The Sound of Silence

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The Chesapeake Bay fueled my terror of lightning. One afternoon, a dark shadow hung over my Daddy’s boat before a bright flash bounced off a crab pot, and a sharp pain sliced through my arm as it hung over the side of the boat. For years after, Momma closed all the doors to the bedrooms and sat with me in the hallway during lightning storms. We leaned against her record/stereo player that we had to turn sideways to scoot around. Simon and Garfunkel, Motown greats, James Taylor, John Denver—whichever she was in the mood for that afternoon—drowned out the thunder.

Today, I heard again a remake of Simon and Garfunkel’s song The Sound of Silence, by Disturbed. I sang along to the words and returned to that hallway watching the water droplets slip down Momma’s tea glass, praying away the storm. You can hear the song by clicking below.

 

It was in 1965 Simon and Garfunkel released the song, The Sound of Silence. Simon claimed he’d written it as a twenty-one-year old in a dark bathroom while the water ran in the sink. He said, it was just a youthful yearning for someone to listen to me. I hear much more than that. The poetic lyrics warn of worshipping the pop culture gods we create, believing mass media, engaging with things instead of people, and not communicating. Hearing it today against the backdrop of the Corona virus the song seemed to be prophetic in a weird sense. Although the song is one of my favorites, as an abiding follower of Jesus Christ I hear the despair in its message because the song closes without offering any hope or light in the end…only darkness and silence.

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My daughter Bella and my niece Aubrey

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My niece Sunaeya

But here’s truth…Light isn’t quiet. Our Heavenly Father is still speaking throughout the storms of life. Throughout this quarantine at the farm, I’ve heard Him loud and clear.

On Passover night, I heard Him in the brilliance of a super moon, He said, “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world.” Luke 21:25-26 English Standard Version.

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Passover Moon

On an early morning walk I heard Him in the mixture of fog and sun settling over the pond. He said, “I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud. And your sins like a heavy mist. Return to me for I have redeemed you.” Isaiah 44:22 (NIV)

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On a walk in the woods we discovered tons of wild blueberry bushes and I heard my God. He said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Matthew 6:26 ESV

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My son Christian taking us to pick blueberries.

In the earnest prayers of my daughter as she points to a country on a map praying God will protect Australia from Corona. My Father said, “Whoever humbles himself (herself) like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:4 (ESV)

Surrounding the farmhouse wild yapping sounded from every direction, as our dog Franklin sprinted into the darkness to fight off the coyotes alone, my Father said, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Romans 8:19-22 ESV

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Franklin

In the garden planting tomatoes my God said, “Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, that He may come and rain righteousness upon you. Hosea 10:12 (ESV)

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And on a night when lightening flashed and thunder boomed, and the television screamed tornado, I stood in the swirling wind and heard my Father said, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Deuteronomy 31:8 (ESV)

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The day of the tornadoes. The cows and birds were restless.

Masks can quiet prayers.

Fear can squelch faith.

Distance dims lights.

Don’t let it. Remember Who your Father is, and who He made us to be…

Communicators, Faith Builders, and  Lighthouses

Till next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Longer Doubting

Preparing the Heart:

“There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me.”

Reckless Love by Cory Asbury

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Jennifer and Robert Yeager

When our family moved from Kentucky to Tennessee in 2005, Jennifer Yeager was the first person who went out of her way to befriend me. We met at the pool in the temporary housing the church provided for us.

She be-bopped up to my family and I. “Well, hello Hammonds…” she said in her Georgia accent. “I’m Jennifer Yeager and this is my husband Robert; we go to Grace and saw that you are the new pastor and family at our church. Welcome to Knoxville.”

And just like that, Jennifer and I became fast friends. Not only were we neighbors; but also, we sang together on the church worship team. I learned that a couple of months before we met, Jennifer had accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior.

“I thought I was saved when I was 12 years old,” she said. “A pastor preached a sermon on hell, and it scared me to death. I waited until I came home and, alone in my bed I asked God to save me from Hell.”

Years later, a visiting evangelist shared a Sunday message about having assurance of salvation. In tears, Jennifer approached the altar. A choir member, Beth, met her there and prayed, “Lord, I remember the night you came into my life and I’ve never been the same…” When Jennifer heard those words, it startled her. She thought, ‘I still feel the same, maybe I’m not a Christian.’ The concern plagued her. That evening, Jennifer admitted to an altar counselor, Jeanette she felt unsure she had been saved.

“Well, you’re about to get saved now,” Jeanette said.

“She led me in prayer,” Jennifer said, “and I repeated what she’d said. On April 10, 2005, Jesus saved me, and I was born again.”

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Jennifer spread her testimony of God’s grace with nearly everyone she encountered. I’d never known a person with a greater gift of evangelism; yet while leading people to Christ on a mission trip in El Salvador, she still doubted her own salvation. Desperate to conquer her uncertainty, she participated in the Bible studies I facilitated in my home and church, but no matter how much Bible she learned, she wrestled with the worst spiritual anguish. Am I truly saved?

I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her saying, “Jennifer I see Jesus all over you…there’s no doubt!” She suffered to the point that even reading God’s Word would make it worse. Bible verses stating, “If you don’t love your neighbor—the love of the Father is not in you,” I John 4:20 (New International Version), literally messed with her mind.

“I couldn’t say I truly loved my neighbors,” Jennifer said. “so I would question if I really had Jesus living in my heart. I probably prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ a hundred times. I just never felt certain. If somebody would have told me in order to stop doubting, I’d have to cut off my ring finger, or take some sort of salvation pill…I would’ve gladly done it.”

