Women of Faith 2012 and Some SGM Coming Events

Last weekend (Aug. 3-4), Sufficient Grace Ministries took a group of ladies to the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus. We have attended the conference for several years. This year, we were determined to get better seats for our group than the nose bleed section where some of us have shaken and clung to the edge of the seat, the last few years, due to the ridiculous height and steep drop-off. Just sayin’.

Alas, like most of the times we plan something, there were glitches. I’m wondering if my need to make and keep everyone happy and present perfection through the events we plan, is part of the problem. Perhaps I have some control issues that need to be alleviated. Some silly pride. Some need to be humbled by being kept constantly in a state of messing up and falling short. You know, so He gets the glory, and all that.

Regardless, for the first time possibly ever, the volunteers did not get premium seating. The year we volunteered to help set up as part of the distribution team for Women of Faith, and promised our group they would receive premium seating. Sigh…

We did get to listen to Mandisa warm up while we worked, though. And, we did get free tickets. And, after some “tough talk” with guest services, we did get better seats. (Not really tough talk, of course! We asked nicely.) Our group was scattered, of course, but we didn’t have to hold on to our seats for dear life!

And, when I felt a bit cranky about it, God did remind me that we aren’t supposed to serve because of what we get. We are supposed to give freely, serving others as we serve Him. Humble pie. My favorite. Or at least you’d think so as much as I eat it!

Speaking of eating…

We enjoyed some Cheesecake at THE Cheesecake Factory….Hallelujah!

Love these girls: Erin, Mattie, Holly, and the sweet babies…

Nancy, Marlene, and Steph…waiting patiently…for CHEESECAKE!

 

This is me with my dear friend Nancy. I think she needs her own post, because, seriously I stand in awe of her.

Sipping some strawberry lemonade, while holding baby Evanee. And, let me tell you. It wasn’t frozen, but sweet mama, it was delicious. All time favorite non-frozen strawberry lemonade…The Cheesecake Factory. Of course, they would get it right.

We tried to eat at this cool Irish pub. But, even though we arrived before most of the ladies who piled in from the arena in droves, searching for food, no one would wait on us. We waited and waited. Nancy went to get us menus. She wrote down our orders. We went to search the waiter. It was truly the case of the “first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. Only, since we didn’t have time to wait during our hour break, we left and our search continued. We lost Nancy and found out later that she ate lunch at an Italian restaurant with a group of 25 ladies who started out strangers to her, but parted as friends, like everyone Nancy meets.

We ended up with cheeseburgers at the stadium. Wanna bite?

Marlene, me, and Stacie prepared for breakfast the next morning in the hotel lobby, along with Nancy and Steph. I had some Timbits at Tim Horton’s, which made me giggle, since, you know, I have a plethora of Tims. Marlene makes our beautiful Mommy and baby bracelets we sometimes send to families who are expecting a baby with a fatal diagnosis. She also has started crocheting baby gowns. We are so grateful for her servant’s heart, and all the ways she blesses SGM.

This cutie pictured above is Steph, and judging by the smile, chatting to the Tim in her life. She was our fearless…ok, maybe not fearless…driver. And, kept us quite safe as we navigated through the busy city of Columbus and a nasty storm on the way home. Along with…you know…plenty of prayers and help from our heavenly Father. Thank you, Steph!

Pictured above is part of our SGM group…missing Marlene and Stacie…who skipped out early!

Oh…and the conference…well, it was really great and encouraging too. Amy Grant and Mandisa were there to sing, along with the Sandi Patti. I may have peed my pants just a little laughing at Mark Lowry. I cried the ugly cry more than once, especially hearing the inspiring stories of Brenda Warner and her son, Zach and Lisa Harper who had the privilege of sending a message of love from God to a homeless man named Cricket, living on the streets of Nashville (I think Nashville?). But, as Nancy said, “Two-thirds of this trip is the car ride there and back, and the fellowship that takes place among the women.” Yes, indeed. And, you know, the Cheesecake.

Mattie said something about staying one more night, just to fellowship and talk together. I like the idea of having more time together, as that’s the only thing I feel is missing from this conference each year for all of us. More time to talk and encourage and pray for one another. Although those I did get to spend time with shared plenty of those moments. And, for that, I’m grateful.

Perhaps we’ll just have to plan some more events to get together…imperfect though they are sure to be.

SGM Coming Events

Comfort Bears and SGM Work Day ~ Tuesday, August 14, 2012 beginning at 8:30am, at Harvest Fellowship in Hamler, Ohio, the Helping Hands Ministry will be teaming up with SGM to work on Comfort Bears and other SGM related tasks (shipping, addressing, etc.). We will also take some time to pray for the families receiving the Dreams of You packages. We need more groups to form in other areas to make our bears, as the sweet ladies who are currently supplying us with the bears our sewing their fingers to the bone to keep up with the growing number of mothers writing to us. There are currently more than 40 people on the waiting list. And, more sending requests daily. If you are local, we’d love your help. You can cut or stuff…if you are unable to sew. Or pack or address boxes. Or pray. There’s something for everyone. We just need willing hearts. And, if you’re not local, please consider forming a group to help make Comfort Bears. We can get you the info. if you are interested.

