Category Archives: Life

Gettin’ my political on…..

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Much to the chagrin of my in-laws, I am sooooo not an uber-political person.   I mean I vote and I think it’s important to inform yourself and make a smart decision based on your mind, heart, and values.  But at the end of the day I’m never going to put my faith in any one human being’s ability to “fix” the world.  Not being a pessimist here, just someone who believes this world is forever broken, and no one can make it the utopian society we all dream of.  Nope.  I believe that desire we have is only fulfilled in the next life.  Not to say we should give up and never do anything good in the world- hardly!  But my faith will ultimately always be on the man who hung on the cross, not a man behind a podium.

But with all that said, I did have a political Thursday night this past week. Romney was in town giving a rally and so we decided to go.  I’ve never been to anything really political, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was happily surprised at how calm, polite, and respectful everyone was.  Sure there was a small group of Obama supporters, but they just chanted a bit and waved their signs, and it never really got out of hand on either side.  Though at the end there was business suit clad conservative yelling back and forth with a dred lock liberal hippy chic.  They both looked ridiculous and no matter what points either was saying, I can’t imagine how anyone would have changed their mind based on their words.  But other than that, the night was smooth sailing.

We took the girls and met up with a friend and his daughter, then hit Moe’s Grill at the end.  I’m still dreaming about that fish taco…..

Ok, back on track.  So here are the pics from the night.  At first we were in the overflow building b/c they ran out of seats where Romney was really speaking.  We were bummed b/c we wanted to see him, not just a video of him.  But then he came over to our building and it turned out to be great b/c it wasn’t packed, so we moved up to the balcony section right over him and then we could get really close and see him.  Only 20-30 feet away or so.  Gotta say- Romney ain’t too shabby looking 🙂  Seriously- if I was casting “Independence Day 2”,  he would totally be on the top of my list of people to play the “presidential” part.  It was kind of comical just how president-looking he was!  Not that that is why I’m voting for him……ha!  Just saying.  Ok, on to pics for real!  And sorry about the bad quality- had my crappy point-n-shoot instead of my good camera.  Boo!

 the line to get into the auditorium

the Obama supporters

 our first seats till we learned he was coming in and we moved to the front

  the girls just loved all the clapping going on

Huckabee

future president??

    

So that’s about as political as I’ll probably ever get.  Gotta say- I just got back on FB and two things- #1 is that I love that half my friends are Romney supporters and the other half are Obama supporters.  I never can understand why some people care so much about things that they wouldn’t be friends w/someone from the opposite political spectrum.  #2 – Really hate the negative political talk on FB.  Have an opinion- great – but don’t share it in an ugly, belittling, better-than-thou-, self-righteous way.  Seriously- does that ever win anyone over to your side?  And if you’re doing that and claim to love Jesus all at the same time?  Wow.  Just spew your political hatred and leave God out of it if you can 🙂  Ok.  done w/my rant for now! 🙂

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Big Day!

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First, off I want to say thank-you to those who read the last post and sent kind comments and emails.  It really meant so much to me! That’s what seems to help most when you go through something like that; you don’t want to dwell on it or draw much attention to yourself or cry forever and ever, but just to have a friend acknowledge your pain, say sorry, and feel their support……the smallest gesture makes the biggest difference! My heart thanks you 🙂

So on a totally different note, today is a big day for our family.

First off my Grandmom, who is turning 81 next week, is having a triple bypass open heart surgery today.  My Grandmom is pretty much the most awesome senior citizen on the planet, at least to my family she is!  I grew up with her living right next door to me through the woods and so to say we are close is a huge understatement.  She and I have never had that distant grandparent relationship that sometimes occurs when grandparents live really far away or maybe if they act older than their age or have health problems or anything like that.  She has always felt like a second mom to me – someone I could talk to about anything.  And I mean anything! 🙂

So to have her go through this surgery is a big deal.  She’s had a rough year – went from being completely independent, driving everywhere, and living on her own to losing her license and having to move into an assisted living home.  Then just when we thought she was getting settled into her new home and her health was improving, she had a heart attack this past weekend.  A setback for sure.  But she is an amazing lady of faith and we all have no doubt that God is taking good care of her.  My Grandmom is one who has always been the person taking care of others, never needing help herself.  And with this experience she has been overwhelmed with the amount of love and support she’s gotten since entering the hospital a few days ago.  For someone who is not used to getting all this type of attention, she told my mom that she just “couldn’t take it anymore.”  And when my mom asked take what anymore?, she responded and said, “All this love”.  That makes my heart so glad!  I mean we do love my Grandmom and shower her w/affection all the time, but when something like this happens, and people come out of the woodwork to show up and give support, it just reminds her of how special and beautiful and loved she is.  I think this heart surgery is going to heal her heart in more ways than one!

visiting Grandmom about 3 weeks ago in her new crib 🙂

oh she’s got my heart!

Secondly, our big, recently 5 year old Bailey girl is starting kindergarten today!  Good grief I could write about this event forever! ha!  But I’ll spare you my long-winded words.  Suffice it to say she is excited, her teacher is crazy awesome (a Powder Springs native who grew up with my parents and moved to NC a while back!! how cool is that???), and we are dealing with the bittersweet joy of watching our baby grow up.  Here are a few pictures of her this morning – could she be any cuter?!!??

 she’s got my heart too!!!

right in front of her school……tried to use some mad iphoto skills and blur out the school name. looks funky  

her sweet teachers! of course anyone hailing from Powder Springs must be pretty awesome 🙂

Finally, today is also a big day because our house is officially on the market! Woo-hoo!  We LOVE this house and have enjoyed making it our own over the past two years.  However, with the thought of having a new baby one day (hopefully) and with all the out of town guests we have, we decided a slightly bigger home would fit our lifestyle better.  Nothing too big though! We like it small, cozy, and manageable. (Plus I’m a lazy house cleaner and I love that this little ranch can be scrubbed top to bottom in under 2 hours tops! ha!).

