Life in Progress, Part 4: To be continued…

If I had written the final post in this series last week, it would undoubtedly sound different. That’s because grief is a beast, and there’s no instruction manual for this particular situation. It’s also because I learned a valuable lesson, one that I’ll share before this post ends.

If you haven’t read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 in the Life in Progress series, I would. I just think the story makes more sense in order.

I ended my last post explaining that I decided to chase my mom’s story, which meant John and I were going to Oregon. I questioned the choice a hundred times before we actually left. I thought maybe it was too “Lifetime movie” of me to get on a plane and fly to a city I’d never been before, to go interview friends of a woman who, let’s face it, I really didn’t know. I mentioned my idea to a friend who said I had to go, and as the days went on, I told more people about my plan. Not only were they encouraging, they were taking care of the details.

Since having our first child 12 1/2 years ago, John and I have never been anywhere, overnight, without the kids. Flying to another state was a huge stretch for me. This was a milestone trip for several reasons.

As I prepared to leave, I made some phone calls. I spoke with my mom’s pastor, who organized a breakfast meeting with several of her friends. I was given all the details of where her ashes were spread. I was encouraged to attend her favorite Sunday service at church. Her people were helping me in the midst of their grief.

I was still reeling from the loss and all of the unanswered questions when John and I left our four babies with dear friends to fly to Portland.

It was late when we arrived. A friend’s husband works for a rental car company and set up our reservation. All I had to do was pay our charges and get the keys. As we waited at the counter, my physical and emotional exhaustion began to consume me. I noticed the agent stop what he was doing and lean closer to the computer, with his hand over his heart, and read notes on the screen. Eventually he looked at me and whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Little things like that happened the entire weekend. Friends making sure I was cared for, and Jesus showing me His love.

20150710_134532_001On the first full day of our trip we went to Newport, Oregon. There’s a lighthouse there, and a heart-shaped cove where sea lions gather. It’s surrounded by a wall of craggy coastline, and you can feel the wind fill the entire space. That’s where my mom’s ashes had been spread less than three weeks before. I waded into the water, and cried.

The next morning at a restaurant, I met my mom’s pastor and his wife, along with five of her close friends. They asked me a lot of questions, some of them hard, some of them out of curiosity. They said my mom spoke of me, but they didn’t know a lot about the estrangement.

I have reversed the roles so many times on this journey. If I had passed, and my mom had shown up in my town, how would my friends react? In light of that, I was very, very careful. They knew her so much better than I did, and they had just lost their dear friend. But they were so gracious. They cried with me and prayed for me. They shared funny stories and hard stories. They recounted my mom’s final days and her deep desire to live. They said she was known for her eclectic fashion, her heart for widows, and her propensity for saying exactly what was on her mind. She also loved crepes with strawberries and whip cream. That came up when I ordered the exact same thing; it’s my go-to when eating out.

John and I have spoken often of the people my mom was in community with. They are solid, Bible-believing, faith-filled lovers of Jesus. Not only did God honor my prayer to surround her with Christ followers, He surrounded her with people who are passionately pursuing Him. They were perfect for her.

Before leaving for the trip I’d mentioned to the person handling her estate that I would like her Bible, if possible. I thought of it often in the days leading up to the trip. I told several people that I didn’t want to leave Oregon without it. When the representative emailed back and said that her belongings couldn’t be distributed at that time, I was disappointed.

As I sat among her friends at breakfast, John asked her pastor whether he was confident that my mom had genuinely found faith in God. He responded, “Without a doubt. She loved Jesus.” Turning to me, he continued, “There’s something I think will help you. It’s a note she wrote in her Bible…I have her Bible for you.”

And I lost it. Right there in that restaurant, I sobbed. Someone pulled some strings, I didn’t ask any questions. I just knew I’d be able to return home with something tangible that pointed to her faith.

John and I spent a lot of time walking around town, visiting bookstores and little shops and historical landmarks. We found an amazing seafood restaurant and spent hours there, two nights in a row.

IMG_20150712_112628On Sunday morning we attended her favorite church service. Before he began the message, her pastor handed me her Bible, showing me the note she’d written inside. It’s too private to share in its entirety, but it does say, “God entered my heart and soul. I feel it in my core like a bolt of lightening…I am God’s plan.” It’s dated March, 2010.

