  It teaches a hard day's work for a honest day's pay, and to earn what we eat.  It teaches the least is the greatest and the greatest is the least.  It teaches service, faithfulness, commitment, and kindness.  And to those of you who might take offense to what I am saying today, please know...my heart is broken and I mean to condemn no one, but to call us ALL to introspection.  I'm tired of giving to a government  that spends my hard-earned money rewarding laziness and funding programs with which I morally disagree.  I am.  I admit it.  I'm tired of it, I'm upset over it, and I fight bitterness over it daily.  BUT, does this excuse me from the biblical mandate to give of myself?  No.  No ma'am, no sir, it does not. And the truth is, if more of us givers started investing in lives, maybe some of those takers would see that they can do better for themselves.  Maybe they would be inspired to work and play fair.  Maybe they would begin to see and understand that working, productive lives are truly happier lives.  God calls us to this very thing!  We were MADE to WORK.  Do people need help?  Yes, some folks genuinely need help, they need a hand up.  But they need it from me, and they need it from you.  They don't need a direct deposit from the US government year after year and generation after generation.  They need help to get out of their circumstances  not a trap to keep them there.  Is there room for some sort of government welfare program?  Perhaps, but it is certainly not the one we currently have in place.  It provides no accountability, it provides no incentive to do better and no way out, it provides no policing, and it is grossly abused.  We have a broken system, and it isn't solely the job of the US government to fix it.  It is our job to fix it.  Will it be messy?  Yes.  Will it interfere with our lives?  Yes.  Will it cross our boundaries and offend and inconvenience us?  Yes.

Is it imperative to the healing of our culture and country?  Yes. I believe so.

So if you're a PJ, pray God might bring you a Doyle.  And if you're a Doyle, pray for a PJ.  Give a little more...not just money or things, but time.  Find a life to invest in, and know you will be more blessed than you bless.  That's always the way it works out. Take care of yourself, take care of your parents, take care of your neighbors, provide for your own children.  Why?  Because it's the right thing to do and the Bible calls us to do it.  Let's show people that Jesus lives in and through us, and let's give Him the glory for every good work we set out to do...not the government.

Let's not call "politics" what we are called by God to do ourselves.  Personally.  After all, we serve a mighty personal Savior, who saved us in a mighty personal way.

Please know, I am preaching to myself here more than anyone.  Before we judge any problem, we have to look inside of ourselves...so I've looked at the problem that was frustrating me and searched my own heart, and I found PJ and Doyle there.  May God bless with a mighty harvest PJ and Doyle and the family lines of both men...may their families reap what they worked and sacrificed to sow.

Generosity, Faithfulness, Service, Kindness, and Abundance...just to name a few.

Ephraim, folks.

Fruitfulness straight out of suffering, beauty from ashes...a miracle only God can perform.  Ephraim for America, Ephraim for our people, Ephraim for our world.  Only through Jesus Christ and the Power of His Word...

When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord...and He will pay you back. 
 -Proverbs 19:17


             









Monday, October 1, 2012

Canaan of Plenty...Six Years Later





I would love to tell you that I just don't have time to blog.

That has been true in the past and will, I'm sure, be true again sometime in the future.  But, currently, it would be an untruth...which is a nicer way of saying it would be a big fat lie.

Really, my issues lie more in the time-management realm.  I am fully convinced that the reason that the Lord has not entrusted me with children is that I simply could not care for them.  I can barely keep up with my home, a full-time job, 2 dogs, and a very patient boyfriend.

Can you imagine?  "I forgot your lunch, sweetie.  Here, have a Tic-Tac from the bottom of mommy's pocketbook."

No.  I cannot imagine.

I've been called ditzy.  I do not take offense.

Is this really all I have to say to you today, after so many weeks of silence? 

No way.



How beautiful is that smile?

Today, Monday, October 1st, marks 6 years since Chad went to Heaven.  I simply cannot let an anniversary go by without publicly declaring it.  I don't know why exactly...I guess it's just my way of reminding the world again that he mattered to me...he still matters, so much.  And his loss...even after six years...is still devastating.  It still takes my breath away and leaves a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye in a moment's notice.  Not all moments, but many moments.  There are important things that have happened over the last six years, things I need to tell him and very important people that I need for him to meet.  There are funny stories to be shared, hugs left unhugged and laughs left unlaughed because it just wasn't right without him.  And Christmas?  It's just not right.  Our baby brother graduated college, got his first big boy job, and got married.  He got his first big promotion and a beautiful bride, all in a year's time.  Big stuff!  My beau and I were at dinner last weekend and I got a little weepy, as I do from time to unexpected time the last week of September every year, and he said, "I know this probably doesn't help you feel any better, but, man, I wish I could have met him." 