Now the question is, where are we going to move??? That question has been haunting us for the past few months.  In one big way we thought about moving back to Georgia.  Not that we don’t love it here, b/c we absolutely do, but just because with the stuff going on with my grandmother and other family issues, we thought it might be best to move back and be closer to family.  But after TONS of praying, crying, arguing with God, and talking it over with any person with a pulse (not kidding), we just know that deep down, in our heart of hearts, North Carolina is our home.  At least for the foreseeable future (don’t want to give any sort of timeline b/c you never know with us! 🙂 ).  These blue misty mountains have captured our souls and we deeply love and feel knitted into the community we are surrounded by – our church, the schools, the city, my Hope House girls, our doctors, our neighbors, and our friends.  Every little thing (besides missing our family and GA friends), points us to settling here.  So here we are staying.

In one way it’s a hard pill for me to swallow because I never ever would have imagined raising my kids in a place that wasn’t right near my parents.  Hello! I’m used to a 5 minute walk to my grandparents house –  a 4 hour drive was not the picture of the life I had designed in my head.  But I am learning more and more to let go of my expectations, my control and plans, and truly let God take the reins.  More often than not He leads me down paths I never would have stepped foot onto on my own (finding and marrying Steve at such a young age! having babies so early in marriage! moving to NC!).  And that’s scary in so many ways.  But I’m learning how He never leads me astray.  Rather, He takes me on more exciting, fun, and fulfilling adventures than I could have planned for myself.  And they are all ones that are often more “difficult” in the logical, worldly sense.  But they stretch me, challenge me, and force me to rely on God more than if I’d of played it safe.  And for that I’m content and thankful – getting closer to God’s heart is my ultimate goal in life and I’m starting to embrace anything that makes that happen, even if it’s difficult.

So that’s all that.  Big day, August 16th, but all good stuff.  Going down to see Grandmom tonight and I so look forward to seeing her face and to see her on the road to recovery and feeling better.  And of course I can’t wait to see a certain little 5 year old get off that big yellow bus today.  Ahhhhhhh!!!!! It’s happening all too fast! 🙂

Blessed be Your Name

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So not much posting lately.  Tis the way of summer.  I always envision having more time during these months when Steve is home, but it never fails to end up being the opposite.  Usually in a good way – lots of trips to see family, doing our own family stuff around town, house projects we’ve put off doing forever.  That kind of stuff.  If I can ever get motivated to download the 800ish pictures on my camera (oh the joys and curses of technology- ha!), then hopefully one day I can share some of the fun things going on around here. Of course GA’s bday is almost 2 months past and those pics have yet to see light of day, so no holding your breath! 🙂

But this summer hasn’t been all good.  To be honest I’ve debated back and forth in my head over whether to share this over the internet or not, but my desire for transparency won out in the end.  Again w/the joys and curses of technology- the internet can be such a connecting power, yet how real and vulnerable do you make yourself amidst keyboards and computer screens?  My thoughts are to just be true – if I get on this silly little blog and share all the good and happy stuff, then the bad and painful stuff is ok to share as well.  I never want to paint my life out to be anything other than what it really is, and in doing so it’s obvious that everything isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. (Which btw, is a new favorite expression of mine…..rainbows and unicorns…..i seem to hear it all over the place now- is it just me??? ).

Ok, so off the rambling and back to what I was going to say.  This past April Steve and I found out we were expecting another baby. Yay!!! Lots of excitement and joy.  We always knew we wanted more children, even right after GA was born and I was in the midst of the zombie sleep-deprivation/24 hr breast-feeding phase…..I just never felt like our family was complete even with these 2 beautiful girls.  So we decided to let things happen right after I finished my marathon in March.  When I got that positive pregnancy test the very next month we were both happy and shocked at how quickly things did happen.  Felt very blessed.

Baby was due Jan. 3 of next year.  Initially I only told my sister-in-law and 3 close friends.  I am never one to really tell lots of people till after the 3 month period, so this was no different.  But I will say that even from the second I saw the positive test, I felt a bit unsure about this pregnancy.  Just felt like something wasn’t quite right.  I was happy about things, but for some reason didn’t totally trust what was happening.  When the few friends I did tell talked about the baby with me, they would be all excited and saying things like “I can’t believe you’re about to have another baby”, and I would just give a wary smile and say something like, “Yeah, we’ll see….”.  Looking back, that is a very odd thing for a pregnant woman who really wanted another baby to say.  But all is providence I think.

The first month or so of the pregnancy was a little off for me in the physical sense.  I was really tired, but that was about it.  Hardly any nausea at all.  And that is SO not like me. My girls had me throwing up several times a day for the first 3-4 months.  Smells would send me over the edge in a nanosecond.  But this time was different.  I know they say every pregnancy is different, but the thought that just kept recurring in my head was that either this time it was a boy, or that something was wrong.  I knew it just had to be one of those options.  Sadly, it was the latter.

My family came up for GA’s birthday and I was 9 weeks along.  I bought her a “Big Sister” t-shirt as one of her gifts as a way to tell my family.  She opened it up and they saw it and it was a great moment.  The funniest part was when my dad thought it was a mistake and we had actually given GA a shirt of Bailey’s or something like that.  The fact that we had to spell it out to him cracked me up.  The following week was when I had my first ultrasound (had already had an appointment at 8 weeks, but just drew blood and filled out forms, no heartbeat test or ultrasound).  The night before the appointment I was really excited.  Just because all those fears and worries were so strong in my mind.  I knew this doctor visit would either put them to rest or bring to light what I was already feeling; either way I just wanted to know- the uncertainty was tough……the battle b/w doubt and faith playing out in my head.

