Monday, July 4, 2016

I may have become that weird hippie friend . . .

*PLEASE SEE DISCLAIMER AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST

I may have become that weird hippie person that lives next door, and when you talk to people they just smile and nod their heads while thinking how strange you are. Before long I'm going to be wearing a fringed vest, moccasins, and my hair in braids. When I told my husband this he just said, "peace and love, babe." I love that guy. Yes, I am eating almost all organic food and avoiding all sorts of chemicals and have become that person that no one wants to go out to dinner with because I have to tell the server what all I can't have in my food. I know. Most people think I've lost my mind. It certainly isn't the first time. And I'm ok with that.

But there's a story behind all this weirdness. It started with being sick. Really sick. For a very, very long time. I've had fibromyalgia and arthritis for over 20 years. I've had repeated illnesses with bronchitis, sinus infections, and pneumonia. And when I got sick, I stayed sick a long time. If my family got a cold that lasted a few days, mine would last 2 or 3 weeks. But in February, 2015 I got sick and just could not get well. After the first round of antibiotics, steroids, and cough medicine, I went back to the doctor only to be told that my lungs were clear and they didn't know why I was still coughing. Another round of antibiotics and cough medicine. Still no better. At this point I just started taking over-the-counter medications to try to alleviate the constant coughing and stuffy nose.

Fast forward 6 months, August, 2015, and I'm still coughing. By this time it was so bad that I would choke sometimes and I hadn't been able to sing in months. So I finally went to an ear, nose, and throat doctor who specializes in treating singers. He scoped my vocal cords to make sure there was no permanent damage or nodes. Nope. They were inflamed and a little swollen but nothing that couldn't be remedied if we stopped the coughing. More antihistamines, more decongestants, more cough medicine. And 2 months later I was still coughing.

By October, 2015, the symptoms were even worse. We have a big event at our church in October and I have a huge roll in it. I made it through that but by this time I was always feeling sick. My energy was drained from all the coughing. My rib cage stayed sore. My back and neck were constantly hurting much worse from all the coughing. By November I was choking regularly and throwing up. I have been eating pretty healthy for over 2 years but I kept gaining weight, kept coughing and having laryngitis. I couldn't sing at all and was having constant muscle spasms. My skin was like alligator hide even though I was coating myself in coconut oil twice a day. My hair was falling out, brittle and frizzy. I wasn't sleeping. I had chronic dry mouth. I was always in pain everywhere. I was having regular migraines once or twice a week. And I had absolutely no energy.

I quit going to church. I stopped doing anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. I cut my work hours down to about 12 hours a month. I didn't go to the grocery store any more because people would avoid me and turn and go the other way my cough was so bad. It was embarrassing. I was miserable and didn't know what to do to get better. I had a CT scan. I had more blood work done. They tested my immune system. Everything came back negative.

In February 2016, after several more doctor visits the ENT sent me to an allergist. The allergist tested me for every grass, mold, and all the typical allergens in our region. ALL were negative. His only answer for me was that I was a puzzle - but he thought I would get better in a couple of weeks. His opinion was that I had just caught a series of viruses and colds - FOR AN ENTIRE YEAR - and that eventually they would all go away! He told me to just stop taking any medicine and call him in 2 weeks if I wasn't better and tell him he was wrong. I didn't get better. I kept getting worse. And I kept gaining weight. I thought the weight gain was because I wasn't exercising. I thought it was because I was eating too many calories while being so sedentary. I thought it was my fault. I was depressed and sick and felt like there was no hope.

Every test the doctors had done was negative. Every time I went in they told me they couldn't find anything wrong with me. My blood pressure was creeping up. My weight was still going up. My energy was dropping even more. The muscle spasms were so bad that it was hard to get dressed. I continued to pick my granddaugher up at school in the afternoons but felt so guilty that I didn't feel like spending any quality time with her. Just cooking dinner was a major ordeal. I couldn't focus on anything. My memory was even worse than it had been before, which was pretty bad. I felt like I was in a fog all the time, I carried liquid benadryl in my purse and kept it handy constantly because I would randomly start to feel that my throat was closing up and I couldn't breathe. I thought I was dying.

Finally, my daughter requested prayer for me one night in the small group that she leads in youth. One of the kids in her group insisted that she have me call her mom who is the office manager for Naturally You. After a little investigation I called and went for the free workshop they do. It was weird. I thought it couldn't be real. What they do is Nutrition Response Testing. I can't explain it. All I know is that the first thing they told me was that my immune system wasn't working. That was one of the things the doctors had tested and told me was fine. Naturally You does the first 2 visits for free so I decided I had nothing to lose. We were leaving the next week to visit our son in Colorado and I was terrified of getting on the plane with all the coughing. I literally begged Naturally You to see me immediately so I could get started on their plan before I got on the plane. To say I was desperate would be an understatement.