One Way ~ Our band, One Way, will be performing at the upcoming Corn City Festival on Sunday, August 19, 2012 from noon to 1:15pm. We would love to see you there!

One Way will also be featured at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Deshler, on Sunday August 26, 2012, performing the worship music and giving a message on shining our light to the children and youth on their Rally Day.

Coming soon…

In September, we will be teaming up with Coastal Reflections to host a fundraiser for SGM, where participants will make their own glass jewelry! So excited about this, and will be announcing a date soon!

In October (possibly Saturday October 13th)…

Kelly Gerken, Holly Haas, and Jennifer Ross are working together to plan a day of Remembrance and Encouragement for mothers who have experienced the loss of a baby in the Petoskey/Harbor Springs area this October. There will be a few speakers to share about the following topics:
Finding Hope Through Grief’s Journey
Making Precious Memories ~ Incorporating Your Baby’s Memory into Your Family Celebrations
The Effects of Sibling Grief and Ways to Support Grieving Siblings
We will also have a time of sharing, prayer, and a remembrance/candle lighting ceremony honoring our babies in heaven. We will be bringing some items to share with the mothers, from the Dreams of You Shop, and some other gifts to encourage. There will be refreshments, and a time to encourage one another in the telling of our stories. This special retreat will be hosted by Sufficient Grace Ministries with no set charge for the participants. Free will donations are appreciated to help cover the costs of this event. We are hoping to spark interest to the mothers in the area, as we believe this event could be a great comfort to those walking this path. October is national pregnancy loss awareness month, and a special time to honor these precious lives, and encourage the mothers with grieving hearts. Please let us know if you are interested in attending. More details coming soon!!

Please pray for the upcoming events and for SGM…and please pray for me, as I have been ill with some possible virus that came upon me suddenly and fiercely in the middle of the night upon returning home from the conference. It seems to be leaving much weakness and achy stuff in it’s wake. Nothing compared to what many people suffer through each day, but a hindrance to what we need to accomplish right now to serve others. So, if you could pray for this little thorn in the flesh, I would be so grateful.

Just Being a Mom…

Sometimes I feel like I am wearing too many hats. There is the wife hat, the mom hat, the employee hat, the ministry hat, the friend hat. And, more, of course. Nicole Johnson performed a funny skit that showed all the hats a woman wears at Women of Faith…and she literally stacked each one on her head. It was quite a visual!

Sometimes I find myself longing for less hats. Lately, as Timothy approaches the end of his junior year of high school, and James finishes elementary school, I feel a longing to return to a time when I was only their momma (and Tim’s wife, of course!) The slipping away of the minutes, hours, and years that brings us to today leaves me yearning to focus my heart toward home…toward these boys who are quickly becoming young men. Oh…how fleeting this time is.

When I am quiet…at the feet of Jesus, in the still of the night or the wee hours of the early morning….there are no hats. I am simply His…lost in Him. Peace washes over me and burdens are lifted. It is the place I long to be, even as the Martha in me drives me on to the next thing.

I had a prayer time like that last Saturday morning, and it was a sweet release of all that I carry. The day was no less busy, but the burden was lighter and each task less cumbersome. He was with me, bearing the weight. And, I felt joy instead of heaviness. I prepared the SGM shipments for the week, washed James’ golf clothes and packed snacks and drinks for the day. The baseball game was canceled, so I went to the church to get Comfort Bears for the rest of the shipments going off to comfort grieving mothers.

I was thinking of all that needed to be done…of the size of the tasks…the endless needs that I never seem to fill. I was thinking how much I want to focus on being the mother my kids need. Life was simpler when that was my only focus. There was peace in my heart as I walked through the to-do list, but the thoughts were floating through my mind. What am I called to do, Lord, with all this busy? I walked through the church to the kitchen, picked up the bag of bears, turned off the lights, locked the doors.

When I opened the back of the Jeep, I stopped, struck by the sight. There were golf clubs and bat bags filled with tools boys need to be boys…ready for the activities of the day. And, on top, I gently placed the bag of Comfort Bears.

There they were, all together, in the back of my Jeep.

Bat bags…

Golf clubs…

And Comfort Bears…

Evidence that I am a mother. A mother to Timothy (almost senior in high school), James (almost middle schooler), and Faith, Grace, and Thomas (dancing in heaven). As I looked at the evidence filling the vehicle, my heart swelled.

And God whispered to my heart…

“You are just being their mother. You are just being a mom….to all your children.”

SGM Trip to Women of Faith, Hugging Blogger Friends., a giveaway…and ANGIE SMITH!!!

I have so much to share…so many pictures, so many words, so many amazing things on my heart. Much of what God spoke to my heart this weekend will have to come in other posts…it’s just too much for one!

