Tuesday, August 30, 2016

To the Bridesmaid Farthest From Me

We have all been, or known, someone who was the bridesmaid standing the farthest away from the bride during the entire wedding - first person to walk in, last to walk out... and probably sees nothing but the back of a veil the entire wedding ceremony... we all know that usually the physical distance away from the bride on stage has a direct correlation to the closeness of the friendship between the bride and that bridesmaid.  I'm not sure anyone ever has come right out and said that before, but let's face it... it is usually the absolute truth.

In my wedding the same was true, but perhaps even more so because I had followed some advice from a mentor that I now see as incredible truth and accountability for my marriage... not just my wedding!  This mentor encouraged Kyle and I to not do the usual and choose friends from our past, but to choose friends for our future, to be in the wedding party.  He said for us to have people on that stage who understood they were there to help keep us accountable to the vows we were making to each other.  These needed to be people who would be living life alongside us, not just people we had fond memories of.

In most weddings, you see old friends flying in from wherever else because she and the bride were best friends in elementary school or cheer camp, etc.  I really only followed our mentor's advice, at first, because it helped me solve a major problem.  I grew up in a close-knit group of about 7-9 girls that were very close... and I had been in most of their weddings!  I felt like I should repay the favor, but I did not know how I was going to choose my sister, plus my current best friend, and then somehow ask all or just a few of those 7-9 girls... without hurting feelings, going financially broke paying for their dresses, and not clutter the stage during the wedding.

So, Kyle and I picked a number based on the number of people attending the wedding (1 bridesmaid and 1 groomsmen per 75 people attending the wedding, I think the usual is per 50 attenders).  Then we had to decide who those 4 people on stage for each of us were going to be.  I chose not to ask anyone with kids, because being a bridesmaid is a lot of work.  Showers to throw, bachelorette to plan, the day of getting ready and pictures... that would be a lot for a mom to sacrifice the time, money, and energy toward.  The first 3 were very easy to choose - my sister, my current best friend, and my aunt (who was more like a sister).  But with only one more spot left to fill, I thought about our mentor's advice... and I picked my friend, Cassy.  Granted, we hadn't known each other very long, but we had gotten to know each other more and more ever since I had started dating Kyle.  See, Cassy is married to Kyle's best friend, Matt.  The more I got to know her, the more I really liked how honest, down to earth, and fun she was.  And since her husband was my husband-to-be's best friend, I figured she would be the perfect person to fill that role, who would be in my life, and perhaps would call me out if I wasn't being the wife I promised to be.

It is funny how as life changes, we do too.  We don't mean to, we just constantly adjust to make room for the things that come along and say goodbye to things, and people, that just don't fit anymore.  And then for the same life changes, others come into your life and encourage you in ways you had never planned.  I figured we would be spending quite a bit of time with Matt and Cassy, and we sometimes did when they lived in the same town as us... but I find that we have made more of an effort to see them much more since they moved away than we ever did when they were 5 minutes away!  I think it was one of those "you don't know what you have until it is gone" kind of things.

It is funny that as they have moved to Texas and then Tulsa... my friendship with Cassy has grown in a way that I never would have guessed.  It seems like we got closer after they moved away, even though our lives got busier too.  Usually distance and busyness would ruin friendships that weren't that strong to begin with, but perhaps it was the milestones of our lives that brought us closer as friends.  We had kids!  And we drove down to Dallas as soon as we could to see them when Cassy had their first daughter.  Then Cassy drove up to see us and take our daughter's newborn photos less than 2 weeks after she was born!  We made it just in time to the hospital with their second daughter as they were packing up to go home... so we just went to their house and hung out for the rest of the day!  And they didn't care!  Most people would need quiet and wouldn't want visitors - we knew they loved us when they opened their home to their newly-born daughter and us on the same day!  Then they came and brought their girls to see our son when he was born... and we have been to every birthday party in between, and we usually spend New Years Eve hanging out with them!
Back when I wasn't even dating Kyle yet... I think this was at a wedding I crashed and hung out with her, Matt, and Kyle the rest of the day!
The guys trying to figure out the nose-sucker on Matt and Cassy's first baby!

My daughter pulled up to a standing position for the first time at Matt and Cassy's house!

Our friends came from Tulsa to see our son when he was born!

I was thinking through this a couple of weekends ago when Matt and Cassy and their girls came to spend the weekend here in Tahlequah.  She was going to shoot my family's photos AGAIN, and none of us were okay with the idea of them just coming to town for a few hours.  So it was our turn to host the usual fun weekends we have with them - we watch our kids play together, eat good food, and then "visit" - ya know what old people call sitting around and talking.  We often joke about how we thought our parents were so boring for just wanting to sit and talk with their friends when we were growing up... but here we are doing the exact same thing!

