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1603 Wanda Street

To the new owners of 1603 Wanda St.,

It is hard to wrap my mind around the idea that the structure you will now call home is the same one that has been home to me for all 26 years of my life.  I’m sure you can relate to some point in your life when an unforseen circumstance dramatically changed your reality.  It isn’t easy, but life goes on.  Life will go on tomorrow as you excitedly sign papers to signify your ownership of my childhood home.  Life will go on as you move in, settle down and enjoy life within those walls.

For me and my family life will indeed go on, but it will change.  Our last memory in that house will be the process of emptying it of all my Grandparents earthly possessions.  Our last memory will be looking back at an empty living room with memories of family Christmas, games of Old Maid and Grandma & Grandpa sitting in their chairs looking out the picture window flashing through our minds.

You’ll enjoy your home because of those two people, who also happen to be two of the greatest people I’ve ever known.  Because they fell in love and decided to build a home where their family would grow & gather day after day, year after year, holiday after holiday.  You’ll enjoy your home because they valued the Lord above all else & took great care of His blessings of money & family.

This is what your new home looked like when my Grandparents built it in 1966.


That little guy there on your left?  That’s my Daddy.


Tonight I started to think about what your life might be like in that house.  I hope that you will laugh as much as we did.  I hope that you will feel the peace that has permeated every room from the very first day it was built.  You should know that your new home has always been a home of peace.  The walls of your new home have never seen a screaming match or a drunken party, rather it’s rooms have hosted family gatherings, sleepovers and joyful holidays.  You should also know that your home was committed to the Lord for many, many years.  It has been a refuge for our family and the friends that came to find comfort & wisdom.  It has heard thousands of prayers from the lips of the most amazing man I’ve ever known.  I hope you find comfort in that.

There are a few things that might be helpful for you to know about your new home.

First, I can’t guarantee that the central heat/air will function if the thermostat is set under 80.  I’m fairly certain it’s never been tested.  Also, in case you’re cold natured like my Grandma and your family is dying from the heat like we often were, it will be helpful to know that for whatever reason the switch that turns on the ceiling fan in the living room is located in the garage.  Why?  I have absolutely no idea.  But it does make me smile to think about how long it will take you to figure that out.

Your new oven has learned well how to make the perfect pecan pie.  I might have to send you Grandma’s recipe so you can carry on the tradition.  Also, the garage makes a great shield from the bitter cold wind when you absolutely must have a fish fry in December.

Your new yard has held cheerleading practice, lawn mower & golf cart rides, firework lighting, pecan picking, sprinkler running, jungle gym climbing, lawn chair sitting & more childhood games than I can count.  I hope you fill that yard with family & children often.  And if you haven’t already, invest in a riding lawn mower.  You’re going to need it.

Put a night light in the hallway.  Play Old Maid with your grandkids in the living room floor.  Listen to Elvis or Southern Gospel on Saturday mornings.  Eat ice cream.  Make pop corn the old fashioned way.  Pray before meals and before bed and between breaths.

Make your own memories and know that you are incredibly blessed to call 1603 Wanda Street home.

PS.  Don’t touch the basement walls.  Trust me.

june.

It has been an unintentionally quiet month on the blog.
Let’s play catch up, shall we?

On May 25 my life changed forever.  I was driving home from picking up lunch and called my Dad while I drove, like I do several times a week.  I will never forget that conversation & how quickly my heart sank as my Dad told me he had just gotten to my Grandma’s house to find that she died some time in the night.  I remember screaming into the phone NO SHE DIDN’T and YOU ARE KIDDING ME over and over.  My Dad sat in silence while I screamed, cried and miraculously kept driving safely toward home.  I hung up the phone with him and in a panic started calling everyone I knew to call.  My work to let them know that I wouldn’t be there for youth group that evening.  My Mom.  My sister.  Michael.  Jen to tell her that I wouldn’t be in Sarasota to pick her up when her flight came in the next day.  I arrived home, threw things in a suitcase and left to pick up a rental car and start the drive home.  The highways between Florida and Missouri have never felt so long and empty.

