polka dots

Sunday, December 18, 2011

My Christmas Tree

I've always had a real tree in my house for Christmas. I would try to find the biggest and the best every year. This has caused "tension" in our marriage as Wes would get frustrated trying to put these huge trees in stands that weren't big enough or have to cut off ridiculous amounts off the bottom of the tree because I got one that was too big. Or we would even wake up the next morning to find out tree laying on the ground. Every Christmas it was the same thing.

So after the boys had left home, I decided to put all the misery of the Christmas tree behind Wes. It just wasn't worth it. Why was I heaping all this on him? Christmas was supposed to be a happy time - and the Christmas tree event was not a happy time for him. So, we went out and bought a very beautiful aritificial one - prelit - 1200 lights. I had to admit, it was a very pretty tree considering it wasn't real. I didn't have the great pine smell in my house like I had with the real tree, but it was worth it. I was very pleased.

After several years, some of the lights didn't work. That was ok, we could put them towards the back, hang a few extra ornaments and hide the fact that they weren't working. However, this year, when we set up the tree, over 400 of our 1200 lights didn't light. Almost half of our tree was dark....hmmmm....this wasn't going to work. Wes worked hours trying to coax them into working. He changed bulbs, fuses, went one by one - but to no avail.

We decided to just add new lights to the tree. However, they didn't match well with the old ones and it was very hard to get them on the tree around the prelit ones. They kept getting all tangled up. We really still liked our tree and didn't want to get rid of it, so we decided to take off all the prelit lights and then replace them with our own.

Once we started trying to take the lights off, we realized that every light was held onto the tree by 2 clips (which had to be taken off with pliers). Do the math - that's 2400 clips. It took Wes and I 8 hours to take off all the lights. By that time, I was so frustrated, I told him to put it back in the box......don't even want to deal with it anymore. This is how my whole year had been - and I wasn't going to go through it with this stupid tree. So, we boxed it up and sent it back to the shed. We just weren't going to have a tree this year - whatever, that was par for our lives this year. Why would Christmas be any different?

After a couple of days, Wes and I came home from shopping and guess what? There was this beautiful decorated REAL tree in my house. Austin, Shawna, Ashlynn, and the babies had come to my house while I was away and set up a beautiful tree for me. My heart soared. My kids loved me enough and knew I needed a tree - even when I didn't know I needed it. They gave up their evening to go pick out a tree (in the rain and cold), buy a stand and lights, go to my house, set it up and decorate it.

I'm pretty sure this will be the best tree ever. I don't think you could ever top it. It's not that it's the most beautiful tree I've ever seen, but the love that eminates from it is staggering. Just another way God is present....He asked my kids to show me how much He loves me. I am overwhelmed.

Looking Back

A few weeks ago, Brendon invited Wes and I to go hear Dennis Jernigan in concert. Dennis is a modern day psalmist and we first heard of him in the early 1990's when we had just moved to the DFW area and were attending Restoration Church. Our worship leader at that time would sing many of Dennis' songs which ministered to our very dry and weary hearts.

Dennis began his concert that night with a great "oldie but goodie". One we used to sing all the time at Restoration. Then he began to share his heart and it was quite obvious that God was speaking to us through Dennis. Our hearts were so burdened and heavy that night. Dennis kept saying, "I usually don't sing this song at a concert....this is one of my songs that I just sing to the Lord. But I keep hearing God tell me I need to sing it tonight." He would sing his song, and Wes and I both could feel God washing our hearts, soothing the broken pieces and making His presence so real to us. The one song that touched me the most was titled, "It's Gonna Be Alright, Child." As I cried through the whole song, I kept asking, "Really, God? It really can be alright, because it sure doesn't seem like it can be." And He is right there - comforting and saying, "Yes...just trust me."

Then Dennis would go back and sing another song from the past. All of a sudden, God started showing me what all He had brought us through to get to the DFW area - from Wes stepping away from a very successful military career, to being hired at American Airlines, to leaving a denominational church which we both had grown up in to a church who sought after the Spirit, to pulling our kids out of school and homeschooling. It was amazing what He had done for us in a short time period. God kept saying, "I took good care of you then. You didn't think it could ever happen. And look how good it turned out. So, if I could do it back then and I've never let you down, I can get you through this one."

At the end of the concert, Dennis said something I have heard a million times, but it sunk in this time.....don't go back and live in the past - but go back and remember. Remember what God has done for you. We had the opportunity to go back and remember that night and we both walked out renewed. The fight was still ahead of us....but we remembered who was fighting for us. He had done it in the past and He was going to do this again.

