Friday, December 30, 2011

Looking Back to Look Ahead

Not two days after I had printed, stuffed, & stamped my Christmas letter for this year, did we get the phone call from corporate office at Chick-fil-A.  Joey got THE job!!!!  His dream since he first applied to Chick-fil-A after graduating from Kennesaw State University in 2000 was to work on staff.  Back then, they saw a young face, fresh out of college with not quite enough experience to suit their needs.  Joey knew God had called him to work for Chick-fil-A, so when they said, "How about becoming on operator?"  He swallowed his dream, and said, "Whatever it takes.  This is the company for me."

And so began our 10 year journey as Chick-fil-A owners/operators.  In 2001 we got married and, he moved from operating a Chick-fil-A inside a Kroger with about 6 people on staff including himself, to a run-down mall in Chattanooga when chicken prices were high and he worked open to close some days to keep labor low--he also actually ran a profit out of that store, and that's saying something.  Next stop (2004) was his first free-stander chance in good, ole' South Cobb.  He took over after another operator, and during those years, we experienced our greatest blessing financially; we also were DINKs during that time (Double Income No Kids); nevertheless, his performance at that store warranted his receipt of a brand new store four  miles down the road.  So in 2007, with our first baby on the way, he birthed another baby of his own, his chance to prove himself and create a store that had his name on it.  A real chance to show Chick-fil-A what Joey Durham was made of.

And he did.  He fostered a staff that respected him as a leader, that we loved dearly, and who treated his customers with care.  He developed systems and ideas that worked well, and he earned the respect and loyalty of his business minded customers.  Yet, he still felt God calling him to more.  He always feels God calling him to more, and I love that about him=)

So in 2009, with our second child on the way, he followed God's direction again and started the MBA program at Mercer University.  We buckled down, became super intentional about our family time and life, argued often, took lots of deep breaths, and stayed bowed at the feet of our Lord, clinging to His ankles for life support.

In November of 2010 the dream opportunity came into focus.  You see throughout these ten years, Joey never lost sight of nor the desire for the dream of a staff position at Chick-fil-A, and believe me, I saw him beg in tears many a time for God to remove that desire, and He never did.  It seemed that now, the time was ripe.  Business consultant positions were coming available, and people were talking about Joey's desire.  And so the long, thirteen-month interview process began.

We couldn't talk about it for LOTS of reasons, but for the entirety of 2011 we have been nose deep in prayer and patience and waiting and hoping.  For thirteen months, my husband interviewed on and off with different individuals at the home office for varying positions.  I'm not joking when I say I lost track of the number of interviews after about twenty had taken place.  For 13 months, my husband served as VP of the Atlanta Marketing Board trying to fix a budget and influence change into the heart of a market all while keeping a free-standing store running at top speed that was experiencing exponential growth in sales all while under the scrutiny of home office employees because why should they hire him for staff if he can't even run a good store? For 13 months, we road the roller coaster of interviews and waiting, while he also managed to finish the last three semesters of his MBA, which anyone knows are always the hardest, and all the while, my husband supported me, loved me, and was there for our family.

Oh, there were times I felt his absence both physically and mentally, but God was so good to fill in any holes in our relationship with Himself, and believe me when I say He is more than enough and all we both needed.

So when Joey got the phone call at 5pm on Wednesday, December 14th, 2011 to formally accept an offer from Chick-fil-A corporate to become a financial consultant for the southwest region, we were ecstatic!!!!  The waiting was over, the answer was clear, a new adventure would finally begin!!!  A new chapter to be written!!!!

A. New. Chapter. To. Be. Written.....Thursday night after we received the news and reality began to sink in, I cried myself to sleep and woke up Friday morning still crying.  For two nights I had had horrible snake dreams, and I had to admit to myself that I was scared. to. death.  Scared of change, scared of loosing my husband to travel and long work days, scared of losing my quality time I've had with him for 10 years, scared of losing the flexibility and unlimited vacation days we've had for 10 years.  Scared of starting over and arguing about his phone usage and time he would be getting home all over again.  Scared this new job would interfere with his relationship with his children.  Scared that with the reality of his dream, our family would pale in comparison, that I would inevitably, in time, lose my husband completely.  Just plain scared.

