Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Night I Won't Soon Forget

Well, it's Sunday afternoon and not humid, so I am spending it out on my back patio.  I'm still basking in the glow of Drew and Brittany's wedding.  Every morning when I'm out sweating around the neighborhood at least one song from the wedding playlist comes on my iPod and I relive it all over again.  I love this.  Yesterday the one Drew and I danced to played and I almost did the ugly cry.  Not cool.  Scares the neighbors.  Still, I was happy even though it didn't look like it.

This is why I haven't written lately - how much more wedding talk can you stand?  You're welcome.

So I've got something completely unrelated on my mind that I just can't shake.   A sweet, younger friend of mine is allowing me to walk through a serious crisis alongside her.  It's a privilege to listen to, pray for and try to support her though the burden is heavy.  The further we go, the more ill-equipped I feel in some ways because I have never personally experienced what she's going through.

As I prayed for her, I asked God to show me what I can do to help.  He whispered a name to me.  The name of a young wife and mother who shared her similar story with me not too long ago.  Brilliant!  God always has the best ideas.  I hoped if I could connect the two, a friendship would be born and my friend would know she's not alone and that maybe just maybe she could see light in the middle of her darkness.  I wanted to give her the gift of hope.  I knew she would benefit from meeting someone in the flesh who has been through the same thing and made it to the other side - where beauty rises from ashes.

As you can imagine, I knew this could be tricky.  I needed one to be willing to meet and trust someone new and be open to listening (not always easy when your pain level is so high).  I needed the other to be vulnerable and willing to risk sharing her tender, painful, but triumphant story with a stranger.

Of course, because it was God's idea to begin with, He had already prepared each of them for my call.  I explained the goal to each and they both said yes.  One was a little hesitant, but trusted me and the other was 100% ready to do anything she could to help a woman, any woman in need.

The meeting came and I was expectant that God would show up.  As Beth Moore says, "He never comes small because He is so BIG."  This was never truer.

I sat in that booth for an hour or so observing something breathtaking.  I was in the presence of:

Truly it was jawdropping. We listened to this young woman whose life had seemingly fallen apart into total ruin but refused to leave it there or accept it.  She did the hard work of fighting for what she knew to be God's best.  She also knew she had an enemy who was pulling out all the stops to get her to quit, walk away, or take the easy way out. She had to sort through good and bad advice and she chose not to run toward what seemed like the quickest and least painful path out.

Astoundingly, even in the church she found no one who had walked this path before her or stuck it out to the end or was willing to share their story with her.  She was desperate for someone with first hand experience just to tell her she would make it.  She never received that but refused to give up or give in.

At one point she said, "I knew God would bless me if I waited for Him". She said it with such confidence.  It blew me away.  I may or may not have gasped.

Wait.  She's not here to talk to me.  Get a grip, Angela.  Friends, God is not stingy, He let me get some good stuff that night too. 

I looked over at my hurting friend who was listening intently.  She was crying.  God was speaking to her too.  She could identify God's presence in these moments.  It was huge.

When there were awkward pauses, I prompted questions I thought would be helpful.  Soon it was no longer necessary.  A Spirit-connection was made.  Guards were dropped.  We got down and dirty as one put it.  Neither one cared what the other thought of her.  They just gave in to honesty.  (I so love this but mustn't chase that rabbit trail.)

It was one of the most memorable (women's ministry) experiences of my life.  As only God can do, pain and despair turned to hope right before my eyes.  We even laughed.

A question was asked, "Can I contact you again?".  The answer was, "Of course".  Numbers were exchanged.  I high-fived God (in my head, naturally).  That's what I wanted so badly.  Later when our new hero left, my friend wiped her face and said, "If she can do it, I can do it."  Yes.  She can.  Hallelujah.

That's the whole point, ladies.  There is power in the telling of our stories.  We don't have to have gotten it all right.  We can have made tons of mistakes.  But, when we have the want to and presence of mind to let God write and rewrite our stories and He does, we have to tell it!  We have to.

