Dear Dad, Letter 4 (on cancer and trust)

(I debated whether or not to share this publicly.  Obviously I landed on doing it.  I want to be an open book and always hope that my transparency will encourage someone else.)

shoes

Dear Dad,

Yesterday was one of those days when I would have given just about anything to have you with me again.

I have heard some words over the past few days that are still a bit surreal.

Suspicious.

Skin cancer.

Biopsy.

I’m pretty sure I inherited my rational brain from you.  Most days logic rules in my life.  Even so, here is how my brain was working during a lapse of sanity:

skin cancer = cancer = 9 year (often horrifying) battle with cancer = death at a sadly young age

Add to that Google searches which tell me those who develop non-melanoma skin cancers have a 50% greater risk of developing other non-skin related cancers.  In addition, if the person diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer is young (say, 32), the risk of developing other types of cancers jumps even higher.

Thank you, Google.

I recognize that all of this worry was premature considering I won’t know the results of the biopsy until Wednesday and it could be nothing.  And yet, I worried.

I don’t fear death.  You taught me there is nothing to fear.  I do worry about the implications of cancer to a 32-year-old mother of two who also happens to be immersed in a church plant and missions work in Cuba. So day one I was perfectly fine and on day two, I flipped.  On day two, I needed my dad.

I needed you to talk to me rationally and be my pastor.  I needed you to lay your hands on me and pray for a miracle.

Thankfully you taught me some valuable lessons while you were still here, and I have even learned some on my own since you left.  I knew I couldn’t live in a state of panic for five days, and reached out to God for help.  Help came in an unexpected way.

See, I have this friend.  You would love her.  She is spiritual and wise and selfless and caring.  She persisted in making sure I was okay, and eventually I let her know I wasn’t.  She told me I had permission to worry.  I told her she was setting the bar too low for me.  She responded that there is no bar for me until Wednesday and that I could react however I wanted until then.

It was in that moment that I realized just how wrong she was.  (Don’t feel bad, spiritual, wise, selfless, caring friend.  We are all wrong sometimes.)  I had a moment of clarity and responded with this:

“I have a bar.  I need to be trusting in God.  I don’t get a free pass because something scary is on the horizon.  What kind of follower would that make me?  I know God allows lament and questioning… for a period.  But I also know he demands trust.”

What kind of trust do I possess when I trust God only during times of health, wealth, prosperity, joy and plenty?  Isn’t it in times of sickness, struggle, poverty, famine, lament and sorrow when my trust is truly tested?

I felt better after that conversation.  I felt even better after my church gathered around me and prayed to God on my behalf for health, healing and a good report.

What really made all the difference was my conversation with Jesus last night.

I don’t have you, Dad.  But we both know I have something even better.  I have the Holy Spirit on the inside that is my Comforter.  I serve a gentle Savior who speaks peace to storms and who bore stripes for my healing.  I don’t have you, but you introduced me to Him.  For nine long years, you modeled unshakable trust in Him and I choose to follow in your footsteps.

My prayer and hope is that this is nothing and that it leads to nothing.  I know that I don’t get a free pass on suffering while on this earth and that my days are numbered only what God permits.  I also choose to have faith and trust that my future is not determined by genetics (as your son Michael so graciously pointed out yesterday) but that a righteous woman’s steps are ordered by the Lord.

I woke up this morning with a peace that passes all understanding.  I will walk in that peace and trust until Wednesday and beyond, wherever this road may take me.

Thank you for teaching me by example.

Your girl,

Rachael

Want to read more letters to my dad?  

Dear Dad, Letter 3

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 1

 

We Are Gathering

wearegathering

We open our homes and we open our hearts.

Come in to my messy house and into my messy life.  You are welcome.

We serve lots of food on big platters or right out of the slow cookers.  We fill our plates and nourish one another with more than just food.  We find a seat wherever one is available or make our own place right on the floor.

I know about your job, you know about mine.  We often know the needs to pray for without being asked or told.  We make our struggles and our humanity known.  You bear my burdens, I bear yours.

We gather before dawn, music soft and lights low.  We pray in the quietness of early morning, watching the sun rise together, before the world is awake.  Scripture pierces the darkness between us, breaking down barriers, both challenging us and equipping us for the day ahead.

We ask each other’s children the questions that matter to them.  We listen intently to the answers and watch their faces light up.  We listen as they struggle through the scripture reading, watch them receive the offerings with joy and overlook the noise they sometimes make.  We love them all.  It takes a village, after all, and everything is worth it when we see them raise their hands to the One we all love or sing out a song of praise.

We discipline them, teach them kingdom principles, mediate arguments.  We pour the Word of God into their little hearts and minds.  We teach them songs to help them remember the important things.  We ask them a million questions and reward them in a million ways when we see that what matters is sinking in.  We love them all.

We open our Bibles and expose our ideas about what we read.  We look at one another while we speak, ready to grow from the insight offered.  You challenge me, I challenge you.  We call each other out for making excuses or diluting what that Word actually says.  His words matter most and we don’t let each other forget it.

We cook meals for one other in times of joy and grief.  We plant trees of remembrance together.  We cry when one hurts, delight when one has joy.  We celebrate victories and raises and babies.  We hold those babies as if they are our own, speaking silent prayers of blessing over them.

We meet the needs when we see one struggling.  We write a check or buy the groceries or babysit the kids.  We cook the dinner or make the encouraging phone call or send the scripture via text.  We show up on the doorstep, ready to intercede on behalf of one another.

We pass the wine and the bread and do it all in remembrance of the One who paid it all for us.  We close our eyes in repentance.  We see the tears fall sometimes and we don’t judge.  We understand the love of a Savior and are moved equally in varying ways.  We are thankful, all of us together.

We raise our hands and sing out the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We clap and move and the kids join in and we are a new body of believers, worshiping their Maker as one.  We  tell each other of the goodness of the Lord with gladness.

We listen intently to our elders and honor them always.

We pass out food to the hungry.  We dig our hands into the earth, planting seeds in the ground and planting the seed in our community.  We embrace teenage moms as if they were our little sisters, and fight over who gets to hold their babies.  We give until it hurts to take care of the orphans, the homeless, the church planters and the ones reaching out to make disciples.

We have our struggles and our selfish moments and our glaring shortcomings.  We have a long way to go. We are not perfect and we proclaim that loudly and without hesitation.  But we are part of His body, and we understand how significant that is.  We understand the honor of serving alongside one another and through it all, we love.  We love past the failures and through the trials.  We love old and young, meek and bold, quiet and loud.  We love the only way we know how, allowing the God of love to flow through us, transforming us all the while.

We are gathering and we are Gathering.

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
Dear Dad, Letter 3

A Gathering of Gallery Walls

What I Gather about Disciplined Children

Dear Dad, Letter 3

Dad

Dear Dad,

I wondered how October would feel when it came around this year.

Your absence is always felt on the 5th.  I spent the day wondering what we would have done to celebrate your birthday.  You were not a man of celebrations.  I can’t seem to recall even one birthday celebration for you.  I’m sure we had them, but perhaps your lack of enthusiasm keeps anything from standing out in my mind.  So what would have been your 71st birthday passed and was fairly uneventful.

Sunday marks 16 years you have been gone.  A few years back I began wondering what this landmark would feel like.  This year, Dad, is the year that marks you being gone for half of my life.  I am 32.  You have been gone 16 years.

__________________________

I learned not to be afraid of death.  I learned that lesson at a young age and you were my teacher.  I can’t recall whose funeral it was, but I vividly remember you making me touch the dead body.  I wasn’t resistant, just curious.  When I felt the cold, unnatural skin, you explained that the soul had left the body, and that the soul is the essence of a human.  What was left was a shell, nothing more.

__________________________

“What’s the worst they can do?  KILL ME?”

I heard this line so many times during your sermons and lessons.  It was often in reference to passages about persecution.  Even as a young girl, I could come up with things worse than being killed.  But I knew what you meant.  You didn’t fear death and your fearlessness made you a hero to me, strong and courageous.

_________________________

Do you remember the day I came into the ICU alone?  You had suffered beyond comprehension.  Every organ seemed to be failing after the bone marrow transplant.  Mom was spent.  The future was unclear.  Prayers were rising up as a continual vapor on your behalf, but the suffering seemed never-ending.  It was rare for me to have a moment alone with you.

Do you remember what I said?

I spoke truth from my heart.  The words came easily.

“It’s okay, Dad.  You can go.  I will be okay.”

I wasn’t afraid of death.  I was only afraid of my life after your death.

_________________________

People have called me morbid.  As a student of sociology, I took classes like sociology of death and dying.  I can talk openly about my own mortality.

I recognize on a daily basis that my future is unknown.  I could live into my 90’s like your dad.  I could die of cancer at 55 like you did.  My life could end Thursday on my commute to work.  My life is a vapor.  Your death taught me that.

I don’t see this as a problem.  I see this as a gift, Dad.  A gift you gave to me until you breathed your last breath.

In recognizing that my every breath is numbered, I choose every day to live.

When you came to the end of your life, you had lived more than most live in a lifetime.  You loved well, had a beautiful family, a successful career, traveled the world and were adventurous.  Most importantly, you spent your life for the Kingdom of God.  You built a church, poured yourself into making disciples, loved and studied the Word of God, prayed without ceasing, and knew the Savior.

You knew Him all the way to your final breath.  You trusted Him with your future until the moment He called you home.

_________________________

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  What is your life?  For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes….” (James 4:13-14)

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I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of not living.  When I come to the end, I want to breathe my last breath having spent myself tirelessly and completely for Kingdom purposes.  I want to know my Savior personally.  I want the Word to live and breathe through me.  I want to be like you, Dad.

So this month I celebrate your birth and life, mourn your death, and celebrate your resurrection into eternal life.

And through it all, I miss you.

Love,

Rachael

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad, Letter 1

 

What I Gather About Disciplined Children

avaviolin
Ava started playing the violin just before she turned six, almost four years ago.  I remember early on posting a Facebook status, complaining about the stress around violin practice times.  I was half wanting to vent, half wanting advice from more seasoned parents.

The overwhelming advice?  Let her quit.

