This time last year we downsized to a little house that is one fourth the square footage of our first house. It’s just barely over 600 square feet to be exact. We have loved the change! We loved our first house, too, but a combination of factors caused us to think smaller and simpler concerning our home. One of those factors was Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class we took several years ago. It was awesome! Andrew and I have never been extravagant, irresponsible spenders in the first place, but the class definitely took things to another level. It helped us to see the bigger, longer term picture for our finances and gave us a stronger value for living below our means.
We waited about two years for our house to sell, and our prayers were finally answered this time last year. Downsizing has cut our cost of living TREMENDOUSLY. It is now a fraction of what it used to be! We had a few moving sales and a yard sale to get rid of the furniture and other stuff that wouldn’t fit into our new place. It felt so good to let go of so many things. In a lot of ways, the move was an exciting fresh start for us. The sell of our house combined with our new, much lower cost of living (as well as a few other exciting things God did) opened the door for me to transition out of work and into full time seminary.
A lot of people say that they could never live in place so tiny…and maybe that’s true if you have children. But I have seen for myself that everyone can live in a much smaller space than they might think. It simplifies life when you live below your means and when your home is just what you need. My dad built the house four or five years ago, and I was drawn to it as soon as I saw it! He did a simple two-room floor plan to maximize the space, and it’s just so cozy and perfect! He has actually built several houses like this one in the past two years or so. I think the economy has caused a lot of people to rethink things and downsize.
Andrew and I (but especially Andrew) pictured some of the adjustments to the new house being hard (like not having a garage, the smaller space, etc.). But it actually was a very smooth transition. The only challenge for me has been adjusting to much less closet space! Anyone who knows me knows that I am all about organization! My closet at the first house was a dream closet. It was so spacious, and everything had its special place…and all seasons fit easily into that one closet. This house has forced me to come up with creative, space-utilizing ways to store things (which I actually enjoy). One thing I love about the house is that, despite its size, it still has one and a half bathrooms. A second bathroom is always nice – can I get an ‘amen’?! People who have come over are always surprised to discover the second one. Another awesome advantage of this tiny place is how quickly we can clean it. 🙂
Neither of us really knows where we will go from this house. We are in no hurry to move – that’s for sure! Though I knew it already, our time in this house has tangibly demonstrated that bigger is not always better. I guess it also illustrates one of my all time favorite sayings: LESS IS MORE.
A week ago today, our church family lost a great woman, Debora Bunch. She was our youth pastor’s wife and a dear friend to many, many people. After battling Leukemia for several years and exhausting pretty much all of her other options, she got a bone marrow transplant in March of 2010. Though she was declared “cancer-free” after the transplant, she experienced serious complications after the procedure, one being Graft- versus-Host Disease. Her fight to live and her family’s God-given strength drew our church family and community together in an amazing way. Through lots of ups and downs, this family (and everyone watching them) continued to ask God for Debora’s healing and waited, with great hope, on a miraculous turnaround. Hospice was called in two months ago, but I (and most other people, it seems) was still believing with all my heart that things were going to improve and she would live. My mom called me very upset last Thursday with the news that Debora had died. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I was shocked. And crushed.
This news began a flood of tears, emotion, and thought that has gone all over the place in the last week. I have to admit that I was very disappointed and even frustrated. Things like this always arouse questions… Really God? After ALL of this struggle over the past three years….this is how it ends? Why wasn’t she healed on THIS side?? And while I’m asking, tell me again why so many cold-hearted, hateful people survive illnesses and live to be old while so many genuine, good-hearted people die young?? It’s in vulnerable moments like these that our enemy is quick to whisper accusations against God into our ears. Thankfully, in God’s incredible timing, Thursday, January 31st was day 21 of our church’s corporate fast (which I see as VERY significant to the timing of Debora’s home-going). Because it was the end of the fast, a worship service had already been planned for Thursday evening. I went to the service, and wow, it was exactly what my heart needed that night. So many of us just sat and cried in God’s presence as the worship lingered. It was a heavy but also sweet atmosphere.
Debora’s death has stirred a lot of memories. One that has come back to my mind is something Darin (her husband) shared about four or five years ago. He was speaking to our young adult small group about difficult circumstances and things in our lives that we don’t understand. He told us how he had had to wrestle with a lot of things during his and Debora’s journey, one being the possibility that she could die. He said that he had made the decision that no matter what the final outcome was for Debora’s story, he was going to walk forward with God and continue trusting Him. He then made it personal for each of us by encouraging us to get alone with God about our own “big things” – the things that we hold dearer than anything else, the things we’ve hoped and prayed for for years, the things we dream over. He, in so many words, told us that we have to settle in our hearts that we will still fully trust God and continue to walk with Him even if these things that are very precious to us don’t turn out the way we wanted. Wow. I could hardly hold back my tears as he spoke. It’s one thing to be moved as you watch someone else lay their heart’s desires on the altar… It’s quite another to release your own to the Lord. We all have things that we’ve wept over, prayed for, and dreamed about. So his words cut right to the heart. I’ve never forgotten what he said. Hearing him share this and knowing what was at stake in his own life challenged me in a deep way to allow God to do this in my own heart.