Without going into all the details of what they found, her is a list some of the changes and how quickly they happened.

My first visit was Wednesday, April 6th.

1 week: My hair quit falling out. We went to Colorado and I was tired and had no energy the entire time. But the coughing was a little better and, since I had discovered what not to eat, I only had to take benadryl twice on the trip.

2 weeks: I stopped taking muscle relaxers completely. Before I had taken them every night to sleep and ibuprofen every day to manage the pain. Muscle spasms had decreased about 90%, seriously. I slept through the night almost every night, something that hadn't happened in years, and never without medication. There was a slight decrease in the coughing.

3 weeks: My energy increased dramatically. My skin started to look like normal skin again. Not only did it look normal, it actually felt normal. It was so strange to touch my arm and think, wow! Skin! I began to recognize glimpses of the old ME in the mirror. I don't even know how to explain that. But it was strange to look in the mirror and have thoughts like, 'I remember you!'. Migraines had stopped almost totally. As a matter of fact, in 3 months, I've had 2. If that were the only change, that would be worth it all! Just ask anyone who has had regular migraines if you don't believe me! I dropped about 15 pounds of swelling and fluid weight! Note: I am NOT dieting! I'm eating probably twice as much food as I was before!

4 weeks: My energy has continued to increase. I started thinking that I might actually get well!  The coughing is getting better. The chronic dry mouth is gone.

Fast forward 3 months:
As of now, Monday, July 4th, 2016, I've lost 30 pounds and I'm eating twice as much food as I did before I started with Naturally You. I know what foods I shouldn't eat. I know almost immediately when I've eaten something that I'm going to react to. I have energy. I sleep through the night. Saying I don't feel well is actually rare rather than a constant thing. My pain level has decreased dramatically. I can get dressed without being afraid that when I bend over to put my shoes on I'm going to experience gut wrenching muscle spasms all through my rib cage. I can roll over in bed without muscle spasms! My depression is gone! I have hope!

Don't get me wrong. This isn't a magic pill that cures everything immediately. I still have some pain. I still see my chiropractor. I still occasionally, maybe once every 2 -3 weeks, take a dose of ibuprofen, (as opposed to a couple times a day before). I still occasionally have days when I don't feel great. About once every couple of weeks I'll have a sleepless night. But now, when I have a sleepless night or a lot of coughing, I know WHY it happened and know how to fix it. I actually notice with a little surprise if my knee hurts when I go up the steps. Those were just constants before! If I eat something that makes me feel icky and start coughing I notice immediately. Because I KNOW what to watch for.

For over 20 years I have tried to get well in every imaginable way possible. I've listened to doctors. I have taken tons of medicine. I've tried to force myself to exercise even when it was so painful and exhausting that I would almost pass out. I've tried numerous diets and vitamins and supplements. I've used every home remedy imaginable to try to deal with pain, muscle spasms, exhaustion, and sleepless nights. Some helped for a little while. Some were pointless. But I never found anything that made any lasting improvement. Finally, FINALLY, I've found something that helps and I want to shout it from the rooftops for everyone to hear!

I don't want to be that weirdo that every one avoids because they don't want to hear the latest 'gimmick' that you are trying. I really don't. But when you find something that works after being sick for so long, it's hard not to tell everyone you meet, especially those you know are suffering, too. So this is my new hippie life, taking food grade nutritional supplements, all based on the nutrition response testing done by Naturally You. If you want more info on where you can find this in your area, please email me. They have a network of practitioners all over the country. And I promise, you aren't going to get emails from me promoting some scheme to get you to buy stuff!

Here is their website: http://naturallyyou.fit/
Or email me if you want more info: smith.beverly.renea@gmail.com

*I MAKE NOTHING OFF OF REFERRALS AND GET NO FREEBIES OR FINANCIAL COMPENSATION! I,AM IN NO WAY AFFILIATED WITH NATURALLY YOU OTHER THAN USING THEIR SERVICES AND NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS. THIS IS NOT A MULTI-LEVEL MARKETING PLOY! THE ONLY ADVANTAGE I HAVE IN REFERRING PEOPLE IS SEEING THEM GET HEALTHIER!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Just Keeping It Real . . .

I'm a night owl. He wakes up happy, which I will never understand.

I'm abrasive and confrontational, especially if it is over something I care deeply about. He avoids conflict at all costs.

I jump in with both feet as soon as I get an idea, then figure out how to fix what I did wrong. He thinks about any idea for a long time, reads every book available on the subject, researches every website and blog post ever written about it, then takes forever to decide how to proceed.

I hate change, any change. Moving is about as close to torture as anything I've ever experienced. He has no real attachment to place so moving is not a big deal to him.