Are you kidding me?????

Me too.  (Understatement of the century.)

Enough of the whining.

Today, my BFF, Sarah Elizabeth Barnes, formerly of Charlotte, NC but currently of Myrtle Beach, SC, (which I dislike to the utmost) sent me the sweetest arrangement of fall flowers.



How precious is that?  I told her she was the best best friend forever ever.  She totally got it, and that is exactly why we are best friends.

The card reads "Rejoice. These are your wilderness days, but surely and safely, you are being led to your Canaan of plenty." 

I then proceeded to scream and cry and find a corner to go suck my thumb...

Not really, but that was my "position of the heart," as Beth Moore likes to say.  Beth usually uses it in reference to prayer, but I'm trying a different angle.  ;)  The words on the card are from the (very) old devotional God Calling.  I think I've written about this before, but Brooke, Pamela, Sarah, my mom, and I were all reading it together in Chad's final weeks.  The October 1st entry says this...

Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth. -- Isaiah 45:22.

Look to no other source of Salvation. Only look unto Me. See no other supply. Look unto Me, and you shall be saved. Regard Me as your only supply. That is the secret of prosperity for you, and you in your turn shall save many from poverty and distress.

Whatever danger threatens look unto Me.... Whatever you desire or need, or desire or need for others, look to Me. Claim all from My Storehouse. Claim, claim, claim.

Remember that I fed the Children of Israel with Heaven-sent manna. I made a way through the Red Sea for them. I led them through the wilderness of privation, difficulty, discipline. I led them into a land flowing with milk and honey. So trust. So be led.

Rejoice. These are your wilderness days. But surely and safely, you are being led to your Canaan of Plenty.

It still takes my breath away, the perfection of the words in that moment...the truth of them at that time and even more so today.

We read those words to Chad, all piled around his bed, just as he was beginning to slip away after midnight on September 30th.  Then we sat vigil all night, whispered our love and goodbye-for-nows, and watched him slip away to his Canaan of Plenty in the early hours of Sunday, October 1, 2006.

I just spoke with Brooke a bit ago, and neither one of us can believe it has been six years.  So strange, when the impact it left on your life seems so fresh.

This year, six years later, I will choose again to celebrate that it is better than last year, which was easier than the year before, and so on.  This year, I choose again to be thankful that he did matter, and still matters, to so many.  This year, I choose to be thankful that we are not destroyed, and the grace and faithfulness of God has been steady and sure in our grief and healing.  This year, I choose to remember that the blessed and rich road that I walk is, in so many ways, a direct result of my loss.  And and I will choose not to be embittered by that, but to praise a miracle-working and infinite God that can make it so.   

This year, I celebrate Ephraim.  I celebrate all the goodness in my life, the blessings that have come to me in the last six years that I long to share with Chad Sullivan.  And, I celebrate this hole left in my heart and the tears that I continue to cry.  I celebrate all those things because all those things mean that I have moved forward, and I have taken him with me.  Always.

Beauty from ashes.  Ephraim.

Ephraim is, without a doubt, the message of my life.  Thank you, big brother, for the sacrifice and pain you endured to lead me here.

But most of all, thank you, Jesus, for making it so...starting at the Cross of Calvary.

It all comes down to Jesus.

Love y'all to the moon and back again...


Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Perception of Perfection...Duck Commander Wisdom

It's (seriously) late in the day and I just woke up.  I mean...I've been walking around and technically conscious since around 7am, but I just now woke up.  You get me?

I need some sleep.

My second article was just published in The Church Connection magazine, a free publication in a few counties in mid-Georgia.  Since it's in print now, I wanted to share it with you all.  It touches on my new-found Duck Dynasty obsession.

If you haven't seen this show...get on it.

It makes life better and brighter, and somehow more logical...in a redneck sort of way.

And they totally love Jesus.

Perfection.

