Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Least of These (I need your help!)

I always try to get a movie in on Saturdays, and tonight's selection was The Book Thief. Little did I know what was in store for me. In the opening scenes, a young girl is in transit to meet her adoptive parents and her little brother dies along the way. She is left alone. Truly alone. As the car pulls up to her new home, full of trepidation and silence, she has no response to her new mother. Yet, the father sees her fear and uncertainty, and he approaches her with gentle words to speak to her heart in a way that confirms her acceptance. He simply smiles and says, "Good morning, your majesty." In that moment, she knows all will be well, she has found an ally, a defender. Right then, I had a picture flash in front of me; 2 Ukranian girls, one 6, the other turning 9 tomorrow. The younger caring for the older, as the older has Down's Syndrome. These babies will be making the monumental journey from their country, to the United States. They may have fears and trust issues of their own, and to say that the older child's experiences have always been pleasant, would be a gross error. It is my understanding that she is often rejected by her peers and excluded from play, the great equalizer of children. When she and her sister are taken into the loving home that their hosts are providing them, they will soak up every bit of love and kindness they can, even if they don't know what to do with it initially. It is my sincerest desire to help these girls find affirmation and love at every turn. They are "the least of these", orphans in the original meaning of the word. Pure and undefiled religion calls for their care, and while people consider that care to be food, clothing, and a roof over their heads, why not do more? Why not celebrate them? Why not do for them what you would do for your own daughter? Exactly. There are no good reasons to skip the party! All of heaven stands at attention and the angels rejoice when another person joins the family, so why not bring a little bit of heaven to earth? Why not mark the arrival of these little ones with all the bells and whistles? I say flip the script, and throw some confetti! As Christmas is approaching, and everyone has extra expenses ahead, I know it's difficult to plan on giving. But if all of my friends, or anyone reading this, could donate just $2, these little girls could have the experience of a lifetime and be treated like princesses at the American Girl store. I'm gonna be honest, to assist their host family in achieving this, would literally make my Christmas. I don't need anything, I just want to see smiles and eyes dancing with wonder. If you would like to help, I'm giving you the link to click on for the GoFundMe page I put up. Think about it. Pray for them, and be thankful for all God has blessed you with. Thanks so much! (Now click and give, pretty please!)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

International Friends

Short and sweet, but I wanted to greet everyone in Russia and Ukraine who are keeping up with my blog posts. I never thought they would go that far, but I'm thrilled that you're interested! Blessings to you. With gratitude, Jen. :-)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Gratitude for the Anonymous

