Half a Decade

My sweet, itty bitty baby boy turns five years old today and he is no longer a baby boy.  Instead, he is over 4 feet tall and it pains me to say/realize that I can’t pick him up much longer. He has grown physically, mentally, and emotionally so much in his short life.

When I think about myself in those terms‚Ķ I have also grown and changed so much in five years. Physically, I’m way smaller than I was after I had him (thank goodness ūüė≥ūüėā) and I’m stronger (probably from trying to pick up a 50lb+ kid). Mentally, I’m much more laid back and go with the flow.  I think having a boy chilled me out a bit. I still have anxiety but very rarely is it about being a mom. Sometimes I suffer from mom guilt but I try to keep things in perspective and know that extra screen time isn’t going to hurt him (I hope).  Emotionally, well, it depends on the day. Some days I feel confident and happy and others I feel incompetent and worried. I guess some things may never change.  

Over the last five years, I’ve been blessed to make many mom friends. We have banded together to love each other’s children and support one another. The hundreds of weekly texts checking in with one another, praying for one another, cracking jokes and offering support are invaluable. It truly takes a village to raise a child and I’m grateful for such a solid one.  I’m also grateful to have a wonderful husband who happens to also be a fantastic father. He picks up the pieces where I’m unable. He rounds out JB‚Äôs life in so many ways. When I want to helicopter parent, he nudges me to let JB‚Äôs independence shine. For the most part, we make a good duo.

Motherhood definitely changes you. It makes you patient, crazy, happy, sad, calm, and stressed‚Ķ often at the same time. You learn to be flexible. You can’t control nap times, illness, diaper blow outs, or separation anxiety. But, life is more fun having this precious little boy in our lives to keep us on our toes‚Ķ even if there is less sleep than before.

Today, I’m grateful for the little boy who made me a mom, his dad who loves us both so much, our families who are always cheering us on, and our friends who are full of nothing but love and support.  

love, brooke

2017 VBS Missions Wrap Up

Last week, our wonderful church hosted Vacation Bible School for 250 children.  It was a great week filled with music, crafts, science, story telling and recreation!  The children learned that they can be (super) heroes for God by studying leaders from the Bible.

I was lucky enough to be the mission donations coordinator.  My job consisted of choosing organizations to support and determining which donations they needed most.  Then, I compiled this list into a schedule for the week.  Each day, the campers were encouraged to bring in specific items to donate to that day’s ministry.  As donations came in, they were sorted, counted, boxed and then delivered to each ministry.  We collected cash & coins all week and my awesome youth helper counted and rolled that money each day.  I also had the pleasure of announcing at the daily closing session how many items the kids had donated that day.  It was a really fun week!

In an effort to highlight some of the organizations we supported, I wanted to share a bit about what was collected and who will be receiving it.  I was able to visit a few of the ministries to deliver the donations and was able to see first hand what wonderful things they are doing to serve our community!

FullSizeRender (17)Monday

Items Collected: 595 Children’s Books

Organization: Smart Lunch Smart Kid at Grace UMC in Midtown

http://actionministries.net/locations/atlanta/programs/

Delivering the donated books at Grace UMC was a full circle moment for me.  About 20 years ago, my church confirmation class (from Augusta) stayed at Grace UMC on our confirmation retreat.  We camped out in sleeping bags in a few of the Sunday School class rooms.  Fast forward 20 years, and I got to revisit this church as an adult.  

Grace UMC is located on Ponce de Leon- a major thoroughfare for Atlanta. ¬†It is a quickly growing area with the new, shiny Ponce City Market close by and all of the boom of the beltline. ¬†It also happens to be surrounded by a homeless community, a government funded housing project, and low income senior tower apartments. ¬†Grace does a wonderful job supporting these communities through programs, meals, prayer, and worship. ¬†One ministry- the Women’s Community Kitchen- serves lunch during the week. ¬†It’s guests are roughly comprised of 1/3 lower income seniors, 1/3 homeless women, and 1/3 families from a local government housing apartment complex. ¬†It is very inspiring to be around a church that physically serves its neighbors- in it’s own facility- with so much love and encouragement.

During the summer, the ministry team participates in the Smart Lunch Smart Kid ministry that serves meals to children who receive free or reduced lunch during the school year.  If it weren’t for these summer feeding programs, many children would go without lunch.  The smart component is to provide books for summer reading.

I was a bit hesitant to take the almost 600 books to them- thinking that it might be overwhelming or they may not all be needed.  Boy was I wrong!  When I arrived, youth volunteers helped unload my car and then immediately started sorting, organizing and putting the books on their shelves.  These books will be distributed to the children coming to eat lunch throughout the summer.  The director said that their goal is to distribute 5 books per child.  Research shows that five books over the summer will prevent the summer reading slide.  With 700 families living nearby in the government apartments, they will easily distribute the 600 books from our VBS plus will need many more.  So glad to see the books going to such a great effort.  Praise God!

