Thursday, March 28, 2013

Blessings (Part 2)

So I shared in my last post (http://thehardenhousehold.blogspot.com/2013/03/im-blessed.html) how blessed we are with the friends God has given us, but my blessings go beyond just that. I'm not sure why, but I have been overwhelmed in the past few months with just how good God has been to me!

My greatest gift at this time is my beautiful son and the ability to stay home with him, but back in August as everyone was preparing to go back to school, I began to feel a little sad and wistful. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love staying home with my son and the role that I now have, but I also loved teaching! Not every moment, of course, but I truly enjoyed my days being filled with planning and preparing, teaching students, seeing them learn new concepts, laughing at the crazy things they said & did that all teenagers say & do, listening when they needed to vent, offering advice when I could, and spending time with them so that I could still feel young too! I loved it! I loved planning prom, putting together a beauty pageant for boys who dressed like girls (yes, yes, I did plan that event! It made us a fortune for prom and was simply tradition at GHS!), going to football games, and just laughing at the ridiculous stories from my colleagues every day! But I wasn't fulfilled despite all the joy I found in teaching. Deep down I wanted something else, but God was telling me to wait, so in the mean time I threw myself into what I was doing to avoid the ache in my heart. Then one day, God decided to grant me my deepest desire, and He made me a mom!

My life has changed so drastically, but when the back-to-school season rolled around, I admit I was a little sad at the thought of not going back to school like I had for the past 26 years, and I worried about how I would fill my days now. How silly of me?!?! God has always had a wonderful plan for my life, and I've clung to that verse in Jeremiah that says so, but I'm not sure I really got it until this year.

In the midst of my worrying what I would ever do to fill my days, God began to fill them for me! (And let's be honest, that's the way it should be, but I haven't always let Him.) He opened doors I never even imagined doing! I now keep an adorable little girl very close in age to Ryder, a couple of days a week. I don't talk about it much out of privacy for her, but it has been a great ooportunity for Ryder to learn to share and play with another child, and it's provided a little extra income for our family. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to serve, but God didn't stop there!

He also gave me an opportunity to get involved in an incredible ministry through my church. I was asked to join the steering committee of our newly started MOPS group as the Publicity Leader. At first, I was a little unsure about the role, but God knew this was the perfect position for me! I still get to use my English background as I prepare a monthly newsletter, but I've gotten to stretch some other areas as I began selling and designing ads for the newsletter, and I swore I could never do anything involving sales because that's justnot my personality, but again, God knew better (of course!). I also got to tap into my creative side by including recipes and craft ideas each month. I never really had time for things like cooking or crafting when I taught, but I always enjoyed those things, so now I really get to try my hand at some new things! It's been so much fun getting to be part of this group and meet so many new women and see families come visit our church because of their experience at MOPS! Not only do I work on a newsletter, but I also get to help plan meetings, play dates, and lots of other fun events, and I get to use that detailed/OCD background in the planning and organizing! God truly knew exactly where I needed to be.

As I look at what my days are filled with now, I know that this is what I was meant to do all along, I just had to wait for God's perfect timing. I loved teaching (most days), but I had no idea how much I would love what I'm doing now! I hoped, I dreamed, but never in my wildest dreams did I expect this! God truly does give us exceedingly above, all we could ask or think, I'm just sorry it took me his long to know what that really meant! And I'm sorry that I'm not continuously grateful and appreciative of what He's done!

Yep, I'm blessed, and I'm incredibly grateful, humbled, awestruck, and somewhat intimidated by the awesomeness and goodness of our mighty, wonderful, everlasting, loving, and great GOD!! :)

Ahhhh, so many blessings, so many great things, and He decided I was worth it to share them with me!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I'm Blessed

The past few weeks, God has been reminding me of how truly blessed I am, and how He answered a prayer of mine from as far back as high school. All through high school, college, and even our first year of marriage, I had an ongoing prayer request before the Lord. The request might seem silly to most people, but it was a deep felt need in my heart and life. The request was for the Lord to help me find true friends.