So at 10 weeks, on June 7th, we went to the doctor.  Steve and the girls were with me.  They called us back to the room with the ultrasound technician.  Got everything in place and started looking at the black and white rounded triangle picture on the screen.  Looking back, it was so obvious.  But at the time we just smiled and looked at the screen, eager to see our baby.  The technician didn’t say much, just hit some keys on the computer and prodded around a bit.  We just saw the black triangle with a little circle in the middle.  What I thought was our baby.  After a few minutes she finally spoke: “I’m concerned with what I’m seeing here.”  Heart drops to the pit of my stomach.  Oh no.  Here it is……everything I was afraid was happening is really happening.  “See – here’s your uterus and here’s the amniotic sac.  But I don’t see a baby.”

“Ok”.  That was all I could say.  Steve and I looked at each other, sad faces, teared eyes.  The girls still bouncing and whispering about.  She tells us it looks at though the baby stopped developing at about 7 weeks and there was nothing there now but a sac.  She said she was going to have the doctor look things over just to makes sure, but really, what was the point?

Spoke with the doctor, Dr. Q, the same one who delivered Georgia.  He’s so kind and compassionate and comforting.  Just the kind of doctor you hope for in such a situation.  He told us our options- to have the miscarriage naturally or schedule a D&C.  If all things had been going normally I’m pretty sure I’d of just opted for natural and let things happen.  But it turns out we were going camping the very next day and then the following week Steve was going on a trip with all the guys in his family for about a week (the girls and I would be staying with my parents during his trip).  The thought of having a miscarriage by myself while Steve was gone, while still taking care of the girls while my parents were at work, did not sound appealing to me .  Not that the other sounds so appealing either, but at least it would be scheduled and I’d definitely have help with me to deal with it.  So we scheduled the D&C for the following Tuesday, 5 days later.

Left the doctor’s office and still hadn’t really broken down in tears.  It wasn’t till I had to call my mom and tell her the news that they finally started flowing. Saying it aloud, realizing the future you had been picturing has drastically altered….that’s when the hurt came.  Called my sister-in-law and other 3 friends and told them too.  I really felt the need to have anyone who knew about the pregnancy know about it’s outcome as soon as possible.  The thought of them leaving me an excited baby text message or voicemail after the fact was something I did not want to deal with.  Everyone was super kind and understanding.

We decided to still go on our camping trip and I’m so thankful we did.  We went with some awesome family friends and their two girls and had the best time.  Mountains, swimming, smores.  And I could actually enjoy a beer by the fire – one perk I guess. And sadly, the friend I went with has had 3 miscarriage herself.  SuperWoman in my book- having to go through this more than once…….wow.  She was so open and raw with me through it all.  Allowing me to ask as many questions as I wanted, no matter how personal or specific.  She listened.   She understood.  She prayed for me.  She let me vent.  She allowed me to probe her past pain in search for answers.  She was an amazing friend through it all.  And thankfully, I didn’t miscarry while on the camping trip (something I didn’t even consider happening, which looking back is kind of crazy).

However, when we got back Monday I was busy packing for our weeklong Georgia trip when the actual miscarriage happened that night.  I was one day shy of being 11 weeks.  We had the D&C scheduled for the next morning (we were going to drive down right after the surgery…..again, probably kind of crazy and not really thinking about what that would have been like), but when I called the doctor and told him what was going on, he said to just cancel the surgery and let things happen naturally.  So we did.  And damn!  It really, really hurt.  Not going into specifics or getting graphic or anything, but the pain was just not something I was expecting.  I had talked to several friends about the emotional loss of a miscarriage, but the physical part never came up.  So if you’ve never had one (and I hope no one reading this does), just be warned that it hurts a lot.  At least for me it did.

There really isn’t much left to what happened.  Drove down to GA the next day, lying in the backseat on a makeshift bed. Steve left the next morning for his trip.  He wanted so badly to cancel and stay w/us, but I wouldn’t let him.  He gets so little time with his family and there wasn’t anything he could do at that point. Even though we missed him – A LOT!!!! – I’m happy he got some quality time with his dad and brothers. I stayed with my parents and just chilled out and relaxed as much as I could.  I had so many plans to visit friends while in GA, but dealing with the cramps and pain from the miscarriage, I just couldn’t make it happen.  And that’s ok.  My parents took good care of me and the girls and I spent tons of time just the 3 of us.

It’s been over 2 months since this all happened.  Physically I feel strong and back to normal again, which is a huge relief; the physical part of it just seemed to go on and on for me for various reasons.  And emotionally I feel good too.  Which is maybe why I felt safe and ok in writing and sharing about this.

And something else I really want to share about it is this: throughout the whole thing, from the moment I saw a positive pregnancy test in my bathroom to the weeks after the loss when I saw a negative pregnancy test in my doctor’s office, I truly felt held and comforted by God.  Cradled in the palm of his hand.  I say that b/c I think sometimes as Christians we hear about all the goodness of God, but usually that’s during times that are actually very good.  I find comfort in hearing the goodness of God when times are bad.  When we talk about God loving us and being there for us…..about “God is good all the time- All the time God is good”…….those are not just empty words, just catch phrases meant to “share the gospel” or sound spiritual in the church prayer circle.  Those words have action behind them.  True meaning.  Legit emotions.  For me it’s when this whole Christianity thing stops becoming a religion and becomes what it’s meant to be – a relationship.

And with my relationship with my Creator, my God, He has been there for me throughout it all.  I think he actually prepared my heart for what was to come, softened the painful blow we took in that ultrasound room that day.  I remember as a teenager having a conversation with my mom about how she had had a miscarriage between my brother and me.  The only thing I remember her saying was the sentence, “I just never felt fully pregnant”.  Odd thing for a teenager with no babies on the brain to remember, especially me b/c I have such a fuzzy memory!  That sentence has always stuck with me, even though she and I never really spoke about her miscarriage again.  So when I got pregnant this time and I kept waiting for all those pregnancy symptoms to arrive, those words kept floating around in my head.  Never for once felt that way or even thought of those words when pregnant with Bailey or GA.

