Romans 5:6

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Life of Legacy


 
One of the most influential people the world has ever known entered her eternal, Heavenly home late last night.

Many had the privilege of knowing Billie Kyle Cunningham as a friend, confidant, incredible cook, and prayer warrior. But I am one of nine individuals who had the honor of knowing her as their grandmother.

Mammaw Cunningham chose to leave her legacy through her every day living. For her, there was no need to wait until her earthly passing for everyone to know what she stood for, Who she believed in, and all she treasured.

Central to all of my memories of Mammaw is her unwaivering faith in Christ. She and Pappaw Cunningham were devoted to loving others in a way that honored the Lord and drew people into His presence. She was devoted to loving others above herself, always choosing sacrificial love rather than ever seeking to acquire worldly riches. Recently she and I joked about how wealthy I thought she and Pappaw were when I was a young girl. I assumed so because they were incredible givers. One of my favorite quotes, “If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a higher fence” fits Mammaw so well. She could make a pot of gumbo big enough to feed an army! Their home in Moss Point, MS had a revolving door anytime I was there to visit. Neighbors, friends, and kids from down the street all showed up unannounced for coffee, snacks, or just friendly conversation. And Mammaw never complained. She always perked another pot of coffee, prepared a snack and stopped what she was doing to invest in lives of those seeking her company.

Mammaw’s love for Pappaw ran deep, even after a couple decades of being a widow. Her love and ongoing devotion to him has allowed me to glean from great wisdom. Her commitment as a mother and grandmother has become one of the best influences in my life as I have navigated motherhood for only a few years. Though many miles separated us, she walked with me through the journey of infertility and miscarriage like no other family member could. She, too, endured a miscarriage during her first pregnancy. Her encouragement and her prayers for me in those difficult days were priceless.

Just one week ago, I was on the phone with Mammaw asking how she was feeling. Though she’d been diagnosed with cancer and was in hospice, she didn’t complain. All she’d say was, “The good Lord’s got me. No need to worry!” Always considering the feelings of others. So much so that even in her last days here on earth, she chose to send a birthday card to my oldest child. We received the card hours before she went to Heaven. She wanted to make sure that both of my girls received soemting for their birthdays this year. What a woman!

Though I will greatly miss talking to Mammaw – learning from her living legacy and reminiscing about our days together when I was younger – I know for certain that she met her Savior, Jesus Christ, face to face last night. Not to mention that there was some kind of reunion in Heaven when my Pappaw and aunt and uncle, who all passed on before her, were made aware of her arrival! What a homecoming!

1 Timothy 6:18-19
They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Food Allergies Make Me Jealous

Our world changed more than we were able to really comprehend when we discovered that Ada has food allergies. Until then, Joseph and I both were aware of the severity of food allergies to a degree. He’s an educator and I had been working in student ministry in some capacity for eleven years. Epi pens, and dietary restrictions, etcetera were common for us to deal with.

But then it became our everyday life. It became something that we had to think about all of the time.
We’ve become defensive about food allergies because we have to be.  “Oh, she’s lactose intolerant?” “She doesn’t like peanut butter?”  If only it were that simple.
Simply put, food allergies mean that an ingredient is read by the body as a toxin. With every exposure we are unsure how severe her reaction will be.  Hives or anaphylaxis.  Itching or inability to breathe.
Food allergies make me jealous of others who can go to any restaurant without fear. Our list of restaurants has dwindled to two places in our area that are safe and/or that Ada enjoys.
Food allergies make me jealous of those who can enjoy birthday parties. Trying to explain to a toddler that common party food and snacks will harm her is difficult. Baking our own “safe” treats isn’t always helpful.  Who doesn’t want to eat the same type of treats that their friends are enjoying?
Food allergies make me jealous of those who don’t have to read labels on everything. We have discovered that some frozen French fries are sprayed with lactose, some meat products are prepared in a facility with common allergens and that even items marked “dairy free” on the label actually aren’t.
Food allergies make me jealous of those who don’t have to think about whether or not church child care workers or baby sitters understand the severity of allergen exposure. Thankfully we have had awesome caregivers for Ada; and my mom and step-father have been gracious to care for Ada and Ellen in order for Joseph and me to go out on dates.  But it’s difficult to leave the house and not think about all of the “what ifs.”
We have to think through what residue may be left of shopping carts and playground equipment. We are constantly asked, “Well, just tell me what she can have. Do you have a list?”  It’s not that simple.  We have to think about how close we are to a hospital when we go to most family gatherings, church events, and when we travel.
Food allergies make me jealous of a lot of things, but most of all, food allergies make me jealous for Heaven.
In Heaven there will be no pain (Revelation 21:4). In Heaven everything is perfect. There’s nothing there that can cause harm.
We deal with food allergies day in and day out. And while I realize that many others endure other difficult circumstances regarding the health of their child, I’m just a mama who is like any other parent: I want to know my child is safe.  Aren’t you glad that we serve a God who loves our kids even far more than we do?! He knows best how to care for them. He knows best how to calm us. And He uses it all to make us look more like His Son.
Tomorrow Ada has another blood test (Rast test, for those who want to know the technical term).  We will know within 5-7 days what her allergy test results are. This will let us know where she is on the “scale” that tells how allergic she is to milk, the three separate components of milk, and peanuts.
I believe that the Lord is able to heal her from food allergies. And I have begged Him to do so. Joseph and I would love your prayers. Ada has told me repeatedly that she is going to be brave tomorrow.  But the reality is that it’s a lot for a 2 year old to understand. Thank you in advance for all of you who are praying with us and for us in this journey. If the Lord is glorified through it in any way, it’s worth it. And prayerfully soon Ada will believe that to be so in her heart, too.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

