Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Supernatural Peace

I can look back on the last 12 hours and CLEARLY see that I have been in the throws of a spiritual battle.  God has been fighting hard to guard my heart...and today He's won. 

Monday, brunch
I met a friend for brunch and had a wonderful chat.  I casually mentioned a verse I posted on FaceBook back in December, Isaiah 41:10.  I joked that I would cash it in when I was big and pregnant and tired.  Ha, note we are 3 weeks from meeting our baby girl.  The verse stayed with me all day and I couldn't shake it. 

Monday, afternoon
"Ever be" came on the radio and the words hit me.  Usually the screen on my car dash will rotate the radio station name, song name and artist, so you have to wait to catch the title.  This time it was oddly frozen on the song name.  I downloaded it to my phone right then.  

Monday, evening
The kids and I finished dinner and I sent them to get ready for baths.  I felt an urgency to prepare for the morning.  I finished cleaning the kitchen, prepped breakfast for a speedy presentation and prepared school lunches.  Usually, I take 10 minutes or so to get lunches ready in the morning, but I couldn't shake the feeling that the morning needed to go as smoothly as possible.  That didn't make sense.  There was no reason for the next morning to be rushed, but I followed through with the urge anyway and had everything ready to go for a simple morning. 

Monday, bedtime
I fell asleep with my kids snuggled in my big king size bed.  I woke up about 30 minutes later to finish some things around the house and get ready for bed myself.  When I laid back down sleep wouldn't come, despite several days of little sleep and big pregnancy exhaustion.  Normally, I can sleep like the flip of a switch, but not this night.  Something was unsettled. 

I blamed it on pregnancy insomnia and chose to cherish this precious time with sweet Lucy before she joins us.  Then I tried to visualize our new house in Belgium.  Thinking through the layout in my mind, how the rooms flow together, where we would put our furniture and imagining what it would be like to have my family fill that space.  Strangely all of the details were fuzzy.  I couldn't see it as clearly as I wanted to and that frustrated me.

I was still awake at 2am, which is 8am in Belgium.  I saw Nathan come online and we chatted for a few minutes before he left for work.  For the first time in this entire journey, I felt doubt creeping in.  Even as I expressed my thoughts to Nathan and confessed, "WHAT IN THE CRAP ARE WE DOING?!?" I looked at the texts I had written to him and thought, "Where is this fear coming from?  It is not my heart and it doesn't fit."  Yet the words and the questions continued to fly out into messages to him.  Something wasn't right, I could feel it, but his words of wisdom and excitement and reassurance of God's plan for us calmed my soul.

He left for work and I piddled on my phone a bit longer.  I went to the Bible App and made a graphic of the verse that had been bouncing in my head all day.  I don't know why, but I just wanted to see the words in big print.  The words of it didn't seem to fit.  I wasn't tired or exhausted like I expected to be at this stage, but yet the verse was there.  It was 8:30am in Belgium...in the middle of the attacks. 

Tuesday, 6am
I rolled over and grabbed my phone.  As has become my custom since Nathan's been in Belgium for the last two weeks, I checked my email.  By this point, it is noon there and he communicates updates with me via email while I'm sleeping.  I saw an email from him titled "Peace in the storm."  I opened it and heard his voice, "You'll be waking up to a lot of commotion about what has just happened at the Brussels airport...."  I praise God that Nathan's voice is the one to deliver the news of today's events.  I didn't see it from a random article on FaceBook or in passing on the news or from a text message from someone else.  I heard my sweet Nathan's voice.  It was calm, confident and full of reassurance.

I googled "Brussels airport" and read the first article that came up.  I did not want to see any other articles.  I don't need to know all of the gory, specific details.  Evil reared it's ugly head and that's all I need to know right now. 

I went to the living room with my journal and wrote as much as I could put into words.  The enemy was trying to bring fear, but God was fighting for my heart before the news ever transpired. 

Tuesday, breakfast
Due to my preparations the night before, breakfast, lunch packing and school prep went off without a hitch and out the door we went. 

My phone and FaceBook have been blowing up this morning with so many concerned for us and lifting our family in prayer.  I cannot thank you enough.  I don't think I've ever felt His presence as thick as I have this morning.  I can clearly see His hand on the last 12 hours.  I went to sleep battling this strange fear, but woke up to chaos in Belgium and a supernatural peace in my heart.  I have never been more confident of our move.  There is purpose for us there, even though we have no idea what that looks like.  I even find myself hungry to be there now, passing out hugs freely and sharing the hope of something bigger, sharing the great, unending love of Jesus.  Belgium is a dark place, but we are praying for a silver lining. 

Please pray for the people of Belgium.  It's so strange to love people so much that I've never met.  My heart hurts for them, but am so hopeful because God loves them so much!  Our greatest hope is to see His light spread.  What an honor to be a part and have a front row seat!  He can do anything, you know? 

Nathan is scheduled to fly back to the States on Thursday, but we are unsure of how these events will affect his travel.  Please also pray for a safe trip home.  Thank you for your support as we follow hard after Jesus. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A blank page...filled with a grand adventure

A few years ago, Nathan and I sat down and discussed our vision for our children.  We talked about what characteristics we wanted them to have when they left our home and tested their own wings.  We want them to have a global worldview, to know that not everyone looks like them or lives like middle-class Americans.  We want them to be good communicators, to be critical thinkers, to be self-starters, and to be boldly obedient to the Lord.  This one conversation has had a massive impact on the way we parent and guide our children and the way we pray for them.  It's not something we dwell on, but it's always there in the back of my mind.

This spring I started reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.  It was phenomenal for where I was in that season, but for whatever reason, I put it down around May.  It sat untouched on my dresser for months and in early September I picked it up again and finished reading.  The copy of the book that we have in our home happens to have a "sequel" bound with it, Draw the Circle.  Draw the Circle is a 40 day prayer challenge to follow The Circle Maker.  At the time, I was planning a huge workshop for my essential oil team at the end of October and we were about 45 days out.  I proposed to my team that we take this 40 day challenge together as we led up to the Live 320 event.  I was floored at how many participated and was in awe of the work the Lord was doing in their lives in that season.

