Hope

HOPE1 

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 My word for 2016 was HOPE. Circumstances and age itself can sometimes rob us of HOPE. To be honest, this was the first time in my life that I can remember that I really struggled to sense that there was hope in some specific areas of my life. I truly claimed these verses:

Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."

Joel 2:25-26  I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. 26 “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you..."

As I reflect today on the past 12 months, I prayed for that word to be realized in some very specific areas of my life...and it did happen. I think I learned that I have to come to the end of myself so that I can truly see God work in areas I know I have exhausted what I CAN DO. That's where He wants to me camp out and pitch my tent. Some were very personal experiences for me,  but let me share a few "hope-filled" highlights from 2016 (in no particular order.)

  • Our family was able to take a "once-in-a-lifetime" vacation together to beautiful Turks and Caicos last May. We had an amazing and memory-filled experience that I will treasure forever. My Dad felt well the entire week and he and mom were finally able to go to the Caribbean together. Todd and I enjoyed an anniversary breakfast together overlooking the ocean and enjoyed some meaningful time with my sister Christie and her family as well.
  • My father is still courageously fighting cancer and survived a very dangerous surgery this month and is home at last. I am hopeful of his recovery and more days ahead with him.
  • We did a Facebook LIVE service in the midst of our Hurricane Matthew evacuation to ATL in October with Andrea and Geno Miller (who evacuated there as well) None of us new what we would be coming home to and doing that service from my sister's living room (Thank you Christie and Bruce!) was the most worshipful service I did this year. I can truly say I worshiped from a place of totally reliance that God was in control because none of us were at all! Click here to check it out.
  • Early pictures Post-Hurricane Matthew looked as if our home was completely underwater. We were blessed to return to no significant damage to our home at all. Just trees and debris everywhere. Survivor guilt is a real thing as we walk this journey with so many friends who experienced significant damage and still continue to recover. We are still hopeful that our beautiful Island will return to life before Matthew. We are #HHISTRONG.
  • I took on a new role at HHICC as Ministry Operations Director. My task this year was to streamline our efforts as a staff-team in the areas of finances, ministry, and member development and help remove as much from Todd's plate as possible so that he could truly PASTOR and LEAD our staff team and congregation. The "hope"moment is that Todd and are actually STILL married (LOL!) Seriously, I am so proud of Todd, our staff team, Elders, and Stewarship Team for their support and for their patience with me in this new role and as we continue to learn together how we can all be our best in our unique roles at HHICC.
  • Sydney saw her dream realized of having a lead role as Fritz in The Nutcracker. She was "hopeful" for this experience and danced it beautifully this year. It was such a great two weeks having family come to HHI to support her.  I loved being a part as a volunteer and being in "her world." She is embarking on this form of art being her life's devotion and God continues to open doors for her to use it for Him. Click here to see what she choreographed and danced in this year's "An Evening in December." She got braces this year and is not "a little girl" anymore - Dad is in denial. I am really enjoying our "talks" and observing her choices and choosing her friendships. I love this! (I know, enjoy it while I can!)
  • Sean grew up this year. Too quick for my taste. His love for math and science has developed into a passion. He asked his teacher for more math homework! (yeah, weird kid...) He got a drum set this year and started learning to play. I'm loving it! He continues to thrive with Tormenta Soccer and we have grown to love our team and parents this year. We prayed that God would put us together with great parents and kids and HE DID. We love our #07BlackHHI boys! I love verbally hearing how Sean processes life. He has this cute way of using big words in the wrong context? It's hilarious. Todd and Sean love flying their drones, wrestling in the living room (help me!) and playing golf together. I love seeing "my men" spend time together and have fun.
  • Todd and I are learning and growing a lot right now as we embark on almost 22 years of marriage. We both have learned a lot from the past few years about ourselves and what lies ahead for us. It is so different with the kids growing up and already being so independent (which I highly recommend raising kids to be that way!) Date nights and daily meaningful conversations are not luxuries...they are a lifelines to us staying connected and a being a vital part of each other's lives. You take vows for a reason, right? The good, the bad, the scarry, the frustrating, the win, the loss...it's the TOTALITY of it all that makes a marriage. We are learning that and expecting God to continue to shape us for His purpose as we grow together in Him.
  • We purchased our HHICC campus...Finally! This was a big one. We were hopeful that this contract would close before the end of 2016, saving us thousands of dollars and on the last business day of 2016, Todd signed the papers and we purchased our 2 buildings and 3 acres. Todd had the best night of sleep all year last night! We are so blessed to have such an amazing group of leaders at HHICC who led this effort to GET IT DONE.