This weekend, the ladies of Sufficient Grace, along with some in real life friends and blogger friends (16 total) traveled to  the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus, Ohio to hear this brave, beautiful woman share her testimony of how God carried her as she carried her Audrey Caroline….

There may have also been some cheesecake at the (enter Hallelujah Chorus) Cheesecake Factory…

Now before my Made to Crave peeps get worried, check out these delicious and healthy lettuce wraps I chose as my main course:
We also shared some tears…and a whole lot of crazy laughter…

Some surprises…like hearing Laura Story sing her heart-piercing song Blessings
Some dancing by the edge of a very steep and high in the air drop by a much-braver-than-me Holly. Holly was getting her groove ON to some Mary, Mary!

I was holding on with a white-knuckled grip to the railing with one hand and my friend Stephanie with the other, while inching to my seat on jello legs, as Holly danced with abandon. But, I thoroughly enjoyed her freedom. It was a welcome distraction to the images in my head of me plunging to a gruesome death at the bottom of Nationwide Arena. I love that girl. Not just because she’s fearless, even when we’re miles in the air. But, also because of this:
We enjoyed the brisk walk to and and from the conference….

                                 But quickly learned the importance of landmark amongst female navigators when we couldn’t find our way back to the parking garage. I took a picture to remember. Stacie, a former secretary, took notes. For the record, her way was much more effective.

Riding the elevator, full of anticipation…

Nancy on the left and Stephanie on my right…some pretty special gals to have alongside you on life’s journey…

And, this picture below…this picture is the one I wasn’t going to share. You see, it depicts me in a less than flattering pose…and that just can’t be done in blog world. We must present the perfect picture, right? And an unflattering picture just won’t do! But, it was too funny and too full of the real me not to share it. And, this weekend has been about freedom.
So, let me tell you what’s going on in the picture below. The lovely Mattie and Holly’s sweet little pixie of a cousin Amber are to my left. You all know Holly, and that’s the lovely Erin to Holly’s right. Of course, our Lainey-girl is in the middle. Now, I was excited to see these girls…to hug them in real life. And, we needed a picture. So, I climbed over some chairs and thought I could just squeeze in between Holly’s and Amber’s seats real quick. Sounded good…but here’s the thing.
You know how some really big dogs, like maybe a Saint Bernard or bloodhound might think they are little lap dogs and just jump right up on you like a tiny chihuahua…only they aren’t so tiny. Well that’s what this picture reminds me of. It’s like I’m the Saint Bernard squishing the life out of little Amber. I’m sort of turned at a funny angle to squeeze in, which just makes it look even more like a big dog climbing on to a little lap, squeezing into a tiny space!! If you look closely, Amber does look slightly afraid! =) 

I love the girls of Sufficient Grace…

And, let me just take a moment to talk about this sweet Lainey. She was an angel throughout the entire conference. She happily bounced on our knees, was loved on and passed around, chewed on our necklaces, nursed when she was hungry, and just happily went along. We all had a chance for some Lainey love!
Love this pic with Mattie and laid-back Lainey…

The conference was full of inspiring speakers and beautiful worship. I have much to share from the words of Sheila Walsh, Nicole Johnson, and others. Words that God used to speak to the very depths of my heart, peeling back some of my layers. But, for this post…there’s only one speaker that I want to focus on.
Our very own, Angie Smith…

She took the stage, and we knew that every step to that platform was a battle. Angie struggles with anxiety. To take that stage alone is a challenge, but to take that stage to share the story that brushes the most tender places of her heart…that is a Goliath- sized giant of a challenge. But, Angie belongs to a big God. So she took the steps, and charmed us with her down to earth humor and grace. The reason we love her is that when we read her blog or talk to her, it is like we are sitting on the porch, sipping lemonade with an old friend. She is real, and compassionate, and holds none of it back.
Below, you’ll find another reason I can identify with sweet Angie. She talks with her hands and moves around so much that was hard to get a picture of her that wasn’t blurry! I might know a girl like that! ;)

We’ve read the story of Audrey Caroline. We know the beauty of Angie’s heart wrenching journey as she trusted the God who carried her. We know the God to “whom she belongs”. We know it, not only because of the eloquent, honest way she has written it on her blog and in her book, but because we have walked that path. We have danced our own ”sacred dance of grief and joy”. After listening to Angie speak, I leaned down to the mothers in our group, and said, “Angie was wonderful, but I want you to know that you are just as amazing and beautiful. Her story is our story as well. You are mothers who have walked this path, and chose to trust Him. The same God who carried Angie, carried  all of us.”
Any of us could tell a similar tale of beauty from ashes…
We walked that path. We heard those awful words. We waited for our babies. We trusted in God, when we couldn’t see. We held our babies in our arms for a brief moment and released them to the arms of Jesus. We clung to Him when our hearts were broken into tiny, shattered pieces and the ache was a canyon of sorrow with no relief. We cling to Him still.
We wept with Angie and felt like we were standing there with her, as she told her story, Audrey’s   
           story, God’s story…
         our story.
And, then we waited in line to meet this woman we call friend in our hearts. While in line, I met a beautiful mother named Rebecca, mommy to Charlie, who shared a bit of her son’s story. She was also looking forward to hugging the woman whose story resonated with her, as she grieved her son.
The anticipation mounts as we wait…Erin and I look forward eagerly.