IMG_2481Tuesday

Items Collected: Over 800 toiletry items

Organization:  Mountain View & Wesley Woods

http://www.mountainviewpch.org/

http://www.wesleywoods.org/branantowers/branan-towers.html

Both Mountain View and Wesley Woods are low income senior residential facilities.  Many of their residents live on less than $1,000 per month and are on food stamps.  Unfortunately, food stamps do not cover personal items like toothbrushes/paste, toilet paper, shampoo/conditioner, soap, or other similar items.  As we all know, these items can be expensive and are always needed.  

Both organizations were so grateful for the donations!

FullSizeRender (16)Wednesday

Items Collected: 3,069 Diapers & 2124 Wipes

Organization: United Methodist Children’s Home

http://www.umchildrenshome.org/

Anyone with a small child can tell you how expensive diapers are these days.  This was the one item I was a bit worried about people donating.  BUT, I was BLOWN away by the amount that God brought in through the VBS campers this day.  Totally OVERWHELMED.  The piles and piles of diapers just kept coming.  We completely ran out of boxes to put them in.  This was TWICE as many diapers that were brought in the previous year of VBS donations.

The UMCH provides a large sleeve of diapers each month to their foster families.  This is to help off-set the expensive cost of diapering a child.  VBS campers helped over 60 families with all of their diaper donations!

FullSizeRender (15)Thursday

Items Collected: 400 lbs of canned foods + laundry detergent + baby wipes

Organizations: Caring 4 Clarkston and Toco Hills Community Alliance

http://www.tocohillsalliance.org/

This was by far the most physical day I had of volunteering at VBS!  400 lbs of food for our church’s Clarkston food pantry!  I worked on my muscles by hauling, sorting, boxing, and wheeling heavy boxes to storage.  Yes, it was a lot of work- but it was so awesome to see how much God provided for these two ministries!

Caring 4 Clarkston is a monthly food pantry that our youth group staffs and runs in Clarkston, GA.  Clarkston has a large refugee population and we are happy to help support the community through non-perishable foods and baby supplies each month.  The donations included pasta, mac n cheese, canned meats/fruits, pasta sauce, and a wide variety of many other pantry items.

Toco Hills Community Alliance is a fantastic, well run organization.  They provide a hot lunch 4 days a week and have a large food pantry that allows guests to choose their own groceries.  In addition to canned goods, they often supply fresh fruits/vegetables along with meat productcs.  THCA also has a well organized clothing closet and provide utility financial assistance for those living in several zip codes.  We donated laundry detergent and baby wipes to them through these donations.  I was told that laundry detergent is always needed (not provided through food stamps) and baby wipes are always needed too.  Many of their guests use baby wipes as a way to bathe.  

While I was at THCA, the director said something to me that really stuck with me.  She was talking about how she is limited to who they can serve (guests must live in one of 15 zip codes).  She said if it were up to her, she’d serve anyone who needed anything because the gospel does not limit who can be served.  

FullSizeRender (14)Friday

Donated: 221 pairs of socks + 150 first aid supplies

Organization: OGUMC Mobile Soup Kitchen & Mercy Community Church

https://mercyatl.org/

Y’all, I think this is the coolest ministry.  On Friday afternoon, members of our church load up a van with pre made sandwiches, snacks and a giant cooler full of soup and head to midtown Atlanta.  They wheel this food around along Ponce de Leon Ave and serve folks at several different spots.  When I think of Jesus living in Atlanta today, I would imagine him out serving lunch along this route.  A wide variety of folks are fed- homeless, day laborers, and drifters- but anyone is welcome.  It doesn’t matter who you are, you get a meal if you are hungry.  No matter if it’s raining, sweltering heat, or freezing cold, this group heads out to serve their community.  Isn’t that just the coolest?

Many of the guests who frequent this mobile food kitchen are always in need of new, clean socks.  They often have cuts, blisters or skin irritations that require simple first aid treatment.  These donations will go to help just that!

———

I loved serving as VBS missions coordinator!!  I wish I could do this once a month instead of just once a year.  

Thank you to all the VBS families who donated items and/or coins!  Thank you for being God’s hands and feet on this earth.  You have blessed so many as a result of your generous hearts this week!

learn & love, brooke

 

Smart Lunch Smart Kid Devotional

This weekend I was invited to a beautiful, catered affair…. An afternoon book club at a friend’s gorgeous home.  It was a special book club because the author of the book was there to lead the discussion.  To start the conversation, the hostess asked us all to go around and introduce ourselves and say a fun fact because many of us had never met.  The first lady owned a catering company, the next was a former Miss USA competitor, the next started a prominent charity, the next was an attorney, the next was in a top 10 music video, the next was a surgeon… you get the picture.  Then it was little ole me’s turn.  I could not think of one thing nearly as fantastic as what all of the previous women had said about themselves.  I felt so out of my league!