It was shocking to this then 28 year old mother.  It had never crossed my mind to let her quit.  I began evaluating whether or not I was expecting too much and whether the arguments were even worth it.

I then had the realization…. which I think I knew all along….. that children need discipline.

I came from a disciplined home.  My father worked hard at being a successful attorney and at his role as pastor.  My mother kept a clean and organized home and had dinner on the table every single night.  My parents set high expectations for me.  It never crossed my mind to argue with them about chores (until I was a teenager) or bring home a grade that was less than my best.  At church, I knew the behavioral expectations.  I easily sat quietly through an hour long Bible lesson when I was still in the single digits.  I prayed and read my Bible daily because that was the behavior that was modeled to me.

It has certainly been a challenge to remain disciplined in my adult life, but I am so grateful for the lessons taught to me as a young child.  The discipline of my childhood has served me well in my adult life.

I hear people all the time criticizing my generations and the generations younger than me.  Perhaps we set the bar too low and expect too little of our kids, and that translates to entitled, lazy, undisciplined children?

Violin is hard to learn and my daughter complains about practicing?  Let her quit.

It is easier to do the housework myself than to force my children to help.  I’ll just do it all.

My life is too busy.  My kids will be fine without a routine.

It is hard teaching my children to sit through a church service.  We just won’t go.

My kids are so disrespectful but I don’t have it in me to have one more intervention.  I’ll let it slide.

These are tendencies I struggle with daily.  Sometimes it is easier to just let it slide, give up and take the path of least resistance.  I find myself taking this path all too often.  But isn’t this a battle worth fighting?  I see enormous potential in my children, and I want to give them the tool of self-discipline.  I know it will serve them well, as it has served me well.

I’m certainly not an advocate for pushing our children beyond their limitations or fighting every. single. battle.  I don’t believe that creates a nurturing environment or a house that has any fun, for that matter.

But the beautiful thing about teaching our kids discipline is that somewhere down the road, they begin to see the payoff.  It took over three tumultuous years of violin practices and lessons before Ava began to make beautiful music.  She still has a long way to go, but she can take on and conquer a beautifully challenging song.  Ava recognizes that her hard work and dedication is paying off and that she has learned to play a very difficult instrument.  The battles come with less and less frequency.

So to all of you who told me to let her quit, I respectfully disagree.

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In what ways do you teach your kids self-discipline?  Sports?  Schoolwork?  Chores?  At church?  In what areas do you not compromise?  In what areas are you more flexible?  Do you agree with me that lessons of self-discipline will help with entitlement mentality?  I would love your feedback!  Especially from all of the seasoned parents out there!

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
Dear Juan

A Gathering of Links XVII

A Gathering of Prayer Methods

You can also follow me via e-mail subscription HERE!  Have a blessed day!

Dear Juan

Juan
Dear Juan,

I find myself praying for you in the mornings before the sun rises.  I whisper your name and pray for blessing, encouragement and provision.  Mostly, though, I pray for God to put a new song in your heart.  I remember those early mornings when your face was the first thing we saw at our door….. face beaming in the already hot, tropical sunlight.  You were aglow, knowing you were loved because God had given you a new song in the early morning hours.  And so I pray for new songs, whispered by the breath of God, come alive with your gift of music.

You played for me, entertained us for hours with your gift.  I loved making beautiful harmonies with the melodies you sang out.  You filled our house away from home with music, life and laughter.

You became my teacher.  I couldn’t ever quite grasp the Cuban rhythms or phraseology of some of your songs… but you taught me of simplistic faith.  Stripped of luxuries, comforts, conveniences and companionship, you were a shining beacon of simple faith.  You showed me what it means to follow Jesus without baggage and with total abandon.

You became my friend.  You took such care of our family, always putting us first.  You asked for nothing in return.  I crave the meals you made for us….. your meals taste like Cuba to me.  Mostly, though, I miss the hours spent around the table, talking and praying, playing and laughing.  Those were holy moments.

You became my brother.  You were the form of the body of Christ at her best…. laying aside all self-interest and loving me, your sister in Christ, as yourself and more.  I never doubted you would lay down your life for me, not even in the beginning.  I don’t know the exact moment we became family.  Maybe it was my life-altering moment on the roof?   But I feel that you are my brother with every fiber of my being.  My brother.  My brother.  My brother.  What more fitting a label than that?

I miss you.  We all do.  Our family talks of you often.  We wonder what you’re doing, who you’re with, whether you have food and money for transportation.  But I know down to my core that wherever you are…. whatever miles you are walking on long dusty roads to serve…… I know that you are not alone.  I know your Savior walks with you, and I know he is giving you songs.

I only wish I were there to hear you sing them.

Your sister in Christ,

Rachael

IMG_1357
Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Prayer Methods

Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Pattern

Dear Dad, Letter 2

A Gathering of Links XVII

links

I hope you are all in the midst of a fantastic week. I haven’t been posting as much around here. Life has been busy but in a good way. We are knee-deep in church planting, which involves meetings, lots of prayer, small groups, teaching lots of kids, cooking, hospitality, planning music, teaching…. on and on and on and on it goes. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. The people on this journey with me are Jesus people (see link below) and I’m having the time of my life.

I have also been taking some time to think and pray about the direction I want to take my blog. I have enjoyed every step of the journey in blogging, and have come to some conclusions along the way. First, I can’t worry about numbers. Whether I have ten readers or 10,000, I want to have quality content reflective of who I am. Also, while the “fun” posts about decorating and fashion may get lots of hits, that’s not my primary goal here. I will post fun things like that from time to time, but my primary goal is to share my spiritual experiences and hopefully offer some encouragement to my readers along the way. If you have any advice for me about what you would like to see more or less of around here, I’m happy to hear it!

Now let’s get to it! Here are my favorite links from the past several weeks. They are fantastic, so take some time to check them out!

Spiritual Inspiration:

Sarah Bessey with In which I am among the Spanish oaks again

From A Deeper Story, Your Story is Worth Finishing.  Amen.

Also from A Deeper Story, an open letter to my proud heart.

From A Deeper Church, Missional Anxieties.

Also from A Deeper Church, The Jesus People.  I have people like this and thank God for them.

From Winn Collier, The Grace of the Short Life.

At A Deeper Family, The Language of Lament.

Food Love:

Design Mom gives us the recipe for the perfect wing.

Marriage and Parenting:

From Narrow Paths to Higher Places, Letters to My Daughter:  On True Love.

From Sarah Bessey, In which I can’t help myself.  This inspired me to take a look at the wonder of my daughters.

Friendship:

From the wild love, a poem is still.  If you aren’t reading Hilary’s writing, I would highly recommend checking it out.

For Fun:

At A Beautiful Mess, An Abstract Painting Anyone Can Make and this adorable guest room cart.

From Jen Hatmaker, Hope for Spicy Families.  Hilarious.

 

Also, my friend Jen at Girl in the Garage is celebrating her one-year blogging anniversary!  Congrats to you!  I love her blog and seeing all the amazing transformations she so masterfully accomplishes!  You inspire me, Jen!

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That’s it for me today.  What have you been reading lately?  Any great blogs or books?  I’m always open to suggestions!  Be blessed!

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Prayer Methods

Using the Lord’s Prayer as a Model

Dear Dad, Letter 2

And you can subscribe to Rachael Gathers HERE!

 

Dear Dad, Letter 2

Dear Dad,

I have seen the photos so many times…  you as a little boy, living in a foreign land I couldn’t even fathom.  The stories of your childhood delighted and enchanted me, although you were never the source of the magnificent stories.  They usually came from Grandma or Mom, glimpses into a life that seemed impossibly far from the life I shared with you. You were quiet about your undeniably challenging childhood.  But those stories I heard made you superhuman to me…. special, special, special.  I wanted to be like you.  I wanted people to tell stories about my life in a faraway land, full of challenges and adventure.

Cuba2 Cuba3

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It was a typical day for us in Cuba…. October 29th, 2012.  You had been gone for 15 years and we had been traveling to Cuba for the past five.  Our little family was bouncing along the Cuban roads in a church van filled with various Cuban pastors and friends.  One of them?  Your friend, Armando Roca.  He has become a friend to us, Dad.  He has been our guide, translator, cultural adviser and endless source of entertainment.  I had asked Bro. Roca several times to take us to the house where you lived in Cuba.  He always assured me it was so close, yet he always postponed it for another day.

This day was different.

Sometimes I wish I had a little warning for the big moments of my life, just so I could prepare myself emotionally and mentally.  I had no time to prepare for turning the corner and seeing this house.

Cubahouse
The funny thing, Dad, is that this house was within walking distance of the house where we always stay in Havana.  I had probably walked and driven by it multiple times.  But this was the moment that God chose to introduce me to my past.

Do you recognize it?  In spite of the weathered exterior, the unsightly fence, damaged roof and the overall neglect…. surely you recognize your childhood home.

I can’t describe the depth of my desire to sit down and talk with you about your life here… the very same town where we do much of our work in Cuba.  I know bits and pieces… how you went to an English school, played on the grounds of the famous Tropicana, the way you could hear the music late into the night.  I know about the humidity and the hard work of planting a church, the language that was as natural to you as English.

But Dad, I long to know what it was like for you.  Did you love Cuba the way I love Cuba?  Did it feel like home the way it feels like home to me?  Did you realize you were right in the middle of history and a brewing revolution?  Did you leave behind people you love the way I have left behind those I love?  Did you walk along the Malecon, breath taken away by the magnificent beauty of the ocean beating against the sea wall?

I had mere minutes at your house.  Some day I will go back, introduce myself to the owners and stay to soak it all in.  On October 29th, 2012, I had brief, hurried moments.  You can tell by the photos how rushed we were, what a whirlwind it all was.  But our photo, taken just steps away from your photo, is a prized possession.

Cuba cubafamily

House 3511.  In a city we both call home.

Love,

sig

 

Read Dear Dad, Letter 1 HERE!

A Gathering of Links XVI

links It’s that time again! I have been saving up all of my favorite links to share with you, and as usual, some of them are fantastic. But first… some updates on life in the Rennard house…..