I sat next to my husband, in my mom’s usual seat, at her regular service, holding her Bible, two weeks after she died, 20 years since I’d last seen her, and mourned an amazing stranger who also happened to be my mama. It was a full circle the likes of which I’ve never experienced.

I wish I could tie up this series with a big red bow. I wish I could say she left behind a letter, any explanation at all for the choices she made. The truth is, this story is to be continued in more ways than one. Over time I believe I’ll learn more about her. For the most part though, I think my questions won’t be answered until the other side.

This situation has drilled home the truth that people will always disappoint us. No one on this earth is perfect. No one can be Jesus to us, other than Jesus. I can only tell so much of my mom’s story because I didn’t actually learn about her last years and her faith until after she died. Any kindness toward me I assigned her, I did because I couldn’t stand the idea of her dying hating me, or worse, nothing-ing me.

That’s why I have to stop focusing on her story.

I have to tell my story. That’s the valuable lesson I learned.

I had a mother who fought emotional and psychological demons for most of her life.

She wasn’t the greatest mom.

We parted ways, and it broke the already-broken pieces.

I found the Lord.

I prayed for her salvation for 20 years.

She fell in love with a man who took her to church. Then she fell in love with Jesus.

And for years, neither of us reached out to the other.

I will always wish that the Jesus-loving version of my mom was in my life.

But now I have to move on to the next chapter. I have to face head-on the areas I struggle with on this earth — many of which came from my relationship with my mom — while honoring her faith, and thanking Jesus that He always does what He says He’s going to do.

 

 

 

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Truth Reflected (a spoken word poem presented at Southwest Church, Nov., 2013)

mom-child-walk-425jh101209

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a five-letter word.

M.O.M.M.Y.

I’m not sure what you thought I meant.

I as mommy look different than you as mommy,

It’s not good or bad.

It’s different.

No mother is perfect.

Walk a mile in my shoes,

I’ll drive a mile in your minivan,

and we can meet somewhere in the middle

and quickly learn

that we all birth replicas of our hearts.

They lay in our arms,

Crawl on our floors,

Run through our homes.

Yes, we birth tiny versions of love,

and that is common ground.

Over our swelling hearts we prayed.

In labor we cried out to God.

Through scrapped knees, snotty retorts and missed curfews,

we implore Jesus to help.

So when we walk the aisles of our stores,

and trek through the halls of our schools,

and sit under the roof of this Church,

let us not compare our labels to other women,

since the only thing we know

for certain

is that we serve Jesus and are called according to His purposes.

There is another word.

Not a good one like “mommy.”

It’s four letters.

It stings like the wasp that got me the day I grabbed the hose too fast.

It stings me, right here, every single time.

It’s how I introduce myself,

describe myself.

It’s the reflection I see in a sink full of dirty dish water,

how I define myself when I look into the eyes of my sons and my daughters.

It’s four letters.

J.U.S.T.

I am just a wife.

I just take care of the house.

I don’t work, I just serve at the church.

I am just a mother.

That lie digs deep.

It steals our joy,

and preys on our insecurities.

We are more than just.

So much more.

We are His workmanship.

His chosen ones.

His children.

Tiny replicas of His love.

The sheep of His pasture.

We all gather and kneel at His altars.

We are His.

He owns me and I am totally okay with that.

Also, we are broken.

Hairlines and fault lines and heartache.

Tokens of past mistakes that cause us

to pluck the strings of our hearts

like guitars

and sound a mournful tune of errors made.

So I ask:

How has evilness wrapped its hand around your throat?

What’s your label?

What do you see

as your identity

that makes it so hard to breathe?

A drunk? a user? a cheater? a liar?

A bad wife? Just an okay mother?

Too heavy? Too ugly? Too dumb?

Just so you know,

those are lies.

Every single one.

Forget just.

It’s in the past.

Our past mistakes aren’t even a part of the story reel

that plays today.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away.

We should count ourselves blessed to have friends

who will remind us of that everyday.

So you can stop calling to mind the former things,

or ponder things of the past.

We’re called to let it go,

lay it down.

Not lay it down while you’re wrapped up in it like a blanket.

It’s more like, burn it and run.

Christ is our defender

and tomorrow’s freedom

will only come from today’s surrender.

We are broken,

but our God, our Potter, He makes us whole.

Sometimes He takes us to a place of brokenness

to perfect His work in us.