Another moment when I felt so held by God came right after my very last doctor’s appointment.  This part of the whole thing is something I found so particularly awful – having to have repeat doctor visits to keep testing hormone levels just to confirm over and over again that YOU ARE NOT PREGNANT.  Ugh.  As if I didn’t know.  It’s not fun.  Sitting in the waiting room that just a few weeks ago you sat in, but that time with a baby in your belly, and this time just to test and make sure the baby is completely all gone……not my happiest moment.  And then having a disagreement with the receptionist over insurance stuff to only have her say (a little too loudly, at least to my ears, and a little too thoughtlessly, at least to my heart) “I’m sorry- that insurance only covers you if you’re pregnant, which you aren’t now.”  Really?  As if I needed another reminder.

So anyways- that last visit really had me down.  After the receptionist debacle I couldn’t get out of that office fast enough and into my car where I could lose it and cry like a normal heartbroken mama, all by myself.  And as I sat there in the parking lot I just cried out to God.  Don’t remember what I said really…..just tears and pleas for him to comfort me, hold my heart; I swear I was not alone in that car.

20 minutes later and I managed to put my face back together and decided to brave Walmart for a few quick items.  Not my normal Walmart since I was by the doctor’s office.  A few minutes of gathering stuff and running up and down the aisles and all of a sudden I see the back of someone who I hope so desperately is the friend I think it is.  The one who gets my heart like so few do.  The one who is real and loves Jesus and is purely comforting and calming to just be around.  God- please let it be her!  I could really use her peace right now.  I call her name down the coffee aisle.  She turns around and yes! It is her! I am so, so happy.

Warm hugs and the usual hellos and how are yous and before I know it I’m tearing up and spilling to her about the miscarriage and my last awful doctor’s appointment.  She listened and hugged and said all the perfect things. (And believe me there are perfect things to say in such a moment and not so perfect things to say, but that’s another post for another time).  Anyways.  While she listened I told her about how I had felt God’s presence through the whole ordeal.  Specifically I told her that a couple months prior to even getting pregnant I had really latched onto the song “Blessed Be Your Name“.  The song is beautiful and basically states how God is God and we should praise Him and bless Him when things are good and when things are bad.  Our circumstances, our happiness barometer, shouldn’t be the gauge that determines whether we praise the God of the universe or not.  We praise him no matter what.

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name……

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering 
Though there’s pain in the offering 
Blessed be Your name

So I told my friend how I had been listening to that song so much and praying that when those hard times came (and they surely would in this life), that I would not be angry at God, but still turn to Him and thank Him and praise Him.  Life had been so amazingly sweet the past couple of years and I wanted God to grant me the faith to still turn to Him and lift up His name, even when the sweetness ran dry.  And the truth is that when the miscarriage happened, I did still praise God.  And for that I am thankful.  I’ve heard of so many women who miscarry and turn from God (which is understandable too), and I’m thankful the situation is one where God drew me closer.

Well while I was telling my friend all this, about the song and it’s imprint on my heart, she started tearing up.  She said, “Renee, you are not going to believe this.  But just this past Sunday at church (Steve and mine’s first one back since the miscarriage, though we weren’t in service, but working in nursery) when that song came on during worship I just started bawling like a baby.  My heart became filled with a burden.  A burden of grief, but not one for me.  For someone else.  And I just cried and cried in pain for that person.  At the time I didn’t know who, but it had to be you!”  Talk about giving me chill bumps!  I know lots of Christian friends who have all these cool coincidence-God stories that are so amazing.  Not me.  Kind of boring in that sense :).  But this one just blew me over.  And maybe it doesn’t seem so amazing to anyone else, and that’s ok.  But to me, it was just another reassuring moment that God is right there with me, through every step of this journey.  The good ones and the bad ones.  He will not desert me.  I will go through pain and I will not have all the answers and I will often wonder and ask why.  And He’s ok with that.  But He will never leave my side.

So I guess there’s really not much else to say or add to it all.  Didn’t really intend to make this so long and I hope it doesn’t sound all dramatic or anything.  Just had lots of thoughts and feelings about it all.  It goes without saying that even though I’ve always felt really lucky and blessed to have my two girls, this whole experience has amplified my gratitude even more.  Having Bailey and Georgia- I have already won the lottery.  I know there are women out there who either never can get pregnant or who do, but have miscarriage after miscarriage.  Not that what we went through doesn’t hurt, but my pain is so little in the big picture.  And I feel that when the time is right and if it’s meant to be, we will hopefully be gifted with another little one in the future.  But if not, I know that my cup already runneth over.  Truly- God is good ALL the time and ALL the time God is good.  No doubt about it.

Three of a kind

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There are about a million things I love about my husband.  Towards the top of the list is his fierce independent streak, his love of dancing to the beat of his own drum.  No matter how off-beat that drum is. 🙂  Well a new thing he’s got going on is that he’s not cutting his hair for an entire year.  Yes.  One full year.  He is on month ten.  Even though it might not be my favorite look on him, gotta respect him for holding his own no matter how much I’ve nagged lovingly asked him to cut it.  But in all honestly, the amount of laughs it’s provided us over the last few months is pretty awesome.  I sometimes catch him playing with his long locks (that’s what I call them) and then make fun of him and then he does it more, like he’s in some dang Pantene ProV commercial, and we both just laugh our heads off.

Well the girls’ hair is also getting kind of long.  And I can’t STAND it when it’s in their eyes.  So lately I’ve really tried putting these little clips in them to swoop the strands out of the way.  The other night at dinner I looked around.  Bailey’s blonde locks were swooped with a Dora barrett, GA’s blonde locks were swooped with a Dora barrett,……..hmmmmmmm…….something was missing.