Our church, Gathering, has had morning prayer every day this week from 6-7. It has been so amazing to gather with friends and pray while we watch the sun rise. I think I have always known in the back of my mind how powerful consistent early morning prayer can be, but this is the first time I have experienced it in such a profound way. Sitting in my living room, surrounded by my brothers and sisters in Christ, ushering in a new day with prayer and consecration felt sacred and holy.

I started back to work at the preschool last week. Isabel goes with me and LOVES her class. I love being able to peek in her room and see her interacting with the other kids. Ava has had a great first three weeks and joined the school choir. Her passion seems to be music, and this excites me. After years of struggling through violin practices and lessons, she has turned a corner and can MAKE MUSIC! Violin is a difficult instrument and she still has a long way to go, but as my mom says, “Once they realize they can make music, everything changes.” We are over a month into our wheat-free diet and going strong. Here is some first day of school cuteness for you:

firstday firstday2 Let’s get to some links! My most popular post from the last two weeks is: Dear Dad, Letter 1.

That doesn’t include my posts that gets lots of hits from Pinterest.  These are:

A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

Gathering Ideas for a Shabby Chic Bedroom

Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower

My favorite links, in no particular order:

Spiritual Inspiration:

From A Deeper Story, There Are No Trophies Here

11 of the Greatest Hymns in Church History at (in)Courage.  This is really cool.

On Truth, Specks, and the Blinding Goodness of  God at Narrow Paths to Higher Places

Over at Rachel Held Evans, What Would Jesus Do (With His Enemy)?

In Which I Will Become More Undignified from Sarah Bessey

At A Holy Experience, When You’re Ready to Wear Who You Really Are

You don’t hate me.  You hate my brand.  From Rachel Held Evans

From Tim Brister, From Strangers to Missionaries:  A Neighborhood Strategy for Mission

Food Love:

Broccoli Slaw at Smitten Kitchen

At A Beautiful Mess, It’s Smoothie Time!

How to be a Great Dinner Party Guest from Shauna Niequist.

Marriage and Parenting:

In Which I Beg Barbie’s Pardon from Sarah Bessey.

Worst End of Summer Mom Ever from Jen Hatmaker.  So funny.

How Mothers Are Made from Lisa-Jo Baker

From Addie Zierman, For the One Who Married Young

Home Love:

From Design Mom’s Living With Kids series, Living With Kids:  Emily Hart.  I love this home.

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So there you have it!  Grab a cup of coffee, sit outside on a summer afternoon and read some of these posts for inspiration.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!  Have a great weekend!

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Get new posts delivered directly to your inbox by following Rachael Gathers HERE!

Our Wheat-free, Almost Paleo Diet

When my husband came home from the doctor a few months ago and told me his doctor recommend a wheat-free diet, my heart momentarily sunk.  I have a long, complicated relationship with food.  While I have never had terrible eating habits, my motivation for eating healthy food was mostly so that I could indulge in whatever I wanted later on.  When I heard wheat-free, I immediately started thinking of all the things I couldn’t eat if we chose this nutritional path.

Then I started some research.  Diabetes runs in my husband’s family, and he has been on medicine for “pre-diabetes” for quite some time.  His doctor assured him that cutting all wheat from his diet would lead to weight loss and getting rid of the medicine.  Our doctor himself is on a wheat-free diet.

I won’t go into the science of why many scientists and doctors are recommending the diet, but our doctor recommends the book Wheat Belly as a starting place.

I also happen to have a brother who adheres to the Paleo diet and sings the praises of the health benefits he has experienced.  Paleo goes a few steps beyond eating wheat-free.  Again, I won’t go into the science of it, but you can read more about it here.

Our family has landed somewhere in the middle.  We are eating a strictly wheat-free diet, and are getting closer to a strictly Paleo diet, although we occasionally consume rice, potatoes, corn, and dairy.  For us, the changes have been drastic.  I try not to focus on numbers, but in about  6 weeks, I have lost 13 pounds.  I feel more energetic overall and feel better about the foods I am putting into my body.  We attempt to eat the highest quality foods possible, buying mostly organic and buying high-quality meats from the Noblesville Real Food Market.  We have cut out nearly all processed foods and very rarely eat out.

If I were a food blogger, I would have fantastic photos to share with you of the kinds of meals we eat.  A food blogger I am not.  However, I will share with you what a typical weeks looks like for us, just to get you thinking.

*Please note that nearly all of the ingredients should be organic and high-quality.  Also, these are not recipes, but merely examples of a meal plan.

eggedited
Egg Muffins
Monday:

Breakfast:  Egg muffins (made on Sunday) with organic eggs, chicken sausage, mushrooms, onion, and green pepper

Lunch:  Chicken sausage hash (same that I used in egg muffins), organic red pepper slices, fruit salad

Dinner:  Large spinach/baby green salad with artichoke hearts, heart of palm, tomato, cucumber, mushroom, feta cheese, kalamata olives, red/green peppers, onion, and protein of choice (shredded chicken, chicken sausage, pastrami, bacon, etc.)

Tuesday:

Breakfast:  Pre-made egg muffins

Lunch:  Pastrami wrapped red peppers, mixed nuts, Greek yogurt, cucumber slices

Dinner:  Broiled tuna steaks, sweet potato oven-fries

Wednesday:  

Breakfast:  Last of the egg muffins

Lunch:  Large bowl of tomato salad with feta, basil, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper

Dinner:  Oven-fried chicken (breaded with almond meal, corn meal, and spices), pumpkin sautéed in pork lard, spices and maple syrup

Chickenedited pumpedited Oven-fried chicken and sautéed pumpkin

Thursday:

Breakfast:  Egg scramble with ham, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, onions and feta.

Lunch:  Avocado topped with bacon, berries

Dinner:  Chicken sausage (cut into chunks), sautéed with lots of red and green peppers, onion and spices.  sautéed kale, spinach and beet greens as a side.

Friday:

Breakfast:  Chorizo hash with potatoes and onion, fried egg served on top

Lunch:  Canned tuna mixed with olive tapenade, served on gluten-free crackers, pear

Dinner:  Ground pork meatballs with marinara, roasted broccoli, salad

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Please remember that I am by no means an expert.  I am just getting started and am learning as I go and I do not strictly adhere to the Paleo diet.  My favorite Paleo blog is Nom Nom Paleo.  Do yourself the favor and download the Nom Nom Paleo app for iPad if you have one.  It is the best food app I have ever seen, with detailed shopping lists, easy to follow recipes and huge photos of the food.  There are also so many great blogs, books and recipes if you are interested in learning more about this lifestyle.

I am really thrilled with the transformation in our eating habits.  I no longer crave carbs (although I emotionally crave ice-cream from time to time!) and am eating more fresh produce than I ever have.  Our entire family is losing weight and feeling better.  I’m even adjusting the way I feed my guests when we have company.  I am learning that if my body is truly a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is my responsibility to take care of its every component.

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What about you?  Have you heard much about the Paleo or wheat-free lifestyle?  Would it be hard for you to make this kind of change?  Do you have any tips for this wheat-free/Paleo beginner?  I would love your feedback!  If you want a more detailed recipe from the foods mentioned above, just comment and I will get back to you.

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What Kind of Person?

Dear Dad, Letter 1

A Gathering of Links XV

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What Kind of Person?

It was one of those nights in the Rennard house.

Tempers were flaring.  Hormones were raging.  Frustrations were high.

My sweet 9-year-old was testing my limits.  Disobedience.  Disrespect.  Unkindness toward her little sister.  Temper.  Grunting, growling, stomping.  Talking back.

I stepped out of her bedroom, gave myself a few moments alone to catch my breath and calm down……

Mind racing.  Feelings of failure.  Inadequacy.  Fear of the future.  Disappointment.

Then it comes to me.

“Ava, what kind of person do you want to be?”  I say with tears in my eyes.

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This question opens up an honest dialogue.

Does she want to be like her parents?  Like all the members of her family who have devoted their lives to serving God?  Ultimately, does she want to be like Jesus?  Does she want to be someone who is transformed by the Holy Spirit and bears the fruit of the Spirit in her life?

OR….

Does she want to be ruled by her flesh?  Does she want to be selfish?  Does she want to be disrespectful and unkind?  Does she want to always get her way at the expense of everyone around her?  Does she want to harm those who she loves with her sharp words and unkind actions?

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Tears well up in her eyes.  She is processing, thinking, evaluating the question posed to her.  I hold her close, pray earnestly for her, reaffirm my love and acceptance of her, tell her I am blessed to be her mother.

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This question has been churning in my head for weeks.

Ava, what kind of person do you want to be?

I know what kind of person I want Ava to be.  I have my own hopes and dreams for her.  While I can train, teach and lead by example, the choice ultimately belongs to Ava.  Will she allow the Holy Spirit to transform her into someone who reflects the character of Christ?  Time will tell.

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Meanwhile, I hear the gentle voice of a loving Father ask me the question…..

“Rachael.  What kind of person do you want to be?”

Do you want to know me and respond to my voice?  Do you want to lay aside weights, sin and distraction in order to know me more?  Will you allow me to remove the pride from your heart?  Will you be someone who makes space in your heart and life for my lost sheep?  Will you reflect my character with your words and in your deeds?

OR……..

Will you put me on the back burner of your life, calling on me when it is convenient?  Will you elevate yourself at the expense of others?  Will you fall in step with the materialism around you?  Will you go where you want to go instead of where I lead?  Will you gossip and slander?  Will you exclude others so that you feel more included?  Will you always put yourself first?

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Will I allow the Holy Spirit to transform me into someone who reflects the character of Christ?  Time will tell.

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Dear Dad, Letter 1

A Gathering of Links XV

What I’m Into, July 2013

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Dear Dad, (Letter 1)

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Dad,

You have been gone for half of my life now.  Some days this fact astounds me.  Other days, you are a stranger to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  You left a permanent imprint.  You left your mark in a profound way….

But your voice is faint and sometimes inaudible in my mind.  Your face is familiar only through photographs.  I don’t remember the subtleties of your expressions, the strangely beautiful shade of your eyes, your movements, your touch.

What I have is a permanent impression of a person who marked me with such force, the entire course of my life was altered.  I remember how you made me feel secure, even in the midst of such chaos.  I see shadows in my mind of afternoon naps with you on the couch and ever-so-faint remembrances of sitting on your lap when I was much too old to do so.

