Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My grandma & the 23rd Psalm

Psalm 23 NKJV
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The setting and timing of a story or event often make such a momentous impact. Finding $100.00 would make anyone excited. But finding $100.00 on the day before your power was going to be turned off, leaving you and your 3 kids in a desperate situation, well that would make you ecstatic.

And so it is with the ever-changing events of life. This is the story of how a Psalm that I have known for over 20 years, came to mean even more to me due to the setting and timing.

My family and closest friends know that my beloved grandma is ill. This year has been a struggle for her, though praise God she is having some better days lately. I went to visit with her yesterday, and that perfect smile greeted me, and she called out "Brina", and that was really all it took to know that she is OK. She is changing and aging, but she is still my grandma. We spent precious hours together, and I know they are precious, because I have many friends who are mourning the passing of their grandparents.

The laughter was genuine, and the requests for small things were pretty constant, but I would not trade that time together for anything. Life really does come full circle, and this grandma; the only grandma I have ever known (my middle name, Maude, is after my daddy's mother, who died before I was born), the grandma who saw me graduate from high school in Jacksonville, and undergrad in Tallahassee, and graduate school in Athens, GA, this grandma who knows I would literally give her anything on this earth and it would not come near to the amount of love, support, and laughter that she has brought into my life. This grandma blessed my life and comforted my spirit, again, yesterday. And there I was thinking I would go and comfort her. Maybe the truth is we comforted and encouraged each other.

Before I left, I was sharing my daily devotional with her. Reading some thoughts on standing up for your faith. In the reading there was a reference to the 23rd Psalm (the whole thing is above). As I started to read, "The Lord is my Shepard.." my grandma's voice joined mine. And I closed the devotional book and we both slowly and powerfully recited the God-inspired words of the Psalm. And I will admit my voice trembled when we said together, "ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil...". Because it was not lost on me, that, that valley has come closer this year than ever before. We kept on in the Psalm, and I was reminded to be grateful as we said the words, "my cup runneth over". And she added an extra "Amen" at that part, even though the present has been difficult, the Amen was for the fact that she knows God has been faithful to her, and she is wise enough to know the current situation, is not the whole story, not at all.    

We ended our words with, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever." What a comfort and peace those words were to us both. I am still young with an old soul, but I have seen it again and again, that as life fades, as the body tires, and the mind slows down, often it is the simple messages and songs of faith that linger in the human soul, and that is no accident. I have sat at the beds and nursing homes of many people, and there is no talk of politics, and money, but there is talk about family and God, and God and family. I know that I am blessed to be 29, and know that I don't have to wait for advanced age to come, to live a life that reflects what truly matters, God and family.

As I drove home, it hit me. I remembered that when I had first come to the house, my grandma had been confused about what day it was. Surprised that Monday had come so quickly. And during my stay, she had sometimes substituted my name for one of my cousins...which is not really a new thing, there are a lot of us:) But you know what, she recited that 23rd Psalm word for word, as clear as crystal, with no confusion! Praise God for his great care and tender mercy! 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

What is a prayer warrior project?

Many of my 30 before 30 goals are clear cut..."go sailing". Check, been there and loved it!

Some are more abstract however...."start a personal prayer warrior project (daily, dedicated and specific prayer time)". I have been working on this specific goal for almost 2 months and so I wanted to update everyone.

I love prayer, and more importantly prayer is part of the lifeline that keeps my faith real, growing, and personal. Talking, sharing, and confiding in the Lord is the pivotal part of my daily walk in faith that keeps me grounded, I would not be me without prayer. 

So, as I get ready to enter my 30's, I wanted to go deeper and seek more wisdom and know more about prayer. So, I wrote down the goal above...but did not have a true plan of how to actually get started and find out new and different nuances to my prayer life.

Well, by God's providence, just when I was seeking something to guide my prayers, I found a gift given to me years ago by a wonderful friend, as she was just starting off her new life as a Christian. 100 Days of Prayer for a Godly Woman is the book and it has turned into part of what I needed.

My personal prayer warrior project has 3 parts.
1. I read the daily devotional, quotes and scriptures provided in the book. The topics range from "Pray for Perspective to See through the Media's Distorted Messages" and much more.