We had been hoping to meet Angie, and she had emailed back that she would like to see us as well. This was her first event, so we weren’t sure when we could schedule our rendezvous. She was a bit busy after all! ;) Angie has such a compassionate heart, and would probably talk to everyone if she could. But, the staff was trying to keep her to a schedule. So, finding time to meet proved difficult. I wasn’t sure if it would even work, and kept praying that God would work it out. I so did not want the ladies in our group to be disappointed. She emailed me that maybe we could meet her at the book signing. So we grabbed our books and hopped in line early.
The staff was trying to hurry her along, and they were cutting off the line. I leaned over to one of them and said, “We are from Sufficient Grace, and it would mean so much for these mothers to meet Angie. She had emailed us that we could meet her here.” They nodded, but said she had to catch a flight and to keep it moving.
It was my turn, and I stepped forward to meet the author of the first blog I ever read.
I began, “I’m Kelly Gerken from Sufficient Grace.”
And, her face lit up as she squealed and hugged me tight…looking as excited to hug us, a we felt to meet and hug her. Like long lost friends, we embraced. We are Sundays after all. I never thought I’d feel this way about women I met on the internet. Only God could knit hearts together in such a way.
We hugged and she said she had told the staff when they cut off the line, “Make sure the Sufficient Grace girls are in the line.”
That blessed us beyond words. I can’t tell you what those moments were like as the line was held up and everything else, but the flashes of cameras and the tears falling stopped, while mothers with a common bond shared stories about babies that dwell in heaven. I introduced the moms and one by one they embraced Angie as she listened with compassion…weeping with those who weep as only one who has wept herself can. She would say she is an ugly crier…something like a “deranged gopher”, I believe? But, I would say that watching her cry with these women I love was one of the most beautiful sights of this weekend for me. The bond we mothers share is a special one. It is unlike anything else.
We thanked her for telling ”our story”…for being our voice…for glorifying God.

And, then…speaking of mothers and our common bond…
It was Holly’s turn to step up and meet Angie. While we were waiting in line to meet Angie, Lainey started to fuss. So, Holly did what mama’s do when their babies are hungry. She slapped on her Udder Cover and nursed the babe. When it was time to meet Angie, Holly was still feeding a happy Lainey. Angie, being the sweet-friend-sipping-lemonade-on-the-porch that she is wanted to meet little Lainey….I’ll let Holly tell you what happened next on her blog, as cameras snapped and mama’s shared!

I have so much more to say, but my eyes are bleary from all of the crying, laughing, and late night after-prom chaperoning (upon arriving home, I went straight to prom and did not get to bed until 4a.m.!) that occurred this weekend. I love every one of the ladies that came with us, and will cherish the moments of absolute deep belly laughter and deranged gopher crying tears we shared as God spoke to our hearts throughout this weekend. It was a grand adventure…that even included an unfortunate incident with our car and a deer on the way home. All was well (except for the deer, of course), thanks to Becki’s cool handed driving, a mighty tough orange jeep, and a God whose hand was upon His girls who giggled their way home.
It was two days filled with “Daddy’s little girl moments” and I’m so grateful for the women who were there to share it all.
Love you, girls…
P.S. You didn’t think I forgot about those of you who couldn’t make it, did you? You know, there’s nothing we like more than sharing the blessing. So…the book Angie was signing in the picture. That was for one of you! If you would like to be entered to win an autographed copy of Angie’s book, I Will Carry You, please mention it in the comments of this post.

Women of Faith Winner

And….the Winner of the Women of Faith Ticket Giveaway is…

Mattie from Beauty Will Rise

Whoooo- Hoo! Congratulations Mattie…can’t wait to meet you in person!

If you didn’t win and would like to join us at the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus, Ohio please email me for information on how you can order a ticket and sit with the Sufficient Grace group.

Women of Faith Giveaway ~ So Excited I Cannot Even Deal

CONTEST CLOSED: WINNER ANNOUNCED
(MATTIE FROM BEAUTY WILL RISE)

Last year, we went to Women of Faith and had our socks thoroughly blessed off by all of the beautiful ladies who shared their hearts from the stage…and of course…ahem….Mary Beth and Stephen Curtis Chapman. I met Jennilee and had some delicious cheesecake with my Holly-girl. Becki and I shared some giggles and we all just had a grand time getting encouraged, praising the Lord, laughing, crying, being inspired, and just being girls.