I am marked by your strength.  I sometimes wallow…. feeling so sorry that I only knew you for 16 years, wondering if I really knew you at all.  Then I recognize that in some ways, I knew you better than most.  I knew the Dad who was tried by fire and came out as gold.  I have no specific memories of you pre-cancer.  I’m sure that is sad for some to hear.  However, I have come to recognize that cancer was not our enemy.  Cancer was the fire through which you passed, allowing God to remove the impurities.

Cancer was the battle you fought that made you a warrior.  Cancer stripped you of any self-reliance and threw you into trust of a loving Savior.  You allowed the trial of cancer to show you what was truly important in life, and I would be living in denial to think that somehow I didn’t benefit from that realization.

You loved me fiercely.  I never doubted it for a moment.  Dad, you used your limited time with me so, so wisely.  You poured your heart and too-short life into introducing me to Jesus.  It was not an easy introduction.  I met the Jesus who walks us through the fire.  Dad, we both came out as gold.  What more could I have asked for?

Time?  Maybe.  And yet….. maybe all of that pressure on you, and therefore on me, is what allowed your imprint to be permanent on my person.  Lasting.  Never even fading for a moment.

I have the days when I long to hear your voice, feel your touch, seek your counsel, share with you in my joys, burden you with my heartaches, benefit from your wisdom, see your face.

But if not for cancer, if not for God transforming you through that fire, you wouldn’t have been the dad I knew.  I wouldn’t be me.  So I trust in the One who works all things together for good.  You taught me about him.  You taught me that lesson.  It is imprinted on my very being.

Love,

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What I’m Into, July 2013

(This post is linked with Hopeful Leigh’s What I’m Into post.  Check it out here.)

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Books:

I had high hopes for July.  My June reading list was extensive and I hoped to continue that trend into July.  And then…. something happened.  I will share later.  Keep reading.

But I did succeed in reading a few books.  Here they are:

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Saturday by Ian McEwan was the best piece of fiction I have read in a long, long time.  Each night when I finished reading, I would marvel, sometimes to myself, sometimes to Jimmie, about the genius of this author.  The first chapter was a bit slow, and I must admit I nearly gave up on it.  I am so glad I persevered.  The entire novel takes place within a 24 hour time span in the life of one man.  It is insightful and surprising, sad and hopeful.  I am excited to read more of McEwan’s work.
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The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty was a solid summer read.  It kept my interest and was the kind of entertainment I relish during lazy summer days.  I will say that I thought the end dragged on a bit much.  It was interesting after reading Saturday reading this book, which covers a 50 year time span.
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 Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist was beautiful and moving.  This is storytelling at its finest.  I loved the heart I felt on each and every page.  God has been prodding me and challenging me in the area of hospitality for a couple of years now, and this book opened my eyes to the profound impact hospitality can have.  I earmarked so many pages with fantastic recipes.  I can’t wait to make some of them.  I have a feeling that I will re-read this book many times.

Television:

Remember when I said I had high hopes for the books I would read in July?  Well, television happened.  We got rid of cable and hadn’t been watching much, if any, television.  Then I had one of those nights when I just wanted to curl up in bed and watch something.

Enter Parenthood.

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Friends, let me just tell you, I finished all four seasons in the month of July.  I watched episodes on Netflix every night, late into the night.  I was hooked so fast and fell in love with the characters in a way that has only happened with a couple of other television series.

Blame my wimpy reading list on this show right here.  Then watch the first episode on Netflix.


Make fun all you want, but I own all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD.  I get in the mood to watch this series from time to time.  I finished season 7 in July.  It’s always a little sad saying goodbye to Lorelai and Rory, at least until next time I start the series over….

Funny story.  My mom saw the DVD’s at my house a few weeks ago.  I gave her season 1, not sure if she would get into it.  She called me a couple of days later, asking for all seven seasons.  She and my aunt  had spent lazy days at her camper, watching Gilmore Girls.  They fell in love with it.  How can you not?

Food:

As I announced a couple of months ago, I have given up sweets and soda for the rest of 2013.  It has been going really well.  I had a successful cheat day on July 4th (which is part of the plan).  I have had a little Nutella two times in two months.  I also have eaten some fruit pops that are very lightly sweetened, but only a handful of times.

Then about a month ago, Jimmie’s doctor recommended that he go on a wheat-free diet (based on the research in this book.)  We discussed it and decided to dive in.  We have eliminated nearly all wheat from our diet and most carbs.  We are working toward adhering to the paleo diet.  Basically, we eat high quality meats and eggs, tons of fresh, organic vegetables, some fruit and a small amount of dairy.

Jimmie and I have both lost weight and are learning day by day how to change our eating habits.  Here are a couple of things making our life easier right now:

1.  Nom Nom Paleo – This is a great website with lots of paleo recipes.  There are so many websites out there, but this is one my brother (who adheres strictly to the paleo diet) recommended.

2.  Eggs and feta.  I have never been a breakfast eater.  I am now making myself an egg scramble each morning with mushrooms, peppers, spinach, whatever veggies are around the house, and… FETA.  I have always loved Feta cheese but had never tried it in my eggs.  This has made me a breakfast convert.

3.  Trader Joe’s.  Trader Joe’s has long been my favorite grocery store.  Now, with their extensive offerings of gluten-free items, we can find affordable groceries that fit our wheat-free diet.  We go every Sunday evening, spend about $100 and are (mostly) set for the week.

4.  Noblesville Real Food Market.  My brother is part of this market, and provides us with organic produce and high quality meats.

5.  Live the Way’s Noblesville Community Garden Project.  My  husband has been working tirelessly to get this project off the ground and now we are (literally) enjoying the fruits of our labor.  We have been eating tons of fresh kale, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, beets, beet greens, turnips, peas, tomatoes and more.  It is so rewarding eating food I planted myself.

Other:

I’m also into the pool:

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And my new camera, along with the A Beautiful Mess app:

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I have a new love for downtown Indianapolis after our trip on the 4th of July:
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And I’m hopelessly in love with this newborn. Ah, Ruby: (read my prayer for her here)

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That’s about it for me!  I can’t believe Ava starts school tomorrow and I start work the following week.  It has been a great summer, full of fun, family and friends.  I am feeling blessed.

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What about you?:  What are you into?  I would love to hear about it.

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A Gathering of Parental Confessions

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There’s something therapeutic about confession.  We all are guilty of trying to make ourselves appear better than we actually are.  Whether it is my portrayal of myself as wife, friend, mom, cook, housekeeper, employee or Christian, I want you to think I am better than I am.  I’m growing by leaps and bounds in this department.  I know that I find transparency in others so refreshing, so I am trying to become more honest and transparent about myself.

Therefore….. here are some (possibly sad, possibly comical) confessions about my life as a parent.

1. I pay my daughter to read.

In my defense, I got this idea from a friend.  Her daughter isn’t a huge fan of reading books, so they offered to pay her $5 to finish a challenging book.

A few weeks later, I found myself incredibly frustrated.  We take a weekly trip to our public library in the summer, and Ava always picks out a bag full of novels.  She then brings them home, where they sit until our next library trip.  The only thing that gets read are Archie comics.

(I may or may not have told her she will never be a smart person if all she reads are Archie comic books.)

So I offered her $3 for every library book she finished the rest of the summer.  She finished her first one the next day.

2.  I bribe and/or threaten my children.

Bedtime is a sacred time in our home.  Not actual bedtime, but the quiet that follows shortly thereafter.  There are no compromises when it comes to bedtime in the Rennard house.  Both of my girls know that we don’t mess around with this rule.  Ava knows that if she gets out of her bed, she will be grounded the following day.

When we moved Isabel out of her crib, we bribed her with M&M’s.  She knew if she stayed in her bed all night, she would get candy the next morning.  Don’t judge.

3.  I allow some lazy mornings.

Many mornings, I have to be up early for work or to get Ava on the bus.  On the mornings when Jimmie gets Ava on the bus or we have nowhere to go, I permit laziness.  This means I get up to get milk and a bowl of Cheerios/craisins for Isabel, then get back into bed.

I either sleep a bit longer, get my Bible reading done, or catch up on blogs.  I have been known to let her watch TV until 10 or so while I do this.

4.  I sometimes hide.

I recognize this sounds terrible, but I KNOW you moms out there can relate.  Sometimes the noise, demands, complaining and arguing get the best of me and I just need a moment of peace.  My favorite hiding places?

Bathtub.  I lock the door and let Jimmie be boss and referee for a while.

Bedroom.  I have been known, very occasionally, to take my dinner into my bedroom while I eat and watch TV alone.  Father/daughter time is important, right?

Shopping.  When I’m feeling really overwhelmed, I take a quiet trip alone to Goodwill or Target or somewhere where I can wander in peace.  This approach works wonders.

5.  I yell.

I never thought I would be the parent who yells.  With Isabel, yelling isn’t necessary.  She responds well to discipline in a normal tone most of the time.  Ava is a different story.  She seems to not hear anything I say until I have dramatically raised my decibel level.  I’m working on this one.

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I think five confessions is enough for today.

As parents, I think we need to permit ourselves imperfections without feeling like failures.  We have so many positive interactions each and every day with our kids.  We give so much of ourselves to make sure they are fed, clothed, healthy and happy.  It is so easy for me to overlook this fact and focus instead on the negative all the time.  I will continue in my attempts to grow and develop as a parent, but I also want to allow myself room to be human.  I want my kids to see my imperfections as well, so that they learn about grace, apologies, forgiveness and unconditional love.

What about you?  Don’t leave me alone here… what are your parental confessions?

Happy Monday!

sig I know it has been quiet around here lately. My daughter starts school next week, so you will see more posts starting then. Have you missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
What I Gather About Worship
Gathering to Heal
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Gathering Ideas for a Shabby Chic Bedroom

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When my niece Chelsea moved out, we moved Isabel back into Chelsea’s room.  Sadly, I had very little inspiration for decorating her room, so it has been neglected.  The walls are white, the furniture in desperate need of some TLC and there is no cohesiveness in the least.