Nathan did the challenge with us.  One day 1, Mark makes an interesting proposition.  He says that often we enter a season of prayer with a list and we pray hard over our list, begging God for OUR miracles.  He asks, What if we came to God with a blank piece of paper and allowed the Lord to write the list and then that is what we pray over?  Nathan and I took him up on this idea and I must admit it is REALLY challenging to come to God with nothing.  What do you say?  How do you start that conversation?  We started this season on a Monday, asking God to write our list.  On Tuesday we did the same.  On Wednesday, Nathan met up with his boss and randomly asked, "I know I've always said 'no', but are there opportunities available overseas?"  And with that one question, the ball started rolling. 

This is ironic for so many reasons.  Over the last 10 years of Nathan's engineering career, these offers for overseas assignments have come up a few times a year - Shanghai, Singapore, Germany.  We have entertained some of these options, mostly out of wishful dreaming, but always turn them down with it "not being the right time."  A few years ago, our dreaming got a little bigger and we looked at houses online in Shanghai and investigated schools and such, but after a few days we put that idea away.  Anna was 2 and it didn't feel right, but I remember the moment sitting in my living room and a knowing came over me...we will live overseas one day.  I have no idea when or where or how, but one day, we will.

During that conversation with his boss, something in his heart shifted.  Nathan called me from work and said, "Hey, what do you think about moving to Antwerp?"  My first reaction was, "I have no idea where that is!" So I googled it while we were on the phone, and I too felt something shift.  Over the next few days, conversations at work continued and a deep sense of confidence settled over both of us.  The only way I know to describe it is that it was the same feeling I felt on February 5, 2010, the day the God told us to leave Tennessee and return to Mobile.  By the time Nathan got home from work that night, there was nothing left to pray about.  God said "go" so now we go.  This same confidence settled in once again.  There are more questions than answers, but we know this is the way. 

Nathan said, "the Bible says to 'knock and it will be opened to you' so we're going to knock on this door.  If it doesn't open, then we have our answer and we walk away, but we're at least going to knock."  I added, "We will knock, but we're not going to ram-rod through the door."  He agreed.  So we knocked on the first door by Nathan asking questions and pursuing conversations...and the door opened and new ones presented themselves.  We knocked on those and they opened, too.  Through months of prayer, fasting, reading, and seeking wise counsel, we are both utterly convinced this is the next step the Lord has been preparing for us.  The last 10 years have been a roller coaster with many of the big things documented in this blog.  We'd love for you to read more of our story.  (Start from the oldest post and work your way forward.)  I've often said, "He continually asks us to do things that look scary and impossible, but every time He meets our needs bigger and better than we ever expected.  With each step our faith has grown, allowing the next step to be a little bit bigger."  We know there are mountains in front of us now and seasons of unknown, but we also know that He will go before us and He will blow our minds with what He has in store.  The catch is, we can't have those mind-boggling miracles tomorrow unless we walk in obedience today.

At the beginning of this journey, I kept hearing the Lord ask, "When does 'someday' become 'today'?"  He's right.  Living overseas is a dream that has been in our hearts for a long time, but if we're not careful we will "someday" our whole life away.  

I ran across a quote about a year ago and wrote it on my bathroom mirror.  I've seen it every day and I know now that God was working on our hearts...

"Walking into the promise of what could be, means leaving the comfort of what is."

So, we're moving to Belgium!  This summer we will leave everything we know and start at zero in a new place with a new language, a new culture and new people.  We couldn't be more excited! 

You can catch the big reveal here.

Nathan and I have talked for countless hours about what this move will mean for us, for our kids, for our families and those we love.  There are still so many variables and unknowns, but we've already seen God prepare the way and crack the floodgates.  Please join us on this journey and see all that He has to unfold over the next year.  I know it will be amazing and we pray that He will use our story to strengthen your faith, to give you a greater measure of confidence in Him.  He is trustworthy, He is good and He wants more for you than you can fathom.

"God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us."
Ephesians 3:20 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Disney Cruise - tips for future cruisers

My husband and I have cruised before, but this was our first round on a ship with little ones.  It was a far different experience.  We travelled on the Disney Dream in May 2013 with an almost 5 year old and an almost 2 year old.  Here's a few things we learned that may make your trip a bit smoother.

Road trip / Check-in / Boarding
We had 550 miles of car travel in front of us, but fortunately the drive down went pretty smoothly. 

- I bought a Mickey Mouse and a Minnie Mouse gift bag and filled it with road trip presents for each stop.  One stop we gave the kids a dress up Minnie Mouse and a little stuffed Mickey.    When we made it to the hotel the night before we left, the bags held Mickey & Minnie PJs.  Another stop on the way home held toys we bought on the ship.  I reused the bags and tissue paper for each round.  The excitement provided entertainment for the long ride and build enthusiasm for the trip.

- I bought new DVDs for the ride and of course, we were armed with tons of snacks. 

- Make sure you do the online check-in with Disney AT LEAST two weeks before you depart.  I waited until about 5 days before and many options were sold out.  These options include adult dining, nursery childcare, excursions, and the most important - check-in time.

- You are NOT required to wait until your chosen check-in time to arrive at the terminal.  However, after completing your paperwork at the terminal, they will assign you a boarding number based on your check-in time.  Even though we were processed by 10:30am before most everyone else, our boarding group was #39, so we had to wait about an hour before boarding the ship.  Others who arrived after us were allowed to board first because they had registered for an earlier boarding time.

Waiting patiently to board the ship

- You will drop your luggage at check-in and won't see it again for several hours.  Pack a day bag with your valuables, passports and swimsuits.  Once you board, there is a huge buffet available for lunch and then you can hit a restroom and change into your swimsuit before your luggage arrives at your room.

- You will have an option to change your dining time on this first day if you got stuck with a time you are unhappy with.  The options for our cruise were 5:45pm and 8:15pm.

