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Truth In Love, Except on Game Day

Like most parents, I’ve spent countless hours teaching my five children how to love and treat people with kindness. I have usually directed them to the truth of Ephesians 4:29, which says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It’s never easy to maintain such a high standard, but doing so during football season, especially right here – smack dab in the middle of SEC country – is like the obedience test of all tests. In fact, I have sometimes found myself asking why the apostle Paul couldn’t have gone on to say, “except on the last Saturday in October when Georgia plays Florida. Then you may trash-talk the Gators. In love.”  As you might imagine, it isn’t easy for a Georgia fan to live in the state of Alabama. I’m surrounded by Tide and Tiger fans, though thankfully they’re so tied up with hating on one another that they don’t really have the time or energy to hate on us Bulldogs too often. I’ve tried to explain to my kids (who I’m successfully raising to be Georgia fans, I might add) that though it may not be quite as intense as the Iron Bowl, the contest between UGA and Florida brings a history of hatred that can go toe-to-toe with any other rivalry in college football. Since we don’t live in the state of Georgia or even around too many Gator fans, it’s been a little difficult to explain to them why we should hate on Florida, and why it’s okay…at least around the house…to allow a little unwholesome Gator talk out of our mouths. I’ve tried narrowing it down to these five reasons, and I trust that as the kids get older and more seasoned they’ll end up with a few more justifications of their own:

Steve Spurrier. Do I really need to say more? I have vivid childhood memories of my dad yelling, “I CAN’T STAND THAT COCKY SOB!” So maybe part of my disdain for Spurrier is genetic. But cocky he was, and I guess rightly so. He led the Gators to six SEC Championship titles and one National Championship title, making him the winningest coach in Florida history, and he did all that in a span of time that coincides perfectly with my childhood years. He often trash talked other teams and coaches himself. Many of us UGA fans remember him referring to Coach Ray Goff as Ray Goof, and how he said that it was fun to play us because we always had some suspended players. Few could forget Spurrier laughing and saying post-game, “Nobody’s ever scored 50 points against Georgia at home, and I just wanted to see what it felt like to be the first.” To my children, I simply say, “Their once obnoxious coach hated us, so we hated him back.” It seems to resonate.

 Gator fans. Obviously this is where I need to add the disclaimer that not ALL Florida fans are obnoxious. I happen to know a few who I really like. But go to one Georgia-Florida game and you’ll quickly see just how next level Gator fans are. It’s as if they’ve taken a class on how to offend UGA fans, and it’s made worse by their refusal to quit wearing jorts and sporting mullets. Our delicate UGA senses are simply overwhelmed by the indecency. Even outside of games, I get snarky comments from Gator fans if I’m seen wearing Bulldog attire. Over time I’ve learned not to wear too much red and black if I’m vacationing in Florida. Not even the magic of Disney will prevent some Florida fans from spewing a “Go Gators,” or even worse, performing a Gator chomp in your safe space as you stand in line to ride Space Mountain. Don’t ask me how I know that. Which leads me to my next reason…

 The Gator Chomp. In my opinion it ranks just as high as hearing the Vols sing Rocky Top 500 times per quarter, or even hearing the FSU Tomahawk chant every 30 seconds. The Chomp is the Gator fans’ version of clapping, and they do it incessantly and often directly in your face. It’s just annoying. The only thing I can think of that’s worse is a hearing a cowbell for 4 straight quarters – but that’s a different subject.

 Orange. It’s ugly. Thanks to Auburn and Tennessee, my children have already pieced together that orange = bad. So Florida being another orange team has made it easy for them to understand why the Gators are a big rival. As we Dawg fans like to say, “Friends don’t let friends wear orange.” And finally…

 Because that’s just what Georgia Bulldogs do. We hate on Florida. There really is no bigger or better reason apart from that. When you’re born into the Dawg family, you are raised to loathe the Gators and you don’t stray from it. Even when Tim Tebow – the most amazing, precious, angel-from-heaven college football player ever – tempts you to actually cheer for him and his team, you don’t. Because Georgia Bulldogs, under no circumstances, ever pull for the Florida Gators. Ever. That, friends, is the gospel according to the Dawg Nation. 

  In just a couple of short weeks, Georgia and Florida will meet once again for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. No one from my household will be there, but the spirit of that rivalry will be alive and well here in my corner of Birmingham, Alabama. The game is so intense that it’s like a season in itself, and it’s always difficult to predict who will win. But one prediction I can confidently make is this: Bulldog and Gator fans alike will shell out their best insults and trash talk, fueled by disdain for one another and a deep love for the game itself. And isn’t that passion the thing that makes SEC football so fun to watch and experience as a whole? Normally, mixing red, black, blue and orange together doesn’t produce anything very pretty. But on the last Saturday in October, it’s a sight to behold. In our complicated world, there are plenty of things more important than football. But it’s hard to overstate the thrill of hundreds of thousands of fans coming together every week to cheer on their favorite teams and rage against their rivals. Maybe it’s my southern heritage, but I can hardly think of anything more fun than that. It’s a total blast! So no, I don’t mind teaching my kids to hate on Florida. Ideally year round, but at least on that last day of October. And I’m still searching for that extra verse in Ephesians. It’s surely in there somewhere, right? Gotta be.
Go Dawgs!

They Grow Up Fast…

Somehow I’ve managed to stifle my heartache over sending Noah off to college in the fall. Maybe it’s because Samford is so close. I’ve just imagined that he’s having an extended spend-the-night stay with his buddies, & somehow that helps. But last night, on our last night of vacation, it hit me like a ton of bricks just how big all of my kids are. That probably wasn’t helped by the fact that earlier that day we’d watched old videos of the kids when they were toddlers & preschoolers. My heart broke as I tried to figure out where the time had gone, and if I had been fully present throughout all of their childhoods. I was lying in bed last night almost in a state of panic over the fact that I am completely powerless to stop time from marching on. I was overwhelmed with a desire to hold and hug all of them and never let go. I felt an urgency to pay close attention to each one of them and not look away for even a second…I don’t want to miss anything! My silent sobs still managed to wake Lee up, and though he tried to comfort me, I couldn’t pull it together. I think I just needed to allow myself to cry it out, and I imagine I’ll do more of that in weeks and years to come. I’m always borderline depressed at the end of every family getaway, but this time it’s especially…well, bad. 
But one realization I’m having is this: when your kids transition out of being so dependent on you into more independent young adults, seeing the product of God’s hand in your parenting is a beautiful thing. I’m finding myself genuinely and pleasantly surprised at how my older kids think, respond, and behave. I have moments when I think, “Wow. He actually gets it!” I’m also feeling somewhat relieved that the mistakes I’ve made that I felt sure would scar my kids for life have been filtered through God’s grace and, instead, grew me to be better & wiser. It’s especially rewarding when you want to hang out with your kids because they’re actually hilarious and loads of fun. (The reward of having kids that are more witty than you is epic!) Or because you can have serious discussions about politics, God, relationships, & just life. These things help make the transition into the next phase of a mom’s life somewhat bearable, and for that I thank God. 
At the end of every summer I’ve thought about all the moms and dads in the world who were sending their high school graduates off to college, and I would nearly cry thinking of what they must be feeling. I’d also feel a sense of relief in knowing that I still had a while before any of my kids were at that age. But now…ugh…it’s here, and there’s not a thing in the world I can do about it. My plan is to try my hardest to focus on the blessings ahead rather than lament the past, and invest as much as I can into those still in my nest. Your prayers would be greatly appreciated in the meantime…I won’t deny the struggle! Being a mother has been and very much is the greatest joy of my life, and emotions aside, I do trust God to lead and guide me through each phase of parenthood. He’s been so faithful to do just that so far, and I know He will be faithful to the very end. As I, and all of us, continue to move through life, one prayer I have is to follow this passage more deliberately & consistently: 
“And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders.” Deuteronomy 6:6-8

