I know I sound like one of my kids when I say this, but I've had the best week ever, really. (And it's only halfway through!)
Saturday afternoon we met with some new friends (for the first time), Terry and Nanci and two of their four children. We enjoyed salads and sandwiches at Jason's Deli while unwinding our stories and testimonies, asking questions, and just getting to know one another. I would say they are in their early 40's (although they look younger than that) and are very kind and outgoing folks. Nanci is a short, beautiful woman with luxurious dark and wild curls, and Terry is a tall and thin man with strong facial features. He reminds me of my Uncle Tommy. I bet they have a similar sense of corny humor. We talked for about two hours and would have continued on except that they had somewhere to be, so we parted ways with promises that we would see them Sunday.
Sunday brought our good friends Kelly and James over for lunch with their three little ones in tow. I couldn't want to get my arms around that little newborn of theirs. He's perfectly tiny and snugglely- not quite at that squishy stage, though. I made dinner with hubby's help, and we filled our bellies full while the kids romped and played outside.
Right before they left, little Shawn fell asleep in his carseat, and I couldn't resist snapping a couple shots of the overwhelming adorability.
*Sigh* I love baby feet!
Shortly after they left, we had to take off for the fellowship gathering- our first time to visit this group of Christians who regularly gather together for food and fellowship. Our friends left at four and the gathering started at five, leaving us little time for naps (which the kids desperately needed). Dinner wouldn't be ready until six, so we decided to be fashionably late, allowing the crankster (Keagan) to catch a few winks. Besides, we are usually early, and I did not want to be among the first to arrive, and I especially did not want to arrive before Terry and Nanci since they were the only people we knew and they were the ones who had invited us! It would have felt a bit strange to show up at someone's house whom we did not know without anyone to introduce us. I'm sure it wouldn't have been too strange for them, but I would have felt awkward.
Everyone was very nice- definitely a range of characters. Some families are King James only, some of the women only wear skirts while others wear shorts, pants, or capris. Some women don't wear make-up, some do. Some look squeaky clean, and others, I bet, have quite a story to tell. I don't think you'd guess this bunch of people would be in such a close-knit fellowship. This is a place where no one judges a man for having tattoos down his arm. They are there to celebrate and worship Christ together.
It's a variety of people from different backgrounds and different personal beliefs, but all united in Christ and united on the foundational doctrines. It was very refreshing. The host had the gathering catered with Brazilian barbecue. It was absolutely delicious- tender steak tips, juicy chicken, cheesy muffins, and a variety of sides. When I say catered, I mean a personal chef from the restaurant showed up and prepared everything in the kitchen. I hear I am not to expect that too often. Nanci laughed and said, "When we host, expect hot dogs!" (Good thing I love hot dogs just as much as steak tips!)
After eating and chatting for a while, everyone settled into the livingroom, pulling in chairs or plopping on the floor. Terry started everything off strumming his guitar, and we all joined in singing. I loved the simplicity of it all- no big churchy musical production, just simple, heart-felt singing and music-making for the Lord. After a couple songs, one of the men prayed. Someone handed out some folders with a few songs written by a man whose last name is Whitman, also a member of the church. Terry passed the guitar to another fellow- Whitman, I presume- and we continued singing. In between songs, there would be a bit of a pause in case anyone wanted to speak and sometimes someone would read a verse or two or exclaim a phrase of praise to God. After about fifteen or twenty minutes, Terry brought up a few verses from Romans (I forget exactly what). He spoke about these verses a bit, and then asked a question- something like, "As you go through your day, how to you stay in Christ?" His wife was first to answer the question, and then several of the men continued the conversation. I think it got a bit off subject, but it was definitely encouraging. Some shared their struggles and others encouraged. The focus seemed to be on what you "think" on, and that verse in Philippians came to mind- 4:8 (Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence, whatever is worthy of praise—dwell on these things.) I definitely believe it is important to dwell and focus on the things of God often. I truly believe that when we allow ourselves to dwell on things that are not uplifting and encouraging, convicting and honorable, that we find ourselves struggling with things like depression and even moral decay. Some people believe "you are what you eat", but I believe "you are what you think on". At least, I have seen this in my own life. I found that when I was watching certain shows and listening to certain music, I seemed to be more depressed, more angry, etc. This is one reason why I play hymns and Christian music in our home a lot. And, I know when I skip reading my bible or praying in the morning, the whole day turns into a battle. As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I know I have to lean on the Lord and be in the Word in order to survive the day without a breakdown.