- The nursery and other children's areas will be open to browse on this first day.  The nursery (children 3 and under) requires reservations and is $6/hr.  You may reserve up to 10 hours online before you board, but may reserve more time once you're on the ship.  Space is limited so make sure you grab a spot, especially for adult only dining time.  You will be charged 1/2 price if you have reserved time in the nursery and do not show up, but you can cancel at any time.  They are pretty flexible.

The staterooms are lovely and very space efficient.

- Unpack your suitcases, even if you're only on board for 4 nights.  The drawers and closets are spacious and living out of a suitcase on the floor would drive me nuts!  The space under the bed is empty and high, plenty of room for your suitcases to tuck underneath.  There are hangers available in the closets.  Laundry facilities, including irons, are also available for an extra charge. 

- We opted for a small, collapsible umbrella stroller for our youngest.  Fortunately, he loved it and rode in it everywhere, and it was easy to get through crowds and it folded up nicely and tucked under the bed in the evenings.  We saw lots of people with giant baby strollers and I have no idea what they did with those bulky things in the tight rooms. 

- There is a full size, high quality hairdryer available in the room, so don't waste space in your suitcase bringing yours. 

- While there are several hooks available in the bathrooms, we brought some Command hooks to stick to the bathroom walls for wet bathing suits.  This proved to be very helpful for us.

- There is a mini fridge in your room.  It's the perfect size to chill that pricy bottled water you'll buy or the bottles you snuck onboard.  ;)

- When you first arrive, the top bunk is stowed away in the ceiling.  During dinner, your stateroom host will straighten your room, lower the top bunk and convert the sofa to a lower bunk.  There are also pack-n-plays and diaper pails available to borrow, if you need them.  Just ask your stateroom host. 

So proud of my little ones for sleeping like big kids in the bunk beds

- As with any good hotel, Disney provides shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body soap bar and face soap bar.  We're not bar soap people, so I can't speak to those, but the others were awesome.  The bottles were plenty big enough to last the whole cruise, and they were of very high quality.  As in produced by Disney's Spa line and a "small" bottle of product from the gift shop would set you back $25.  So use theirs and save your packing space.

- While there is bar soap provided, we also packed a little bottle of pump hand soap - in a Ziploc, of course - for hand washing in our room.  Also, Disney does a great job of cleanliness, including handing out wash wipes as you enter every dining facility, but it is still an enclosed space with over 5,000 people onboard.  We brought our own bottle of hand sanitizer, but I wasn't as diligent with it as I should have been, and sadly I think those strange germs were the culprit to my kids' upset tummies.  So, bring your own hand sanitizer and scrub up often

- Bring some plastic grocery bags and gallon ziplocks.  These will be great for packing wet swimsuits or sandy beach toys for your journey home, securing important travel documents while onshore for your excursions, and I'm sure you could come up with plenty of other uses. 

- There are only two power outlets in the staterooms.  We let our cell phones die on the first day and chose to be unplugged for our trip.  We didn't recharge them until the last night.  If your family, however, has a high demand for chargeable electronics, you may want to bring along a small power strip to maximize the outlets.  (Sidenote - This was one of the greatest things I appreciated about the cruise...I saw people more engaged with their families than their smart phones, myself included.  Very refreshing.)

Disney is focused on making your vacation wonderful for everyone - grown ups and little ones.  They have taken many different measures to make things simple for the children.

- We packed pop top thermos containers for our kids and they lived with them all week.  There are free soda fountains on the pool deck, and we kept their drinks full from there.  Wish we had taken some cups for the hubs and me, as there are no drinks available in the staterooms.  You may buy bottled water to be delivered to your room, but it's quite expensive. 

- Small utensils are available at each dining location.  When you arrive at your main dining room each evening, the table will be set for your family - small utensils where needed, and glasses with lids and straws for young children.  We brought plastic toddler utensils and throw away sippy cups, but ended up not using them as what Disney provided and our pop top containers were sufficient. 

- You will be scheduled for rotational dining in one of the 3 main dining rooms each night.  You are not required to dine there, but it's polite to let your server know your plans the night before.  There is a buffet available on the pool deck for 3 meals a day, and a burger/hotdog/chicken finger joint is also available on the pool deck for lunch. 

- Attire for the main dining rooms is "cruise casual" which basically means no swim suits or blue jeans.  Anything else is suitable.  Other cruises we have been on held a high dress code, but here shorts and a polo shirt are more than acceptable.  Disney knows they are catering to families, not executives. 

Dinner at the Royal Palace

- Adult dining is available at Palo and Remy, but require a reservation, an additional charge, and a dress code.  The charge for Palo is $20/person and I would highly recommend it!  The food and service were wonderful.  Our table overlooked the edge and we pulled out of Nassau at sunset, just as we sat down to enjoy our meal.  If you get a chance to dine there, take it.  Remy is $50/person and did not get the chance to dine there, but I'm sure it's wonderful.

Dessert at Palo

- If you have little ones like mine, bring some small toys or entertainment for the time they are waiting for their food.  Each dinner will include 3 courses, with significant lag time between each course.  There are color sheets available, but that doesn't entertain a tired 2 year old very long.  We snagged two packs of tiny animals (one set of underwater animals, and one set of zoo animals) from Michael's for about $6 each (Hobby Lobby has them as well) and kept each set in it's own little zip canvas bag.  We left these toys in the car at port, and that was my biggest regret of the whole trip. 

- Everything outside of alcohol and specialty drinks is free on the ship, and the servers are very generous.  If you can't decide between two appetizers, order them both.  No problem!

Between swimming, shows, movies, excursions, character visits and the kids' clubs, there is no reason for anyone to be bored!

- No reservations are required for the kids' clubs, except for the nursery.  Just drop them off whenever you're ready.  They have programs going all throughout the day and we usually had to pull our kids out because they were having so much fun.  The counselors are great and do a really great job of making your kids feel at home and loved.  There is even a kids area on Castaway Cay for the kids to run and play while mom and dad relax. 

