Friday, November 18, 2016

To Abilene, California, and Back! Part 1

Many of you have been so gracious to ask about my journey to California back in August.  So I've been writing this in pieces as life has been a bit on the go since returning.  Plus, since it's National Adoption Month, it seems fitting.

In the previous post (you can click the following link to view), California, Here I Come!, I shared about knowing I was supposed to visit California to meet and pray for my biological father and his family after he received a cancer diagnosis.  On Friday, August 12, 2016, I boarded a plane with the final destination of San Jose, CA where I would get to meet my biological father, Michael, and his side of the family for the first time.  I was set to land around 1:00 AM EST and would go to the Hilton Santa Clara for a night of relaxation before a busy and exhausting day.  As the plane neared the Dallas-Fort Worth airport where my layover would be, the pilot announced that nasty weather would keep us circling for a bit until we were given the "all clear" to land.  After about an hour and a half of circling, we were running low on fuel so we were diverted to Abilene, TX...which is where I'm fairly certain dreams go to die.  I'm kidding...kinda.  After sitting on the tarmac for about two hours, we were told we could head to Dallas in hopes of catching our connecting flights!  Glory hallelujah!  Then...nothing.  We were told that the plane was having engine/mechanical issues.  I would like to add that I'm so grateful this happened while we were ON THE GROUND!  After two and a half hours of waiting on them to get the plane repaired, they said we were spending the night in Abilene but not all of us were guaranteed a hotel room.  Oh and if we wanted to rent a car, they were out of them because other flights that had been diverted had people who got off the planes in attempts to drive to Dallas that night.  At his point, I may or may not have been in tears because I was sleepy and already emotional.  Maybe I'm a little dramatic but whatever.  Thankfully while sitting on the tarmac for 4+ hours, I was entertained by my family and some friends.  Even dad woke up to join in on the group text and said something along the lines of, "Your mom and I will be going to San Antonio in January/February.  We'll stop by and say hi on the way."  I'm sure those around me wondered what I was finding so very comical.

While sitting on the tarmac, I managed to make new friends who all had various reasons for travel.  There was one going on a business trip, one going home from one, and another who was trying to make it home to see his father whose health was rapidly declining.  One thing I've learned is that when we are real with people and transparent, they open up a lot faster.  When people asked me why I was going to California, I was honest.  "Oh.  I'm going to meet my biological father and that side of my biological family for the first time."  We all know that my sense of humor is a little messed up anyway but I got a kick out of it when people were stumped.  After they realized I was just being up front with them, their guards came down.  The guy behind me is a doctor who lives in Rome, GA.  He and his wife are still new to the area and he said he was going home to see his dad for the last time.  He was seemingly shocked at the "coincidences" and said he was just trying to get to Oklahoma.  He had lived in Texas for a bit so he had friends coming to get him at the Abilene airport to get him to where he needed to go before it was too late.  After we had all gotten off of the plane, I asked if I could pray with him and for his dad.  You see, that opportunity was part of the reason for the delay and it was totally worth it.  My sister, Tammy, had made mention through the waiting on the plane that she had been praying and knew there was someone I was supposed to love on and encourage on that plane.  Isn't God amazing?

After deciding to go to the hotel that American Airlines had a deal with, there seemed to be quite a wait for the shuttle.  I looked at a girl who is a few years younger than myself and said, "do you want to share an Uber?  I'm done waiting on transportation."  So my new friend and I did just that.  Around 2:00 AM EST, we got to what appeared to be a scene from a Criminal Minds episode.  It was a motel.  Not a hotel but a motel.  Thankfully the outside was not an indication of the inside and sleep happened.  The next morning I was even able to get ready for another "fun filled" day of travel while on hold with Expedia, getting nowhere.  After going to the lobby to wait for the shuttle to take us all back to the airport, Casey (the girl I met the night before) and I were chatting it up with two guys named Bob, and Chris.  We were all laughing and just chatting about life.  When we got to the airport, I called my sister and was talking with her about the motel and the night, you know...usual stuff.  Next thing I saw was that the flight that was scheduled to leave at 10:00 AM EST had now been moved to Noon and then to 2:00 PM.  We were all going to miss our connecting flights or run into other travel issues if we waited until then.  Next thing I know, Bob says he's getting a rental car and driving to Dallas and that the 3 of us were welcome to come with him if we wanted.  Y'all, I got in a car with people I didn't know and just trusted they weren't serial killers.  For all I know, that flight may still be waiting to leave Abilene to this very day.  I called Tammy and said, "Ummm I'm renting a car with strangers, have fun telling you - bye!" 