I know life can be super messy.  To be completely honest, I don't like messy.  I prefer neat and tidy.  But let's be real, whose life is neat and tidy all the time?  Nobody's.  I'm slowly getting used to this.  I was told recently, "God can and will walk right into the middle of our messes and take our hand to walk us out." God is not apalled by our mess.  Can I get an Amen?  Please let that be the good news you need today.

My wise friend told me that oftentimes when she tells her story it's like having an old scar removed and wound exposed. Likely this is why few tell theirs.  But I know this.  While still in the midst of her own storm, she once told a friend, "No matter how hard this gets, don't let me forget that I'm not going through this just for me, but for the women coming behind me who are going to need to talk to someone."

Just take a minute and let that settle on you.

This is a young busy wife and mother, my dear readers. Incidentally, I hope you've noticed how many times I've mentioned these are YOUNG WOMEN going through hard stuff.  It's intentional.  I rarely place myself in their category anymore for obvious reasons. 

Older women, we've got to sit up and pay attention here.  She didn't have years and years of God proving Himself to her to draw on as some of us do.  She had almost no support when she needed it most and when it was taking too long. Don't miss that.

But she had God and His Word and prayer and His promises.  And that.was.enough.

If it was enough for her, it is enough for me.

We have no business keeping what we know to ourselves.  It's always been meant for someone else.  When did we become so reserved and private and afraid?  We don't have to figure out someone else's problems and come up with a solution - we just have to tell them how faithful our God is and how we've witnessed it!

What if Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Ruth, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, Mary and Jesus and all the others hadn't told their stories?  Who would we look to for help?

Our storyteller has been living in the blessing of her obedience for several years now and it is contagious.  You should hear her describe her life today.  You'd smile.  You might even respond the way both of us listeners did.  "I can do this too.  I want to do this so I can get to that."

Resolve - to come to a definite or earnest decision about; determine to do something.*

I walked away from that dinner full to the top and it wasn't because of the veal francaise.  Two lessons will stay with me for a long, long time.

1.  Ask God for the resolve to live the life given me to glorify Him even when it's not what I plan and not what I want.  I would rather wait for the blessing of hard won obedience than rush down the road that makes the pain stop and puts my needs and wants ahead of waiting for God.

2.  Share my stories.  No matter how messy they were, be willing to get real and be transparent and help someone else, no matter what it costs me. There are women coming behind who will need me (us) to open my heart and my mouth to tell them how God got me through.

God has done great things.  God will continue to do great things.  Let's remind each other because let's be honest, no matter what our age, we sometimes forget.

Reminds me of some verses that I usually refer to as my life verses:

"But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all Your works." Psalm 73:28

Well, and these just previous:

"Nevertheless, I am continually with You (God);
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will receive me into glory.

Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever."  Psalm 73:23-26


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Part 2 - The Reception

I caught Ally reading yesterday's blog post about the wedding.  I asked her if it was ok.  She said and I quote, "It's good but for the reception post just put pictures and hardly any words.  People just want to see the pics."

Alrighty then.

I will do my best.  More pictures than words.  And just to prove I can set aside my Type A/controlling personality, I may not even place them in any order.  Take that!  (We'll see how it goes)'s the party after the wedding.

Friends since they were little
Coopers and Burtis's all grown up

 A beautiful thank you note at each plate.  I loved this so much.
That's the heart of my daughter-in-law right there.
Best man speech by Ben - with a little sass
First dance

Britt's brother Forrest - man dance
Britt's sister Sierra
Some of the parents of the kids in pics above
Zach, our photographer and his mom
Girls just want to have fun!
We left it all on the dance floor (you notice that someone's missing?  yeah, Scott B didn't leave anything on the dance floor)
Everyone's trying to figure out how Ben Burtis learned to dance. 
 Couldn't be at WOL could it?  He owned the dance floor.
Candy bar for favors - or for killing time between wedding and the newlywed's arrival at reception.  Interesting fact - there was no chocolate candy leftover, just mints and gum.

I think there was some tickling going on here

Not nearly as much enthusiasm as say.....from the girls.....why is that?