And that morning he laid in bed with me, on a Friday morning (the busiest day of the week at his store), and he held me while I cried.  He set the kids up with Pop Tarts and a movie and crawled back in bed and kept holding me while I cried.  He was there for me, always has been, and I trust that will never change, but more importantly, as I dried my eyes and finally crept out of bed around 9:30am, I found myself clinging with all my heart to the truth this last year has taught me, the only truth that will carry me through the rest of my life, through anything....

I believe it took 13 months for Chick-fil-A to hire Joey not because they had any questions about him, but because God needed those 13 months to teach me that I need to need Him more than I need to need Joey. And I'm ok with that.  When I breathe in the truth of this statement, I can freely breathe, I can relax, I can trust, and I can move on and keep living life.  Joey's new job isn't so scary.  Raising two kids in a messed up world isn't so scary.  Being alone at night while Joey travels isn't so scary.  Because I need God more than I need anyone else in this world.  I know that now.  That's the lesson 2011 has taught me.

And this lesson did not come easy.  It came by laboring over God's Word and seeking for Him.  It came through countless conversations with my husband.  It came covered in tears and questions.  It came during tense moments, periods of doubt and double-guessing, and long days of simply doing the next thing.  Doing the things that I know God commands like loving others, fellow-shipping with other believers, giving to those in need, serving the Lord in how He leads.  This lesson came while I was doing life for the Lord.

It was no grand epiphany.  It was no moment of AhHa.  It was waking up one morning and realizing that I no longer coveted my husband's time and attention for myself.  I coveted the time and attention of my Father in heaven, and for Joey, I wished nothing more than that God would use him to impact the lives of other leaders, men, operators with the God-given influence the Lord has gifted him.

And this lesson of needing God more than I need anyone or anything is a lesson I will keep having to learn.  I'm not going to live each day to the fullness of this reality, but I can confess and move on and reclaim the victory I have in Christ.  I can depend again and lean fully again and let go again after I inevitably take the reins again.  There will be more lessons in life to learn, but this one is a milestone.

In the first of this year, I accomplished a huge goal, then found myself in a strange place trying to piece together all that God was teaching me.  Look back at those links, near the bottoms of those posts, see what I wrote and listen to where I am now in this post.  No one will ever be able to convince me that God doesn't work in our lives!!!  I have written proof and account of His sovereignty and plan as the Great Weaver of all things Good in our lives.

Am I still scared?  Absolutely.  No question.  But I choose to focus on all the good God has lying ahead for our family.  I will look past all that I perceive I'm losing, and look forward with gratefulness to all that God is doing and will do.

"Thank You Father that Joey got this job; that he gets to live his dream!  So few men in life get this opportunity.  Thank You that You have gone before us, and that You will provide the time and adventures for our family.  Thank You that my husband will be home every Saturday for the next 10 years because that has not been part of our lives.  Thank You that this lifts an unseen burden off the shoulders of Joey, so that he can live a longer, fuller life by Your blessing.  Thank You for each opportunity you will provide Joey to reach the lives of other men & operators.  Thank You that my children will see a living example of hard work and perseverance in their father.  That they will see it always pays off in full plus some, even if 10 years  of perseverance must go by before the realization of their dreams.  Thank You for making Yourself fully present in my heart and life as to fill the gaps I knew would be there and will be there.  Thank You for trusting us to be good stewards of yet another journey with You.  Praise Your Most Holy Name!  Amen!"

What is it, my friend, that you dream? desire?  Have you offered it up to the Lord?  If it's still there, He hasn't taken it away, do you still work for it?  Do you persevere to do the things you know you must do now to achieve all that you dream of then?  Never give up.  Never lose sight.  Never lose hope.  Look back to see what the Lord has done and look forward to where He will take you!!!

