Friday, October 28, 2011

How May I Serve You?

These past few weeks have been plagued by a common theme that I have started to refer to as "You have GOT to be flippin' kidding me!!' Murphy's Law is reigning supreme here at the Kingsbury household. Here's a recap: (And no...I am not making this up). A few weeks ago, a kid accidentally backed into my (first new) car in the parking lot as my family and I looked on helplessly. His woofers or tweeters or subzeros or whatever you call them, were cranked up to the max and he couldn't hear us shouting for him to stop. I went to the auto body shop to get my car fixed. Then, my microwave started acting up. Soon thereafter, the refrigerator started leaking water out of the ice maker and into the freezer compartment creating a beautiful winter wonderland of giant icicles amid the fishsticks and Ore-Ida potatoes and whatnot. Two words: Major. Mess.

Is that all? Oh, noooo. I'm just getting warmed up, here. In the midst of it all I have been serving frequently on the worship team which means a lot of nights away from home. I'm also in the middle of planning a huge party for the beginning of November. So what happens next? The dishwasher started spitting little rust particles all over the clean dishes. Not good. Then the microwave finally bit the dust and that wouldn't be so bad if it were not permanently connected to the oven requiring both items to be replaced. Ugh! A few days later, we heard a loud bang coming from the laundry room and water had flooded the floor. Can ya belieeeve it? Just crazy. And overwhelming. And EXPENSIVE.

But that's not all, folks. Because I haven't shared with you the completely insane experience of venturing out into the wild and wonderful world of retail to find replacements for our broken appliances. I'm such a noodle-head, I actually thought this would be fun. Well, I was wrong. It has been anything but fun. I won't bore you with the details but I will say that this shopping expedition has been an epic comedy of errors from day one...but believe me, I'm not laughing.

This leads me to the subject of service and the miserable lack thereof in many businesses and establishments I have been dealing with lately. Many people seem to have zero concern about their customers and will only do the bare minimum required in order to 'seal the deal.' I have been lied to, talked down to, misled, and ignored by very nearly everyone I have dealt with. I was frustrated and discouraged and just about out of Christian patience...when along came Dan. My lifeline in a sea of aggravation. He is the appliance manager at a major appliance dealer and he has restored my faith that there are those (though they are few and far between) who will actually go out of their way to do what they are supposed to do in the first place. Namely, to serve their customers. I am grateful to Dan and people like him. He was in the middle of a family crisis (his daughter and son-in-law were in a bad accident) but still felt the responsibility to finish what he began when he returned to work. Admirable, to say the least.

Service. This subject has been popping up quite often in the last few weeks. Then, yesterday, I was led to examine the word in a different light. David and I have been reading A Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren and it is taking a long time because we made an agreement that we would read each chapter and then wait for the other before proceeding. David is not as into reading as I am which explains why it's taking so long. Anyway, God's timing is perfect because the chapter I turned to yesterday was all about service. Christian service. With all of the complaining about service I've been doing made me squirm a little, and I'll tell you why.

I love serving others. I volunteer at my kids schools and I volunteer at church...I even love serving my family. But lately...I'm going to be honest, here...I've been going a bit overboard in the service department. With everything else that has been going on, I have been allowing myself to get exasperated by the things I have committed myself to doing in the next few weeks. I have insisted on trying to do everything perfectly and have not taken a pause to catch my breath. Because of this I have become tired and overwhelmed and allowed myself to get a little huffy and to feel put upon. That's dangerous territory, folks because I must not lose sight of the fact that I am in service not for myself, not for the schools, not for other people but for God, Himself. God owns it all. Therefore, as the song says, I should 'do every little thing for the glory of the one who made me' and not get tied up worrying about little details and things that will make me look good. Should I try to do things well? Of course. Should I concern myself with being on time? Sure, that's important, too. But I believe God is more interested in our heart and our intentions than He is in the details and execution of what we do. I forget that sometimes and needed to be reminded of why I am doing what I'm doing in the first place. Do you need reminding, too? Well, then consider it done! :0)

So, after reading these chapters on service I feel God has given me a little spiritual fanny-smack and I am re-focused on the upcoming challenges I'm facing. I am feeling more joy in the process and have thrown off the garment of indignation and am putting on the garment of gratitude and praise. Being able to serve others is a gift. Not a liability or a burden. Mission accomplished. Attitude adjustment complete. Whew!

To conclude, I will give you the good news first. My car was fixed and the whole thing was covered by insurance. Jimmy's Service King in Baytown does awesome work and they really, genuinely care about their customers. They even have this great guy on the premises from the rental car company. His name is Clint. He is another shining star I have come across lately. I found a body shop I can trust and that's a good thing because a week after I got hit, David's car got backed into in a parking lot as, once again, he stood by helplessly unable to prevent the accident. But the story doesn't end there. On Monday, I backed into my housekeeper's car and messed up both of our cars. Yes, again. More EXPENSIVENESS. *Sigh* So...Black Beauty is back in the shop and Clint had another opportunity to wow me with his customer service awesomeness. My faith is somewhat restored. My car, (and myself for that matter) are still in the restoration process. Have a wonderful weekend, my friends.



