Happy Birthday

This year, to my delight and surprise, it actually was a happy birthday. I really didn’t know what to expect.  So much had changed since last year.  And yet God just astounded me. On September 17th I went to the Wehrli home for a Dream Team dinner. By then we had had two weeks of Sunday morning church services and Pastors Caleb and Sarah wanted to bless us all with a cookout dinner at their home.

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Additionally, those with September birthdays were recognized with a cake complete with candles.

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Mallory (9/27), Me (9/24), Kim (9/10),  Meg (9/19) and Sarah (9/30)

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Make a wish!

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Jenny asked Photog Sam to take our picture.

I remember leaving the cookout party that night just feeling so happy and alive.  I have friends.  I have community.  I have people hugging me and happy to see me.  I have people laughing with me.

My birthday fell on a Wednesday this year and I took a pre-planned vacation day.  I had no plans other than to get a pedicure.  Some impromptu texting the day before my birthday led to casual plans to meet at Trader Joe’s the next day.  I had never been there and was curious after all the hype.  Clearly the hype left some details out: I had no idea it was a grocery store!  Oops! Word spread of the T.J.’s meet up and a two-some grew to a party of five and since it was mid-day, we traveled to the nearby eatery: The Coop.  I ate chicken & waffles for the first time and as we were leaving the southern affair, we stopped for a group selfie.

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Me, Bekah, Heather (back), Meg (front), Brittany

After we parted ways, I received a phone call from two more friends: Ruth and Dede inquiring if I had dinner plans.  When I said I did not, they asked if they could come to town and take me out to dinner.  I say ‘come to town’, because they live in Melbourne, a solid one-hour drive to East Orlando.  I was flabbergasted at the offer and inquired if they really wanted to do that drive for no other reason than to see me. They assured me that they would love to bless me with my birthday dinner and it would be a nice opportunity for us all to visit and get to know one another. We met at Macaroni Grill (one of my favorites) in Waterford Lakes.  We ate a feast of carbohydrates  (also my fave!) and visited for nearly three hours.  It was one of the nicest evenings. Before we parted ways, I suggested we take a parking-lot-selfie.

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Me, Ruth, Dede

I got home at nearly 9 o’clock that night, full of yummy food, tired, happy, humbled, full of joy, tearful (in a good way) and smiling.  I spent the better part of thirty minutes sifting through text messages and Facebook notifications from friends and acquaintances near and far. As I laid in bed that night reflecting on the day, what stood out to me was that I didn’t have to ‘drum-up’ plans.  My Father in Heaven touched the hearts of each of these people to spend time and resources to be part of my birth-day celebration.  I received that as such a personal, tender blessing from Him to me, His daughter, who is now thirty-six years old.

And it doesn’t end there. The next day, my friend Crystal came to downtown Orlando, picked me up at my office and took me to lunch at Smokey Bones for some yummy BBQ.  Crystal and her kind husband and three cute kids moved from Tulsa nine months ago to help with the launch of Victory Orlando.  They stepped out in faith big time to be obedient to The Lord.  The Lord is blessing me with friends where Jesus is the focal point of their lives.  Quality people. Before Crystal dropped me off, we posed for a selfie.

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Additionally, I was blessed to enjoy dinner and a movie with long-time friends Darci and Larry the weekend before my birthday, and former co-workers Rich, Summer and Kate blessed me with lunch out.

I take none of this lightly.

“The LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in [my] eyes.” ~ Psalm 118:23 NIV

“Those who go out weeping… will return with songs of joy.” ~ Psalm 126:6 NIV

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Launch

Months upon months of planning, prayer and effort has been poured into starting a new church in East Orlando: Victory Orlando.  This past Sunday, September 7 2014, was “Launch Day” – our first Sunday service.  I served in the Nursery where we had three sweet little ones to rock, cuddle and play with.  Overall, there were 50+ kids in attendance, anywhere from birth to age 12, and 301 guests in the worship service.  The most important statistic is that 12 adults and 4 youth came forward to accept Christ as Lord and Savior.  That’s the point of it all.

August was a busy month as preparations kicked into high gear.  When the different ministry teams were announced, specialized training took place to orient each group with their responsibilities.  Chris and Heather Ross are the “Victory Kids” leaders and they have big hearts and a lot of enthusiasm.  They hosted a dinner party at their home for all the kids helpers.  I had a great time!  We ate spaghetti and meatballs, played LIFE and ‘2 Truths and a Lie’ and laughed.  And laughed.