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Christmas Letter 2011

Ok, so in case you didn't get one of these, here it is=)  I apologize to anyone who feels slighted...I simply ran out=)  If you did get this, scroll to the bottom for an addendum=)

Dear Family & Friends,                                                                                                     December 2011

This year I find myself writing with a full heart and in an overflow of gratefulness.  God has truly shown Himself good to our family this year, and as I write, I believe He’s not finished with us yet because this year still has a few more weeks left in it! ;)

This year Weston turned two and with adenoids removed and a new pair of ear tubes, I feel like my little boy just came to life over the summer.  He is so much fun!  And funny too!  He keeps us in constant stitches and giggles with his “Ahhh man” comments and other little man quips.  His dry humor, only understood through his still broken speech, just adds to his adorable smile and mischievous ways.  He’s learned to keep his sister in check, and the two of them play so well together; it’s truly heart-warming and an answer to prayer.

Savannah turned four this year, and I have been amazed and so grateful for her sweet attitude, caring heart, and helpful hands.  She is very capable and independent, but deeply concerned for the well-being of others as well.  I have enjoyed watching her little heart for God grow over this year.  She still can’t explain what it means to ask Jesus into your heart, but she adamantly claims that she already has.  I look forward to the day when she can completely understand and walk the aisle in baptism professing what I already know is deep at work in her heart.  Is that day not the completion of the best a parent can hope for?  A great answer to so many prayers?  I am expectant and so grateful to a God that works in our lives even as children.

I have kept busy with a long list of things this year among which I include the completion of two half marathons, one sprint triathlon, a Warrior Dash, and a Muddy Buddy Race.  I have fond memories of each, and I look forward to what this next year may hold for physical challenges.  I also was able to begin Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) in January, and I cannot say enough about the Biblical principles and spiritual growth I have experienced through this study.  The spiritual growth I’ve seen in my children through their children’s program is even more amazing, and it’s all free!!!  I highly encourage anyone searching for something solid and straight Bible to check out their program.  On top of this, probably the best decision we have made as a family this year was to join Burnt Hickory Baptist Church after the first of the year.  God has truly, deeply blessed our socks off through the ministry, people, and friendships we have made here.  I feel like we have finally found a church to call home for the next long season of our life, and I am beyond grateful for this blessing.

Joey officially graduated with his MBA from Mercer University in August of this year, and I cannot be more relieved to have that behind us, but more importantly, I am so proud of my husband.  He finished this degree while enduring the regular day-to-day difficulties at his store, weathering a pregnant wife and birth of a second child, and all the while managed to be there every time I needed him.  He stressed, but it never put a huge strain on our marriage, and I never felt neglected in the two and half years this took.  He is truly an amazing man of God with a great future ahead of him.  I believe God is already in the works to use him for His mighty purposes to bring glory to His holy name.  I look forward to the adventures 2012 holds for Joey because I know God is just beginning to use his leadership of our family for great things.

And there you have it, the year in review, in a nutshell.  All praise to our heavenly Father who chooses to give His good and perfect gifts!  We are so unworthy, yet still He is faithful.  What a mighty God we serve.
May this season of celebration grace you with an expectancy in your life of all God is capable of accomplishing in just today and even more so in the tomorrows to come.

“May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

Merry Christmas Everyone!
Joey, Jennifer, Savannah, & Weston

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Because I Said So"

I have been participating in Bible Study Fellowship for over one year now, and it is changing the way I view life because it is opening my eyes to the pages of Scripture like I have never seen before.  God is meeting me daily in the pages of His Word. He is fitting together pieces of my spiritual puzzle.

This year, in the book of Acts & Hebrews, He is sewing together the Old Testament and the New.  Explaining the old covenant, so I can better understand the new covenant Jesus set in place by His death and resurrection.  I am finding answers to age old questions that have been deep in my heart.  And let me be honest, I've been in church and been a professing Christian since I was four years old.  There have been seasons in my life where I seriously wondered was there anything more?  Is there anything new God can teach me that I haven't already read?  I mean, I've read the Bible through cover to cover at least ten times or more.  I am constantly reminded of good things I need to remember, daily instructions for living I need to be prompted to apply.  But something new?  Fresh?  Mind altering?  I've read it all before, and yet....