Just in case you haven't figured out by now, they weren't serial killers and we made it to Dallas with time to spare before our connecting flights.  Oh and this is where I should mention that my connecting flight to San Jose got delayed.  The humor doesn't escape me in the midst of all of this.  After arriving in San Jose, I went straight to the hotel and was able to get refunded for the night I wasn't able to stay there.  I told the representative assisting me that he was the first person to help with the Expedia nightmare I was living in regards to my trip and the information I kept being given. After hours of being on the phone with Expedia and American Airlines, I was able to extend my flight back home from San Francisco by a day due to the lost day getting to California. Out of exhaustion, I ordered room service and crashed super early because the next day was going to be a long one. 

The next day, I got up and got moving.  I went downstairs for breakfast and mimosas (I brunch like the best of them) and then made plans to meet up with my biological father and his wife first.  I was nervous but felt peace through the process of getting there.  They were extremely thoughtful and considerate of how overwhelming this was going to be, especially since I was coming out their solo.  The best part is, I wasn't alone in this.  I knew that God was with me still and that there were countless people back home praying for me and for Michael and his family.  They both hugged me tightly and we all cried a little and just sat and talked a bit outside a coffee shop.  We then went to their home where I met his parents (SIDE NOTE: He's adopted as well.), my half sister, her fiancé, and their two daughters.  They were all very warm in their welcome and we talked about life in California, my life and family back in Georgia and Tennessee, and the in between.  Eventually, we did talk about my adoption and I felt like he needed to know that me being adopted was the best thing that happened to me.  I didn't want to be disrespectful but I wanted him to know that my parents have given me an amazing life and loved me so well.  I couldn't have picked a better or more fitting family to be part of and am so grateful for them and for how they raised me. 

As the day continued, we discussed friends and family they'd seen on social media and talked a bit about my half sister's upcoming nuptials.  I also got to hang out and love on my nieces, which was fun as well.  I knew the day would be draining in a lot of ways and closer to dinner time there I wanted to go ahead and start winding down.  There would be lots to process from some of the things they told me and I really just wanted to go and call mom.  They showed me family pictures and Michael eventually told me that had he known about me, things would have been different and he would have raised me.  I assured him that things happened how they were supposed to and then asked if I could pray for him and everyone else there.  Thankfully they allowed it and then he and I discussed our differing faiths and views on things.  My prayer is still that he would be healed and come to truly know Christ through all of this.  As we said goodbye, I felt that overwhelming peace again know that God was in this opportunity and I am still so grateful.

Once I got back to the hotel, I went to the restaurant and ordered a beverage.  When the waitress brought it, I was on the phone with mom and we talked about the day.  I later apologized to the waitress for being on my phone and said I had been speaking with my mom.  She said, "No apology needed.  Mom's come first."  We later on discussed the reason for my visiting and again I was honest about it.  She hugged me right then and there and it was the sweetest thing.  Since mom wasn't with me, that lady stood in the gap and hugged me for my mom and blessed me immensely.  Before I left the restaurant that night, we talked a little more and I told her how grateful I was for her hug at that time after that day.  She shared that her mother had passed away this summer and then allowed me to pray with her.  I managed to ask her if she was working the prior night because that would have been when I ate there had my flights been as they were scheduled.  She said that she was off the night before and I looked at her and said, "you're part of why my flight was delayed and Rosa, you were worth it.  Know that you are loved and that God hasn't left you."  We both walked away in tears, after hugging again. 

