Oct 9, 2016

the life and legacy of Ruby Jean

Ruby Jean (Gee) Briles  1926 - 2016

I have heard it said that in life what you do with the "dash" is what is most important.  In November of 1926 a beautiful soul took her first breath and entered the world to forever change it.  In the middle of the night on Friday, she took her last breath on this earth.  She may be absent physically from this world but her legacy will never be forgotten.  She ran her race well.  I would have loved to be a part of the scene when she met our Father God face to face. Although I am confident of what took place as he looked upon her and said, "well done my good and faithful daughter, welcome home!"

When I think of my grandmother, I think of strawberry pie and hanging clothes on the line in the yard. I think of drinking sweet tea on the dock of their house on the lake. I think of hundreds of cards and homemade treasures she sent to me while we lived an ocean apart and throughout highschool and college. I think of the many months she cared for me each time my dad was reassigned to a new base. I think of sitting on the front hump seat in between her and my Papa of that blue car with the air conditioning blowing right in my face. I think of hundreds of card games and stories and playing dolls. I think of cooking the fresh fish that we had just caught that day in the lake. I think of daily prayers and bible reading and watching her write down prayer requests as loved ones called to share them with the woman they knew would pray for them. I think of listening to her teach the Bible to generation after generation at her church Sunday school class. I think about her love for the poem "The Touch of the Master's Hand". I think of  her paintings like this one..... the one that became my entire world for months while i was so sick, unable to get out of bed, when I was pregnant with London.

And I think about Proverbs 31.

"A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land."
My grandmother, Ruby Jean, a valuable gem to her husband worth more than her namesake. I love my Papa with all my heart and he was an incredible man who loved God, but he could also be very stubborn and difficult sometimes. My grandmother's love and support of him, even in hard times, was always unwavering. She was his greatest cheerleader and helper. And he knew it and cherished that relationship. They had a beautiful love and dedication to one another. As a team they were stronger than on their own.

"She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.  She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks."
In a time when most women did not work outside the home, my grandmother worked as a grade school teacher. She got up early to make sure her home and her children were ready for the day, spent her working hours pouring into the lives of hundreds of children over the years and then went home to spend her remaining waking hours pouring into the lives of the children in her home, her church and her community. She worked hard to provide for her family and also to make sure they were never neglected and always felt loved. I have heard many stories over the years from her past students and know that she made a huge impact on many, many lives.

"In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes."
In the midst of working full time, caring for her children and home, and volunteering at church, my grandmother somehow also found the time to create beautiful garments for her children. She was very creative and sewed, crocheted, painted and crafted needlepoint. I am blessed to have some of her artwork to cherish for generations to come. One of my favorite items is this beautiful tablecloth that she and my great grandmother made together for my wedding.

"She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy."
My grandmother was a very generous woman. There was always room for one more around her table or in her home. She and my Papa gave a large portion of their resources to helping the rest of the family, their church and to communities all over the world. If there was a need, her immediate response was to see how she could help. Dependable. Trustworthy. Compassionate.

"She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."
My grandmother was full of joy in all circumstances because her joy was in the Lord. She was full of peace because she knew the Prince of Peace. When her mouth opened wisdom poured out because she was dedicated to studying the wisdom of God. Whether she was teaching a class or speaking one on one she allowed the Holy Spirit to speak His Truth. She worked diligently and faithfully but she also knew how to stop working and sit and listen. You always felt loved and valued when you where with her.

"Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her; Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."
It is not just her children who arise and call her blessed, not just her husband, but her grandchildren, her great grandchildren and all who have known her. If you were blessed to know my grandmother, you were truly given a priceless gift. She was never famous. In fact by the standards of our culture she may not even be perceived as successful. She lived a simple life of working hard, caring for family, and living modestly. But when you take away the fame and fortune of this world and look instead an the invaluable riches of faith, love, humility, devotion, character.... in that she was a millionaire.