I want so much not only to talk about, but also to obey God and live out the gospel in front of my kids from sun up to sun down, every day, and in every circumstance. Teaching them what it means to have a real relationship with Jesus is an eternal investment, and I also believe it’s the most loving thing I can do for any of them. I’ll never be able to do that perfectly, but I pray to be, at the very least, consistent. I praise God for loaning me such precious people to love, nurture and raise. In return, I want their lives to honor and reflect Him, and I pray that none of them will ever turn from His ways. As for me, I’m confident that seeing Jesus in their lives will far overshadow any grief I might feel over their growing up. And for the comfort that will bring, I am so grateful. 

Trust and Obey

One of my biggest faults, and I do consider it a genuine fault, is my inability to say “no” to people. My personal preference is often pushed aside so that I can accommodate others, and even though that may sound noble, it isn’t. Countless times I’ve put myself in positions where I felt stuck and miserable because I didn’t have the nerve to simply say “no.” I didn’t want to seem mean, selfish, inconsiderate, rude, or, God forbid, risk being unliked. Even worse, there have been times I was fearful of saying “no,” even when I knew that saying yes was sinful. I would sometimes compromise my own standards because I didn’t want to seem like a prude (or worse) in the eyes of others. My fear of saying “no” and standing firm by my boundaries has put me situations that eventually the Lord had to rescue me from. It has baffled me for most of my adult life, why I had such strong convictions over many things, yet was willing to occasionally compromise them for the sake of another person’s feelings. It has never been worth it. Never.

Something the Lord has been hammering into my spirit lately is the word “obedience.” Even reading that word here on my screen makes me a tad uncomfortable, because it reminds me that I haven’t always been very good at it. I love to talk about grace, (don’t we all?) both giving it and receiving it. It makes me feel better. But something I’ve realized lately is that I find myself talking about God’s grace at the exclusion of obedience to Him. I’m not suggesting that I walk around in prideful defiance day in and day out. But I think it’s easy for me (and maybe for lots of us) to think about all of the ways I struggle…about where I’m vulnerable…and use that to excuse and justify my behavior. Then afterwards, I bask in God’s grace as if I’m entitled to it. Am I the only one who’s ever operated out of those thoughts? (Please say no!)

I found myself in a position fairly recently where I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me repeatedly, “Missi, you can obey me or not. The choice is yours. This is where the rubber meets the road in your faith. You are acting like you’re a slave to other people and other things. You aren’t. Be a slave to righteousness!” I prayed for God to empower me with His Spirit and to let the truth of His word speak over whatever lies I was believing or was tempted to believe. And I obeyed Him. I stuck to my convictions and held firm to my boundaries. I’m not patting myself on the back TOO hard, because I know that in my humanity I’m doomed to mess up in lots of ways, but I can’t help but be proud of myself for doing what I felt like God was telling me to do in that moment. That might sound simple and like no big deal to many of you, but for me it was a major victory. I said “no.”

It’s surprisingly easy to believe the lies of the enemy when he tells me that I’m a failure. Weak. A hypocrite. Worthless. A bad mom. A bad wife. When he calls me or any of us names like that long enough, not only do we come to believe them, but we may even live them out in a self-fulfilled prophecy. If we believe we’re a failure, we’ll come to act as a failure. If we believe we’re worthless, we’ll behave in ways that will ultimately make us feel more worthless, which sometimes for me, comes from not saying “no” when I need to say “no.” But God, in his perfect love for us, has His own list of names for us as believers: We are His children. We are a friend of Jesus. We are justified and redeemed. We are no longer slaves to sin. We aren’t condemned by God. We are free. We are fellow heirs with Christ. We are accepted. We are a new creature. We are the righteousness of Christ. We are blessed. We are chosen, holy and blameless before God. We are forgiven. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are alive in Christ. We are His workmanship. We are complete. When we can receive and believe that deep in the marrow of our bones, we will come to live it out in our daily lives…not perfectly, but consistently. Pleasing Him will come long before pleasing man. That’s a priority my heart longs to keep.

I remember a beloved hymn I sang in church all throughout my childhood:

When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way;
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey,
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.

Obedience isn’t always easy. God never promised us it would be. But because of the sacrifice He made for us through Jesus, He fully deserves it. Not only that, it will keep us under His protection. My kids don’t always obey me, but they risk getting hurt or suffering terrible consequence if they don’t. The same is true for us and God. But most of all, like the hymn says, there is truly no other way to be happy in Jesus. When we walk with Him and live in the light of His word, there is no greater joy this world could offer.

Let’s trust Him for that. And obey.

He replied, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:28

Mrs. Doris

Every Friday I have the blessed privilege of volunteering at a local pregnancy center here in Birmingham. I spend my time there counseling women who come in for pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, or STD testing. Most women aren’t married, and many pregnancies aren’t planned. I get to know the clients and find out how they feel about being pregnant or not, whether they plan to parent or have an abortion, where/if they attend church, and if they are a believer. I ask about the father of the baby, and if he is supportive of the pregnancy, and all kinds of other questions that help me understand what clients are feeling. Basically it’s an opportunity to love, encourage, and pray with women who most often feel like they’re in a crisis.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be in a position where I can help another person, even if it’s just to listen. I have to say, though, that being there is such a blessing for me personally because I get to volunteer with some of the sweetest, Godliest women I’ve ever known. I leave there every week feeling so uplifted and inspired. I treasure being in an environment where everyone there is eager to get to know one another; where no one is sizing others up or looking down their noses. Everyone willingly encourages and prays for one another and has a genuine interest in each other’s lives. And most importantly, everyone loves Jesus. It’s so, so refreshing.