Yesterday, when I was telling my sister about the experience, she quickly reminded me of how I spent last week- volunteering with VBS.  I had the wonderful job of organizing the mission donations for the week.  Each day I was overwhelmed by how much God provided that day.  The campers, AKA God’s hands and feet, brought in 600 books on Monday, 800 toiletries on Tuesday, 3,000 diapers on Wednesday, 400 lbs of canned goods on Thursday, and 221 pairs of socks on Friday.  All of these donations were delivered to 7 organizations in our community to serve those in need.  Now, when I think of VBS, I can remind myself of how much God used me to do his service.  I can find comfort in knowing that God made me, honed my skills, and then allowed opportunities for me to use the gifts He gave me.  I may not be a surgeon, Miss US nor an attorney- but in God’s eyes, I am just as powerful for His Kingdom.  This has been a great reminder to me that I need to look at God for His approval and not myself or others.

As we make lunches today, not one of us does it all.  We may be the only person putting the sandwiches in ziplock bags… but before we even touch that sandwich, several other hands have already purchased the supplies, delivered them, set them up, and then made the sandwich to hand to you for the bag.  Every single one of those jobs is just as important.  Without each of them, the next could not occur.

This is just like the body of Christ. ¬†Romans 12:4-5 tells us ‚ÄúJust as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.‚ÄĚ ¬†To me, this is a complicated way of saying that we all have strengths and skills. ¬†Some of us are leaders, others are doers, while others are organizers. ¬†Some of us think about logistics, others try to make things speedy and efficient and others are cheerleaders. ¬†All of these skills are important when trying to accomplish a common goal.

As I think back on the missions donated at VBS, I think about how everyone doing a little is what accomplished SO much.  No one person brought in 1,000 items on their own.  No two people brought in 500 items on their own.  Instead, everyone pitched in some and with the sheer force of our numbers…. Everyone doing a little made a WHOLE lot.  We each contributed to the Body of Christ to do His work and serve so many more than we ever could individually.

So, today, as we each do our ‚Äúlittle‚ÄĚ job in this big process of SLSK‚Ķ don‚Äôt forget that each part is just as important as the rest as we all work together to feed others as the Body of Christ. ¬†Give thanks to God for giving you your skills and bring Him joy by continuing to use them to further His Kingdom.

Prayer:  God, thank you for bringing all of us individuals together today to form your Body.  Make us mindful of the gifts you have given us and how we can share them with others.  We pray your blessings over these meals and the homes where they will be enjoyed.  Allow this food to be a physical nourishment but also a spiritual reminder of Your love.  Thank you for using your people to recognize a need and use your Body of believers to address it.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

Diagnosed

The waiting game seems so long and never ending. The wasted doctor visits, pointless meds, and crossed fingers have gone on for far too long.

After 4 months of misdiagnosis, today, I finally received a diagnosis. It’s not a wonderful diagnosis but to have it is wonderful. I like finite. I like plans in black and white.

My prayer over the last week has been for a diagnosis. I was terrified of more biopsies and tests. I wanted this to be the end of my diagnostic period- not the beginning. I was at the point that I didn’t care what it was- just give me an answer.

I didn’t realize how much emotionally that I had riding on a diagnosis. But after I talked to my doctor on the phone, I couldn’t stop the tears. Tears of anxiety and joy streamed down my face. I had been so ‚Äústrong‚ÄĚ over the last few days. Patiently waiting for the news and not expecting it til next week. ¬†Once I finally received it, all emotional bets were off. The waterworks were on.

And then, life seemed brighter. Like I had been viewing the sun with sunglasses on. The diagnosis was me taking off the sunglasses. Everything around me is brighter. More colors, happier and bigger. I want to live more full.

This incident is another reminder to me of how much I take life for granted. I take my health for granted. Oh, I’ll do that eventually. Oh, I’m in good health, I can do that whenever I want. This was a scary/great reminder that life can be short. We have no guarantees, so don’t live like we do. I’m thankful that my issue is minor in the grand scheme of medical issues. My heart goes out to those who go through months and months of tests waiting for answers. It’s such a long and frustrating process.

I’m also grateful for God answering my prayer for diagnosis. ¬†Is it a medical issue I want? ¬†No way. ¬†Is it something that is easily treatable? ¬†Yes. ¬†Is the medication covered by my insurance? ¬†Yes. ¬†Are these all things to be grateful for? ¬†Yes.