Then, after helping to throw a Shabby Chic baby shower for my friend, I decided to take Isabel’s room in that direction.  She was already using the shabby chic comforter from Target and had the curtains and a few pillows to match.  I am enlisting the help of my very talented and artistic sister-in-law to help me finish the room.  When it is finished, I will share photos of the results.  For now, I will share with you some of my favorite pins from Pinterest that are giving me inspiration!  (Click on the pictures to be taken to the website or the pin for more information!)
Shabby Chic paint colors @ Home Design Ideas

I am loving this color combination.  I definitely kept this color palette in mind when I chose the paint color for her room.


The bed in this photo reminds me a little of Isabel’s bed.  I especially love the dust ruffle and chandelier in this photo.


I love everything about this room.  It is so soft and feminine.

All Things Shabby and Beautiful
I purchased a couple of old windows similar to this one to use in Isabel’s room.  I love how they used the fabric behind the window.  Marty is taking on this project and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

Just did this project the other day. Will be putting a red rosette and red ribbon on the back for the Christmas season! Also, still looking for an old frame to put it in.
Here is another adorable idea for using an old window.  I think this would be pretty in any room with seasonal wreaths!

Fabric framed with old windows house-projects
I don’t love everything about this room. I mainly pinned it because I liked the use of the old windows and the chandelier.

I love the idea of this (scrapbook paper pack as wallpaper).
I know this is a nursery, but I love the block wall. I’m not sure I could handle and entire wall with so many prints, but I thought it would be cute as a small accent wall or even in a large window or frame.

Tea Party Table!
While this is an adorable idea for a party, I will probably make this garland of scrap fabrics for Isabel’s room. It is an inexpensive way to bring color and shabby chic fabrics to her room.

Which of these rooms is your favorite?  Are you a fan of shabby chic?  I would love any links to amazingly decorated shabby chic rooms while I’m in the process of redecorating!  You can follow my board, Little Girls, on Pinterest to pin these yourself!

Make sure to keep your eyes open for the final result!  Hopefully it will be done within a month or so.

Happy Monday to all!

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Books:  June 2013

A Gathering Under the Trees

A Gathering of Links XIV

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A Gathering Under the Trees

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I have this character flaw that sometimes can be a blessing.  I am a perfectionist, at least in some areas of my life.  In college, I had panic attacks frequently and wouldn’t settle for anything less than an A.  This characteristic turns from being useful to being a flaw when I simply don’t do something because I can’t do it perfectly.

Every year I want to have a picnic on or around June 21st to celebrate the longest days of the year.  Every year we don’t do it because in my mind, our picnic must be perfect.  I need a beautiful tablecloth, my Longaberger picnic basket filled with cloth napkins, beautifully packaged gourmet food, real silverware, candles and perfectly dressed attendees.  Sound ridiculous?

Sadly, this kind of perfectionism keeps me from doing so many things in my life.  Some days I leave my house messy because I don’t have three hours to make it perfect.  I don’t start a book if I know I won’t finish it within a few days.  I want to learn more about photography, but don’t consider myself artistic enough to ever be a professional.  I don’t cook a meal because I know it won’t be as good as the meals Jimmie makes.  On and on it goes.

Last Thursday I came face to face with this character flaw.  Ava was leaving the following morning for a 9-day trip with my mom.  I told her we would go on a picnic that night so we could spend some quality time together.  As usual, life happened and I didn’t get to pack the perfect picnic basket.  So, instead of postponing like I normally would have, we went to Marsh, picked up a bunch of random food, and headed to Forest Park with an old blanket, grocery sacks, and paper plates.

It was divine.

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We had Pringles, stuffed peppers and garlic mushrooms from the Olive bar, summer sausage with cheese and crackers, baked potato salad from the deli, and iced tea and coconut water. Weird? Yes. But we ate to our heart’s content.

Ava talked about what she was looking forward to most on her trip. She played at the playground while I read under the giant evergreen. In those moments, it didn’t matter that I didn’t have my beautiful tablecloth or gourmet food. All that mattered was that we were with our little girl.

As I snapped a few photos, I realized that I have learned something from my new camera. I used to think there were certain moments that were photo-worthy…. birthdays, special outings, holidays and momentous occasions. My camera has taught me that special moments take place in the mundane events of my everyday life. It didn’t matter to me that the picnic wasn’t something that wasn’t magazine worthy. I wanted to capture it anyway. My standards of perfection too frequently limit me from embracing each and every moment as a gift from God. Instead of waiting for perfection, I instead want to find the beauty in my everyday life. I want to be quick to say, “YES!” when an opportunity comes my way, not worrying about living up to some unrealistic standard that no-one holds me to except for myself.

I will be quick to see the beauty when sitting under a tree, leaned against my husband, reading a book. I will relish in the joyous laughter of my daughter on the monkey bars. I will pause and notice the way the evening light streams through the trees. I will see God in it all and I will be thankful.

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Do you struggle with the need to be perfect?  Does it keep you from living your life to the fullest?  What are some of the most mundane details of your life that you find inspiring or beautiful?

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A Gathering of Links XIV

What I Gather About Friends Without Fathers

Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower

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What I Gather About Friends Without Fathers

I never quite know what to expect on Father’s Day.

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It always includes celebration of my husband who is a selfless and engaged father to our girls.  I feel thankful for my father-in-law who is so attentive with my girls and supportive of our family.  I spend time reflecting on the step-father in my life who embraces my family as his own and loves us so completely.

Mostly, though, I think about my dad who has been gone as many years now as I knew him…. half of my life. Sometimes I have happy recollections and feel gratitude for the time I had with him.  Other times, Father’s Day is a dark day, full of anger, resentment at the happy celebrations around me, and feelings of abandonment.

This past Sunday was somewhere in between.  I was doing okay until I watched this short film:

And What Remains  It is beautiful and moving and for whatever reason, sent me into a spiral of grief and sadness.

They whys and hows of the waves of grief have no explanation.  I can just tell you that I had not felt so overwhelmed by grief for a very long time.

My compassionate and ever so patient husband does everything right in those moments.  He doesn’t press me to talk or try to fix anything.  And yet, in that moment, his attempts at comfort were not what I needed.

His dad lives 20 minutes down the road and can be reached within seconds on the phone, visited within a half hour in the car.

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I have a long-time friend who lost her father suddenly a few years ago.  She is one of the most genuine, honest and insightful people I know.  In that moment of my grief, I sent her a text to “check on her,” but what I really wanted was to remind myself that I was not alone.

Here are some excerpts from our text conversation (shared with permission)….

“A very hard bond we share.  Oddly today is harder than years past.  I suppose because I haven’t thought about him in a while.”

“I am struggling today for some reason.  It’s hard sometimes, recognizing the memories are fading.”

“Yes.  The realization that there won’t be new ones and we’ll keep reliving the same ones.”

“I feel like I’m grasping to hold onto them, yet it’s not working.”

“I remember him now more as an idea than as a person.  Does that make sense?”

“Yes it does.”

“I’m sorry yet thankful to share this hard bond with you.  Most people our age don’t understand.”

“They don’t.  I’m thankful for you because it’s hard for anyone to grasp until they experience it.”

“I see pictures of him sometimes and realize I had not imagined his face in a long time.  His voice is hard to hear.”

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This conversation brought more comfort than I can convey.  Just knowing that she was experiencing some of the same emotions I felt so strongly made me feel that I wasn’t alone.

I sent messages to a couple other friends who have lost their fathers recently.  I wanted them to know they weren’t alone either, and that I was praying for them.

Isn’t that what we all need at our very core?  To know we aren’t alone?

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Later that evening, I felt compelled to look through old photos.  I came across this one, saw the date and couldn’t stop staring.

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This was my school photo, taken my junior year, weeks before my father’s death.  He was actually dying as I smiled for the camera.  I found it so astounding to look at this photograph and feel I was looking at a stranger.  There are so many things I would love to tell this girl in the photo.  I would tell her it is okay to be sad and to hurt.  I would tell her pretending won’t get her anywhere.  I would tell her the guy she is already in love with will never leave her side and will be her husband.  I would tell her God will send strong, loving men into her life to be father figures to her.  Mostly, though, I would tell her she’s not alone.  I would tell her that God will step in as Father.  And I would tell her that she has friends who care and always will, even 16 years from now.

Thanks to my friend (you know who you are) for reminding me I’m not alone.  Love you.

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Are there particular holidays or days of the year that are difficult for you?  We all have lost someone we love…. do you find it is helpful to talk with someone who has been through a similar experience?  Do you find comfort in using your difficult experiences to help others going through similar situations?  I would love your feedback!

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Read more about my struggle with faith after my father’s death on my post, A (Re)Gathering of Faith.

I Gather a Letter of Love (Happy Birthday, Jimmie)

Dear Jimmie,

Today is your birthday.  You are 32 and I realize that I have spent over half of my life loving you.  I can’t remember the exact moment I fell in love, but I remember whispering to a friend at such a young age, “I will marry him.”

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The road hasn’t been easy.  Not by any means.  You comforted me through the greatest loss I faced at 16.  You patiently waited while I searched for something or someone to fill up that hole in my heart.  Had I only paid attention from the start, I would have realized that your unselfish love always pointed me to the only one who could fill that void.

We were too young.  Of course we were.  And yet I knew, I knew, I KNEW… God had sent you into my life.  He sent me into yours.  I had lost the man I loved all of my childhood, and God sent you to me early…. a precious gift.  I would never trade even one of those early years.  Married at 19 simply means we have had more years to love each other.

I haven’t forgotten.  The day you forgave… instantly… my transgressions with a gracious embrace that turned me toward the light and freedom of love.  That is who you are.  One who forgives.

The rocky road we walked, recognizing that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.

We had weaknesses, let’s not forget.

And then we had the kind of new beginning that only a resurrected Savior can offer.  You loved me through those times and I will never forget.   You chose me over and over again, demonstrating the kind of love that has no boundaries, made possible only by your continual choice to be a vessel of the Holy Spirit.

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I witnessed as you and I propelled, as the minister prophesied…. propelled into a ministry that was more terrifying and rewarding than I ever could have imagined.  We walked those dusty streets in the tropical sun, and were reborn again.  Reborn into a purpose beyond anything we could ask or think.  I watched you transform into an empty, willing vessel.  And I was proud.