How thankful we are that Brendon got tickets for us that night! Did he hear the Father tell him that his parents needed to be at that concert? I think so! I love to watch the Father work in my kids and watch them respond. It was an evening of incredibleness - not sure if that's a word but that's what it was.

It's Gonna Be Alright - Dennis Jernigan

It's gonna be alright, child
Even through the darkest night, child
I'll even use the darkness
To teach you how to hear Me

It's gonna be alright now
Even if you don't see how
I'll even use your failure
To help you to draw near Me

So, hear Me, I am calling
Child, come falling, deeper in love with Me
Trust Me, you must let go
Or you will never know, any deeper love in Me

It's gonna be alright, yeah
If you will let Me hold your heart near
I'll even use your sorrow
To teach you how to love Me

It's gonna be alright, child
I'll hold you really close and tight, child
I'll even use your worries
To help you know more of Me

So, hear Me, I am calling
Child, come falling deeper in love with Me
Trust Me, you must let go
Or you will never know any deeper love in Me

Why do you hold on to the things of your past?
Let go and cling to Me and love that will last
How can you know Me if you do not trust My love?
Let go - you'll find My love is more than enough

Hear Me, I am calling
Child, come falling deeoer in love with Me
Trust Me, you must let go
Or you will never know any deeper love in Me

And it will set you free

It's gonna be alright, now
Even if you don't see how
I'll even use your failure
to help you to draw near Me

Incredibly Hard Year

This has been a hard year for the Neelys, and it has really intensified these past 3 months. Our faith has been tested on many levels and I'd love to say that we came out smelling like a rose....but that wasn't always the case. I've had (and honestly, still do have) so many questions for God. So many things that I don't understand....experiences that we've gone through that don't seem to have any reason for them. There were days that Wes and I were just numb....didn't understand at all why.....didn't understand why it seemed like He was remaining quiet. Days where you want to sit in the corner and just cry.

There are too many things to write what's going on, but the biggies: Church relationships being tested beyond reason, my health, American Airlines going bankrupt, the sale of our house falling through, my dad moving in with us, and 2 grandbabies possibly going back to their birth parents.

So, of course, the devil throws all kinds of arrows at you......God doesn't love you anymore....You're not so special afterall....You've must have done something pretty bad for Him to turn His back on you. Wes and I both know that these are lies. But when you are being bombarded over and over and over....sometimes it can be so very hard to fight.

But that's where friends and family come in. I don't know what I would have done without my two best girlfriends. I can't tell you what it means when they come up to you, hug you, and say, "I just heard what's going on with you. You're not walking through this alone. I am here to walk with you". When you feel you can't get back up again, they grab your arms - pull you up and help you walk - never leave your side - even fight for you when you're just not able.

Then it becomes very clear......God is near.....He is walking through it all with you.....and He's chosen your friends to be a physical presence for you. He never promised that life would be easy, but He did promise that He would provide and be there.

He has shown Himself very faithful (again).

No, most of these "problems" have not gone away. If anything they have intensified. But, we're not walking alone and it will be alright. We've had our faith stretched further than it seemed possible.....but when we thought we could stand no longer......He would send along words of love. You'll see what I mean in my next two blogs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Kids' Camp 2011

This is a picture of some of my 3rd - 6th graders. And we're at camp! One of the most favorite things I get to do with my kids. I love being their mama for a couple of days of swimming, eating, swimming, eating, swimming, eating and even a little sleep! I think my favorite part is walking back to the cabin from either the waterfront or the swimming pool. I have the best conversations with the kids! These guys are dear to my heart......I just love 'em, love 'em, love 'em!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

PandaMania 2011

One of my biggest feats every summer is Vacation Bible School. Honestly, it is one of the most exhausting things I do! But it is my one gift to my kids every year. They love it so much and there is no way I can look into those precious faces and tell them that we're aren't going to have VBS. Thanks to an incredible group of volunteers, an amazing VBS happened in July again this year - PandaMania! And as soon as I see those smiles and hear all the laughter - I don't even remember all the hours of planning, decorating, learning music, and finding teachers' supplies. I just enjoy the ride.

So, here are some of our pictures from PandaMania.

And this little girl right here? Well, it was her first VBS with JuJu. I think the smile describes it all.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What a Difference a Day Makes

There is this song that starts out:

What a difference a day makes
24 little hours.......

