Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Family Reunion 2014

*Photo Taken by my Uncle, Randy Allen*

I remember as a little girl, piling in our our big blue van, every other year, and traveling to our family reunion in North Carolina. Spending a week with my Dad's parents and siblings and my cousins, was by far the highlight of my summer. It's been twenty years of traveling to our family reunion now. To the same place, Lake Junaluska, in the beautiful smokey mountains.

Now, I pile my children, into a smaller, but blue van. And travel to North Carolina, to spend a week with my parents and siblings, and my Dad's siblings, and their children, and grandchildren. My Grandparents passed away ten years ago. All my Grandfather asked was that we continue the tradition. All of us, gathering together again, year after year, and it was quite magical this reunion.

Our van driving into the mountains *Photo Credit-Tammy Hayes-my cousin*

The cabins are the same, for the most part, the grounds we played on as children, now our children play on. Yet, there is just something so sacred about it now. To bring my children, to a place I remember so fondly. Where memories were made, and stories shared. To experience it all over again through my children's eyes, that was so precious.

  Meet Reddy Freddy. He has come to our family reunion, since I was a little girl. My Aunt Cindy (pictured above) and her Husband Andy traveled Europe doing puppet shows with their family. When they came to a Reunion a looooonnnnggg time ago, my Grandmother asked them to please do a puppet show with Reddy Freddy. It's a highlight of our banquet night, Reddy Freddy tells silly jokes and made up stories about different family members. It always makes us laugh, and yes, cry sometimes too. That quilt on the front of the puppet theater is all of our previous reunion shirts, and a shirt my parents had made for my Grandfather. With a picture of them in the center. Aunt Cindy and Uncle Andy did a wonderful job of continuing this tradition, and sharing with the little ones all about my Grandparents. A highlight of our week, for sure.

I recall, running past my Grandfather, as all of us cousins played, I think I was about ten, and seeing tears in his eyes. He could and would get emotional at our Reunions. I never doubted for one minute his deep love for me, for all of us. I understand now, the tears in his eyes.

Watching generations play together, create memories together, share laughter and stories, together. It's a glimpse of Glory. Of what is to come. Family, loved ones, laughter, joy, peace, tranquility, beauty. And there, in the majestic mountains of North Carolina, every other summer, among roses, flowering bushes, and situated on a peaceful Lake, we create memories to last a life time.

I kept thinking all week, "My heart is so full!!!
All of my first cousins, and their spouses.

I also thought...  "I know one day, we will all be together, and it will be far more beautiful than this, it will be perfect because we will be in the presence of Jesus." That is what being together as a family is all about. 
Grateful for the Hope we can have and to know that one day it won't end.

The cross at Lake Junaluska
I want nothing but the best for them. I didn't want their company to end. I love them. So much. They are SO dear to me. And to think that is the way Jesus feels about me, and you, and all of my family. He want's us to live forever, He want's to be with us forever. He died so we could be with him forever.
Eternity will be a family reunion, that never ends.
I caught myself, choking back tears, as little cousins ran and played together. Becoming fast friends, most having never met. That is the amazing thing about family, even the littlest of people, sense and know, they are safe and they are loved.

I am so grateful to be a part of a wonderful family. They are my favorite people.

To my family that may read this, I love you. 
I esteem (Value, Respect, Admire, Treasure, Like, Appreciate) YOU!
I am grateful to be a small part of such a grand family. Thank you for continuing this legacy. I want nothing but the best for each of you. We are counting down until the next family reunion. Until then, all of you are welcome to visit us anytime. For those that couldn't come, you were really missed. I hope to see you all in two years. Much love always ~ Bethany

Here is a slideshow of some of my favorite pictures my family snapped.
The beautiful outdoor photos are taken by my Uncle Randy Allen
And My Dad Steve Allen
(Photography runs in the family)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Surviving the toddler years, enjoying the fireworks.

The husband and I decided to be brave, and take the children out in the big city for a fireworks display. Plan A.(state park) didn't work out, so we set out to down town Atlanta for plan B. Sure there were moments of looking over at each other, not saying a word, but giving that glance of "Are we nuts?". The only one that complained was the baby of the family. He was hot and tired, and well, he's the baby so it's kinda his job to be the center of attention. Amazingly enough, we didn't loose a child, or any belongings. And the fireworks were amazing.

Funny how, just five or so years ago, such an adventure would have been impossible without The Reinforcements (aka: Grandparents). They made every vacation, concert, museum trip, zoo trip, Fireworks, even doctors appointments possible. When you have four kids, in five years, it really does take a village to help you. We were blessed to live close to family during that season of babies and toddlers. And I don't know what we would have done without them.

