Choosing Not To: Interview with Christian Farris on Addictions

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The first time I met Pastor Christian Farris, I admit he wasn’t my cup of latte…sort of speak. Where I come from, pastors are a whole different blend altogether. My husband, Jay and I met Christian through dear friends. Since then, our relationship has grown alongside the vegetables, cows, and goats on our friend’s farm in Georgia, where we often come together to rest in creation, lend a hand, share a meal, or attend one of the Bible retreats hosted there. Today, I admit Christian is like drinking coffee without sugar, the more I’m around him the more I savor his pastoral flavor.

            Christian Farris is a pastor at Next Level Church in Tampa, Florida. It is a church with multiple ministries, but is known for helping people with addictions and rescuing women from sex trafficking. In the Tampa Bay area, it’s often labeled the “recovery church.”

            The church hosts weekly meetings, sponsorships, and mentor programs for those addicted. I set out to interview Christian regarding the things that enslave us verses living in the freedom of the gospel.

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TCA: “When did you know you were called to be a pastor?”

CF: “I felt the call on my life as a boy. My father was a pastor of a Baptist church at the time, and I was raised in such a rigid, strict religion that I couldn’t see how I fit into that arena. I left home once I graduated from high school and turned away from God for a short time. I felt I didn’t fit into the mold of what a Christian was supposed to be. At nineteen, I went to Bible college and experienced a paradigm shift. Later, my father, brother, and I along with several others began to examine the first century church and how they operated within the scope of freedom and grace. In Mark 7, Jesus points out man’s tendency to cling to tradition in religion and their love for tradition and rules was stronger than their love for Christ. It wasn’t until we broke out of the rules and regulations of religion did I see my place in the arena God called me to.”

TCA: “How would you describe your congregation?”
CF: “The great thing about my congregation is it’s very diverse socially, economically, and racially. We have wealthy business owners who worship alongside those that ride a bike to church. I see our church as a great example of the first church, members of all sorts of brokenness coming together to worship the one true God.”

TCA: “You don’t look like the typical pastor or what most people would imagine a pastor to look like. Do you think this helps people with addictions trust you to help them?”

CF: “I don’t think trust is what I gain right off from my appearance, but I do think people are more intrigued when they find out I’m a pastor. At first they don’t believe it, and then it strikes their curiosity and they want to see what type of pastor I am.”

TCA: “I notice you have what looks like some sort of flag tattooed on your arm. What does it symbolize?”

CF: “The tattoo is of black stripes representing sin fading into the red stripes of Christ’s blood. It was inspired from Isaiah 53:5 ‘…by His stripes we are healed.’ It is by His stripes we have freedom. Hence, why it resembles a flag.”

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TCA: “Have you ever personally struggled with addictions?”

CF: “There’s not one person who hasn’t struggled with some sort of addiction. Addictions are not just chemically dependent there are also biological addictions. The biological addictions I’ve struggled with such as the approval of others or lust.”

TCA: “What is different about your addiction program when compared to Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous?”

CF: “The first difference is our program is of course Biblically based. It introduces others to Christ. Another pitfall for AA or NA is people aren’t addicted to substances as they’re addicted to self-medicating what they can’t heal. Substances just happens to be the tool by which they choose to self-medicate. This is where AA and NA go wrong, they put all the focus on the whatand very little on thewhy.”

TCA: “You’ve stated in order to overcome any addiction one must change their mindset from I can’tto I chose not to. Can you explain that?”

CF: “There’s a difference between shall notand cannot. God told Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden “Thou shall not eat.” He didn’t tell them they cannot eat. He warned them of the consequences of eating the fruit and left it open to their free will. When you live in the conflict of can’t, you put yourself into a prison which is in complete violation of free will. What is the purpose of free will? I am free to do what I want to do, but not everything I am free to do is good. If you try to imprison me, my nature is I’m going to try to find a way to escape. You immediately place someone in bondage when you tell them they can’t do something. When you do that you are placing your belief system on them. You want to create an environment to help someone choose what’s best and give them the freedom to choose that best.”