Doris, an almost 80 year old lady who also comes on Fridays, is one of the most remarkable women I think I’ve ever met. Her life story is so powerful that it’s almost overwhelming for me to think about. She became a Christian as an adult after her husband of 24 years (an abortion providing ob/gyn) left her for another woman. She never remarried. She had a daughter to die in an accident when she was 13. She was an alcoholic. She’d had several abortions herself. She has every reason in the world to have a heart of stone, yet she has a heart of gold. She loves the Lord and shares the gospel with every client who walks in the door. I can’t help but wish to be just like her when I’m that age, and to be like her even now. She is full of the Holy Spirit and it shows in every word she speaks, and everything she does.

Everything Doris ever tells me about herself always elicits a jaw drop from me. If I could remember everything she’s told me since I’ve known her, I would share it. I know anybody else would agree with me that her whole life is a reflection of how much she loves the Lord. Today she was talking about how she hadn’t bought a stitch of clothing for herself in 35 years. I was sure I hadn’t heard her correctly…35 years?!? She told me that everything on her body, even her makeup, was given to her. Shoes, undergarments, everything. She said that she was standing in her closet one day and felt like she heard the Lord say to her, “I will dress you.” And from that moment on she stopped buying her own clothes. And she doesn’t ask for clothes from others, either–somehow she just ends up being given hand-me-downs from all kinds of people. I stood there, stunned. I mean, I hate shopping, but I do it…what woman doesn’t shop for clothes sometimes? I told her that I had just cleaned out my closet and had 3 huge bags full of clothes that I was about to give to Goodwill, but that I would go through them and give some of them to her. She seemed thrilled. I’m thrilled, too. If she can go 35 years being obedient to the Lord and trusting Him to provide, I can certainly be a vessel for Him to use to bless her.

I told Mrs. Doris today a lot of what I’ve written here, that I thought she was so precious, and one of the most Godly women I’ve ever known. She hugged me tearfully and said, “Well, God is good and His Word never returns void.” Such a classic response from her. She is a living example of the woman I want to be…that I pray to be. I want to be so full of the Holy Spirit and of the knowledge of His Word that whatever comes out of my mouth is evidence of that. I’m so thankful that there are people in the world like Doris who are living proof of the redeeming power of the gospel; who live out the gospel in word and deed, and who have surrendered every part of their life to Jesus. She’s not walking around feeling sorry for herself or mad at the world. She’s giving to others what she’s received herself. To see that and be around it every week is beyond inspiring…it’s an unspeakable blessing. In many ways it feels like being around Jesus Himself. But the coolest thing about all of it is knowing that she didn’t have to work hard to be that way. She just yielded herself to Him. And that’s all I, and any of us, have to do, too. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can realize that everything God can do or has in store for us is so much better than anything we could ever dream up for ourselves. I’m not talking about material things, either. He can fulfill us and bring us joy like no other person, place or thing can. I want that. Don’t you?

When I read Titus 2:3-5, Mrs. Doris comes to mind immediately. She is teaching me how to live a life that honors God just by watching how she lives herself. It challenges me even more to live out my own beliefs in front of my family and everyone I know. I don’t want to leave this earth being remembered for being a mom of five, a doctor’s wife, a runner, a pretty girl, the life of the party, or anything that doesn’t count for eternity. I want to be remembered for loving Jesus and for being His hands and feet. More than that I want to pass down that desire to my children and one day grandchildren. It’s not an unobtainable goal. It’s simply a matter of surrendering and being obedient to Him, and that’s what I want to do. There aren’t many Doris’s in the world, but for the ones out there, thank you for showing women like me the love of Jesus by living out His Word. You’re doing kingdom work and you don’t even know it. Should I ever hear the Spirit speak to me such words as “I will dress you,” I will remember Mrs. Doris and her unwavering faith and obedience, and hopefully do the same. After all, the same God who changed her heart can make mine more like His, too. I pray that He will.

Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way  that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame to the Word of God.” Titus 2:3-5

Taking Up The Shield

Generally speaking, I’m an anxious person. To those who know me best, that is not news, but others are often surprised to hear it. I always get a kick out of seeing people’s reactions when I say, “Oh, yeah, I have terrible anxiety.” I often hear back, “You DO? You seem so calm and laid back. I would never guess that about you.” But it’s true.

I don’t think I suffered with anxiety much at all as a child or adolescent, or even as a (single) college student. My first real episodes that I remember came shortly after I got married. Looking back, I attribute that to being so young (21) and still in college, and not being quite prepared psychologically for such a change in status. After all, my former roommates were still all living together and going to parties and having fun living the college life, and I was living off campus with my HUSBAND. It sounded weird to even say that out loud…”I have a HUSBAND.” I was having a different kind of fun, I suppose, but the reality of being a wife was such a crazy thing for me to wrap my brain around at the time – especially since none of my close friends were even engaged. I felt very isolated. I had chest pain that I was  convinced was angina almost every day of the first year of our marriage. It was literally all I could think about. “Why is my chest hurting? Am I having a heart attack? I must be having a heart attack!”

I read through as many of Lee’s medical books as I could, trying to diagnose myself with anything that would help me have some peace of mind. I should point out that the pain I was having was nothing that mimicked cardiac pain. It wasn’t dull, but it wasn’t that sharp either. It was just sort of there, nagging and persistent.  I remember waking up early one Thursday morning in our downtown Birmingham apartment with this weird pain, and I immediately ran some bath water so I could get in and hopefully calm down. It woke Lee up, and when I told him I was scared I was having a heart attack (again) he took me across the street to UAB’s emergency room. Despite Lee’s insistence that I was not actually having an MI, I didn’t believe him. That visit to the ER basically landed me with a prescription for Ativan and a “good luck” from the doctor. Even as I type this, I’m shaking my head.

I vividly remember spending the next 6-9 months of our first year of marriage feeling scared to death of everything. Nothing in particular, just scared. I don’t know how else to explain it, but it was miserable. There were nights when Lee had to spend the night in the hospital to take call, and I couldn’t wait for him to get home the next morning just so he could lay next to me and hold me. I felt scared I was going to die, that I was going to get kidnapped, robbed, raped…you name it, I feared it. It was only after I became very unexpectedly pregnant with Noah that I was able to calm down and think about something other than me.

Fast forward to 2012, three summers ago. I had developed a stress fracture in my right foot in February of that year and had to take the next three months off from running or doing any exercise with impact. It was awful, and especially stressful for me because my 20-year high school reunion was coming up the following July and I wanted to be in good shape for it. In May I started going on short runs again and teaching fitness classes with more impact since the pain had gone away. I had noticed after a couple of runs that my feet tingled a little bit afterwards. It didn’t worry me too much because I knew my feet were probably slapping the pavement harder than usual – it had been a while since I’d run.