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate."
My grandmother's last years were difficult ones. Her body failed and she became a prisoner in her own skin. Her mind didn't always know exactly what was going on but her soul continued to praise the name of Jesus. Some of her last words spoken were of her love and dependence on her Savior. She is now completely restored and dancing in heaven with Papa and Ma and Pa and Moses and David and Her Savior Jesus Christ. She needed to go, it was time for her to go. We will greatly miss her physical presence in our lives but rejoice in knowing that she has joined the "great cloud of witnesses" in heaven cheering us on. And her legacy on earth will not die.  Her three children and seven grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren are committed to continuing on in her example. 

"For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations." ~ Psalm 100:5

Aug 15, 2016

what do you see when you think of God?

Close your eyes.  What do you see when you think of God?

Years ago, I was asked this question at a women's retreat.  Everyone around me had a vision.  I had nothing.  I sat for a long time and absolutely nothing.  There was a wall and that was it.  A big black wall. My friends prayed over me.  They prayed for that wall to come down and for me to see God.  And that moment changed me.

I am a bit of a perfectionist and never measuring up to my own expectations on myself.  I really don't remember a time in life when this was not true.  Even as a young child, I would become completely overwhelmed with emotion convinced that I had not measured up somehow.  These lies became the filter for everything in life... including how I saw God.  It was hard for me to accept the truths found in Scripture about His love for me.  His love that was not dependent upon any of my accomplishments but truly unconditional.  

If you had asked me about God's unconditional love, I could give you an entire sermon complete with references.  I had the knowledge of Truth but I had allowed lies from the enemy to cloud my vision of how this Truth applied to my own life.  I could not completely accept the freedom that God offered to me through His Son Jesus Christ.  It is not enough just to gain knowledge if that knowledge does not transform our hearts and our minds. 

Are you unsure if you have allowed your knowledge of God to transform you?  Take a look at your inner thought life.  Consider what comes from you when life's trials put your under pressure. Evaluate your priorities and your passions.  Ask those who know you best for their view as sometimes they can provide a perspective that we just cannot see ourselves. Are you living in freedom or are you still in bondage to your fears and insecurities and your sins?  Freedom.  Jesus came to bring us life, to bring us freedom and it all starts now. 

When that black wall fell down, I was standing in the most beautiful evening sun.  It was that time of day when all of creations looks its best.  The grass fields around me gently swayed in a cool breeze and everything seemed to glow.  I looked up into the eyes of my Father.  He took my hands and then swung me around in a dance.  A child and her Daddy.  No fear. No condemnation. No guilt. No failure. Just love. I was completely undone by His incredible love for me. Come to that place with me friends. Taste and see His sweet, unending love for you. 

"See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are"   1 John 3:1

Aug 5, 2016

Summer Garden Zucchini Boats

These zucchini boats are a great way to celebrate your summer garden... or the summer garden found at your local farmer's market.  This recipe has become a family favorite for our summer.  Tonight I set these on the dinner table and my picky eater actually said, "Yes! I love zucchini boats!"  They are that good.

Summer Garden Zucchini Boats

3 large zucchini
Basting oil with herbs and garlic (I use Wegman's Basting Oil)
16 oz plain hummus
1 drop dill essential oil
2 drops lemon essential oil
2 T pesto (if you don't have fresh pesto, the basil pesto sauce from Wegman's is fantastic)
1 pt cherry tomato
3 T goat cheese

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise.  Scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard (or save for the compost pile).  Cover the cut side of each zucchini with basting oil.  Place cut side down on medium grill.  Grill for about 6 to 8 minutes or until slightly charred and soft.  While zucchini is grilling, gather the other ingredients and bring everything out to the grill.  Combine the hummus and essential oils and stir to mix together. Make it easy by putting everything on one tray = one trip outside. Turn over the zucchini boats and start to fill.  I fill them right on the grill, but you can also remove if you are more sensitive to heat.  I have been cooking for so long that the heat doesn't really bother me anymore.  Fill the boats with the hummus, equally divided between each boat. Next drizzle the pesto sauce.  Top with cherry tomatoes and goat cheese.  Grill another 6 to 8 minutes or until filling is bubbling.  Enjoy!