2. I think of one descriptive adjective or phrase to describe God and write it down. I then use that specific word as a part of my prayer and praise for the day. This is been SO good for me! I was often stuck in a rut, using the same words to describe my awesome and all powerful God. Being mindful of how I describe God has opened my mind and spirit in great ways! Here are just a few words or phrases. So far I have 60!
my all in all
Sometimes I really have to stretch my mind and Biblical knowledge for a word or phrase. But it has been AMAZING!!! I wish I could do the whole process justice. It's the part that I would recommend to any Christian. 

3. Because I fully believe and know that prayer is powerful and works, just as it is promised in God's word, I wanted to pray for certain things over and over. I wanted to take some people and places and just dedicate myself to praying for them, and 100 days seemed like a great amount of time. I ended up with 6 items. These are things that I often prayed for, but that I wanted to show more dedication to. For I do believe that as a Christian, if you care about something then you will be talking to God about it. I won't share them all because they are personal and privileged information. 

But one is my grandma. Her health is wavering, and I feel so helpless as how to be there for her, and so she is at the very top of this list. And my prayers have helped remind me that her life is cared for by the God who created this entire universe....I do not need to fear her aging.

 Another one is Godly marriages. Have you looked around lately, and seen the brokenness that is seeming to overtake the family unit? I often pray for protection and strength for marriages that are trying to honor God, for I know that the world does not give them respect, and I bet that can be quite difficult and challenging though ultimately fulfilling. I also pray for those who are waiting on a Godly mate, because believe me, it is so tempting to give in and just date or marry someone without God's hand guiding your relationship. I myself am waiting, so I take this prayer very seriously.

Anyway, there you have it. My prayer warrior project. 60 days in, and I know that it has changed me and is changing things. Praise God!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Thank You!

When I wake up with something good on my heart and mind, it gets me in the blogging mood.

There were SO many things to cherish about the "Sending-Off Celebration" last night at church. Here are just a few....

*Looking around and taking time to realize that the core group of people that I love the most in Athens was all together.

*Hearing that God's grace and love are indeed growing and shining outwards in my life.

*Ending the evening praying with 3 of the most wonderful and faithful friends that I could ever be blessed to have.

*The laughter, and fun that abounds when God's people come together and break bread and relax for a while.

An ongoing joke was, "Who has ever heard of organizing your own going away party?" And while it was a unique idea, Jennifer, Jessica, and I really did have a great time, pulling together just the right type of celebration. A good time was had by all, and that is all that matters in the end:)

I already miss my Athens family in Christ. I did not get to tell each person last night, but the faithfulness and acceptance I enjoyed during my 4 years here has been phenomenal! It is a true testament to a group of varied people, who have more differences than commanilites. But the overarching thing we share is the life-changing power of Jesus Christ! And that, I continue to learn, is a bridge from my very best self, to the very best self of these other wonderful Christains, that were my family for 4 years.

Here is a blessing for each of you. From the bottom of my heart and soul, I pray this over each individual and family who has loved me and supported me and kept me going in the right direction during my stay here in Athens.

I pray that you all continue to enjoy the life-changing greatness of a life that is daily grounded in God. That you would be the exact combination of strength and weakness that God can use to influence this world and use for his supreme glory. I pray that the laughter and pure joy of life be overflowing and that when tears come, the sorrow be shared and the burden divided by those who love you in Christ. I pray that even though I will not be in constant communion with you all, that our faith and circumstances will keep you on my heart and that my spirit will never in this lifetime forget just how kind, thoughtful,true, and Christ-like you all have been to me. You were all strangers and now you are part of my family, praise the Lord for his great mercy! Amen.

To close up this blessed chapter of my life, here are some scriptures that still continue to change me, when I remember to find humbleness, and let God have his way.

My Senior Quote- Proverbs 27:19 "As in water, face refelcts face, So a man's heart reveals the man."

My manta during the hardest trial of my life, my sister's illness. Psalm 61:1-2 "Hear my cry. O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the Earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I."

My reminder to keep the faith- 2 Corinthians 2:14 "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Act Kind

One October afternoon during my first year as a School Counselor, I was feeling pretty dejected and disillusioned. You know that feeling, when real life is just not living up to the glittering expectations that you had hoped. My work was real and much more difficult than I had imagined.