Well, within 24 hours of my last post, we had sold our house. Are you kidding me? You will not believe this story! It's so incredible - it is such a miracle. Wes and I stand it awe. So here is our story:

Let's start with last Monday, the 22nd. Wes had oral surgery which lasted most of the morning. (I know that doesn't sound real important at this moment - but you'll see that it really is a little later!) Tuesday morning, I wake up and honestly, I realize that we probably aren't going to sell our house. It's just not a good market and we needed to get a very good price for our home. So, I told the Lord that that was fine and started thinking what remodeling I needed to do to make our house suitable for my dad to come live with us.

We hadn't been cooking much since the house was on the market. Didn't want to mess up the kitchen in case we needed to show the house in a hurry. Nothing like the smell of fish as you walk in the front door to scare off potential buyers! However, I decided to cook lunch on Tuesday because Wes had had surgery and needed to eat soft foods. So, I told him I would just cook some spaghetti. While I was cooking, our doorbell rang. A lady in her early 60's was at our door. She told Wes that she and her sister (who is in her 70's) live in Athens, TX and are moving back to the DFW area to be near children and grandchildren. They had been looking at houses and were very disappointed with what they saw...so they were just driving around the neighborhood and saw our house. So she and Wes started up a conversation.

She told us our house was priced higher than their budget. She started walking back to the car, turned around and asked if she could just come in and look. We agreed after explaining that our house really wasn't in "show" condition at this time. She said she didn't mind - she and her sister were interior designers and didn't need to see it in tip top shape.

After 15 minutes in our house, they gave us a cash offer on our home. The older sister (who is actually paying for the house) hadn't even looked through the whole house when she made the offer!!!! She just kept telling her sister that she wanted this house. Wes told them that they really needed to go through our realtor and that we couldn't accept that offer....it just wasn't enough. He explained how we were building a house so my dad could come live with us and we really needed to get close to our asking price. After another 30 minutes, we had fallen in love with these sweet ladies. Their love for the Lord was so obvious! We even found out they knew several friends of ours from our church. We spent much more time talking with each other than showing the house. It was such an enjoyable time!

So, as Wes was helping them in their car, they asked him to please not accept another offer until we heard back from them. But Wes and I knew that these ladies were supposed to have our home. We just didn't know how the money was going to work out. And to try to make this long story a little shorter, they gave us a great offer on our house Wednesday. Contract was signed today....wow! In 24 hours! Amazing.

Just a couple of side notes:
If Wes hadn't had his surgery and if we hadn't stayed home for lunch (which we have almost NEVER done since the house was on the market!) we would have missed them when they rang our doorbell.

If they had waited one more day, we would have had a much harder time getting a contract together because our realtor left on vacation today. She was able to write up a contract for us before she left!

We are so excited! Yes, God has sold our house.....but it is so much more than that. We have two PRECIOUS ladies who are taking over our home. We have such sweet neighbors and it was so very important to us that the right people come into our neighborhood. Plus, we know that these ladies will keep loving our neighbors and showing God's grace and mercy to them. Like I said, we stand in awe!!

What a difference a day makes!
24 little hours.....

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Yes, It Has Been Awhile

So, I open up my blog today and see it has been 3 months since my last blog. That may not seem like a real long time to some people, but this last 3 months have seemed like a lifetime to me. Of course, as a Children's Pastor, summertime is my busy season. Between VBS, summer camp, and finding new teachers for the fall, I stay pretty busy. But this time.......

VBS is over - it was a very good one.....camp is over - the best we've ever had.......I'm in the process of finding teachers and it looks like I have all I need.....so why the deep feeling of frustration?

I think I have found the answer.....I am really ticked off at God right now. My whole life is in limbo - the selling of our house....the church.....my dad.....Wes' job and possible retirement. Everything is just hanging out there - just out of my reach and it is driving me crazy. Because I can't reach it - because it's not going the way I would like - I have decided that God isn't doing it correctly. I've decided that I know better and I'm ticked off because He hasn't chosen to see it my way.

Well, good for me. No wonder I have been moody and frustrated lately! I wasn't created to be responsible for all of this mess and yet I think it's my job to take care of it. It's all a matter of trust. You see, if I truly believed that God loves me - just for me - that He is really crazy about me - not because of what I do or what I don't do - just because I'm me, then I would trust Him that He has my very best interest at heart. Why would He do this - because He loves me. If Psalm 139 is really true and He knows my inner most parts and knew about me before He created the heavens and the earth....if He knows how many hairs are on my head, then I think I can safely say that He loves me enough to trust Him with all this other stuff.