            “In Colossians 22, Paul states you cannot add more religion or rules to your life and expect that to help the sin problem. Rules don’t work. Jesus used sheep as an illustration for us and that was no accident, I’ve worked with sheep. My father had a farm with sheep. If you run a barbed wire fence through a sheep’s pasture. The sheep will tear themselves up to get to the other side that has the same grass as the side they are on. Same with us, if we try to imprison ourselves within can’t, we will find a way out and justify sinning to ourselves.”

            “When I changed my perspective from I can’t to I choose not to it was life transforming for me and has been for others.

TCA:  How can this change of attitude and perspective magnify Christ in us?

CF: “I’m actually living out the call of God on my life as a human. Bondservant is a choice. I’m choosing to place myself under God’s authority, and I’m magnifying the very purpose of the gospel of Christ. The gospel was not to enslave me but to set me free. I’m living out the gospel which is freedom. We magnify Christ through walking in freedom.”

TCA: “Is there a verse you like to refer to on the topic of freedom?”

CF: “Yes, it’s Galatians 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (English Standard Version)

If you would like to see more of Christian’s teaching, you can find him on his church’s Facebook page at this link: https://www.facebook.com/pg/nextlevel.church.7/videos/?ref=page_internal

 

Note: Thank you for your patience with me in my infrequent posting this summer. I’ve been enjoying all my kids back in the nest for a bit and recovering from my double mastectomy. Throughout the remainder of the summer, I will be posting articles that I have written for publication a year or more ago. See you with some fresh articles starting this  fall.

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

Riding Currents

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Momma and Daddy’s house in Virginia.

 

I watched the boat putter away and slip under the James River bridge, leaving me behind.

“Daddy!” I said. “You forgot something!” I waved bobbing up and down in his wake.

He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Put your feet up in front of you and ride the current. You’ll reach me in no time.”

 

Fishing was a large part of our family culture, starting all the way back to Momma and Daddy’s first date, when he took her fishing on his john boat; but my early teen years I found ways to buck the family culture as I balanced on the shifting soap box of finding myself. Finding myself meant sticking my chin up a notch while I explained why my barbie’s head was shaved and she wore GI Joe’s camouflage “She’s in the Army of course. Women can serve in the army if they want to.”

Daddy often chuckled and shook his head. “You know I tried to raise her right, but I don’t what’s happened.”

With regards to fishing, I woke up one morning and decided, fish have feelings too, so while my family threw out their lines and rolled their eyes at me…again, I dove off the bow of the boat and swam with my new friends.

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Daddy on his small boat fishing with my husband Jay.

 

The current was strong that day. I had to swim far off from the boat in order to not be pulled into it and Dad was having a hard time keeping the boat off the bridge. He decided it was better to move to the other side, only, he forgot me in the process.

I laid on my back and put my feet up to ride the current. In case I hit the bridge the barnacles would hurt my feet not my head. Sure enough, I was swept under the bridge’s shadow while the sound of vehicles hitting the bridge’s grid echoed above. Before long I was spit out the other side back into the sun. I flipped over on my belly to swim the rest of the way to the boat, but felt my arms stinging and wrapped up in slime. It didn’t take long to realize my body had landed on a five-foot jelly fish colony. My brother Brandon swam over to me to see what was causing me to splash and scream.

“Roll off Tammy,” he said. “You have to roll off of it.”

I rolled over several times and freed myself of the stinging tangle. By the time I climbed up the ladder my body was covered in red patches. By sunset, I’d picked up a rod and cast out my bait.

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Currents can pull at your mind too. It’s our human nature for our thoughts to ride the river of fear, guilt, vanity etc, until we find ourselves in an uncomfortable stinging mess. My doctor told me breast cancer is much more than a physical disease, it can become a disease of the mind if we allow it to.

 

The worst part breast cancer has played on my mind has been guilt. My sister wasn’t pushed to the front of the line when she needed surgery. In fact, her surgeon scheduled hers outside the safe zone. My sister didn’t have a slow growing cancer like I had. She didn’t have the option to forgo chemo and radiation. Her cancer invaded her lymph nodes, whereas mine didn’t.