At His wheel He shapes and creates.

In wombs He knits.

Were created in His likeness.

Oh yes, there are times we feel battered and are left bleeding,

but we are worth more than

the lies.

The lies that say we’re just….insert something here.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay and You are our Potter

and all of us are the work of Your hand.

He designed us to live wholly, without cracks that slice through and leave

pain in their wake.

In the trials that hurt, we have to see God in the mending.

But the wheels come off and

We forget

That our identity is in Christ.

We drown in the comparisons,

putting the focus on our differences

instead of seeing them for what they are.

They are God’s fingerprints.

We are all loved and pursued by Him

Equally.

A new four-letter word.

Free.

It’s on the parchment.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free

so stand firm

against the enemy’s schemes.

Do not let evilness

tell you that you are not good enough.

Do not let the world set your standard

for attractiveness.

Do. Not. Conform.

Be rebellious against the enemy.

It’s his fist that

beats us down,

but our names are inscribed on the hands

of the One who wears the crown.

And I get it.

Life can be boring.

Laundry and homework and meals and toilets.

Just hear this,

the days are long but the years are short.

Until our tiny heart replicas march off on their own adventures,

they are our adventures.

They are our tears of joy and the reason we cry,

“I love you!”

and

“Knock it off!”

in the same day.

We should see them through the eyes of that friend

who always says,

“Seriously, you have good kids.”

They’re a gift.

We are their mothers.

We should all seek to see that truth reflected

in the eyes of our sons and our daughters.

The Assignment: Kylie Bisutti, a model who shed her wings to soar for Christ

Mike and Kylie (courtesy photo)

Kylie Bisutti is a 21-year-old beauty who has been modeling since she was a young teen.

At just 19 she was named the winner of the first ever Victoria’s Secret Model Search and, donning a pair of wings– the brand’s trademark– she walked the runway in the 2009 Victoria’s Secret annual televised fashion show.

After that, her career took off.

She modeled for magazines like Maxim and FHM, usually scantily clad.

Famous photographers snapped pictures of her frolicking in waves in tiny bathing suits.

She had everything she could possibly want right at her fingertips, but by 2010, she’d had enough.

She decided to walk away from the type of modeling that brought her fame and recognition.

Kylie’s relationship with Christ and her relationship with her husband, Mike, were far more important; her body was for Mike’s eyes and no one else’s, she said. 

She shared her decision with her family and closest friends and quietly moved on to modeling more modestly.

Then about a month ago, Kylie came across Live31, a movement that aims to spread the message of Proverbs 31 to men and women. Live31 began with a Facebook status by Alex Eklund, one of the movement’s founders– “I’d rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model.”

Kylie sent Live31 a tweet saying, essentially, “I was a Victoria’s Secret model who quit to be a Proverbs 31 wife.”

She said she felt compelled to share her decision because it fit in so well with the Live31 message.  

Fox News got wind of it and just like that, Kylie was everywhere.

Once again she was making the news. Her face has been splashed across computer and television screens around the world. Recently she’s appeared on Good Morning America, Glenn Beck, CBS This Morning and many others.

This time, she’s using the massive platform to share her faith in Christ.

On a recent afternoon, as Kylie drove through the mountains of Colorado, she and I spoke about her decision to quit modeling lingerie and the positive impact it’s making on her marriage.

She was sincere and humble;  the following are the questions I asked and her candid answers.

Can you give a timeline of your career with VS?

I won the Victoria’s Secret model competition in 2009 and my career catapulted after that. I actually stopped modeling for the company in 2010. That’s when I decided to stop modeling lingerie all together.

When was the exact moment you decided you didn’t want to model lingerie anymore?

There were a lot of things that ended up leading me to the decision, more than one specific moment. I started going to church more and reading the Bible more. Basically it was Christ working in my life and I know everything is in His timing. He has a plan for everything. He used my modeling to bring me to where I’m at now. He showed me I wasn’t honoring my husband or my marriage. My marriage is my most important earthly relationship. When I modeled lingerie, I felt I wasn’t being a Christ-like example.

What is the message behind your decision?

Basically, I think that giving God the glory in everything is the biggest thing for me. He’s really the reason why I’m able to change. I’m just praying that He uses this to help young girls and just show them that they don’t have to dress the way I used to. They don’t have to be half-naked to be beautiful. I’m so much happier finding my worth in Him instead of the attention I was getting before. That’s what true happiness is, salvation through Christ.