I won't get into details, but I had a rough time in high school, partly because of my own insecurities, and partly because of the people I was surrounded by at the time. But either way, I was desperate for friendship, a true friendship, and spent a lot of time feeling very lonely. When I got to college, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people surrounding me, and felt a little lost in the numbers at times. I did begin to forge sweet friendships, and even met my best friend for life, my husband, there. But even then, I was still lacking that connection with other people, where I felt accepted and wanted.

After Tyler and I got married, as much as we loved our time alone together, we began to realize our need for friendship with other couples, if only to help us see that we weren't the only couple in the world who argued over what to watch on television! I began to pray once again that God would help us to find friends, real friends.

Fourteen years after my original prayer for friendship, and six years after praying for God to lead us to Godly couples that we could become friends with, I look at my life, and realize that I would be deeply remiss if I didn't thank the Lord publicly for answering my prayer, abundantly, above, all I could ask or think!

Tyler and I are now surrounded with wonderful friends, more than I can even count! We have friends from church that we share the joys and trials of parenting with, that we share our needs and prayer requests with, and people that we just get to laugh & enjoy life with! It's such a beautiful picture to me, to look around and see how surrounded we are by so many special people who have had impacted our lives in big and small ways! God has been so good to us, and I am so thankful!

Beyond our amazing friends from church, we have also made other friends through our jobs and brought friends with us from our high school and college years that have grown into deeper, more meaningful relationships over th years. I thank the Lord for each and every friend He has given us, and I am overwhelmed by the way God answered that prayer of a lonely teenage girl, who thought she wasn't good enough to be able to make friends. I know that God led me through a time of waiting for friendship, in order for me to draw closer to Him first, and He truly is all that I need, but life here on earth sure is sweeter with friends to do life with too!! :)

Friendship is such a precious thing and such a good gift from my Lord!

Tiny Dancer

Our little man loves to dance! And I love to watch him! It brings a smile to my face every time! I'm not sure where he got his moves from, but I assure you, it wasn't me! :)
 

video

video

Love this boy so much!!


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ouch!

Recently, I've read a few articles that have mentioned my Alma Mater, Liberty University, some giving praise to the school and others harshly criticizing it, but what stung the most were the comments made by people at the end of the articles. I knew people didn't like the school, but to read the attacks made on the students and graduates was kind of upsetting for me.

There were comments made that said no one should ever employ a graduate from Liberty because their education was sub-par and narrow-minded given the evangelical nature of their education. It stung for people to basically make a claim about me and my ability to participate in society because of where I attended school without knowing me or seeing my abilities. It made me feel like I wasn't good enough, that I didn't measure up. And then I was a little angry, because these people made statements about me being ignorant out of their own ignorance, and they accused me of being narrow-minded because my belief system doesn't mesh with their belief system. The irony of these comments are not lost on me, but it doesn't ease the sting.

Thankfully, I know who I am, I know Whose I am, I know what I have accomplished despite my so-called "sub-par" education, and I know that I don't have to argue with these people to prove myself to them. Words prove nothing, instead, I hope that my actions and the way I live demonstrate how untrue the comments made by those people really are.

I knew that people felt that way, but I just hadn't really exposed myself to it recently. I heard it often when I was at Liberty, and even when I first started working. I was aware that people didn't think my school was quite on the same level of other schools, and I was even more aware that peole were watching my every move and judging me, but it wasn't until reading those comments that I was reminded how people felt. It reminds me of what Christ warned His disiples of in the last days. He said that His people would be despised and rejected by men. But He also, taught us through Paul, that when we suffered at the hands of those who hated us, we were to count it pure joy. I don't know that it's easy to find joy in people tearing you down, but it does make me want to work harder to prove what Dr. Falwell always said, "If it's Christian, it should be better." I'm willing to be held to the higher standard that society has set, and prove to them that they're wrong, not by arguing or retaliating with name-calling or attacking the other person's charater, but by loving God, staying true to my faith and beliefs no matter the cost, and loving people, even those who hurt me, because that is what Christianity is really about and that is what I was taught every day while I was at Liberty.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is God Really Good?