Ephraim, y'all.  ;)

The Perception of Perfection


I have…oh so many…faults, and I don’t mind admitting to them or talking about them. I find a lot of freedom in owning up to my shortcomings. In fact, I think it adds to my charm…at least that’s what I tell myself. I suppose it was sometime in my late twenties, I decided it was time to “get real,” if you will. Let me give you just a few examples:

No, I am not naturally cool. At all. I embrace this. I am the absolute opposite of cool, and I don’t mean hot.

No, I do not look beautiful and dewy when I wake up in the morning. In fact, I don’t miss hideous by much.

No, I am not athletic and/or coordinated. There is nothing graceful about me. I can’t even jazzercise.

No, I am not perfect. I do not do it all right or have it all together, nor will I…ever. As it turns out, I’m a bit of a mess.

Yes, I am fine and dandy with all of this.

I believe there is a lot of strength and peace in being comfortable in our own skin, warts and all. Admittedly, I have a long way to go in this quest, but it’s a journey I choose to invest in. I realize I am probably speaking more to the hearts of women at this moment, but I believe men have this same struggle. So, in our quest for perfection, what is the true desire of our heart? Are we really looking simply for perfection, or are we searching out something more, something deeper?

I fell in love with a new TV show this past weekend, Duck Dynasty. It’s a reality show based on the family behind the Duck Commanders. And if you don’t know what the Duck Commanders are, never fear. Neither did I and it has not curbed my fun one little bit. The joy it has brought into my little world…well, it’s probably a little sad.

The Duck Commander, Phil Roberston, and his brother, known by all as Uncle Si, are by far my favorites. In one particular episode I caught, Phil was asking one of his grandsons about a little girl he had been seeing.

“How much makeup does she wear?” Phil asks.

“Not much,” the boy replied.

Phil then responds with something along the lines of, “Good. A woman can hide a world of evil with that makeup.”

They call these little tidbits of true wisdom “Phil-osophies.” I’m obsessed.

Phil then proceeds to tell the poor boy that if he found a woman that could make squirrel dumplings, that’s the one he needs to go after, no matter her appearance. Now, that’s neither here nor there, but I felt like you needed to know.

I digress.

“A woman can hide a world of evil with that makeup.”

I’m not here to pick on women. I am a woman, and I love being a woman. However, I do think the Duck Commander has a point. Women can indeed be known to hide our insecurities with beautiful homes, cute clothes and shoes, and maybe even lots of makeup. Likewise, a lot of men hide their issues and fears with muscles and money and big boy toys, but they’re always there. Don’t get me wrong! No one loves cute clothes and shoes more than me. I will always color my hair, and I love a good facial or pedicure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these things in moderation…but we have to admit there comes a point that those seemingly innocent and fun things can become all too important. Why?

Perception is everything.

I know in my own life and in my own family, I have been known to work myself to death to make sure everything is as (I feel) it should be. I want to see that everyone has what they need, along with a smile on their face and joy in their hearts. I want there to be contentment, security, and peace at all times…and I’ve been know to do what I have to do to try and manipulate these things. Because maybe, just maybe, if everything looks okay…then it is okay. Right?

“What we manipulate to get, we will never keep.” –Beth Moore

I’ve had to learn that nugget of wisdom the hard way. I can’t orchestrate my life into perfection and peace. Perception is not truth, and the truth is that none of us have it all together and we can’t get it together. We don’t have all the answers, and we won’t always make the right choices. We all mourn over failures, fear something about the future, wish this or that was different, are sure we won’t measure up in one thing or another…and we will all mess up. Again.

It’s why Jesus had to come, and the redemption of my life that He bought on that Cross is the most beautiful thing I know. So, it’s time we learned to let go, and let God.

I don’t have to have it all together to walk in confidence about myself or my future, or the future of my family. I don’t have to hold it all in place to secure my dignity and worth and peace. I don’t have to do it all perfectly to make it all work. I can’t do it all perfectly. I need Jesus to do that. Only Jesus can take all the messes I’ve ever made or will make, all my failures and shortcomings, all my insecurities and fears, and exchange them for a life full of blessing, wisdom, peace, and joy…complete abundance and a journey I wouldn’t trade for the world. And all He asks from me…is the surrender to trust Him to do it.

I don’t have to be cool. I don’t have to be beautiful in the mornings. I don’t have to be coordinated. I don’t have to have it all together…or a beautiful home filled with lots of cute clothes and shoes and makeup.

I just have to have Jesus.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” –Proverbs 31:25.