- There are more towels than you will ever need available on the pool deck, so don't waste packing space on beach towels. 

- The AquaDuck is an awesome water slide that travels all around the pool deck, but the wait can sometimes be 20 minutes or more for a ride.  We found that the best times to hit the AquaDuck were while everyone else was either off the ship during port stops or in the evenings when everyone else was at dinner or a show. 

- The Walt Disney Theater hosts an amazing show every night of the cruise.  They are Broadway quality and you don't want to miss them.  They run twice each night during the dinner rotations, so if you have early dinner you'd eat, then see the show or visa versa.  There are treats (candy, popcorn, canned sodas) available for purchase outside the theater, but we snagged some $1 boxes of candy from the store at home and stashed them in our suitcases for the shows. 

- At Castaway Cay there are tons of little shops with Bahamas souvenirs and sand toys.  The toys they have available will set you back $20 and are nothing special.  The mesh bag they come in says "Disney Castaway Cay" but the toys are not distinctly Disney.  If you have the space in your luggage, bring some cheap sand toys from home.  If they're nasty or you don't feel like toting them home, you can always chunk them on the island. 

Castaway Cay

- For us, Pirate Night fell on the day we were at sea.  Disney provided us with 4 red "Pirates of the Caribbean" bandanas in our stateroom and we saw many people on the ship wearing them that night.  I had planned some simple costumes for our family from home.  Thanks to Hobby Lobby we dressed the whole family for about $10-$15.  Jake the Neverland Pirate had a white tshirt with a "V" cut out, and blue tshirt cut into a vest (cut off sleeves and slit down the middle and ironed on gold rickrack), and white pants I cut up and dyed brown.  Lizzie the Pirate was simply a pink shirt with puffy sleeves (found at Hobby Lobby for around $4) with purple pants we already had on hand.  My husband and I wore solid colored tshirts that I "roughed up" and matching bandanas.  It was suitably fun for me.  Some people went all out, others did nothing.  It's up to you.

Pirate night

- On our trip, the Princesses were available as a big group in the mornings (9-930am) and Mickey and the Gang were available in the afternoons (3-330pm) for pictures and autographs in the main lobby.  Once they show up, a lengthy line will form pretty quick, so I would recommend getting there about 20 minutes early to snag a good space in line.  The characters were also around the ship sporadically, but the big groups are the most "efficient" in my opinion.  My kids were curious to watch them from a distance, but were not overly interested in getting too close.  The characters and the staff were so sweet and fun about the shy ones. 

A brave pose with Minnie Mouse

- There are tons of autograph books available for you to buy in the gift shops for character signing, or you can bring your own from home.  Since I knew my kids wouldn't be overly into the characters and I'm not sentimental enough to hang onto an autograph book, we opted for the picture frame idea.  I bought a frame from Hobby Lobby and a mat to go with it.  I brought the mat with me on the ship and left it with the Guest Services desk on the first day of the cruise.  They took the mat and had all of the characters sign it and then they returned it to our room on the last day of the cruise.  Easy as can be and now we can put a picture from our trip in it and keep it out to enjoy. 

- Be sure to study your Personal Navigator each day.  It is the daily newsletter that will be delivered to your room during your night turn down service.  It will detail everything happing on the ship the next day.  There are tons of hidden treasures, so make sure to read it through.

Have you been on a Disney cruise and have some helpful tips to share for cruisers?  Feel free to leave them in the comments below, or email me and I'll be happy to add them.  Happy sailing! 

Related Posts:
Our Disney Cruise: A Comedy of Errors

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Disney Cruise vacation...a comedy of errors

Since our children were born, we've never taken an "official family vacation" with just our little family unit.  We have been very blessed to have extended family with beach houses, lake houses, and houseboats, and have spent countless holidays there, but we've never trekked off just the 4 of us.  When Uncle Sam refunded far more to us than we expected this year, we prayed about taking a vacation.  The busyness of our lives just needed a pause.  We wanted to do Disney while Haley was still little and easily mesmerized by the magic, but the thought of the crowds and lines and stroller pushing in the heat quickly became stressful just to think about, so we settled on a Disney Cruise! 

We headed off from Mobile, AL to Port Canaveral, FL in May 2013 toting our almost 5 year old and almost 2 year old.  It's just 550 miles...no sweat!

Saturday, Road Trip! 
The goal: be on the road by 8:30am, make two long stops, be at the hotel in Florida by bed time.  Reality: Jake woke up with a fever.  Great.  He's had a runny (albeit, clear) nose for two days and the night before I caught him tugging on his ear.  This morning he was super grumpy and clinging and temped in at 99.7.  Ugh!  Borderline.  I chatted with a nurse practitioner friend since I'm unable to make a decision.  Selfishly, I wanted to pump him full of Tylenol and tell him to "toughen up, kid! I've got a schedule to keep.  Let's get on the road!"  She advised us to hit the urgent care on the way out of town.  About that time, Haley started whining and I took her temp out of curiosity...100.4.  Great...urgent care it is!   Toby and I prayed on the way for healing.  After burning 45 minutes of travel time in the waiting room they call my kids back for their vitals...98.6, 98.7.  I rolled my eyes and threw my hands up in frustration!  Toby kindly reminded me that we had prayed for healing...oh yeah.  Everybody checked out great, but we hit the Wal-Mart on the way to the interstate to grab some tissues for that running nose.  Wouldn't you know that I never opened them and forgot all about them?  So, we're standing on healing!  I suppose a miracle is more fun than my road trip itinerary anyway!  I'll take it!  Thank you, Jesus!

It's pushing noon and we're finally on the road!  By some other miracle we make it to Tallahassee (243 miles, per Google maps) before we make our first stop.  An awesome Florida friend pointed us to Piggy's BBQ for lunch and it was a booming success.  How about kids eat free on Saturdays (we'll call that favor), a feast of delicious BBQ, and a great pond right out back for stretching and running.  Ok, so not so much a pond as much as a pretty drainage facility, but none the less it was great.  And the perfect spot for the first of our road trip presents!  A little stuffed Mickey for Jake and a dress up Minnie with her own ride for Haley.  They were thrilled and the next leg flew by with the exciting new entertainment. 