Thank goodness Steve is such a good sport.  He even let me put a pink one on him! I couldn’t stop laughing at this!  My crazy long locked, pink Dora barrett wearing manly mountain man of a hubby.  Gotta love ’em! 🙂

Who do you love?

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Last summer I attended an event in downtown Asheville that brought attention to a local organization called The Hope House.  It’s a non-profit, Christ-centered agency whose mission is to “restore women and girls who have been sexually exploited through the commercial sex industry.”   Also known as sex trafficking victims.

Ok, even though I’m of the ripe ol’ age of 30 now, I didn’t really know anything about the sex trafficking industry until about a year ago.  Didn’t even knew it existed or how it worked or who it affected.  My first real exposure to it was through Hollywood.  I’m not kidding! 🙂   Last year I saw the Liam Neeson movie Taken and was both in love w/Neeson for his kick-ass gonna-do-anything-to-rescue-my-daughter-skills and in shock by the crazy world of selling young girls as products for the use of sex.  So basically watching T.V. does not always rot your brain! 🙂

But anyways- I remember watching the movie and getting way more emotional than I expected to get over an action thriller flick.  Seeing the emotional/psychological/physical abuse the young girls were put through just pricked my heart in a big way.  I got on the internet and did some research about the topic of sex trafficking and wow!  It is absolutely horrific, heart-breaking, disgusting, maddening…….just so, so sad.  And I had all these emotions about it, but didn’t know what to do with them really.  But praises to God for being so faithful!  Just a few months after watching the movie and having my eyes cracked open a little to this underground world, I heard of an event in Asheville that was giving a presentation on the topic and immediately decided yes, yes! I want to go.  So we got a babysitter and went with some friends and made a night of it.  And that’s where I learned about The Hope House.

The Hope House is nothing short of a beautiful, amazing miracle.  Really it is.  It was started by these 2 middle-aged women (one’s a mom) who were working corporate jobs and just feeling like God wanted them to do something for women in need.  Not sure what exactly, but something.  This is the story of how Hope House began, as told by one of the founders at the event we attended:

One of the women was asked to go on a mission trip to Thailand to reach out and help the women in the red light district.  Being that it was very much out of her comfort zone and feeling worried and unsure, she went to a local park here in Asheville to just walk around, think, and pray about it all.  Sitting at a bench she was talking w/God about her anxieties and saw a couple of young men sitting nearby at a picnic table.  She felt God tell her that she needed to go and talk to those men.  Now even for Christians, having God give you such a direct and seemingly odd command is somewhat unusual.  But the woman decided that even though it felt “weird” she would listen and obey God.  So she went up to the young men and just blurted out something like “Ok, I know this sounds crazy and all, but I feel like God wants me to talk with you guys”.  They were actually nice and told her to sit down and they soon began to open up.  Throughout the conversation she told them she was having mixed feelings about a mission trip she was suppose to go on.  When they asked her about the trip she told them it was to offer help to the prostitutes in the red light district of Thailand.  As soon as she said that, one of the men got tears in his eyes and was dumbstruck.  Eventually he was able to tell her that he was the son of a prostitute who has fled the red light district in Thailand.  Now if that wasn’t an orchestrated moment from God’s divine plan, I don’t know what is! Of course the woman was shocked and decided she was meant to go on the mission.  She went and was so devastated by what she saw that when she returned to Asheville she decided with her friend that sex trafficking victims were the women God wanted them to help.

All that happened in 2007 and now, 5 years later, Hope House is thriving as a fully incorporated, fully functioning non-profit.  Basically Hope House is a physical house where victims of sex trafficking can go for shelter, safety, food, and recovery.  It’s for ages 18 and under (although they do have another house for older victims), and the young girls go there and start the healing process.  Before I tell more about that, here are a few facts about sex trafficking:

  • Most victims are “recruited” around the ages of 12-13.
  • There are b/w 100,000 to 300,000 sex trafficking victims in the U.S.
  • However, there are only about 150 beds available in safe houses for the victims to go to (6 of them are in Hope House!)
  • Most times (not all) victims come from unstable, unsafe family situations where sexual abuse, drugs, and neglect take place.  These young girls live a life of feeling unloved and betrayed by family members and friends.  Pimps know this and essentially prey on these emotions by targeting these young girls and offering them the money and love and security they aren’t getting at home.  Once the pimps win the girls over and earn their trust, they begin forcing them to prostitute themselves.
  • It’s a stockholm syndrome type of connection b/w the young girls and the pimps.  The pimps control everything  in the girls’ lives (what they eat, wear, giving them no money, how they work), and they physically abuse them to instill a deep sense of fear in them.  Most victims are so afraid and so brainwashed that when they are first pulled off the street they proclaim their love for the pimps and do anything they can to protect them (another reason why prosecuting the men is so difficult).
  • Because it is such a psychologically complex type of crime, these women don’t really have a place to go in our justice system.  Oftentimes they are arrested and treated like the criminal by law enforcements, instead of like the victims that they are.  This makes rescuing the very difficult.