'Tis the season, let tidings of gratitude be flung across Facebook for the duration of a month! We can sink back into the comfortable shoes of an ingrate quickly enough, but for now, let's enjoy all things pumpkin. In seriousness though, my mind has been fluttering back and forth over the seasons I've walked through, and recalling the things I am authentically thankful for. As fate would have it, I recently viewed the glaringly raw documentary, Private Violence. I watched in shock, disbelief, sorrow, and eventually pride in the young woman whose story was largely featured. I might also add that one of my phenomenally talented cousins had a hand in the production of this film. At some point, I hope to have evidence that I was able to dip into the ancient, familial well that has propelled such excellence in so many. But back to the story... Upon the conclusion, I was gently reminded that an experience in my younger years could have pushed me down a path that may have spiraled into something nasty, yet I was spared. Imagine being the bright-eyed new girl in school, freshly 15, and overwhelmed at being the center of someone's attention. While I had been on a couple of dates before, they were in group settings and nothing more than Opryland or the movies. (Yes, I said Opryland.) The boy who had centered in on me was a year older, on the basketball team, had his own truck, and was seemingly decent enough. He asked me out, met my parents, and then he decided that we should be exclusive after a couple of days...ridiculous! I was SO GREEN though, and wouldn't have seen the dang forest for the trees while wearing camouflage to match! I just went along with it. However, I began to feel smothered by him and was quickly losing interest. I called him one night and told him that I thought it might be a good idea if we backed down a bit. He didn't take it well. He informed me that he had a 12 gauge in the back of his truck and that he knew where I lived. That he would make my life miserable if I broke up with him. I was immediately horrified and shocked. I didn't even know how to respond to such a thing, so I didn't stand my ground. I mean, I really thought he might try to kill me! This farce continued for approximately 2 weeks before I brought it up to one of my new friends. I did it in a roundabout way and started out by asking questions about this boy, and wondering if anyone else ever had problems with him. My friend then began to ask me questions, and I spilled. This person was so incensed, that they brought over 2 of their good friends who happened to be large, senior ball players. They introduced me to the one I didn't know, and then asked me to retell what I had just shared. I've never seen people run to my aid faster than those 2 gentlemen did. Yes, they were only 18 years old at the time, but they were authentic gentlemen to me. By the end of that day, they got the boy who had been threatening me and brought him into a hallway where they stood on either side of him and told him that he would never touch me, talk to me, or threaten me again. I had the privilege of watching this happen, and then idiot boy offered me an apology for what he had done. I was accompanied to all of my classes for an additional week before they felt it was alright to let me walk on my own. Innumerable waves of validation and relief washed over me in an instant, and fear of the unknown was immediately gone. I ended up dating one of my heroes, and he treated me like a lady every time I was in his company. From that episode, I learned that it would have been OK to stand up for myself without feeling like I had no options. I learned that there are good people who will get involved if you will only tell someone. I also discovered that I was not a door mat, and I NEVER let anyone even come close to treating me that way again. Clearly, the experience left an indelible mark, but it's not something I really thought about until watching the documentary. I literally shudder to think how differently I could have turned out in regard to my sense of personal value, had someone not stood up for me. I am indebted to my gentlemen friends who rescued me when I didn't see a way out. While this story is but a minuscule example of a situation that had the potential to end horribly, it didn't because 2 people had enough moral fortitude to thwart the efforts of a relative stranger's oppressor. To my lady readers - you are more valuable than the stars, your worth was strung across the skies from the beginning of time. If you need help, SAY SOMETHING, TELL SOMEONE, TELL ME!!! Girls, if your friend is in a nasty dating/marriage relationship, seek help on their behalf, they will thank you at some point down the road. To my dude readers - you can be a person of valor, you have enough courage to stand up and help someone, but God help you if you're an oppressor or abuser. Justice will be meted out and you don't want to be on the receiving end of it. Be a man, not a freakin' tantrum throwing loser. Respect will open doors for you that you could never imagine, try using it. To my formerly 18-year-old knights in shining armor - Thank you. I know I said it back then, but I mean it even more heartily now. Your parents raised fine men in the both of you, and I can only assume that you are doing the same thing now. I don't know where you are, but this mama of a young daughter appreciates what you did. Your willingness to step in for me had a lasting effect, and it will shape how I talk to her as she continues to grow. Words are not enough, but one more time, thank you.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Church Kids