New toys at Tallahassee stop

After another stop in Ocala and then making about 10 stops to pay $1 tolls, we finally made it to our hotel in Port Canaveral, pushing 10pm, FL time.  And here I am first faced with my greatest fear of the trip.  Jake has never slept well outside of his bedroom, and since his recent move to the big boy bed, I was terrified of how he'd do here.  After opening their next present - Mickey and Minnie pajamas - we made a pallet on the floor for Jake (I had a great, sturdy, denim picnic blanket in the car...no, I did not let my son sleep on a nasty, bare hotel floor...yuck.)  Thankfully they were so pooped from the trip that they both passed out pretty quick.  All was well until about 5am when J was no longer interested in his new pallet bed on the floor of a strange place.  He never does well about laying down in our bed, he only wants to play, but I figured it was worth a shot.  He climbed in and much to our surprise, he snuggled up next to me and fell back asleep.  And this became his 5am routine for the next 5 nights.  I must say, it's my favorite thing about the whole trip...snuggles and snoozes with my little guy. 

New Mickey & Minnie PJs at the hotel

Sunday, Day 1, boarding day
Excuse me, I believe the nautical people call it "embarkation".  Anyway, we were shooting for pulling up to the terminal by 9am to be one of the first onboard.  However, thanks to the amazing blackout curtains, no one stirred until 8:45.  Oh well, we still made it by 10:30 and went through the whole check-in process with no hiccups. 
Our first shot of the Disney Dream

Our boarding number was #39 and the sweet guy that checked us in wrote it on our card as "#3    9".  Then he showed me how to cover the 9 with my thumb and he winked at me.  Basically, he was telling me to sneak on with boarding group #3.  Hmm...tempting...very tempting.  Toby and I laughed about it, but in the end we decided to stick with group #39, even though it meant an extra hour's wait, just didn't feel right about starting our vacation with a big fat lie...although it would have been really easy to pull it off. 

Waiting patiently at the terminal to embark

We finally get onboard, grab some lunch, check out the digs, head to our room and start to unpack.  We start to get ready for dinner and Toby turns to me, "Where are my pants?"  Hmm...I had just unpacked everything and had a thought, You know, I don't think I saw any pants come through...oh dear.  We retraced our steps and concluded that a communication error had left his pants hanging in the closet...550 miles away.  Commence freak out.  The attire for dinner had been noted "cruise casual" but thanks to my previous cruise experience, I had prepared us to be "cruise fancy".  Well, fancy for our simple world anyway.  And now, Toby had nothing on board but swim trunks, sleeping shorts, and two pair of cargo shorts.  Nice.  Five minutes before we were suppose to be at dinner, he went flying out the door in search of pants, but returned empty handed.  He resigned and sheepishly showed up at dinner in a golf shirt and shorts, feeling like an idiot, worried they wouldn't admit him into the dining room.  He asked an attendant at the door about his attire, to which the angel replied in an awesome British accent, "Sir, this is your vacation.  What you are wearing is fine for dinner."  Thank you Jesus!   We did have plans for dinner the next night at the adult only restaurant, to which there truly was a higher dress code, but after explaining the situation, the attendant returned to our table half way through our meal with a pair of black dress pants, in Toby's size.  Ta-Da!! 

First dinner at the Royal Palace dining room

Monday, Day 2, Nassau
We are not shoppers, my children are not capable of snorkeling, and the idea of no itinerary was appealing, so we chose to stay on the ship on Nassau day.  Thanks again to the amazing blackout curtains, no one stirred until after 8am.  (Note to self...make blackout curtains for kids' rooms.)  We get moving, start getting dressed when Toby hears a nasty come from J's direction.  Per his new pooping routine, Jake went to hide...behind the curtains.  When I grabbed him and laid him on the bed for a diaper change, I discovered the most horrendous, liquid, diarrhea diaper of...his...life.  And he's giggling about it.  We're talking soiled the curtains, the carpet, the sheets on the bed...everywhere.  We didn't even attempt to clean him there but quickly transferred him to the tub for an all out scrubbing.  We were mortified to run into our stateroom host in the hallway and ask him to "please change the sheets...and you might want to clean the carpet...and check the curtains."  Awesome!  The Disney staff was so great.  They never made us feel like an inconvenience, but made every effort to be helpful and make our trip wonderful on every level. 

After that little adventure we had an awesome day swimming, riding the water slide, eating far too many free ice cream cones, and exploring the ship.  Jake finally tuckered out for a nap and Haley and I went to catch Mickey and his gang for some pictures.  Let's just say we never collected one of those picture perfect family shots with Mickey.  Both of my kids were very curious about these large, furry creatures, but no thank you, do not make me get too close.  Surprisingly, when it was our turn, Haley did pose like a statue for 4 of the 6 friends, but refused to acknowledge Goofy or Donald.  Oh well, it was better than a total meltdown.

 Swimming big in the Mickey Pool

Brave picture with Mickey Mouse

Tuesday, Day 3, At Sea
Jake's 5am bed swap came again, but this time instead of snuggling up with me, he opted for Toby.  He cuddled in close and laid his head on daddy's shoulder.  Just as I was thinking, so sweet, I hear gurgling and gagging, and see Toby jump up just in time to avoid catching a stomach full of puke!  Yes, exactly the kind of fun I want to have at 5am!!  Fortunately, Jake felt better after the one wave and went back to sleep easily, but we had to ask our stateroom host to please change the sheets, again.  Thanks to J's adventures I did a load of laundry that morning...the upside was only coming home with 2 days of dirty clothes.  :)  We spent the morning playing putt putt and in the pool and the kids spent the afternoon in the kids' clubs and the nursery.  Freeeedom!!!!  It's what I had been fantasizing about for weeks....alone time with my hubs, on a boat, in the sun.  So, what did we do with this free time?  Slept.  Yes, dropped off the kids, went back to the room, and I was out cold for the next 3 hours.  It was glorious!  I think Toby watched a movie next to me...so, that counts as great together time, right?