Now that’s an outfit I can get used to wearing.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Rich Woman

Well, as you may be wondering, Little Miss Mia did indeed make her debut on her sweet momma's birthday...and she is indeed just about the sweetest and prettiest little thing God ever did make.

And I'm not a bit biased, thank you very much.

I went to see her on Monday night, then left to go to Chad's grave.  I told him...she is perfect in every way, planned by God from the beginning, and her momma is loved and cherished by a man that takes wonderful care of her.  It's just what my brother wanted.

God is faithful.  Even when it makes you cry...He is so faithful.

(deep breath inserted here)

I have more big news.  My Papa Jack turns...drumroll please...90 years old today.  Independence Day!

He may be old, but he is NOT as old America.

For those of you who know my PJ...well, you're welcome, because he is certainly a pleasure to know.  There isn't a phase of my memory that doesn't include PJ.  He has been with me from my first breath.  He was always Chad's big buddy, and I was my Mimi's girl...but as I have grown older I have learned to appreciate PJ on a much deeper level than doting grandpa. 

I am a rich woman.

Not in that way...in the traditional sense I'm actually quite poor, BUT...

In the sense of richness of relationships, which is far more valuable than money and can never be bought with cash, I am a seriously rich woman.  I have been born into a legacy that is generations old of godly individuals.  Men and women that honored God and His Holy Word, lived humble and generous lives, loved their neighbors and one another, raised faith-filled, responsible, and honest children, and whose kindness extends grace and mercy to all they meet.  Not perfect people...

Redeemed people.

And if you can't same the same, let it begin with you.  Today. 

I'm sure if you asked PJ, he could name a list a mile long of things he would have done differently a second time around.  But, I'm here to declare, my grandaddy has made me a rich woman.  He blesses all he meets with his sweet spirit, he has shown me how a man should love a woman and his children, he demonstrates generosity to those in need, he has forgiven me time and again without question, disciplined me when it was necessary and for my good, and he has loved as unconditionally as any person I know.  Simply put, if I can pass along half the legacy to my children and grandchildren as my PJ has passed along to me, well, then our family's wealth continues.

Wealth of eternal blessings, not temporal blessings.  Wealth that lives on, even after the cash is long gone.

Wealth from Jesus, our Savior.

Thank you, PJ.  I owe you more than I could ever pay, but I will do my best to honor your legacy, and pass along Jesus and all you've ever given to me on...and on...and on...

Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation.
- Joel 1:3


Ephraim.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Joy Cometh in the Morning...and Her Name is Mia.


Marti and Brooke, Venice 2007


Tomorrow, my sweet Brookins will give birth to her first born.  Tomorrow, she and Neil welcome Little Miss Mia Elizabeth Senter into the world.

This is one of those moments in life that I have learned to treasure, because not everyone has the privilege of feeling the sort of bittersweetness that I'm feeling today.  Brooke and I have been to hell and back together, and to see my sweet girl come to a place of such blessing and abundance and joy...well, it was worth the trip, and makes her destination that much sweeter.  God is so faithful.

So, tomorrow, instead of mourning what might have been, I will celebrate a sovereign and perfect God...whose plan is without flaw.  Tomorrow, instead of savoring bitterness over loss, I will pick up a sweet newborn, and pray the richest and most abundant blessings God has to give over her little life.  Tomorrow, as Mia takes her first breath, I will celebrate...because life really does goes on.

And, mercifully, it brings joy with it...

Happy Birthday, Mommy and Mia.  Love you both to the moon.

Weeping may remain for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. 
 - Psalm 30:5(b)

Tomorrow morning.  ;) 

Ephraim, indeed.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Sweetest Thing...and He Does All Things Well

I'm about to have an extended weekend and it's all I can think about it.

Must...find...concentration.

Somewhere.

So...on to my point...

My man has the sweetest momma and she did the sweetest thing for me this weekend.  Mrs. Ann is thoughtful in a way that I am just not...cards for every occasion and really meaningful gifts that let you know she listens to what you say and she knows what is important to you.  That sort of thing.  It's a such a gift (that I don't have) and she definitely has it, and I am so thankful to have her.  I am often on the receiving end of her kindness and I don't take that for granted.

I am now going to attempt to upload a picture of the aforementioned sweetest thing...pray for me.


Look at that.  It worked.  PTL.

Now, I recognize you likely have no idea what this is because, lets face it, my iphone photog skillz are seriously lacking, so let me explain.