As my family celebrated each good report, and the fact that my surgery was bumped to the 11thof this month, I felt I was drowning from the current of survivor’s guilt. Until one afternoon, my best friend KK and I were talking on the phone and it all came pouring out. I sobbed how unfair it was that I got such a good cancer, while my sister didn’t. How I had access to wealthy friends who knew the best of the best when it came to doctors.

“It’s so unfair. Tricia didn’t have a chance. She didn’t have all these blessings. Who am I to have this?”

“You’re looking at this through your humanness,” KK said. “God doesn’t love you anymore than He did Tricia. God brought Tricia home to be with Him sooner. Tricia’s journey is just different from yours. You still have work to do. You must remember “to die is to gain.” (Philippians 1:21b) You must remember “to be absent from the body is to be with Christ.” (II Corinthians 5:8)  If Tricia could see your diagnosis, she may think you got the bad end of the stick.”

And there it was…she threw me a lifesaver…truth.

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My son Nick thought it’d be funny to fish in the water fountain at the Millenia Mall. He told the security guard he had to catch a fish for his Momma’s supper. The guard said, “Son, your Momma’s gonna go hungry tonight, reel it in.”

 

Today, I was working on my Gospel of Mark Bible study and the writer Lisa Harper pointed out Peter. When Jesus explained to the disciples what He was about to be arrested and killed, Peter pulled Jesus aside and rebuked Him for thinking such things. But Jesus flipped the table on him by stating, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

 

What current have you been riding lately? What human thoughts are stinging your mind? Fear? There’s a lifesaver for that:

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

 

Guilt? Let me throw you some truth.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” I John 1:9 NIV

 

Feeling unloved? Climb aboard.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 ESV

 

Fight that current, don’t allow your human thoughts speak louder than your Holy Spirit.  Here are some other truths about our thoughts…

“For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he…” Proverbs 23:7a KJV

“…Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 ESV

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,” II Corinthians 10:5 ESV

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After surgery, I look like a puffer fish.

A little update: I’ve had my double mastectomy and upon my request the plastic surgeon put in small implants so I could get it all done at one time and not face another surgery. I am hurting and tired but doing well. Thank you for the outpouring of love and prayers you have showered on me. I’m so blessed. I thank my Heavenly Papa for all of you.

Until we chat again…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When It’s Cancer.

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God gives life and creates things to sustain it, while the enemy sets out to destroy it. Throughout creation you can see it. The weed grows in the same soil the seed is planted with one mission to strangle that newborn wheat as it bursts through the soil and finds the light. So, why do I find it ironic that the very breast used to feed and sustain an infant can one day become the haven for a cancerous tumor that sets out to kill its host…It’s happening to me.

 

I have breast cancer.

 

To be honest, my internal pendulum is swinging between—this is so surreal—-to of course why shouldn’t I have breast cancer. If you’re a follower of my blog you already know my backstory. My sister died from breast cancer in 2014 and my sister-in -Christ (my daughter Bella’s babysitter) passed away from brain cancer last August. I’m not facing my own diagnosis ignorant of its horrors. Yet, I recognize the timeliness of it as well.

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Soon after I found out I had the gene mutation PALB-2, I was sent for a mammogram. The results were inconclusive, and a spot seemed to be on the right side, but due to density I would have to have another mammogram along with an ultrasound.

A week later, during the ultrasound, the technician kept measuring tubular shaped spots on my left side. When she finally finished she stated the doctor needed to discuss the findings and she would be back in ten minutes. I knew something was wrong.

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I was tempted to make a run for it but half -naked running down Turkey Lake Road, I’d be arrested. Furthermore, I had no deodorant on, and I don’t like to sweat in the pits. Those minutes ticked by as I kept glancing back at the machine to see the time, but I’d left my readers in the locker.

Finally, the doctor came in, she laid me back down on the table and had me raise my left arm.