Putt putt lesson with Daddy 

Fun in Nemo's Reef splash pad

After break time, we brought the kids back up to the room to get dressed for pirate night.  Haley was not interested, thank you very much.  After 10 minutes of convincing that it wasn't a "pirate costume" but a shirt and pants, and she didn't have to wear the bandana, she finally got dressed and we headed off to dinner.  We got stuck in a storm that night, so the 10:30pm scheduled firework show was cancelled (good thing, there's no way my babes would have been cheerful at 10:30).  We popped by the pool deck and noticed that everyone else was either at dinner or a show, so the water slide was all ours.  Toby carried Haley up the stairs and they rode it 6 times in a row...at 9pm...how awesome are we?!?  Considering one ride usually involved a 20+ minute wait, this was exciting!  Jake and I sat and watched the Lion King on the pool deck and waved to Daddy and Haley as they rode by.  Afterward, we all 4 piled into the bed for a movie...Toby's favorite time of the trip.  They both passed out within 30 minutes. 

Pirate night

Wednesday, Day 4, Castaway Cay private island
Thank the Lord, we did not start the day with any bodily disturbances.  We got dressed, ate breakfast and headed off the ship for the first time in three days, for fun in the sand and sun (well, it was back behind the clouds anyway).  After the 10 minute hike to the sand (tip - take the trolley), we set up camp.  My children cared nothing about building sandcastles with the sand toys I had hauled all the way from Mobile and instead wanted to swim.  I stepped my toes in and concluded that the water was no warmer than 60 degrees, complimenting the overcast skies and strong breeze nicely.  I'm not too much of a sissy and I don't complain much, but I don't care for cold.  No thank you.  So, a cold beach day is not terribly exciting for me.  The kids started turning blue, so we abandoned the beach after about 20 minutes of fun.  We hit the splash pad for a bit, grabbed some lunch and started heading back to check the kids in for another round of fun in the kids' clubs.  And the bottom fell out.  We only had to stand in the rain for 3-4 minutes waiting for the next trolley, but then it dropped us off a good 200 yards from the ship.  I took off my shoes and ran through the puddles, Haley didn't find it quite as amusing.  Toby had Jake wrapped like a mummy in two towels in the umbrella stroller as they ran across the island.  Needless to say, we were all soaked from head to toe by the time we made it back onboard.   By the time we made it back up to our room, the rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to peak through...bummer.  The kids had a warm bath, went off to play and Toby and I were free again!  We went back out on the island to the adult only beach this time, although that was pretty pointless because 3,950 of the 4,000 passengers onboard had already come back to the ship even though we still had over 2 hours left.  With the exception of two ladies in la la land, and 5 or 6 snorkelers that were way out, we had the entire adult beach to ourselves.  It was delightful. 

Haley enjoying the beach at Castaway Cay

Jake checking out the cold water

Ribs and ice cream for lunch...yummy!

Private beach on a private island

We rounded out the night with dinner, a firework show off the side of the ship, and a show.  To say that my boy loves a show, would be an understatement.  As soon as it was over he started frantically signing "more, more". 


Last sunset

Tuckered out babies

Thursday, Day 5, Debarkation day
I do not understand why the cruise industry does this, but you MUST be off the ship at a horrendous hour on the last day.  I'm sure there's a really great reason, I just don't know what it is.  Thanks to the amazing blackout curtains, we were yet to see anything before 8am all week, but this day we were to be out of our room by that hour.  Breakfast was at 6:45...we missed it.  Anyway, thanks to my mad, late night packing skills, our last morning went off pretty smoothly...minus Haley's nasty, upset stomach, of course.  We missed breakfast, but made it through customs pretty smoothly and pulled out of the parking garage at 8:30am.  I was quite impressed with us.  We hit Dunkin Donuts on our way out of town, primarily because we don't have a DD in Mobile and we wanted to compare.  (Just FYI, I prefer Krispy Kreme.)  Although we only made two short stops on the way home, the journey seemed endless for all of us.  Maybe it was the continuous barrage of "Are we home yet?" questions that came from the backseat.  Thankfully, we made it home safely without any complications, and we all were out by 8pm.

Please do not think I am complaining about our trip.  We made some wonderful memories and treasured being unplugged from the world and our responsibilities.  To have 5 days to focus all of our attention on our kids was priceless and we will treasure it always.  I am such a planner, and when things didn't go as I had imagined, there was nothing we could do but laugh about it and go with it.  We'd do it again in a heartbeat! 

Related Posts:
Disney Cruise: Tips for future cruisers

Thursday, April 11, 2013

State of the family address

My, my blogger friends...so much to update you on and my apologies for my delay in keeping you all up to speed.  Toby and I are rocking along and are thrilled about the path God has put us on.  Our lives are full. 

Let's take it back a few...years...When we moved back to Alabama from Tennessee, we knew that God had called Toby to go back to school to earn his theology degree and that He wanted us to "work in a church."  That was about all the guidance we were given at the time, so we worked at it as best we could.  After four or five months, God led us to South Coast Church...the perfect family of believers for our little family.  The relationships, encouragement and purpose we have found there are incredible and could only be ordained by sweet Abba's plan.  When we first moved back to Mobile we were looking for a pastor job, looking for someone to give us authority.  After all, God did say He wanted us to work in a church, so we did everything in our power to make that happen...including cold calling random churches on a Google search asking for a job.  While we did get some interesting responses, there was nothing down that road but closed doors.  Once we surrendered that our plan wasn't getting us anywhere, a new verse became our focus:

