It was a pretty typical autumn Monday with the exception that I wasn’t feeling well. All of the cold, virus, and bacteria floating around in the air those days finally caught up to me and I had spent the morning and most of the afternoon in bed. The windows in our master bedroom face the woods and on this day, the display of autumn colors was especially beautiful. I lay there thinking of how awesome God is, how wonderful His creation is and how blessed I am to be alive in the fall of the year.
Suddenly, I got this overwhelming urge to hug my children and celebrate the season so I announced that we were going to the park and we did just that spontaneously. I parked and stayed in the van while Spencer played on the playground set and Michelle and Emma explored the walking trails. In spirit I wanted to join them but physically wasn’t up to the challenge. I sat there and thought about autumn and wondered what it was about the season that I love so much. Beyond the spectacular display of colors, there is an underlying presence that things are about to change. Temperatures begin to dip down, leaves fall, grass dies, animals begin to burrow down for the winter, and human nature tends to become somewhat reflective. At heart, I am an introvert and so reflection is very natural for me. I think deeply and long to find purpose in both my past and the present. I dream lofty dreams of the future. Even more so in autumn, my mind wanders back over the years.
Raised in a small, coal mining community in a very rural part of eastern, Kentucky, I experienced quite a simple childhood. Days were spent playing in the hills, sitting by the water springs, climbing the rocks and boulders that fell from the mountain tops, and swinging on tires and grapevines. Evenings were spent sitting on the front porch of my grandparent’s house or playing yard games with the cousins. Nothing like a game of round-town, flashlight hide-and-seek and truth or dare to deepen the bonds ands sometimes test the strength of those relationships. Looking back, I see how incredibly fortunate I was to be surrounded by so many people who loved me and shared in my upbringing. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, older cousins, family friends, and community members all felt they had a part in shaping the lives of the younger ones. Oh, there were some unsavory people in the clan, that’s for sure. What would family be without those shady characters that the rest of us complain about at family gatherings? But for the most part, I was blessed with a great host of people who indeed cared.
Life in the mountains for young women was quite different than it is today. Most of us married right out of high school including me. Looking back on the twenty-five years I have shared with Mike on this journey of marriage brings a sea of memories to my soul. Years of struggling with infertility and then the excitement of conceiving followed by the devastation of miscarriage three times. The years spent searching for answers through medical professionals, exploratory surgeries, religious anointing and lots and lots of prayer. Then there was the pregnancy and early delivery of Emma Grace, our miracle girl. Joining our family at twenty-seven weeks gestation, she set us on a course that challenged every fiber of who we were individually and as a couple. After that, was the relocation to North Carolina and the incredibly high-risk pregnancy of Jonathan, who was perfect in every way until the day he was stillborn. My precious and prayed for son was gone all too soon. Emotionally spent and drained, we resolved that Emma was enough physically and that surely God had other children for us to love in different ways so we began foster parenting. Oh, the joy that the twenty plus children we have cared for in our home have brought to us. Then, as God so often does, He surprised us with a pregnancy and successful birth of Spencer. Though the first eight days were tensely spent in the neonatal intensive care unit, we were able to bring home a baby that showed promise of being healthy and normal. And, what a joy that boy has been to our hearts. God has used Spencer to heal my heart in so many ways that I can not even begin to share.
In my time of reflection I see that personally, God has led me on many paths along this journey called life. Always with a purpose and plan, His spirit and hand have nudged me along. Sometimes I have followed very willingly, other times quite reluctantly. Through Sam Fugate, my childhood pastor, I was introduced to Christ and taught that not only did Jesus die for me and made a way for me to spend eternity in Heaven, but that God had a purpose for my life and whatever it was, it was something that only I could do. Then, through Richard Spencer, my high school teacher, youth leader and mentor, God began to whittle away the rough edges and soften my heart to His voice and leading. It was Richard who first taught me how to truly pray. It was he who helped me believe that God would actually listen to a small town girl with nothing to offer the Master of the Universe. It was Richard who challenged me to rise above and dream big. In my young married years, it was Dr. Jack Hyles who pastored us and helped us over many hurdles in our relationship. God used Dr. Jeff Owens in an incredible way to teach me about the ministry and develop in my heart a love for helping people. It was Jeff Owens who walked with us on the paths of infertility, miscarriage, prematurity, and the collapse and restoration of our marriage. So many people have shaped my heart spiritually. Each has left their stamp and imprint on my heart. But in the end, it is God, Himself, alone that has stuck with me every step of the journey. Friends have come and gone and sometimes returned again, but God has always been there. When I have served Him well and made Him proud, when I have embarrassed and brought shame to His name, when I have tried and failed, when I have been used and empowered by His spirit, whatever the case, He has always been there.
In the physical world, autumn is now fleeting and winter is waiting to take the stage. The leaves are almost gone and the air is brisk. The airwaves are filled with the music of the Christmas season and people are beginning to turn their time and attention to celebrating the birth of Christ. What a wonderful world in which to live. What an amazing God to give us variety. This autumn, my heart is very full of gratitude for all that I have been given in my past, reflection on the paths God has walked with me, and anticipation of the dreams and plans God has yet to fulfill in my life. I can imagine no other way to spend my life than seeking after and fulfilling the purpose God has for me. I am a character in His story and I love the role He has made for me.