I am always doing something. Even if I'm sitting still, I'm making a list, crocheting, reading, or making some sort of art. He can sit in front of the TV and watch comedy shows, sci-fi, or golf and do nothing else, except maybe take a nap, for hours.

I like sappy romantic comedies and absolutely nothing that could qualify as scary to a 5 year old. He likes sci-fi and slapstick comedy.

My projects and their messes make him a little crazy but he doesn't complain much. His piles make me crazy and I complain all the time.

I ask a million questions a day. He hates answering questions.

I see the negatives. He sees the possibilities.

I make artistic creations. He makes magic on a piano.

He drives me nuts, and not always in a good way.
He snores.
He sweats 365 days a year, 24 hours a day in any kind of weather.
His laundry could quite possible qualify for toxic waste.
There is no remedy for his stinky feet.
And I often swear he doesn't really speak English.

But . . . I absolutely adore him.
He is brilliant.
The talent that God has gifted him with is beyond my comprehension.
The music that he can make come out of a keyboard is simply amazing.
And there is not one iota of vanity in the man.
He loves Jesus with all his heart, which not only won my respect but my whole heart, too.
And best of all, he adores me.

Marriage. It's hard. It's not always fun. But so, so worth fighting for!

Blessings,
Renea

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Things I need to eliminate . . . journal prompt

My one little word for this year is BUDGET.  I haven't posted much about this journey, but I have been working on it. My goal for this year was to budget every area of my life. My finances, time, diet, exercise, spiritual growth, everything.

For the last couple of weeks I've been trying to reevaluate my time, predominantly on social media. I'm spending way too much time checking notifications and reading things that are interesting, but not really of life changing importance. So I've been consistently eliminating those I get notifications from and some that I follow on twitter. Next is Facebook. Then Instagram. It's amazing how much time these things can eat away before I even realize it.

So here is my goal for the rest of the week. ELIMINATE! Stop wasting time on things that don't matter.

I need to eliminate . . . things that don't immediately impact my life or have significance for my future or my family's future.

Which means I need to eliminate
          . . . most of the notifications I get from Twitter,
          . . . most of what I read on Facebook,
          . . . a lot of what I scroll through on Instagram.

I love looking through all my social media. Unfortunately, I love it too much.

So, to all my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram 'friends', most of you will not be seeing me around much. At least that's the plan. If I am still commenting on your posts, you must of made the cut. Congratulations. LOL! To the rest of you, adios, amigos! Nothing personal! I just need my life back from my phone.

Are there things you need to eliminate?

Blessings,
Renea

Monday, May 18, 2015

What if . . . JOURNAL PROMPT

What if . . . God wants something from me that makes me uncomfortable? Chances are, He does.

When I started working with Celebrate Recovery, one of the men who started this ministry in our church told me it would be the hardest ministry I had ever done. I didn't doubt that. But I had no idea how God would open my eyes to things in such dramatic ways, and how he would use the women I was ministering to in ways I could not have imagined, to change my heart and bring healing to me.

Recently one of the ladies I've been mentoring for a few weeks moved out of the transition home she has been living in since being released from prison into an inner city ministry home. The day she was moving I picked her up along with her meager belongings. We spent the day together along with my youngest daughter. We ran errands, had a nice long lunch together and then moved her things into her new home. While we were running errands I took her by to see the home that my husband and I moved out of almost 2 years ago after 8 break-ins. The last year or so that we lived there I never walked out my door without being armed because of the crime all around us. I had become so angry with the whole situation that I lived with the constant thought that eventually someone would break in our home while I was in the house, and I would probably shoot someone and kill them. The pattern the criminals used in my neighborhood was for 3 minors to break in, one adult to drive, and another person to be the lookout. Knowing that if I ended up shooting someone, it would probably be a teenager, bothered me at first. But by the time we moved, I really didn't care any more. When that reality hit me, my husband and I knew it was time to walk away from the home we loved.

As my new friend and I were driving up to my old neighborhood, about 3 blocks from where I used to live, she interrupted our conversation to tell me that a rundown, now abandoned store we were passing used to be her address. She was homeless and lived under the bridge behind the store and they let her use their address to receive mail. I was a little more than startled by this news, and my heart just melted to think of all that she has been through.

As the home I had loved so much came into view, I pointed to it and told her a few things about it. I showed her the camellia bushes that bloom so beautifully in the winter. I told her about the sweet smelling wisteria that grows up the big tree on the patio. Then we rounded the corner and I showed her the abandoned houses and the crack houses where the crime was coming from that the police couldn't seem to control. As we passed by some of those houses, I noticed she was looking out the window. Then she quietly spoke and told me that she didn't think she remembered my house, and she didn't think she had ever broken into it, but if she had she was really sorry.