Hope House is amazing because they take these girls in, girls who have been living in abuse for years, selling their bodies for years, and have zero sense of self worth, and they love, truly LOVE, these girls.  One of my favorite things about Hope House is that not only do they meet the girls’ physical needs (shelter, safety, clothing, food, etc.), but they also meet their emotional, mental, and spiritual needs.  They are given counselors to work through their trauma and grief with.  They are introduced back in to a tutoring, school system so that they can earn an education.  They are offered (though never forced) trips to church and Bible studies.    Finally, they are given opportunities to learn various skills and hobbies.  Some are basic life skills needed to function as an adult (cooking, balancing checkbooks, cleaning, grocery shopping), and then others are for fun and to develop an interest that might benefit them as a job in the future (photography, writing, horseback riding, softball, knitting, etc.).  I especially love that part because number one, it is giving the girls a bit of a childhood that has been stolen from them.  They are use to a world consumed by sex, drugs, control, and abuse.  To be given a chance to return to some form of innocence (b/c that little girl still lives within each of those girls, no matter how deeply buried she is) through something like riding horses outside, is just so healing and beautiful.  And number two, it shows the girls that they have a sense of value, a sense of self worth that is far beyond anything sexual that they can provide.  They are so use to “earning love” and getting paid through sex, that to realize they are more than just their bodies is a HUGE accomplishment for them.

So anyways, with all this background given – it’s pretty obvious that I am very much invested in helping out sex trafficking victims and The Hope House as much as possible.  I signed up to be a volunteer and just this past weekend went to a training session.  I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing there – it could be something as simple as driving the girls to different appointments to cooking them meals to teaching them a Bible class to whatever.  I honestly don’t care if they just need me to scrub the toilets for them.  I just want to show these girls, these broken girls who have had their childhood and innocence stolen – I just want to show them how very much loved they are.  How beautiful they are.  How valued and precious they are.  That no part of their past is too big or too ugly or too damaged for them to be “lost” or “unloveable”.  And I say all that not b/c I believe we can just “positive think” our way out of our past or out of our brokenness or anything like that.  I say that because I believe in a God whose love is boundless.  Whose love knows no limit on forgiveness.  Whose love is full of second chances and millionth chances.  Whose love is pure grace and endlessly redeeming.  Whose love sees beauty where others judge.

I love the story in Luke 7:36-50.  A prostitute comes to where Jesus is eating at one of the “religious” pharisee’s house.  She weeps at his feet, washing them with her tears and with her perfume.  The pharisee criticizes Jesus for allowing such a “dirty” and “sinful” woman to be in his presence.  Jesus rebukes the man for his judgement and loves and accepts the woman saying “her sins have been forgiven” and to “go in peace”.  What a Savior!  We are never too far gone, never too dirty, never too sinful for his love and peace!

So my question in this post is “who do you love?”  Who in this world gets to your heart?  Makes you ache to offer them any sort of help you can provide?  Which outcast, marginalized, persecuted, forgotten group does your heart long to love?  What cause gets you fired up?  Is it the homeless?  Children with special needs?  Broken families?  Abused animals?  Is it championing for the dreams of others like this beautiful friend?  Or is it expanding your family and heart through the difficult journey of adoption like this beautiful friend?  Or is it reaching out to a people group that often goes hungry and forgotten like this beautiful friend?  Whatever it is, whatever your cause, whatever makes your blood boil in righteous anger and gets your heart pumping in love, do something about it.  Now.  No matter how small.  No matter how insignificant you think it could be. Because it is never too small and never too insignificant.  Never.  Just find something and make it better.

And if you’re like me, sometimes you feel like your world is so little and your plate is so full.  I mean, what can I do? I’m just a stay at home mom with little kids and little money.  How the heck can I help sex trafficking victims?  I used to put off a lot of these causes for “one day”.  Whenever the heck that is. For when I’m more settled, got more money, got more time, etc.  I’m slowly started to realize how that “one day” will never come! ha!  So I just try to do what I can with what little I have now.

So for instance this past Christmas I wanted to host a party for all my girlfriends.  I thought about doing a fun little white elephant gift exchange party.  But quickly realized that none of us needed another silly white elephant gift to clutter up our houses.  So instead I invited my friends over for a wine and crafting party to benefit The Hope House.  I asked them to bring an uplifting verse/lyric/poem/quote and to bring at least one item needed by The Hope House (shampoo, deodorant, toilet paper, etc.)  I provided the wine and snacks and crafting material.  My idea was that since the girls living in The Hope House didn’t own a lot of personal things and didn’t always feel a lot of love from others, then we could  nicely craft up a cute picture frame for each of them with an inspirational quote to let them know they were so loved and that their dreams were worth pursuing.  I bought some nice frames from Goodwill that cost hardly anything, spray painted them fun colors, and got some crafting paper and supplies from Michaels.

I gotta admit I was a little nervous that my party might be a little boring or uptight or whatever b/c it was for such a “heavy” cause and b/c I didn’t know how much everyone would get into the crafting part.  But let me tell you- it was one of the absolute most fun parties I’ve ever thrown!  We drank some wine, ate some yummy treats that I made after scouring Pinterest, and just chatted and laughed and had a great time making the frames.  And everyone said repeatedly how much fun they had and how glad they were to be able to do something to help the sex trafficking cause.  It was amazing!

I learned that everyone really wants to help out in someway, but they don’t always know how.  And I certainly don’t always know how either.  But whatever you do, it doesn’t have to change the world in this huge, drastic way. And it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Just pick something you care about, learn about it, figure out how you can get involved, and then act.  That’s it!

So I know this is the loooonnnnggggest post in mankind.  But I’m not sorry. 🙂  I had a lot to say and I care a lot about Hope House and sex trafficking.  And if we get a chance to chat in person, we can talk about it even more! ha!  And here are some pictures from the party this past Christmas.  Hope you enjoy them.  And also, I hope to hear what you are passionate about!

  love the romantic simplicity of throwing a few candles in some mason jars! these are on our table all the time now

mmmm…….wine! of course i got too much and steve and i just finished the last bottle a month ago i think! ha!

to keep it simple for my non-culinary self, i only made things that had like 4 ingredients or less for the most part or just needed to be thrown together w/no cooking

i was actually proud of these little apple pies.  aren’t they so cute??

rainbow fruit kabobs.  so pretty

getting our craft on. everyone really got into it and most did 1 or 2 extra!

the group!

Amanda who is the sweetest gal ever!