This year….we are getting all our ducks in a row to go again. I haven’t ordered our tickets yet, but I would like to within the next couple weeks. I wanted to give you an opportunity to order tickets in the Sufficient Grace group, so you can sit with us. That may not sound very exciting at first, but keep reading! You might decide you really want to sit with us.There will be more information about how you can order tickets in the Sufficient Grace group coming soon in a future post.

Now…for the exciting part….

This year, Women of Faith…

Is featuring….

A very special speaker.

She is a blogger, author, and mama….with a beautiful heart…a gift of writing that leaves you feeling as if God’s love is whispered into every word she writes, and a smile that makes you feel like you’re sitting on her back porch chatting with your best friend on a summer day.

She loves Beth Moore….but WE love HER!

People….I cannot contain myself….

It’s…

Angie Smith from Bring the Rain!!!!!!!!

Angie will be speaking at the Women of Faith in Columbus (and other venues) this year!! And…she is willing to take a few minutes to meet with the ladies who will be attending the conference with Sufficient Grace. I am sooooo excited to meet her and to hopefully meet a few of you!

Holly from Caring for Carleigh, Becki, and I will be going and we really hope some of you will join us. You know, we have to spread the blessing around, right?

So….

Sufficient Grace Ministries would like to offer to give away at least one Women of Faith ticket to one of you. The ticket, valued at $99, will be good for the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus, Ohio April 29-April 30, 2011. It includes an all-day conference Friday and Saturday and lunch for both days. (You are responsible for covering your travel cost, additional meals, and accommodations. Contact me for information about booking accommodations. We may be able to get a group discount, and ladies can share a room to reduce cost.)

You can visit the Women of Faith website for more details about the amazing speakers, singers, and other guests who will be in Columbus. Also, contact me, if you decide to order tickets to sit with the Sufficient Grace group: sufficientgraceministries (at) gmail (dot) com.

How can you enter to win a Women of Faith ticket, to sit with the ladies from Sufficient Grace, and meet Angie?

There are several ways to enter:

First….leave a comment on this post. For fun, you could share a “woman of faith” in your life who has inspired you.

Additional entries for:
Facebooking or tweeting about this contest.
If you are a follower of this blog.
Follow Sufficient Grace on facebook.

*Please leave a separate comment on this post for each additional entry in order to make it easier for me to count.

I’m so excited! Praying (and trusting) this will be a blessing, and hoping some of you can join us!

Happy Sunday….and Go Jets and Packers!

Mary Beth Chapman ~ Part Two

Continued from Part One of my account of Mary Beth Chapman speaking at the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus, Ohio. (Click here to read Part One.)

We waited, literally on the edge of our seats for her words. She looked down at her papers and sipped her water. There were some light-hearted quips about her sweet husband…little windows into life in the Chapman family. Then, she delved into her story and we were captivated.

She spoke of wrestling with God…

“I’ve always had a plan,” she began, as she described her type A personality and her need for control. “But, there were so many plot twists…my plan had to go out the window.”

She wanted to marry someone who was predictable, a planner with a schedule…maybe an accountant. Instead, she fell in love with a “guitar-playing, mullet-wearing, song-writing musician” named Stephen Curtis Chapman. The only thing they had in common was being in love and sharing the same last name. His glass is always half full…where hers is always half empty. Her family believed practical jokes were a love language. Stephen thinks practical jokes are “vandalism”! (That one really made me smile, because my husband is the same way. And, I know how ornery he was as a kid. So, it really makes me laugh that he is so strict about things like “toilet-papering”. He won’t allow our kids to do it! My mother went toilet-papering with me when I was in Jr. High…and even fell out of a tree and cut her leg when we were almost caught! Oops…did I just blog that?!)

She went on…

“God was writing His story all along and I was trying my best to control it.”

As his career grew, she struggled with feeling even more out of control of their circumstances and their lives. She shared of her battle with clinical depression, an ongoing battle that forces her to draw near to Jesus.

Her words:

“(It) daily drives us to Jesus, the Healer of all pain in all ways.”

Oh…what desperately beautiful words of hope and truth. He is the Healer of ALL pain…in ALL ways. He is faithful.

When she spoke of adopting their daughters from China, her words were so fitting…such a picture of the rescue that we ourselves have received.

She said…

“For the first time, I realized what Jesus did for us on the cross…”

“She had no name, no hope…We came and gave her a family, an inheritance.”

Jesus came and did the same for us. “He told us, He would not leave us orphans.”

And…He kept that promise.

Then…on May 21, 2008…

“God wrote a chapter in our lives that nobody wanted…”

She courageously and with raw honesty spoke the words that every mother can understand…

“As a mom, I would choose to have Maria back over all the lives this story has touched.”

Tears streamed down my face as I nodded. We know. We know what she means. We know what it is to see God make beauty from ashes…to even understand how He has given us so much from walking that path. How He has touched so many lives because they lived on this Earth. But, we didn’t choose it. And had we been given the choice to offer comfort to others or to watch our children grow up, we would choose to have them here with us. He sees the beginning from the end. We do not. And, we are mothers, after all.