All of this is to say that God is so faithful and His timing is the best timing.  Even in the pain of waiting, He can be trusted.  I'm still amazed at how He was in each part of this trip and how He is still working from it.  There will be another entry to follow about the vacation part of my trip when I left San Jose but until then, know that Michael's cancer is shrinking and thankfully there's still hope for him to come to know Jesus. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

California, here I come!

Over the past two and a half years, I've come to grips with the fact that the missions opportunities I'm facing are stateside.  When we hear the word, "missions" we think internationally.  Y'all, weekly I'm face to face with opportunities to love other people where they are.  I'm given the chance to pray for and with various employees throughout the county, as well as their families.  Each of us, no matter who or where we are, need consistent encouragement along the way.  There are days that I want to put my head (or someone else's) through a wall due to #hrlife.  It's a give and take.  :)  But God uses me and those people in the process to refine, encourage, and serve as a reminder of His faithfulness in our lives.  I long to "go" still but I'm enjoying the opportunity to stay as well. 

As many of you know, I found my biological family back in 2010 after years of various searches and Columbo style investigating.  I have met and maintained a relationship with my biological mother and her family.  Since my biological father and his family are on the West Coast, it's been a little challenging.  There was a time about 4 years ago that a friend and I were going to head out there to meet them but things came up and it never happened.  After coming back from Tres Dias last Sunday, I saw that my biological father's wife had posted a concerning status so I reached out to see if things were okay.  As it turns out, he has colon cancer that has spread to his stomach and he will be having surgery in a few months if his heart can withstand it.  First he has to do 8 weeks of chemo and then they'll remove his stomach and gall bladder. 

My immediate thought was, "I have to go."  I know I would regret not going if something happened to him but I also felt an urgency to share the gospel in a tangible way.  I'll avoid specifics for now but for the time being, I am asking you to pray.  For healing, a healthy visit (for each of us involved), for Christ to be seen by us all, and even for salvation.  The beauty of not going to Rio or Italy is that this trip is now possible.  God has this and He has me.  Why do I doubt that in the midst of chaos or disappointment?  He is faithful.  So no matter what you're facing today, know that you are loved and fought for.

FYI...Dates for the trip are August 12-14.  I'm staying in Santa Clara for 2 nights and then visiting with some good friends in San Francisco the last two.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Two Years.

Wow.  Has it really been two years?  There are times it feels like just weeks ago and others that it feels like light-years.  This time two years ago, our team was probably gearing up to head to the airport in hopes of catching what would be the last flight out of Atlanta to Paris that day.  Due to weather conditions, our others were canceled so we were praying that this one would come through.  I was thinking about the favor we saw from the start and am just in awe still.  Typically, shuttles to the airport take you to the domestic terminal for you to then catch one to the international terminal.  Our sweet driver offered to just take us straight to the international terminal.  While it may not seem like a big deal to you, it was to us.  With 9 adults, 6 instruments, 9 checked bags (originally...sorry Bea) and some other small carry on pieces, not having to move it again was a big deal.  And looking back, it was a wonderful way to start out on that journey where we tangibly saw God's hand and favor. 

Even looking back at the time leading up to Russia is wonderful because only God could take a Bluegrass band to Russia for the Olympics. Only God could have put that team together.  Only God could have orchestrated raising the funds that got us there.  Looking back at pictures and videos this week have had me laughing to the point of tears and left me grateful for such an incredible journey.  That team will always be so dear to me and while I know the time can't be recreated, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss it and miss that time with them. I want to share a bit about each person from that team and how incredible they are.  I know, I know...rambling again but hey, it's my blog and I'll do what I want.