Making life more miserable, she battled a life-long eating disorder causing body-image issues, and Jennifer begged God to free her from the bondage of food addiction. After 15 agonizing years of having no true peace or joy, she began thinking, ‘This God thing is all bogus!’ Being my closest friend, Jennifer had a front row seat to my spiritual shut down, and the darkness that took me under. (You can read my story about that here…Plastered on the Front Pew  Plastered on the Front Pew (Part 2)) She thought, ‘If that happened to Liz, it could happen to me.’ Finally, Jennifer told her husband she needed professional help with her eating disorder.

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My sister, Lisa, myself, and Jennifer.

She met with both a secular therapist and a Christian therapist named Rose. Both addressed the eating disorder and identified a flaw in her belief system. The belief, “I’m not worthy of anything or anybody” was founded early in her childhood, and it manifested throughout her life.

Recently in a therapy session she told Rose, “I was told starting at a young age by a close family member, If I get fat I’ll never be loved. I’ve felt unworthy of love my whole life. I’m never going to be loved.” As Jennifer spoke those words aloud, she sensed a voice behind her interrupting, “That is not who you are.” She heard it so clear it startled her. She spun around to see if anyone was there.

“No one was there,” Jennifer said, “but I knew it was the voice of God the Father. He was telling me that I am not the things I’ve believed about myself for so long. It was in that moment I understood I’d been agreeing with the lies of the enemy, and that is why I doubted God.”

“It was as if God said, ‘That’s enough!’ Immediately, I felt free. I looked at Rose and asked her if I could pray with her, and without hesitation she nodded yes. While I prayed I saw myself differently. I was righteous covered by His Blood. I was a saint; I sin, but I’m not a sinner. I told Jesus that I wanted to give everything inside of me to Him, my organs, my blood, my skin…”

After praying, she sighed deeply and announced to Rose, “I’m not struggling. I’m not doubting anymore.”

Rose smiled. “It’s just time,” she said.

No longer doubting, God filled Jennifer with peace and joy. She couldn’t wait to share the amazing news of her deliverance with me over the phone. “Liz, I have no more tormenting thoughts. They are gone!” I joined her in praising and thanking the God Who frees us.

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It is never God’s will that we doubt Him. If you are doubting His faithfulness, His goodness, or His saving power…He is able to set you free. His Word promises in I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are no magical words, nor a specific sinner’s prayer that saves you, rather a genuine confession that you need Jesus, and that He alone has the power to save by His grace. Even if we are overcome by a doubting spirit like Jennifer was, God’s Word remains true as it states in II Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot disown Himself.” (NIV)

The Bible uses the analogy of the marriage relationship when it refers to how God loves us and demonstrates his love for us. He is the groom, and we are His bride. Unlike marriages between two imperfect humans who may lie, betray, and leave one another. God reveals Himself to be lovingly faithful and committed to a covenant union (promise) with us when we accept His Son Jesus as our Savior and Lord. As His bride we are made blameless and holy in His sight, a spotless virgin, because He purifies us with His blood. He is fully devoted to us, and we can trust that one day soon, we will be reunited with Jesus Christ when He returns for His bride.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready.” Revelations 19:7 (NIV)

Are you ready? You can be. You can rest assured that because He loves you, you can trust Him. If you are tormented by doubt like Jennifer was, she shared her story so that you may know… God will tear down every demonic lie causing you doubt, set you free from the torment, and fill you with peace because He is faithful.

“God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may have eternal life.” I John 5:11-13 (NIV)

(If you’d like to correspond with Jennifer Yeager or hear her tell her own testimony you can find her video on Facebook or email her directly at Nolesfan24@aol.com.)

 

fullsizeoutput_4210This article was written by a member of our writing team, Liz Hammond. In her free time she loves to bake, read, and lounge on the beach which is in her opinion is the closest thing to heaven. Elizabeth’s passion is ministering to others out of her own God-story where He’s rescued her life and continues to restore her family. She desires to fulfill God’s purpose in her life in encouraging women by sharing her own story, through Bible study, and intimate friendships.

Elizabeth can be contacted at elizabethhammond8@gmail.com.

Note from Tammy Adams: The Corona crisis can lead to much doubt in our Heavenly Father’s protection, provisions, and promises. We at The Hallelujah House thought Jennifer’s story is a good reminder no matter the crisis God’s faithfulness will see you through it. If any of you have a prayer request,  please feel free to leave them for us in the comments or email one of us privately. We will be honored to pray for you during this difficult season. Raise a Hallelujah!

 

How to Fight Spiritual Warfare

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Preparing the Heart and Harvest:

“Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breast plate of righteousness, and as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. All the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with al prayer and supplication.”  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish” Ephesians 6:10-15 English Standard Version

 

I’ve got a red juicy confession to make, recently, I’ve had to give up red wine. I can see you teetotalers out there nodding, but to be clear, I don’t believe drinking in and of itself is a sin. It can be when you drink without self-control or in front of someone who has a problem with alcohol. In my case, it became a sin when God told me not to and I did.

I’ve spent the holidays clinging to my rights and arguing with God over the issue. You know when it’s not fair God pries something out of your hands but not others. That my friend is called personal relationship. Then, there’s that smell of Italian food wafting from the kitchen. Have you noticed when God tells you to give something up you want it more than you did before? That’s called temptation. Then, you pour a glass and think after the holidays I’ll give it up, but that’s called disobedience.

Delayed obedience is only disobedience.

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So, I’ve had to confess my disobedience and surrender my wine glass to the Father. Some have asked how long I will abstain, but I don’t know the answer to that question, except to say, as long as He says no.

Throughout my wavering, I tried to hit temptation head on. I purchased Kombucha drinks, trying to put something healthy in the fridge that I could drink with dinner, but it didn’t work. I’d justify using pizza night as my excuse or I’d pour a smaller glass and think to myself I’m not hurting anyone. But that’s a lie too. I hurt my Father and our relationship. It felt as if He was pulling away, but instead, I’d built a crystal wall of rebellion between us.