What you don't see is the two bridesmaids who wrestled to the ground for that bouquet
new wallpaper on my phone - compliments of these three
One of my most favorite moments.  There may or may not have been a tear or 1,000 shed

Now I shall attempt videos.  If they work, be impressed with my tech-savvyness - I tried to figure it out without Scott's help.  If they don't, be kind - I'm a newbie.  Just click on the highlighted phrases.

Mother/Son Dance part 1  (the dance itself is kind of boring, but the words to the song are so good - tissue alert!)

Mother/Son Dance part 2 (my lovely videographer didn't know we tacked on the chorus of another tear jerker - note the family involvement at the end)

Best man speech by Ben B (a short portion of)

Ally's song from wedding ceremony (this is the same clip from yesterday's post, but I didn't know how to post videos then)
bridal party escapades

opening gifts the day after with parents before heading off to the airport - we were all overwhelmed with the generosity of the givers
Thanks for making it all the way to the end.  I hope you felt like you were there - because we wish you had been.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Our Five Has Become Six (Part 1 - The Wedding)

In case you didn't know, we had a special weekend.  It wasn't really a big deal....just this little our oldest son GOT MARRIED!  Scott and I are now "the in-laws".

I imagine all you really want to do is look at the pictures, but I have to add some words to them.  Yes, I have to!  I don't have any professional shots and I'm going to try to post some pics you haven't seen on instagram or facebook yet.  Here's your warning that this may be a long one.  I hope you rejoice with us.

(Oh, and just in case you're tuning into this love story already in progress and you'd like to read the back story of the main characters you can read Brittany's version here.  If you want even more background and you'd like to hear my side of the story, you can read that here.)

Wedding weekend....we arrived in CT Thursday at noon for bridesmaids' manicures and pedicures. 
The sweet bridesmaids even included us moms
Ally and I are very ticklish
Even Drew got a fresh cut by Brittany's cute cousin Leah
Brittany got the "bride treatment".  She was looking pretty relaxed by the time she was done.
 The rest of that day was spent running errands and assisting Brenda, Britt's mom.  Ally stayed with the bridesmaids all weekend. They continued their celebration until late, having dinner out and then more gifts for Brittany.  I heard a little about the gifts but feel it's best that the less I know the better, if you know what I mean.

Thursday night Scott and I stayed with our boys one last time before all the groomsmen descended. They were pretty wired and reluctant to let us go to bed.  It was so fun and familiar and special.

Friday morning we all got up and hit the ground running.  So much to do - so little time.  Of course, everything got done and the rehearsal ran pretty smoothly because Scott was "the boss".

The groomsmen had their fun after rehearsal.  They went mini-golfing.  There may have been some similar shenanigans as the girls participated in.  Nothing this mom needs to know about.

Scott and I then went to another hotel to visit with all of our out-of-town family who had traveled in.  It was so good to have them all in town, safe and sound a day in advance.

Saturday morning, we had some quiet time alone before all the festivities began.  There was no telling how our emotions were about to get mangled all day, so it was good to sit and pray for awhile.  We have so much to be thankful for.

Then we headed over to hang with the boys.  I ironed all their clothes while Scott ran errands for Drew.  While he was gone, Drew put the finishing touches on his vows. 

I was happy to get a few moments to catch up on the lives of these two handsome young men.  Drew has known them for years at school, church, basketball and as golf buddies.  I have loved them since long before they were taller than me.  They transported me to the church.  I loved every minute with them.
Ben Mitchell and Justin Sisson
Once at the church, I checked on my three little ones to see how they looked.  Not bad!
Then I went upstairs to get a look at our bride.  I was not disappointed.  She was stunning.  The dress was perfect!  Here's her Dad getting his first glimpse and hug.

Here the bridesmaids reacted to Brittany's beauty.  Wow, she took our breath away.  You may know I'm not always a big fan of selfies, but this one is awesome.  Aren't they cute?

Oddly enough, the boys did not take any selfies so I have nothing for you there.