Last month I was so thrilled to be asked to write an article for the Local Church Connection...a free magazine that services a few counties in mid-Georgia.  This is where my beau grew up, and his folks live down there.  Anyway, long story short I wrote the article and it came out last week.

I got published. 

I'm not going to lie...it was a little thrilling.  Even though they spelled my name wrong.  I'm working on getting over that.  I will let it go. Soon.

Or tomorrow or the next day.  ;)

So...the "sweetest thing" is that Mrs. Ann had the article matted and framed for me.

KIND.  I mean, I will treasure that always and forever.

Thank you, Mrs. Ann. 

Now that the article is actually in print, I thought I would go ahead and post it here.  And in late breaking news, they've asked me to write regularly for the magazine.  So excited.

Because I loves to write.  Loves it.

But, lets face it...Marti needs a deadline.

Excuse me...I mean Marty needs a deadline.

Maybe Marty could be my Pen Name.

I digress...again.

 So, here it is...

He Does All Things Well

Several months ago, I took a Friday off and drove to my hometown of Albemarle, NC for the day. I live about an hour from there in Charlotte, so it’s an easy trip…and I needed a dose of home to clear my mind and heart. I spent some time at a local park my family frequented on Sundays as I was growing up, moved on to my childhood home, visited my older brother’s place on Lake Tillery to sit on the dock for a while, and then ended my day at his final resting place, on a hill in the east part of town.


As I moved through town that day, I almost moved through the last 20 years of my life…remembering moments and people, firsts and lasts, dreams and heartaches, long abandoned, long forgotten. There at Chad’s grave, in the early afternoon, I kept saying through my tears, over and over, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. It was never supposed to be this way.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I saw a quote last week from William Shakespeare that caught my attention. It read, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Actually, it didn’t just catch my attention…it stopped me dead in my tracks. That day at the cemetery, I was full of heartache. Never in any of my expectations growing up was my older brother dead at thirty-two. Never in any of my expectations growing up would my family suffer through terminal illness and funerals, while our peers celebrated weddings and babies. Never in any of my expectations growing up had I failed in so many ways. Never in any of my expectations growing up did life look like it currently does. In fact, never in any of my expectations growing up was life this…hard.

“Expectation is the root of all heartache…”

I learned a great many lessons during my brother’s illness, death, and the grief that has followed. But there is one golden truth in the hearts of those that have suffered profoundly and yet still managed to keep their eyes and hearts towards Jesus, and that truth is that inside the darkness of pain there is an abundance and wisdom and richness that can never be found elsewhere. Only Jesus can take the darkest moment of your life and shine His light so bright that the best of your life is birthed right out of the pain. Only Jesus performs those miracles. I doubt five years ago I could have verbalized that…today, I live in the midst of it. Today, I enjoy blessings that came to me on a path that began with my brother’s death. I write that with tears. It’s a hard thing to say, to admit…but it is the truth. I don’t have to understand it for it to be the truth. So, I’ve stopped trying to wrap my brain around it all, and have chosen to accept it and be thankful for it. It is a truth so treasured because it is so rare…many miss it in the midst of their suffering. Why?

“Expectation is the root of all heartache…”

That day at the cemetery, I was mourning the death of my expectations. Life is in no way what I thought it would look like at this point. Given that, I suppose I could choose bitterness and regret…choose to live my life in the past, struggling with the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys” that can plague a mind and heart. But, as I look back…this is a story that only He could write. It is a journey rich in meaning and people and lessons and stories…moments and relationships I wouldn’t trade for the world. My pastor closed his message this past Sunday by challenging all of us to look back over our lives…all of it, the good right along with the bad. Yes, there are probably some things we would want to change, some things we regret, some things we may have done differently or wished had turned out differently…or at least we wonder what would have happened if we had done it all a little differently. But, the past is in the past and, in the end, I must admit…eventually…

He has done all things well.

I serve a God who is sovereign. I serve a God who is strong. I serve a God who is good. I serve a God who is faithful. I serve a God who is always for me. I serve a God who makes no mistakes. I serve a God who knows better than me. So, every day I make a choice to deliberately set aside expectations and assumptions about my future, to live only in the present day, and to be at peace with my past. Every day, I have to make a choice to give God His own way in my life. Some days, some seasons, I am better at it than others. But I have learned enough to know that He will write a far better story of my life than I ever could. I have learned that He knows my dreams, my desires, and my passions far better than I do. Why? Simply put, because He is my Maker. Who knows a masterpiece better than its own Maker?