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My rebellion is the perfect example I could find to illustrate the armors of God, so I’ll throw myself under a bus for the sake of truth. I’ve found if we’re not willing to admit our own failures how can we help anyone else conquer theirs?

This month, I’ve been leading a women’s Bible study on Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God. Right up front, I’m going to tell you this is where much of my information in this article will come from, but you’re only getting a taste, so I recommend you take the study at your church or on your own to get the full buffet. (I will post the link for the study below)

It is believed Paul was imprisoned when he wrote the book of Ephesians. He wrote the book in a dark, moldy, cell while Roman soldiers stood guard. I imagine when he looked up through the manhole in the ceiling of his cell and saw those Roman soldiers fully clad in their physical armor, it clicked. God spoke about putting on the armor in the book of Isaiah (chapter 59) and as Paul wrote that letter to the church in Ephesus he reminded them that they are in a spiritual battle, just as we are today. Every difficulty we face as an abiding follower of Christ has spiritual implications.

So, let’s find out what each piece of armor is supposed to do for us, and how we can apply it to our lives.

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Belt of Truth

 

Paul starts with the Belt of Truth. Being the first piece of armor the soldier put on, the belt held the other pieces in place and gave support to the soldiers core. This belt kept him from falling over under the weight of all the other armor he wore.

Spiritually, the belt of truth keeps a believer from falling for any lies of the enemy that can make a believer stumble. The belt of truth keeps you grounded in recognizing what is true and what is not. It is a tool of discernment that keeps you standing firm in your spiritual battles.

When God started impressing on me to give up dinner wine, immediately and repetitiously, I had the thought, “Did God really say I had to give up red wine completely?” If you begin thinking this thought, “Did God really say to …” Then, the answer more than likely is yes, He did. Truth tells us Satan used those exact words in the Garden of Eden when Eve looked upon the fruit God told her not to eat. Truth also states the enemy deceives and sets out to destroy us with deception. He tries to muddy the waters, so we start to question the voice of the Father. One litmus test I use, I ask myself do I feel peace continuing to do whatever I felt God had asked me not to. If you feel a wrestling in your spirit pouring that glass of wine, spending that money, eating that chocolate cake, or whatever it is God commanded you to give up, then you’ve fallen into enemy territory. You’ve taken a detour from following the path God illuminated for you that leads to the purpose He’s already prepared ahead of time for you in your life

But there is hope in the detour.

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“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV

“Commit your way to the Lord, trust Him and He will act.” Psalms 37:5 ESV.

If you confess your disobedience and commit your will and way to God, it is up to Him to straighten your path. He will lead you out of darkness and back into the light.

 

Satan knows I hate legalism. I truly think legalism is a death spiral for the freeing gospel. It points out you must do these actions and stay away from these things in order to be saved. This is a lie. For many who subscribed to this false doctrine, they may have checked off you must not drink wine in order to be saved.

For me, I wanted to cling to my hatred of legalism as a reason to not give up wine. But, I’m free in Christ. I thought. You see the pendulum can swing too far the other way. Our freedom should never bring disobedience to what God is telling us individually to do. When I tuck my arguments into my belt of truth, this is what I find. “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I tell you?” Luke 6:46 (ESV)

Gulp!

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 The Breast Plate of Righteousness

 

            The Breast Plate of Righteousness hooks into the belt of truth. The soldier’s arms would give out if he had to hold the full weight of this breast plate. It is a plate meant to protect the soldier’s most vulnerable spot—his heart.

When we are in disobedience to something God is telling us to do, we have relinquished wearing our breast plate of righteousness, and through that one disobedience have opened ourselves up to a full-on attack from Satan. He will aim straight at the heart, which pumps into every other part of you. In my experience, I felt guilt, sudden insecurities, and defeat. There is no peace in disobedience because you’ve willingly entered into a war with the enemy allowing him to have the upper hand.

If you try to hold the weight of your righteousness without hooking it into the belt of truth you will surrender under the weight of trying to be good. God’s truth states, “None is righteous, no, not one;” Romans 3:10a. (ESV) “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

When your breast plate of righteousness remains hooked into the belt of truth, you will have freedom of movement. Let’s apply this to my story. When I tried to give up wine in my own way…I couldn’t. In fact, it backfired. I wanted it more. It wasn’t until I prayed and asked God to take the desire away from me, that I could walk into the kitchen, smell that good Italian food cooking and not want a glass of red wine. It’s as simple as releasing your grip and allowing the Father to take it.

Hooking your breast plate of righteousness into your belt of truth, means you are relying on God’s power through the Holy Spirit in your life to help you overcome sin and live out God’s will. It is His righteousness that will work through you, not your own.

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The Shoes of the Gospel of Peace:

A Roman soldier’s sandals contained cleats across the soles. The cleats helped them stand their ground when an enemy attacked in battle, because the cleats dug into the soil. It also prevented them from slipping on wet terrain which gave them stability.

Spiritually speaking, the shoes of the gospel of peace keep a Christian from slipping when life becomes stormy. It helps us remain calm in the midst of difficulties, because we have God’s peace firmly locking us in place, so we will not waiver. Within the will of the Father we will find peace through Jesus Christ. When you wander outside of God’s will through disobedience, we lose our peace and slip on the enemy’s slope.

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Shoes are an important piece of armor because they are what move you forward. They put distance between you and that “thing,” but also move you towards living out your faith. Having faith cannot be just a head knowledge. True faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord is a faith in action which grows fruit as a result. What fruit has you life produced? Strap on those sandals and move soldier!

In part two we will look at the three remaining pieces of armor and what makes them all work properly.  The Shield of Faith, The Sword of the Spirit, The Helmet of Salvation, and Prayer.

See you then…

To purchase The Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer go to http://www.lifeway.com or your nearest mom and pop Bible bookstore.