Mothers…just like Mary Beth…who was busily living life when this storm swept in without warning.

And, then…these words from her mother-heart…

“I miss her with all the miss that there could be in the world.”

Yeah…
They were living life…planning weddings and graduations…busily preparing. One day they were planning a wedding for one child, and the next, a funeral for their little girl.

“Satan surely came calling for the Chapman family…Satan didn’t win. He won’t win.”

Her voice rose slightly with firm resolve as she said those words.

Life continued on with it’s relentless pace…oblivious to the attack that had pummelled their lives. Their son sang at his graduation in the very same place where he had attended the funeral of his sister the day before.

They were initiated into the “fellowship of suffering”.

Days into this new journey one of their children asked,

“Why is it so hard?”

Mary Beth answered, “Because God has asked us to do hard.”

“We have chosen to see that God is in all of this…Can we choose to see God in the good and in the pain?”

She talked about Maria’s Big Hope…about the promise that out of these ashes, beauty will rise.

As the days wore on, they were wanting desperately to “see” God’s hand in all of this. The children found a drawing that Maria Sue had been working on. It was a flower with six petals…only one was colored in fully. To Mary Beth, that one represented her daughter…the only one of her six children who was completely full, healed, and home.

On the back of the drawing was one simple word…a word Maria Sue had never written before.

In big, unmistakably bold, capital letters the word…

SEE

They knew…

“God was with us…He has a plan for us.”

She said so much more. Some of the most poignant and hope-filled words were lost in the frenzy as I frantically scrawled her words in my little green notebook in the dark. I desperately wanted to share the gift of those moments with you. She was speaking quickly at the end, conscious that time was running out. We could have listened to her all night. We sat captivated. She mentioned something about “we who are sufferers are invited…to a special place close to God’s heart.” She said it so much more eloquently, and I lost some of her words. They were words of faith and hope from a women who has been through the fires of desperate grief.

I will leave you with these simple words from Mary Beth…words of hope and truth.

“God is good even when life is not.”

Stephen Curtis met her on the steps as she descended and he embraced her, his eyes still damp from the tears he shed, as she recounted their journey of beauty rising from ashes. With unabashed pride and love, he acknowledged the incredible courage she displayed…taking that stage to share such sacred pieces of brokenness and healing with all of us. We knew. We knew we had witnessed such intimacy from two people who have walked in the ruins and beheld the ashes of their lives.

Stephen bit back the tears several more times as he began singing the promise…

“Out of these ashes…beauty will rise…”

It’s rising, sweet Chapman family…in all of it’s heart-wrenching splendor…beauty is rising from the ashes. It is a glorious sight to behold…and one of extreme hope. Thank you for allowing us to see it…to hear it…to walk this path with you. And, thank you for your faithfulness as you continue to cling the One who carries you…the One who dances with you among the ruins.

Yes…

God is good, even when life is not.

Sandi Patty, Stephen Curtis, Mary Beth, and more….Part One

As you’ve heard if you’ve been remotely near this blog recently, I spent an amazing weekend of renewal and encouragement at the Women of Faith Conference in Columbus with some wonderful blog and in real-life friends. I’ve been meaning to write about the speakers, and in particular…Mary Beth Chapman.

As thousands of women poured into Nationwide Stadium, I reflected on the ways that God had blessed our time in Columbus. Two girls bopping around the city, not really knowing their way around. He had been our guide, parting seas of traffic to smooth the path before us, setting up divine appointments with soft-hearted chaplains who genuinely cared about grieving families, and leading us to just the right hospital (one we weren’t planning to go to) when we “lost our way” for a moment. It seems we thought we were lost, but we were on His path all along. I smiled as I thought of how He mulitiplied the three tickets we purchased, and how several beautiful women of faith who otherwise would not have, gathered together to find refreshment and encouragement last weekend.

The lights dimmed and the worship team took the stage. Thousands of voices joined as one to praise their Father. Sweet Jennilee sat to my right and Becki to my left.

Soon Anita Renfroe, hysterical and quite gifted in “breaking the ice” had us all laughing deep belly laughs until tears filled our eyes. Oh, that girl is seventy kinds of funny! Love her…

While Mandisa sat wrapped in her Snuggi on the “porch”, Sandi Patty took the stage and melted us with the beauty of her indescribably phenomenal voice. There are no words that could do it justice. Hearing Sandi sing is like getting a specially-wrapped gift straight from heaven. Perhaps in heaven everyone will sound like Sandi…wouldn’t that be something? I think I could listen to her for eternity.

Sandi shared about her battle with her weight. I loved when she said that she released seventy-five pounds…because if you lose something you intend to get it back!

She spoke of a time when she was rejected by Disney to work as one of their singers, because of her weight…

She said that it was devastating.

She thought she stood on the edge of a dream.

Then she felt that she was on the edge of disaster.

She later realized that she was on the edge of the divine.