OK, time for the ceremony.  Before I show you the pictures I have to warn you.  Something happened to my Drew that I couldn't have predicted.  He had been a rock all week, completely focused and ready.  He sat me and then after Britt's mom was seated and he stepped out onto that platform with his Dad beside him.  His face got all red and eyes teary.  I got a little worried that he might sob (and to think most of us were taking bets that Scott would be the one who would be the most emotional).  It just got more intense as Ally walked down the aisle and then his bride. See for yourself.
The girls walked down to Gungor's "Beautiful Things".  Perfect song!
That's the smile of one happy groom (and proud Dad). For the record, Scott held up quite well and only choked up a few times.  Totally appropriate.
Then the doors opened and there she was.  This picture doesn't do justice to her beauty.  Right about at this point she stopped, faced her Dad and he prayed for her.  It was so touching.

Then Nick gave his little girl to my son.

Scott (my husband and Drew's Dad if you're new to the blog) gave them a charge that was both pastorly and fatherly.  Two of the groomsmen (who were Drew's buddies while he was at Word of Life Bible Institute) told me later that a couple of things made an impression on them.  1.  Drew and Brittany were not simply seeking to get married, but to be married to each other.  2.  The advice: don't demand perfection from each other, but demand progress.  Each one constantly trying to grow and be better mates for the other.  Amen.
Next Matthew West's song "Hold You Up" (look it up - it's so sweet) played while Drew and Brittany participated in two Biblical ordinances, communion and foot washing, to demonstrate their desire for a God-centered marriage.
You can't see in this picture what also happened.  Drew and his groomsmen wore some pretty colorful (loud) socks.  As soon as he lifted his pant leg, everyone laughed - out loud! PINK!

Next they read the vows each wrote for the other.  The words and promises were so meaningful and important.  And yes, Britt's were longer than Drew's.  We Burtis women love our words!

 Brittany's brother Forrest read from Genesis 2 and 1 Corinthians 13
 Here they combined two vases of sand demonstrating their two separate lives coming together never to be separated.  While this was happening Ally sang a song called "Love Never Fails".  She sang beautifully and from the heart. 
Here's a short video sample
You know it came from way down deep in her heart because almost at the end, her love for her brother and the beauty of the moment took over and she couldn't finish.  It was the sweetest thing.  When she realized she couldn't continue, she looked over at Drew and mouthed, "I'm sorry" to which he replied, "It's ok" and Brittany blew Ally a kiss.  Not a dry eye in the house.

Wow, I'm tearing up as I relive it.
Well, there's nothing left but the pronouncement and the kiss....
 For the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew J. Burtis
 Oh, and I guess another kiss...alright then.
The maids of honor approve.
 I would like to introduce you to my lovely daughter-in-law, Mrs. Brittany Burtis.  We are so very happy to welcome her into our family.
They walked out to "Happy" - that's an understatement!
Our son Ben, Corin, Brittany's cousin (on left) and Stephanie, Brittany's sister (on right)
Our Ally and her partner, Justin Sisson (Incidentally, I'd completely approve of this match - in a few years) Did I just put that in writing?
I sincerely would have included the rest of the wedding party if I had access to those photos, but these were the only ones sent to me.

As I sit here just three days after our Big Day, I have so many thoughts.  We've been to many weddings over the years and I've noticed a trend - increasingly shorter ceremonies with majority of emphasis on the reception.  I'm all about a fun reception, but I do feel something is lost when the ceremony is too quick. 

A wedding is the first public opportunity a brand new couple has to declare to all their guests what they are about and what they are promising before God and a room full of people who love and support them.  Why rush that?  Why not start the celebration here?

I had very little to do with planning the ceremony but secretly hoped the kids would sense the opportunity before them.  Drew and Brittany planned the whole thing with Scott's guidance.  I can honestly say I loved every meaningful minute of it.

At the end of the day, I believe this was more than just a wedding or a ceremony.  A sacred covenant was made between two young but mature Christ-followers.  You could not have missed their strong desire to thank God for bringing them together and to publicly promise to glorify God by living for and serving Him together until death do them part. 

God answered the prayers of two sets of parents on this day.  Pure joy for this mama's heart.

I will leave you with the only professional photograph I've seen yet.   (I promise to share the link to the gallery when our photographer releases it.) 
Stay tuned for Part 2 - The Reception - expect pics and videos.