 

 

Plastered on the Front Pew (Part 2)

Please note: If you’ve missed reading Plastered on the Front Row Part 1, I highly recommend you start there to have the complete story. You can find part one by scrolling down or clicking here: Plastered Part 1

“No matter how far I run

I run into Your love

And when I’m falling apart

You won’t let me go.”

By: Elevation Worship

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In darkness

Part 2:

In my life, the dawn of alcoholism started with darkness, as if a light switch flipped off inside me. After an intense fight with my husband, I announced I was done with our marriage. I shook my fist at God, “And you know what God, I’m done with You too. You are not who I thought you were. You didn’t come through for me like You promised. I. Am. Done!”

Then, aloud I said to Satan, “Alright let’s do this.”

The next morning, one thought bombarded me, ‘I think I want to drink some wine.’ For the first time in my adult life, I drove to a store and bought the biggest bottle of cheap, red wine I could find. So cheap, it had a twist-off cap.

I parked in the garage, and in my minivan gulped down the “red demon juice” (as I’d heard many Baptist call it) After another swig, I felt the warm goodness wash over me, removing the depth of my despair. It seduced me.

Afterwards, I drank wine, beer, and hard liquor every day. It provided my escape. However, while my self-medicating might have buried the pain, it enslaved me.

Darkness always brings bondage.

I’d left my husband and children, moved far away from them, and sought counsel from a church where no one knew of my situation. My brother allowed me to live with him, but I had to get a job to support myself. One evening, I applied for a waitress position at a beach restaurant and stayed to enjoy a seafood dinner and a couple of margaritas. After dinner, I drove out of the parking lot and within seconds heard police sirens and noticed the flashing lights behind me.

The officer approached my window. “Ma’am, do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No sir, was I swerving? I’m having to use my phone GPS because I’m new to the area and don’t know my way around.”

“Your headlights were off. Have you had anything to drink tonight?”

My heart raced and I hesitated before answering, “Yes.”

After a series of field sobriety tests, he arrested me. Handcuffed in the back of the police car, I counted the cost of my alcoholism. DUI. Jail. Record. Accusations assaulted my mind, ‘You’ve ruined your life. You left your children to get better, but your worse now than you were before. You are hopeless!’

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My mug shot

Plastered on the front pew—so to speak—was my mug shot. It humiliated my children as their “friends” snapped it all over social media. Throughout my family’s Christian community, “Pastor’s wife arrested for drunk driving” spread like wildfire. My children already devastated by the separation, now had to endure the shame of my bondage. My daughter, Faith spent several days bawling in her bed unable to face anyone at school. My abuse of alcohol caused more pain than I’ll ever know or be able to make up for. That’s the problem with pain left untreated…it becomes infected and damages everything and everyone surrounding it.

 

I needed help! The spiritual and emotional pain demanded relief. Running from the very God I’d loved and served majority of my life because He was not who I thought He was made life miserable—just as it has with so many like me.

After seven dark years, one day I had a “But God” divine appointment. I heard Him whisper into my shattered soul…

“Liz, you know the night you shook your fist at me and stated you were done with me too?”

“Yes, God, I remember it like it was yesterday,” I sobbed.

“You were right Liz, you needed to be done with that god…because that’s not who I Am. Don’t you know by now, I Am Grace? I Am your Healer. Will you let me Rescue you, hold you in My arms and Restore you? I will Resurrect your dead heart and Redeem your pain.”

Tears rolled down my cheeks as I confessed. “Yes Lord, I’m miserable and feel helpless. I need you to rescue me; please do it. You are the only One who can.”

Brutal truth? I would’ve remained in pain, plastered on the front pew, still abusing alcohol and running in darkness…

But God.

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Last summer, my husband Rob and I exchanged our vows again at Ana Maria Island.

Only God could discern the depth of my distress. Only God could demolish the delusion of my legalistic view of Him. He allowed me to make a mess of my life, to the point I thought there was no way I could be called His own again. God destroyed the bondage of my despair. He set me free from the darkness, took away my pain, and filled me with real joy. The kind of true joy not found in a bottle.

Even now, I don’t blame alcohol for my pain or my problem. I’m not condemning it or calling drinking a sin. In my situation, when it wasn’t alcohol, I used some other vice. You may wonder if I’m anti-alcohol now, the answer is “no.” But, I don’t need it anymore, Jesus made sure of that. Now, instead of being plastered on the front pew, I’m praising Him with a purpose. Telling those in pain, there is a real remedy. The enemy used alcohol to enslave me…my God used Love and Grace to free me.

“You intended to harm me, But God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20 (New International Version)

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My family restored.

Elizabeth Hammond is a contributing writer at the Hallelujah House.In her free time she loves to bake, read, and lounge on the beach which is in her opinion is the closest thing to heaven. Elizabeth’s passion is ministering to others out of her own God-story where He’s rescued her life and continues to restore her family. She desires to fulfill God’s purpose in her life in encouraging women by sharing her own story, through Bible study, and intimate friendships.

Elizabeth can be contacted at elizabethhammond8@gmail.com.

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Plastered on the Front Pew

“Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony,. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of Your unfailing love.” Psalms 6:2-4 New International Version

 

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Reeking of gin, one Sunday morning, I stumbled past the usher with glazed eyes. “If I had to be at church then it’s going to require some ‘liquid courage,”’ I thought.  I didn’t care if anyone could tell. A part of me dared them to confront me. I would have thought someone would’ve smelled it on my breath or at least felt something was off and ask, “What in Heaven’s name is going on Liz?” But no one did. Can you believe that? Furthermore, what makes this more ludicrous…

I am the pastor’s wife.

Picture it… the pastor’s wife plastered on the front pew.

Numerous times I’ve showed up for my son or daughter’s high school sport’s games with my “to-go-cup” of wine or tequila and lemonade. Alone, I’d sat in the bleachers and got sauced. My husband was also the principal of the private Christian school they attended. My behavior begged someone…anyone… to care enough to help me by noticing my shocking shenanigans. I wouldn’t have admitted it then, but I can now.