How did Victoria’s Secret respond? Have you gotten feedback from the other models?

I got zero negativity from Victoria’s Secret. They’re a really professional brand. I had fulfilled all my contractual commitments with them. I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback from other models. I’ve also received some negative feedback from models, mostly models who think I look down on them for modeling lingerie. I’m not judging them. This is a personal decision for me.

Were you prepared for the media interest in your decision to cease lingerie modeling? What about the images of you modeling lingerie that flooded the Internet and television?

I was not prepared, but I did know it would probably happen. The photos are all out there and online for everyone to see. I can’t control what the media is going to use. It’s a part of my past. It’s a positive thing because people can see where I came from and see where Christ has made changes in my life.

How did your parents feel about your modeling career, particularly with Victoria’s Secret?

They were really supportive. They knew my biggest childhood dream was modeling. My mom is a believer, my dad isn’t. She’s really, really thankful that I’m not modeling lingerie anymore. My dad is happy too.

What was your church-life like growing up?

I wasn’t brought up in any religion and I never went to church. The first time I went to church was with a friend from school when I was 15. I went because the church parties and trips were a lot of fun. When I was 16, Christ truly opened my eyes. I was really depressed when I was younger and after I accepted Christ, I was totally changed. My mom could see it. My brother could see it.

What are your career plans now? Where will you draw the line in terms of what you model?

I’m definitely going to continue modeling, I’m just going to be more discerning with the modeling I do. I would love to speak at conferences for teen girls and at different churches. I’m working on a book about my modeling experiences and finding fulfillment in Christ. My main thing is that I don’t want to be modeling sex. I’ll check to see what message the client wants to get across and if it’s about selling sex, I won’t be taking the job.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I definitely plan on starting my own modest clothing line. A Christian clothing line that’s fashionable at the same time. We’ll maybe have a child by then. I’d like to expand my website and do more speaking engagements at churches. Maybe a second book will be out by then.

You are extremely mature for your age, you also married relatively young. Where does that maturity and confidence come from?

It comes 100 percent from Christ. He’s definitely the reason for all the good things in my life. He’s always molding me and shaping me. I moved to New York when I was 16. I homeschooled online, I was out in the world, going on castings, paying my own bills. I had to grow up faster than most kids my age.

Tell me about your husband.

My husband’s name is Mike. My No. 1 role model in life is Christ, but after Him is my husband. He is the absolute biggest reason I’ve grown in my relationship with God. Mike really does love me like Christ loves the church. He’s in sales, he also does motivational speaking. He’s helped me and shown me so much grace throughout this whole situation. He’s loves God a lot.

I’ve read that your mother-in-law told you about the Victoria’s Secret auditions. How does she feel about your decision to retire from lingerie modeling?

She’s really excited. She’s very thankful. She wrote me an email about how awesome it is and how it must be God doing all the work and how she’s definitely going to church now.

How will your decision to model more modestly impact your children, especially daughter(s)?

I think it’s definitely going to impact them in a huge way. I was talking with my pastor’s wife a while ago about how happy I am that the Lord’s working in my life now so that I can be the right example when I do have children, so that I can show them what true beauty is.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse? If so, what is it? How has scripture helped you through this process?

One of my favorites is Luke 23:34 [But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.] I just love that verse because it shows Christ’s forgiveness and it’s crazy to me that He’s so forgiving and loving. He would even forgive people who were driving nails through His hands and feet. His love for us is beyond words. Reading my Bible has helped bring a lot of peace.

“The Assignment: A closer look at the guys behind the Live31 movement” can be found HERE.

For more information about Kylie, please visit her website at www.KylieBisutti.com.

The Assignment: A closer look at the guys behind the Live31 movement

Alex Eklund had no idea that a simple Facebook status– “I’d rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model”– would go viral. He says the update was “no different from the thousands of other updates” he’d posted on his Facebook page.

Now, three months later, Alex and four other Baylor University students– Michael Bartlemay, Michael Blair, Jake Cockerill and Matthew Reid– are running Live31, a movement that’s taken on larger-than-life proportions (already their Facebook page has nearly 14,000 followers). 

The movement challenges men to seek out women who exemplify the traits found in Proverbs 31. Women are encouraged to let go of the world’s message that physical beauty is everything and strive to find beauty in God instead. 