After circling the area with that lubricated thingy…“I see it,” she glanced up at the technician. “Great job finding that, it didn’t show up on the mammogram.”

“What didn’t show up?” I said, sitting up on the bed.

 

She stood in front of me. “We found a tumor on your left side. It is about this big.” She showed me with her fingers an inch. “In my professional opinion it is cancer.”

I stared.

“Do you have any questions?” she said.

“No.”

“Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
“Yes.” I said.

“I don’t think this is life threatening. Your lymph nodes are clean. Are you sure there aren’t any questions?”

“No… I mean yes.”

“We will need your doctor to write up a biopsy order, so we can take a biopsy of the tumor.”

“Okay.”

She rubbed my shoulder. “You’re going to be alright. You’re in good hands.”

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Days later, the report came back. She wasn’t completely honest, I had not one but two tumors on my left side and calcifications on my right. I underwent two biopsies a few minutes apart. I will not go into detail about the biopsies. You can just imagine a blonde in a slasher movie watching herself being cut and dug into, while about passing out on the table, but by the grace of God I survived.

Unfortunately, both tumors are cancer, and a double mastectomy looms in my near future…hoping very near future, because it is believed they are Triple Negative- the most aggressive type of breast cancer.

 

Oddly enough, I’m not scared, but if I sound upbeat about it all, don’t let me spout bull on ya’ll.  This absolutely sucks!!!—for lack of a better word. No, I’m not totally thrilled God is blessing me with this opportunity to be used for His glory. Personally, I’d rather go be a missionary to the naked tribal peeps in far off jungles of who- knows- where, over this…this terribleness.

Then again, this is where I am, for such a time as this..  I have no choice but to trust my Father knows what He’s doing. As my girlfriend Ruth said, “Papa’s got ya!”I know He’s got me. He’s got these tumors. He’s got His reason. He’s got His plan.

 

 

Where are you at today? Sitting with sweaty pits in a waiting room? Lying awake waiting for your prodigal to return home? Placing flowers by a graveside? Laid up in a hospital bed? Clinging to someone who’s already gone? Losing your sanity as you mother your brood? Worried about your finances?

Wherever you are…

Papa’s got you too.

 

Talk to you soon…

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Flipping Pages: A glimpse at my week

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Page One: Saturday

This time, I drove Bella into the pasture, so she could see the calves up close. Up ahead, a small black mound nestled in the tall grasses. I stopped the ATV and climbed down. Bella remained behind, while I edged closer through the field of gentle beasts. The momma cow mooed at her babe, but there was no response.

A tiny hand found mine; she’d found her courage. “Momma, you know cows don’t sleep lying down,” Bella said. “Is she dead?”

Her Aunt Tricia.

Her babysitter Vanessa.

Her Ompa (grandfather)

Three deaths crammed in four small years. She’s a seasoned soul.

“I don’t know.” I said. “Come on baby. Get up.”

“Get up girl,” Bella said.

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Page 2:  Monday

After dark, the remnants of Oma’s life in Ocala were in one last car load. She’d sold most of her furniture and walked away from the rest. We unloaded the boxes and stacked them in the room designated to be her office.

“Wow,” Oma said as she walked into her new place in Orlando. “It’s so beautiful!”

New paint… cleaned carpet…furnished…decorated… started with a desire to make all things new for her.

A few minutes later, Bella pulled on my arm. “Oma needs you Momma. Come.”

I heard the unusual sound before entering her bedroom. Her face buried in her son’s chest. “Oh Tammy!” Her arm reached for me too. Her wailing and tears made my heart ache. I realized there’s only One who can make all things new.

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Page 3 Wednesday night:

“Ladies, our two members dealing with brain cancer are unable to join us tonight because they are not feeling well right now. We need to rally around them. One needs help with driving her children to where they need to be. The other needs help with food. I will send out an email tomorrow, letting you guys know the details.”

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Page 4: Thursday morning

“You tested positive for a gene mutation called PALB2,” my gynecologist said. “It creates the rarer type of breast cancer, but it is also the most dangerous—the most invasive. It’s behind the Triple Negative Breast cancer that killed your sister.”