It is odd how when some people become married or parents, your friendships just aren't the same with them anymore.  Maybe because they are consumed with their new relationship, jobs, new friends, or perhaps your philosophies for parenting or other major life happenings are too different to reconcile.  I feel like Matt and Cassy have become our closest "couple friends", not because of how often we see them or because they live nearby.  We actually don't see each other that often, but when we go see them, I already know we are going to 1) stay up late, so late that we hate ourselves the next morning, 2) talk and laugh the whole time 3) usually about religion and politics!  And we even disagree on issues at times, but I never find myself bored, and we never actually get angry or argue!  We have disagreed on some pretty hot topics that have people all-caps shouting and cursing at each other on the internet... and yet, I couldn't respect Matt and Cassy more, even though we may not agree and have even had some debates.  They are real people who are trying to follow Christ and raise a family the best they can... and they are really having to think through and be intentional to do it right.  We understand the same struggles to strive for a goal, depend on Christ's grace and mercy through it all, and somehow fight for balance.

We may disagree or react differently to a few things, but for the most part we share the same core values.  We are followers of Christ and try to live by His Word.  We share beliefs that affect how we parent, entertain, spend money, and how we spend our time.  It is amazing to know that when we are hanging out with them, I know they are not judging us or questioning certain things we say and do, because they probably do something similar.  And it isn't just the sameness that is encouraging, but there are things they do as a couple and family that we admire and are inspired to do better in, because we see their example.  It is amazing to know that when we spend time with them, even if our kids are running around like crazy, I can truly relax!  Cassy doesn't care what we drove there in, what I am wearing, that my kids are loud, or that I have chosen to send my daughter to the local public school instead of homeschooling.  She isn't going to wince that I have Cheetos in my cabinets, even though she would never feed those to her kids, if given the choice.

As we were laughing and talking about the thrilling topics of government, church community groups, church planting, etc... the time flew by, and I was so thankful that God brought them into our lives!  I sat there engaged in conversation with heavy, tired eyes, but my spirit was very alive.  'How rare and blessed to find friends such as these' is all I could think to myself.  And I hope I never take that for granted.  So many times women can't stand their husbands' friends, and especially not their wives... I am grateful that in many cases, my hubby's friends and their wives have become mine as well... and especially with Matt and Cassy.

So even though she was the furthest (yes, I switched it on purpose) away from me at my wedding, and I was probably closer to several other friends who were sitting out in the audience at that time... I can honestly say that she is now one of my dearest friends.  I respect her not only as my friend, but she is a great wife, mother, and follower of Christ!  I have been challenged, encouraged, and comforted having her for a friend.  And as a professional photographer, I am thankful that even though she isn't IN any of the photos that hang in my home... I can look around my living room, hallways, and the bedrooms of our home, and she really is in all of these pictures of the people I love the most, because she captured them so I could treasure them always!

I promise, I had already started this blog topic, Cassy, before today.  But I thought what better day to publish it than on your birthday!  Ya know, it was only a few weeks ago that I realized we are both August babies who married January-born men... weird!  Thanks for being my friend, for giving me a hard time about having to be invited before I go somewhere, and for being you!

Happy birthday!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Questions for 4 Months, Answers Tomorrow

Hello, dear reader.  Please forgive me for my silence.  I have had a fun summer, activities-wise, but I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what God's plan is for me and my family... not my plan (which, let me tell you was a pretty good one), but HIS!

In my last blog post, I spelled out some plans my husband and I made at the beginning of 2016 with the next several years in mind.  Toward the end of that post, I wrote this:

But we... agree that our plans are just that - plans.  Tentative plans.  Plans made by human minds with finite understanding of the big picture that God is weaving together.  With school budgets the way they are currently, I may not find a teaching job at all.  And if that is the case, God will give us children in His timing, and He will continue to provide for bills He has given us - just as He has time and time again in the past.  There have been times in the past that money was just handed to us for no reason, sometimes by secret-givers.  There have been times when extra jobs became available, and we were able to earn some money for a special need.  There are other ways of paying for adoptions... there are other types of adoption that cost a lot less or practically nothing at all too.  The point is, God is still God.  This world is still His creation.  I am a steward, not an owner.  I am the servant, not the Master.  I only control my obedience, not the journey or outcome of any of this...And we keep reminding each other months later that however it works out, we are open.  We have a plan held out in flat hands for God to shape into mirror-images of His plans... or to make it easier for our hearts if He snatches our plans out of grasp.  He is the Lord, and He has every right to "exercise His will over our lives".

It is very interesting how I ended that post, especially since as I wrote it, I also very much believed that we had landed on THE PLAN.  In theory, I always know that God can change my plans, but when it happens for real, it is a very confusing time for me.

In fact, I spent a lot of time saying things like this over the summer, "It seems like God is confused."  or "It seems like God is one of those bad songwriters that just makes up the song as he goes."