As soon as I arrived home the next day (after a few hours of tossing & turning in a Georgia hotel) I was catapulted into a week of funeral plans, visitation, shaking hands, accepting hugs, listening to condolences from well meaning friends & family, attending services…. It was and is a blur in my mind how I made it through the first few days.  As soon as the funeral was finished we began the gut wrenching task of cleaning out my Grandparents house.  The house they lived in all 26 years of my life.  It is the house that hosted sleepovers and holidays.  It is the house that holds many of my favorite childhood memories.  It is the bedroom that was mine with my nightlight & my pillowcase.  It was the basement that watched my sister, my cousins & I put on plays, practice cheerleading, sing songs & play pool.  It was the living room floor that held the pallet we got to sleep on with Grandpa as kids.  It was the kitchen that held the big green popcorn bowl & our favorite sippy cups.  It was the huge yard where we played, lit fireworks, rode the riding lawn mower & picked up pecans & walnuts.  Watching that house empty over the course of the week was one of the hardest experiences of my life thus far.

I do not understand why God chose to give me the Grandparents He did, but I am convinced that they are one of the greatest gifts I will ever receive in this lifetime.  The truth is, I would not be who I am or where I am without their unconditional love, encouragement, wisdom & prayers.  Watching them love Jesus & live it out every single day of my life is truly the most inspiring thing I have ever witnessed.  I am & will be forever grateful for the blessing of the most incredible Grandparents in the world.

cousin Heather, Uncle Mike, my sister Jessi, Grandma, Me, Aunt Kathy & cousin Amy

Grandpa & Grandma and their 3 kids. (My Daddy is the baby)

Grandma, my big sister & me. One of my favorite pictures ever.

Unfortunately the expression “when it rains, it pours” is what best sums up the month that followed.

The short & sweet recap … A week after my Grandma died I received another devastating, life changing blow.  I may never be ready to discuss that experience on the blog, but truly the Lord has used desperate brokenness to reach those final places I have been holding back as “my own”.   I realize how desperately I need Jesus and have tasted how nothing else compares to satisfying the deepest desires of my heart the way that He does.  It is painful, but it is good to realize again how much I need Him.

It is also good to realize how much I need people.  I struggle deeply with feeling like I am a burden to anyone.  I will hold things in & fake it so that I don’t have to divulge the mess that is happening in my heart and “force” someone else to bear the weight of my brokenness.  When my Grandma died & my heart got broken within a week of one another, I knew that I could not walk through the pain alone.  There are not words to express how deeply grateful I am for the three women that God has blessed me with to walk through this painful season.  I am grateful that Jody answers my midnight, sobbing phone calls.  It amazes me the way God has gifted her with the ability to be steady, calm & wise in moments of chaos.  I am grateful that Janna sits on the couch & listens to me cry.  I am grateful for the peace she exudes that is unlike any other human being I have ever known.  For her capacity to understand & ask the best questions.  For her ability to shed light & clarity on places of confusion.  For the way she speaks with thoughtful wisdom always.  I am grateful for Jen and the fact that she is, quite simply, always there.  I never have to doubt if she will be available or present or understanding.  She is a precious gift to my heart.  I am grateful to not have to walk through this season alone.

It has been a painful month, without a doubt.  There have been many moments where grief was so heavy I wondered how I would keep breathing.  There have been more tears than I could count and more ice cream consumed than I care to admit.  But there have also been beautiful moments of peace that is unexplainable apart from the Lord who knows and cares more than any human ever could.  He truly fills all the empty space & picks up all the chaos of my life in His more than capable hands.  He proves to me over & over that He is faithful & worthy of my trust.

I ache, but I am grateful.

Daddy.