Despite your youth, you proclaimed the gospel, stood for justice and mercy, held your ground, and poured yourself into people and purpose.  Your compassion and love for humanity poured from you, in prayers, lifestyle and conversation.

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I will never forget what it felt like to be united for a common purpose in a strange land that somehow felt like home…. away from everything and everyone familiar, we walked hand-in-hand through the new terrain. Our marriage and our love were reborn and we have never been the same.

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Some people have us all wrong, thinking I am strong because I communicate more.  Or thinking I am the forgiving one because I put on a smile in the midst of heartbreak and anger.

But you…. you exude strength.  You are filled with the strength that comes only from having an unquestionable purpose.  You work and pray and work and pray to see the Kingdom come.  You forgive freely, praying earnestly for your enemies.  You are so filled with the love of God that it spills out into all aspects of your life.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.

When I interject my name in the place of “love” in this passage from Corinthians, I feel like a liar.  When I interject your name, Jimmie, I feel like I am accurately describing so many aspects of your personality.  You have loved me patiently, in spite of my irritability and stubbornness.  You are kind to all.  On and on it goes.  You endure all things.  Your love never ends.

You are the human face of God’s love in my life.  You love me enough to call me out on my nonsense.  You love me enough to make space for my gifts and callings.  You love me enough to forgive, time and time again, no matter how great or small the offense.  You love me enough to pull me up when I’m sinking.  You love me enough to point me to Jesus…. every time.

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I have never gushed about you in public like this.  I know you prefer to fly under the radar.  I know you never want people to see you, only Jesus.  But today you are 32 and I celebrate you.  I honor you.  And I can only hope to love you the way you love all.

Happy Birthday.

Yours,

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A Gathering of Links XII

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It’s that time again!  I love linking you up to my favorite posts of the week and this week there are a LOT!  First, some highlights from my week…

We had a relaxing three-day weekend, spent mostly at home.

Some exciting things are on the horizon for Gathering!

Ava had her last day of school and is home for the summer!

A long-time friend was married, seemed incredibly happy and had a gorgeous wedding.  Here we are, getting ready to leave for the celebration:

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We actually planted at the community garden!  All of my husband’s hard work is finally paying off.  The garden is looking fantastic and we are all eager to taste the (literal) fruits of our labor!

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Now let’s get to it and link you up!

My most read post of the week was Gathering Self-Control (and an announcement).  Thanks for all of the positive feedback!  We now have at least 10 adults committing to all or part of this challenge.  Day 1 down.  Lots to go.

Marriage and Family:

On Loving Well from Narrow Paths to Higher Places.  I can’t tell you how much this post resonated with me.  My love language is also acts of service, and I found myself relating to so much of what she discussed, especially after having just written What I Gather About Myself as Mom!  Love this post!

At A Holy Experience, When strong mamas feel quite weak.  This was so insightful.

From Lisa-Jo Baker, How to Fall in Love.  Again.  Because we all must choose to fall in love over and over again.

Spiritual Reflection:

At A Deeper Story, Lessons from a Fundamental Baptist on Memorial Day.  I enjoyed this perspective.

Food Love:

Info about the paleo diet at Simple Mom.  Our family is attempting to transition to a more paleo-friendly diet and I found this really helpful.

Fried pickles at A Beautiful Mess, because who doesn’t love fried pickles??

Also at A Beautiful Mess, Three Super Healthy Salads.  Because months and months of no sweets = new food choices necessary.

For Fun:

I’m going to make these Washi Wildflowers from Girl in the Garage with Ava.  They are so cheerful and I love that they won’t ever wilt.

So.  Funny.  From Jen Hatmaker, Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.  This made me laugh out loud.  Truly.

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So there you have it!  Those were my favorite blog posts from the week.  What are you reading these days?  Have you discovered any new blogs I need to check out?  I would love to hear from you.  I hope your weekend was fantastic and that the coming week is full of sunshine and joy!

If you haven’t already, subscribe to Rachael Gathers and get posts delivered right to your inbox!  You can do that HERE!

 

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Gathering Self Control (and an announcement)

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It was one of those rare days when I went to bed having accomplished all I wanted to accomplish during my day.  I spent time with an old friend, played with my kids, read scripture, spent time in prayer, connected with my husband, cooked a healthy dinner and walked/jogged over three miles.  I felt healthy, happy and connected to God and his purpose for me.

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When I gave up sweets for Lent, I lost 9 lbs.  After a few days of serious withdraws, it was smooth sailing.  I didn’t crave sweets anymore, and I naturally started making healthier food choices.  My head felt clearer, my body lighter and my spirit edified.

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Yesterday I had a talk with Ava about spiritual growth.  We discussed how once you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, it is our responsibility to nurture the spiritual man in order to experience spiritual growth.  We talked about the fruit of the Spirit being evidence of that growth.  We pulled out a list of the fruits of the Spirit and I asked her to mark the three she felt she needed to work on developing with the help of God.  #1?  Self-control.

Join the club, sister.

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Last year I was talking with my pastor-brother about how I struggle with discipline.  His response was basically something along these lines….. “Rachael, the root of the majority of our problems is lack of discipline and self-control.  Join the club.”

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I think of Paul’s words to the Romans…..

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.  For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate……. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members…..”

I highly recommend studying Romans chapter 7.

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So, here I am, making a declaration.  I know that my works do not save me, as I know that my righteousness is as filthy rags before a holy Savior.  However, I also know that there is something powerful in denying the flesh and feeding the spiritual man.

I am cutting out sweets and soda for the remainder of the year as a small part of my plan to deny my flesh and feed my spirit.  

I am doing this for many reasons.  I am a sugar-addict.  I want to be healthier and I want my family to be healthier.  Cutting out sweets has proven to radically change my diet for the better.  Cancer and heart disease run in my family.  Diabetes runs in Jimmie’s family.  I am reading more and more about the long-term dangers of drinking soda.  My friend just had a baby and is attempting to lose the extra baby weight and I want to be supportive.

Mostly, I am doing this to deny my flesh, making room for my spiritual man to grow.  Through prayer and fasting, I want to be an example to my daughter of what the fruit of self-control looks like when developed.  I fear I have been a poor example to her.

So far I have five other adults joining me.

I am making a little wiggle room, in order to remain flexible.  I will allow myself one day a month to eat sweets if I so desire, mainly for the purpose of enjoying holidays (4th of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas).  I will occasionally use sugar in my coffee, I will allow myself to occasionally eat Nutella and syrup on my pancakes and I will use honey to sweeten smoothies and such on occasion.  Otherwise, no soda, cookies, candy, cakes, shakes, pies, ice-cream (yikes!), cupcakes, and anything else obviously considered to be dessert.

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Does anyone want to join me?  Maybe for you giving up sweets wouldn’t be difficult or meaningful.  Maybe it is television, social media time, potato chips, smoking, alcohol, inactivity, or something else entirely.  But maybe you feel a nudge to deny the flesh and feed the spirit?  I would love to have others on this journey with me.

Even if you don’t join, would you mind sharing what you would give up IF you participated?  I think it would be a positive activity for me and all of my readers to identify some of the areas in our lives where we lack self-control.

And forgive me in advance if you cross my path in the next week or two.  This fast starts tomorrow.

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Recent Posts:

What I Gather About Roads

I Gather A Prayer for Zion

A Gathering of Links XI

A Gathering of Links XI

We are wrapping up a three-day weekend here in the Rennard house.  It was spent almost entirely at home, which brought much-needed relaxation and family time…. not to mention all of the spring cleaning and yard-work we finished!

I have been experimenting with my new camera and more with Photoshop.  The following photos are from the last week.  No editing was done other than cropping and making them sepia.  Can you tell I love my new camera? I have so much to learn, but am having such a great time in the process!

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We have blooms on our peony bushes as well! Peonies are my favorite flowers. My step-dad gave me three of his bushes two years ago. Last year I didn’t have any blooms. This year? Two. Our hope is that next year we will have an abundance of blooms. The two we have are gorgeous.

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Now, what you have been waiting for! My favorite links from this week!

My most popular post of the week was:

What I Gather About Myself as Mom – Thanks for all of the positive feedback.  I appreciate your honesty and the grace you show to me when I open myself up to you!

Spiritual Reflection:

Windbag speeches:  The Cruelty of Talking Too Much from Brian Zahnd

At A Deeper Story, When God Feels Like an Abusive Father

For Fun:

Because sometimes you just need satire in your life…. A Great Gatsby Book Report by a Kid Who Only Saw the Movie.

Book Love:

At Modern Mrs. Darcy, 2013 Summer Reading Guide.  You have to subscribe to the blog to download the reading guide, but it is so worth it!  I rely so heavily on book recommendations before reading anything new.  Having someone put together a list like this makes my reading life so much easier!

Food Love:

Because who doesn’t love Loaded Nachos?  From Pioneer Woman

Friends Who Blog:

My dear friend over at Becoming Whitney always makes me smile and motivates me to get crafty!

Jen at Girl in the Garage amazes me with her DIY projects!

Mindy’s words are beautiful and lead me closer to Jesus… at How to Mend a Broken Life (follow her on Pinterest, too!  Her boards are GORGEOUS!)

And finally…

I don’t usually recommend TV shows, but I just finished season 2 of Call the Midwife.  It is warm and touching and grapples with issues of motherhood, poverty, gender roles and service.  If you are going to watch anything this summer, watch this!  It is free on Netflix, can be watched for free on PBS online, or can be ordered on Amazon.  My understanding is that the show is based on the journals of a midwife in London in the 1950’s.  Her journals have been turned into a trilogy of books, so I will be reading the books soon!

What about you?  What have you been reading lately?  Have you watched any good TV shows or movies?  I would love to hear what is happening in your world.

(Subscribe to Rachael Gathers HERE)

 

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What I Gather About Myself as Mom

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I laughed a little as I wrote that title, for several reasons.  Do any of us really have all of the answers about motherhood?  And if anyone does have all of the answers, surely it isn’t this 32-year-old with two children under the age of ten.