Live31 caught my attention because Rebel In Fine Linen was born from the message behind Proverbs 31. The Live31 movement is also growing rapidly and I’m always interested in the people God uses for ministry.

What I learned after speaking with these guys is that they’re on fire for Christ, they’re mature beyond their years and their families did an incredible job raising them.

Also, interviewing them made me feel old.

Because I told Matthew to make sure and tell his mom that she is a Proverbs 31 woman in his life. Because I told Alex and Jake that I’m a mother of boys and it’s my prayer that one day my guys would turn out as Christ-centered as the Live31 guys are.

Mostly, I felt old when I told them I was only 14 years older than them.  They’re 18. Basically, I’m twice their age.

I digress.

The guys took time out of their very busy college-student schedules to speak with me (and in Michael Blair’s case, email me back).

I’m so appreciative.

Below are my questions, their answers and insight into a movement sweeping the United States.

Background:

Alex Eklund; 18. Alex is a freshman; he is majoring in Political Science and Philosophy.

Jake Cockerill; 18. Jake’s a freshman; he’s majoring in Entrepreneurship.

Matthew Reid; 20. Matthew is a sophomore; he’s majoring in Environmental Health Science.

Michael Bartlemay; 18. Michael is a freshman; he’s majoring in Entrepreneurship and Marketing with minors in Political Science and German.

Michael Blair; 19. Michael is the Freshman Class Senator at Baylor; he’s majoring in Public Relations and Political Science.

Q and A:

Since I know people are wondering, are you dating or single?

All: Single

Were you raised in the church?

Alex: Yes. I’ve attended the same church since third grade. We’ve always been very active and I’ve been in youth leadership.

Jake: I grew up in a Christian home but didn’t have a regular church. That’s why my main criteria when I was looking at colleges was finding one that would allow me to grow in my faith.

Matthew: I grew up singing in a Gospel choir and ministering through music. My grandfather, uncle and cousin were and are pastors; church became a part of me.

Michael Bartlemay: Yes. I have a lot of experience with mission trips also.

Michael Blair: Yes, I was.

What is your role with Live31?

Alex: On paper I’m the CEO.

Jake: I’m in charge of marketing.

Matthew: Social media.

Michael Bartlemay: Keeping track of finances, what’s going in and coming out.

Michael Blair: I am Live31’s public relations coordinator.

What does Live31 mean to you?

Alex: The idea behind Live31 is really just an extension of myself. It’s my life pertaining to relationships, it’s my frame of mind and has to do with my own self-image.

Jake: The message is what I live my whole life for. I want to look inward and find a woman who loves Christ more than she loves me. I see people in society not living that way and they’re missing out.

Matthew: Live31 encourages women not to give in to societal things like whether they’re just dressing a certain way to please some cute guy, and encourages men to focus on the virtuous side of women.

Michael Bartlemay: This ministry is my passion because it targets insecurity, which I’ve dealt with personally. It just really bothers me and I want to help fight it. I want to make sure people are pursuing Godly relationships.

Michael Blair: It’s unrecognized service towards the promotion of God’s Kingdom.

What is your hope for Live31?

Alex: We’ve talked about expanding into live media. We’re connecting with up-and-coming performing artists for cross-promotion. We’d like to get our name out there and participate in events and functions. Eventually, maybe we’ll do our own events or conferences.

Jake: I’d like to continue to see people impacted. I want to see people turn to God and stop looking at people just on face value.

Matthew: We’re really hoping to get nonprofit status so that we can take money from donations and T-shirt sales and donate it to other ministries. If we’re able to change one person’s life, we’ve done well.

Michael Bartlemay: We’d like to grow and get nonprofit status. I think our goal is to eventually host events and attend conferences. We’re definitely moving in the direction of building our brand. 

Was there a Proverbs 31 woman in your life who, through their influence, prompted you to create Live31?

Alex: My mom. My mom does so many things for our family. She works and keeps track of the budget. She is such a Godly woman. I also have a good female friend who is always striving to be a Proverbs 31 woman and the two of us have discussed that a lot. 

Jake: My mom, both my parents really. Seeing the relationship that those two had together and how they lived with Christ at the center of their marriage had a huge impact. If I want a relationship to last, I want to do it like my parents have. To see what they’ve gone through and where they are now- they shaped me for my future wife.