You’re probably wondering, why would a pastor’s wife behave this way? It can be summed up in one word.

Pain.

Some people can handle drinking out of pleasure, but I couldn’t. I felt so much pain. I drank to numb it. You heard the old cliché, “when it rains, it pours,” well, I’d change that to when it “pains it pours”.  I suffered from childhood sexual abuse, a failing marriage, two miscarriages, and feeling abandoned by God. It left me reeling. While life poured on the pain, I poured another drink.

“Be very careful, then how you live-not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:15-18 New International Version.

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Crazy thing, I wasn’t a drinker. My early forties introduced me to alcohol. Prior to that, I relieved my pain by doing all the “right things,” to please God. In evangelical circles this is called Legalism. Legalism is following rules to please God without having a “real relationship” with Him. Legalism wrapped its tentacles around my view of God, choking out the truth of His grace. The false doctrine states, it’s up to you whether you’ll receive God’s blessings; it is contingent on your obedience. Those who disobey receive only God’s wrath, leading them to question their own salvation.

I fed the beast with performing, trying hard to be a good Christian girl, by reading and studying my Bible, forgiving the unforgivable, never questioning what the church taught about God, and a whole-hearted trust if I did these things, God would come through for me. I believed God would bless my deeds with my desires and take away my pain. I banked my life on it. Yet, after 15 years of begging God for joy, the pain continued to pour. Over and over, Legalism twisted truth until it enslaved me within its coils. Its constant hissing blocked the voice of Truth and Grace with taunts like, “Aren’t you done trying to please God? God’s not who you think He is. You might as well give up.”

The enemy, Satan, crafted a plan to use pain to steal my joy in living an abundant life, to kill hope that my circumstances would change, and ultimately to destroy my faith in God. None are exempt from Satan’s attempt to deceive and destroy.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)

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Yesterday, I called a high school friend named Jason. These days, we keep up on Facebook; but I wanted to talk about his life-long struggle with alcohol and opioid addiction, and I knew he could shed light on the subject. Jason’s parents worked in ministry, so at times he sat plastered in the pew as well. Around 18 years old, he attended a beach getaway that included church friends, and for the first time, drank until he passed out.

“Alcohol was my escape,” he said. “It was like an elixir that made me open up. It fit like a glove, a second skin; and it became like my shadow.” Within the first year of binge drinking, Jason was charged with a DUI. He admitted to using alcohol to numb the pain. “Since middle school, I was bombarded with suicidal thoughts; I hoped that the Lord would take me in the middle of the night. Every night, I would ritually recite the Lord’s prayer just before bed.”

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Jason Umidi

In high school, while playing quarterback on the football team, Jason suffered a back injury requiring a few surgeries. After one surgery failed, he began washing down his opioids with alcohol to relieve himself of the constant physical and emotional pain. While enjoying success as an actor/model in NYC, his hometown girlfriend announced she was pregnant, so he returned home to do the “right thing” and marry her. He hoped that by doing so, it would bring blessings from God.  They gave birth to a daughter diagnosed with a rare disease which left her wheelchair bound.

“The constant stress coupled with my addictions became too much for my young wife and I to bear, so we separated and divorced,” he’d said.

Within ten years, Jason suffered five critical back surgeries, a divorce, a bankruptcy, and losing his home. Furthermore, he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, clinical depression, and suicidal ideation. “I felt like I had no purpose anymore, I became completely isolated and very angry with God.  My life had fallen apart; If I had died during my addiction, so be it!” Jason heard that same hissing voice as I. The enemy’s message spat doom, failure, enduring pain, and pointed accusations to a God who refused to rescue.

“Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, God will not deliver him. But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.” Psalms 3:1-3 NIV

But as I listened to his story, I had to know what was the last straw that led to his sobriety, so I asked him.

“The last straw was me landing in NYC, so inebriated I couldn’t find my way out of the airport. That night somehow, I managed to get into an Uber and on the ride home texted my Dad and said, ‘I’m an alcoholic. I need help. I’m going to rehab.’”

“The next day I checked myself into detox. Internally, I knew this was it; it’s now or never. My time had come. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Jason has been sober for three years. Through the intensive inpatient program, he gained the tools which enabled him to battle through one full month of rehab, then attended 45 AA meetings in 45 days. For the last three years, he’s been grinding it out every day to stay sober. He shared his source of strength is found in Jesus. A true miracle took place as each new day God gave Jason an attitude of gratitude. Where he used to feel self-condemnation, loathing, shame, and anger over making bad decisions, he now experiences grace and gratefulness.

“I’m thankful to have a job, a roof over my head, a home for my family, a family who stuck by me, for being sober, and for being alive. I’m grateful God did not abandon me, and I can honestly say that I am thankful for the struggle, for where I am today, and for the grace and protection of God. He has given me real joy that is only found in Jesus and it’s a joy that can’t be taken away.” Jason credits the tools and habits he learned through AA and finds peace in reciting the serenity prayer multiple times a day. He feels that he has a new calling on his life, and is in the process of becoming a nationally certified recovery coach.

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But God,

God had not abandoned Jason. And He never left me alone either.

In fact, God pursued me.

Read part 2 tomorrow to find out how…

 

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Introducing Elizabeth Hammond a contributing writer at The Hallelujah House. Elizabeth’s passion is ministering to others out of her own God-story where He’s rescued her life and continues to restore her family. She desires to fulfill God’s purpose in her life in encouraging women by sharing her own story, through Bible study, and intimate friendships. You can read the rest of her bio at the top of the homepage by clicking the word “Team

Elizabeth can be contacted at elizabethhammond8@gmail.com.

Note: Thank you to Jason Umidi for agreeing to be interviewed for this story. If. you’d like to leave Jason a comment you can find him on Facebook.