Well, actually, I do. We would have done nothing. Ever. No vacations, no concerts, no museums, no zoo's, no fireworks and doctors appointments would have been impossible. Because life with four toddlers/babies is hard enough at home, all enclosed in a house. Much less out in the big world, where, they have to walk and hold your hand everywhere. (re: practically impossible in every way.)

So as we walked through a sea of people in a very big city, down town, July 4th Fireworks. I couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment. A "WE MADE IT". We actually have fun on outings now! We can really enjoy their company. I don't have to bring strollers and up teen bags of everything we own to keep them occupied. (Cue the Hallelujah chorus!)

THEY DON'T RUN AWAY FROM US ANYMORE! Seriously, I thought that day would never come when I was in the trenches of toddler hood.

By the time fireworks started...there was no green spaces left and that sidewalk was PACKED with people. It was nuts.

 A sweet cousin said to me not too long ago (She is in the trenches of toddler hood and might I say fighting the battle very well.)

"Don't you feel like discipline is sometimes harder on you than your kid? I mean, you are just making your life harder!"

To that I said and "ABSOLUTELY!"

It does make your life, much harder. If you say it, you have to follow through with it. I don't want to even tell you how many times I sat outside my toddlers door, because the toddler was in time out, and if I didn't sit and watch him, while in time out, he wouldn't have stayed, in timeout. (and I mean really, just getting to sit down was kind of a luxury, though I think most times I was nursing a baby too.) I had to do the same thing at nap time too. Sit. In front of their door, watching them fall asleep.

I think that is why it's so hard for us parents to stick with discipline consistently. Because it's exhausting, and makes our life hard.

We believe in teaching our kids how to be okay with loosing. I mean, Obviously.

But here's the thing. Because I stuck to my guns when they were two, I enjoy their company at ten. I can now have a conversation with my ten year old about his behavior, and he doesn't throw himself on the ground screaming and crying, because he learned self control, at two. THERE IS HOPE!!!!!!! Was it easy? Heck no. Did I cry probably more than my children? YES! Did I screw up? Of course.

~ Why yes...we did do the patriotic hair star. 'Merica ~


So you may not particularly enjoy your toddlers company now, I mean you may have brief moments of bliss. Followed by many more moments of sheer terror. Everyone does.
He was hot, and thirsty, and refused to look at me. Whatev' because what he doesn't know, is I LOVE profile pictures.

But...one day, one day it will be all fireworks and ooo's and ahh's. Followed by your kids saying things like "This was the best day" and "I love being with you." and "I'm so glad you are my mom and dad"...okay and maybe a baby of the family that just says "Can I get my sonic slush now?" (But he didn't cry about it. Winning!)
Nothing says "Successful outing out with four kids" like having time to take pictures of your cute shoes while sitting in green grass. This would never have happened five years ago. I would have been too busy chasing many small children around.

One day your Children will rise up and call you blessed. Because you stayed the course, You rode out the storm, You loved them so much that you were willing to be not liked on most days, to one day, have them love you so much for it. I saw a glimmer of that hope on July 4th. And it was dazzling. The fireworks were just the icing on a pretty amazing cake.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Resting in Him...

So much has happened since moving to Atlanta. The other day, someone asked how long we had been here. I realized at that time it had only been three weeks. It felt much longer. Not because I know my way around (GPS is my BFF) or that we already feel so settled (Because we don't). But because so much has happened in such a short period of time. It's been a whirlwind. A very difficult, grief and loss filled whirlwind.
Photo taken about four years ago, Myself, my daughter, and my Grandmother at 86 years young

Just a few days after we moved my brave and beautiful grandmother became ill. After a short stay in the hospital, she went to be with Jesus. I am thankful I was able to talk to her on the phone, right after she was hospitalized. My Mom insisted that I say hello to her, I thought she probably needed to rest. I am forever grateful my Mom insisted. At that point we had no idea she wouldn't be going home from the hospital. I will forever hold that last conversation with her as a most precious memory. I told her I loved her, so much, and that we were praying for her. That I wished I could be there. I more than wished that, it was really really hard to not be there. With difficulty breathing, She told me she loved me so much, and thanked me for the prayers. Then, with bated breath asked "How are you honey? Are you okay?". I knew she would. She always did. No matter what she was going through, she wanted to know how you were. This woman, who I loved so incredibly much, never ever failed to ask that. My first thought was, "You are in the hospital and you are asking how I am?" Though her memory was failing, she always remembered her family. She remembered Elliott has Arthritis. She always asked about him. She always prayed for him. We are so grateful and blessed to be able to say, until her last days, she knew and loved her family.