It's the question that prevents many people from ever accepting Christ as their Savior, and it's a difficult question to tackle as Christans; "How can a good God allow something so bad?" I've even heard Christians give in to this thinking saying, "They're a good Christian family, but they're dealing with this awful situation." But the truth is that Christ never promised us a life of ease as Christians, in fact He promised the exact opposite, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world." He doesn't say we might have trouble or that we won't, He says it's definite that we will face hardships. I've even heard pastors say that if Christians aren't exeriencing trials, they're not living the Christian life because Satan doesn't see them as a threat to his purposes here on earth. But we as Christians believe that God is good because we have accepted on faith the truth of God's Word, but the question is what do you say to those that don't have that assurance?

Some people would say that I have no experience with hardships in my life, so I couldn't possibly understand the horrible things that are out there in the world, and it's true, God has protected me from many horrible things in life, but it doesn't mean that I'm unaware of the challenge of reconciling a fallen world with the goodness of God. In fact, it's been one of the biggest struggles of my Christian life. I have hesitated in sharing this story, because it's not my personal story, and it doesn't have a happy ending yet, but I believe God has taught me so much about His goodness through it that I can't not share it.

I led what many would call a charmed life, and still do. I have two parents who love me and have been married for almost 30 years. I lived in a nice home, went to a Christian school, grew up in church, went to college, married my first and only love, found my dream job, have a beautiful son, etc. I am so incredibly blessed, and I know that it was all because of God's goodness. Don't think that there weren't hardships or trials in my life, but in the big scheme of life, they are tiny in comparison to what others experience, including someone very close to me.

For privacy sake, I won't share this person's name, so I'll call them John. John didn't have two happily married parents as a child, his parents were young, unmarried, and not planning to have a baby. His mom showed him little love and was often abusive and neglectful of John, leaving many physical and emotional scars in a very short part of his life. She eventually decided she was done being a mom and abandoned him while he was no more than a toddler. John's dad wasn't much better, while he wasn't abusive, he was far from attentive. He was more interested in being young and living his own life. John needed a stable home, and a relative offered to take him in to their loving home, but his mom refused them out of spite towards the relatives and her own son. Finally, a solution was found and John was placed in the home of an elderly relative, who tried to give him the best home possible with very little money. He went to church and came to know Christ at a young age, but because of his early childhood and unstable parents who came in and out of his life often, his life was chaotic and tumultuous. School was diffcult, teachers didn't know what to do with him, he didn't sit still or pay attention well, and he was constantly behind in his studies. Unfortunately for John, these were in the days before ADHD diagnoses or special education reform, so after being held back once or twice, teachers gave up and just passed him on through to get him out of their hair until middle school, then life changed even more drastically for John.

At the age of 13, his only real parent figure was diagnosed with cancer, and passed away a few months later. Gone was the only stable home life John had ever known, and even though both of his parents were living, in many ways he was now an orphan. The relatives that had tried to get custody of him from the beginning invited him to come live in their home, and he did for a while, but John was angry, and he was hurting, and his new family didn't know how to help him. They sent him to a new school that tried to work with him, but he began to act out. Eventually, he had dug himself into a hole that no one, including himself, knew how to get him out of. He decided to go live with his dad who was an alcoholic and drug addict. It wasn't long before John joined his dad in drinking and drugs. His life began to spin out of control. He spent some time in jail, he dropped out of school, he couldn't hold a job, he was stealing for drug money, his life was in shambles. Unfortunately, things didn't get better. Over fifteen years later, John's life is still in shambles. He has no family of his own, no home, no formal education beyond 8th grade, not even a drivers' license, much less a car. And in all that time, I've never stopped wondering how a good God could allow John's life to be so incredibly different from mine.

I have spent more time being angry at God and questioning Him over allowing those awful things to happen to John, than anything else I've ever experienced. My heart breaks for John, I want better for him, but I feel helpless. I have spent many years praying for John, praying that God would change his heart, that He woul make him turn his life around, but after all these years I've not seen any changes. I've spent time discussing my doubts with several Christians that I resect and love, and I've come to recognize that while those horrible things did happen, God never abandoned John. In fact, God gave John many opportunities to change his life, but John rejected them. I still don't undestand why God would allow him to have had such an awful childhood, but I have also come to realize that God never leaves us hopeless and that He can bring good from evil, if we're willing. I've also come to realize that my prayer for John needs to change. Instead of praying for a life change, I'm praying for John to know that he is loved, not just by me, but also by God, and that he was never truly abandoned. I can't imagine the hole that must be in his heart after all the things he's exerienced, but I know that God's love is the perfect size to fill that hole and completely wrap around him, and my prayer is that John will accept it and forgive his past.