As I wrap this blog up on New Year's Eve 2016, I can't help but think this: I'm here. My kids and my husband are here with me. Thank you, God. There was so much uncertainty this year in our personal lives, in our country, our world, and in our community. But for me, hope was realized in so many beautiful ways throughout this year and I am indeed, so thankful.

My New Year's Eve Prayer..."Father God, our Provider and Sustainer, thank you for your faithfulness in 2016 and that it never ends.  Even when I lose heart...even when I feel that I am without hope...you are constant. Thank you that you prove over and over again that YOU are Faithful and that You will provide HOPE in YOUR time, in YOUR way...You are God and I am not. I need to be reminded of that way too often, Father! In the Name of Your Son, Jesus, AMEN."


Grateful

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I am the type of person that when I'm in the weeds, I don't want to talk about it until I get a handle on it. Honestly, I just simply disconnected from cheval glass this year. However, I am coming into a clearing and it's time to break the silence.

I'm grateful on this Thanksgiving Day 2016 for so many things, but mainly one thing...I have not given up. I never thought in my twenties when I was ready to conquer the world that I would be so grateful in my forties for simply surviving. There are public and private circumstances that push all of us to the brink of wanting to give up many times. I am not special. We all have our own wars we face and as I told a friend recently, don't downplay your circumstances by comparing them to others. Only God knows what each of us are TRULY going through in our lives. But, this blog post is called grateful and so these are the things what I want to share with you.

  • I am grateful that my husband and I are still together. Why do I say that? We are both stubborn first-born. He is the Lead Pastor and I am his "right hand woman." What could go wrong? We are both selfish because we are in fact...human. We disagree, we argue, we apologize, we ask for forgiveness from each other (and our staff sometimes!) I am grateful we have not given up. I am grateful we are not just living under this roof together. We ARE together. He cooked Thanksgiving today because he is AMAZING at it. I am good at the centerpiece, not so good with the cooking. I love to plan, create menus, organize, clean out, clean up, and eat his fabulous cooking. I am grateful that we are at our best when we play to our strengths.
  • I am grateful that I am watching my two kids right now drink hot chocolate (with more cool whip than hot chocolate) as they watch their favorite Christmas movie, ELF. They are better people than Todd and I. They love passionately, have sincere beliefs, and live much more balanced work versus play lives than their parents. They get God's unconditional love and their faces reflect everyday to me that they know who they are and WHO goes before them.
  • I'm grateful that I talked with my Dad on the phone today...he's courageously fighting cancer.
  • I am thankful for my home. Even with all the Hurricane Matthew debris still piled up in my yard...it's still here. We had no damage at all. I am thankful for my sister and brother-in-law who welcomed us into their home for 8 days unannounced when we had to evacuate.
  • I am grateful for my Wednesday Lunch Women's Life Group. I may facilitate our discussion but they have taught me and loved me for who I am. You know who you are, ladies.
  • I am grateful for friends from far away who text me encouraging words, call me and leave me messages, and who make time for me whenever our paths get to cross.
  • I am grateful for my church family at HHICC. We have a great church and a great staff. We have real people with real life stuff happening all the time. I'm thankful they accept Todd and I as imperfect leaders who are on this journey with them. We don't get it right sometimes but we love our church and we love leading this church together as a couple.

I love how the Apostle Paul writes about his gratefulness in Romans 12:3. I love the Message version of this.  "I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him."

As I reflect today on what I am grateful for, I am still learning how to be constantly aware of how much God has blessed me and not just blow by acknowledging His goodness. I want to be grateful for every breath...grateful for the people in my life...grateful for everything He has given me. Because honestly, I know I don't deserve it.


Re-tooling

Toolbox-primaryI shared a couple of days ago on our HHICC blog about changes in my ministry life. Honestly, the last two years have been an intense time of soul-searching, frustration, reflection, and wondering, "What is up with me?"

I took a sabbatical in January 2013 fully expecting that at the end of that 5 weeks that God was going to release me from worship ministry. I was exhausted, depleted, felt old and tired, not effective...fill in the blank. To my surprise, he didn't release me. Instead, he "tweaked" my calling in a way that gave me a renewed passion.  He showed me how much I love process. He showed me how much I love every aspect of the worship experience on Sundays from video to lighting to music to the high schooler playing guitar to the message to the temperature of our room to the social media and web presence that brought people there for the first time. I had no idea how passionate I was about all that until that time. I have always led that effort for our team out of necessity but I had no idea how much that was "my thing."