 

A Gift for God

Preparing the Heart

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Growing up, my parents often invited people over for dinner the pastor’s family, people from our church, and missionaries traveling into town—sometimes they stayed for weeks. Looking back, I marvel how momma handled this with ease. I’ve lacked that talent for being hospitable. I become a stress case thinking about cooking dinner for anyone outside my family. What if I burn something or something gets cold while I’m making something else. How in the world do you time it all? What if…I poison someone! Welcome to my internal dialogue.

I’m embarrassed to admit the first dinner I made for my husband (we were dating at the time) was boiled chicken. It boiled up and over the pot and made the biggest mess. I plunked that flavorless white chunk of boiled-mess on the plate. Immediately, he ran out and purchased me an engagement ring in an attempt to save me from starvation. (Just kidding here, hmm…but possibly)

In my defense, I can set a beautiful table, but I suppose no one’s going to remember that beautiful table unless there’s something to eat on it.

This insecurity has allowed me to buy into the lie that I don’t have to cook dinner for anyone, and I’ve gone long periods of time without one dinner guest. It’s as if that southern culture my momma created fizzled out in me. I’ve bought into the lie that it’s not my talent therefore let other’s do the inviting and the feeding, but this has come at a cost. Throughout Christ’s ministry many times the personal relationships He developed were over a meal, think about it…the last supper, at Mary and Martha’s house, at the beach when He cooked fish for the disciples.

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L to R: Christian, Colin, Me, Nick, and little Bella

 

I read an article not too long ago that stated God wants us to be hospitable. The writer pointed out we must have a willing heart even if it’s something we are naturally not good at because first it’s a sign of our faith (walking forward in uncertainty) and secondly, an act of worship.

Throughout this Christmas season I’ve reflected on Mary’s willing heart. When the angel Gabriel visited her and told her she was to give birth to the Messiah, she asked one question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” At first glance, one would think she was doubting what the angel Gabriel told her, but because of the angel’s response to her we know it wasn’t doubt in God’s power, but innocent curiosity. I love this because it shows God sees the heart of a person and knows us. He understood Mary’s limited experience in her mere thirteen years (or so) of life.

The opposite is true in Zechariah. When Gabriel told him he and Elizabeth would have a child and they were to name him John. Zechariah questioned how he could be sure this would happen since he and Elizabeth were so old. Zechariah wanted proof. This angered God because first—pointing out the obvious—God sent an angel to tell him the news. Wouldn’t that be proof enough? Secondly, Zechariah was a priest and knew the scriptures backwards and forwards. He knew God blessed Abraham and Sarah in their advanced years with their son Isaac. God held a higher expectation from an older priest than a young girl; causing God to take away Zechariah’s ability to speak until after John was born in response to his lack of faith.

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Once Mary heard the Holy Spirit would overcome her and impregnate her, she stated simply, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary was willing to carry the Christ child even though it was against the law for her to be with child and unmarried. She knew she could’ve been stoned to death, but she was willing.

Four years ago, I felt God impressing upon me I would be speaking. I journaled it as I do when I feel God is trying to tell me something. I can talk the cows to sleep, as my Momma so eloquently will tell you, but I hate speaking. Soon after, I journaled this, the leader from MOPS asked me to speak about Finding Joy in a Sorrowful Season. I had an hour to speak. I walked up to the podium gripping a barf bag. As soon as I began to speak God took over for me, and midway through I watched a tissue box being passed around between the young moms.

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Our tree in Orlando

Before opening Hallelujah House, I felt the Father impressing on me I would be making videos and speaking in them. This is way out of my comfort zone, so I’ve tried to negotiate my way out of it. One morning preparing for my next Bible study on The Armor of God by Priscilla Shirer, somewhere in the middle of the workbook page I felt His nudging again.

“Why now? Why didn’t you call me in my thirties?” I prayed. “You don’t see 50- year old’s on You Tube!” Not only that—I’m losing my hair from my double mastectomy. I imagined the criticisms that would pour in. The enemy whispered in my ear and filled me with angst. I compromised I’d speak—but off camera, yet I knew in order for the watcher to feel a connection with you and your story they need to see who’s doing the talking. I told myself I imagined it all. God isn’t asking this of me, besides I’m a writer. He wouldn’t ask me to do something I’m not inclined to do. (Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.)

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Just then my computer screen flashed a tweet by the very person who wrote the study I was working on. Priscilla Shirer tweeted, “Just Obey.” The words hung suspended glaring at me and seared my heart.

I sank in my chair.

I penciled in the date my son and I would do the filming. I pinned my hair back so it wouldn’t flap around in the wind and I sat in front of the camera in a barn stall on a hot morning with a wool wrap on (sweating bullets) and told the message God put on my heart, The Best Gifts Come in Ugly Wrappings. You can see the video here: https://videopress.com/v/0WpWDM7z

In God’s word, the Christmas story not only illustrates a willing heart but a mind inclined to obedience. What if Joseph didn’t take Mary to be his wife after finding out she was pregnant? Or if he chose not to obey when the angel told him to get up and flee to Bethlehem? Or if the wisemen chose not to go home another way as God told them to? Without a heart that’s willing and a mind focused on obedience we could fall out of God’s protection and blessings over our lives.

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My good looking husband Jay and our kids.

Are we willing? Are we willing to do whatever it is God has called us to do no matter how uncomfortable, embarrassing, or risky it is? God blesses a willing heart and an obedient mindset. As we face the New Year the best gift we can give the Savior for His birthday is a willing heart and obedience to His call on our lives. Whatever He asks us to do it’s already bursting forth to bring a harvest. He’s gone ahead of us and paved the path to completion; we just need to relinquish our reluctant spirit.