So, I'm shifting gears. I first had to ask God to forgive me. Of course He did - He's so full of mercy and grace. I'm asking God to help the knowledge of He loves me that's in my head to move to my heart. He's the only one that can get it down there! I want to trust Him with all I have; therefore, I really need to know how much He loves me.

No, none of the situations in my life have changed - everything is still in limbo. But my heart has changed....I no longer need to strive to find the answers.....I can just sit and enjoy the fact that He loves me. He'll take care of everything. This is where I want to stay.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Our house

We put our house on the market at the beginning
of the month. First of all, let me just say that it
is the PITS keeping your house clean all the time so someone can come in and look at it! On the up side, my house has never been cleaner!

My Dad turns 84 next week and it is becoming apparent that he is really struggling to think clearly. He is in great health, but his mind just doesn't want to think like it use to. This is a little dishearting to me because my dad was always the "sharpest pencil in the box". I hurt for him as he gets so frustrated at not being able to come up with the right words or remember if he has done something or not.

But he is the reason that we are selling our house. Our plan is to build a house with a "casita" attached. This is basically a house with an apartment attached to it. It looks like one house from the outside, but there will be 2 residences on the inside. This way, we all will have our own private places but I can get to Dad quickly if he needs me.

We've been in our house for 19 years......the boys grew up in this house.....and it isn't in any way a house......it's a home.......it's our home. Many folks have felt so sorry for me as I have to "give up" my home and leave all the sweet memories behind. But I don't feel that way. First of all, I will take every memory with me. They aren't stuck in the walls of this house. Second, I am excited to think of all the new memories we will make in the new house.

So, we wait. We feel like this is what God would have us do. But He is the One who must sell our house. This is not the best market to sell a home....but God doesn't really worry about that....if we're to move on He'll provide the perfect buyer. If He doesn't, then it's because we aren't to do this. So, we wait - for His perfect timing.....His voice.......His direction.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Because You Love Me

For all those times You stood by me
For all the truth that You made me see
For all the joy You brought to my life
For all the wrong that You made right
For every dream You made come true
For all the love I found in You
I'll be forever thankful, Jesus
You're the One who holds me up
Never lets me fall
You're the One who sees me through
Through it all

You are my strength 'cuz I am weak
You are my voice 'cuz I can't speak
You are my eyes 'cuz I can't see
You are the best there is in me
You lift me up when I can't reach
You give me faith in You to believe
I'm everything I am
Because You love me.

By Diane Warren (and tweaked by me)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Imagination Afternoon

Ashlynn spent yesterday afternoon with me. I love our times together. She AMAZES me with her wonderful imagination! We had pretend sleep-overs, where she was the mama and I was the little girl. She kept calling me "kiddo".....just kept cracking me up! Where did that come from? I don't know.

I'm so very thankful for these times we get to spend together. As I watch her, I see so much of both her mama and her daddy. She is such a perfect combination of the two. She just brings joy, joy, and more joy.

Yesterday was a gift from the Father. Ashlynn will never be this age again, and I got to spend it with her. Thanks, Daddy. It was a treasure of a day.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nanny's Caramel Pie

My dad's mom, Nanny, was one of the most awesome cooks I have ever known. She loved to cook, and we loved to make her happy by eating and eating and eating. Whatever came out of her kitchen was delicious and we always knew that when we visited her, she would be cooking our favorites (which usually included fried chicken, cream gravy, cream peas, and biscuits from scratch!!)

Nanny was also known for her pies and anytime the family got together, she made everyone's favorites. Chocolate, coconut, pecan, and caramel were just a few of the pies we knew would always be present. Now, Nanny never measured anything when she cooked and of course, never wrote anything down. So before Nanny passed on, my mom made it her quest to write down as many of Nanny's recipes as possible. And Mom did a great job getting many of her favorites down on paper. But one eluded us......the caramel pie.

Mom has been gone for 6 years and I had decided to finish her quest by finding a recipe that was similar to Nanny's caramel pie. I have looked and looked. I finally found this one....baked it....took it to my dad for him to be the judge. Viola! We have a winner! So, here is the recipe for an Old-fashioned Burnt Sugar Caramel Pie......or now it's called, "Nanny's Caramel Pie".

1 1/2 cups sugar (divided into half)
4 tablespoons flour
3 eggs, separated
1 can evaporated milk PLUS add enough milk to make 2 cups all together
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pat of butter
1 - 9 inch pie crust, baked

Caramelize 3/4 cup of sugar, stirring until it is melted and a nice caramel color. Set aside

Combine remaining 3/4 cup of sugar, flour, egg yolks, and whisk in milk gradually until mixture is smooth. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.