Let's get crazy and mix it up a bit! I'm taking a little break from more serious tones of previous posts, and giving you a bird's eye view into my formative years. Ready for a spin down memory lane? Thought so. Picture it, early autumn, 1990'ish. I was 13 years old, and the proud owner of one of those Casio keyboards that had a Bossa Nova setting. Yep, 49 keys of synthesized bliss. It was in this same era that motion picture magic horrified every youth group in America with the Christian classic, A Thief in the Night. Think Red Dawn, but with very little hope, and that a Patrick Swayze prototype would die almost immediately. On a stack of Bibles, any time one of those films were played, the power would go out and everyone in the room would inevitably scream. Well, being the wretched little minion that I was, and having younger brothers who were ripe for the picking, I devised an amazing plan that would keep me in stitches for months. Now as I continue with this story, keep in mind that I had 2 friends who served as incredible accomplices and they were JUST LIKE ME!! We had angel faces with devil horns back in the day, and if our parents had known even half of what we were up to, I'm assuming most of our life choices would have been seriously frowned upon. HAHAHA! I digress... So after viewing one installment in the aforementioned series, I decided that the right thing to do was make someone think they had been left behind, it was the only thing that made sense to me, I had received a clarion call and I would respond! That very moment is when the Casio was catapulted to gold status. Not only did it have a Bossa Nova setting, but a trumpet setting as well. As I began to fine tune "the sound", I was mentally narrowing down which one of my siblings would be the victim. I felt driven like Jake and Elwood, and knew that my choice could make or break the legendary nature of this herculean event. The selection was finalized and planning went into overdrive. In less than 3 hours, what I considered to be the prank of a lifetime would go live. As fate would have it, Mama had to run to the grocery store, and that left me and my friends enough time to pull it all together. The third story of our house had huge closets that were deep enough to hide multiple people in, so 5 kids and a dog were stuffed inside while my poor brother had gone into the basement to look for something at my request. I followed him downstairs after a minute and asked him if he had seen Mama or Daddy, of course, I knew they weren't home, but he didn't realize it. He began to look for them, and with no success, they were seemingly gone. I moved on to ask him if he knew where anyone else was. No one could be found. Surprised??? As I sensed that his panic was elevating, it was time to throw in the trumpets. I made an excuse to run upstairs and turned the volume all the way up. The blaring beauty was almost too much for me to handle. I wanted to erupt with laughter, but had to keep going. I couldn't stop. I was all in. Had. To. Make. It. 99 & 1/2 wouldn't do! I screamed down to him, "Did you hear that? It sounded like trumpets!!" While I don't think the volume was quite enough to make the impact I was hoping for, I was able to convince him that the angel Gabriel had indeed made that fateful call. It was just us. We were the only ones in our family left. But to err on the side of caution, we were going to make one more sweep of the house before we lost our collective minds. I led him upstairs and told him to check the closets, because you can never be too sure. When he opened up the second door, the payoff was even more than I could have imagined. 5 howling kids came flying out of the closet, and then the dog jumped on him. He screamed bloody murder at me, because I was on the ground beside myself with tears. I don't think anyone has ever hated me with a more fervent passion than he did at that moment. In fact, he wouldn't talk to me for 3 days. Was it wrong? Absolutely. Do I have more stories to tell? And then some. I'm pretty sure I could have been Maria, and she said it all in her song to the Captain. So I leave you with an ode to my childhood. I must've done something good. Enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Stolen Arrows

Over the past few months, I've noticed increasing numbers of Christian couples experiencing miscarriages. On a personal level, after experiencing one each year from 2010 - 2013, I believe it qualifies me to write the following piece. I was praying for a friend today concerning this same matter, and thoughts started to fill my head. They were not thoughts that belonged to me, and I searched them out in the Word to confirm my feelings. Psalm 127:3-5, to be exact. "Lo, children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." For all practical purposes,my husband and I should've had 4 additional children right now, but we don't. While they never joined us in this physical world, they are most assuredly waiting for us in heaven. This knowledge offers peace, and we are infinitely grateful for the beautiful daughter we have been gifted with, but it doesn't change the fact that the purposes of four lives were stolen. At the conclusion of that thought, a sense of indignance began to wash over me. Am I angry at God? Absolutely not. Am I angry at myself? Nope. Not even. But try this on for size, I'm furious with the enemy of our souls! The same enemy who sought to steal, kill and destroy every child who has been lost in this manner. For the most part, no one in the church bats an eye when it happens. There is no sense of seeking retribution for what has been taken! Let's take another look at the passage with the original meanings intact; "Lo, children are a possession and inheritance of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his home for God's instruments full of them: they shall not be brought to shame, but they shall speak (declare, command, promise, warn, threaten or sing) with the enemies (personal or national) at the entrance of the city." I propose to you that satan has gained a foothold through the back door, because most people consider miscarriage a natural occurrence with no cause for question. It is an accepted loss that no one will confront, a collateral damage of sorts. Yet it is a most insidious affront to the people of God! Why should the arrows of the Lord, the individually crafted possessions of love that He rewards His children with, be continually lost without a fight? They are the future, and weapons in the hand of the Almighty. They are given to us to be propelled into their place of destiny, but few will contend. An inheritance is not to be taken for granted, and if we truly understood the high value God places upon our children, our actions would prove it. From this day forward, I challenge all of you to speak life and health over every expecting mother you know. Invest your spiritual efforts for the purpose of increasing the kingdom. Command the fruit of the womb to come forth at the appointed time, and not one second before. Cover the destiny of these little ones, they are needed at their posts. Their words are to be a creative force at the gates of our cities. Those who have passed are still precious to the Lord, and are not forgotten by parents who were waiting to embrace them. If someone you know has recently experienced this kind of loss, pray that the Lord will repay them double for what the enemy has stolen. We already know who the strongman is in this situation, and for every soul snuffed out, I speak an unending harvest in honor of their lives.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Come Back To The Table