Jun 21, 2016

God is Bigger

The weatherman on the radio announced a storm was expected for the afternoon.  These words meant little to me but caused great alarm in the two little girls sitting behind me in the car.  These days I am often plus one little three year old girl.  The conversations between her and my youngest are priceless.  Today was no exception. 

I don't like storms.
I don't like storms too, too noisy. 
It's to loud.  But mommy says God is bigger so I not scared. 

My daughter is not just scared but often terrified of the storms.  The loud thunder and bright ligtening, the noise of the wind and the rain, it is all too much for her little two year old soul.  And everytime I remind her of this truth, God is bigger.  When we are scared, we can trust God because He is bigger than the storm.  

This particular day my own soul was in a knot.  I was overwhelmed with questions and decisions to be made.  God used my daughter's conversation to get my attention and whispered to my heart... do you have ears to hear? I AM BIGGER.  

Has anxiety gripped your heart?  Do you live in a state of worry?  Are you overwhelmed?  My nature is to be anxious and overcome by worry and stress.  If you are like me, I have some truth for you today that is going to bring freedom.  God is able to do more than you can ask or imagine.   He is bigger than your mistakes or failures. He is able to provide for you and to sustain you as you wait. He just asks for this one thing, you have to entrust yourself to Him.  I know, trusting God can be hard.  It means giving up your perceived control and often your expectations too.  Sometimes worry can be comforting, especially for those of us who always feel like we need to be doing something.  What am I doing about that situation?  Well, I don't know exactly, but I am worrying and that is something.  It can almost feel productive in some strange way.  However, the stress of anxiety on our bodies is so great and opens the door to illness both physically and spiritually.  God never intended for us to live in constant stress.  It wasn't His design for us. 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11)

He invites us to come.  To offer ourselves like a lump of clay to the potter's hand.  To be molded and shaped into a way that is useful for His purposes.  Trusting is not doing nothing.  It involves a daily act of your will and surrender.  It involves renewing your mind with God's Truths. It involves trusting God in every moment.  It involves living this truth.... God is Bigger.  

Jun 6, 2016

trying to live simply in a big house

A year ago we moved out of a 3 bedroom, 1 car garage townhouse that had one tiny little closet for storage.  I absolutely loved that house.  We made it work by living simply and giving away anything we were not currently using.  We moved, not to give the seven of us more space, but to have space for more.  More friends and family coming to visit.  More helping those who needed a place to rest. More children to become part of our team. More people, not more material possessions.

Our new, larger home was pretty empty when we moved in.  We heard the same line over and over.

"Oh, just wait.  Your house will be full of stuff before you know it."

I determined that wasn't going to be true of us. We were going to be different. A year into this adventure I can say that goal is much easier said than done. When there is more space for the extra you don't notice it as much. Things can hide. Rooms that are not often used can become a holding ground for all sorts of madness. Things that you once would have immediately given away you now say instead, "I better hang onto this, we might need it someday."

One room in our home had particularly become a monster pit of chaos. A family room in our basement started as just an empty room but slowly morphed into a toy dumping ground. I tried to organize it by giving the children multiple bins and storage solutions to put things away. But here is the truth:  It was just too much. Too many material items along with too much space to spread them out. It was too much for them to manage.

I walked into this room about two months ago and saw it with fresh eyes.  It had become something I did not want in my home. A room full of children's toys that were being tossed and thrown about into piles of disaster. There was no value in this room just the outcome of overabundance and a lack of gratitude.  This was not my goal for this house.  This was not contributing at all to how I desired to raise my children.  And so, I took it away.