I had the privilege of coordinating the  IF: LOCAL Gathering at our church in February and had scheduled a different team from our ministry to lead on Sunday since I knew I would be pretty exhausted. The IF: Gathering was a life-changing experience for me. That Sunday, as I worshipped NEXT to my husband (yeah, that never happens) in the congregation, I truly sensed the Holy Spirit saying, "You don't have to be up there every week anymore." I felt such a release from that part of my ministry immediately. Not because I initiated it. Because God said I was done.

I shared this with Todd and he has been so supportive about what God has been doing in my life in this area. For us personally, with the "unique" relationship we have as husband and wife and Lead Pastor and Worship Leader, he has seen how God has brought new people into our team to make this change a possibility. I'm not a clique person, but this has been so true. "God does not guide where He does not provide."

I am re-tooling. For many of our church family, they may not even notice a significant change. But for me, it is completely different in the way I am organizing my life, my time, my responsibilities, and my focus. I start in a couple of weeks leading a mentoring group of worship leaders in our church from age 16 to well...I will be sharing a lot of what we talk about here at cheval glass

Philippians 1:6 says ,"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (ESV)  So here's to the "new" good work ahead and learning how to use these different tools in my toolbox.


God is real...now what?

If local HHI  I've waited a few days to process what I wanted to share about my experience attending the IF:Gathering last weekend at our IF:Local HHI.

I'm not an "event" person. Frankly, because I have been a part of the behind-the-scenes of putting on events for more years than I can count, I'm kind of a cynic.   There is so much work involved and a lot of people don't want to commit the time to do what it takes to do an event with excellence. Right out of the gate, the prep of doing the IF:Gathering was VERY enticing to me. Not too much prep...Graphics and slides pre-made...(great looking stuff!) Event materials...pre-done.

Our team went into the weekend with NO one worn out or over worked. We were able to all play to our strengths with not a lot on one person. The communication from IF:Gathering BEFORE the event was outstanding. The Tumblr page, the FB page...all of it. The forums to ask questions...awesome.

So for this cynic, I already started ahead of where I usually am with events. A lot of prayer went into the tech because of the internet thing - we did everything we could on our end, and thank God, it worked great. So then, I got to be a part of the event...

I showed up at this event very desperate. 2014 was not the greatest year for me personally or my family. I showed up very empty and really had no idea what to expect from this experience. I've been a Christ-follower for many years, but I was showing up pretty tired, hurt, hopeless about certain things in my life, wondering if I REALLY was going to be able to make it...seriously make it...

From the first sessions, I realized that this was NOT like any event I had ever been a part of before. It was not about personalties, it was well done but not slick, it was honest and transparent, and it was not pulling any punches. They didn't waste my time. They got right to it (thank you for that.)

As Friday night and Saturday unfolded, there was a peace that overwhelmed me in my spirit that I cannot explain other than "God is real, He loves me, and I can trust Him" being presented by women that actually believed that.  I appreciated the realness and the respect that each presenter had for us as women. We needed time to process, to worship God freely through music, to talk with each other, to confess, to just be...they gave us plenty of time for ALL of that. My soul needed that desperately.

There wasn't one thing about the IF:Gathering...one presenter...one element. It was the whole thing that filled me with a freshness and awakening that I needed in every area of my life. I left the weekend experience with specific things that I need to deal with in my life. I left with specific areas that I know I need to trust God. I left with new friendships that would never have happened without that experience. I left knowing and feeling God's love me and that he has not abandoned me. I am embarrassed to say I thought that in some areas of my life.

It wasn't an event...it was move of God through the best use of technology I have ever seen. To do something in one place and create it in such a way that a room of 25 women over 1100 miles away felt connected and a part of something greater? To still have the elements of what is happening in our room, in our church, and in our community as much a part of the experience? 

To give women the opportunity to face whether we believe God is real and if He is, can we trust Him? If we trust Him, what are we gonna do in our lives to life that out? A clear message yet so much room for God to work individually in the hearts and minds of women. That is next step. I CANNOT wait to see what God does in my life and the lives of HHICC women as a result of the movement of the IF:Gathering...get ready.


2014 rewind

RewindWow, it's been awhile since I have been here. It feels like walking into an old family cabin that's been closed up for awhile. But then, as you start looking around, all the memories start coming back about how much you enjoyed spending time here...