Amy and Rebekah.  these two aren’t sweet at all……mean ladies i tell ya! 😛 ha ha! j/k!

Melanie who has an affinity for the old hymns just like me

Lindsey, Marci, and Sharon.  i only hang out w/brunette friends.

some of the goodies everyone brought

 a few of the frames we made

P.S. – I don’t write or share any of this to boast about anything I’m doing (b/c i’m not really doing anything that great) or to pretend I’m some awesome Mother Teresa over here (have we met??!! ha!).  The only reason I share is because the unconditional love, forgiveness, and hope that I get from Christ compels me to show others that same kind of love.  Even in my flawed human way.  I am just a wretch who is saved by grace and want nothing more than for others to know that same grace.  B/c it is life and eternity changing!  And I want to encourage everyone, especially young(ish) moms like me who might feel that helping others at this stage in our lives can be kind of hard.  It’s not as hard as you think.  Like I used to think.  Just look around and ask God to open your eyes and show you where He wants you.  And He will!

I did it! I did it!!!

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Ok, I hope this post title doesn’t sound like I’m bragging, but honestly those were the words that reverberated around my head all day on Sunday after the race.  So yes! I totally finished the half-marathon and it was amazing! Better than amazing! It definitely earned a spot in my top 10 list of lifetime experiences!

My mom came down for the weekend to help out w/the race and help me celebrate my bday.  It was beyond helpful having her with me!  So that Steve and the girls could sleep in, she and I got up early and left the house at about 5:15 to make it to the race on time.  I was worried about being really tired b/c I’m NOT a morning person, but honestly, the energy of the day, seeing all the runners together, and all the built up anticipation kept me awake and ready to go!

The race had about 200 participants and began at 7:30 on the beautiful campus of Western Carolina University.  It was a little drizzly and chilly, so I started off keeping on a jacket to run.  In the beginning everyone is kind of running together in a pack until about mile 1 or so when things start to spread out.  I was definitely one of the slower runners and just tried to keep my normal pace, so as to not get too worn out before the end.  Things rocked and rolled along just fine.  Took what felt like the LONGEST bathroom break ever (just 4 minutes though!) at about mile 5.  There was a little line and it took some effort to get my pants back on b/c I was so sweaty and it was humid- ha! But once I got running again everything was good until about mile 8.  That’s when fatigue started setting in.  We were running on a long stretch of road that ran alongside a river and somehow I always ended up by myself, with several ahead of me or several behind me.  But honestly, that’s how I like it.  Just me, the road, conversations w/God, my music, nature……don’t need much more.

Around this time (mile 8ish) a lot of people started to stop and walk a bit.  Knowing that it’d be really hard for me to stop and then start again, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to stop until at least mile 10.  So I just kept trudging along.  The night before the race I intentionally read the book of Philippians (so motivational!) and this verse kept me going through miles 8 to 10.

When I hit mile 10 we were on a main highway type of road that was mostly uphill (ugh!), but once I saw that mile 10 marker I was so freakin’ happy and elated that I was actually still alive and running, that I got this huge burst of energy and decided I didn’t want to stop at all and just keep running through the whole race.  So miles 10-13 were actually my favorite.  I just remember praising God over and over in my head……for the gift of the race, for the beautiful day, for His creation, for my health, for the ability to run, for Him giving me the strength to keep going…….just so many amazing blessings.  And that is something that I was most surprised by with the race (and my favorite part of all) – the beautiful communion I felt with the Lord during those 13 miles.  I knew that if I completed the race, it would only be with Him by my side, pushing me along. And truly, He was there.  Ever single step.  At times it honestly felt like no one or nothing else in the world existed…..no other runners, no people giving me water along the way, no cars……just me and my Father in relationship together- encouragement, praises, longings, prayers……it was amazing.

And then to top it all off, on the very last quarter mile, my Ipod started playing one of the best songs, one that I had downloaded for the race – Sweetly Broken by Jeremy Riddle.  And those words “At the cross you beckon me, you draw me gently to my knees, and I am lost for words, so lost in love, I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered“, all I could picture was the day would I would finish the real race and get to see my Jesus, face to face, get to fall in his arms, and let the brokenness of this world fall away and just be with him and praise him forever.  And that’s what I remember about crossing the finish line.  Finally! At 2 hours and 27 minutes.  Just the feeling of praise to God for getting me through it, and the longing of getting to spend more time with Him, just like I did during those 2 and 1/2 hours.  I know that might all sound so crazy and maybe not what a lot of people who have run a 1/2 marathon think or feel at the time.  But it was for me.  I was so nervous and worried about the physical part of it all, but that truly was not that bad.  The spiritual closeness I felt w/God though- now that did surprise me, in such a good, good way!

So there you have it.  My 1/2 marathon experience.  Totally worth all the training.  Wish I hadn’t been so worried about it and whining about it beforehand.  Totally empowering.  Such a gift.  Would love to run one again one day (though not now!).  🙂  So here are some pics from the race:

stretching and getting ready

excited/nervous energy before the race. i am not really bow-legged like this, but i get awkward when i have to pose by myself in a picture.  America’s Next Top Model I am not! 🙂

about to take off! i am somewhere buried in the middle-to-back area

2 hrs and 27 mins later! didn’t get an action shot of me crossing the finish line, so this was the next best thing!

actually this is me right after crossing the line- feeling wobbly and drinking the most heavenly water ever created! 🙂

of course i can’t have a post w/o my two cutie pies! this was of them waiting while i was out running

love this one! wonder what they were doing or talking about here. so funny!

last pic.  love bailey’s face here!