It was much later that night when the full irony of the whole situation really hit me. This woman, who is now my friend, is someone that just a short time ago I would have shot without blinking an eye, without even knowing who she was or what her story was, had she dared to break in my home while I was there. Granted, I probably would have been in therapy for the rest of my life. But in the moment, I would have aimed and shot to kill. And I'm a good marksman.

I don't write this to open a debate about rights or laws or obligations when you are a victim of a crime. That's a whole different subject. I can't explain why we were victims of so many crimes when the homes around us weren't plagued as often. I can say without a doubt that God's timing is impeccable, that saying he works in mysterious ways is an understatement.

It took about a year for my heart to heal over feeling like we were forced out of our home. I can say now in all honesty that I don't miss my house any more. I can also say that I believe that God knew where he was leading me. He knew that there was no way I could work with these women with the anger and resentment that I held toward crime, those who commit them, and the system that constantly releases them back onto our streets. He knew I needed time to work through the resentment and anger. I had no idea.

So, with those things in mind, this question has been burning a hole in my heart. WHAT IF . . . ? For a couple of years now, I've been asking myself, 'what if I really lived what I say I believe?' But this week it has been so much more prevalent in my mind.

We live in a culture where words don't always mean what we say. God's word calls us to obedience. It seems to me that most of us call it obedience if we just look like we are following the rules on the surface. He didn't say to obey when it is easy, when everyone else is doing it, when you aren't being challenged, when it goes along with the culture. He called us to a life of holiness that defies our limited understanding and ability. Then He equips us to follow that call.

With that in mind:

What if . . . the next time God tapped on my heart I just ran to the thing he was showing me?

What if . . . when God asks me to do something I responded with an immediate YES, before the enemy  
     had time to put a hundred excuses in my head?

What if . . . I personally ministered to the poor, the prisoners, the homeless, the outcasts, instead of just
     sending my money hoping someone else would do it?

What if . . . I quit making excuses for why I don't respond to those tugs on my heart? I don't have time,  
     money, strength, passion, desire, you fill in the blank.

What if . . . I broke down some of those safe little walls I have built and actually listened long enough to hear
     God's voice?

What if . . . I really lived out what I say I believe?

What if . . . I actually did love like Jesus does?

IF you do any of the above, you may find yourself running toward someone you just heard say she wished someone would just kill her because she doesn't have the courage to kill herself.

You may find yourself with your hands on the side of her face looking right into her eyes and telling her to just CHOOSE LIFE!

You may find yourself making new friends that look nothing like you, act nothing like you, and have habits and lifestyles that you completely disagree with.

And you may find yourself discovering that you have just realized what real obedience looks like. And you might even enjoy it.

Blessings,
Renea

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I want to remember . . . Journal prompt

Grand daughter, me and my mom, Oct 2014 at DaySpring FestiFall.
This was just 6 months after her disastrous knee surgery. And, no, she still does not color her hair!!!!

Today is my sweet mama's 81st birthday. There are so many things I have learned from her over the years. These are just a few that I always want to remember.

I want to remember . . . how she always put family before her own needs and desires. Even though Mama is in constant pain, she always manages to come through when any of us need her. Everything from cooking meals, doing laundry, babysitting her grandkids and great grandkids, picking up things from the grocery store, and thousands of other little things, she's always available.

I want to remember . . . the story of the terrible accident that she almost died from when she was only 18 years old, her miraculous recovery, and how that accident left her with chronic pain, that most people never knew about, for the rest of her life.

I want to remember . . . trying to learn to cook from her with no recipes and how that drove me nuts. Just put a little of this, a little of that, and you come out with perfect cornbread! That never worked for me.

I want to remember . . . that birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations, may only exist as an excuse for a family dinner in which every one is invited and any friends who happen to show up are treated as family.

I want to remember . . . that dinner always begins with a prayer of thanksgiving before one bite is taken. And that forgetting that detail is cause for severe looks and possibly having your hand slapped before it reaches your mouth. (That hasn't happened in years but I still remember it like it was yesterday!)

I want to remember . . . the odd way she holds her cards when we play card games.

I want to remember . . . her long, slender fingers and beautiful fingernails that were always polished every Saturday night to match her outfit for Sunday morning, before arthritis twisted her knuckles and the nail polish was left to a younger generation.

I want to remember . . . how she and Daddy read their devotions together every night before they went to sleep when Daddy wasn't working night shift.

I want to remember . . . the million and one times she has come to my rescue for everything from restocking my pantry when there was more month than money, to demanding that I bring my laundry to her so she could wash it when my week was long and we were out of clean clothes.

I want to remember . . . the pure joy in her face the first time, and every time after that, when she held each of my children and grand children.

I want to remember . . . the compassionate sadness I saw in her eyes when one of my children had gone through a particular hard time and how she ached to rescue them.

I want to remember . . . how she drives me crazy with her OCD weird little habits . . . and how much I am like her.