In death, people tend to be immortalized as being super human. While my Grandmother certainly was a God fearing and loving woman. She wasn't perfect. She'd be the first to tell you that, and likely that you aren't either. She was a fire cracker. Many a times, before she came to visit, I remember my parent's telling me "Grammie doesn't know about Hunter's accident (my little brother who was CONSTANTLY getting hurt), so don't say anything to Grammie.". She was a worrier. She lived in Florida, we lived far away from her, and my parent's knew that she couldn't do anything about my brother's many accidents, so why worry her with it. She had an alarm system installed, before most people knew you could do that. She gave me mace on a key chain when I turned twelve, and I think almost every Christmas after that in my stocking I received something to help keep me safe. My Aunt shared in her eulogy that even when she was hospitalized, she would say to her girls when they were leaving "Be safe, Stay safe." She was a worrier.

I could relate to my Grandmother in that area of her life. Ever since I can remember I have struggled with fear and anxiety. I'm thankful my parents didn't make me feel like I was crazy, when I was a child, and would sneak into their room every night to sleep on the floor. I was terrified of the dark, and being far away from them. I hated spending the night with friends, because I couldn't be close to my parents, and my brothers. I had irrational fears of getting lost, or losing my family. I liked sharing a room with my brother, because I could check on him and make sure he was breathing (mind you I was probably five). I had a wonderful childhood. Amazing parents. I have no idea why I struggled with fear and anxiety like I did and at such a young age. I don't think they could figure it out either, but they never made me feel bad about it. Not kidding I would sneak into their room and sleep on the floor, on a pallet my mom made for me, every night, until I was about ten. When we moved from my childhood home in Kansas when I was nine, to an older home in Alabama, it was a ranch style house, and my parents room was across the hall from mine. So I could leave my door open, and see them, and feel safe. For the first time, I actually slept in my own room.

I can not remember a time when fear and anxiety wasn't a part of my life. Many people say they have a traumatic childhood experience that made them a very fearful person. I didn't. At all. I was a very creative child, and had a pretty amazing imagination. Maybe that is part of why I struggled with fear and anxiety. I don't know. But, when my Grammie came to visit, and put me to bed. She never made me feel bad for asking her to stay with me until I fell asleep. When we stayed at her house, and I would ask a million times "When are my parents coming back?" or "Are my brothers okay?" she would reassure me "Honey, the alarm is set. It's okay. We are safe. Your Mom and Dad will be back. It's okay." She never said to me "You are a child, and being completely irrational." I think she knew, without ever saying it, exactly how I felt.

I grew up in the church, my Dad was a youth pastor. But it wasn't until I was twelve at church camp, that I re-dedicated my life to Christ, when the fear and anxiety that I struggled with dissipated. Oh, it still reared it's ugly head. But I learned about renewing my thoughts, and learning scripture to quote to myself when I began to feel the anxiety bubble up within me. It's still something that I have to work on. I suppose everyone has different things they deal with, and that is mine. But, it doesn't paralyze me as much as it did when I was a child.

Until recently. I suppose losing my last living Grandparent, moving to a very big city, with none of my family close by. It's all been a huge anxiety trigger. It's one of those times where I know...my heart knows...
"With God, Any thing is possible."
"Cast all your cares on Me, for I care for you."
"Nothing is impossible with Christ."
"I will never leave you or foresake you"
"My mercies are new every morning."
"If God is for me, Who can be against me."
"In Christ, you are a new Creation. The old has passed, the New has come."

But my head. My darn head. He has done SO much for us. He has gone before us. Every time. My heart know's this. My head know's this. Getting them to agree at the same time. It's been difficult.

Can you relate?

Grief does strange things to us doesn't it. While we know and have the hope of heaven. Loosing those we love is just hard. Mourning doesn't end the day of the funeral. I am so happy for my Grandmother. I know she is free of pain, in the very presence of her Savior. That doesn't mean that my heart doesn't ache.

Yesterday at church, Pastor John Woodall gave a powerful message on just what I needed to hear.  Maybe you have come to a point in your life, where you feel your life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is lacking. Maybe it's like having a cloud over your heart, a heaviness, or sadness you can't pinpoint and won't go away. Maybe you need to do some soul excavation. I strongly encourage you to go listen to the message linked above.

I can't change that my early and formative years were filled with fear and anxiety. But I can change the internal message that I spoke to myself.
"I am not _(fill in the blank)__".

My fill in the blank words would have been, safe, or strong enough. Like I said, I never questioned my parents protection. They did a wonderful job of doing so. I really can't look back and pinpoint when my fear and anxiety started or why. I just know I was incredibly fearful. And so, I set about to do some soul excavating. Until it is filled with God's Truth.

Jesus said :

I have felt so much comfort over the last few weeks. I know God is with me. I know God has a purpose and a plan for our family in this season. I look back on my early life and the messages I spoke to myself, and I am working on replacing it with the Truth of God's promises. I am beginning to experience so much freedom.