And I had smiled all day on the ouside and fretted on the inside. And I just needed to talk to someone, so I went to our Gifted teacher, and I just spilled out all of my concerns. I am sure it was a mess of words, and confusion. She is much older than me, and full of quirks, but she listened to me like my problems were her problems. At the end she hugged me and reminded me to breathe and look at all of the things that I was actually doing that were being successful. I felt heard and appreciated and was able to go home and get ready for another day.

Well, that next morning when I opened my office door, there was a big handmade banner that said "Happy Fall! We love you", a Chik-Fil-A biscuit, and a card. I was so taken aback, who could have done such a kind thing for me? I smiled and I also cried because who knew that I was desperate for a kind deed. The card was so sweet and it was signed "Everybody" and of course I knew it had to be her. I rushed out in the hall and hunted her down and just gave her the biggest hug ever. How could I ever express that her kindness was like water to my emotional desert? How could I let her know that she disarmed my hysterics and self-pity, by being simply kind.

Today, I had lunch with this same teacher, as I prepare to say goodbye to life here in Athens. And we talked about so many things; growth, changes, family and the aging process. And as we said goodbye and hugged again, it was so easy to say "I love you!". And I made sure and took time and thanked her for her kindness that gave me renewal to press on at my work. And she tried to downplay it, but I said it again, that she would NEVER be able to know how her caring uplifted me. I let her know, that her one act has been multiplied SO many times over, as I have been kind to students and encouraged them to go be kind to others.

This life seems so complicated at times. Both rushing ahead and yet also dragging along. But, there are small things, that are like keys to a better way of living. Acting kind to others is one of those keys. Acting kind and expecting nothing in return. Acting kind at just the right moment, can change the day, week, month, or even the entire life of a person. That is something powerful right there! Do I have within me, the capability to made a positive and important impact on another person? Yes I do, and that is something to cherish.

In the midst of the hurry and busy and plans, I would ask you this. When is the last time you remember being kind on purpose? When is the last time someone shared with you, and you set your mind to helping them lift their burden? If not recently, then I hope that very soon you get a circumstance that crosses your particular path, that only your unique kindness can help. And a tip is also that if you are too plugged in to the TV, phone, tablet, wallet, etc. you might possibly just miss out on someone who needs you to be kind. They need it more than you even know, so listen carefully, and look closely, and then act wisely and lovingly and watch your little piece of this world change for the better.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer Vacation- The Falls

What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable? Unknown 

Part 2 of a 3 part reflection on two weeks of sweet summer vacation. Also known as, I am a woman who likes to make plans and see them through to the end. 

I am a traveler. And yet I crave stability, I am still trying to work out this contrast within myself. I grew up with a close aunt who traveled the world and those postcards from places far and near opened up my mind to endless possibilities.

I was also an avid reader, I still am actually. And so, though I lived in the same house from birth to college, I had roamed the Earth through my reading adventures. 

In college, I met my travel buddy, Kristin and we decided to go to Europe together. We found a foreign exchange program called Beyond Borders, and the summer after our Sophomore year, we spent 3 weeks in Germany and 1 week in Italy. That trip gave me the boldness that you need, if you like new travel adventures. And I was already the super planner, who could create itineraries, and connections between airports, trains stations etc. 

Fast forward life, and my passport was set to expire in 2015. And I knew I just HAD to use it one more time. And so, that is where the idea came from to travel to Niagara Falls. I had the urge to go somewhere new and I had always wanted to see Niagara Falls. So, I called Kristin and she agreed and just like that a plan was formed! I think every independent, travel-loving girl needs a friend who will get up and go with her to sights and destinations unseen:)

To describe Niagara Falls is to apologize in advance. I am going to try my best, but know that it won't reach the wonder of what I was able to experience.

Ontario, is this interesting mix of majestic, natural wonder, and super touristy exploits. Mini golf with flaming, fiery volcano, Rainforest Cafe, bright lights and the whole bit. We called it little Las Vegas. Niagara Falls, is also very Amercanized, so you can pretty much find your favorite chain stores, hotels, and restaurants. You can also use your American money, at least at all the places we frequented.

Life was so busy leading up to our trip, that Krisitn and I did not plan out our actual schedule, but that worked out just fine. We went before the tourist season kicks up, and we liked it that way. It was still pretty cool weather wise, and lots of families and older people. I also suggest that if you go, make sure and go to the Canadian side, the views are much better!