"This do in remembrance of me." What does "this" even mean? To most of us brought up in church, upon a proficient grasp of phonetics, the phrase has been read thousands of times in default mode. We have gone through the motions of communion so many times that it no longer holds great significance for us. With rare exception, the elements are forgone and little recognition of the absence prevails. However, a premise that continues to be expanded for me will not let me alone. Thus, I write. While I am no one of reputation in the spiritual community, I compose this post in hopes that someone else may stumble across it by providential means, and that a seed will be planted to provoke heart changing thoughts. In less ritual-driven houses of worship, the communion table is typically saved for special occasions or specific holy days in the Christian church, namingly Easter and Christmas. So twice annually, we more purposefully observe what should continually be at the forefront of our spiritual consciousness. (This doesn't mean I think we should take communion every week, btw.) As a follower of Christ who believes we are sincerely approaching the second coming, I'm beginning to see another side of this table. If you will allow me, I'm challenging you to think outside the traditional box for just a moment... When Jesus served His disciples at the last supper, He told them the bread was representative of His body that would be broken, and the wine was as His blood that would be poured out. He instructed them to continue the practice and to do it in remembrance of Him. We remember the power unlocked from that sacred suffering when we partake of the elements, but as current events continue to unfold, the actual word "remember" has taken on a new meaning to me. To dismember something, you're tearing it apart. So if you were to re-member a thing, you would be putting it back together again, correct? For those belonging to the household of faith for any number of years, the schisms and dividing lines between us are very evident to see. In fact, they seem to grow on a daily basis depending on the issue. I ask you this; if we are truly the Bride of Christ, what does this say for us? Have we allowed ourselves to willfully be dismembered by harsh,religious ideas that trump the law of love? And bringing it even closer, have we created hostile houses of fellowship? Are we so put out with fellow congregants or those in leadership, that we have nullified our acts of worship? Hostilities have been poured out throughout Christendom, and now they are spilling over onto streets worldwide. Our nation is not exempt from this and if the church cannot come together as ONE body, it will worsen. Yet there is power in unity, which leads me to the next word, "communion". Right away, the etymologist in me hears two English words, come and union. However, it is a word of French and Latin derivatives, with the most poignant usage coming from the ecclesiastical community. Com - "with,together" and Unus - "oneness,union". You can see where I'm going with this, the table of communion is where we can be put back together again both individually and corporately. Healing is the children's bread, and we are symbolically partaking of the bread of life. The wine/juice is a reminder of the blood that was spilled for our healing, His wounds for our wholeness. His suffering for our peace(nothing missing, nothing broken). When we are corporately whole, we can move in unity. It begins in the local congregation and spreads from there. When we are united under the banner of Christ, regardless of denominational variations, we can truly function as one unit. So I'm inviting you back to the communion table. The table of healing, the table where the Body is put back together again, the table of unity. This do in remembrance of Him, He is waiting!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Branch and The Vine