To My Brother’s Bride-To-Be


He and I have been close from the very beginning.  We have depended on each other through difficult circumstances, laughed our way through countless seasons and have encouraged one another to achieve our goals.  We have sought one another’s advice pertaining to vocational ministry work and have been the other’s sounding board for new ideas.

He gets me.  He’s been one of my best support systems, one of my loudest cheerleaders and best friends.  He’s made me laugh when circumstances made me want to cry.  He’s held my hand through tough stuff and let me cry on his shoulder. 

He’s been the best brother anyone could hope for.

But it’s the end of an era for me.  He’ll no longer call me first to get advice about something.  He will not ask my opinion first regarding ministering to a girl in the youth group.  And I won’t be his second favorite female (second to mom, of course).

You have taken on these roles.  He will esteem your opinion as most valuable, as he should.  He will seek your input on every situation, especially ministry.  You are now his favorite person on earth.  And that’s how it should be!

Stephanie, sixty-seven days ago you were introduced to the family.  But even before then, as I listened to Christopher speak of you, I knew you’d be the one he chose to become his wife.  In just sixty-seven days you have encouraged my family and me as we have made the transition from one child to two.  You have chosen to use your free time to help with family matters revolving around our grandmother’s failing health.  And you have assisted in cleaning and reorganizing with mom as she works hard to care for our grandmother.

You have revealed, yet again, how faithful the Lord is in answering our prayers.

Stephanie, you have been prayed for… for a long time!  As his older sister, I have witnessed him get hurt, but I don’t have to worry about that with you.  I have seen you both keep one another’s interest in mind.  I have watched you care for one another.  I have seen the sweet sparkle in both of your eyes when the other enters a room.

You have become his greatest encourager, his best friend, and his support system.  I have prayed intentionally that the Lord would bring you to him quickly.  I asked that his future wife would support his call to ministry and would be willing to help in any capacity possible.  I have prayed that his bride would appreciate his humor and love him even more for it.  I have prayed that he would marry someone who meshed well into our family, and would support our close relationships with one another.

Yesterday you said “Yes” to becoming Mrs. Christopher Cunningham, and I couldn’t be more thrilled!  You are the answer to so many prayers.

Though it’s the end of an era for me, it means you and my precious brother are getting to begin a wonderful era in your own lives.

Marriage is such a wonderful gift.  Joseph and I are honored to walk along side of you and cheer you both on.

Welcome to the family, Stephanie!  You are so loved. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Learning to Listen

From an early age we begin learning the importance of listening.  Toddlers often struggle with understanding the necessity of listening to parents as they seek to guide them in each area of life.  Adolescents quickly gain perspective concerning the value of listening to their teachers in order to learn and retain vital information needed to graduate from high school.  Young adults, usually full of vigor -- believing that they truly can accomplish anything after college, must learn how to listen to authority in the workplace in order to become successful.

In every season of our lives, listening is critical to our progress.
The same is especially true in our spiritual lives.
There is something unique about the journey of each believer in Christ, but there is also a common thread that isn’t unique to us as individuals at all.  Our stories of being redeemed differ.  Some came to faith at an early age, and others experienced Christ’s love, grace and power for the first time well into their adult life.  Regardless of when we experienced salvation, there is an undeniable commonality: we need to spend more time listening.

This lesson has been one I have been striving to become more studious in since we welcomed Ada into our family.
Like the Israelites, I have a terrible habit of forgetting what the Lord has previously accomplished on my behalf when faced with a new difficulty.