If you know me at all, you know that I am a Daddy’s girl.  I always have been, I always will be.  I live in Florida, 20 hours southeast of the comfortable house I lived in with my Daddy as a kid.  Far away from family dinners, crackling fires and the consistent drone of ESPN, Dog the Bounty Hunter, WWF or Roseanne.  (oh yeah, we’re real classy.)  ;)

I miss my Dad more than words can say.  I miss laughing.  I miss silence.  I miss talking.  I miss sitting in the bleachers with him watching my little brother play sports.  I miss waking up to freshly cooked breakfasts.  I miss waking up to cold breakfasts waiting for me on the stove when I slept hours longer than everyone else.  I miss fighting for the shower.  I miss the twinkle in his eyes when he’s teasing someone.  I miss the safety of being inside of those walls knowing that my Daddy is only steps away.

I remember when I was 10 years old and my parents got divorced.  Although relationships within our family were tense and strained, I will never forget the first night in the new house with my mom & my sister.  The absence of my Dad was heavy.  I don’t remember if I ever mentioned it to anyone, but I distinctly remember clenching that night.  I remember lying in bed with worst case scenarios running through my mind.  What if someone broke in?  What if I got sick?  What if I got hurt?  What if someone tried to hurt us?  Not to take anything away from my mom, as she was more than capable of taking great care of us, but the absence of a steady, strong protector that I had never known a day without broke my heart that day.

Today I was reading this post over at Ragamuffin Soul.  As I read through the comments I was reminded that although I had to spend days away from my Dad, I never knew life truly without him.  Although there were nights when I felt my security was compromised because my Dad wasn’t snoring in the next room, I never knew a day where he wouldn’t have been wherever I was as quickly as possible if I ever needed him.  Although I live 20 hours away from him now, I have never known a day where I couldn’t call or text him without a response.  Although I’m 26 years old and have begun my “grown up” life, I’ve never made a major decision that I didn’t run by him.  There has been no significant part of my life that he hasn’t been part of.

I was reminded today how important a Daddy is, especially to a girl.  It moves my heart and brings tears to my eyes to think about mine. The Lord knew what I needed when he placed me in my family.  For every complaint I could make (because trust me, we are far from perfect) I could tell you three things I love about any one of them.  But God especially knew what I needed when he gave me my Dad.  So as I read these comments my heart breaks for those who don’t have a Dad to miss.  For those who don’t know what it’s like to sit in front of the fire at their Dad’s house listening to him laugh at reruns of 90’s sitcoms.  For those who didn’t grow up experiencing the joy of Dad’s cooking (grilled burgers or hamburger helper).  For those who don’t have a Dad who always, always, always answers the phone.  For those who don’t have a Dad to cook them breakfast or build big fires or pay their way into ball games when they forget to go the ATM for cash.  For those who don’t have a Dad to stay awake all night long while they drive halfway across the country for their first big move so that he can call them every hour for 20 hours straight.  (yup, my Dad did that!)  For those who don’t know what it’s like to feel absolutely safe because there is not a single doubt in their mind that their Daddy could beat up any bad guy or fix any problem.

I am so grateful for the blessing of the best Daddy in the world.

making “football player faces” with Kayson

love his laughing face!

favorite picture EVER! I posed it, but it’s still classic!

An open letter to my youth leader, mentor, second momma, friend,  & precious sister in Christ:

Dear Denise
(aka – Momma ‘Nise),

Our conversation a few days ago reminded me how absolutely important it is to say thank you specifically and often to those who have invested in my life.  Although I have been blessed with many who have influenced me to know, love and obey Jesus more, there truly are none who have done so more profoundly than you.  I look back on the thirteen years that we have been blessed to do life together and cannot stop the tears when I see the magnitude of ways God has used you to shape who I am becoming.  As I think back my mind is flooded with memories of moments, words, situations, life experiences that are all part of what God has used to mold me into this person who is growing to look more and more like Jesus.

So I say THANK YOU!!