I am always sure to say "seems", because that is exactly what it is... I am experiencing feelings that are NOT truth.  The truth is that God has had a plan that includes major details, like the universe and governments and The Great Awakening... down to the minute details like whatever color Eve's hair was and why I have wide ankles.  He knows it all, because He put it all there, or allowed it to happen.  And if it seems He keeps changing things on me or that things don't go together, then I need to wait for HIS answers to my questions... because He doesn't change and "all things work together".

So what happened, you ask?  Well, as I described in my last post, my husband and I had made plans for me to go back to work full-time for this 2016-2017 school year.  My old job was available again, I would only have one child in childcare, and we wanted to start saving money for future kids.  So I applied, interviewed, and waited.  And waited.  They said they would call by the end of the week, but it had been 3 weeks... and they had done more interviews.  I started to naturally make a back-up plan... but that turned into questioning the whole thing.  I found myself asking God to take me back to drawing board, without any plans of my own, to see what He really wanted me to do with my time during this season of our lives...

And what I felt like God telling me was, 'Don't go back to full-time work.  Enjoy your young children.  And trust Me to provide for whatever future children I bring you."

So Kyle, my husband, and I went to breakfast alone, and I told him I didn't think I was supposed to go back to work.  We agreed just to continue as we had the previous school year.  So I let the mom that I had been babysitting for know that she could count on me this coming school year.

And the next day I got a job offer.  I politely said no.

Then another one... I politely said no.

Then another one... and I started to be very confused, feel guilty, and feel weighed down by pressure.  Had we made the wrong decision with changing our minds?  Were we right the first time?  What was God trying to show me by withholding job offers until I made a decision, and then they started pouring in???

After talking with Kyle again, I turned down that job offer too.  I actually cried while doing it, because I wanted to please everyone and do the right thing... but I felt like everything hinged on my decision.  This is very unlike me.  I usually make decisions quite easily and figure God will show me if I was wrong soon afterwards.  I bought my car after driving it once.  I purchased my first house after looking at it once.  I was offered my first teaching job right after my first interview and accepted right there in the parking lot.  I usually do not spend a lot of time or energy doubting my decisions... but now that I am older, I guess I was thinking about how my husband, my children, and possibly future children depend on my current use of wisdom.

Again, small me thinking I hold the universe together... when I struggle to get a load of laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away within 2-days' time! Ha!

Knowing Kyle supported my decision to keep turning down jobs meant the world to me.  And being reminded that God is always still in control no matter what I do helped too!

So, school started last Thursday.  We took our daughter to her first day of school.  And then my son and I headed to preschool for his first half-day in his class, and for my first half-day back to work.  The director that I assist in the 4s&5s class said, "I am sorry to tell you this, but we had 4 kids drop last week, so enrollment is down.  So, I don't know, but after this week, I'm not sure we can keep you on, at least until our numbers go back up."

I wasn't upset or panicking at all, because we had been able to pay our bills over the summer without any extra pay from me.  For me, it really is important that I get to teach a little, because I love it, get to save some money for our near-future goals, and still get to be home in the afternoons with my son and to serve my family.  So I casually thought, "I'll call my friend who is a principal of the local Christian elementary school, because I know she is having to start the school year without a full staff.  I could only offer her my mornings, but maybe she is needing whatever she can get... and it would help me out too!"

So I texted her.

She immediately called me back!  She had JUST FINISHED talking to a teacher who felt God was wanting her to take on an older grade level full-time, leaving a morning-only teaching position available.  Right after they had this discussion, she received my text about being available in the mornings.

So I had an interview that evening.  I met my students the next morning, went through the curriculum, explored a little in the classroom, and I start on Monday!

Now here are some even more incredible details that are blowing my mind - this teacher who is moving grade-levels already has the classroom set up!  She already has all of next week planned as well!  Which is great for me, because it is a FIRST GRADE CLASSROOM!  Have I ever taught 1st grade?  Not in an academic setting, that's for sure!  And at first, I was very nervous about the challenge of learning a whole new grade level until I learned that I have 3 students!  THREE STUDENTS!  I was not only relieved at hearing that, but I was excited about the possibilities!  Every teacher would love to spend the kind of one-on-one instruction, discussion, and help to give to students like I will be able to with only 3 students!  And since this next week is already planned and prepped, I will get to go through this next week, getting a feel for what works and how to make it mine as time goes on!

So starting tomorrow, I will be teaching in a real classroom again (so, so excited), but only part-time (again, so, so excited)!  I will still get to be home with my son and husband for lunch, be able to cook for our college students and do laundry during nap time, and pick my daughter up from school each day!

And now I KNOW that God isn't a bad songwriter.  And once again, I am reminded that He is never confused.  Things had to happen in this order, and in His timing.  Do I know why He wants me in these 3 students' lives yet?  No.  And I am looking forward to seeing why He wants them in my life.

God answered prayers and questions for several people in this scenario.  I don't know why He decided to involve me, and bless me with answers too.  I'm just grateful and in awe... and ready to get to work tomorrow!