…where grace begins…

Soon after that time, she had the opportunity to tour with the Gaithers and there she learned many things that have taken her to where she is today.

Later, she shared a time when she struggled with feeling like she would never be enough…

Moms, wives, women on planet earth…have you ever felt that way? Ever felt like you could never be enough? Can I get an amen, sister?!

She told how the Lord revealed to her this message:

“You are enough for Me and I am enough for you…”

And, she said, “We are worthy of His love…we are enough…”

Because of Jesus, we are worthy and we are enough…

What I love the most about Sandi’s message, though is how she referred to the time when she started to work on losing weight as “peeling back the layers”…what a woman after my own heart. She gets it. You know, for those of us comfort eaters…it is a “peeling back the layers” process. And, what’s underneath isn’t pretty! At least not all of it…O.K., most of it!!

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Next, that little spitfire, Patsy Clairmont stepped on to the stage. Did you know that Patsy once battled (and still does at times) agoraphobia? Patsy’s son battled a life-threatening case of H1N1 this past year. I’d love to go into detail, but I’ll just give you the gist of her message. I know you are all waiting to hear about Mary Beth and Stephen…and I have a lot to say about that.

Patsy said…

Prayer matters…
Love matters…
People matter…
Recovery is a process…
Never give up…

“Sometimes change is good.” And when circumstances change and we resist…thinking they look a certain way, reacting in fear and hesitation….as in her journey with her son’s illness and recovery…ask…as the Lord whispered to her heart…

“What if this change is for good?”

I like that…and I love you, Patsy…

Oh…one more thing Patsy said, when talking about feeling protective of our families. You know how it is when you are in the hospital with a loved one and you’re not sure about the choices they’re making?

She said…

“We gals can rise up mighty when it comes to our people!”

Yes, we can, Miss Patsy…yes, we can! =)

——————-

Stephen Curtis Chapman took the stage…

We held our breath…

He sang…”Sink or swim, I’m diving in…”

He sang the words, and we knew he meant every nuance. We knew that when the river’s high, the water’s deep…He was going in, trusting God whether He would sink or swim…

We know where He has walked…

Before he sang a heart-wrenching “Butterfly Kisses”, he said…

“I can sing this song because I am going to sing and dance again with my princess, my Cinderella…”

He spoke of his Maria Sue who went to be with Jesus on May 21, 2008 after a tragic accident. She was five years old.

More of Stephen’s words of hope…

“…we anchor ourselves to the hope of the gospel…”

“God is going to make everything new…take that hope and promise to this moment…live with hope and purpose…anchor ourselves to Him. Our future is so far greater than our short past….

I will continue to sing until I get to dance with her again…”

The sea of grief is relentless. Many of you know that. Many of you are being tossed about mercilessly as we speak…helpless in the clutches of the storm. People can talk of hope…of the promises of Jesus. But, those words coming from this father…who has lived this pain and experienced the hope of that anchor as he clutches onto it for dear life while the sea roars around him.

Him, we listen to. We know he knows of that which he speaks. He knows it in an intensely real way.

Watching him, was faith and courage in action. I watched as he bit his lip several times to fight back the tears. The beauty and the brokenness were woven into his eyes, lilting forth in the sound of his beautiful voice, pouring through the haunting words promising that indeed, beauty will rise from these ashes. His unabashed love for his wife, his children, his Savior shining, nay…oozing out of every core of his being.

It was like beholding rising beauty.

With pride (and humility, too), he teared up as he introduced his wife Mary Beth.

Again, we held our breath, knowing that we were being given a precious gift. This was the first time sweet Mary Beth had taken the Women of Faith stage and shared the most tender pieces of her heart. What an unimaginable privilege that we could be invited into such a sacred place. For it is an incredible gift to be allowed to walk with a grieving heart…to hear the testimonies of God’s grace in the valley of the shadow of death.

She tenderly made her way to the stage. Her eyes drawn with grief, her body still carrying the weight of sorrow on her tiny frame, she displayed more courage than I have the words to convey. She stood in the middle of the stadium shuffling her papers in her shaking hands, taking a moment to get her voice. We embraced her with every fiber of our hearts.

When she hesitated, tearing up for a moment…words of encouragement were shouted from various parts of the filled stadium.

“We love you, Mary Beth….”

And, we cried with her…

She found her voice, though…and beauty rose. Beauty, courage, strength, faith, hope. Those aren’t just words…not when you are beholding one who stands in the very grip of His grace. Nothing is more real.

More on what Mary Beth said coming soon in another post…

To be continued…

Mystery Blogger Revealed

I didn’t intend to wait this long to tell you who attended Women of Faith with us on Saturday. But, I’ve been hanging out with my family and working, and you know…life stuff…for the past couple days. Plus, it’s ridiculously beautiful out, which is why this will be another quick post. Posts on SCC and Mary Beth and the others will be coming soon.

Sooooooo,

Would you like to know who the mystery blogger was?

A few of you guessed Holly….