Not long after I had returned to work from being on maternity leave with Ada, it all really started to sink in.  This journey had brought Joseph and me to a beautiful place of desperation. We had walked the difficult road of infertility and miscarriage, and we had been ushered into a new position of desperation needing the Lord to speak to us.  We were seeking Him for answers concerning the future of our family.  We were learning to trust Him despite not quite understanding all of the reasons He chose to entrust us with our story.
We needed to listen.

In the first few days after having Ada home with us, I distinctly remember a moment when the Lord spoke so sweetly to me through something I said to Ada.  As she was fussing, like newborns often do, I held her, patted her, and whispered in her ear, “Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

That was the moment.
The Lord was speaking the same message to me.  We were desperate for sleep, and often still are, but the Lord was reminding me that He was in it all.  We were simply trying to learn what it meant to be new parents, and all the while the Lord was reminding us that He was near, just as He had been throughout our entire journey.

 Walking through infertility.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Experiencing miscarriage.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Learning how to juggle being a new parent.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Leaving my child in the care of a trusted friend when I returned to work.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

In just a matter of weeks, Joseph and I will be welcoming Ellen into our family. The season we are in now differs from when we were preparing to welcome Ada.  Caring for a toddler while simply attempting to get everything taken care of is much different than preparing to welcome the first child. Through everything, the Lord continues to remind me of His promise to be near to us.

Dealing with Ada’s severe milk allergy.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Paying for all of the doctor bills.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Managing responsibilities at work and home.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Failing health of family members.
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Do you see what I mean?  I was so attentive to listen to all the Lord was speaking to Joseph and me when we were in that place of desperation concerning our family.  And here we are.  Blessed to be experiencing a second healthy pregnancy and I forget so easily where He has brought us.

He is constantly speaking.  Are we listening?
He has never failed us.  Ever.
Often our stress is self-inflicted as we seek to figure things out for ourselves.
Listen to Him.  Whatever you are facing, He is there.

Financial trouble?
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Family turmoil?
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Broken friendship or relationship?
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Unfulfilling career?
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Medical problems?
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

Unsure of your next steps?
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”
 

The list of woes we face could go on and on.  Rather than focusing all of our attention on all of the things we need to be taken care of, why don’t we put our trust in the One Who holds it all together (Colossians 1:17)?  The Lord is working on your behalf.  He is speaking to you regarding every situation and circumstance you find yourself in.  Listen.  Let us become a people marked by the manner in which we listen to the Lord rather than be known for complaining to Him about all He has entrusted us to handle.  Every hardship is an opportunity to grow in trust and to believe in He is all He says He is for us.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. – Matthew 11:15
“Shh. Shh. Shh. I’ve got you.”

 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reaction vs. Response

Life is hard.  It seems at every turn there is something unexpected that occurs.  Unexpected bills, unexpected illness, unexpected deadlines, and unexpected life circumstances have the potential to paralyze us with fear concerning how to move forward.  How will we pay that bill?  How will we survive this medical treatment?  How will we have enough time to accomplish all that is asked of us?  How will we get through this?
In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The Lord knows the full effects of us living in a fallen world.  He knows that trials and tribulation are part of our day to day lives.  He knows things are difficult.  We have a choice when facing adversity and tribulation.  We can choose to react out of frustration, or we can respond in trust.
Each season of life brings opportunity for growth.  When presented with a difficult report from the physician, we can become angry and frustrated, or use it as a catalyst to increase our trust in the Lord.  When we simply don’t know where all of the money is going to come from, or how to manage things at home and work, God is prodding us to seek Him more.  The weight of carrying each burden on our own causes us to become bitter, unpleasant people, not resembling Christ at all.  He offers peace in the midst of everything (Philippians 4:7).

When we choose to respond with greater trust in the Lord and His plan, we declare that we believe His ways are better than our own (Isaiah 55:8).  We proclaim that though situations are difficult, His faithfulness and His goodness are steadfast.
By choosing to trust Him in the most difficult, darkest days, we become more like Him.  We become more compassionate toward the heartaches that others endure.  We become more aware that this world just isn’t home (Hebrews 13:14).  And we desire to see the good in all things.