The day after I noticed the tingling, Lee and I went to New York for my birthday weekend. I spent a lot of time on my feet while we were there (wearing cute wedges, of course.)  By the time we got home on Sunday night, all my toes were completely numb. Again, I didn’t worry too much because of the circumstances, but when I woke up the next morning and they were still numb, I freaked out. I began googling every neurological disease I could think of to see if I could find a diagnosis. At some point I became convinced that I had multiple sclerosis, and for the next 3 months I did absolutely nothing but read about MS and worry myself into tears over it. I even lost weight because I was so consumed by anxiety. One Saturday I came home from a run crying my eyes out because both my feet and my hands had begun tingling during the run. I called Lee, panicked and sobbing. He said, “You know what? I’m taking you to my hospital so you can have an MRI. I’m going to call them right now so they know we’re coming. This is ridiculous, Missi. You aren’t going to be assured that you’re okay until you can hear it from another doctor.” I protested vehemently because I knew for sure that I’d get bad news and I wasn’t ready to face it. Once again, Lee had been saying for months that I did NOT have MS, or anything else like it, but I wasn’t convinced.

As you might expect, the MRI showed nothing but a normal brain, and I left there doped up on IV Ativan with a prescription for more. The Ativan that they gave me in the ER strangely eliminated all the tingling in my hands and feet, which helped me realize that it was mostly another manifestation of my anxiety. I was relieved but also slightly embarrassed. I must’ve seemed like a kook to all of Lee’s doctor and nurse friends. For a brief time after all of that, I reluctantly agreed to take Zoloft. It helped tremendously with the anxiety, but gave me so many other side effects that I decided I’d rather just be anxious. By then, I was used to it.

Those are two distinct periods when I had especially intense anxiety, but I’ve maintained a low level of chronic anxiety throughout the majority of my adulthood. Many of you know that I’m scared to death to fly. I’m also scared to go to the doctor. I’m scared my kids will get a disease, or that something terrible will happen to one of them. I’m scared that people won’t like me. I’m scared to stay in a hotel room or condo on a high floor, and the list goes on. I’m not going to lie – it can be exhausting. Soon after Abby’s second bout with pneumonia this summer and all of my personal fear surrounding that, I asked Lee to please pray that I wouldn’t be afraid all of the time. I was so tired of it. It occurred to me that I was always so anxious about something bad potentially happening that I couldn’t enjoy the beautiful things right in front of me. I was robbing myself.

Less than two weeks after asking Lee to pray for me, I learned that Abby had a carcinoid tumor in her lung. For anyone who hasn’t followed that saga, Abby came down with fever and cough the day of her dance recital on Mother’s Day weekend. She took oral antibiotics and it went away, but a week or so later, her fever came back with accompanying chest pain. I took her to the emergency room at Children’s, where she was diagnosed with a lower lobe pneumonia and admitted. She was given IV antibiotics and went home two days later seeming like a new person. But two weeks later, her symptoms all returned. A chest x-ray showed another pneumonia and she was admitted again – this time to the pulmonary floor. A bronchoscopy during that stay revealed a mass of tissue growing in her right lung. Lee was certain that she had inhaled something that had turned into a granuloma, but, as always, I worried that it was a cancerous tumor.

A few days after Abby returned home, Dr. Harris, a super smart and sweet pulmonologist, called Lee with the pathology report. Abby had a carcinoid tumor. We learned that even though this was technically a cancer, it was very slow growing and curable by resection. I felt relieved until we were told that Abby might need to have part of her lung removed, and that if the carcinoid was in her lymph nodes, she might even need chemotherapy. Then, just one week later, her surgeon told us that even if it was in her nodes, she would not need chemo. I was on a roller coaster of emotions, going from slight relief one day to almost paralyzing fear the next. My anxiety and stress levels were at an all time high.

Last Wednesday, Abby had surgery to have the tumor removed. it was a tremendous success, and we are so thankful. During the actual operation, Lee and I sat in the waiting area for four hours – without a doubt, the longest four hours of my life. My stomach was in knots. Minute to minute, I went from feeling confident that she would be okay to crying and feeling scared something terrible would happen. One thing is for sure: whether you are an anxious person or not, nothing is harder or more stressful to a parent than waiting while your child is having a big surgery. All I could think about was, “My precious little girl is having her lung operated on right now. Why did this have to happen to her?” It’s a helpless feeling, knowing that as her mother I could do nothing but sit there and wait and pray while trying not to think about the “what-ifs.” We received updates from her world-renowned cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Cerfolio, throughout the operation – all of which brought great news. The more good news we received, the better I felt. When we were told that the tumor had been cut out and that her margins were clear, Lee and I both cried tears of gratitude. We knew for sure at that moment that none of her actual lung would need to be resected, and that the surgery was a success. Shortly after that we were told that she was in recovery and doing fine, and I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted. The worry and fear I had been feeling since her very first hospital stay was over, and I thanked God countless times. I still do!

Something I’ve realized about anxiety is that it’s really about not being in control. The reason I’m so scared to fly is because I’m not the one in the cockpit flying the plane, nor do I know who is. I was anxious about Abby because I had no control over the tumor growing in her lung, and no ability to get it out. I can’t control how my kids drive when I’m not in the car with them, and that’s been a solid source of anxiety since Noah turned 16. (Please pray for me when all five start driving!) I worry about getting a deadly disease because I don’t have total control of my health. I do what I can to take care of myself, but the rest is left to God.

But that’s actually really good news: God IS in control. It’s up to me, and to all of us, to put our faith in Him or not. Nothing, not one single thing, happens in our lives that does not first pass through His hands. I don’t believe God makes bad things happen, but I do believe he ALLOWS them to happen for a reason.

Every circumstance we encounter in our lives, whether good or bad, is an opportunity for us to see God, to learn from Him, and to grow to love Him more. For weeks I feared the possibility of Abby dying during surgery, and pondered how I would handle it if she did. Every time the thought occurred to me, I concluded that God loved her more than I did. I knew that if something awful like that happened, He would get me through it, and reveal more of Himself to me in the process. It’s hard for any of us to imagine how we’d handle a situation like that, but we can know that regardless of the situation, God loves us, is near to us, and is good. When I arrived at that conclusion, it didn’t eliminate all of my anxiety over Abby’s surgery and it’s outcome, but it was definitely a source of comfort.

I know firsthand that fear and anxiety are crippling and exhausting. When Abby and I left the hospital to go home, I realized that 99% of my exhaustion was related to the anxiety I felt during her surgery. I slept for three solid hours right after I walked in the door to my house. Since May, I have been debilitatingly anxious about Abby’s health at times, so I clearly needed that rest. But the truth is, none of us have to be crippled by fear. Instead, we can be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power by putting on the full armor of God.