Holly did attend the conference on Friday, but she wasn’t the mystery blogger.

Some mentioned Stephanie Gerken, the original winner of the ticket…

Sweet Stephanie (mama to Chloe Joy, Ella Faith, and six other beautiful children) was there on Saturday, along with her beautiful mother, Cookie, (who was my fourth grade teacher, an amazing teacher I have had the privilege of working with in my current job, and one of the women of faith in my own life.) Cookie wouldn’t let me take her picture, though! =)

While approaching Nationwide Arena…

I saw, much to my surprise, among the throngs of some 30,000 (or so) women…Tim’s gorgeous aunt Susan! Although, her presence was a surprise, she wasn’t the mystery, either.

It was the lovely and adorable, Jennilee!

At the last minute, I emailed Jennilee that there was an extra ticket. Stephanie received a surprise additional ticket to attend with her mother. This freed the ticket we had purchased for her. So, it was re-offered here. And, sweet Jennilee arranged her schedule so that she could attend the conference with us on Saturday! It was so nice to meet her in person and give her a big hug.

Jennilee said, “I feel like I know you already!”

I felt the same way…

A couple years ago, I never would have believed I could feel that way about someone I met online. But, this crazy blog thing we do makes us feel like friends, even before we meet. And, I suppose it isn’t just the blogging that knits us together. For some, it is the common bond of motherhood. For others it is walking with one another through life, and through loss. For still others, it is one of the closest bonds…belonging to the body of Christ…sharing a sisterhood in Him.

I’m so grateful you juggled your schedule to meet with us, Jennilee. It was such a blessing to spend the day with you on Saturday! Holly, Becki, and I are already talking about getting together next year and attending both days. Maybe you and some others can join us for that!

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While several of you guessed correctly, Kristi was the first to guess Jennilee. So, she is the winner! Kristi…email me your address and I’ll send you your Women of Faith tote full of goodies! Thank you to those who played along!

I couldn’t find her blog to link up, but here is her comment:

Kristi said…
Jenilee?

May 2, 2010 7:52 PM

In other news, this post from Stephanie, (Vayden’s mama) just blessed my heart. Love and prayers for you, sweet Stephanie…

Guess the Mystery Blogger and Win – Women of Faith Tote Giveaway

The Women of Faith conference was amazing! I took extensive notes and cannot wait to share all about it. But, I need to hang out with my people. I thought I’d give you a little teaser…just a couple pics and a little guessing game.

Becki and I were so excited as we were getting ready to leave on our little adventure Friday morning…

After meeting with four hospitals in the Columbus area, having a lovely conversation with Claire at Mount Carmel West, and leaving brochures and Dreams of You Memory Books with each, we met up with Holly and her sweet cousin Amber to eat some heavenly cheesecake at….

(Cue Hallelujah Chorus…)

Yes..yes, we did take pictures of our cheesecake…such bloggers!

We loved this cool telephone booth in the middle of Easton..

.

It was a little windy, though…

O.K….I know that you’re wondering about Women of Faith, and many are wanting to know about Mary Beth and Stephen Curtis Chapman. I took extensive notes and can’t wait to share them with you. It was amazing and just such a privilege to be there the first time she shared her journey on the Women of Faith stage. I promise to blog about all of it, soon.

But, first a little guessing game with a prize for the winner!!!

If you would like to win this adorable tote….

…filled with these goodies from the Women of Faith conference…

Then guess the mystery blogger who met us on Saturday to attend the Women of Faith conference…

(Those of you who were there and know the answer are not allowed to participate…and you know who you are!)

Leave your guess in the comments below….first to guess correctly wins the tote full of encouraging goodies!

Coming to You Live From Columbus…

We are in Columbus, and it’s been a gorgeous whirlwind of a day. We did not actually make it to the Women of Faith conference today, but plan on attending tomorrow. Holly and her cousin Amber went in our place today. While they were at the conference, Becki and I visited four hospitals in the Columbus area to share about Sufficient Grace. Then we all met up for supper at…the Cheesecake Factory. There are no words to describe the wonder of that cheesecake. I felt as if I were being lifted to another place as it melted in my mouth. Honestly…I was rendered speechless. I can’t upload pics from the hotel because I forgot the cord I need in order to upload to this computer.

So, unfortunately, you’ll have to wait until I get home for pictures. But, we took plenty…even of our cheesecake.

Stephanie is here, too…and we are hoping to meet up with her sometime tomorrow. Also…a mystery guest will hopefully join us.

Tomorrow morning, Becki and I will be attending the Women of Faith conference for the day. Rest assured, I will be taking extensive notes and blogging about the events later on…especially when Stephen Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman take the stage.

Another Sawyer Update before I sign off:

Sawyer is doing well. They hope to take him off the vent tomorrow and move him to an intermediate unit. There are still some concerns with his kidneys and a few other issues. So, please keep praying. For now, we rejoice over this good news…thank you for praying for this sweet boy.