God is still surprising me by blessing my socks off with the depth of what is in His Word!!!
I mean, I've read Hebrews a thousand times.  My life verse comes from this book of the Bible (see signature below).  But this year, under this style of structured study through BSF, I am understanding Hebrews.  God is lifting a veil off my eyes of understanding, and people, I am REJOICING in the words I am reading!!  What a mighty God we serve!

But let me tell you is HARD WORK.  I am laboring over study questions, begging God to give me the right answers, and He is faithful.  (Just another fine example of how hard work and perseverance pays off ten times more than taking the easy way out, but I digress, this is a soap box for another day for the audience of a younger generation=)

So in our small group this past week, one of the more seasoned ladies in the group, throws her hands up and sighs, saying, "You know.  I am doing the best I can with these questions, but sometimes, I just want to write down the answer, 'Because God says so.' Isn't that what our parents always said? Sometimes that just needs to be good enough."

I found myself biting my tongue and squirming in my seat a bit.  Right then was not the time or place to take issue with this respective elder over what I thought.  You see, I have always had an issue with this "because I said so" answer.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I have given this answer to my children before, but a majority of the time, I have given this answer out of exasperation, frustration, lack of time, energy, or let's be honest, my own knowledge on the subject matter.  As a parent, all of these are wrong motivations for giving this answer.  As a child or younger adult receiving this 'because I told you so' answer backed by these motivations, I always found myself indignant, frustrated, and ready to buck the system.

When a child asks a question, 'because I said so' shouldn't be the go-to response, but only the answer after careful consideration.

'Because I said so' is the answer you give when the answer is too mature for the child's understanding, when the child is in danger and a prompt response is required, or when the answer to the question can only be learned through trust and experience--faith, not basic knowledge, a character building moment.  These are just some examples as to when this answer is acceptable.  Because sometimes God asks this of us.  Sometimes He sits on His throne in heaven, and we cry out, "Why God?!  Why obey?  Why love this person?  Why go here?  Why do that?  Why?!!"

And in the moments when He needs to teach us to trust Him to have faith in Him and His work, He says, "Because I said so."  And we either submit to His will and are blessed, or we rebel against Him and are hindered.  Hebrews 11 is a whole chapter of people who did things just because God said so.  Abraham probably being the best example of them all.  He followed God into the desert, never knowing a permanent home his entire life.  He was willing to sacrifice the son promised by God, and I'm pretty sure (someone, correct me if I'm wrong), I can't find a single place in the Bible where he asked why or what or how or when.  He just went, and I guess God really never had to say "because I said so," but in a way I think Abraham probably implied it.  And Abraham's faith was credited to him as an example of great righteousness throughout God's Word.

And then there are the times when life is too mysterious, too overwhelming, too much, and we cry out, "Why God?!!  Why did this happen?  Why did you allow this?  Why?!!!"  And we in our state of despair, and our weak state of emotion, clarity clouded, we cannot handle God's answer right then.  His wisdom would be too much for us to bear.  So in His wisdom, He says, "Because I said so."  And He pulls us close in comfort, and He allows time to pass and wounds to heal before He begins to open our eyes to the real answer to our question.

Don't you know Job had to feel this way?  Except, here's a perfect example of a man who cried out to God with many questions and got many answers in return.  God isn't afraid of our questions, nor do I believe the questions themselves anger Him, but it is the attitude behind our questions sometimes, our true motive that can cause us to sin.  Don't you know the difference between your child's heart-felt, inquisitive, seeking questions and his or her petty, sarcastic, or ridiculous ones?  Doesn't God?