Ephesians 6: 16 tells us to “take up the shield of faith so that we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Fear doesn’t come from the Prince of Peace, which means that my anxiety is most definitely one of those flaming arrows. The thing is, God will not put His armor on us. We have to be the ones to take action and do it ourselves. We can choose to have faith. We can choose to trust Him. We can choose to believe Him, and not just IN Him. We can keep our minds stayed on Him and rest in the peace that comes from that, or we can allow the enemy to torture us through doubt and fear. I’m comforted to know that while I may not be able to control the circumstances around me all of the time, I can most certainly  control my decision to pick up my shield or not. And so can you.

I’m a work in progress in so many areas…too many of them to count. It’s hard to imagine ever being in a place where I won’t struggle with anxiety. My deepest prayer is that, as I age, I will break completely free from any bondage to fear. Though it’s hard to imagine, I know God can deliver me from that if I allow Him to. But I’m still working on it. It seems that the first step is relinquishing control of every part of my life to the One who made me. I must choose to trust Him. His love is perfect and unfailing. He showed it most and best with the gift of His only Son, but whenever I stop to look, I realize that He is showing me all the time.  When I focus on that, I find there is nothing left to fear, and no reason left to doubt.

“In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all men.” Job 12:10





SPF Jesus

I’m embarrassed to admit that I forgot how to log into my own blog site–it’s been THAT LONG since I’ve written! It’s funny…I was thinking just a few days ago that I needed to post something here, but that I wanted to wait until I felt led to by the Holy Spirit before doing so. Not that I think that ALL of my blog posts should be all inspirational and stuff, but on some level I do feel a need to share encouragement almost always.  After all, there’s so much bad in the world…in the media, and in social media. A good word can be hard to find sometimes.  If God can use me to reveal even the tiniest of glimpses of Him, I am more than up for the task!

Today I was pretty much smacked upside the head with the idea for this particular post. I was talking to my dear friend and trainer, Jen, about a particular life experience I had years ago, and about what God had shown me as a result of going through it. One of the many reasons I love her so much is because, not only does she work my tail off, and not only is she the easiest person on the planet to talk to,  and not only is she hysterically funny, she genuinely loves Jesus and has a heart for people. Every once in a while you meet a person who instantly makes you feel like you’re “home,” so to speak. That is Jen. I feel like I can tell her anything, and unless I’m huffing and puffing or crying in pain, I do.  She has made my day more often than she even knows because of her sweet heart and her genuine interest in things other than herself.  She inspires me beyond fitness, that’s for sure.

When I showed up for my session today, I immediately apologized to her for my sunburnt, scaly face. Over this past weekend I was out on the boat without a stitch of makeup or sunscreen for the first time in years. I got the worst sunburn I’d gotten since high school, I think. My face is peeling and red now, but it was downright blistered over the weekend. It hurt to touch my face or even move it. I’m not sure what I was thinking…I’m 41 years old and should know that I’m long past the point of getting sun without negative consequences–i.e wrinkles. Jen could easily see the damage and tried to tell me it didn’t look that bad….but it does! That’s just her typical sweet self.

As I was sharing my story with her today, I told her that one thing I had learned (and still learning!) is how important it is to cling to God’s Word and look to it as a source of protection, not as a book of rules. I told her that I believed I could have been spared some heartache had I just stayed closer to Him instead of going the way I thought was best or easiest–or in some cases, by accident. I told her that as we age (she’s not even 30 yet, so I feel like I can say certain things) life can get so busy that we can be distracted from the most important people and things, and not even purposefully make a bad decision. That we have to willfully, deliberately stay under the umbrella of God’s Word, or else our flesh can take over, and we will make unwise choices and then later get hurt by them. She said, “You know, we could write a book on this. Like, even with your sunburned face as an example: if you don’t keep it covered, it’ll get blistered.” I looked at her and paused, and then said, “You know, I think you just inspired my next blog post. That’s totally what I’m going to write about!” And so here I am–doing just that.

I’m a very busy mom with a very busy husband, and five very active kids. If there’s anybody vulnerable to distraction, it is me. I can be so distracted, in fact, that I sometimes even forget to pray until I’m in the bed and nearly asleep. If you don’t think the enemy can prey on someone like me, you are mistaken. I’m a prime candidate. He has and does. Often I’m not even aware of it until I find myself in deep emotional pain or conflict. It’s then that I realize I have drifted away from God, way out from under His protective hand. Misery is a surefire consequence of that. I don’t know about you, but I like to avoid misery as much as humanly possible. Without the wisdom of God’s Word and the power of prayer, it can be hard to recognize the voice of the enemy when he speaks to us. Tempts us. Condemns us.  Deceives us. We become sitting ducks for his evil. Even worse, we miss all of the joy and blessings God has for us when we drift away from Him. I can honestly say that my happiest, most fulfilling days are days when my relationship with the Lord is the most intimate, and when my stubborn will is the most yielded to His. It’s only then that I personally experience glimpses of Him and of all the glory that goes with it. There’s nothing like it.

When we’re unhappy, it’s human nature to want to point the finger of blame at others. We want to make it somebody else’s fault that we’re in such a sad state. Certainly, the mistakes of other people can hurt us. There’s no doubt about it. Sometimes tragedy happens and we’re thrown into a hurricane of despair. It’s NOT always our fault. But no matter the circumstance, the more filled we are with Him, and the less full we are of ourselves, the more joy we can find in all things–even when we’re being forced to do 50 million pushups by a no-nonsense trainer! The closer we stay to Him, the better we can navigate through the most difficult, busiest, most stressful times in our lives. He loves us so much. He loves YOU so much. And when we are intentional about resting in His love, our lives are better for it, and the ones we love are more blessed as well.

“Remain in me and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” John 15:4




Carrying the Load

I’m bothered… and burdened. Sometimes I worry that we’re pushing our kids too hard not merely to succeed, but to actually be the BEST. To be the number one, first place, all-star president valedictorian winner. What I’m about to write here has the potential to rub some parents the wrong way, though that’s not my intention at all. I would only hope to prompt some introspection into our parenting. Are we doing more harm than good for our children?

As some of you know, my daughter Ivey just learned that she has a stress fracture in her L5. A bone scan and CT this past week showed that the right side of her L5 was fractured some time ago and is now sclerosing. The left side is on the very verge of breaking. We were told that in order to keep that from happening, she can do absolutely nothing but walk for the next three months. She can’t even ride a stationary bike. If you know Ivey, you can imagine how devastating that was for her to hear, especially right here at the dawn of her cheerleading team’s competition season.