Add the caramelized sugar, and STIR, BABY, STIR!!!! It will lump up at first, but it WILL melt and the mixture will be smooth again.

Continue to cook and stir until smooth and very thick.

Add vanilla, and a pat of butter. Pour into baked 9 inch pie crust.

Make meringue by using the 3 egg whites, 1 teaspoon of cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt. Beat mixture and add 3/4 cups of sugar a tablespoon at a time. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Put meringue on pie and bake at 350 until light brown color.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Today's date: January 11, 2011 or 1/11/11. So today must be a day of firsts, right? Yes, it is.

Austin and Shawna have been fostering 2 little chocolate boys, ages 2 and 1, for the past 6 months. Precious little boys! I would love to mention their names and put up pictures, but because they are in the foster care system, it is best that I don't. These little men went back to their mama's for Christmas and Austin and Shawna got the official word today that they would not be returning. A court date had been made and the boys were staying at their mama's.

I had conflicting emotions concerning this. We had known for awhile that the boys would probably go back to their mama, so it was good to get the official word......closure. However, we all knew that these little guys weren't going back to a great home life. This bothered me and even as I write it stirs up all those emotions again. Fortunately, I know that God knows exactly where these little guys are.....He knows how many hairs are on their heads.....He cares. This didn't turn out the way I thought it would, BUT I chose to trust.

However, as quickly as they got the word that the boys were not coming back, they get another call.....twin chocolates.....7 months....1 boy, 1 girl. Really? Already? These two only weigh about 8 pounds. They were preemies, they are in good health, they just weren't in a good situation and now the primary goal is for them to gain weight.

Ashlynn is estatic! She has 2 babies coming to her house....a boy AND a girl! Austin and Shawna, I think are a little shell-shocked. These babies eat every 2 hours......there are 2 of them!! Not sure how all of this is going to work, but knowing Austin and Shawna, it will work and it'll work quickly.

I am so amazed at my son and his wife. So proud of them for meeting the need of children needing a place to grow and thrive. It's so difficult to juggle life as it is and yet, they throw in little ones who need a temporary mama and daddy into their lives and do it with so much grace. I'm not sure I could do this but I am so proud of them and so thankful they have allowed me to share in this experience.

So, it has been a day of firsts. It's the first time I've lost 2 of my grandkids. It's the first time I've ever had twins in my family. But, I started my day with 1 vanilla (who just happens to be the most beautiful little girl in the world) and now I'm back to 1 vanilla and 2 chocolates. What a way to start the new year! I love my life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Year of Limbo

As you can see, it has been quite awhile since I've blogged. As I look back on 2010, it has been such a strange year.....of course, there have been many, many blessings......God is so very good. But, it just seemed that as 2010 ended, the Neelys had a lot of loose ends. I hate loose ends. I like them all tied up nice and neat. Like my ducks all in a row exactly how I want them. As my family sat around the table at Christmas time, Austin made this observation. "It seems like that 2010 was the year of limbo for the Neelys". YES!!!! That's it exactly!

Have you ever had God tell you something very specific that He wanted you to do? And you went after that with all your heart? Searching and trying to obey Him with everything you've got....knowing that if you'll be obedient, something awesome is just around the corner?

Well, my family has had a lot of those these past few months. Things we were really seeking God about.....believing that He was guiding us in a specific direction.....doing everything we felt like He was asking us to do. And.......?

We're waiting. We're at a standstill. We've done all we know to do and yet, we don't see God moving yet. Can I just tell you, that just drives me nuts! We've got some big decisions we need to hear Him on and it's kinda quiet. Really?????? We've done everything You want us to do...now we wait? We've been waiting a long time.

And yet, in all my frustration for God not moving as quickly or in the manner I think He should, I hear Him say, "Do you trust Me?" My heart falls a little.....I so want to.....You've never let me down before.....You've always provided in the most awesome ways....but I don't see any movement, God. He says, "I know, but will you still trust me that I know what I'm doing?"

So, today, I lay down my heart......yeah, God, I really do trust you. I do get frustrated when things aren't moving like I think they should.....but yes, I will trust you. You make all things work together for my good because You love me and because I am Your daughter - the daughter of the Most High King. I don't understand...but You do....so I will trust.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and don't lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make you path straight." Proverbs 3:4-5