And yet the subject of motherhood has been on my mind a lot lately.  I recently spent a week away from my family, returning just in time for Mother’s Day.  I must confess, I felt a little torn while I was away.  I missed my girls every day, but I also felt an overwhelming peace, just having some time to myself, some time to breathe.  And that feeling of peace, having space and time to breathe?  It made me feel a little guilty.  Upon some self-reflection, I came to two conclusions about Rachael as mom that I will reluctantly joyfully share with you.

1.  Rachael is selfish.  Motherhood has a way of showing me 1,000 times a day, in ways both small and large, just how selfish I am.  Many days, my first thought is of how I wish my kids had slept longer so I could sleep myself.

When I want to write, Isabel wants to play with me.  When I am reading, Isabel needs her 13th drink of the day.  When I am taking a bath, Ava bangs on the door.  When I want to go out on a date with Jimmie, I can’t because there isn’t anyone to watch the kids.  I want to go hang out with friends but Isabel has to get in bed.  And on and on and on and on it goes.  

Let me just be straight with you.  My kids are six years apart for a reason!  I loved being a mom from the start, but I also daily got a glimpse into my own selfishness when I had Ava.  I was young, clueless and ALWAYS FELT INCONVENIENCED.  That’s not easy to admit, but it is the truth.  So I waited until Ava was fairly self-sufficient before I considered bringing another demanding human being into the world.

Let me try to make that last sentence sound better…. Because of my awareness of my own selfish inclinations, I felt it would be best for any future children to not have my attention constantly pulled in two directions.  Better?

Before I draw some conclusions about my selfish nature, let me get into the second conclusion about myself as mother…..

2. Rachael loves fiercely.I fell in love with both of my babies the moment I laid eyes on them.

With Ava, I have always been amazed at her outgoing nature, leadership abilities and her brain.  I stare in wonder at her face, amazed that God allowed us to be the parents of such an exceptional human being.

Isabel has always been my baby, my baby, my baby.  I hold her close, remembering that God promised her to me.  She is a gift, heaven-sent, to bring joy and love into our home and the world.

They are my girls and I love them the way only a mother can.  You better believe that if someone tries to hurt them I will throw rocks at them show up to defend my babies.  My love for them is constant.  It surges in unexpected ways that astound me.

And so I am confronted with this dichotomy of selfish Rachael and loving Rachael on a daily basis.

Until I realize that God is in it all.

God knows my innermost being.  There is no character flaw that is hidden from his probing gaze.  He knows the deepest, darkest places of my heart.  And yet…. he sent these children into my life, knowing that in spite of my humanity and selfishness, I would love them unconditionally.  This very combination of selfishness and love is what transforms me into a better mom and ultimately a better person.

I am selfish but I love my children.  In order for me to demonstrate that love effectively, I must confront my selfish nature daily.  I must allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate the darkest places of my heart so that the heart I show my girls is full of love and the light of a savior.

Jesus uses me as an instrument to point my girls to him.  Jesus also uses my girls as an instrument to point ME to him.

There are days motherhood brings out the worst in me.  I find myself yelling or grumpy or angry or resentful.  I’m sorry to say these days happen in my house.  However, I see how over time, God has chipped away at my selfishness and I am transforming into a more giving, generous, loving, forgiving, graceful and compassionate person.  Motherhood has been that vehicle of transformation and I thank God that in his grace, I am slowly becoming the kind of mother my girls deserve.

Maybe I will get there before they move out.

What about you?  What has motherhood taught you about yourself?  If you don’t have children yet, what scares you about motherhood? What vehicle, other than motherhood, has God used to transform you?  I welcome your feedback and HOPE I’m not alone here!

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Have you missed any posts?  Here are the most recent:

A Gathering of Links X

Langstons Gather

Gathering my Thoughts on Man in 8D

Langstons Gather

I spent last week in New Jersey with my cousins who pastor a pretty awesome inner-city church.  They started it about ten years ago with little outside support and the help of only one nephew.  The church is growing and thriving now, with over 250 in weekly attendance.  I love receiving updates from Tanya about how many were in service or how many were baptized.  My intention was to write a blog about how fantastic Tapestry Church is.  I have been there a few times, and love the authenticity of the people and the pulse I sense.  It tells me the church is alive and tuned in to the presence of God and the purpose of God.  They have a great team of leaders working with them, supporting and inspiring the Langstons and devoting themselves to the mission and vision of the church.

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Image Source: Joy Langston Photography

But that is all I’m going to say about Tapestry Church.  That is another post for another day.  Instead, I am going to brag about Tony and Tanya…. because sometimes you just have to give honor where honor is due.  Sometimes when you are moved and challenged by someone doing the work of the kingdom, you have to say so.  This is me saying so.

This is how the Langstons gather.

1.  The Langstons gather people together in their home.  I have never met anyone with an open-door policy like that of the Langstons.  Their home is the hub for meetings, dinners, social activities and weddings.  They have hosted countless services, prayer meetings, counseling sessions and leadership meetings.  Their furniture, refrigerator and carpet pay the toll.  They have had NINE people live in their spare room in the last ten years (including my niece currently).  Their neighbors drop by and are welcomed.  Young people from the church show up and are greeted with open arms.  And you know what?  I have never heard them complain about it.

I long for this type of community.  Here in the suburbs, it seems like a miracle if I can get to know the names of my neighbors.  Yet the Langstons have shared the love and gospel of Jesus with countless neighbors and a large number of their church members have come from their genuine connections with these very neighbors.

2.  The Langstons gather ideas, knowledge and experiences.  My brain spins when I am around them.  They are constantly discussing how to improve their effectiveness.  They have a mission and they gather every possible resource to help them accomplish that mission.  They attend conferences, read books, listen to sermons and push one another to grow as leaders.  Tony and Tanya have been successful in seeing their church grow by many standards, but they are not satisfied.  They celebrate the growth, but are always quick to say how far they have to go, how many they have to reach.

3.  The Langstons gather people to Jesus.  I am so moved by their genuine love for people.  Tony and Tanya aren’t doing this exhausting work to make money, build an impressive church or gather accolades from their Christian counterparts.  They are in it because they desire to gather people UNTO Jesus.  Their mission field is saturated with real people who have real, heartbreaking stories.  The people they gather tell stories of abuse, drug-addiction, prostitution, violence, divorce, abandonment, depression and hopelessness.

Yet because of the persistence, compassion and love the Langstons have for their city, and by the faithfulness and power of God, these stories have turned into lives full of hope, healing, restoration, deliverance, peace, unity, commitment and freedom in Christ Jesus.
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Image Source: Joy Langston Photography

Their job is messy.  Many of the people they love and reach have issues I may never witness in my privileged suburb.  It is often a thankless job.  It is a job that faces much scrutiny and criticism from the Christian world.  Their methods are questioned.  Their dedication and commitment to doctrine are questioned.  Their job is all-consuming and never-ending.

This is the work of Jesus, my friends.  They are carrying a heavy cross to walk this path with Jesus.  When I see their ministry, I see the Great Commission being carried out with grace, compassion and an abiding love.  And while their job isn’t easy by any means, it is rewarding.

They are seeing lives transformed by the power of God.  They are experiencing tangible, sustained growth.  They live with an authentic community of believers.  They are seeing their purpose fulfilled.  They are reaching a FIRST-GENERATION of disciples.

Their passion is exhausting, yet I am inspired.  I feel like I received a holy gift last week.  I saw a glimpse into the lives of people who are truly gathering people to Jesus.  I am changed by it and I thank you, Tony and Tanya, for your unyielding commitment to the purpose God has laid before you.  I thank you for being a shining example to me of what it means to spend a life for the cause of Christ.

What I Gather About $5,200 and Braces

I am ruined.

I think that phrase probably merits an explanation, so here goes.

A few months ago we took Ava to the orthodontist for a free consultation, knowing braces were in her future.  Sure enough, we were told Ava has a particularly serious lack of space in her mouth, not to mention a major cross-bite.  The cost for an expander and two years of braces?  $5,200.

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I am ruined because in the months since realizing we would spend $5,200 on braces, my brain has been thinking of all the things we could do with $5,200.

We could buy a church in Cuba.

We could sponsor 12.38 orphans in Uganda for a year.

We could sponsor one orphan in Uganda for 12 years.

We could help our friends in Cuba improve their home, or just buy them a new one.

We could pay for a family we know to get caught up on their house payment and not lose their home.

We could buy 346 chairs for churches in Cuba in need of seating.

We could surprise my cousin’s church in Jersey City with an offering.

We could buy a couple mopeds for pastors in Cuba without transportation.

I could give an offering to a friend wanting to adopt.

My friends, I am ruined.

It has been a process getting to this place of ruin.  My dad was always generous with his money, supporting missionaries all over the world.  I have seen poverty in Cuba.  I know how $5,200 can bless a Cuban church.  I have talked to my friend Linda about the starvation of kids in Uganda.  I gave up shopping for a year.  The Holy Spirit nudges me nearly every time I find myself thinking I “need” something.  I am ruined.

On top of all of that, I am uncomfortable with the societal pressure to look perfect.  I don’t want to send the message to Ava that she isn’t good enough, that her appearance is so important to us that we will spend more money than we spend on practically anything on “fixing” it.

And yet… I don’t want her to go through life judged negatively because of a not-perfect smile.  Girls and especially teenage girls in the U.S. face enough pressure as it is.  I certainly don’t want to contribute to what will surely be feelings of inadequacy in her teenage years by not getting her braces.

Then I think of Sarai, Ava’s friend in Cuba.  She is one month older than Ava and just as precious to God and almost as precious to me.  I think of what Sarai worries about.  Sarai deals with an empty belly when her parents are low on money.  Sarai has a lymphatic problem in her leg which causes it to swell 2-3 times the normal size.  Sarai rarely has shoes that are comfortable for her to wear on her long walk to and from school.  Should Sarai have a severe toothache, her tooth would most likely be pulled.  She has no hope of a perfectly straight, gleaming white smile.  Yet Sarai is happy, content, loved and secure.  Sarai loves and is loved by God.  For Sarai, perhaps that is enough.

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Yes, I am ruined, but I don’t want to be any other way.  I never want to go back to my calloused indifference.  I never want to go back to thinking that where my money goes doesn’t represent where my heart is.  It matters how our family spends $5,200, and at the end of the day, I have to give an account to God in prayer for the kind of steward I am.  If I want to be held accountable for every dollar I spend, I certainly must be held accountable for spending 5,200 of them.  Ava has her braces, but the money was not spent lightly.