Several times between that day and now, I’ve thought, “My fifteen-year-old has a broken back. She’s fifteen. Fifteen!” I suffered my first and only stress fracture in my right foot at age thirty-eight – purely as a consequence of vigorous overuse. I ran close to forty miles a week and taught anywhere from 3-6 fitness classes in addition to that. When I think about that now, I feel like I DESERVED that injury! What the heck was I thinking, killing myself like that? It’s a wonder I didn’t do far worse damage to my bones and joints. I still run about that much, but I no longer teach. And even though that’s still a lot, my feet are thanking me for the cutback. At the time, I put a lot of pressure on myself to work out enough to maintain the level of fitness I had acquired. In fact, giving myself a rest day was never a part of the equation – which, of course, was stupid. So now that Ivey has a stress fracture in her spine, I can’t help but conclude that she must have been killing herself too. And worse, I question whether I was the one pushing her to work that hard.

Coincidentally, this past week a fellow mom in our neighborhood posted on Facebook about her disdain over how much homework her 7th grader is doing each night. Emma is in that child’s class, so I knew exactly what she was talking about. There were several nights this week that Emma stayed up until midnight or later doing math, which did not go over very well with me. I felt compelled to chime in on the conversation and agree with the mom, as did several other mothers who were upset about the amount of homework given. I felt very affirmed when other parents agreed that this is way too much for seventh grade. Shockingly, though, there were other moms who thought the amount of homework was not only fine, but even necessary. They feel that their children need to be adequately prepared for high school, college, and the world… while still in the 7th grade. It blew my mind and made me angry.

While I was judging those moms both in my mind and out loud to my husband, I thought again about Ivey’s injury, and about other kids Ivey’s age who’ve already undergone surgeries from sports related injuries. I couldn’t help but wonder if we parents have a problem. When did it become okay for us to subject our kids to such a ridiculous and even dangerous amount of work just so they can be considered a competitor?? What more would we need to subject them to in order for them to actually win at something? It makes me really sad. Don’t misunderstand – I am all for helping our kids become good at something, whether it be academics, music, sports or anything else. But are we actually helping them? Is it possible that we’re setting a standard that is too high for a child or teenager to achieve? Could it be that maybe, as parents, having a kid who isn’t a champion at something might make us feel inadequate? Like if they don’t measure up, we must not measure up, either? I had to ask myself those questions and more. I have a kid with a broken back, after all.

When I think back to my childhood, I don’t have any memories of being too busy. I played softball for nine years or so, and then when I started high school, I became a cheerleader. I also took piano lessons and sang in youth choir at church. That was my life in a nutshell. Maybe I’m misremembering a little bit, but I’m fairly positive that I never felt any pressure from my parents to be anything but a “good girl.” They never pushed me hard to be the best at anything, but they definitely encouraged me do what was right and what made me happy. I don’t remember them pressuring me to go to a certain college, to make all A’s, to be the star soloist, to wear a certain size, or to make all-stars. They wanted me to pursue the things I wanted to pursue, and to make godly decisions in the process. I’ve often wondered how I would’ve turned out if they had pushed me harder. Maybe I would’ve made better grades, or maybe I would have been a better athlete. I don’t know. I do know that I’m now living a life I’ve always dreamed of living, which is to be married and a mother. And I thank God for that every day. Any pressure I feel or have ever felt in terms of succeeding comes only from me.

To be perfectly transparent, as a mom I’m often torn between wanting my own kids to be the big standouts and wanting them to just do what makes them happy. Even though I think I turned out okay, I have to take into account that my children are growing up in a community where the talent standard is set super high. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every kid I know is so good at something, or some are good lots of things. I think it’s fair to say that a lot of us parents feel pressured to pressure our kids. But at the end of the day, we simply have to ask, “What is this all for?” What will Ivey have gained if she can do a standing full now but suffers chronic back pain at age thirty-five as a result? Or what if Johnny Jones makes a 35 on his ACT and graduates with a 4.0 from college, but fights an addiction to alcohol or drugs as an adult in order to cope with the pressure? How much will it mean for Freddie Football to say he was the star QB in high school if he can’t even put his kids on his shoulders as an adult because it hurts too much? We have to maintain some perspective on the matter since our kids can’t possibly have it for themselves.

I think it’s fair to say that, along with Lee and myself, every mom and dad I know is doing the best they know how to do for their children. I’m convinced there is no harder job than parenting, and in no way is it for the faint of heart. I say all the time that I could never raise five children without God’s grace! Having balance in our lives and in our homes is not an easy achievement, but it’s one that we all need to strive for. Our kids are kids. They are individuals, not an extension of us. Let’s seek God’s wisdom, not man’s approval, when considering how many activities we should sign them up for and how high of a standard we should set for their performance. They only get one childhood! I pray fervently that my own kids will look back on theirs and have nothing but wonderful memories. As a mom, I also pray I will look back on their childhood and have very few regrets.

Gal 6:4
Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

Free At Last, Free At Last…

A few weeks ago we discovered a little wren flying around in our screened-in patio. The poor thing had flown in through the opened door, but for the life of him he couldn’t seem to find his way back out. I saw him fly into the glass windows over and over again, hitting his head each time. I felt sure he’d eventually kill himself if he persisted using that particular method of escape. He’d also fly into the screen and hang on to it with his tiny claws–like he couldn’t figure out what was keeping him from being able to get to the other side. Lee and I both were trying to point him to the door, saying, “Come on, little bird. Fly this way–you can do it!” We got tickled at ourselves cheering for his escape as if he were a child of ours. We even tried scaring him towards the door-chasing him to get him closer to it, but all of our heartfelt efforts were fruitless. After maybe an hour, we gave up and went inside, resigned to the fact that the little wren would have to figure it out for himself or stay trapped.

It’s funny. The entire time I watched that bird struggle, I couldn’t help but relate it to our own human nature. “Isn’t this just like people?” I thought. “There’s a way of escape right there in front of us, but we keep bashing our heads up against the wall anyway.” I thought about my own personal struggles throughout my life: hard decisions I needed to make, sinful habits I needed to break, boundaries I needed to establish, and offenses I needed to forgive and forget. I thought about my stubborn refusal at times to let go of my pride and do things my way instead of God’s way. Or to blatantly ignore truth and insist I’d be okay regardless. Sometimes I genuinely couldn’t see the truth even though it was right there in front of me, much like how the wren couldn’t find the wide open door. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’ve slammed my own head against the glass hard enough & often enough, it’s a wonder I’m not walking around a bruised, bloody & broken mess.

One thing my 40 years of living has taught me thus far is that God’s love for me is real, and His word is a safeguard. Jesus really saves–He has rescued me time and again from the darkest, deepest pits. I can trust Him to protect me from my own self. I’ve been miserably trapped at times by my own blindness, ignorance, selfishness and stubbornness, and all the while God has faithfully beckoned me toward freedom. He’s used all kinds of people & all types of circumstances to help me find the open door to peace & joy. Such relentless, abounding, unconditional love He has for me, and for all of us! My heart overflows with gratitude.