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Bella, Brittany, Lisa, Me, Jenny and Audra

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Chris, Bradley, Rachel, Sam and Meg

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The night before Launch Day we all met out at East River High School to set up for the next morning as well as attend a worship rally of our own where Pastor Caleb encouraged us with a message on HOPE.

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Pastor Sharon Daugherty flew in from Tulsa to attend the Launch.  Before the rally started, she walked all around the auditorium meeting people and warmly introducing herself.

After the rally, I took a few photos showcasing how lovely everything looked.  So much attention to detail everywhere you look.

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This is the lobby.

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The teacher’s lounge was converted into a nursery.

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These are my nursery teammates: Lisa, Audra and Rachel.

The week leading up to Launch Day was an emotionally difficult week for me.  I was exceptionally weepy and sad.  I was grieving losses I experienced earlier this year as though they were fresh trauma.  I felt lonely and alone.  And I didn’t do some of the things I know to do to bring relief: pray or spend quality time with Jesus.  The enemy was whispering lie upon lie to me and I was shrinking back within myself feeling rejected and rejecting my own self.  I doubted whether God had even called me to Victory Orlando.  I doubted whether I was truly making friends and on a path of healing and wholeness.  I doubted whether anything would ever change in my life.

When I arrived on Saturday evening for the rally, I took a seat, far back, all alone.  The lighting and sound system were being tweaked.  A/V experts were running up and down the aisles checking connections while the praise and worship team spoke “testing…testing” repeatedly into various microphones.

And then…

Pastor Sarah came over to greet me and sensing something was amiss, she held my hand and began to pray for me.  Soon the music began and we were on our feet for worship.  From the back of the auditorium Audra came and took the seat next to me.  Pastor Caleb ministered on HOPE and at the end of his message he prayed specifically that we would not despair or doubt the promises of God and His work in our lives.  I could feel my spirit lifting out of a dark hole.  After the rally was over, Audra suggested that we go together to get our Victory Kids T-shirts.  She even dug to the very bottom of the box and helped find the size I needed.

When I left that night, a load of emotional baggage did not ride home with me.  It had been broken off me due to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The next morning, anticipation woke me up early.  That was divine because it allowed me time in the Word, something that I had slacked on all week long.

These specific verses ministered to me:

“Lord, you give me stability and prosperity; you make my future secure.  It is as if I have been given fertile field or received a beautiful tract of land. I will praise the Lord who guides me; yes, during the night I reflect and learn.  I constantly trust in the Lord; because he is at my right hand, I will not be upended.  So my heart rejoices and I am happy; My life is safe.” ~ Psalm 16:5-9 NET

The service went exceptionally well as I already wrote.  The after-party complete with a bounce house for the kids and sno-cones was a lot of fun.  A BBQ lunch was provided for the team to re-fuel us in preparation for tear down.

As I was getting ready to go, sweaty but smiling, I asked to have my picture taken with these two ladies, true Women of God.

Pastor Sharon Daugherty, Pastor Sarah Wehrli and Susan.

Right after this photo was taken, Pastor Sharon asked me to tell her a little about myself.  I shared that I was in a season of God rebuilding my life after so much of it had been torn down (or the storms of life had torn it down since it was built on sandy ground).  She looked me square in the eye and declared the promises of God over me and my life, placed her hands on me and began to pray for me and over me.  All I could say over and over was “Thank you Jesus.  I receive and agree in Jesus’ Name!”

Driving home I reflected on the week and I was reminded that this is how the enemy works: He wants to get us off by ourselves so that he can attack us one-on-one.  The lies and emotional torment he put me thru (or, I allowed him to put me thru) was in an attempt to keep me isolated and distant from my church family.  Living life in community is not about having a social life, it’s about having a soldier life.  I can’t take on the enemy alone, at least not for long, but if I’m linked up with other brothers and sisters, there’s power in unity.  I don’t have to wage war solo.

So, Victory Orlando has officially “launched”.  And so have I.  Fulfilling a word the Lord gave to my friend and mentor Toni almost two years ago.

“Launch out!  Seize opportunities and launch out.  There’s so much He’s put inside of you that’s waiting to come out!”

Thank you Lord Jesus that the gifts and calling you place on our lives is unwavering and without repentance. (Romans 11:29)  It’s never to late to LAUNCH!