I think Bubba Watson said it best in a post-Masters interview, when asked to put his emotions on his big win into words…

“I never got this far in my dreams.”

Well said, Bubba. I never got this far in my dreams either…

He has done all things well.


What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.
He has made all things beautiful…in their time.” –Ecclesiastes 3:9-11



Friday, April 20, 2012

On the Issue of Insecurity...

It's been two months...it's been too long.  I know dis...I know dis...

Seriously, I just wrote half of a post and it disappeared on me.  Poof!  Vanished.  I'm going to choose not to be grumpy about it and persevere.

Several months ago, I began to meet with a precious and I mean PRECIOUS young woman to talk through some struggles she has been facing.  She's just a doll, truly.  And we meet at The Cracker Barrel, which makes it all the more fantastic.  Everything is better with biscuits and honey, you know?  Anyway, I had heard great reviews of Beth Moore's new book, So Long Insecurity, and it seemed to really fit the situation, so I suggested we read the book together...

For her sake, of course.

Wrong.

I have never, in my adult life, really considered myself insecure.  I mean, everyone has their struggles, but insecurity is just not been at the top of my list of issues.  Well, I mean, in middle school...yes, I was insecure.  But I was in middle school!  And if you saw pictures of me in middle school, you would understand why...

It was unfortunate.

I digress.

Insecurity.  Don't get me wrong...I know I have issues, believe me!  But, I just haven't really ever sat around wishing I was prettier or smarter and skinnier or more talented, or wishing I had this or that or if I did have those things I would somehow be more worthy or loved or validated.  I am all those things and more in Christ!  (Don't you love my Sunday School answer???)  But, seriously,  I have always sort of had the stance of "take me or leave me, I is what I is."  Not in a mean or disrespectful way, just in a confident sort of way.  Now, of course, we all have our moments of insecurity, but I would never have considered it a stronghold, something that controlled me in any way.

As it turns out, I is indeed what I is, and what I is...is insecure.

Drat.

That reminds me of this one time, in high school, they were doing an article in the school newspaper on one thing that different people would want to change about themselves.  They asked Chad, and he literally said, "Nothing.  I can't think of anything."

Seriously. This what I grew up with.

I digress. 

Again.

Back to my point...the book gave me a very stout proverbial slap in the face, to put it mildly.  It's a work I think every woman should read, Christian or not.  It is chapter after chapter of material on how women relate to other women and to the men in our lives out of insecurity that is often so undetectable it is considered a cultural norm.  And, in that, we fail to connect, we fail to grow in and with one another.  Unity is hard to achieve.  Honesty is hard to achieve.  The true fellowship that women so desperately need with one another is out of reach if all we can do is size one another up and compare.

Just read the book.

In fact, I'm gonna go home and read the book again.

I'm not going to give away the farm...no full book review.  But I do want to share one quote from the book that I ran across this week on a sticky note.  Apparently, it confounded me enough to write it down and stick it in my day planner.  Here it is...

"Are others worth what it would take for you to live in the security of Christ?"

There is a verse in Hebrews that is one of my favorites...not because it is particularly pleasant but because it is particularly true.  It says, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God, and that no bitter seed takes root, that may grow up and defile many." (Hebrews 12:15)  It's the last part that gets me.  What the verse is basically saying is that your choice to be bitter about whatever it is in your life that didn't go just as you expected it should, it's not just eating away and destroying you...it's defiling the people that you love, the people around you.  Your bitterness hurts other people, too.  And in that, you are causing them to miss out on the grace of God.

Ouch.

So I thought of that when I read this quote in Beth's book.  It's the same concept.  My insecurity...aka, my bitterness that I am not something that I feel I need to be...is affecting the people around me, the people I love and share life with.  So the question remains...are the people in my life worth what it would take for me to truly be secure in Christ?  Are the people in my life worth showing that I can be confident and joyful in the place that He has put me with exactly who He made me, no matter the challenges?  Or do I want to drag them down with me, as I lament what I perceive as a bum lot in life?