Eventually the little wren found his way out of the patio, though most likely with a major headache. I didn’t see him fly away, but I was so happy to discover that he finally had. I knew he was back where he belonged–flying free among the trees through open space. Surely God smiles and all of Heaven rejoices when we seek Him, find Him and then run back to His presence. What glorious freedom awaits!

“He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” Ps 91:4.

Home Run…Or Something Like That.

If any of you are seasoned skiers, you have my utmost respect and admiration. This past January I went on my first ever ski trip with Lee to Park City, Utah, for our 18th wedding anniversary. Growing up, I went on numerous “ski trips” with my church youth group, but I never  went to actually ski. It’s not anything I’ve really cared to do, primarily because I’m so cold-natured. I shiver in 70 degrees, so frolicking in 3 feet of snow has never appealed to me. But since I’m getting older, and since it’s something I’ve never done, I thought I might as well give it a go while I’m young enough to recover from an unexpected but likely tumble. Or 2. Or more.

We flew out on a Thursday night and spent the next 3 days on the slopes…and by slopes, I mean the practice slopes. I have never so much as put on a pair of skis in my life, so I had to start from square one. Like, I had to learn how to STAND, for the love. We took many hours of classes each day, and by the end of the first day, I was able to snowplow. That’s when you turn your toes in so that your skis make the shape of a pizza wedge. This helps you control your speed and even come to a stop. I felt super accomplished–so much so, that I was  content to learn nothing further. Lee wanted me to try to go down a green slope before going home, so I pressed on. He and Noah went out to Park City the year before, and much to my surprise, they took only a couple of classes before skiing green and blue slopes that same day. The green slopes are the easiest and least steep. Blues are moderately steep, and black slopes are for the crazy people who must have nothing to live for. (kidding.) Those are the super steep slopes for the most skilled skiers. But knowing that the 2 not-so-athletic people in my family had skied blues, I felt sure I could do it, too. After all, I’m coordinated, physically fit, and can learn things pretty quickly…at least that’s what I kept telling myself. I remember saying a few times, “I am gonna totally school you on these slopes, Lee.” He only laughed in response. Now, on this side of the trip, I’m laughing, too.

By the 3rd day, I had finally gained enough confidence in my turning ability. When you learn how to turn correctly, you no longer need to snowplow, because turning is what controls your speed on the steeper slopes. I wasn’t, like, rockstar-confident, but I had it down well enough to go down the hardest practice slope without falling. Since we were leaving the next morning, I knew this would be my final opportunity to go down a legitimate slope. I didn’t really want to, and I encouraged Lee to go down it without me, but he insisted that I would be fine, and that it wasn’t bad at all. I felt pressure from my own self, too. I mean, how could I go all the way out to Utah and not ski down a real ski slope? So, I reluctantly got on the lift & rode what felt like miles up the mountain. I remember asking him at least 20 times, “Is this thing ever gonna stop?! How far up are we going?!” My stomach was in knots. I was literally terrified.

We got off the lift at the top of Home Run, the name of the green slope. As soon as I looked at the first part of it, I almost hyperventilated. “Um, no way can I go down this. This is NOT a green. This is a blue. I mean, seriously? This is a GREEN?! I’m gonna have to slide down it on my rear end.” Lee reassured me a million times that I could do it. He said, “Missi, if I can do this slope, I know you can. I’ll go ahead of you and you follow right behind me. We’ll go slow…I’ll coach you the whole way.” And he did. Bless his heart, that man has the patience of Job. Sure enough, within 10 seconds I was on my back. It was the first time (of many) I had fallen the entire time we’d been there. It didn’t hurt at all, but I cried like a baby as if I had broken a bone. “I cannot do this, Lee. I’m too scared.” What I wasn’t prepared for at ALL was to see mountain on my left, and a cliff to my right. One careless move and I could plunge thousands of feet to my death. Why in the world had I not been warned about that? And some parts of that slope were so narrow…I felt sure many people had died trying to ski them. I had to wonder if that’s what it was like to go on one of those dumb Bachelor dates, you know, where they rappel off a skyscraper or bungee jump off a bridge as a test of their love and courage. Had this been an actual Bachelor date, I would’ve surely been sent home on a jet plane that very day! But Lee stuck with me and encouraged me the whole way down. The whole THREE AND A HALF MILES down. I have never wanted anything to be over so badly in my life. Lee’s frequent suggestion of, “Why don’t you try laughing at yourself when you fall instead of crying…?” was a good one, but tears flowed regardless. It felt like THE most epic of epic fails.

About halfway down, we came to one of the steepest parts of Home Run. When I saw it, it didn’t scare me. It made me downright angry. “HOW MANY OF THESE STEEP PARTS ARE ON THIS SUPPOSEDLY GREEN SLOPE?!?” Lee calmly coached me down: “You can totally do it. You know how to turn. Just stop after every turn and I’ll stay right in front of you.” I think it took about 20 minutes to ski that one section of the mountain. After we got to the bottom of it, I vividly remember him saying, “Now. Turn around and look back at what you just skied. And you did it without falling! See? You can do it!” When I looked at that section from the bottom, it looked even steeper than it did from the top. I could NOT believe I had gone down it. I felt way more relief than pride…in fact, I felt no pride whatsoever. It didn’t feel like an accomplishment. It felt like an act of survival. Nevertheless, I had done it, and was happy to be so close to the bottom of the slope.

After we (FINALLY) got to the base of the mountain, I apologized to Lee for being such a baby. I felt like my fear ruined the whole experience for both of us. But he insisted that he loved every minute of it, and was so proud that I had gone down my very first slope. I had to admit to him that, if I never did that again, it’d be perfectly fine with me. I was so exhausted. All I wanted to do at that point was get back to our room, take off those heavy-as-lead ski boots, take a hot shower, and order room service. And that’s exactly what we did. It’s funny-because in my mind, that’s when being there really started to feel like a getaway. Skiing just may not be my thing, and that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks–right?