Today, I am certain that you, or someone close to you, are facing something that simply seems insurmountable.  Be encouraged, believer.  The Lord truly does want to use this for your good (Romans 8:28).  Trusting Him doesn’t have to make sense. 
I pray that when you receive bad news, a difficult report, or face financial trials, you will respond in trust.  A life that constantly reacts in frustration will affect your attitude concerning every aspect of day to day occurrences.  Choose to trust.  Choose His peace.  Choose His joy.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Your Classroom: Your Mission Field


The day has arrived.  Summer break has officially ended and teachers have been busy preparing for the arrival of their students for this school year.  Tomorrow students will file into schools with great expectancy for all that this year holds for them.



Students and parents may never know the countless hours that teachers (along with their spouses and closest friends) spend in preparation for tomorrow.  They may never understand all of the decisions that were made surrounding just one bulletin board.  They may never appreciate all of the personal sacrifices of your time and your own money that you have made to ensure that this year is great for your students.



You certainly didn’t choose this profession to receive recognition.  The long days and even longer evenings grading papers and updating class websites and such wouldn’t create a long line of folks choosing to become educators.  Instead, you chose to teach because you decided to make a difference.



On my side of things as a teacher’s spouse, I believe you need to know that you make more of a difference than you know.  The excitement of the first several days will wear off rather quickly, but your enthusiasm in choosing to invest in the lives of students shouldn't plateau this week.  Even through your weariness in making sure that every demand asked of you is met with excellence, your motivation isn’t going to be found in test scores or the latest curriculum.  Your motivation is found in the sweet faces in your classroom.



Your unnoticed efforts are all made well worth it when a student truly knows how much you care for them.  The Lord has entrusted you with little lives to minister to through your teaching.  I am well aware of the laws that prevent you as Christ-believing teachers from overtly explaining why you teach and serve in the manner you do.  However, students are paying attention, and they see the difference of Christ in you.



Each student that enters your room has their own story.  We’d like to believe that each child you encounter is well loved and well cared for, but sadly we know that’s just not the case.  Your kind words of encouragement may be the only positive affirmation that a student hears.  Your belief in their ability to succeed could possibly be the only support that they receive.  



This school year will certainly come with its own set of challenges, but cling to this:  the Lord has given you each student, and even the difficult parents/guardians, because He trusts you with them.  He trusts you to stand in the gap for the students who have no one else to fight for them.  He trusts you to minister to the discouraged parents who are at their wits end.  He trusts you to reassure a student who has experienced more hardship than any child should that not all adults cause harm.  He trusts you to carry out your 180 days of the school year with excellence, because that’s what He has called you to do (Colossians 3:23).



When the demands of leadership and the school district seem to be too much because you just want to teach instead of spending valuable hours on paperwork, remember the reason you chose this profession: the students. 



Your attitude will shape their attitude about learning.  Your mission to love them and serve them through teaching has the ability to change their mindset.  Your investment in their lives will cause them to believe they are valuable, despite what they may be told outside of the four walls of your classroom.



It’s your classroom, and over this school year, your words and actions will determine the type of legacy it will leave in the lives of each student who enters.  I pray that you understand the difference you make stems from the difference the Christ has made in your life.



Here’s to a wonderful school year!


Monday, August 1, 2016

Morganne


At a Night of Ministry with Kari Jobe & Christine Caine

Through each season of my life the Lord has been gracious enough to gift me with the presence of people who have influenced me for the better.  This is a story of one of those people.
After working as a pre-school teacher for a short time while I was living at an inner-city ministry, I did what I said I would never do: go to work for my alma mater.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time as a student at Belhaven University. I didn’t want to become an employee of the institution because so many graduates took that route, and ultimately I didn’t see it as part of my calling: ministry.

For those of you who know me well, you know that my journey to be in full time ministry has certainly been a winding road.  Through each job, the Lord has shown me the importance of understanding that even the simplest task can be ministry when we are willing to commit our ways fully to Him.  I could go on for a while about that lesson, but I won’t now.
I didn’t quite understand why the Lord had me go back to Belhaven to work in the admission office.  After much asking, He showed me.

Her name is Morganne.


I was in need of help from a work-study student and was in the process of interviewing new freshman students for the position.  I had no idea how to interview someone who was not that much younger than me, so of course my “interviews” simply became chats about life.  I wanted to know where they grew up, what they were interested in, and what they were passionate about.  After I spoke with a couple of students, I heard her in the lobby of the office.
When the receptionist told Morganne I that I was available right then I heard, “But I’m not dressed for an interview right now!  Are you sure?” in the best Wetumpka, Alabama drawl.