Early Brackin has got to be one of the most patient men I have ever met.  I remember early on he said that our goal wasn't to be flexible but to be fluid because none of us would know what to expect.  He led with grace and loved people so well.  He's like another father to me and reminds me so much of my own.

Lynn Murphy is one of the most well traveled individuals I've ever met.  His experience got us where we needed to be and when.  His humor added to the mix of shenanigans that took place and his kindness to others ministered to the people he traded pins with.

Stephanie & Tod Brock are a wonderfully packaged deal in my book.  Stephanie doesn't meet a stranger and her precious heart was so welcoming to those who gathered to watch the band play.  I have to admit, seeing her and Tod together is one of the most precious things.  I remember being in Red Square as he gave her his valentine gift for her and it was absolutely darling.  They really do love each other well and fit together like a solid pair of goofballs.  :) 

Justin Parrish was the missing piece I had no clue was missing.  It was as if we had known him for years and the amount of laughter and talent he brought was unexpected.  I mean, our group was already hilariously entertaining but he fit perfectly. 

Jared Spier was already a brother to me but getting to see him interact with others while wearing an American flag was one of my most favorite things of all time.  It was so great getting to see him love on others in true Jared fashion and allow God to use him as an instrument of compassion and musicality. 

David Taylor is certainly my little brother and I have to say that it was super fun seeing him experience his first plane experience (not many people on the plane at all on the way there and it was glorious) in addition to seeing him rock the mandolin and kazoo.  He wouldn't admit to it but he interacted with the people there so well and ministered more than he realized with how laid back he was with them. 

Bea Brackin is one of my partners in crime and forever #ABA.  She had a rough start on that trip from being sick when we left and never receiving her luggage.  I've said it before and I'll say it again that no one can rock a cat shirt or a moose sweater like she does.  Knowing Bea for as long as I have, I can say without a doubt that she is one of the most considerate young ladies there ever was.  The laughter she brought to any conversation in addition to her heart for God overflowed to her interactions with others while there.

They're my "dear friends" and I could go on and on about them but I'll stop here.  They're gold in my book and I can't imagine that experience with anyone by them, nor do I want to.  Here's to the fact that we went to change the world but were changed for the better because that's just how good our God is. 

SO MUCH happened while we were there and much has changed since we got back but the one thing that hasn't changed is that God is still present and so very faithful. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Glad He Didn't Let Me Leave

I was talking with a dear friend Sunday afternoon about the things God has been showing us lately and the ways we've seen His hand clearly in our lives.  She mentioned how it's hard to believe this time last year, I was heart broken.  Y'all, my heart was in pieces and I was crying "the ugly cry" over the feelings of rejection, failure and not knowing what God was doing.  You see, I had been in the process of applying for international missions and from the way everything looked and what my missions coach had said, everything was falling into place and within the next year, I'd be leaving for Italy to serve.  It all came to a screeching stop when I was told that I wasn't being recommended for service.  I wondered what was wrong with me or if I had been too open about my past.  Did my desire to love on people make me seem too naïve?  I kept getting the same answer, "wait."

I don't know about you, but I do not wait well.  I lament, question, cry, throw the occasional tantrum, etc.  These aren't necessarily done in a public setting but they do happen.  I had even thought that maybe missions was going to be God's way of bringing me to my husband or a new type of ministry since I've never had a problem with talking to strangers.  Did I not hear God at all in this?  Why would He have gifted me like this and used me in different countries if this isn't what I'm supposed to do?  I'm supposed to be doing those things HERE & NOW.  Not just in other places.

I have an incredible job that really was an answer to months and months of prayer.  I do not say that lightly or in the cliché Christian way.  God honored obedience in the timing of this and I am still beyond thankful to be working where I do and with the people I get to interact with daily.  There are often times I find myself praying with different employees throughout a week.  A few months ago, my boss said, "Jenny, this is your mission field."  Wow.  She is right.  God has me here for a reason and I'm glad.  There are opportunities here that are definitely of Him with the interactions I have with people during tough medical situations, losses, births, retirement and pretty much all things in between.  I can't imagine not serving here now. 