Time. Who has enough of it? Life has been a perpetual whirlwind of activity since the end of February for us. Thus, no blogging. However, I find it necessary to pen thoughts which hold me captive yet again. Expelling them purchases my cerebral freedom, and it is long overdue. The defining event that drives this entry, was a sacred gathering of celebration upon a wonderful friend's daughter becoming a Bat Mitzvah, or "Daughter of the Commandment". I am a Christian, my lengthy familial heritage is Christianity, and by nature of affiliation I had never attended a Jewish Temple or Synagogue. Having said this, I have a heritage that instilled love and support for Israel, and for the people of God's choosing. As you can imagine, I counted it a great honor for my family to have been invited to participate in this special day. The beginning of the service was an open call for thanksgiving, covering every area of our lives. Things we systematically disregard and take for granted,like breathing with lungs that continue to function. Do you realize how powerful a testimony to divinity we truly are? He causes our organs to work in synchronous harmony at the moment of our births, and by His hand, we are sustained until the day of His calling. With an exhortation to recognize the presence of God in the every day tasks, life can become gloriously fulfilled, but it's up to us. We must continually choose to acknowledge Him. As the Ark and bimah(pulpit) were explained, the rabbi wove a masterfully simplistic account that was made accessible by even the smallest among us. As the Ark was opened, the beautifully clothed Torah (1st 5 books of the OT) was removed with great care and joy. Their treatment of the written word of God pierced my heart in a way I had not experienced before. So precious and esteemed it was to them, that it owned the place of preeminence in the sanctuary, with an eternally burning light above it. How far many churches have fallen! Draw your own conclusions, I won't go down that road right now though. Moving on. Then there was the generational passing of the Torah. It was a spiritually symbolic act that all the elder members of the family took part in. Each one laying hands on it, and sending it down the line until it reached the father, who then placed the scrolls upon the daughter's shoulders. With no words, an entire message was preached in less than one minute. Where are the mothers and fathers in Zion who will place the word of God upon the shoulders of their children?! Isaiah 9:6 "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder..." The literal books of Mosaic law were placed upon her shoulders in this portion of the service, and it elevated her to a position of authority to govern situations and enhance realms of influence. She was affirmed as a fully functioning member inside her body of faith. When are we recognizing the ability of our children to do the same? If we had a celebratory and affirming community, would we stop losing our children? If we gave them wings, could they not soar? I'm just as guilty as anyone else, yet I make no indictments. I was personally challenged to do better for Catie-Beth, and to encourage everyone reading this to follow suit! The whole experience was amazing, and I'm so grateful to have experienced it with my family. Catie-Beth thought it was pretty cool, in fact, she wants a Bat Mitzvah now, LOL! Thank you Clan Eccleston, I walked away with a full heart, and a richer understanding from the foundational branch of faith the vine of my beliefs are entwined around.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Covered By Love - the backstory

It's Valentine's Day, and because I have yet to share the story of my how my fledgling business came to be, I thought now would be the most appropriate time. To those who know me or my husband personally, you are probably aware of the string of miscarriages we suffered for four years in a row, with the last one occurring in August of 2013. Let's suffice to say that life isn't fair, in fact, it SUCKS 10 kinds of suck sometimes. Unless you have walked that road, you may not understand what I have termed "phantom ache". I would describe it as unexpected twinges of sorrow that run through a mother's empty arms, and then stun you with their appearance. The scent of baby powder, the sight of delicate hairbows or tiny tennis shoes, or even the joy of another friend's precious arrival - they can all serve as triggers at times. I don't often allow myself to go there, and I can typically shut it down quickly, but there are still difficult emotions for me to overcome around Valentine's Day. This day is forever branded onto my soul - it was the due date for the first child we lost, and the date that the 2nd child we lost passed on. I've had trouble coming up with something that would be a fitting tribute to honor the memory of the little spirits that still flicker in my heart, and it finally came to me last month. I have to do something to help save and improve the lives of those who were given the gift of breath, and continue to breathe in spite of the suffering they have been forced to endure. I choose to exchange my pain, to relieve the pain of a child caught in the web of human trafficking. Like spiders, these evil people are driven back when light illuminates the situation. That's when the idea of the tea light jars struck me as the place to start. Sometimes you cannot fully process a thing unless you find a higher purpose for your pain to serve, and I refuse to be a slave to sorrow just as strongly as I refuse to accept that sex slavery is OK. In a small way, I see Jesus in this effort; He endured the suffering that was inflicted upon Him for the highest redemptive purpose. Am I comparing myself and my experiences to His? Absolutely not. But I do claim to be one of His followers, and if He could withstand all that He did for the sake of love, it then becomes my obligation to do the same. Love is what drives this business, and I will cover as many children as I can with that blanket. So whenever you make a purchase from Covered By Love, rest assured that 25% is sincerely going to either ZOE or Love146. The inaugural donation of $50 will be going to ZOE today on Valentine's Day, and I'm thrilled that it was that high. I realize it's not a monumental amount of money, but it was money I didn't have, and it's a start. Thank you again to all of you who helped make it possible, your part in this effort will be funding the return of laughter and life worth living, and that's something to feel good about. Happy Valentine's Day from me to you!! Love Jen <3