Please note: We will have one more blog written by Lisa Sciacco  posted Monday on how to make an easy last minute homemade gift for your loved ones. After that, Hallelujah House will be taking a break through the Christmas holidays. In January our theme will be… drum roll….Spiritual Warfare, so get ready to get on your spiritual armor. We’ve got some great things planned.  I’ll catch you on the other side.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Things First: The Gift of a Father

Preparing the Heart

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My Daddy!

 

I’ll admit it, I’m a grown woman who still calls her father Daddy because that’s who is to me. Growing up, Daddy was the spiritual leader of our home, but it didn’t start out that way. When he picked Momma up for their date nights, at every stoplight the beer bottles left bruises on her ankles. One night, she forbade him to take her out with beer on his breath or bottles in his pick- up- truck.

Sober, he still dated her.

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Love this Daddy too!

Three kids later, Momma lined her brood by the door to head out for a church revival. Weary of being the lone wife in the pews, she begged Daddy to go.

He brushed her off. “You go on now, I’m tired.”

When we saw sadness flash in Momma’s dark eyes, we begged him ourselves. He couldn’t say “no” to his wee ones. “Alright, I’ll go this one night, but don’t go asking me again.”

We agreed.

The next night, without a word Daddy followed us out the door and the next. He went for the whole revival and began attending church. One evening, while alone God tugged at his spirit. He fell on his knees by the sofa where he confessed his sins, proclaimed his faith in Jesus Christ, and surrendered his life to the Father.

I don’t remember my cigarette smoking, beer drinking Daddy. I only remember the one who read us the Bible and lined us up by the sofa every evening, so we could learn how to talk to our Heavenly Father. I remember the Daddy who led me to the Lord in a darkened church one Sunday afternoon before locking up. I remember the Daddy who sent me to my room to re-write a poem fifty times before proclaiming “Tammy, God made you a writer!”

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Another fine specimen my brother- in- law Shaun.

I tell you all this because our earthly fathers can be the filter in which we view our Heavenly Father. If this filter is cracked or smeared our picture of God could be distorted. A. W. Tozer stated, “What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”

The following are some ways in which we could perceive God that will throw us out of relational alignment:

  1. A Greek god:

If we see the Father as a Greek god of mythology, our relationship with him becomes impersonal. We will slide under the radar because if we screw up he may point his trident in our direction and strike us with lightening. Many times, being raised in a legalistic church or allowing legalism to trickle into our relationship can produce this view of God. God’s love is contingent upon our obedience. If we do anything bad—watch out for His wrath. We may have had a father who was harsh in administering punishment, offered performance-based affection, or pushed us into a rigid view of religion instead of relationship.

  1. Alexa:

If God is Alexa to us—ask and you shall receive—fulfilling our needs is His ultimate purpose. When we aren’t happy, God’s not doing His job. He’s not listening to us.  If this is our perception a litmus test would be in our prayers. If our prayers consist of a long list of wants then it’s possible God is not in His proper place in our lives. The Prosperity Doctrine teaches God’s job in our relationship is to prosper us, whereas the truth is our job is to prosper His kingdom. It is not to say God needs us, because He’s God He doesn’t need anything, but we are here for God not the other way around. Although, God is clear He does desire us to turn to Him with our needs, but our wants should not take up the dominant part of our prayer life. Furthermore, if we are abiding in the Father, our wants will be aligned with His for our lives.

If Alexa is our perception of God, our Daddy’s may have been a big gift givers, but rarely showed his love in other ways such as affection, being present, or affirmation in our lives.

  1. The Big Guy Upstairs:

If this is our view of God we may acknowledge He exists and give Him a nod or a word on occasion, but never invite Him to take over in our lives. It’s as if we view Him as an elderly albeit wise relative, whom you don’t want to bother with your petty petitions. You may have grown up in church as a holiday attender. Religious practices are tradition. In this case, our daddy’s could have been workaholics. We respect them for financially providing for us, but he tended to be vacant in other aspects of our lives.

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God reveals in His word how He wants us to view Him. According to www.christianbiblereference.com, God is referred to as Father (Abba) in the New American Standard 1,131 times. If our view of God is Father it puts us in a perfect relational alignment. We will be in submission to His authority in our lives, we will want a loving two-sided relationship with Him, we will desire to be in open communication, we will feel loved and wanted by Him, and we will want Him to be pleased with us.

I had a friend named Vanessa who didn’t have a loving Father growing up. He was an abusive alcoholic, so much so, she landed in the foster care system. On her death bed she told me she’d bought a Father’s Day card every year for the Father she wished she’d had. After she received Christ, she realized she’d had Him all along.

“I always felt someone loving me from afar, that someone was watching over me, I just didn’t know who He was, until one day, while driving to the grocery store I saw cars pulling into a church parking lot. It was as if my steering wheel turned on its own. I followed the crowd into the building. Inside, I heard the message of my Heavenly Father and soon I understood it was Him all along.”

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Our Father wants to know us. He is pursuing us and wants us to know Him in a deeply personal way. So much so, He may steer you right into Him. Have you had someone in your life share Jesus with you? That was the Father seeking you!

I hope as we prepare our hearts for Christmas that we take the time to unscrew our filters and inspect them. There is hope in overcoming our childhood religions and relationships—for they all fall short when stacked next to our Heavenly Father, but He’s the one that can fix that. He’s the only one that can help us see the clear picture of who He is. We just have to ask.

Jay’s the Daddy who can always make us laugh! Make sure to hug the Daddy’s in your life. Till next time…

 

 

 

 

Today: August 20, 2018

 

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Today, at 8:30am, Bella started Pre-K4. She was nervous and had a fluttery stomach, but once we arrived and walked into the classroom, she ran over to the puzzle table and dove in. “Bye Momma!” she said waving me off. Today, she passed a milestone. Today, she seemed to grow a foot…a year… and a whole lot of independence.