It's something to think about.  I don't have a pretty little bow to wrap it all up with today.  The truth is, in my current place in life, God has seen fit to unveil my insecurities and force me to reckon with them.  And I reckon with them daily.  Am I worth it?  Am I good enough?  Am I pretty enough?  Am I clever enough and smart enough?  Am I talented enough?  These are questions I wrestle with daily in one way or another.  He is allowing things to be said that I want to allow to wound me.  He is allowing situations to occur that I want to show me that, no, I am indeed not good enough.  He is allowing moments to happen that I want to prove that, no, I'm not going to be worth it.  He is allowing all of these things...to show me that in Him, man cannot destroy me.  In Him, I am all I need to be.  In Him, I have all the resources to succeed at every plan He has made for me...in Him.

It's my choice to believe Him or not.

And If I DON'T believe him, I can destroy relationships that are dear to me.  If I choose NOT to believe Him, I can hurt the people that He has entrusted me to share life with.  If I REFUSE to believe Him, I don't allow myself to live in the fullness and abundance of His perfect plan for my life.

It's something to think about.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to His power that is at work within us,
to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
Amen."

Amen, indeed.

Ephraim.









Friday, February 17, 2012

Quotables


I'm mildly obsessed with Pinterest.  It's gotten a little better, but it still qualifies as an obsession.

My favorite board, of my own, is my "Quotables" board.  It's full of little nuggets of truth and wisdom found here and there, and when I go to it and read them one by one...I cry.  I do.

Here are a few...


Yes.


Everything.


Proverbs 31:25


Couldn't be more true...

And the one with my name ALL over it...

WELL SAID!


These are just a few.  Aren't they powerful?  You find the like of them all over Pinterest and it reminds me...we're all searching for truth.  We all want to know "the Truth."  We look in different places and believe far too much of our own opinions, but we all desire to know...what is it that's going on here?  Where's the truth in this?  I asked God just today, in fact.  If we don't know His Truth, how can we follow His plan?

I know I've been quiet on the blog...and the truth of that is, sometimes you're far too busy figuring out your own stuff, searching for the truth in your own circumstances, weaving through the day to day of a life only God could orchestrate, to pass along anything of any consequence to anyone else.  And that's just the truth.

Sunday is Chad's birthday.  I remember a few years ago, when my earthly age surpassed what my older brother's ever had.  It was August 22, 2009.  I was 32 years, 7 months, and 9 days old.  I actually counted.  It's probably a little weird, but I did it.  I can't exactly verbalize why it mattered to me, but it felt like I was embarking on the unknown...territory that he had not scouted before me, as a big brother always had.

I don't exactly know what I want to say, except that I'm still here...and I'm really fighting and trying to do this thing with God.  I'm so humbled often times when folks make such beautiful comments about me or the blog or my family...such incredibly kind things to say.  But...I just want you to know...no one is perfect.  We all fall short.  We all struggle to do this thing with God.  We all get confused and lose our way...we're all fighting to make sure we don't lose sight of The Truth.  You're not alone.  Whatever struggle you face today, whetever failure, whatever confusion, whatever circumstance or problem...you're not alone.  We're all imperfect beings...it's why Jesus had to come.  To save us not just from our enemy, but from our very own selves.  So I need you to know today...you aren't the only one.  You aren't the only one struggling to get it together or fighting to keep it together.  You aren't the only one wondering, when will it all just be...good?  You're not alone.

 Love love this quote.  There is a beautiful Brooke Fraser song with this quote as lyrics...

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart;
Yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

- Ecclesiastes 3: 1-11

It's Heaven we're searching for, Heaven we're longing for, Heaven we are chasing.  Heaven right there in our hearts.  In every "I though that would be more fun" or "I thought I would be more successful" or "Why can't I get it right" or "Why is this so hard" or "Why won't this work out" or "Why can't I be satisfied"...it's Heaven we're longing for.  Yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. No one can fathom Him, what He has done, what He is doing...no one.  There's a big chunk of Truth right there. 

What is He doing?  Only He knows.

And He is bigger than my failures, bigger than my heartache, bigger than my confusion, bigger than anything I face, and...

And He is more than able to make my life right here and now abunadant, joyful, peaceful...FULL.

He has made everything beautiful in its time...



Easier said than done...but worth a ocean of jewels.



I will trust Him.  Do your thing, Lord, and take me with you...


This is it.

Happy Birthday, big brother.  You are one of a kind, and you're missed more than all my words or tears could tell.  Scout out Heaven for me.  We're coming...thank you, Lord.

Ephraim. 









Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Blessed Whatever...for Lilotisme.

Happy New Year...