It's not just work though.  God had me step up to leading a ladies life group and I was finally obedient.  A buddy of mine said, "uh, it's about time."  Leadership scares me because there's a fear of failure that comes with it.  But, one thing God has reminded me of is that there's nothing I've done that will lessen the power of The Cross and His redemption.  Thank God!  These ladies are such a delight and I'm loving the time to get to know their hearts and walk through this crazy life with them.  Who knew there were women out there of all ages/stages that were just as sassy as me?  ;)

As for relationships, I can't imagine a more fulfilling life than the one I have.  My family is a consistent form of encouragement and spunk but then add in the friends I get to walk through life with daily and I almost can't handle the fun.  There are too many things to name here but this year has held a whirlwind of memories.  The Disney Half Marathon, my 30th birthday celebration (one heck of a party), NYC with the family and the daily laughter and quirks that come in between.  The text threads are hilarious, the trip planning is exciting and the accountability is something I'd never trade.  There have been people that I've met that I wouldn't have had the opportunity had I gone to Italy.  Seeing friends get married and have babies has been such a delight and worth it, even on the hard days.  I'll be honest and say that I'm excited about the last month or so and am waiting with expectancy of the months to come. 

I still have my melt down moments and tantrums about things, it happens.  But I also still have the grace and goodness of a God that loves me at even my worst of times.  It boils down to letting others see Jesus in our lives because without Him, there's no purpose.  It's knowing that even when things are good, He's still better and more fulfilling than even thing things I've wanted all my life.  All in all, I'm glad He didn't let me leave because while 30 started out incredible, it's going to get better!

Here's a glimpse of pieces of the last year and why I'm glad He wouldn't let me leave.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Reasons & Seasons

"There's a reason for everything, you'll see."  Insert the eye roll emoji here.  We have all heard a variation of that phrase and sometimes it just sucks.  It is when we look back that we can (hopefully) see the reasons being referenced.  We long for that promotion, that relief, that weight loss/gain, the spouse, that child, that healing, and the list goes on.  We beg for answers but we just assume that silence means "no."  Or, it could be that a "no" means we've done something wrong or are being punished.  Ever stop to think it's for our own good?  Often times, it really is.

This time last year, I was getting geared up for Italy prep.  With how quickly it was moving and the guidance from my missions coach, I just knew that was going to be happening.  I assumed that right about now, I'd be in Italy or close to departure for a life of missions.  Little did I know, my heart would break when I was told that I wouldn't be going, less than a month later.  If I'm transparent here, it hurt like hell because it was another rejection for one reason or another.  I had to grieve, silly as that may sound.  I couldn't understand why God would give me a passion for people and then keep me in the U.S. 

Seasons of healing had to follow as well as learning to love myself fully.  What does that mean?  Glad you asked.  :)  I had to focus on getting healthy and walking in obedience.  It's still a work in progress and I'm seeing glimpses now as to how I needed to heal.  This weight loss thing has been for me, not for anyone else or an ulterior motive, which hasn't always been the case in years past.  God has called me to lead in various things years back but fear of failure kept me from doing just that.  It's funny to see God was moving still, in the midst of my pushbacks as though I had any idea of what was best for me.  It's in obedience that I'm seeing Him continue to heal parts of me that I didn't realize needed it.  It's comforting to know that even when I forget or ignore, He's still pressing and working. 

A few months back, I was discussing some potentially big things with Hannah and Em.  During one of our daily text threads, Em goes, "What if this is why God wouldn't let you leave?"  BOOM.  Oh my gosh, she may very well be right.  Regardless, it's evident that God is continuing to move in this area and if nothing else, showing me that a specific dream and hope isn't forgotten by Him.  There are moments of fear and panic due to things in the past trying to creep back in but I'm having to choose to trust.  It's much easier said than done but I can whole heartedly say that God often provides the reasons for "no" when the timing is right.  Life isn't perfect now and there's a lot that I am still seeking direction in but I'm grateful for answers, even if they're not the ones I want. 