To see the falls for the first time is to literally be breathless. It was amazing, I just wanted to jump out the cab and get as close as possible. Well, as close as safely possible;) I was just chattering to myself, and the cabbie  payed me no attention. The massive length and depth of the falls was amazing. And the sound of all of that rushing water could be heard for miles! You just get mesmerized by the enormous amount of swift, rushing, and cascading water. I was in love with the whole beautiful thing!

Kristin and I didn't rent a car, and we didn't really need one for the few days. But we became pros of the super convenient, We Go shuttle.

We enjoyed the best of tourist experiences. Scenic moments, walking and true exploring. Unexpected fun. There was this thing called the Whirlpool Aero Car   that Kristin rushed me on, before I could remember that I have a thing with heights:) However, the view was fantastic! Here I am looking brave(ish) below. We had an amazing dinner and view from the gigantic Skylon Tower. The views of the falls from thousands of feet in the air were awesome!

I can't forget the additional natural beauty that we enjoyed. The Floral Showcase was in the midst of a hydrangea show, and it made me feel like a little girl. Everything was just so soft, feminine, and pretty! I was in love again:) Beauty was literally covering every surface!! Then we had the Butterfly Conservatory, where you had butterflies covering almost every surface.

I think that Niagara Falls is a once in a lifetime trip. And I am so happy that I got to experience the wonder of God's nature in majestic array. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summer Vacation- The Wedding

There are so many beautiful reasons to be happy. Unknown

Part 1 of a 3 part reflection on two weeks of sweet summer vacation. Also known as, I have great friends all over the county, and they support my love of travel, and let me crash at their homes, as long as I ask nicely;)

Last summer, one of my best friends got engaged to a great man, who was just the exact right match for her. It was a happy time, as Melanie was also recently engaged. Weddings were on the brain!

Rebecca and Mason live in Pennsylvania, and soon I knew that I would be taking a trip to see Becca get married. I figured that while I was going "up North" it would be a great time to realize one of my travel dreams, and go to Niagara Falls, Canada! Also, my passport expires in 2015, so I had a urge to use it one more time. My brain loves to plan, and so I also thought while I was traveling, it would be the one and possibly only time to go visit my lifelong friend, Brandis in Rhode Island. So, yeah, these 2 weeks have been full of refreshing and good travels! To have amazing friends is a rich blessing:) I do not take it for granted.

So, back to Becca's wedding. For months we have been talking and writing back and forth about the big day. She answered and re-answered the many questions that I always seemed to have! For some reason, I have been involved closely with two very calm and laid-back brides. They both have made being a bridesmaid so fun! Life flew by and all of a sudden it was time to board that plane and help with wedding "stuff". Being supportive was the name of the game, and it really was a privilege to get to share in such a special time, with a friend who has known me since 7th grade. Good stuff!

I am glad Becca and I go wayyyyy back, because I went up a few days before the wedding. So it was her family, and I, all working together to get those last minute details all wrapped up. I could not help but think about what a testament it is, to have such a friendship. Becca and I made lists, and ran many errands together. She processed and I listened, and it was a bit surreal because I remember us as awkward teenagers, and now here we were, navigating the days leading up to a marriage. It felt like our friendship, so stable for so many years, reached a new level. It felt so mature. Like, the kind of friendship, you want to have for the rest of your life.

The town of West Chester, PA, where I stayed was just as quaint and peaceful as you can imagine. It is always good for me to travel, and see more of this world. It gives me much needed perspective, and helps me remember that I am a drop in a vast ocean. And I need that reminder, when I get a little too "concerned" about things.

The wedding was an intimate gathering of family and friends from all over the county. Becca and Mason are Floridians by way of New York, who ended up in Pennsylvania. So it was quite the mix. The weather was perfect, not too hot. So, it was beautiful, and Becca was radiant. SO happy and excited! It has been wonderful, to see a love story take shape over many years. And as Becca and Mason said their vows, I got a tiny bit teary, because the love was so evident. It zapped me back to Melanie & Lee's wedding in December. It had me quietly thinking about what could be in my possible future one day. It was a sweet ceremony, and then an evening filled with laughter, music and dancing.