I want to remember . . . the first time as a mom when I heard her voice come out of my mouth, and how much that both frightened me and made me proud to be her daughter.

I want to remember . . . her extensive knowledge of all things plant and flower related, and how much I have learned from her in that regard.

I want to remember . . . that the best tasting pot roast, pound cake, and lots of other foods came from Mama's kitchen.

I want to remember . . . her total devotion to my daddy that has never wavered in 60 years of marriage.

I want to remember . . . that as a small child she made it clear that church attendance was never optional, that 10% of everything I earned belonged to God, and that putting God first was the only way to live your life.

I want to remember . . . that in spite of my rebellion and stubborn heart, she has always loved me unconditionally, perfectly modeling for me the relationship she has with her heavenly Father year after year.

I want to remember . . . all the ways that she far surpasses me in grace and southern hospitality.

I want to remember . . . all of it, even the hard times. Because much of who my mom is has made me who I am today.

I want to remember . . . everything about her so I remember who I aspire to be.

Blessings,
Renea

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I want to be different . . . journal prompt

Last week I was an outside observer to an incident that I can't really give details of here due to it's confidential nature. But let me just tell you that it was something that any average citizen who was treated this way would have been appalled. But these weren't 'average' citizens. These were former prisoners. As I've gotten to know some of these people I've noticed something that has bothered me and made me take a closer examination of my own life. 

From their vantage point, they don't expect to be treated with respect. 
They don't expect people to be honest with them.
They don't expect you to like them.
And most of all, they certainly don't expect you to be their friend in the true sense of the word.

What they expect is to be lied to,
shunned by others,
looked down on,
and used and abused. 

In truth, part of that is because that's how many of them have treated other people. I get that. But the rest of the story is often that they have always been treated that way. Granted, some of these people come from great homes and they just screwed up. And now they can't see any way back to healthy relationships and a 'normal' life. I believe with all my heart that this can be changed for many of them. Don't get me wrong, I've been brutally honest with them. If they do something stupid, I'd be the first in line to call their parole officer if I thought they'd be safer in jail. And I realize that not everyone wants to be saved from a destructive lifestyle. I'm not naive about this. But that doesn't give me license to treat them with disrespect.

I am sort of a no compromise type of girl. This is right; that is wrong; what is it you don't understand? That's me. Life is pretty black and white to me. (No racial implications there at all.) I don't see many gray areas. I realize there are some fine lines in life that we all have to walk. And the older I get, the more those lines seem to blur. I'm not sure if that is my age or the culture, or perhaps a combination of the two. But I usually don't have a hard time seeing right from wrong. 

Some of these people honestly do.
Sometimes they act completely out of survival mode and just deal with consequences later.
Act, then think.
It's a terrible way to have to live. 
Sometimes they literally need someone to talk them step by step through the ordinary tasks that most of us take for granted. But if they want to change their lives, many of them can, with help!

Through the weeks leading up to Pentecost our church is reading a devotional on holiness that our pastor, Matt Friedeman wrote. Our memory verse this week is:

Jesus replied: 
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:37

If this is how I want to live my life, and it is, then people matter. All people. Not just the ones who fit in. Not just the ones who are socially acceptable. Several of these people have become my friends. The response I get over and over from them is that I'm something extraordinary just because I actually care about them and treat them with respect. Not true. There is nothing special about me. I'm just a sinner saved by grace. My past didn't involve a prison with metal bars, but I was just as much a prisoner as they were. I'm no better than anyone else. 

What I took away from this incident that happened, which was completely inappropriate and an emotional violatiion, and possibly a legal one, is that I NEVER want to be that person that they expect me to be. Pastor Matt often says we want to love like Jesus does at DaySpring Community Church. 

Jesus loved the socially unacceptable. 
Jesus loved the poor. 
Jesus loved the outcasts. 
Jesus had compassion for those who were caught in sin. 

I want that kind of love. 
I never want anyone to say that I looked down on them because of their social status. 
I want to love my God with everything that is in me. 
And I want to love people with that same kind of love. 

I want to be different from what is expected by those who are the 'least of these'. 

I want to be different from the world. 
I want to love like Jesus does. 
Always. 

Blessings,
Renea

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Journal prompt.

If I could tell my younger self . . .

If you aren't familiar with Celebrate Recovery, here is a quick overview of how a meeting goes. We open with worship, followed by either a lesson or a testimony. Then we break up into small groups followed by a meal together. In small groups we discuss what we heard in the large group and have a series of questions related to the evening's theme as discussion starters. We can answer one of those questions or discuss whatever we are struggling with. Or we can say pass if we don't want to talk. 

One of the questions on our list during group this past Friday was, "If you could go back and change anything what would you change?" Most of the ladies chose this question to answer. Some of their answers were simply heartbreaking. 