Matthew: I don’t want to sound cliché, but my mother was a really big role model in my life. She was a single mom, which was difficult, but she was still able to do so much of what Proverbs 31 describes. She’s a modern-day Proverbs 31 woman in action.

Michael Bartlemay: Both of my parents impacted me. They instilled in a me a respect for women. They taught me to act like a Southern gentleman.

Michael Blair: Yes, my mom and both of my grandmas. All of my grandparents have been married for more than 50 years and my parents have been married for more than 25. They have all shown me what the true meaning of sacrifice and love are.

What type of woman would you eventually like to marry?

Alex: When it comes down to it, I’m just trying to find a person who I can grow in my faith with, someone who is grounded in the Gospel and a person who is willing to take a family in the same direction I’d like them to go.

Jake: I want to marry a woman who I can trust to raise our children. I want a solid foundation for my children’s future, like I had growing up. I want a wife who loves Christ.

Matthew: I’m praying for a wife who really takes scripture and applies it, a woman who doesn’t just believe what her religion says. I want her Christianity and her faith to be her own, not what people told her to believe.

Michael Bartlemay: I want a wife who is trying to become all that she can be in Him.

Michael Blair: Michael answers this question beautifully in a letter to his future wife. You can find that here.

What are some things that have changed for you since Live31 was created?  

Alex: We spend a lot of time working on the movement. On a more fundamental level, we’re under a microscope so we have to be extremely intentional about our relationships. We have to be positive with our self-image.

Jake: We hear people say the movement is amazing and I agree that we are under a microscope now. I really have to make sure that any feelings I may have for someone are for the right reasons.

Matthew: I work on Live31 pretty regularly. People on campus have been talking about it a lot too.

Michael Bartlemay: It’s keeping us all busy. My parents love the movement too; I call them and ask what we should do and how to pay for things. They’re really supportive. We didn’t envision anything like this was going to happen.

Michael Blair: The biggest change in my week to week schedule has been coming up with a creative blog post once a week that blesses others. But its also been great to see just how many people are dedicated to their future spouses and want to honor them even though they may not have met them yet. 

***

You can learn more about the Live31 movement at www.Live31.org. You can support the ministry by purchasing a T-Shirt. Money raised will also go to organizations like No More Tears, To Write Love on Her Arms, International Justice Mission and Rewriting Beautiful– all groups that minister to women who struggle with self-image.

The Assignment: Baptism Sunday at Destiny Church

 

It took some careful maneuvering to get to the front of the sanctuary.

Spotlights lit the band in an array of colors, but the rest of the room was dim.

I concentrated on getting through the sea of bodies without falling or knocking someone over.

When I reached the front and turned toward the huge group, it was obvious that the members of Destiny Church in Indio, Calif. were happy to be there.

The rows were filled with people singing, swaying and raising their hands in worship.

A current of anticipating ran through the crowd.

There were people in every row wearing bright red shirts that said “I did it!”

Appropriate, since today was “I did it!” Sunday, a day organized by church staff for those who wanted to be baptized.

I could still hear Pastor Obed Martinez’s emotionally-charged message as I made my way to the adjoining building where the baptisms would take place.

“Baptism is an outward expression of an inward impression,” he preached in a booming voice. “It’s about making a public confession and leaving the old life behind.”

“Amen!” interjected church-goers.

Following a successful baptism event in October —518 people participated— Pastor Martinez and the staff at Destiny Church were anxious to organize another one.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Martinez said. “These are the largest baptisms in the valley’s history.”

Heading into Baptism Sunday, 167 people had signed up to participate, said Jorge Orantes, executive assistant to Pastor Martinez.

However, they weren’t the only ones baptized today.

A lot of the friends and family members who came to support a loved one during their baptism decided to be baptized too, said Martinez.

Including the estimated 75 people baptized at tonight’s service, approximately 370 people were baptized today, an exhausted Orantes told me over the phone.

The same thing happened during the event in October; the members of the support system see the transformation and want that for themselves, said Martinez.

“When people get up and spontaneously participate in a baptism, it’s a moving moment man,” said Martinez. “It’s so touching.”

Pastor Martinez told me that what he witnessed at the event in October moved him immensely. There were people from all walks of life deciding in the moment to be baptized, he said.

“We had parolees with ankle bracelets getting baptized. They wrapped the device or left their leg out of the water,” he said. “It was amazing.”