I do believe with all my heart that God is a good God, and I know this because I know that He never intended for us to experience pain, tears, and sin. His original design was the Garden of Eden, where man walked in fellowship with God on a daily basis, but man rejected His creation, and has continued to reject His original and perfect design. As a result, we live in a fallen world, filled with sin, pain, and death. But there is hope, because while on earth we face those terrible things, this is not the end for us, in the end, God wins! He has already overcome this world, and if we choose to accept Him and His plan for our life, we are guaranteed to see a life without pain or death one day. So even if this life is filled with troubles and hardships, it's only a small fraction in comparison to eternity with Him in paradise.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Least of These

This afternoon, I had the opportunity to do something that I've never done before. I had run to Sam's to pick up some milk, I had forgotten to go earlier in the day, so it was close to dinner time, and I knew Tyler would be home soon, but Ryder needed milk so off we went. As I was putting my cart back, I noticed a couple in the parking lot and the guy, who obviously didn't work there since he wasn't wearing the blue vest, was straightening the carts, I thought we might be kindred spirits, since I always do the same thing. Call it OCD, but those carts drive me nuts! The woman walked up to me as I headed back to my car, she looked distraught, and asked if I had any change that I could share. She proceeded to explain that her car was out of gas, and she was stuck there. The guy offered that they had a gas can. I offered to use my Sam's card and they could fill the can with their own money, but she quickly explained that they had no money, no cash or debit cards. Now, I have no idea if their story was true, and I have a tendency to think the worst of people sometimes and usually just apologize and say I can't help, which is exactly what I did. I walked to my car considering their situation more, then I sat in my car and watched as they approached two more couples. One was older and looked somewhat well off. I heard the woman ask the same questions and then say, "If I had more time I would help, but I have to get these pizzas home for dinner." I thought, "Will they be able to eat dinner tonight?" The other couple shook their heads without even speaking and walked away. At this point, I should've been out of the parking lot and well on my way home, but I couldn't move. I kept thinking, "What if it were me or someone I loved that was in this situation? I would want someone to help!"

So I said a quick prayer that God would help me, and I got back out of my car, walked over to them and said I would buy them $15 worth of gas to put in their gas tank. I drove over to the pump and met them there with their red gas can. I put in my Sam's card and then ran my debit card careful to keep my information private. The man took the nozzle and began filling the can. They both began to tell me how they both had jobs but didn't get paid until tomorrow and Friday, and that another family member had used the car earlier today and left them without any gas. I asked if $15 would be enough for what they needed, hoping so since we have little money to spare at this time. He said they were on their way to a town about an hour and a half away to pick up their children, a seven month old and two and a half year old so the $15 should be plenty. They said that after Christmas they just didn't have any moeny left because they wanted their kids to have a nice Christmas. In all honesty, I would probably have been doing the same thing, feeling ashamed for having to ask a total stranger for money, and trying desperately to defend myself. I hated that they felt that way and assured them that I understood that sometimes these things happen, and that I wished I could do more but was happy to help. I fished a card from my purse that had information about our church and our MOPS program, and invited them both to visit sometime. They thanked me and even asked a little about my church. They filled their can, thanked me, promised to pay it forward, and the man said"God bless you," and then they headed on their way. I sat at the pump for a few seconds thinking about what had just happened, wondering if I had done enough, if should've asked their name, if I had made a total error injudgment or not. The gas attendant was walking around trying to see if everything was on the up and up, I appreciated that, so I smiled and headed home.