The day of my Grandmother's memorial service, I looked one of my biggest fears in the face. I took a microphone and sang. For her. But, I think God prompted me to sing for her service that day, to speak to me. He is peeling back the layers of fear and anxiety that had been wrapped around my heart. To tell me, that I am enough. Just the way I am.

I miss my Grandmother, my family, and my friends. But I have an anchor for my soul. A hope that brings me peace and comfort. And wonderful memories of a beautiful childhood with her. I long for the day, when I too am resting with Him. Until then I rest in the Hope He gives.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Great and mighty things....

I sit in the dark, shadow's of boxes are all around me. Signs that a big change and move is on the horizon. Much like a Kansas sun rises over a field of wheat, the glow coming before the sun...telling you to make way, the sun is coming. I spent my childhood in Kansas. I have wonderful memories of cheering on the jay hawks on weekends, listening to my Dad teach as the youth pastor of a flourishing church downtown, learning to ride a bike with my Grandfather holding on behind me, watching parades, playing in the fountains on the KU campus, spending the night with my parent's best friends in the KU couples dorms, watching my Dad graduate with his Master's from KU. Truly, I had a wonderful childhood in Kansas.

Then my Dad got a job in Alabama, SOUTH Alabama, back woods, Alabama. I would tell my friends in Kansas, where I was moving and immediately get a "Where?". No one had ever heard of it. And yet, in that small southern town, as a pre-teen, I made long lasting friendships. People who pointed me in the direction I would take my life. I have great memories, riding my bike to piggly wiggly to get a gallon of milk for my Mom. Sure, it was quite the culture shock. But, I can see God's hand, protecting me and shaping me in those years.

Then my Dad got a job in NORTHERN Indiana. Amish Country to be exact. I was entering high school. I was really not happy about that move. I remember our Pastor's wife saying to me as we were saying our goodbye's at church "Maybe God is moving you to meet your future husband?". I thought she was crazy. But I did what all good southern girls do, and said a "Bless your heart" and hugged her neck. She was right. I can't say I particularly ever fit in, in Indiana during highschool. And I visited Alabama any and every chance I got. But, I did meet my Husband. And for that, I am so incredibly thankful.

And here we are, back in the south again. Won't lie, I love living in the south. I love the warm temperatures. I love hearing my children say "Yes, ma'am.". My youngest boys have picked up little southern drawls. And it's the cutest thing you ever did hear. My girl doesn't stick out wearing her big bow's to church, and my boys fit right in with their matching shirts. I was born in Florida, and you can take a girl out of the south, but you can't take the south out of a girl!

The time is fast approaching when we will be loading up the last box onto the truck, and moving to another city. I've done this many, many, times in my life. I believe this is move number 13 for me.

But one thing is for sure, in all of those moves, I have seen God's hand. He put me exactly where He wanted me. He will be faithful to do that again.

This move especially was completely unforeseen. It's been a huge step of faith for us.  I prayed Ephesians 3:20-21 over this move. Believing God would go before us. Believing He would provide just the house. Believing He could do Above and Beyond all we could ask or imagine. Boy did He!

Remember how I said I grew up in Kansas? Well wouldn't you know, a dear friend, who babysat me as a child, lives in the same town we are moving to! The church we attend, has a campus right up the road from our new house! Why do I tell you all of this?

Because, God's promises are true. His word is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He goes before us. When my anxiety and worry hit a fever pitch, I sat down, and wrote every anxiety on a 3x5 card. I literally tossed one at a time onto my desk saying "I choose to lay this at Your Feet. You paid it all, so I don't have to. I choose not to dwell on this a moment longer."

 I laid every little thing before the Lord. Giving it all over to Him.


Be encouraged friends. If you feel a silence right now, that is deafening. Looking for the music, trying to find a song. Maybe you've piled on expectations and lot's of blame, maybe it's been done to you. Maybe you did it to yourself. Maybe life has been so hard for so long, you can't remember a time when it wasn't painful.

This life is hard. I know this well. I am telling you right now, if I were to make a list of everything that has happened to us, some we did to ourselves, some done to us, it would read much like a ticking bomb. One tick away from exploding into a million pieces. And it should have.

But God. He restored what was taken away, He healed what was so hurt and scarred.When it felt like it would never end, He would bring us Hope. He spared us from sorrow upon sorrow. He has been so faithful. He will do the same for you.

I look at my little boys who beat the odds, my girl who persevered, my oldest boy who is a fierce protector, my loving and hard working husband, a new home that is more than we could have imagined. It all scream's of God's goodness. Blessing upon blessing. More than I could ever deserve. He promises to restore what the locust has taken. What they swarmed and devoured. His promises are true. His word doesn't change. 

"Call to me, and I will answer you, and show you Great and Mighty things, 
which you do not know." Jeremiah 3:33