"For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."  Luke 14:11

So, when we landed at South Coast we decided to do it God's way...novel idea.  We decided not to pursue a "job" or even a position of influence, but to sit back and let God open doors for us.  The church was meeting in an elementary school gym at the time and we started helping wherever we could.  We showed up for set up on Saturday nights and cleaned toilets, set out chairs, and scraped goo off the gym floor.  After a while, our pastor John asked Toby if he would help collect the offering.  Later they asked me to man the first time visitor table, then they asked Toby to help count the offering and eventually to present the welcome chat before the sermon.  We never once asked for authority, but actively chose to take the position of servant.  We kept our eyes open for any opportunity to help...to take the trash out, to tear down the service on Sunday afternoons, to help with the kids during meetings.  And wouldn't you know, God's way works.  Over time, Toby and I were asked to take on more and more responsibility and we found such great purpose and thrill in being able to serve in that way.  Eventually, we were asked to coordinate the small groups for the church and we have LOVED it.  We love getting to know people, calling people into leadership and seeing them stretch themselves beyond what they think they are capable of.  We love watching people's lives change.  We have seen people exposed to the truth of who God is, some for the first time, have their entire perspective on life shift, and then immediately bring their friends and family to hear the good news.  We have been so honored to serve the Lord and the family of South Coast Church.

Most recently we have been given even greater assignments.  In the fall of 2012 our pastors, and dear friends, came to have dinner with us one night.  We had no idea that would change it all for us.  Before they left for the evening, we had been prompted with the next step on our journey.  Over the following months, Toby accepted the position of Executive Pastor and was ordained by the church, and I began serving as the church accountant.  Keep in mind that Toby is also still working a full time job as an engineer, but our paths and direction were made so clear at this crossroad.  God had used nearly 10 years of education, training and experience to prepare us for this next step.  Toby has received countless hours of training and experience in running large organizations, developing and growing teams, teaching leadership skills, and motivating others...all necessary skills for an executive pastor.  I was a CPA before I chose to stay home when Haley was born.  Now all of the skills I learned in bookkeeping, auditing, and management are coming into play for His Kingdom.

We are thrilled to work together for the advancement of the Kingdom of God and are so humbled and honored to walk the path that God has spent years preparing for us.  And just so you know, Toby has no plans to leave his engineering job in the near future and only lacks his thesis on his Master's Degree.  We are trusting God to provide all that we need (including time management) and are following His guidance one day at a time.

So what about the kids?  Our sweet babies, Haley (4) and Jake (1) have always been home with me.  It is a gift I will treasure for all of my days.  In this season where I am easing back into the "working" world, Abba has been so, so good to all of us.  My work schedule is incredibly flexible, and I am free to work whenever I can.  God has provided the world's greatest nanny to love on my kids at home two days a week.  She adores them, they adore her, they play outside, and go for walks.  She even does some laundry and dishes.  She is a God-send...literally!  This season has been a good transition for the summer when they will both attend a Moms Day Out program three days a week.  Haley is thrilled, and I know they will do great.  Haley starts big kid school in August.  I had to lay down my homeschool world and surrender that God knows me and my family better than I do, and He has led us to the most amazing school.  There is still no news to report on the adoption, but thank you to all of you who have prayed and asked about it.

So that's the latest and greatest on our family and for now, here's a little peak into our world...

The Locklar Family | A Day In The Life from Hampton Road Studios on Vimeo.

Thank you to Matt and Ashley Hampton at Hampton Road Studios for capturing this season of our lives so beautifully.  This video will be a treasure to me forever!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Overwhelmed by His great love

We watched the Passion of the Christ movie this past weekend for the first time in years.  If you've never seen it, I would strongly urge you to watch it this weekend.  It simply makes Jesus' gift so much more tangible.

So often, we tend to romanticize the cross - a clean, muscular Jesus in a spotless white cloth hanging on the cross.  This poor representation is so far from the truth.  Scripture tells us that they hated Jesus.  The torture He endured was far beyond what was necessary for any criminal and beyond what any human could endure alone.  I admit that I've had the thought run through my mind over the years, "So, He died.  Everybody dies.  Ok, He was tortured.  Well, soldiers have been tortured for centuries. What's the big deal?"  I think the big deal is that He never once opened His mouth.  Our human nature is to defend ourselves, but He didn't fight back, He didn't argue about who He was.  No amount of words would have persuaded the crowd in His favor.  He spent three years telling the people and showing the people who He was.  No words, or anger, or fighting would have changed anything on that day.  He had told the disciples that no one would take His life from Him.  Instead, He would chose to lay it down.  This is the image that is so vivid in my mind from the movie.  After all of the torture He endured, something our middle class America can not even fathom, He chose to allow these events to take place.  He willingly, with all of the strength He had left to muster, crawled onto the cross under His own free will.   At this point in the movie, I was thinking, "There's no way any one human could have strength to take another step.  Surely, the Roman soldiers will pick Him up and hurl Him onto the cross."  They never did.  He crawled on His own. 

Why did He do this?  The whole thing seems so senseless. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the JOY that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12:1-2

There is so much packed into that one passage of scripture:

Endurance.  Jesus not only endured the cross, but He volunteered for it.  He endured more than any one human could ever carry, yet He didn't utter a single word in rebellion and He willingly and literally laid His life down.

Joy.  Way back in the garden, Abba enjoyed sweet company with Adam and Eve.  He laughed with them, He talked with them, He poured out all blessings on them.  It is the relationship He intended for us to have.  When sin entered the world, He "lost" us in a way.  That free communion wasn't there anymore.  He was separated from the ones He loves most!  Jesus knew that on the other side of the cross, HE WAS GOING TO GET US BACK!!  We are the joy that was set before Him.  We are the reason He endured the cross.  He loves us so much that He willingly endured the suffering for the sole purpose of bringing us back to a perfect relationship with Him!  Don't you see?  He loves YOU more than life itself.  He gave everything He had to give in order to make a way for you to come to Him.  He wants nothing more than to love you and pour out good things on you, just like a good Daddy.  Leave the past behind, and please let Him love you! 