Oh, I recognize the risk I take saying this out loud.  It is a risk because I am setting myself up to be judged.  Every new outfit, every car, every home, every purchase I make has the potential to be judged by those around me.  Yes, this makes me uncomfortable.  But surely I must recognize that God sees every purchase I make, whether you do or not.  His opinion matters and let me just say it, matters more than yours.

I am ruined and that is because children are dying of starvation.  I am ruined because all people do not have access to clean water and medical treatment.  I am ruined because my brothers and sisters in Christ suffer.  I am ruined because people are dying without hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  I am ruined because people in my own city are going to bed hungry.  I am ruined because someone I know may lose their home.  I am ruined because a friend lost their job and doesn’t know how they will pay their bills.  I am ruined because the gospel message has not been preached to every tribe and tongue.

And ruined I will remain.

What about you?  Have you had any experiences that have left you more aware of how you spend your money?  What process do you go through when spending large amounts of money?  Is prayer involved?  What is the most rewarding thing you have done with your money?  I would love to hear your feedback!

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What I Gather about Chelsea

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Becoming an aunt at age 11 has some advantages. Sadly, having nieces and nephews in my life now, while preoccupied with my own marriage, children, home and job, often means I don’t spend much time with them. Chelsea was a different story. I had always been the baby of the family, so when Chelsea was born, I was beyond thrilled to lavish my attention and affection on her. I mean, how cool is it to have a niece at age 11? We were always pretty close. I loved her from the start.

In November of 2011, Chelsea was coming back from a three-month stay with missionaries in Poland. She was 19 and not quite ready financially to get her own place, yet felt too old to move back into her parents’ house. Naturally, loving her the way I do, I offered her a room in our house. Thus began the 16 months of living with Chelsea.

On Sunday I am driving her across many states so she can start a life in Jersey City. It has been sad watching her pack and make plans for a life that won’t include me as much. I have grown accustomed to our chats, laughs, outings and fun. So today, in honor of Chelsea, I present to you….. WHAT I GATHER ABOUT CHELSEA.

1. Chelsea is fun. Maybe that sounds generic to you, but it means a lot to me. I take myself way too seriously most days and Chelsea has, well, helped me to lighten up. She is always smiling and laughing. There is no human on earth I would rather watch a funny movie or TV show with. She laughs from her heart, abandoning all self-awareness in whatever comedic moment is happening. Don’t underestimate this quality. I wish I had it. She brings genuine light and laughter to any situation. I would say this quality will serve her well in the harsh realities of life.

2. Chelsea is kind. I’m not turning a blind eye to her faults, people. She can be judgemental. Just ask her about our “red light” game sometime. However, I truly believe she has a kind and loving nature. I have witnessed this most when watching her interact with my children. Chelsea has lots of friends and social engagements, but when Ava or Isabel ask for one-on-one attention from her, she gives it freely. I have watched the way she whole-heartedly loves my kids and the kids at the preschool where she works. She doesn’t with-hold her love, but gives affection freely.

3. Chelsea listens. This one was a struggle for us. Chelsea came into our home with some questions and let me just say it, some issues. It hasn’t always been a smooth road for us, but once I recognized that my approach mattered in dealing with Chelsea, we crossed some pretty monumental barriers. When I approach Chelsea in love, she listens to what I have to say, even if she doesn’t agree with me. We have had so many long talks late into the night, discussing God’s plans for her future. Those talks, though not always easy, always left me feeling encouraged about her destination. Her path may not be the path I would have chosen, but I believe her destination will be the right one for her.

4. Chelsea dreams. Sometimes I have been the reality check for Chelsea with her big dreams, but I don’t ever want to stifle this part of her nature. If she is able to season her dreaming nature with responsibility and hard-work, there is no telling what dreams can come true for this girl. I think so often we are so full of reason that we talk ourselves out of the beauty of our dreams. Chelsea has huge hopes when it comes to her relationships, working in foreign places, seeing the beauty of the world and her walk with God. I believe this explains the spark in her eye and the joy that radiates from her. Her dreams are big and beautiful.

5. Chelsea loves God. I have never doubted this about Chelsea. This is a credit to her parents, her upbringing at a great church and to a God who is relentless in his pursuit of Chelsea. She has hit some rough spots along the way. She has had opportunities to lose faith and turn her back on God, but she never has. She has served in her church from a young age, and even now she is planning how she can serve in the church in Jersey City. I don’t know where Chelsea will end up (hopefully close to me!), but I believe with all my heart she will spend her life loving and serving God.

I will stop my list at 5 today. If I’m honest, there are days when I worry about Chelsea. I worry about her heading off to a big city on her own. I wonder if she has all of the tools she needs to thrive and make a life for herself. Yet, right now, when I look at this list, I feel peace flood my mind.

CHELSEA IS FUN
CHELSEA IS KIND
CHELSEA LISTENS
CHELSEA DREAMS
CHELSEA LOVES GOD

She will be the first to tell you she is not perfect, but I don’t know if she could be better equipped than she is with these five qualities. She often jokes that her time in our home should be teaching me how I DON’T want my girls to turn out. Really, though, I would be a proud mom if Ava and Isabel walk into their adulthood with the qualities Chelsea possesses.

So, Chelsea, know that you are loved by the Rennards. I wouldn’t trade this year and a half for anything. You have been like a sister to me a friend. You have opened yourself up to learn the lessons you were intended to learn while living here, and I have learned from you. You will be missed. Not the messes you leave everywhere you go, I won’t miss that. But I will miss your laughter, your sincerity, your big dreams and your love. Please know that you will always have our love and support and can always consider our house a second (or third) home.

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A (Re)Gathering of Faith

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At a time when I should have been praying about petty fights with friends or asking God for a pony, I was interceding for my dad’s life.

As hard as I try, I can’t seem to remember pre-cancer days. I have scattered memories of short-lived remission days. Mostly, though, I remember the days of cancer. Lymphoma was an integral part of my childhood vocabulary, along with chemotherapy, radiation and phrases like “two months to live.”

And oh, the prayers.

Maybe there was a night here and there when I didn’t pray for healing and health for my dad, but I don’t remember those carefree nights. In the forefront of my mind are the nights of pleading and begging, with a voice or in a whisper, with dry sleepy eyes or with the tears of a child.

There are so many stories to tell of those nights. Stories of angels in my room or the closeness I felt to my comforter. Stories of loneliness and fear, intermingled with stories of faith and hope.

But the story in my heart today is the story of the after. The story of a prayer unanswered and a father buried along with the faith of his daughter.

 

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My brother became the pastor of the church when Dad died. A revival had been scheduled before his death and it was decided to move forward with the special guest speaker. Evangelist S. was a friend of my father, of our family and of our church. My guess is that in the midst of church-wide grief, the leadership was desperate for healing and hope. So he came. And this 16-year-old was there.

It was surreal walking into those church doors those first few months. I saw Dad everywhere. The church building was my preferred context in which to place my dad (beats a hospital any day) and the building of that church had been his life’s work. Yet, in I walked, sitting as though I hadn’t been shaken to my core.

That minister preached a masterpiece of a sermon. He remains the most captivating storyteller I have ever heard. As was customary for this particular minister, he began to pray for people after his sermon. I am Pentecostal, and it is not uncommon for Pentecostal preachers to call someone out for prayer in front of the congregation. He asked if anyone was sick and began laying hands on people to pray for them.

I don’t quite know how to describe how I felt in those moments. Just try to imagine with me….

*16 years old
*Father was just buried
*9 year battle with cancer
*Thousands of prayers for healing
*Sitting in father’s church
*Minister praying for the sick

A flood of grief enveloped me. A cloud of sadness rested on me. An anger burned inside me.

And then it happened. A kid from our youth group had raised his hand, saying he was sick with a cold and had a terrible sore throat. Evangelist S. called my name, staring me down with penetrating eyes. Our conversation went a little something like this:

S: Rachael, stand up.
(I stood, tears already flowing)
S. Rachael, do you believe God is a healer?
(My world is shaking under my feet. I don’t know what I know. I don’t know how to respond. I don’t know. I want to scream. I want to run. I sob)
Rachael: (through broken sobs) Yes.
S: Rachael, do you believe God can heal Alex RIGHT NOW?
Rachael: Yes.
S: Rachael, I want you to step out of your seat, lay your hands on Alex and pray for healing.

I know what some of you are thinking. I have thought it myself. What Evangelist S. did could have been considered cruel. He could have inflicted further damage on an already broken girl.

And yet….

I stepped out, laid my hands on Alex and prayed. I prayed for healing and Alex said his pain vanished immediately.

Evangelist S. is one of my heroes. Yes, what he did that night could have been cruel. But that is where the HOLY SPIRIT comes into play.  Imagine with me for a moment what he must have felt in that moment, when the Holy Spirit led him to call me out, a girl he knew and loved in a deep ocean of fresh grief.  Imagine what faith and trust he must have had in God to obey in that moment.

The reality is that I was at a crossroads that night. I was on the verge of losing faith. My father died and I felt something had died in me. My father was buried and I felt my former life had been buried with him.

But hear me now….

My father had been resurrected to be with Jesus and I had to experience a resurrection.  I was confronted with the most basic and yet the most important of all questions….

Do you believe God is who he says he is?

The question was posed and I answered from the deepest, truest place of my being.

Yes, God is healer.  Yes, I believe.

My journey didn’t end that night.  I continued to deal with overwhelming grief and still have days when grief overcomes me.  But from that night forward, I knew what I knew.

I know God loves.  I know God heals.  I know God is worthy of my trust.  I know God is who he says he is.  I know it today.  I have never forgotten.

Evangelist S., I thank you for listening and responding to the Holy Spirit.  I thank you because it was a pivotal moment in my life and I took a step in the direction of faith and have never looked back.  I thank God for his abundant love, reaching out to me at my point of desperation…. posing the most difficult yet most essential question of my life.  My answer was, is and will continue to be a resounding “YES!”

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Me, with my Dad, not long before his death.

Much Love,

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