Anyway.... I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the discussion, the openness of the group, and just that it seemed the people really allowed the Spirit to flow rather rather than trying to stick to a certain time table and form. It seems these people are living out 1 Corinthians 14:26. I felt like I belonged there. Everyone was so kind. It is clear that these people are seeking to be the church, not just "go to church".
Once home, we tucked Keagan into bed and set about tidying the house- cleaning the pots and pans from supper and loading up the dishwasher. My cousin, Mikey, was on his way to Houston from Dallas where he had been visiting family from his Dad's side. Mikey is a Marine stationed in Okinawa. He's twenty but seems so much older than his years, to me. Either it's because he's mature, or I'm immature. (Ha!) He has such a love for the Lord- it just radiates from him.
He arrived late Sunday night, but we stayed up until one in the morning chatting about the bible. Brandon and I love talking about God's word, so it was a special treat to have someone else to discuss it with!
The kids absolutely adore Mikey. They stuck to him like glue! Brandon had to go out of town overnight, but before he left, he picked up Chick-fil-A at my request since it's one of Mikey's favorite places (mine too), and I didn't want him to go back to Japan without indulging! Later, we watched kids play outside (they wanted to show off their bike-riding skills). Mikey bought a Nikon not too long ago so I got to test it out and snapped a lot of photos. We talked about editing programs and lighting and whatnot. Not that I'm super good with it, but I know a few things.
I encouraged him to try to get in a little time with my brother, Chip. I was trying to explain what a transformation there has been in his life, and I knew that Mikey would really enjoy hearing Chip's testimony. I think they were able to spend an hour or two together before we all met up (with my parents) at Guadalajara, a Mexican restaurant near the Houston medical center. I love me some hot, crunchy chips and salsa! :) It's one of those places where you fill up on chips, salsa, and queso and then your food arrives.... so you unbutton your pants and keep shoveling food down the hatch.
(Mikey, my Mom, and little Keagan!)
I was glad to have Mikey home with us, especially since it gets rather lonely and boring when Brandon is gone. We had a wonderful time of fellowship that night. Keagan conked out on the living room floor as soon as we got home from the restaurant, but Merikalyn and Nolyn stayed up eager for attention from their cousin. They wrestled and played with him for a bit- at one point, Nolyn took off his shirt, threw it to the ground, and declared war. It was cute. Mikey read a few books to them, and then each of them read a book to him. I was surprised at how well Nolyn's reading is coming along! Then they all piled in the homeschool room, where I had pulled in the fold out couch for Mikey to sleep on. Mikey said Nolyn wanted him to read "the story of the spies!" (in the bible book of Joshua, speaking of the city of Jericho and the woman, Rahab). Several times during his stay, Mikey commented, "I just love your kids. They are so awesome!" (Ah, that makes this mama feel good!)
It was great to have someone to share my "Coffee and the Good Book" time with in the morning. We sipped on our coffee and read through various parts of the bible over the kitchen table. Then we moved to the livingroom where Mikey tuned the ol' electric guitar and played a few worship and praise songs. That eventually led to us sharing some songs we had written, and he helped me put music to a song I titled, "Beauty of the Cross".
I was glad Nolyn got to spend some time with him. He rode home with him from the restaurant and also had a "sleepover" with him. Nolyn told him he wanted to travel around and tell people about the gospel. "He's such a cool little dude!" Mikey exclaimed. (I think so too. *Smile*) Several years ago, when Mikey visited and Nolyn was still in diapers, I snapped a photo of a chubby little Nolyn quite mesmerized by Mikey who was singing and strumming away on his guitar. I wish I could find it....
We prayed together before he left, and waved good-bye as his car disappeared around the corner. My heart ached to see him go, but was so filled with joy because of the sweet time we'd had together. I can't even describe how awesome it was. I just kept thinking, "This is how it should be!"
I mean, that's how it should be when Christian friends and family get together- we should be encouraging each other and lifting up worship and praise. We don't have to wait until Sunday to do that. It should just be part of our every day lives!