Founder and Perfecter of our faith.  He set the example for us.  He showed us what it means to love those that hate you, to pray for those who persecute you.  And He did it all with grace and love.  Because He suffered the way He did, I can fight a little bit harder in my battle.  The same strength that sustained Jesus through the cross, is in me now and I have the power to run my race with endurance - I can push a little bit harder!!  All of heaven is watching as we go through this world.  They are cheering us on with more passion than the Super Bowl.  They want us to succeed!  They want us to receive Christ's riches blessings!  They want us to fight with everything we have, just like Jesus did!  And they know the reward that is waiting for us on the other side.  For Jesus, His reward is to be seated at the right hand of the Father and to be restored to the people that He loves.  For us, we can receive His great healing, forgiveness, peace and FREEDOM for the rest of our days.  As a bonus, we get to live with Him forever in perfect, amazing celebration!  Now, THAT is worth fighting for!! 

So what does it mean to "fight for Jesus," to "run my race"?  For me, it means I can give up 20 minutes of sleep in the morning, even when I'm already running low, to allow Him to fill me and start my day off fresh.  It means that I can speak calmly and lovingly to my children, even when I want to scream at them and send them out of my sight.  It means I can make the hard choices to obey His instructions, even when the rest of the world thinks it's crazy.  It means I can trust His leading and be obedient, even when it looks scary or inconvenient. 

"Everything you do - do for the glory of God."  Colossians 3:17

If I am going to do anything, I should do it with everything I have - I should do it with great excellence. Jesus never slacked off or gave less than His everything.  If my words and actions reflect Him (and they do since I give myself the label of "Christ follower") then I should conduct myself as He did - with excellence.  Whether it be cleaning my house, working at my job, loving on my kids and my husband, encouraging a friend, setting up for Sunday morning at church, teaching a lesson about Jesus - ANYTHING - Not only should I give it everything I have because it brings Him glory, but I have the power to do that.  The spirit that sustained Jesus through His 33 years and His time on the cross sustains me too.   

"Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father."  John 14:12

Oh sweet Jesus, it is all too much to bear.  I want so badly to reflect You well to a lost world.  I want them to know who You are and the great love You have for them.  To think that Your love for me propelled You through the cross is far beyond what I can comprehend.  Thank you that you allowed them to kill you, but that didn't stop you from your ultimate goal - YOU CONQUERED DEATH, so that all men may know that You are God!!  Just as You freely laid Your life down, You have the power to take it back up again!  Because of this, You are worthy of all praise, worthy of all honor and glory.  You are trustworthy and You are faithful.  You are the King of Kings and greatly will You be praised!!  Thank you for loving me, for choosing me, for wanting to use me.  Of all the assignments and accomplishments You will give me during my days here, I want "Jesus follower" to be the greatest title I carry. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Another round on the roller coaster

We are now three weeks after Christmas, and I'm sad to report that no, Ty did not make it home before the holiday.  At my last post, there was no news and then suddenly...a glimmer of hope!  On Friday, December 21 my phone rang. It was our social worker, Teresa.  We were 4 days before Christmas and my heart stopped at the sight of her name on my caller ID...could this be the call we've been waiting for?  She said, "Carey, I've run across a situation, but we haven't talked about it before so I wanted to see what you thought.  I've found a baby boy in the foster system in Missouri.  He is 11 months old today...and his name is Tai'Vone." (pronounced Ty - Von).  I asked her to repeat his name, just to make sure I heard her right.  She said she had limited information and in order to learn more about him we had to submit our homestudy, but she needed our permission to do so.  I didn't know what to say.  I've envisioned a newborn in my mind for the last year, so I didn't know what to do with this twist.  I called Toby and he said without hesitation, "Yes, let's learn more about him."

With that, Teresa sent the necessary paperwork and requested more information on baby Tai'Vone.  I just knew in my heart that if I could see a picture of his little face, I would know if he was mine or not.  Teresa cautioned us that it would probably be after the first of the year before we heard anything, so we waited and prayed. Day after day the idea grew on me.  This Tai and Jake would be 5 months apart...a great challenge now to manage two one year olds, but how fun to have a best buddy to grow up with.  I quickly became attached to the idea and waited not so patiently for business to resume in the new year.  Days and then weeks passed with no word.  We prayed for Abba to fling the doors wide open or slam them shut as we proceeded with this child.

Today, January 21 is Tai'Vone's first birthday.  Secretly, I had hoped that we would somehow get to celebrate this day with him.  He has been removed from the available child registry where Teresa first found him and we have not received a single response from his social worker.  Perhaps this is a closed door.

So what does this mean?  Did my God fail me?  Did He let me down on His promise?  There are many things that I don't know, but I do know that my God ALWAYS keeps His promises...always.  It is most likely that I misunderstood the original "deadline" of Christmas or maybe I was overly eager.  Whatever the truth is, my God is still good.  He is the one who planted the love for Ty in my and Toby's hearts and He will be the one to bring him home in His timing.  Above all else, I know that Abba loves me, He sees and understands my hurt and impatience, and He has amazing things planned for me and my family...inlcuding Ty.

Toby and I are nearing the end of 21 days of prayer and fasting.  My greatest plea is for Ty to come home during this window.  This may or may not happen and that is ok.  We are now praying for direction as we near the one year mark of this adoption journey.  Do we continue to pursue a domestic adoption?  Do we investigate international adoption?  Do we put off adoption for now and have more biological children?  I have so many questions and so few answers today, but I know that Abba has a plan...a great plan.  And when He's ready, He'll tell us which road to take.

I have been so touched by the many, many people who have asked about Ty and have prayed for him.  You will never know the depth of gratitude that comes from this mama's heart to hear of others who love my baby boy and are standing with us to see God's faithfulness.  I know He'll come through...He always does.

Related posts:
12/18/12 - One week to go...
10/11/12 - Bread crumbs while we wait
9/23/12 - A bump in the road
7/10/12 - Save the adoption credit
6/29/12 - Bezi's Grand Opening
6/22/12 - We're over the first hump
5/21/12 - Out of the mouths of babes
5/13/12 - A far away dream comes near