Thank you for the day that I walked in to your Sunday School class.  A nervous, nerdy, insecure 13 year old who you without hesitation embraced into your group, your family, and your heart.  Thank you for the Disciple Nows, summer camps and retreats where you sacrificed free time, vacation time, money, etc. so that you could pour into students.  I will never forget those memories of being able to get away and spend time with you.  Thank you for the conversations, the laughter, the wisdom that were abundant in those times.  Thank you for reminding me a million times to “put my armor on”.  You would not believe the times those words still ring in my mind as I walk out the door of my house!  Thank you for the way you responded the day I had to look at you and tell you about a mistake I had made.  I remember the fear, shame and guilt that I felt as I shared with you something that now seems so trivial – but I will never forget the way you responded.  “Brandi, go home & memorize Jeremiah 29:11-13.”  And I did.  Looking back it’s crazy how much since then God has used that verse to change, challenge and encourage us!!  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for the way you allowed God to use your home.  I wish I had words to convey how loved it made me feel to know that I could always stop by, always hang out, always bring a text book by for homework help, etc. etc. etc.  Many of my most cherished memories & safest places are within the walls of your home.  I will never forget the wedgie fights, impromptu dinners, pre-dnow cleaning parties, trips to the grocery store, watching your precious children play sports, pay-per-view wrestling parties… you & Andy knew the value of providing a place for real ministry to happen and I am living proof that all the stains, holes, broken stuff, late nights, large cable & grocery bills, seemingly endless conversations and a whole lotta patience were just a small price to pay for the way God used you in not only my life but many others along the way.  Last, but certainly not least, thank you for living your life as an open book to me.  There were times when you could have hidden from me the rough parts, the ugly parts, the hurt, the sin… Yet you chose to be transparent through it all.  You exemplified for me a God who offers abundant grace, restoration, beauty for ashes, who is making all things new.

And now, 13 years after that 13 year old girl walked into your life I find myself here realizing that all of that was preparing for such a time as this.  Learning what it means to do ministry with teenage girls because of the way God used you to change my life!  I truly cannot imagine myself doing anything different than what you did for me, and I pray that God would use me even half as greatly in the lives of these precious girls that He has entrusted me with.  Thank you for giving me the gift of the only thing worth pursuing, the only thing that will last, the only thing worth investing my life – the gift of knowing Jesus, loving Jesus and obeying Jesus.

Brandi

in Christ.

2 more days til i board a plane for home.  so much to cram into the next 48 hours (errands, outreach event, haircut, potentially buying a new car, laundry, packing, etc.)  so excited that ill be going home for the first time since december that i don’t even care how busy & stressful the next few days are going to be.  the end is in sight and by thursday evening i will be hanging out with my best friend and all will be well.

life is so strange when you live 20+ hours away from all that is comfortable.  friends & family are living their lives without you.  my nephews didn’t stop growing just because i stopped getting to watch them do it.  my former students in both dayton & st. louis have completed another year of school since ive last seen them.  my brother has probably grown a foot since Christmas.  (and his voice has definitely lowered a good bit too ;))  ive missed bridal showers, weddings, engagements & births of babies.  and don’t even get me started about the many, many, many social events ive missed out on.

it’s definitely not easy sacrificing all of that for this.  even though this means having a beautiful beach minutes from my doorstep.  my dream “job” that i am blessed to go to everyday.  the most incredible staff & volunteers to partner with in ministry.  students that allow me to be part of their lives & laugh with me through the insanity of figuring out what it means to lead them in a ministry that not many have done in this capacity before.

all that im missing makes my heart ache & yet all that im experiencing makes it hard for me to even begin to imagine ever do anything else besides what im doing right now.

honestly, if it were left up to me, i would pack my car and drive it right back to st. louis.  i would rent a cute house with my best friend and volunteer in a great student ministry and be involved in a young adult ministry where id have plenty of friends my own age to be challened and encouraged by and my family & sweet nephews would be a short 3 hours away so that i could spend at least one weekend a month watching them grow.  i wouldnt be missing the last years of my grandma’s life and i would have the security of my daddy being nearby should anything go wrong. if it were up to me, id be missing out on all this that God has called me to & clinging tightly to all that in which He has clearly called me away from for now.