Morganne rounded the corner to come to my desk and immediately I noticed the massive arm sling and pillow like brace holding her shoulder in place.  “It’s from a tumbling accident.  I just had surgery… but I can do whatever you need me to do!”  Her enthusiasm was contagious, and we certainly needed more of it in the office.  She was a very determined freshman elementary education major and cheerleader. 
After we discussed her babysitting job experience, I just had an overwhelming peace in my spirit that the Lord sent her to me.  We talked more, and then I asked, “So, when can you start?”  After working out a schedule around her classes and cheer practice, it had been set.

Each afternoon Morganne would come help me with seemingly meaningless tasks.  But as she folded mail for me and complied supplies for admission packets, we were able to talk.  We talked a lot!  Many afternoons were simply spent with her sitting with me at my desk. 

In the beginning of her time with me as work-study, our conversations were about freshman boys (one in particular), her weekend plans with Sydney (the other one J), and how her classes were going.
As our friendship grew, the Lord continually showed me the importance in investing in Morganne’s life.  She has always been super cute, friendly, smart (gosh, don’t you hate that?), but I feared that others didn’t see what I saw in Morganne.  I wanted others to look past the cute exterior to see how much He planned to use her for the Kingdom.

After just a few short weeks of knowing her, I knew something great was going to transpire soon. But until then, I committed to chatting about cute clothes and cheer.
Then it happened.  There was a huge shift in her priorities and the Lord allowed me to witness it.  Belhaven and being in Jackson wasn’t about being popular or even well liked.  Morganne’s sole desire became simply to know God more intimately.  After we walked through her dating here and there, it always came back to the one guy she told me about when we first spoke.  Hamilton was the one.  She told me.  And let me just say, that when Morganne has something in mind, all systems are GO!  Her confidence in the Lord’s call on her life and on Hamilton’s was inspiring.  Rather than pursuing fleeting relationships, Morganne’s heart was only seeking the Lord.  When I would say, “Morganne, are you sure?  Have you asked God about this?  Y’all are such good friends.” Morganne would simply say, “Yep.  I just know I’m supposed to wait.  I’m going to be Mrs. Hamilton Harper.”  That same zeal encouraged me as Joseph and I first started dating. “Syd, this is a date!”  “Morganne, we are just going to dinner to catch up.  I want to hear about his summer in Africa.”  The next day I had to tell her she was right.

Nine months after Joseph and I started dating, we were married.  And my sweet Morganne and her best friend, Sydney, drove from Alabama to support us and help at the reception.  Morganne’s relentless encouragement towards us still means the world.  Sometimes “God things” don’t always make sense.  Morganne never questioned Joseph and me after we were engaged just eleven weeks after we started dating.  “When you know, you know, Syd!”
Morganne with me minutes before I walked down the aisle
As my time at Belhaven ended, I’m blessed to say that my relationship with Morganne didn’t.  We endured the effects of almost going into a GiGi’s Cupcake sugar coma together, and made time to hang out when we could.

Joseph and I have watched Morganne become a woman with purpose.  When she invited us to hear her share her testimony in front of her peers at church, I knew the mission of her life wasn’t simply to teach children and encourage others with her bubbly personality and her “everything happens for a reason” mentality.  Her life’s aim became influencing people for the purpose of showing them a better glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Morganne has chosen joy despite difficult circumstances she has walked through.  That contagious joy overflowed to Joseph and me when we were walking through infertility, then our miscarriage.  She opened up her apartment to serve us and to love us well during those difficult days.  She’s prayed and warred in the heavenly places on our behalf.  She’s both laughed and cried with us when we needed it the most.  Through it all she has continually helped me refocus my perspective.
Celebrating at Morganne's wedding shower when I was VERY pregnant with Ada

Today as Morganne celebrates another birthday, I celebrate the gift she is to me and so many others.  I celebrate her willingness to confidently proclaim what the Lord has shown her.  I celebrate the courage she has to stand out.  And I celebrate the story the Lord has given her.
Morganne meeting Ada for the first time
Part of her story is that what she declared as a freshman student came to be.  I was honored and privileged to stand with her as she became Mrs. Hamilton Harper.  Their wedding ceremony was nothing short of glorious.  It was a true testament of my banner “at just the right time”.  Hamilton and Morganne are world-changers, a couple driven by the purpose of the Lord, and ones filled with an inspiring faith.
Oh, glorious day!
Just when we think the Lord has brought someone into our lives to minister to, He shows us that He brought them to us to change us. 
Morganne, you have taught me more about steadfast faith than you can ever know.  I never imagined that the Lord would allow our relationship to go so far beyond being a work-study student, but I am honored that it has.  You have reminded me of the importance of simply being kind to everyone.  You are a precious gift to me and my family.

Happy birthday, my dear!  You are so loved!

Celebrating the Harpers!