I have no idea if their story was true, and I'll probably never know, but a passage of scripture kept coming to mind, about going the extra mile for those in need. I also thought about how Christ never questioned anyone's motives when they asked Him for help, He just served others. I don't know if it was a sham, I hope not, I hope I was truly able to help a family in need, but even if it was a sham, the bigger issue was my obedience. I can't answer for the motives of others, but I will have to answer for what I do with what I'm presented. As I drove home, I prayed for that couple, because even more than a financial or physical need, they had a spiritual need, and I hoped that maybe my small action today would plant a seed in leading them to the One who loves them and created them.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’  “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?  Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’" Matthew 25:34-40

Thursday, January 3, 2013

So Many Words

I'm afraid I've fallen way behind in updating Ryder's progress. Over the last week it occurred to me that I need to get these memories recorded before it all slips away! I'm continuously amazed at how quickly Ryder is changing, growing, and learning new things. I fear I'll forget what he's like at this stage, and be left with no memories of his childhood. This of course is crazy since we take so many pictures, usually of him zooming past me, and we try to video, although he usually stops doing whatever we wanted to capture the moment the camera comes out! Isn't that just how it goes?? :)
 
Ryder doesn't talk much at this point, but he understands a lot. I guess I should clarify, Ryder doesn't speak a lot of English yet, but boy can this boy jabber all day long in a language that sounds vaguely like Mandarin Chinese or possibly Zwahili, who knows?! He especially loves to ramble in his unique language when he has a phone pressed to his ear. He'll wonder around the house with one hand clutching the phone to his ear, his head bent to lock it in place with the other hand behind his back as he rapidly spills every unintelligible word he has. I enjoy watching this so much that I sometimes break my own rule and allow him to have my cell phone to let him babble! He does know a few English words, however. "Waffle" is his most recent, and he only says it first thing in the morning shortly after getting up and coming downstairs. He'll run to the kitchen, point to the freezer, grunt, point to the toaster oven, grunt again, and when I take the prize out of the freezer, he exclaims, "Waffle!" over and over again until it has finished cooking in the toaster over, and then replies with "Taintoo," another of his words, when I hand him his waffle. If you can't decode baby talk "taintoo" is Ryder's version of "thank you." It's not quite perfect, and unless you are listening for it, it's sometimes hard to catch him saying it, but we're working on it! Along with "please" but that one seems to be still a ways off in accomplishing. Ryder also says, "mama," which makes Tyler a little jealous, however, I have explained to Tyler that he need not be jealous since Ryder pretty much calls all people that he likes and wants their attention "mama" including Tyler, myself, his aunt Caitlyn, etc. We're working on "dada" if for no other reason than to keep from Tyler getting a complex over being called "mama." :) Ryder also says "woof, woof" when referring to a dog, mainly Boston, or when he hears one bark, and many times if he hears a dog barking he will persist in saying"woof woof" until someone acknowledges him and the barking dog! He says "nana" for banana, but his favorite word by far and away is "ball ball!" This boy loves his "ball balls" and insists that every spherical shaped object is a ball that he needs to hold including tomatoes or peaches at the grocery store, pictures of the sun or globe in books, and any toy that is remotely spherical in shape including a plastic lemon from his kitchen set. We've decided this boy will most definitely be a ball player, or we'll be very surprised!! :)
 
But as I said before, although his word count is still in the single digits, this child understands an unbelievable amount of what we say! He knows what I mean when I say bathtime, bedtime, storytime, time to eat or let's make lunch/dinner. He knows that when I say you need your diaper changed that we need a diaper, wipes, and he will lay down in the floor to be changed. If I ask him if he wants to read a book, he'll walk to the shelf, select a few books, and come back to sit on my lap to read. He knows that if I say we're going "bye-bye" he needs to get his shoes on and will go to the basket to get them and then go to the step to sit down for me to put them on. I'm continuously amazed at how well he understands routine and can pretty much act it out  on cue. There are times that he doesn't like what I ask him to do espeially if the word "no" is used, and he occassionally throws a tantrum because he wants his way and not mine, but overall he's an agreeable child. He may not know many words, but he can certainly communicate by pointing, taking our hand and showing us what he wants, and if all else fails climbing in our lap and giving us a hug to get our fullest attention.
 
I love our sweet, silly boy! :)