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.  Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life, is with Christ in God. He is your life.
colossians 3:1-3 (the message)

the good news?  it’s not up to me.  my life is Christ.  it is only because of His grace that i am where i am.  that does not mean that it is easy, but it does mean that it is worth it.  it is so humbling to be part of what He is doing in southwest florida.  it is hard to swallow that my old life is “dead”.  those people & places are important, but truth be told if Jesus asked me to give them up completely and never look back there would be no choice to be made.  i am His and apart from Him my life is  meaningless.  im not sure i ever understood what it meant for my life to be hidden in Christ.  im still not sure i understand completely, but i do believe that He is enlightening my heart to comprehend more and more the truth that my life is not my own.  my comfort, my desires, my plans are of no value if not aligned perfectly with His.

so what do we do?  when we are living in the midst of the tension between what has been & what will be.  when we realize that God has ripped from our hands things that we had clung to so tightly.  for me it was the comfort & familiarity of home. the physical presence of my best friends. my Grandpa.  how do i live in the tension of desiring those things yet knowing im simply not going to have them right now?

we believe.  that He is good.  that He is enough.  that His plan is perfect.
we recognize most importantly that apart from Him nothing matters anyway.
so we continue drawing near to Him.  believing that even if we could have it all back.  the comfort of home. my best friends. my precious Grandpa.  even if i could have all that back, it would “not compare to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (phil 3:8).

sometimes God calls loudly.
sometimes He gently whispers.

most often in my life i have been in awe of the way He works. the way He calls me to something and carefully works out the most intricate of details. and i have gone joyfully. i remember so well that feeling of not being able to sleep for nights before moving into my dorm at SBU, before moving my entire life to Ohio, and again before moving my life to St. Louis. staying awake & being almost giddy with excitement of what God was going to do in my life in each of those places.

and He has been faithful.
i look back on my journey since high school & i see how good He has been. to even attempt to explain all the ways God has grown, stretched, challenged, blessed, & encouraged me at each of those stops along the way would be impossible.

so why now, when God has opened another door do i feel like He is having to drag me kicking & screaming to get me where He wants me?

any of you that have known me in the past few years have probably heard me talk about “moving south”. talking about how much i would love to live in florida on the beach. how my “perfect job” would be doing discipleship with 6th – 12th grade girls. its eerie how i can look back at my life in the past few years and remember so many specific conversations where those exact words have come out of my mouth.

and here i am. having been offered a job. on the beach. in florida. as director of student ministries for 6th – 12th grade girls.

God has given me the desire of my heart, and now that its here I have found myself clinging to familiarity… family… comfort… safety. this is not who i want to be, and the way that im acting is exactly the way i promised myself i would never be. i have this desire to GO and experience new places & people by LIVING there. i love student ministry & the beach .. and lets face it… combining the 2 would be incredible.

no doubt that God has called me to trust him with my safety… to replace comfort with commitment to going wherever He calls…. to love Him more than i love my family…. to be familiar only with His voice.

i will most likely be moving to florida the first week of July. living a 5 minute drive from the water. serving in a great church, among great people who have already found a special place in my heart. this is an amazing opportunity, and i truly am thankful that God has heard & given me the desires of my heart.

but if you’ve read this far, i would appreciate your prayers. this truly is one of the hardest things ive done in my short 24 years. losing my grandpa has made me treasure my family so much more. its incredibly hard to swallow the idea of leaving them & moving so far away. missing important things in my sweet little nephews lives. please pray that God would continue to work out all the details… that an affordable & nice apartment would be available. and most importantly, that God would continue to teach my heart to trust Him more than anything or anyone else.

quotable.

This is the most profound spiritual truth I know: that even when we’re most sure that love can’t conquer all, it seems to anyway. It goes down into the rat hole with us, in the guise of our friends, and there it swells and comforts. It gives us second winds, third winds, hundredth winds…the truth is that your spirits don’t rise until you get way down. But when someone enters that valley with you, that mud, it somehow saves you again.

:: Anne Lamott