He brings us through those seasons of angst and pain to show us that there is a bloom coming and it's so.very.beautiful.  No matter what you've been through, done or seen, He's still got you.  Know that you are loved and that there's grace upon grace with each passing season.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Comparisons 2.0.

Back in 2013 I shared a post regarding COMPARISONS and how much they suck.  While that's still my stance, I'm seeing more and more people battling them and it breaks my heart.  I'm just as guilty as the next person for allowing myself to be defeated by the comparisons I place on myself in regards to others.  Those comparisons shouldn't be a measuring stick for our happiness and joy.  Happiness can be taken away but sincere joy comes from Christ.  We have to choose to see that and believe it at times but it's true.  There's a sparkle that brightens and dims based off our joy I think.  When we are redirecting our goals and our standards towards Christ, that light not only shines on us but also IN us.  Joy is that sparkle and one of the fruits of the spirit that we often lose sight of in the midst of those comparisons.

Men, women and children face comparisons of a wide variety and while it's not fair, it doesn't change the fact that we each have a battle.  We must hold our thoughts captive and turn our eyes towards God and His Word.  Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  But no one ever promised simplicity or ease with this life.  We were actually promised trials along the way but with those trials come character, refinement and a painful process called sanctification.  Y'all, those things mean that He hasn't and won't give up on us!!!!  Did you read that?!  HE HASN'T AND WON'T GIVE UP ON US!  What sweet relief. 

When I find myself smack dab in the middle of comparing myself to someone else for an ability or lack thereof, I can let it break me or push me to evaluate where God has me.  I've shared before that there have been times I felt like God was preventing or prohibiting me from getting to move forward but it's been such a beautiful process to see that He's been protecting and preparing.  I'll admit that it wasn't until I accepted that reality that I was able to step back outside of my circumstances and see truth for what it was.  I want to encourage you to do the same.  Take a step back, breathe and ask God to show you where it is He's refining and pursuing you.  He wants you to find that sincere depth and joy in Him, not in others or their opinions of you.  He's got you and won't be giving up anytime soon.  Keep moving forward.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Dearest Chattanooga

I, like many of the rest of you, didn't sleep well last night.  My heart physically aches for the families that lost loved ones yesterday and for those who were injured in Chattanooga.  Hearing sirens isn't all that uncommon where I work since my office is located downtown but today I found myself cringing each time I heard them, hoping it hadn't happened again.  I've found myself on the verge of tears on multiple occurrences today because of the evil in our world, nation and even our community.

I can't even begin to imagine what the families and friends of the fallen are going through right now.  If you are currently suffering or now reliving a loss from yesterday's attacks, I am so deeply sorry and hope you know that you are prayed for.  As yesterday unfolded, my heart sank more and more as I thought of friends with the Chattanooga Police, Hamilton County Sheriff Department, EMS and other County employees I get the pleasure of interacting with on a daily basis.  The fear of "what if it was them" consumed me for a bit.  May we not forget the fact that these men and women are daily striving to keep us safe...they are our heroes. 

People have indicated their hatred for the one(s) behind the attack and I have to admit, it's hard to not choose that feeling.  It's not what will make any of this go away.  I've been so overwhelmed with how officials from Hamilton County, Chattanooga City and the FBI have handled things.  Our park rangers and employees with parks & recreation shared their lunches with citizens and one another yesterday when everything went on lockdown.  People checked on one another and went to give blood as soon as they could because they wanted to help and they wanted to love.  This.  This is what has to continue.  We must band together as a community, as a family, to move forward and to encourage one another.  I don't know how this will look going forward but I do know we still have a sovereign God who has NOT forgotten us or left us.  Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit."  He is near us as we all grieve as a community and as a nation. 

May we walk in a peace that only God can envelop us in and a strength that only He can supply.

With Love,