I observed the people making their way into the baptism room. Pastor Martinez was spot-on; the people participating were all very different. They were young, old, married, single, parents, grandparents and those with no children. Some were baptized alone, some alongside family. Their common thread was their love for Christ.

Chris, second from left, and Elizabeth, preparing to be baptized

I watched as a couple was baptized together and thought back to my own baptism a decade ago, which happened to be with my husband.  Baptism is an important step for every Christian, but marking that milestone with John by my side made it that much more meaningful.

I talked to the couple- Chris, 29, and Elizabeth, 25. They’re dating. She’s been attending Destiny for two years, he’s been there just two weeks.

“It was time to get the Lord in our relationship,” Elizabeth told me. “It’s our new beginning.”

Chris and Elizabeth, just baptized

Chris smiled at her and added, “The steps we’re taking together have already made a huge difference. What I’m seeing and experiencing, it’s hard to even describe.”

Some might ask why Christ-followers should be baptized, or whether it’s even important.

Pastor Martinez answered that question with a question of his own.

In the middle of a passionately-delivered sermon, Martinez let the room fall to a quiet hush before asking, “If baptism wasn’t important, why did Jesus do it?

Amen.

Time zones and stuff

It’s blowing my kids’ minds that their grandfather, who lives in eastern Canada, is in 2012 when we’re still in 2011. I guess time zones aren’t covered until fourth grade, or something.

This is how my attempt at an explanation went:

Me: It has something to do with the way the earth revolves around the sun and maybe the way the moon makes waves in the ocean.

8 y.o.: That doesn’t make any sense.

7 y.o.: Did you learn that in college?

Me: I studied sociology in college.

8 y.o.: Does that mean no?

Me: It means I studied the way society as a whole, and subgroups within society, function.

8 y.o. to the 7 y.o. as they leave the room: Okay, she’s making that up.  

Me calling after them: No seriously, that’s what I studied in college.

8 y.o. from another room: Whatever mom.

Me (to no one in particular): What the hell just happened?

Anyway, my whole point is…it’s almost a new year! Where the honk does time go?

Every year on Dec. 31 I take the calendar from the year that’s ending and the calendar for the new year and I transfer all the important dates, events that occur annually, birthdays, etc. Knowing this is a tradition, I always put a note to myself on Dec. 31 of the upcoming year. I sit there and think, “I’m going to think back to writing this and wonder, where did the year go?”

Apparently on Dec. 31, 2010 I wasn’t feeling overly creative because I simply wrote, “Again?” in today’s box. Total buzz kill. I wrote a freakin’ novel for Dec. 31, 2012. Not really, it’s a one-inch square, but this time next year I’ll read it and think, “How witty of me! And where did the last twelve months go?!”

2011 was a bi-polar sort of year for my small tribe. My husband’s oldest turned 18 and graduated from high school. That same son performed in his final high school theatrical production, under the direction of his dad. We were able to purchase a home, not the first we’ve purchased together, but our dream home, for sure. Our daughter nearly died. Our daughter survived. We had birthdays, holidays and other special events. We had broken bones- minor and major- and said good-bye to some old friends.

For the most part, 2011 was good to us. Our bills were paid, we have good health insurance, we didn’t miss meals. I’m humbled by the millions who can’t say the same. For all of those people, I hope 2012 brings with it peace and provision. 

I feel the rumblings of big things for my family in 2012. Good things. Times when we’ll find ourselves saying, again, “Thank You Lord!” and contemplating how blessed we truly are. Undoubtably I’ll still have the end-of-the-month jitters (that’s a lack of trust on my part, more than anything else, because God has always provided for us). Summer will make me nervous as I pinch pennies and pray that we get through until my teacher-husband gets his paycheck at the end of September. That same man, my heart, will turn 50. Our oldest will turn 9, his last single-digit birthday. Our oldest daughter will turn 8; I suspect celebrating her life will always be different now. My youngest son will start kindergarten, our baby will start preschool.

Americans will head to the polls. We may see change. We may not.

I hope all of those people who set their projects and dreams to the shelf, take them down, dust them off and have the courage to take the next step. Whatever that step is.

2012 might be the year I finally write my book.

Mostly, I want peace for those I love. I wish for happiness. Life has taught me things don’t always go my way, so I’ll strive to stand on the foundation that God has a perfect plan, that His plan is so much better than mine and all I need to do is trust.