I am finding that more times than not, when we ask God questions, He gives us answers.  His Word spells it out for us.   Why obey?  Why share?  Why spread the Good News?  Why believe in Christ? Why be content?  Why not covet?  Why not lust?  I could continue to give a long list of examples, but I'm hoping people are following me here.  Moses asked lots of questions.  He gave lots of excuses for why he shouldn't serve and do the Lord's will as well, but ultimately God has an answer for every excuse he gave, even to the point God burned with anger against Moses, but He still answered him. (Exodus 4:13-14)

So God answered and will answer a lot of questions when asked.  If my parenting is to be a shadow, a picture, to my children of how God interacts in our lives, then I need to answer my children when they ask real questions because most of the time God answers me.  I need to give them a logical, a scientific, a reasonable, or most importantly a Biblical answer to as many questions as I can, even if I get to the point of burning with anger.  Unfortunately as sinful, human parents, this is the point where most of us sin and begin screaming or ignoring or throwing out the "because I said so's"; God in His infinite perfection can burn with anger, answer us, and still not sin.  Amazing.  Yet He WILL answer.

Because what I'm finding in life is there is a reason for everything.  God is not a God of chaos--spontaneity (or what we perceive in our limited human view as spontaneous), maybe, at times, but not of chaos.  So if nothing is chaos then everything has a purpose to fulfill a reason to be.

So when my children ask me questions, I always try to give them an appropriate answer.  Yes, I might have to take a deep breath and roll my eyes and try to explain something that is completely over their heads.  But it's an answer, and a correct one.  Yes, indefinitely, I often have to look at them and say, "I don't know.  I will have to think about that and get back with you."  But at least that is an honest answer.

It's not unusual for a conversation in our house to look like this in one thousand different forms:
"Savannah, please go get your coat on."   "Why Mama?"  "Because it's cold outside, and I need you to obey me."  "Why Mama?"  "Because the Bible says children need to obey their parents because this is the right thing to do.  God will bless you."  "What is 'bless' like Mama?"  "Bless means to make God happy.  He will smile on you." Careful look of thought crosses her face.  "OK, Mama."  And off she goes to put on her coat.  Were we late and rushing out the door?  Yes.  Did everything inside of me scream to say "because I said so!"? Yes!  Would I have missed a teachable moment?  Most definitely.  Does this happen all the time every time in our house?  Unfortunately not, but if my children seem to bug you with their questions sometimes, it's because I do try my best to answer them.  To teach them.  Because the only real gift I can offer my children is my time and attention, and if I can't give them that, if other things, places, and people are always more important, then I feel I have missed my personal calling with my children.

And then, on that teachable occasion when my attitude is right and the question arises where the answer is too mature or too much or my child's attitude is inappropriate or the question is petty, sarcastic, or ridiculous or the circumstance begs for immediate obedience in that moment, I can calmly and firmly answer, "Because I said so."  And my prayer is that my children trust me because I've proven faithful before to answer all their other questions, I pray that in this moment, they trust and obey that Mama knows best, and maybe later when the time is right, she will explain the reason.  Or maybe I won't, and they will have to be OK with that too.

You see, God is so busy in my life right now, answering so many questions in my life through His Word, that I believe when a time comes, and I turn to Him and cry out, "Why Lord?!", and He answers, "Because I said so." I will have no choice but to close my mouth and submit to His will because He has proven Himself faithful over and over and over again in so many other ways.  Why not this question too?

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The Best Gift

I have a deep almost urgent desire for my children to not just like to read, but to LOVE to read. To devour words as food. To pour over their meaning as a stream runs over a rocky riverbed. To laugh and cry and feel the words of a text.  This desire sits in the pit of my stomach and stirs an ache in my soul so much that I am constantly looking for signs in my children that this skill is a difficulty, so I can catch and correct it early.

Why you ask? Why such a deep sense of urgency?  Of importance?  

Some might say its because of my own love affair with the written word. Some might say because I am a teacher by degree, language arts being a specialization. Some would point to my home school background.  And each assertion would be truth, and up until this morning I would have asserted any of those to be my reasoning as well.

But this morning, the Living God met me in His Holy Word, and His presence overwhelmed me to the point of tears.  

His ultimate blessing of Jesus Christ is doubled by the gift of His Holy Inerrant Word.  Tripled by the blessing of the Holy Spirit, but that's another post for another day=)

If my children cannot read, they cannot devour the holy words of our Lord for themselves.  I ache inside for the illiterate--people of all ages--who are made powerless and ignorant by their inability to read.  The same is true in our own spiritual walks, we are powerless and ignorant when we choose not to delve into all God has to offer in His Word.  Every question is answered within it's pages--every question.  You just have to study and look and pray that the Spirit opens the spiritual ears of your heart.