Watching the Bunch family (not only Darin and Debora, but also Acen, Davia, and Caedmon) as they’ve journeyed through something so difficult and scary has been truly amazing. There is no other explanation for the grace and strength upon their lives except the supernatural presence of God. Darin has continued to minister over the last three years, and there has been such an anointing on his speaking. I’m seeing more and more that there is a reason for the strong anointing on people’s lives…and there is a price for it, too. One thing a horrible situation will do is refine you, if you allow it. Darin’s ministry to others is living proof of that. He has allowed the fire to refine and purify him rather than growing bitter. A scripture comes to mind…Psalm 4:1. Some versions read “Thou hast enlarged me in my distress.” Another one puts it “In pressure thou hast enlarged me.” I heard Lance Wallnau speak on this scripture, and it SO applies to the Bunchs’ story. Difficult, uncomfortable circumstances enlarge our capacity to love, our hunger for God, our sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, our anointing, our compassion for others, our value for what’s real, on and on and on. The picture I see in my mind when I hear this scripture is a balloon being blown up and how it looks as it gets bigger. I see us becoming like that in the Spirit when we choose to worship, to trust, to submit to God during painful seasons of life. This scripture has come to my mind several times as I’ve thought about Darin over the last week.
Debora’s service on Monday night was yet another unbelievable part of this story. There were about a thousand people there, and the atmosphere was so worshipful and full of hope, even in the midst of heavy hearts. To hear Debora’s children and husband speak at her service was amazing. My mom and I were talking about it later, and she said that there were definitely a lot of godly men in that service, but God has really used Darin to raise the bar for how a husband can love his wife – in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, through thick and thin. I totally agree with her. I see God calling each of us higher. This was definitely the first time I’ve seen a husband as the main speaker for his wife’s service. WOW. Again, it just points to how big God is and how powerfully He manifests Himself in lives that are totally surrendered to Him. Below is the link to her service:
In one of Joyce Meyer’s messages, she says that trust requires unanswered questions. This is so very true. And it’s okay to have questions. But we can’t hold God hostage to our questions, demanding answers before we’ll trust Him or give our hearts to Him. This is the root of a lot of the supposed atheism in our world – unanswered questions, horrible disappointment, or circumstances that can’t be understood. People harbor bitterness and anger in their hearts against God because of their unanswered questions, when they’re really only hurting themselves by responding this way. What has cynicism ever done for anyone?? Instead, we’ve got to run to God with our pain and questions and ask God to keep our hearts pure in the process. I mean, honestly, either way (with God or without God), we’re going to have pain in life. There’s no way around it. And as one of my favorite speakers, Tracy Stewart, has said, “I’m going to make my pain work for me!”
I’m reminded of one of the best lines from The Chronicles of Narnia. They are wondering about this lion, Aslan, and ask, “Is he safe?” “No,” they’re told, “but he is good.”
DISCLAIMER: You may have a hard time with this letter if you take my sarcasm seriously.
Dear Family and Friends,
Hasn’t 2012 been a magnificent year?? It certainly has for me! As I have mulled over which things to share in my letter, my mind has teemed with countless stories. There simply isn’t room to write it all! January brought to fruition a long-time desire of mine…I had been eyeing the gigantic stuffed pony, Snow Flake, at Wells Fargo for months and months. Every time I saw him my heart ached, wishing I could take him back to CPC with me. I finally got the courage to ask a teller who they were planning to give the pony to. One thing led to another, and I ended up taking Snow Flake back to work with me that day. It was surreal. The staff and volunteers were moved to the point of tears when I came in carrying him. It felt like a scene from Braveheart; I’ll never forget it. The favor that follows me is unbelievable…and even more unbelievable is how I always use that favor to benefit those around me.
I barely had time to process the pony miracle before a couple approached us about buying our house this past spring. We were so excited! While we loved the house (it’s an over-the-top, extravagantly beautiful home with two levels, a paved driveway, and a mailbox that matches those of the entire neighborhood), we knew that even better adventures were awaiting us. The biggest challenge would be packing up and transporting our many valuable belongings. We decided to have a moving sale to help with this process; Christie’s Auction actually approached us about selling some of our items, but we had to turn them down. It’s just not our nature to draw attention to ourselves like that.