I want to hear about God in the lives of my friends and family. Whether people believe in Him or not, He can work mightily in their lives. Following a whispered prayer, a tearful plea or an angry shout- total silence, even- God can do amazing things. I pray this year is the year that people will let Him.

And may 2012 be the year that the Niners please, please (!) make it to the Super Bowl.

Happy New Year friends.

Me, Kristen and Gray Thursday (because if a sale starts on Thursday, it should not be called Black Friday)

Two years ago I went to Walmart on Black Friday. Everything I went to get was gone by the time I got there so I ended up standing in line for 45 minutes for a $5 blanket and deodorant (because my stick at home was nearing the bottom and I was there anyway, not because I was that sweaty at that moment).

This year, my best friend Kristen and I planned to go shopping together and being the brainiac that I am I thought it would be super smart to go to Walmart. Mmm kay, so here’s where the problem started: when we walked into Walmart.

We have this thing about the cheap pajamas there. Every year we go looking for them, find they’re sold out and complain to each other. This year, we both got a pair for all of our kids…which we’re returning. Because they’re cheap. And the ones from Target are better. 

Ta-da! We risked our lives for pajamas and Kristen’s face ended up in an employee’s crotch (as far as face-in-a-stranger’s-crotch stories go, it wasn’t that big of deal. He didn’t even notice). Also, a guy in a yellow shirt had to get by and it was really, really crowded. Close enough that when he scooted behind me I said (loudly), “Whoa! That was inappropriate.” Anyway I’m pretty sure, in some countries, yellow shirt guy and I are now married to each other.

Anyway the place was a zoo, but less organized. The uppity-ups at Walmart thought they were so smart this year because they staggered the deals by two hours. That’s ingenious, especially considering the fact people started lining up on Tuesday! Also, managers at our local Walmart didn’t get the memo about 1. avoiding a stampede, 2. organizing the lines, and 3. telling the checkers to turn on their lane number lights (this probably only irritated me).

We waited in line for about 90 minutes. Today I read a story in the paper that pretty much attributed every Black Friday assault, shooting, theft, fight, etc. to Walmart stores around the country. If the checkers had turned on their lane number lights, a lot of that could have been avoided.

I know this is shocking, but the only time either of us snapped at the other was when I yelled at Kristen in Target. I’m not sure why either because we were finding the stuff we needed and it wasn’t that late. I found a Rapunzel doll with a matching dress-up dress. It was the last one at that spot. I found Kristen an aisle over, she saw it, wanted one for her daughter and we went looking. I saw a stack on the floor of one Rapunzel and several other Disney princesses and I yelled down the aisle, “Kristen!! Tangled?” I noticed someone else looking at this one Rapunzel doll box and I yell, “KRISTEN! Focus! (right here is where I did the thing with my index and middle finger toward my eyes like, “look”) Do. You. Want. Tangled?!” She said yes like it was a question (“Yes?”). Also, she seemed a little frightened. I grabbed the box and five seconds later she was all, “You know what? Hope (her daughter) looks more like Belle.” Sigh.

We spent an hour in Macy’s only to find out at the register that we couldn’t use our coupons to purchase the sale items we’d picked up.

At 5:30 a.m. on Friday, after being out since 10 p.m. the night before, we almost slept in the parking lot at Ulta. The store opened at 6 and there was shampoo on sale. Needless to say, we decided to call it quits.

So here’s what I learned on our nearly eight-hour adventure.

1. Opening the stores on Thursday instead of Friday works for me because I’m a night owl, but there were a lot more people.

2. There is nothing priced well enough to justify going to Walmart on Gray Thursday or Black Friday. Nothing.

3. Tangled is a movie, Rapunzel is a character. Note the difference, it’s important.

4. Target pajamas are always better.

5. Your ovaries will stop hurting if you pee. (Okay, I probably should change “your” and “you” to “my” and “I” but that’s embarrassing) 

6. While I’m not too old to stay up all night, I am too old to do it and be expected to fully function the following day. Alright, alright- it’s been two days and I’m still a little loopy.

7. I will not reduce myself to sleeping in a car for shampoo.

8. If someone had told me when I was 14 that once in my life I’d be at the mall with my best friend at 3:30 in the morning eating Cinnabon, I would have passed out right there. Dreams really do come true.