 

Today around noon,  I visited my friend Vanessa who’s been suffering from brain cancer. You can find her story “Naked and Picking Weeds 1, 2, and 3 by scrolling below) Today, her breathing was different than the last time I saw her, I held her tiny hand, her princess hand I like to call it, her fingers didn’t curl around mine like they did last week. Today, she didn’t pull me back when I tried to let her go. Today, she didn’t blow kisses at me as I headed out the door.

Today, I leaned over her, “I love you,” I said. “You have a great adventure ahead of you. You’re about to meet your Heavenly Father and He has something amazing in store for you. I just know it!”

Today, I witnessed a mother’s touch, calming the breath of a dying child. It was beautiful.

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Today at 4:30 my doorbell rang. I received a surprise package in the mail. My editor at She Leads Daily decided to print last month’s magazine that included an article about my painting. I hollered before texting my family and showing my boys. “My writing and art is in a print magazine!”  Today, I crossed milestone.

Today at 4:51pm, just twenty-one minutes later, Vanessa took her last breath. She passed away. Today she crossed over. Today, Vanessa can see, run, talk, laugh, breath, and eat. She is meeting the Father who’s watched over her.  She is meeting Jesus whom she gave her life to, not too long ago.

On one of my visits, I laid my head across Vanessa’s chest and she stroked my hair. “I’m going to meet Tricia soon,” she said. (My sister Tricia died of breast cancer.)

Today, Vanessa met her sister.

Today,  I’ve swayed between shock, joy, incredible sadness, love, and peace. Today I experienced an abundant life.

Today, I ask anyone reading this to say a prayer for Vanessa’s Momma Joan, and her family and friends as they mourn her passing.

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Goodbye my sweet Vanessa. I love you.

Tonight, I know we’ll meet again.

Get Out of the Boat!

Recently, I was asked by our MOPS leader what is your life phrase for the New Year. I didn’t have to think about mine. For a while now, God has placed the same Bible story in front of me. Don’t you love it when the same passage comes up over and over? Maybe God doesn’t need to do that to you, but my Creator knows about my hard head and ADD.

The story is of Peter seeing Jesus walking on the water and asking to join Him. When Jesus grants permission, for a moment Peter feels what it’s like to walk on water. My phrase for the year of 2017 is “Get out of the boat.” God’s calling me to step out of my comfort zone.

 

Jay and I decided this summer we will move to the farm. It will definitely be a lifestyle change. You see, the farm has been a reprieve for us as a family, a get-away place to enjoy with Jay’s brother Shaun and his family, but soon it will become a new lifestyle.

This decision has come about after much prayer, contemplation, and confirmation. Last week, while cleaning the kitchen, I asked God to give me another sign that this is what He truly wanted. Earlier that morning, I signed up on a ministry’s website called Embrace Grace, and an hour later they sent me an email with a bloom word. My bloom word was “Adventure.” The email stated they had prayed over me and felt God had a word of encouragement for me today.  The attached verse was Judges 18:6 ESV, “And the priest said to them, ‘Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

Under the word Adventure it went on to say…

“New adventures with the Lord are often exciting and filled with a lot of unknown.

Your sense of calling is like an unfolding, epic adventure! Be encouraged that as an uncharted path is before you, God is with you. When we seek His wise counsel and draw close to Him, it is His voice that leads us. A journey that is directed by Him comes with His protection, oversight, and blessings. Pack your bags with only the items that He wants you to take. Leave your worries and past behind and step into your new adventure with courage knowing your heavenly Father is right beside you! Let the new adventure begin!” (Embrace Grace Bloom Word)

 

To top it off, it came with a print button, so you could print off your sign and hang it on the wall. God has a sense of humor. He sent me a literal sign an hour after I prayed for it. Although there are still lingering doubts, we’ve decided to jump off the gangplank and see what happens.

Life on the farm is in extreme opposition from the life in Orlando. For one, I will have to cook dinner every night. Although, I do it a few nights a week, cooking is not one of my creative talents. Can I get an “Amen” for Uber Eats?  There is no Uber Eats at the farm.…sigh. The nearest decent grocery store is a thirty-minute drive down dirt roads, across a one lane bridge, and into another city. We are in the sticks people!

For another inconvenience, my driving son will be in college, and I will have to drive my boys until November when my second born is able to get his license. In Orlando, if all the drivers are unavailable to pick up from Lacrosse practice or a theme park, we Uber our boys home. It’s as easy as entering an address into your cell phone. There’s no Uber at the farm…ugh!

In O Town, we have entertainment and fine dining around every corner. I am convinced, we are some of the most entertained and well-fed people in the USA. At the farm, there are ATV’s, animals, slow internet, and satellite television which goes out during a storm. In fact, if you goggle the area and ask for happening local events, you get a barbecue restaurant by the tracks and that’s a fifteen-minute drive…snore.

There is one sacrifice I am cringing about…my freedom. Here, I have sitters for Bella whom I trust, so I can go to the Barnes and Nobles down the street and put in a full writing day. The cafe is my office away from home. There are no babysitters or bookstores near the farm…boo hoo!

 

Although, my life will not have the comforts and luxuries of this one, I feel this life will help us grow. It is good to step out of your comfort zone on occasion. In the following weeks, I will write about the pros and cons of this change, my fears, and the steps we are taking with the boys for a smooth transition. Eventually, The Writer’s Roost will become the story of a spoiled Orlando Momma who moves deep into the sticks and what that life looks like. You will follow me as I start over, learning my way in a new town and meeting new people, and as always when I’m at the farm, God will provide the inspiration. This Momma will bravely step off her perfectly manicured lawn, and onto the sea of manure. So slip on your muck boots and come along! Watch out for that runaway bull!

If you’ve ever felt the need for a change, or if you’ve experienced a lifestyle switch-a-roo such as this, please share in the comments below. I’d love to hear about it.