Pennsylvania, was just so green! I loved being in a different climate and the one thing that kept standing out to me was the difference in architecture. I loved comparing the homes to what I am used to seeing down South. Also, there were no palm trees in sight. I ate at a restaurant that only served a plethora of grilled cheese. I took some time to walk and explore around West Chester University. I slept with the windows open all night!! And the cool breeze wafting in, as the morning sun woke me up, was so refreshing. Kinda perfect really. I know, I know, it is the small things that count:) One of the most pleasant memories, was the morning of the wedding. The wedding party all gathered downstairs at the Faunbrook Bed and Breakfast to start the day. That old fashioned long, rectangle table seated about 14 of us. Besides the AMAZING food, the conversation and laughter were perfect. It was one of those moments in time where you can be completely relaxed, and just enjoying life, and people, and good food. Its been a week and that morning still sticks out in my mind. I think there was something about the casual atmosphere and the right mix of people.

Anyway, stay tuned for Part 2, my reflections on visiting Niagara Falls. By the way, this vacation has propelled me happily along my 30 before 30 list, I will write more about that later as well.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Last Day Thoughts

*I had written this at the end....but it might be better at the start*

Here are my wishes and prayers for my students:
I pray that my babies get to live a full life, where they will be protected from harm and danger. I pray my girls would not see the "fun" of having a baby while they are too young. But instead be surrounded by strong, motivated women who will encourage them to plan for their future and family at the right time. I pray that love, and serenity enter the homes of my students. I pray that fathers reunite with their families and bring the special stability that only they can provide. I hope my babies, the ones who are still gentle in spite of harsh surroundings; I pray they don't get jaded, harmed or taken advantage of, for having a quiet and kind spirit. I pray my boys be strong but also smart. I hope in my heart that they learn when to "back-down" and how to turn from certain situations. That they grow-up and not follow but instead lead. I pray for an increase in coping skills, resilcency and just plain, good, ole-fashioned happiness for each and every one of my precious kiddies!

Twas the night before the last day of school. And one School Counselor, in one small city, in one state, in one great nation, took some quiet time to reflect back on 2 years!

Tomorrow, I say good-bye to my kiddies. And I really could not love these babies more if I tried. And that is saying a lot because the times have not always been neat and pretty. In fact, its been pretty hectic and messy. But it has also been some of the most rewarding times of my life. The things that I have shared with these children have made me a better person.

I have been given a gift of connecting and working with young children. Every time I think it's time for a change, it is just reaffirmed to me, to keep on working with the elementary kids.

These two years have seen a school that is right in the difficult, middle of some necessary changes. And it has been an honor to be a part of the process. Oh the things, I have seen, heard, and done. Melanie thinks I should write a book!

Last week, it hit me just how much I will miss this place and these times with these people. I was walking a student home, and I was just reminded that the seeds of growth are in every single situation of life. And though sometimes things are dark, dirty, and downright depressing. Well, it's in those places that even the smallest ray of light is noticed. I have had a chance to stand out in my school. My smile was noticed right away, and my peaceful spirit was tested time and again as I talked kids down from the emotional brink (and a few staff members too). My small efforts counted, because they were something different. There is more light at Gaines now than when I started 2 years ago. And that thought will help me rest well tonight.

I have played a large part in fixing something that I did not break. And you know what? I am proud. I am proud of the Sabrina Maude Stewart who is getting ready to make a new and exciting transition. I am humbled that God called me to stay last year, and that his faithfulness has literally covered each and every moment of this journey. I am hopeful for my babies. I want the best for them, I want them to dream BIG, just like I do. I want these children to get chances to step out of the cycle of crippling poverty and get to experience all that this life has to offer.

And I got to be a part of the start of that. There are hundreds of kids now, who expect a wave and warm hug from at least one adult in their lives. There are kids now who know that even though sometimes our feelings get SO big, that we can still be in control. There are students now who can use their words to say, "I'm hungry, or I'm tired." instead of lashing out at everyone they come in contact with. There are adults who will keep up the good work because I took time to love and support them, both at school and in their personal lives. There is at least one Principal who knows that I will pray for her until we see the start of a new and shining era of education at our school!

It's almost my bedtime. But as always, writing has helped me organize my feelings. Tomorrow will be a bittersweet day, but it feels oh so good to know I am leaving a part of myself at this school. And taking a part of this school with me on the next leg of this adventure called life!