So that’s the end of my story! Running a half was definitely an awesome way to start year 30 and I really hope it’s a sign of all the good things to come!  I highly encourage anyone who’s interested to one day run a half.  Seriously- if I can do it, anyone can do it!  And I know what you’re thinking – no way! Not 13.1 miles!  I actually still think that myself……like throughout the week I’ve stopped and been like “What?!!! I ran how far?  And for how long???!!!”.  But somehow with a little bit of training and lots of prayers, it happened.  So you could do it too!!  And if you do, please share w/me how it goes…..I’d love to hear!

And thank-you also for all the encouragement my family and friends gave me.  Felt so good to have others believe in me, even when I was doubtful myself! 🙂  I am a lucky girl w/awesome loved ones!

What the heck was I thinking??!!

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Those are the words that have been running through my head over the past two months.  You see, sometime around November of last year I got this crazy idea in my head.  Masochistic, really.  This idea to run a half marathon for my 30th birthday (b/c who doesn’t want to enter their 4th decade in a lot of pain and soreness??). Like in a 13.1 miles half marathon.  As in “no-one-in-their-right-mind-should-ever-run-this-far-unless-the-Texas-chainsaw-murderer-is-chasing-them” kind of marathon.  Basically it’s a “what the heck was I thinking??!!” kind of idea.

Originally I wanted to get it done right before I turned 30, but there were none nearby around those dates.  Instead, I found one the weekend after my bday and quickly registered for it.  So now instead of doing it before I hit 30, it will be the first big thing I do in my 30s!  All about perspective! 🙂  But like the awesome procrastinator I am, I waited until the last minute to really make the leap, sign up, and fork over $40 to register.  You are “suppose” to give yourself about 12 weeks to train for a half.  I decided 8 weeks would be enough. I mean, who really needs that extra month anyways? (only smart, well-prepared people who don’t like to torture their bodies I guess.)

So here I am 2 days away from the race and I’m uber-duper nervous.  Whatever uber-duber means.  But like a good Vegas gambler, I’m trying to weigh it out and predict the odds of me actually finishing the race alive.  So here it is:

  • CON – I took a short training schedule (8 weeks) and whittled it down even more by injuring my foot and not running at all for 2 full weeks.  Apparently when you start to seriously train, cheap Kohls sneakers that you’ve been running in for the past 5 years (literally) aren’t quiet up to snuff for the mileage you’re now putting on your feet.  Luckily my parents came to the rescue and bought me a decent pair for my birthday.  They are Brooks shoes, pink, and compared to my old shoddy pair, I pretty much feel like I can fly when I’m wearing these.  And my feet don’t hurt anymore!  Woo-hoo!  Right equipment makes all the difference.  Just wish I hadn’t missed 2 weeks of training to learn that lesson. 😦
  • PRO – I am a cheapskate (or in nicer terms, a frugal person) and will be damned if I lose $40 over a race I don’t even complete.
  • CON – Boredom.  Simple as that.  The most I’ve ran during my training is 2 hours.  And though I love running normally (just 30-45 minutes usually), when I hit that one hour mark, my brain starts to go numb and I get bored.  However, I’ve done all my training by myself, so hopefully with the energy of the day, lots of people around me, and some new tunes on my Ipod (thanks to my Mom-in-law for the bday gift card!), I won’t get too bored.
  • PRO – This is a one time thing for me; the only shot I’m giving myself to complete such a goal.  Or at least I’m mentally telling myself that…..it’s do or die. No second chances.  In my head I considered the commitment you have to put towards training for a half, but in reality, it’s even harder.  At least for me.  I don’t have much free time as it is, and to use whatever precious moments I have to go run for an hour and half is kind of tough some days.  I just can’t imagine training again like this when my kiddos are little.  Hoping this “one time thing” motivation will help me make it across the finish line!
  • CON – It’s a 7:30 in the morning race.  Ughhh!! The only thing I do well before 8 a.m. is grumble, drool on my pillow, and give death stares to anyone who dares tries to have a real conversation with me before my morning coffee kicks in.  To say I’m not a morning person is putting it kindly.  So yeah.  Running an insane amount so early in the day will not work in my favor.  Also, the race is an hour away so I might have to get up even earlier just to drive and get there on time.  Double ugghhh!
  • PRO – This is the final and most important.  Totally stealing the words from my friend Liz, I am unabashedly “prideful and stubborn”.  Case in point- I once did 50 pushups in a bar in front of a group of friends all for a free beer. (And to impress this really cute mountain guy I liked named Steve………yeah, pushups in a bar for beer- he likes his girls classy 🙂 ).  Now I couldn’t do more than 10 to probably save my life, but when the pressure is on and everyone’s watching, my prideful, stubborn attitude digs in and I typically get ‘er done.  This, more than any training or more than any fancy shoes, will mostly likely be what gets me through it.  If I get through it. Gulp.

So there you have it.  My big 30th bday goal.  Or personal form of punishment.  Whatever you want to call it.  So on Sunday morning while you are lazily sipping on your cup of joe, watching cartoons on TV, or getting ready for church, know that #1 – I am extremely jealous of you, and #2 – any energetic vibes, prayers, or good thoughts you want to send my way, I’ll take them! 🙂

I don’t have any pics of me running, but I did find an OLD college pic of me and my friend Michelle (someone who’s ran several halves herself and got me thinking of running one), back at UGA right before we went on a run through some some trails together.  Ahhhh- that was fun!  Now getting to run and train w/her……that might be the only thing that ever gets me to consider doing this adventure again! Maybe. 🙂  Hopefully I’ll be able to write a post-run blog and be able to post a picture from the race.  Preferably of one without me being carried out on a stretcher.  Though you never know. 🙂

Here’s to year 30!!!!

P.S. – On a less whiny note, the season premier of “Mad Men” season 5 starts on Sunday too!!!!  Totally planning on recovering my sure-to-be jelly legs in front of the TV devouring the drama of Don Draper and crew…….woo-hoo! Who’s w/me? Any rabid “Mad Men” fans out there w/me??? Love that show!