It is amazing to watch God working in these ladies lives. But I so wish that I could just miraculously convey the message to them that there is hope. That God loves them. That the pain and suffering they are experiencing now will one day by used for God's glory to help someone else who has been in their shoes. But first they have to allow Him to bring healing into their broken hearts. That is a hard sell when you are in the midst of said suffering, and you've never known unconditional love. 

For someone who is in survival mode, it's really hard to comprehend letting go of the little ounce of control that you feel you have, even if it is to give that control to the creator of the universe. For those of us who have walked with the Lord for years, sometimes we take for granted the trust and faith that we have, knowing that God really is working all things for our good. When you are a person who hasn't had much good in your life, or who hasn't had anything good for a really long time, GOOD seems like something that only happens to other people. Taking a chance on trusting an unseen God can seem pretty risky for a heart that has been broken, stomped on, and left on the streets to die. Some of these ladies have survived only by sheer willpower and street smarts. Trust, freedom, unconditional love, and GRACE, are completely foreign terms to many of them.

I chose not to answer the question of what I would go back and change. The list is too long, too painful, and way more information than I had time or the nerves to share. And since that isn't an option anyway, I chose to focus on where I am now. What my life is like after 26 years of sobriety and trusting God every day.
                    
                         For grace over my past, 
                                                  peace to find joy in the present, and 
                                                                           strength to face whatever the future holds. 

This isn't quite what I said to them, but here's a small portion of what I've learned over the years.

I've learned that I'm never going to have all the answers. 
I've learned that forgiveness is cleansing, both being forgiven and gifting that to others, even when they don't deserve it. 
I've learned that my heart can find joy, even when I'm not happy. 
I've learned that being transformed by a holy God doesn't take away my control, it gives me self-control.
I've learned that my God is truly everything He says He is. 

So, if I could go back and tell my younger self anything . . . 
I'd tell her to let go of her fear, quit worrying about what others think, and enjoy life.
I'd tell her that she is loved already and that no one on earth can fill that emptiness in her soul.
I'd tell her that beauty on the inside is so much more pleasing and lasts longer than what is on the outside. 
I'd tell her that acne does eventually go away.
I'd tell her to listen more and talk less
I'd tell her not to judge others harshly, because she has no idea what they are going through.
I'd tell her to read her bible every single day, even if she doesn't understand what she is reading.
I'd tell her that prayer is a conversation which requires listening as well as talking.
I'd tell her that there are going to be some really hard days, but Jesus is going to hold her through it all.
 And that after those hard days, she will see God's hand was at work through the pain.
I'd tell her that giving everything to God means getting everything of Him, 
and that is worth more than she could ever imagine.

And more than anything else,
if I could go back and tell my younger self only one thing . . .
I would tell her that God loves her.
HER.
Not just the whole world. But her.
Unconditionally.
Completely.
Beyond anything she can imagine.
As an individual.
As a child of the king of all kings.
As a chosen daughter.
As a precious child.
That's what I would want my younger self to know.
Because that is what has made all the difference in the world to me for the last 26 years.

He loves ME.
Period.

Blessings,
Renea

Monday, April 6, 2015

Today I am thankful for. . .

Journal prompt:
Today I am thankful for . . . 

This past week I've spent a lot of time contemplating the weight of Good Friday, the celebration of Easter, and Holy Week in general. It's still so hard for me to comprehend the love that Jesus showed on Good Friday. The beatings, the insults, being spat on, the utter cruelty of the cross. And he chose this - for me! How incredibly humbling!

If I were forced to defend my faith with my very life, or in the face of a brutal rapist as some of our sisters in other countries are, if I knew my head would be chopped off if I didn't deny my God, would I still admit to my belief? Or, would I even continue to believe at all? I hope I never have to answer that in reality. But I do wonder.


Jesus' words on the cross, "IT IS FINISHED!" marked a finality that rocked the world of those looking on, literally, with an earthquake, graves opening up, and the sky turning to darkness. But truly, it was not the end of the story! For us, it was the beginning of our freedom, the necessary debt paid for sin. I pray that you recognize the agony of Good Friday, but that you rejoice in the celebration of Easter where your redemption comes!

Today, I am thankful for living in a country where I have been privileged to learn about my Savior openly and in freedom.
I'm thankful for a church that constantly challenges me to a deeper walk.
I'm thankful for relationships with believers who accept me as I am but refuse to let me stay there, spurring me on to growth in my faith walk.
I'm thankful for my family who stood by me at my worst and loved me anyway.
I'm thankful for my husband who lifts me up with encouragement to use my gifts for His glory and loves me like I had never imagined possible.
And, most of all, I'm thankful for Jesus who unselfishly gave His own life to give me mine.

Blessings,
Renea

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Genetics are a funny thing. . .