I swallowed. All the years of scolding her for diet soda. It was a gene all along.

“Identifying the gene mutation only raises your chances of getting the cancer by 9 percent, but if you flip over here…” She flipped the page. “It clearly states if a close relative such as your sister had the cancer your chances jump to 58 percent. Then, if there are other members of your family who’s had breast cancer it continues to raise your chances even higher.”

Great-grandmother.

Grandmother.

More recent, great aunt.

The gene slithers down the family tree puddling in me.

“I want you to see a specialist,” the doctor went on. “She’ll monitor you more closely, but she may recommend a full mastectomy. Do you have any questions?’

“What would you do if you were me?” I said.

“I would see the specialist without delay, and I would do whatever it is she recommends.”

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Page 5: Thursday afternoon:

“Knowledge is power,” my dear friend Yvonne said on the phone. She should know, her husband battled his own cancer markers for several years. “But I’ll be honest, the flip side is there’s a heavy burden carrying that knowledge.”

I hung up.

Was it better to know or remain blissfully unaware?

I didn’t know.

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Page 6: Thursday evening:

 

A sweaty, small boy emerges from the gym. I’m waiting outside. He smiles and approaches cautiously.

“Hi Bryson, I’m Tammy. The password is ____. Always ask whoever picks you up for the password okay? If they don’t know it, you do not get in a car with them.”

In the car, I put his address in my phone. The directions appeared, but as I turned onto the road they disappeared. This phone needs to be updated. Tried again, this phone needs to be updated.

I’m kicking myself.

“I’ll use my phone,” he said. He becomes my copilot.

Confident for little years, he told me he liked math was a number’s guy–none of my boys liked math. Raised by a single mom who had brain cancer, her tumor now dormant. Wondered if that made children mature faster?

His sister met us in the driveway, handed me a pile of sticky notes. Their mother’s normal thank you. I tend to save them. She wrote, “God is smiling. Psalms 139.” A passage about God knowing us, seeing all, knitting our inward parts in our mother’s womb, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

She didn’t know yet about the gene.

But God did.

 

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Page 7: Thursday night

I shot Bella the look as I held out her pajamas again. She giggled and ignored. Again. Last straw.

“Get your pajamas on now!” I spat at her.

“Hey!” Jay said. “Just calm down. Bella mind your Momma.”

The burden of the knowledge hunched my shoulders. Twisted my insides making me mean.

Later, snuggling in a chair, I opened Bella’s Bible. Adam and Eve were hiding from God. He’d told them they could eat of all the trees in the garden– except that one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Something else had slithered down the tree, something with a voice, and Eve listened. Her bite cursed the world. Why? Why couldn’t you have been satisfied? Why did you have to eat the one God instructed you not to? Why did you want the burden of knowledge? There would be no cancers, no death, no brave boys without fathers.

But…

Then again…

I would have bit the apple too.

Flipping back to page One:

“Momma, go see if the baby calf is dead. We need to do something.” Bella said.

“Hold on. Let’s just watch and see.”

Suddenly, a floppy ear twitched.

A head popped up.

It looked at us.

On shaky legs it wobbled over to its mother dragging a long umbilical cord, before latching on and suckling.

“Awe, she’s so cute,” Bella smiled. “It’s okay Momma!”

Pure joy at the sight of this sticky new life.

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“And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold I am making all things new.’” Revelations 21:5a English Standard Version.

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** Name of boy has been changed to insure privacy.

 

 

 

 

When Consumerism and Perfectionism Rob Your Spiritualism.

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Bella exhausted after watching Momma decorate the farmhouse.

I unloaded my fresh 2×4’s and sanded wood slabs out of the back of my truck and laid them on the garage floor. Like Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper  handing off an assignment to Chip, I sketched my design and pushed it into my son, Christian’s hands.

His brows raised. “Momma really? I mean this is not going to look like a barn in Bethlehem.”

“Of course, it will. I’ll dirty it up when you’re done with some paint. I want a manger scene that’s going to be bigger and better than anything you can buy in the stores. We’re going to show people the real meaning of Christmas.” I patted him on the back. “Get to it. I have dinner to cook.”