Not long after our move to a beautiful cottage, it was time to celebrate our anniversary. Off to the Grand Canyon we went! Unbeknownst to me, Marriott had bumped us to “Gold Elite” status because of Andrew’s frequent work travels (yet ANOTHER reason to celebrate!). The service was top-notch, thanks to Andrew’s clout! He’s been so humble about it all. I keep telling him to stop being so modest; it’s his time to shine! Besides his Marriott accomplishments, he also has won great favor with the owners of Taco Dog. He has a rewards card with them which allots one free meal for every ten purchases made at the restaurant. Andrew would never toot his own horn, but he earned FIVE to SIX free meals this year!!!! Two or three I could have believed…but FIVE or SIX??? It’s more than we could have ever dreamed of!
July was a significant landmark for our family; my dad turned 60! My mom and I worked tirelessly behind the scenes for two weeks compiling birthday wishes from sixty people into a dvd for him. Once the dvd was uploaded onto youtube, it went viral. To this day, we continue to get letters, emails, and phone calls from people all over the world who have been impacted by Robert’s 60th Birthday video. Right in the midst of this birthday extravaganza, another miracle was being birthed. In mid-July I started a blog to share thoughts, stories, and seminary updates with friends and family. Little did I know, this blog was going to spread like wildfire. It snowballed so quickly I could barely catch my breath. My blog now has well over ten consistent followers!
Fall brought my transition out of work and into seminary. Gordon-Conwell didn’t even know what was coming! Professors and administrators alike have been flabbergasted at my depth of knowledge and insight. I think there’s a good chance they will encourage me to just skip over several classes altogether. This type of thing has always been par for the course in my life. And already, I see my academic mantle being passed on to Crissy. She was chosen for the school-wide spelling bee last week. Dawn’s prayers are being answered. Hopefully she will also turn out as eloquent, beautiful, charismatic, and physically fit as me too. That remains to be seen.
Welcoming our niece, Hanna, and my friend Kayla’s son, Micah, into the world has been one of this year’s sweetest victories. There was an instant connection as soon as I held each of them…and I can see the fear and pain in their eyes every time I have to leave them. Slowly but surely, they’re learning to connect with their mothers the way the have with me. God is so good!
Wishing you each a lovely Christmas,
Two years ago today I did the USMC Mud Run in Columbia with Teal Rosenlund (or actually Tiller!!), Hope Rosenlund, and Anna Lancaster. I NEVER thought I would do something like the Mud Run…actually I don’t think ANYONE ever thought I would do something like the Mud Run! Distance running has never come easily to me; so for me, running 4.2 miles and doing 32 obstacles was like a marathon! 🙂
The horrendous traffic was definitely frustrating (we literally moved FOUR MILES in TWO HOURS after getting off of the exit.)….and so was the TWO MILE walk from the car to the course in the ninety degree heat. But once we got past that, it was actually fun!
Amazingly, Teal’s then boyfriend, Martin, ran the entire course with us and filmed us doing every obstacle! Thankfully, Teal edited out my most awkward footage….and believe me, there was A LOT of awkwardness! If you ever consider doing a Mud Run, I would highly recommend doing plyometric training to prepare…not just distance runs. This thing required a lot of upper body strength too. I definitely wouldn’t have even finished it if it weren’t for my taller, stronger teammates….and some nice strangers who helped us on some of the tougher obstacles.
It was a great experience doing something so fun with such awesome girls!
One summer during college, I went to Andrew’s parents’ house for dinner. While I was in the kitchen with Runette (his mom) waiting on dinner to finish, I noticed a bird outside on the porch. I don’t even remember what kind of bird it was, but it was very pretty and got my attention. I said to her, “Wow, I’ve always wanted to hold a bird…” I don’t even think she heard what I said. We all ate dinner, and then I went home.
The next day, I started getting ready in the late afternoon. While I was doing my make-up, my dad came inside and called my name. I answered him, and he said, “Come here! I’ve got something to show you!” So sort of reluctantly, I stopped what I was doing and went into the kitchen. When I walked in, I found my dad holding a beautiful hummingbird in his hands. I could hardly believe my eyes! I immediately thought something must be wrong with the bird and asked him how in the world he got it to come and sit in his hands. He said that he saw it flying all over the place in the garage and after watching it for a few minutes, it just sat down. He said he thought it was just tired. So he picked it up.
I was stunned! I told him to keep holding it so I could get my camera. We went outside, and he put the hummingbird in my hands. It was SO beautiful and so unbelievably tiny! The body was smaller than my thumb. Its colors were so brilliant and glistened in the sunlight. I could even see its TINY little eyelashes! The bird just sat in my hands looking at me for several minutes while I took in the moment. As I held it, my statement from the day before came back to me. I had just said, less than twenty four hours ago, how I’ve always wanted to hold a bird in my hands….and here I was, doing that very thing. I felt God speaking His heart to me. It felt like He was giving me a huge bear hug. I was reminded of that verse in Psalm 37 that says “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I think the bird would have kept sitting in my hand indefinitely; after a while I gave it a few nudges, and it finally took flight.