I realize I’m just starting the journey of dealing with this chronic issue but I’m choosing gratitude. ¬†I’m going to continue praying that I’ll be successful with treatments and get back to living my normal life. ¬†It would be easy to focus on the negative- why me?? ¬†Why this? ¬†But instead, I’m focusing on gratitude of a diagnosis, excellent healthcare, good insurance, and access to meds.

I’m taking advantage of happy hour this evening. Cheers to living life to its fullest!

live & learn, brooke

Ouch

This month has been filled with doctor appointments, co-pays and urgent care visits for my family.  In total, we have seen one nurse practitioner and seven doctors!!! Our ailments have been all over the place. I’m tired of waiting rooms, doctors, and filling prescriptions. Today, I wrapped up a month filled with health issues with an unplanned, painful biopsy. Before you stress, know that I’m going to fully recover but am just tired of feeling like a pin cushion.

Whenever I’m over something and feeling down, I take stock in where I should be grateful. Today, I’m thankful for good insurance, quality healthcare, and supportive friends/family. Life is always going to have ups and downs. I’m trying my best to find some ups even when I’m most down.  

Prayers during difficult times also help lift me up.  Obviously, I’m praying about my situation but also feel the prayers of others.  Even though it can be uncomfortable to share your burdens with others, I’ve learned that true friends don’t mind at all.  They will happily lift you up in prayer and cheer you along in life’s journey.

What helps cheer you up when you are down?

live & love, brooke

Heavy Burdens

Today, I have felt weighed down by the concerns of close friends. Two friends have loved ones in the hospital and are unsure of when/if they will get to come home. Other close confidants are traveling for major work projects that will have long, impacting decisions to be made during them.

I have been carrying these concerns with me since last night. I tossed and turned all night and found myself praying all night as a result. My body wishes it could do more… perhaps something physical to help my close friends. But, all I can do is pray. That makes it sound so minuscule when I know it’s not. Lifting these situations up in prayer is helping take the burden off my loved ones.

At one point today, I felt it was all too much for me to emotionally carry… so I asked for help. I asked my close friends to also be in prayer for these situations. And do you know what happened? My load felt lighter. Sharing concerns with believers helps unite us all and understand how we can all help make one another’s burdens less heavy.

So friends, when you feel you can’t carry anymore- ask for help, ask for prayers or ask for encouragement. True friends will consider it an honor to help you carry your burdens. They will feel honored that you trust them enough to cover you in prayer. In return, you will feel less cumbersome and more at peace.

learn and love, brooke

Uncomfortable

A year ago, my Sunday school class did a wonderful Lenten study called 24 Hours that Changed the World by Adam Hamilton. It completely changed the way I looked at the events leading up to Christ’s death. The part that stands out to me, a year later, was learning about the physical cross. For instance, I knew that Jesus had two stakes in each of his wrists/hands but I did not know there was a seat. The seat was a cruel trick, though, because it was lower than where it should have been to sit comfortably. It teased those hung to it to lower their body to rest on it- but as a result caused more upper body/pain stress. The other image that shocked me was Jesus had his ankles staked to the sides of the bottom of the cross. He was 100% exposed- unable to cross his legs to cover his most private areas. To say that he must have felt uncomfortable was an understatement.

Those images and thoughts were running through my mind yesterday, on Good Friday, and I am reminded that one of the biggest reminders of the cross is to be uncomfortable. But how much of our lives do we spend being comfortable- with our relationships, homes, church, finances, and other pleasures? Being comfortable is easy. It allows us to rest well, not feel awkward, and be able to put our best foot forward. We know what to expect, how to manage it, and how to act. That makes life easier and much less uncomfortable.

But when Jesus was on the cross he was uncomfortable. He didn’t know what to expect, how he was going to feel, who was going to laugh at him, nor what would happen when he died. His picture on the cross is the exact definition of uncomfortable.

God calls us to be uncomfortable with giving of our time, money, conversations, and resources.  He needs us to be His hands and feet on earth doing His will.

What are you doing to push yourself outside of your comfort zone? If you don’t have a quick answer, then I encourage you to pray for opportunities to seek being uncomfortable. God will show you so much about Him in this process and cause huge growth in your faith life as a result. I promise it’s worth it.

I say all of this not to be preachy but instead as a testament of my experiences with God. I’ve experienced being uncomfortable … joining a new church, starting a monthly ministry, writing this blog, being in a leadership role I didn’t feel equipped for, “preaching” during a communion service, and spending time with refugees who don’t speak the same language as me… just to name a few. But I still have a long way to go. I always want to be growing and pushing my comfort zone when it comes to my faith. I pray that you will join me in these efforts so we can all reap the benefits of being uncomfortable.

love and learn, brooke