The next day, my husband Jay and Christian unloaded old pieces of rotten wood and branches they’d collected from the dumping spot in the woods, out of the back of Christian’s jeep. They cut the branches to size, buried them into the front yard and laid a rotten piece of wood on top and against the back. Inside, they sprinkled hay, made a manger box by leaning rotten scraps against one another, and tossed in some lights. The whole process took less than an hour.

Several neighbors walked by, “That’s the best manger scene I’ve seen.” One of them said.

Another, “I can’t wait to see it when the baby’s in there.”

(The baby will be added tomorrow night (Christmas Eve).)

Our manger scene was made from trash.

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Our precious Oma watching Ompa being laid to rest.

 

In the midst of the Christmas season, we buried our Ompa (Jay’s father). I watched as the men folded the linens in over his face and closed his casket. It reminded me of a day I wandered around his art studio, fingering the brushes, rubbing my hand along the wood easels, while he worked on a painting. His studio was my favorite room in their home. It was where the magic happened.

“Dad, when did you know you were an artist?” I said.

He chuckled. “When I asked God to make me one.” He dipped his brush in the cleaner and spun around in his chair. “I had a friend in New York, who was a great artist. He was so, so talented. He could paint anything. He died young. I stood by his casket at his funeral and prayed that God wouldn’t allow his talent to die with him. I pleaded God would give his talent to me.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Wait. You knew right then you would be a painter?”

“After his funeral, I went out and bought some paints and supplies. That’s faith daughter. The willingness to find out.”

A few days later, I asked God to teach me to paint. I bought the supplies and painted a portrait of a friend’s dog. It still hangs in his office today. We both started with a prayer and a step forward.

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Bella watching the sparkling snow fall on baby Jesus.

I was anxiety- ridden yesterday getting Bella and I dressed for her Christmas pageant. “The note says wear your Sunday best. This is your Sunday best Bella.”

“Humph! But it’s scratchy Momma,” she said. “And I’ve got blisters, I can’t wear those shoes.”

Three minutes late, –for the teacher’s reminder stated students had to be dropped off at 4:30 sharp! — I ran in skinny heels sinking into soft earth, dragging my Bella—wearing a red cotton dress and red cowgirl boots into her classroom. Whew!

 

But then sitting in a pew…within my messy swirling storm of consumerism and perfectionism that has taken over my spiritualism, I was reminded there’s Jesus. Bella the only angel with red cowboy boots, belted out her songs about her Lord being born in a stable, and I forgot about the mud sticking to my skinny heels, or the wasted fresh wood lying across my garage floor, or the sadness I felt watching the coffin door close over her Ompa.

 

I’ve thought about how hard we make our acts of faith, when really all God wants is our heart’s devotion. All He wants is men fist pumping over their rotten barn made from trash, a whispered prayer over a willing brush on a canvas, a little angel in cowgirl boots singing her heart out, and a stressed-out Momma melting into Him in a pew.

Remember His yolk is light… Put your feet up and spend time in His presence.

 

When we’re  finding our spiritualism being robbed by our consumerism and perfectionism this Christmas, we must take time to remember our Lord’s imperfect birth will be the only perfect thing about Christmas, and His perfect gift of salvation is free to all.

 

Here’s an example of my perfectionism. I think the manger made from trash is the most beautiful part. Those white trees have fallen down in every rain storm and I’ve had to tape one of them back together. Strangely enough, the lean-to manger has withstood the storms. I included one of the songs I’ve listened to this Christmas to help me remember to breathe…Winter Snow by Audrey Assad.

 

 

Finding Your Place

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A road in Suffolk, Va.

I grew up on a street my mother named. When my parents purchased a three- bedroom, two- bath ranch in Suffolk Virginia, Momma loved everything but the name of the street. Ford Lane didn’t evoke enough whimsy or excitement for my mother, Priscilla. She wrote up a petition, loaded her small brood into the car and went door to door encouraging signatures from the residents. The houses were tucked past farming fields and wooded acres. Once the 10 residents (or so) signed her petition, the “Ford Lane” sign came down and “Mockingbird Lane” sign went up. We staked our claim. We found our place.