We went through all the toys that had landed in that room.  Many went to other homes to other children who actually needed them.  The toys that were kept found a new landing place, a place where they fit, could be put away neatly and found again when my children wanted to play with them. They also rediscovered some items that had gone "missing" and brought life back to toys that had been buried for months. I would like to add this is not about having a perfectly organized and decorated home. I am not against having a home that looks like children live there.  And any of you who have been to our home know this to be true.  My "formal dining room" is full of kids craft and school items, my "formal office" is for all the children's books and games and music, I even have a large pink princess kitchen set in our main living space.  But there is a rhyme and a purpose to these spaces.  They create life and family bonding moments not just a disastrous mess.  And now, thanks to the purging, the room in the basement is now fulfilling that same purpose. Once the heap was removed, I began to see all sorts of potential.  The room is now the home of a shop for gifts that give back. Something that we are all excited about and can build together. Something that would not have been possible a few months ago. Simplicity truly is about a greater appreciation for the things that really matter.

May 31, 2016

thankful for a nightmare

"My daughter is always getting out of bed and coming in my room."  Before adoption, these comments brought a much different response in my heart and out of my mouth.  Life changes when you bring home a baby who has transitioned too many times and learned how to survive on their own all before their first birthday.  I spent so many nights that first year beside her bed.  Each time she would try to rock herself to sleep, I would wrap my arm around her to show her that the rocking was now my job.  

I have sought to create a space that is safe.  A family where we love and support each other.  I often miss the mark.  There is often chaos that gets in the way of that goal.  But overall we have tried.  Still my baby girl has never, ever gotten out of her bed.  Through nightmares and injuries, she carries on fighting the nighttime battle all alone.  All the while, her mama and daddy sleep completely unaware. 

That is until tonight.  

Tonight she came to me for comfort from a nightmare that left her in tears.  Tonight I was able to pray over her, and love on her, and read a silly story, and rock her, and get her back to bed with a smile and giggles instead of tears.  Tonight is huge. And that is why I am thankful for a nightmare.  

May 17, 2016

memories of the past fuel dreams for the future

I spent many summers sitting on this swing dreaming of what someday would bring.  I am now living in that someday. It is a beautiful moment when life circles around and you get the chance to walk in a memory.  There are pieces of that young girl still living in my soul.  In this place it is easy to reconnect with who she was and remember the passions that burned in her heart. The road between that spot and where I am today was often the road less traveled, at times the road unwanted, but overall beyond what I imagined in all those hours spent in this swing. I think about all the stones of remembrance along the way. God's love and mercy and grace and faithfulness overwhelm me.

So often I get too caught up in what I am not and what dreams have not come to pass. But in this spot.  Oh, in this spot I see the incredible goodness of God and I am undone. What a life! Twenty- three years of memories.  Dreams of love. Dreams of travel. Dreams of nursing. Dreams of ministry. Dreams of motherhood. Dreams of adoption. Now no longer dreams but my reality. And so now I sit and dream of the next twenty-three. I know more now. I know how difficult living out your dreams can be. I know the discomfort. I know the heartache. I know I have limitations. But I also have a greater understanding that God loves me. Oh, how He loves me! Holy Spirit lives in me and leads me and can do all things through me.

Life on earth is not infinite. There is no time to waste. But that doesn't mean silence and being still are a waste of time. Life does not need to be lived at a constant full sprint. I would love to talk to the girl who sat on this swing. I want her to know that in her quest to be a pitcher she needs to find time to feed her soul or she will just become a bucket with a hole. I want to pour out all the wisdom gained over the last twenty-three years but I know that true wisdom comes from time spent in the valley. There is so much beauty that comes out of days in the valley, in the failures, in the heartaches, in experiencing the hard road. God is good to walk with us through every moment and turn our ashes into beauty. I have experienced so many amazing things, but the story is not over yet.

I am thankful for a glimpse down memory lane. I am thankful for everyday that led to now. And I can feel the excitement and adventure of a young girl's heart awaken my soul to the possibilities held in the days ahead. Today I welcome year 38 with open arms.