Sometimes I wonder about God's sense of humor. And just in case you doubt he has one, just ask any parent of a child older than about a year old. Inevitably by that age there has been at least once that the parent has gazed with awe and wonder at said child and thought, 'God's getting me back for. . .' whatever.

Genetics are an amazing web of intricate combinations that are far beyond my comprehension. And sometimes, just sometimes, you find a genetic code that is so strongly stamped onto a person that you just have to look on in amazement.
And if you doubt that last statement, go back and ask the same parent again.

Most of us have at least one thing that we always swore would never happen when we became parents. In my case, one of those sworn to avoid things was my mom's standard answer for any question. "You'll have to ask your daddy." Translation, NO. See, Daddy worked at night for most of my early life. This meant when I got home from school, he had just left for work. And when I got up in the mornings, he was sleeping. So any request for permission had to be planned days in advance, which I never had the forethought to do.

For most moms, a stark reality hits us at the most inopportune moment and when we least expect it. Usually it's about mid sentence into what is about to be a tirade of warnings to a child who has done some dastardly deed or has uttered a forbidden rebellious statement that probably deserves a soapy dinner. And once it happens, you can never un-remember it. It's that moment when you open your mouth and your mother comes out. It just happens. And it's a frightening feeling. You are all at once a child in trouble and the old lady that you thought you'd never be.

But I really intended for this to be about something I did yesterday. I admittedly have the attention span of a flea sometimes. I can sit for hours and work on a project. But if I'm trying to multitask on chores, I walk away to get something and get distracted and forget what I was doing. I'm acutely aware of this brain malfunction. So I try really hard not to do two things at once that could be a problem if you forget to complete one of them. Like ironing. Or frying bacon.

Yesterday I was boiling chicken for soup. It was going to take a while. So I decided to do something else while I waited. I decided to wash a couple things that needed to be hand washed, which meant stopping up the bathroom sink and running water in it. It doesn't take long to fill a sink in a RV. But while I was waiting, I thought I'd take the two steps to the kitchen to check on the chicken. And I got distracted.

For the record, there is no overflow hole in the bathroom sink in our RV.

Now about that genetic code . . .

One of my daughters came in to pick up the grandkid after the water incident. She went to the bathroom. Being well trained by her mother, she wanted to wash her hands. But the bathroom sink was full of everything that was thrown in there off the counter to get it out of the standing water that had overflowed from the sink.

So I told her to wash her hands in the shower. But I forgot the shower floor was covered with wet towels used to sop up the water from the counter and out of the carpet where it spilled over to the floor. There was also a small pillow in there that my hubby had thrown in because the grandkid spilled soup on it.

I, like any resourceful mother, dug out the hand sanitizer in the pile in the sink and just squirted it on her hands and told her to go home and wash her hands.

By this time she was laughing hysterically. Not so much at the situation as at the fact that she tells people all the time that she got it honestly. If ever there was a child that was stamped with her parent's DNA, it's that girl. Bless her heart.

In other news, the chicken noodle soup came out fine.

Blessings,

Renea

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

My Testimony . . .

Right now I have about a dozen posts that are still drafts for one reason or another. Some are awaiting pictures. Some I just haven't finished. And some I'm struggling to find the right words to convey the message I want to give. This is one of those posts.

About a week ago my pastor asked me about giving my 3 minute testimony in church, then expanding that testimony into 30 minutes for Celebrate Recovery. I've been helping with Celebrate Recovery for just a couple of months. The Lord had clued me in that giving my testimony was coming. As soon as my pastor mentioned it to me, the nightmares started. Working with Celebrate Recovery has brought up so many memories that I would rather keep buried, hidden deep in the past. Things that are no longer a part of my life. Hurts that God has healed me from, but still bring feelings of shame and guilt when I dwell on them. There was so much damage that was done by poor choices I made. And fears that linger from damage that was done to me by others, those scars that fade with time but still sting when reopened.

Nightmares were a regular part of my life for a long time. For about two years after I was raped, I dealt with terrifying nightmares at least several times a week. They usually come back any time I have to open that wound again and talk to people about rape. Over the years, I've learned how to combat them. I know that prayer and fasting are the answer. But I didn't do that this time. For about a week, I just let them fester like an open wound. A week of sleepless nights. A week of missed opportunity to give my heavenly Father victory over my past. Again. Sometimes we are such lost sheep, even after we have been found. For me, I often find myself in a new pasture, or wandering in an old pasture that I thought had been destroyed, lost and afraid again.

Then I remember. I recall those promises I've learned to depend on.

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature;
the old things passed away;
behold, new things have come." 
II Corinthians 5:17

I am reminded by my precious Savior that his love is sufficient, that his grace has covered my past, that I am no longer that lost sheep, that his plans for me are all good, that he hears me when I call to him.