I NEED my children to read, and read well, because I NEED my children to know and see and hear and feel and taste the power of the One True God within the pages of the Holy Bible--and to do all of these things well.

So what do I do about it?  If I do nothing else right in a day, I read to my children before nap time and before bed time.  It's a non-negotiable routine in our home.  We read all kinds of stories because their bookshelves are loaded with timeless children's classics (secular and non), books of meaning to family and friends, books for fun, books for learning, books about God, books about nothing at all.  They get to choose which books we read, and no matter how bad a day it's been or how neglected I may have made them feel up until this point, they get Mama's undivided attention for these 15-30 minutes a day.

Like Jesus' mother Mary, these are the moments in my heart I will store and ponder and treasure.  Good days, bad days, sunny days, rainy days, weepy days, and days of laughter--all stopped for a moment's time with two little children on either side of me, propped up on a bed full of pillows pouring over the gift of words and imagination and truth and of the bond between a mother and her offspring.  These are the moments.

As mothers, we all have our strengths and different dreams for our children.  Your strength may not be reading like it is mine.  It may not be an all-consuming love.  You may prefer music or movies or conversations or playing together.  All valuable in their own way, but please, I implore you, value the written word as well.  Don't just hear the teacher in me talking, begging on behalf of all the sixth graders I taught who couldn't read much less write a complete thought on a page.  Don't just hear the writer in me that adores each letter of the alphabet and the endless meanings they can bring to mankind.  

Hear me in this advice as a child of God, a sister in Christ, who has learned and continues to learn the power and revelation within the pages of the Bible.  Even if you HATE to read yourself, make the sacrifice for your own children because the gift of God is the best and most eternal gift we can give our children.  And God lives and breathes and moves between the pages of Genesis and Revelation, and when you look up from those words, suddenly He lives and moves and has His being in everything around you, surrounding you completely.  What better gift can you give???

More tips for encouraging reading:
1) Decorate your home with books.  Even if you never read them, just the presence of books on a shelf displays value and importance.

2) Make reading accessible.  Our bathrooms are filled with magazines, which yes, are still considered and promote reading even if they aren't Ivy League reading material although the Harvard Business Revue comes pretty close=)  Every room in our house has access to something to read.

3) Decorate your walls with Scripture, words, meaningful quotations.  You can't help but read them, and one day neither will your children because they are there for you to see.  Think about how many times you've read the decorative plaques, etc. in your parents' or grandparents' homes.  You have them memorized, yet you still read them every time you see them.

4) Read to your children.  Read anything they ask about.  Billboards on the side of the road, traffic signs, road names, instructions, directions, recipes, the side of the cereal box.  If they ask, take the time to read it to them. Read it to them even if they don't ask.  Read it to them even if it seems silly or unimportant or a waste of time. 

5) Read passages straight from the Bible to your children.  I started reading out loud to my children in the womb, but purposefully at the age of 1 year.  It's not a waste of time.  Even if they don't understand now, they will understand later.  Think about how many times you've had to read the same passage of scripture before it sunk in and you really understood what it was saying.  Get your kids an early start on the number of times they've heard that passage=)

6) Have fun!!!  School will come along soon enough and the "have to" of reading will drown out the fun.  Instill the fun now, so that your children know some reading is for work, but there is reading out there that is for pure entertainment.  Life is a balance of what we need/have to do and what we enjoy doing--build the fun now before the not-so-fun begins to take over=)

7) Maybe the most important, make sure your children see you reading yourself.  If all they ever see is their parents watching a television or computer for entertainment, then that is what they will learn to value and look to for entertainment and eventually their entire intake of information.  Read a newspaper in the morning.  Stop and read your mail in front of the kids.  Read a book outside or by the pool while they play.  Even better, let them find you reading God's Word and praying, spending time with the Lord.  That will leave an impression they will not soon forget.  I know I haven't.  Thanks Mama.  Thanks Daddy.

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