I'm not someone that enjoys looking back. I'm not really a "live in the past" person. However, I am a "what did I learn from that" kind of person so there can be great value in looking back. This year was not that great. I'll just put it out there. Todd and I faced alot of challenges personally and in ministry this year and truth be told, I'm ready for 2015! I'm ready for a fresh start and a new year. That is not to say that there were not some good moments (which I will share later) but it was one of those years that I see Todd and I looking back and saying, "Remember 2014? yeah..."

Rather than unpack all the "stuff" of the year, I want to share some things that I learned from this past year that have greatly influenced my life and future choices. I wanted to make sure I wrote these down, but I'm also wiling to share them with you if in anyway this will help you in 2015:

1. Never underestimate the power of small, daily choices in any area of your life. 

  • This is a season of lfe of "maintaining" and "routine." I'm not frustrated with that, but I do see the power of the daily choice in every area of life and how after time, it compounds into maybe a good or bad habit in your life. I've learned this year to be vigilant in daily choices in every area of my life and to not be dismissive of those choices as they will one day become a lifestyle - whether I like it or not.

2. Never dismiss the specific, God-given design of your life and the influence you have.

  • Todd and I experienced spiritual warfare more intensely this year than ANY YEAR we have been married. If you don't know what that is, read Ephesians 6:10-18 . At one point, I asked Todd, "Why are we worth this? Are our lives so important that it is worth the all-out assault on our marriage, family, and ministry that we have experienced this year?" I'm not afraid of a fight. I don't look for them, but if I need to gear up, I do. This year was different. I lost my will to do it. I lost sight of the value of my worth in God's eyes. I'm on the road back and I see the glimmer of hope once again in this...

3. Be aware that the passion and calling God has given you for your life can only be purified through trials and difficult circumstances.

  • Todd and I faced this year strong spiritual warfare that challenged what we know God called us to at HHICC. The process that we experienced this year has made us more vigilant, committed, and passionate about being the church that God wants us to be. I firmly believe that we could not have learned this about ourselves without the purfication of that calling this year in our lives. 

4. When you feel like everything is "out of control..."  This might be the first time that God has the opportunity to fully be "in control" of your life.

  • This was the most personal lesson for me this year. I experienced some amazing moments of feeling so "out of control" and watching how God put people and things into my life that confirmed HE'S GOT IT. I can honestly say that this one will be a lifelong struggle for me. However, this year, more than any other year, I saw God at work in my life, in my husband's life, in my kids, and in my church and I had nothing to do with "making it happen."

Here are some highlights from 2014...

  • I was honored to be featured in our local paper about being a mom...you can read it here.
  • Here is a video from Syd's performance at "An Evening in December" this month.

  • Here's a video I created from Sean's soccer games this year...

2015, here we come! I'm ready!

Isaiah 43:19 (MSG) "This is what God says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies— they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards— Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me."


Roots and Soil

Tree-roots  It's been strange for me to be away from cheval glass as much as I have been this past year. It's not that life has not been full of so many things I've learned and observed. I find myself microblogging now so much more through facebook and twitter...saying what I need to say in 140 characters and moving on.

Post-sabbatical, I find myself still refreshed from that time away last January. So much of what I learned about myself as well as my need for "spiritual loittering" still influence my decisions and my time.  This is the first "Pre-Christmas" season in a few years that I'm waking up NOW with excitement about our creative endeavors as a team and the musical offerings we will be sharing throughout the season. 

IMG_7333  I entered the world of homeschool this past August with my 4th grader. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I am, truthfully.  I thought by now I would be thinking something very different! The time with Sydney has been magical.  The conversation, the learning experiences, the weekend "field trip" to Atlanta to visit the Fernbank Museum, etc... I have learned SO much about my daughter that I know I would never have learned without this experience. She told me her favorite part of homeschool is her piano and voice lessons we do together. The joy of sharing music with her is hard to put into words. There is just something as an artist about enjoying music with your kids.  Sean also is taking piano lessons and is growing up fast into a "little Cynthia" as Todd says. His passion for soccer has opened the door for him to become a part of STORM Soccer Academy this year. He is learning so much skill and is a great team player.  

I see this new season of life as one of watching our roots going into good soil.  I see it in my marriage, my kids, in our ministry at HHICC, and in our community as we get involved on a much more committed basis.  I realized the other day that we have lived in the house we live in now longer than any other home in our 18 years of marriage! This is different and new - not boring or predictable. It is rich with experiences that come from roots gaining nutrients and good soil.

When I think of this season, I'm drawn to Paul's words to the church at Ephesus...

"When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.  Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."  - Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT)


40

Images  The number scares me a little. I knew today was coming but now that I have "officially" left my 30's... wow.  I spent sometime on my sabbatical in January wrapping my mind around this birthday. Honestly, I have seen too many friends and acquaintances not handle this one very well and I didn't want to presume I was immune to it.  