Since being home from that trip, there have been many times when I thought about looking back at the mountain and being so surprised to see how far I’d come down it. It’s such a metaphor for life, isn’t it? No matter the journey any of us are on, I think we can all relate to the idea of “coming a long way.” Maybe the journey for you is related to a diet or exercise program. Maybe you’re journeying toward a healed/healing marriage or some other relationship. Maybe you’re journeying to physical health. Maybe you’re on the path to sobriety. Maybe you’re journeying to full repentance, or to a deeper relationship with God. Maybe you’re working on putting the pieces of your broken heart back together. Whatever it is, I think we can agree that no journey is easy. They all present their own challenges as we strive to get to the end goal. Fear, uncertainty, grief, failure, doubt, and any other road block our humanity presents us with can hinder us from recognizing the progress we’ve made. Those steep places on the slope were so hard and scary for me to ski that I nearly gave up, and maybe would have if I had that option. It very much reminds me of other times in life I wanted to give up when the going got tough. But with a little determination, encouragement, and a lot of prayer, I was able to push through what seemed utterly impossible to do in my own strength. Now that I think about it, it’s often been during the most trying and difficult times when God revealed to me how far He had brought me already. Those times were also when I felt the most comforted by His refusal to leave or forsake me. Lee Wimberly would’ve died first before leaving me alone to ski down Home Run, but that’s exactly how God feels about us! He wants us to follow so closely behind Him…close enough to see the path He lays out for us. Close enough to grab ahold of His outstretched arm every time we fall down so that He can put us back on our feet. Close enough to hear Him say, “You aren’t alone. I’m right here with you. Just stay close to Me. You can do it. I’ll coach you the whole way.”

Thank You, Lord. May I follow You all the days of my life.

“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:8








Let Them Fly

I sit here typing this post in a state of disbelief mixed with a lot of heartache. If you’ve ever felt like the rug of some sort has been pulled out from under you, you may be able to relate somewhat to what I’m feeling right at this moment. It’s funny, because just yesterday I thought, “If today goes well, I’ll celebrate, and if not, I’ll blog about it.” I literally chuckled after that went through my mind, I guess because I felt deep down in my spirit that there’s no way I’d be blogging today. And yet, here I am. Boy, oh boy.

This past week Ivey went through a grueling cheer clinic in preparation for high school cheerleading tryouts held yesterday. I don’t use the word “grueling” lightly, either. These tryouts and the athleticism necessary to go through them compare to those on a college level. Last week I googled UGA’s cheerleading tryout requirements, and they are virtually the same as Vestavia High’s. The tumbling, jumps, and stunting requirements are so advanced that it almost makes me wonder how any girl under the age of 18 could possibly do it. But sure enough, some can, and can do it well. The girls that try out for cheerleading in this town are prepared. Even when Ivey was in the 4th grade, I knew I’d have to get her started in a regular tumbling class soon if she wanted to be a high school cheerleader. I had her taking lessons beginning in the 6th grade, and by the summer, she was doing round-off back handsprings with little effort. It was obvious to me that she was a natural at tumbling, and her passion for it was (and is) evident. That same summer, she tried out for the very first time to be on a competition squad at ACE Cheer Company here in Birmingham, and was placed on a level 3 senior team that won or placed in cheerleading competitions all over the south. In her words, she “was born to cheer,” and to watch her, you might think so, too.

Ivey was preparing this past week to try out for the freshman squad at VHHS. I had heard through the parental grapevine that the competition was the toughest it had ever been for her grade level, and that nobody was a shoo-in. I had also heard from literally EVERYONE I talked to, that Ivey would likely make it since she was such a good tumbler, and at VHHS, cheerleading is all about the tumbling. I took comfort in that, as did she, but I also strongly encouraged her to nail her dance and cheers regardless. From what I understand, she did. Ivey went into her tryouts feeling nervous but confident. Her last words to me before getting out of the car were, “I think I’m gonna do pretty good, Mom.” She hit her stunt, nailed her tumbling beautifully, opted for the double-toe tuck (two toe touches into a back tuck), and worked that dance like it was her job. Everyone that saw her told me she had a perfect tryout and had nothing to worry about, and I believed them. She texted me as soon as she was finished saying that she thought she did great and was so relieved. It was just a matter of a couple of hours before we knew if her efforts were enough.

They weren’t.

After reading the list of names and discovering that hers wasn’t one of them, Ivey immediately began saying, “This isn’t right. This can’t be right. This is a mistake…” It wasn’t long before those words turned into near full hysteria and tears. As we made the long drive home, I made my best attempt to comfort and reassure her, but to little avail. I held her hand, told her she would be okay, and that life would go on, and so many other things. Later that night, I went up to her room, laid in her bed with her, and held her as we both cried. She said, “Mom, you can’t cry.” I said, “Well, too late. This breaks my heart too, you know. I can be all sunshiny and tell you it’s going to be okay, and it will be. But I’m not going to pretend that I’m not upset. My heart is broken for you.” It still is. It may be for a while. My eyes are stinging with tears and my stomach is tied in knots even as I type this.

Ivey and I both have had endless texts, calls, and visits from friends today offering their support and encouragement, expressed with their own disbelief and shock. It’s been so helpful and appreciated. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard, “This is crazy, Missi. I don’t understand what happened. This makes no sense.” And it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. It’s frustrating as a parent to hear the words, “Perfect Tryout” combined with the heartache of not making the squad. What can she do differently? What didn’t she do correctly? How can she improve? We don’t know. If someone could tell me just one thing she needed to work on, all of this would be so much easier to accept. Instead, it feels like someone snuck around the corner with a frying pan and clobbered me in the face…like something you’d see in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Seriously.

I prayed with Ivey before she tried out and asked God only that His will would be done. If it meant she wouldn’t make the squad, I asked for peace and comfort, and faith that we would trust Him and His plan for her life. Even with a broken heart, I sit here knowing that He is in control of our lives and has a beautiful plan for all of us. I don’t understand what happened yesterday, and it’s possible I never will, but I do know that God loves Ivey more than I do and wants way more for her than I could dare to dream. I know there are countless lessons to be learned from this painful experience, and I sincerely hope to learn them. Whatever wisdom and growth she and I both can gain as a result of this past week is worth the pain and loss we’ve had (and will continue) to endure. Jesus tells us in John 16 that we will have trouble and sorrow in this world, and boy, do we ever! I know some of you reading this have experienced losses and pain way deeper than those related to cheerleading. I’m sure my future holds more trials and heartache more difficult that what I feel today. But whatever lies ahead of me, I pray that I cling to the truth of His word: He loves me. He loves Ivey. He loves you. He is FOR us. He has a wonderful plan for us. He is GOOD. He is the Calm of our life’s storms. He is the Prince of Peace. He is the Friend that sticks closer than a brother. And best of all-He will never, ever change. What a comfort to know that none of us have to try out to be good enough for Jesus! His love and saving grace are free gifts and nothing we have to earn. Thank you, precious Lord.

My mom has this saying, “Every mama crow thinks her babies are the blackest.” In other words, every mom thinks their child is the best. I don’t think any of my children are perfect. I don’t think any of my children are any better than anybody else’s. I’m not blind to their faults and shortcomings, and they know it. But my babies are my babies. When they hurt, I hurt. When they’re happy, I’m happy. When they fall, I feel their pain, and when they win, I feel their joy. No, this Mama Crow doesn’t think her babies are the blackest. This Mama has a nest full of beautiful blessings, each graced with God-given wings ready to soar above the highest heights.

Hold them close, Lord, but let them fly.