And he answers.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you a hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with your whole heart."
Jeremiah 29:11-13

As I've been praying about what I should share in a 3 minute testimony, I've struggled with what I should say. How do you convey years and years of foolish choices, a broken, destroyed life, AND God's grace that redeemed that life 26 years ago - in 3 minutes? I've been reading 'The Lent Project' by Journey Church. On Day 22, the prayer at the end of the devotion concluded with this sentence.

"Make me so focused on Your message that I stop feeling the need to spread my own."

And it hit me. Like God just reached down into the depths of my soul and clarified everything. My testimony isn't about mistakes I've made, my failures, my poor choices or insecurities, my broken life! My testimony is about what He has done in me, His healing, His redemption, His undeserved mercy. Three minutes certainly isn't long enough to recount all the amazing blessings He has poured into my life in the last 26 years. But 3 minutes of His miraculous works beats 30 minutes of my failures any day!

I pray that anyone reading this has found the beautiful healing love that can only come from a perfect God. If you are struggling to find God's grace, please know that He is pursuing your heart. His relentless love is infinite and unconditional. He will never fail you or desert you. And I would love to share with you how he has radically changed my life! Feel free to message me any time.

Blessings,
Renea

60 and Counting . . .

"Age ain't nothin' but a number."

I don't know who said that. But it is true. As we age our bodies tend to become increasingly uncooperative, our minds forget more than we remember, and our spirits don't seem to have quite as much passion for things we used to think so important. But other than those little details, I haven't really found aging to be such a bad thing. And there are certainly some advantages I hadn't expected, like I can honestly say no to chaperoning youth lock-ins because I'm just too old. And since the kids are grown, I get to play with the grandkids and send them home spoiled. lol.

Last month my hubby celebrated his 60th birthday. He was a little bummed about thinking he was getting old. So my family and I threw a big surprise birthday party for him. I wanted him to see how much he is appreciated by so many people. He doesn't really like to be the center of attention. But I figured with lots of friends and family around he would forgive me. It was great to see all the people who came out to show him they cared. He's a pretty super guy, besides being ridiculously talented musically, really smart, and an accomplished computer nerd, he's just an all around nice guy. Plus he's an amazing hubby and father. Here are a few pics from the party.
Not only was the party great, but the fact that due to his crazy schedule, I couldn't schedule the date and time until about a week before the party, we still managed to keep it a surprise!


And of course there was food! My mom smoked pork loin and I made blackbean chicken soup. It was quite an adventure keeping preparations for a party for 50 or so people a secret!


I adore this guy. Seriously.

Now, about that cake . . .
I you've seen my Instagram feed, you probably know that I affectionately call by hubby #MyPianoMan.
I made the cake using my favorite pound cake recipe, Paula Deen's Mama's Pound Cake. http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/mamas-pound-cake-recipe.html
I made three 9 inch square layers. The top one I cut in half. My piano man sometimes plays two keyboards at a time. Hence, the stacked look. It would have been more realistic made with chocolate fondant, but since I'm allergic to chocolate, the black keys were about all I could handle. lol! Making this cake definitely did not take as many steps as the Frozen cake I made for the granddaughter. It actually was pretty simple.

I iced it with this: http://www.wilton.com/recipe/Buttercream-Icing

Then I covered it with the marshmallow fondant recipe from this blog:
http://rosebakes.com/how-to-make-homemade-marshmallow-fondant-yummy/

Yes, I mixed it with a spatula, just like she says. I usually use my heavy duty mixer. But I actually found this to be much easier than I thought it would be. The only thing I found difficult with this recipe was, after letting it rest for 24 hours, it was really hard. Like so hard I couldn't knead it in one big ball with my arthritic hands. I had to break off pieces and knead a little at time. But one I got it kneaded, it was great to work with. Her site has lots of helpful tips and techniques.

The black piano keys are Kit Kat bars dipped in Wilton melted black candy melts, available at Michaels. I placed the Kit Kat bars on a wire cooling rack and spooned the melted candy melts over them. Then I smoothed the top with the back of the spoon. After they dried for a while and started to set, I lifted them off the cooling rack by sliding a butter knife under them and moving them to a clean spot on the rack. Once they were set, I just moved them to wax paper and refrigerated them until I was ready to use them. You can lift up the candy that dripped down under the wire rack and reheat it. Before I put the Kit Kats on the cake, I scraped any hardened candy melt drips off the bottom or sides with a sharp paring knife. This made the sides look straight and the bottoms nice and flat.

I glued them to the cake using this fondant glue recipe: http://rosebakes.com/make-fondant-sugar-glue/
This worked great!

The white keys are just fondant rectangles, rolled a little thicker than normal and cut to size. I used a tape measure to get my spacing pretty even for the lines. The indentions between the keys were made with an ice pick.

All in all, I was happy with how it came out. And my man was happy. That's really all that mattered. I am definitely blessed beyond measure!

Blessings,
Renea