When autumn rolls in I long for my home on Mockingbird Lane in Suffolk, Virginia. I love the quote “home is where our story begins,” because the story I remember started there. By this time of year, I’m sure trees behind our home are turning bright red and orange. The forest floor will soon be covered in a red damp carpet. Momma would always start a fire in the fireplace by late afternoon, and from deep in the woods, where my siblings and I played after school, we could smell the aroma of burning oak in the air.

There were hills, ponds, creeks, and caves. We’d get into all sorts of trouble and find a way out. Momma didn’t mind us disappearing for hours at a time, as long as we took our dogs with us. By dark, Momma hollered from the back porch.

“Kids! Supper’s ready!”

Her voice echoed off the hills and down by the creek. We’d practically kill ourselves sprinting through the briars and branches in an attempt to get home fast, so she’d never know how deep in the woods we were.

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Colin trying out a rope swing in the Smokey Mountains of Tenn.

 

I waited for my three boys to become big enough before I took them exploring through the forest behind Momma’s house. They seemed timid following me through the overgrown trail, climbing down the hill, and crossing the creek. It was unknown territory to my Orlando native theme park babes. I glanced back at them. “Come on!” I said. “Don’t be scared. I know where we’re going. This was myplayground.” We reached the creek with the huge hills on each side. The water rushed down creek, making that gushing sound people buy fountains for. Their eyes lit up with boy wonder. “There’s a cave in the side of that hill.” I pointed. “I got stuck in it once. I don’t recommend it. And in the creek, you can catch crawdaddies. We caught some, kept them as pets for a while, but when we got bored with them we boiled them on the stove and ate them. You pinch the tail and suck the head.”

“What did they taste like?” Christian said.

“Mud.” I pointed further down the creek. “Your Uncle Brandon built a bridge there, so we could cross over without wading. We had a fort with a large black rat snake. Longest and fattest snake ever, but he was nice. He just lounged around on the branch above our heads.”
As you can imagine, they looked at their mother differently after that tour. My history lesson bridged the gap between boys and Momma.

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Our last Christmas at Mockingbird Lane.

One day, after that tour, I saw the three of them sneaking off into the woods. I ran out onto the porch.  “Take the dog! You can go, but you must take the dog with you,” I said knowing the dog will lead them home. I sounded just like my Momma years ago.

My parents sold our home on Mockingbird lane a year before my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. Their new lakefront home is better suited to handling our large family when we visit, but the move felt like losing my place, and perhaps a foreshadow to a much bigger loss that was to come a few years later, when my sister lost her battle.

Yesterday, my son Colin told me how much he missed his Granddaddy and Nanna’s house on Mockingbird Lane. “Do you know how lucky you were to be able to play in the woods all the time Momma?” He said.

“Now I do, but when I was your age I couldn’t wait to leave Suffolk.”

“I wish I could live there,” Colin said. “The woods seem to go on for miles. How did you not get lost in them?”

I smiled. “We did on occasion but getting lost was how we learned our way.”

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Our conversation made me realize how much place develops a person into who they become, and how often we look out the windows of our place and long to be somewhere else. There was a farming field out my bedroom window on Mockingbird that rotated between, cattle, corn, cotton, and peanuts—yawn– but the most amazing sunsets settled over that field at night. Meanwhile, as a teenager I longed for houses and neighbors.

God knows the value of place. He puts us in places where He can build us. Where our character, knowledge, or influence can be strengthened. He placed the Israelites into the sandy wilderness for forty long years, to teach them obedience and discipline. While we all know they were yearning for the tall grasses of the promised land.

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The lake my parents now live on.

Where has God placed you? Are you stuck in an apartment with loud neighbors? Still single? Still longing to become a mother? Stuck in a dead-end job? Battling an illness? Caretaker of the ill?  If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, there’s a reason for it.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 English Standard Version.