This experience unveiled such beautiful things about God’s heart. I saw his extravagance – just how far he will go to demonstrate his love for us. I was stunned by how he took the initiative to do this for me when it had never even entered my mind to ask him. He goes beyond what is necessary and does these over-the-top things much the way a groom does when he’s wooing his bride. The hummingbird also spoke to me of his deep intimacy with each of us. He did this specifically for me; holding a bird probably wouldn’t have spoken to a lot of other people the way it did me. He reveals himself in ways that are tailor-made for our individual personalities.
What’s really awesome is that God used this event later…probably a year or two after it first happened. We stored our pictures of the bird on our computer upstairs, in the room where my mom would often go to pray. One morning when she was up there praying, she had a very heavy heart about a lot of things that were going on in our lives at the time. She began pacing the floor as she prayed, and when she turned around to walk back across the room, she saw on the computer screen the picture of the hummingbird sitting in my hand. The computer wasn’t even turned on! And even when it was on, our screensaver would rotate pictures every few seconds. The picture just stayed there on the screen, staring at her. God had once again gone to extreme measures to speak His heart. She could sense Him reminding her that He’s holding her in His hands. Moments like these when we’re one on one with God are such beautiful treasures. No one knows us the way He does.
Dear Family and Friends,
As I sit statuesquely in my high-end jogging pants writing this letter, I am overwhelmed with how amazing this year has been. What better beginning could 2011 have had than the beautiful snow which covered Spartanburg in January? Our neighborhood was transformed into a winter wonderland, and our yard looked like a work of art. Check out my photo albums on facebook to see the stunning sights.
Celebrating Andrew’s 27th birthday and my parents’ 26th wedding anniversary were the highlights of February. Speaking of February, one of my very favorite Valentine memories is from fifth grade when my name was drawn as the winner of a gigantic basket of goodies. I was the center of attention for several minutes, and I could feel my peers’ love, admiration, and respect for me. I love precious moments like that! In early March, Kayla and I pulled off a huge surprise and showed up unexpectedly at Shannon’s doorstep in Boston! She was overwhelmed at the surprise- and at such a selfless act of courage and generosity on mine and Kayla’s part. Her daughter, Reese, fell in love with me immediately.
After the craziness of CPC’s wildly successful fundraising banquet in April, I was in desperate need of some rest and relaxation with my amazing friends. Several of us journeyed to Charleston together to visit an old friend. Ya know, sometimes a lazy weekend of extremely high dollar shopping and fine dining just hits the spot! Andrew and I celebrated three years of marriage and ten years together in May of this year. It was a super special month. I know Andrew often wonders what purpose his life even had before he met me…
June brought the great joy of celebrating my dear friend’s wedding. Kayla and Nick married on June 24th; I was a bridesmaid of course. I was honored to be such a vital part of this extravagant event. It was quite the gala! July brought many celebrations for our family, with the 4th and my dad’s birthday being the highlights. We went to a cookout for Independence Day; there were hot dogs, burgers, and chips galore. It was something!
August was also a very special time in our family. My mom and sister celebrated their birthdays (I got them very personalized, ornate gifts…again, check out my facebook photo albums to see for yourself!), and Crissy started school! We don’t know who was prouder – Dawn of her adorable daughter? Crissy of her stellar mother?? Or Momma, Daddy, Andrew, and me as we looked on with sheer joy at this unbelievable beginning for both of them??? Who knows?! Needless to say, we are always beaming at one another with delight in this family!
Much of September was spent enjoying the milder weather and preparing for our huge Rock Springs neighborhood yard sale in October. Andrew and I knew this was a golden opportunity to make a good lick on items we no longer use. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not junk by a long shot; in fact, it’s actually very exquisite household, clothing, and recreational items. But we have moved on to bigger and better things! If at anytime you are interested in purchasing some of our used goods, just give us a ring. We have a yard sale room you can browse in! This initial yard sale has birthed something much bigger than we ever dreamed. My mom and dad have actually formed a lucrative Craigslist and newspaper ad business in which we list items we want to get rid of…and then sell them. It has really taken off!
In November, I decided to really take Thanksgiving to another level. I began doing good deeds left and right. If I saw someone carrying a big, heavy item, I would immediately jump to open the door for them. If I missed a call from a friend, I would try to call them back at my earliest convenience. If Andrew or I spilt anything, there I was like a hero with paper towels, ready to help clean it up. In doing countless acts of service like these, the true meaning of Thanksgiving began to deepen in my heart. Man, I can’t tell you how good it feels to be selfless.
And that brings us to December, the most wonderful time of the year. Last night we hosted our yearly Christmas party- and boy, was it a blow-out! Luxurious purchases, adventurous travels, and unbelievable financial success all point us back to what really matters. Praying that you know what really matters this Christmas!