What is it about a new year? Of all things it inspires hope...hope in new beginnings. I ran across some notes I made the first few days of January 2011 in my devotional last night. Man...God was faithful to a tee. Not in the ways I expected at all...but in the perfect ways.

Father knows best for sure.

This year was a really good one...a hard one in some ways, but hard in the best way. It has had, among other things, some questions from me over issues of direction...I had just been so sure God was leading me in a certain direction for years, only for Him to abruptly interrupt that. It's a little confusing, but I think I was likely a little obstinate and even presumptuous about the vision I had been operating under..and what is so funny is the new circumstance is so similar, but completely different. And it isn't a vision...it's where I AM.

It isn't a vision, it's a reality.

So often I think we ask God to bless our plans. Or maybe we even get a glimpse of what He is doing and we run with it, manipulating all along the way as soon as we take control. And maybe we forget to look around at where we ARE, what our reality is that that moment, and see Him working. Or maybe we are so sure of what is coming, we pass up what he has for us today.

As I glanced back through my devotional journey last night, I noticed just weeks before this "new direction" took place, I had written these words...

"I embrace the Blessed WHATEVER"

I don't really remember what was happening in that moment, but I do remember I had listened to a sermon where that phrase, "blessed whatever," was used. I think it was Beth Moore, but not positive. But, what I am pretty sure of, is that I was probably frustrated in my "vision" to even embrace that phrase and meditate on it.

The Blessed Whatever. I just love that.

I was telling a sweet friend today that lately God has laid a visual on my heart that has really resonated with me. I keep thinking of an infant...still tiny, but to the point that it is ready to be soothing itself to sleep. Does anyone remember that episode of Mad About You, when Paul and Jamie were trying to get through Mabel's first night of putting herself to sleep, and they huddled by the door holding the baby monitor? They were crying together, wanting so badly for her to settle. Their hearts were breaking, because they knew she was afraid she had been abandoned. They wanted to rush to her side, but knew in the long run, this was for her best.

I often feel like that infant. Alone in a dark room, absolutely panicked because I'm afraid I have been abandoned, that terrible things have or will happen, that no one really loves me or is ready to fight for me. Feeling as though I have been left...

When I haven't been left at all.

Feelings aren't truth.

All the while the infant cries and panics in it's crib, the mother is outside the door, preparing it's next meal or washing it's clothes....buying all it's needs and preparing for it's future. While that baby lay there, screaming and sure it has been abandoned and deserted, it's loving parents are readying all it's needs. The baby panics...for absolutely no reason. It panics because it thinks something terrible is happening...but that isn't the truth. The truth is that it's loving parents are preparing for everything it needs.


And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

-Philippians 4:16


I am so often that infant....assuming the worst as my God prepares for my best. That baby kicks and screams and pitches a fit...while it should be resting peacefully, completely confident that it is wholly and perfectly cared for...today and always.


One of my goals for 2012 is to embrace the Blessed Whatever. To rest peacefully, and let God work the rest out. When I panic, when I kick and scream, when I give in to fear, or believe I am alone or abandoned, I'm robbing myself of the peace and comfort that is mine in Christ. Fear and anxiety are never from God...it is NOT what He intended for us...


For God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.

-2 Timothy 1:7


When I am sure what I think and feel is right, assuming I know all and I know best, I am robbing myself of the peace and comfort of resting in God's perfect will. When I am stubborn, and stay in my sin and deception, I am robbing myself of the comfort and peace of resting in God's arms. When I fight God and His will, I will end up exhausted, spent and frustrated.


And...again...I am not trusting God. I am not trusting God with ME. He will leave me in that crib until I rest in Him peacefully. In God's world, our calm is a force of action. It's peace that makes things happen. That is truth. God doesn't honor my panic, attempt for control, or manipulating of plans.


And when I find that rest in Him, I am readying myself for His perfect plans over my life.


...but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 40:31


Hope.


This year, I am embracing the Blessed Whatever. Last year was full of adventures and curve balls, truths and treasure, sanctification and tons of grace and mercy. And it was chock full of blessings. This year, I am embracing whatever God has for me...no strings attached. No anxiety, no fear, no obstinacy about what I want or believe is best for me. I am waiting with excitement and gratitude for the blessings of God because I am confident in His love, and that He gives good gifts to His children...and He gets to choose. Have thine own way, Lord.


The Blessed Whatever.


Ephraim just keeps on coming. Thank you, Lord.


Happy New Year...