Don’t fret if your place doesn’t have the name you want or it’s not as exciting as somebody else’s neighborhood, for God knows the place you need.  Find contentment and stake your claim right where you are, for if you allow it God can take your external and design your internal.

 

See you at your place next week…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Multi-Tasking Doing More Harm Than Good?

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There was a Howler monkey above us on one of our hikes through the woods in a Belize rainforest, but we couldn’t see it due to the foliage.

I’ve noticed something different, on dog walks through our neighborhood. In previous Septembers, the acorns fell from the trees and popped me in the head or hit the top of the car, but I haven’t gotten pelted once this September. I’ve noticed this fall the squirrels seem manic to pick them off the trees before they even fall to the ground. As I’m walking the dog, the discarded shells crunch under my feet. It is systematic of God’s creation. Acorns ripen, squirrels forage, winter comes. I’ve always been told it is a sign that winter will be cold if the squirrels act this way. In Florida, a girl can only hope.

My work load has grown this year, and recently I took a course on Productivity for Creatives, for we creatives are known to be heavy right- brained individuals, and are viewed by society as often scattered between our inspirations. I can’t speak for all creatives out there, but it is true for me. In fact, all along I thought multi-tasking was a skill resume-worthy. I can swing a skillet with one hand, have the laundry going, pop some Goldfish in Bella’s mouth, all the while typing out an essay on the computer while my paint dries on a canvas nearby. 

The teacher of the course pointed out that multi-tasking is not something to brag about after all. In fact, recent studies have shown, that those that multi-task regularly produce below-par product, have trouble getting larger projects completed, and may be hurting their brain in the process. Gulp! Our brains are not wired to do more than one thing at a time hence multitaskers are not actually working on multiple projects at once, but are switching their attention from one project to another often only getting small parts done.

The Time Management Class for Creatives, (You can find the class here:Creative Live Classes) taught the time-blocking method. In a nutshell,  you keep a master running list of everything you are working on, and place the items in blocks of time on your daily schedule. One project should never take more than two hours (which is the brain’s limit on one task) and there should be a fifteen-minute break between each. 

I’ve been trying it out, but I have to admit it’s been a challenge, for someone who has the attention span of a gnat add to that three children at home, one at college, three pets at home, one at college, and husband. Discipline Tammy…Discipline…Bang head on desk…Focus!

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Our last day, a whole family of Howlers came to see us and hung out in the trees surrounding our house.

One summer, we took the kids to Belize. We rented a house that sat atop a mountain and overlooked the tops of the trees in the rainforest. Several days, we walked down the mountain, through the woods  into this beautiful meadow by a river. It was what I imagined the Garden of Eden to look like. One day in the meadow my sons pointed out the leaf cutter ants to me. They had cut this distinct trench through the grass and were carrying leaves five times their size through the trench. Thousands of ants working together climbed up the tree, and came down in this clean pattern to take the leaves to their nest.  I was mesmerized and stood watching them for a while. It reminded me of the passage in Proverbs.

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The trail the Leaf Cutter ants made through the meadow.
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Their trail up the tree. Amazing isn’t it?

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise” Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.” Proverbs 6:6-8 English Standard Version. If you observe the ant, it is an example of not only diligence, but organization as well.

Then there’s God Himself. Think about the story of Creation. I went back and really read it recently, and noticed that God created A before creating B in order to get to C. It was a very systematic and sustainable way of creating the world. In order to form man, I must have the soil, I will create soil first. In order for man to survive there must be fruit, I will plant fruit trees.

 

I am filled with awe.

God is creative and not scattered. He works systematically and within blocks of time (days). He’s also managed to find time to rest. 

Is there hope for me? For you? For us?

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him’ male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1: 26-27 ESV)

We were made in His image. He’s creative and organized, so we must have the ability buried in us somewhere. We just need to develop it. And you know, God must believe in our abilities too, for He made us managers of all His creation. 

Something to think about.

Enjoy the fall breezes and take a minute to check out those squirrels, what are they doing in your area?