It's weird to think I have entered another decade...so much happened in my thirties.  I became a mom twice, our family moved to two different cities,  we helped plant two churches...I'm tired just thinking about it.  I look forward to enjoying the "fruits" of my 30's in my 40's.   Not that I expect life to slow down with a nine year old and a six year old, but there has been a lot of "planting" the last few years.   I look forward to the blossoms.

The one emotion that keeps coming to the surface today is gratefulness. Through all the highs and lows of my life, I am overwhelmed when I really think about all that God has done in my life and blessed me with through the years.  Two great parents, sisters, extended family...we actually enjoy spending time together still! My husband, my children, my ministry, my home and yes... I live at the beach.  The amazing friendships that I have through the years and the wonderful memories that I have.  God has provided for me every step of the way in so many ways...I'm spoiled and I know it.

I have a few things still on my "list."  Since Todd and I celebrated our 18th anniversary this week, we talked about our 20, 25 and 30th aniversary trips. That got me excited.  I have a passion to continue to create opportunities for artists to be "reconciled" back to the church and God.  I have some tangible ways I want to see that happen on the Island. My songwriting is something I want to look back at my 40's and say that I really went for it. I've written more this year than in the last 10 years and I just want to keep at it. I want to see my kids continue to pursue lives that make a difference. Make choices that count. I want to take them on their first mission trip outside of this country in the next few years. I want to live it more than I tell them "how" to live it.

I want my marriage to not be something I take for granted. I want Todd and I to fall more in love each and everyday and extend grace to each other more than we ever have in the last 20 years.

I want to play more and work less. Trust God more and stop trying to figure it out. Let circumstances unfold and see what God is teaching me that day. I really feel that I'm starting to find such beauty in the quiet, simple, marginal life that I have really tried to live since January.  The "not so fun" things I need to do... eat less sugar, walk three times a week without excuses, use my eye cream twice a day without fail...yeah.  That's enough.

So, I'm going eat cupcakes (thanks, Donna!) and enjoy my family today. Take a nice long walk with my huband.  Enjoy dinner tonight with the family at my favorite restaurant. And be grateful.

"Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.  I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!  You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;  You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.  Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, The days of my life all prepared  before I’d even lived one day." - Psalm 139:13-16 (MSG)


Sunday Recap...with a twist

Here I am–247  This week, I had the privilege to share my story with our church in context with our 24/7 Series on Worship.  It was a great experience on the message preparation side of learning how to manuscript (thank you, @toddcullen!) and create an outline for our message notes.  Although  I serve on our Message Prep team here @hhichurch, it was definitely a twist to be playing and singing in the band and then communicate right after that! I think Todd enjoyed the tables being turned this week in our Thursday evaluation time...I'm usually the one DOING the evaluation!

The coolest thing for me as a Service Programming Director was to weave the songs I chose into the context of my outline. Todd and Cody do a great job connecting with that already, but it was cool to see how to pull the ENTIRE service together with what I said and what we sang.

Thank you SO much to my @hhichurch family for all your prayers before and your encouraging words after each service.  It was DEFINITELY something I was nervous about doing (mainly because I didn't want to say anything that Todd would have to clean up the next week!) Stephanie led worship SO well and the band just played AMAZINGLY! Here was our service order:

"Rise and Sing"

Welcome/Announcements

"Glory to God Forever"

Prayer

"Our God"

MESSAGE (You can listen on our podcast! "24/7:Here I am")

"Awakening"

My prayer was that as I shared my story that the concept of worship being an outward expression of an inward faith would really sink into people's minds. I struggled for SO many years with looking good on the outside but not really living it on the inside. I know I will always have the struggle, but I'm so thankful that I have "given up" on what I want in life in general and have decided to surrender to God's plan for my life.

Read more recaps here


Miracles

IMG_2585  I blogged a few weeks ago about our Miracle Offering at the Island Campus and being a part of something amazing...CLICK HERE to read the update from Todd on our Island blog.

The verses that keep coming to mind as we walk this unbelieveable path of faith are ones that confirm God's promises to to provide.

"Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this." - Psalm 37:5 (NIV)

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart...in all your ways acknowledge Him and HE will make your paths straight." - Proverbs 3:5 a,6 (NIV)

My faith as a Christ-follower has increased in ways I have never experienced. I truly believe God is guiding and leading in ways that only HE can make a way. It will not be in any human strength. His power alone...and this is a GREAT place to be!