Monday, October 24, 2011

The Castle In The Trees - Part Two (Tree house pics!) seems like ages ago that I wrote part one of this post. Life has kicked into overdrive here at the Kingsburys'. I doubt that I will be able to blog with as much dedication as I did during the summer. My life is not really my own until after the holidays. I am having a blast volunteering at the schools and am planning a big party in a couple of weeks, not to mention that we are having to replace 5 major appliances all at the same time. Then...the Christmas Parade Float. Yikes!

And tie together the loose ends of this story. Let's see, where was I? Okay, after my GrandMattie passed away, I was pretty low. It felt like all of the women in my family were disappearing. It was the end of an era, so to speak. I hadn't really spent much time with her the last few years of her life because I was living far away and only came back to Dallas for holidays and such. Still there was this emptiness. You know what I mean.

Several months later I received a very official looking letter in the mail from an attorney. As it turned out, my Grandmother's nephew had been managing her estate and she had left all of her children and grandchildren a portion of it. I was NOT expecting that. I won't say how much but it was a generous amount of money and I was so emotional at how even in death, Mattie kept on giving. I started thinking about how much she loved kids and how she was never able to have children of her own (She was my step-grandmother) and how I empathized with her. Had it not been for modern medical technology, I would have probably been in the same boat. One day the kids saw a really cool tree house online and asked me if me if we could build them one. And then, an idea began to take shape...

I couldn't think of a better tribute to my sweet Mattie than to take a portion of the money she left me and pour it into something really fantastic for our kids! The neighbor kids were all in on the design process, too. They wanted it to look like a castle. (It does). They wanted it to have electricity. (It does). They wanted enough space to sleep in it so we added bunks into the design plans. They wanted it to have a ceiling fan. (It does). They wanted a mini-fridge (Okay, I'm not crazy...that request was met with a resounding 'NO')! But it does have a wrap around balcony for the grown ups to enjoy the view of the creek! One day, Patrick said "Mom, we have to walk all the way down to the river and then climb the ladder to get in the tree house." I said "So, what do you want me to do? Build you a zip line to get across the yard?" We both looked at each other, not saying a word and then a big grin spread across his face. "Mom? Can you?" he asked. I burst out laughing and said "Well, why not...let's look into it!" We found a willing contractor and we were off to the races!

And so, in the summer of 2010, a mini-monument was imagined and built in honor and on the foundation of a grandmother's love and generosity. We all had a hand in getting it done and every time I look in my back yard, it makes me smile. Sometimes it's with sadness but most of the time...simply thankfulness that God put my grandmother in my life to teach me in the way that I should go. I've made a few detours and sometimes taken the long road, even hit a few dead ends but I see my way clearly now. I know where I am headed and I'm looking forward to the journey.

Yes, I believe in fairy tales. Even if mine is not exactly conventional. Still, I do have my prince and our sweet kids. Now we even have a castle. It's more than I deserve and better than I ever imagined.



Zip line platform
Testing the zip line landing

Filling in nail holes
Michael is admiring his work

Two good looking guys hard at work
Painting in PJ's. That's how we roll!
One dedicated Daddy!

Painting 'bricks' for the castle
Note the heart rock in the upper right corner...
for GrandMattie with love.
Kingsbury Castle in the Trees Circa 2010

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Castle In The Trees - Part One

The world appears to have been washed clean by some desperately needed rain this morning. It is sunny and cool and I stopped to admire the view outside just in time to see my barefooted little girl sailing across the back yard with her head thrown back and a big grin on her face. She was on the zip line headed for the landing of our tree house which we lovingly refer to as 'The Castle in the Trees.' This sight brought me back to a special place in my memory. The place where the events that unfolded would result in loss, grief, hope and then eventually, the creation and construction of our beautiful little castle. Here's how it all started...

A couple of years ago, around this time of year, I received a phone call informing me that My grandmother, Mattie, (yes, my daughter is named after her) had suffered a major stroke and was in the hospital. This came on the heels of a devastating year in which our family had already lost my maternal grandmother, my mother and then my aunt all within months of one another. I was feeling fragile and overwhelmed to begin with and this news about my grandmother really hit me at the knees. I remember being told that Mattie (Grandmattie) was unconscious and was unlikely to wake up and that she could stay in that state indefinitely. I was at a loss as to what I should do. Part of me wanted to rush to her side and part of me wondered if I should wait to see how things were going to unfold.

That Friday night, after praying and tossing and turning I sat up in bed just somehow knowing exactly what I needed to do. I felt peace about my decision to go to Dallas right away and spend some time with her. I decided to go up on Sunday after church, spend the rest of the day with her, then drive home on Monday morning in time to pick up my kids from school. The drive to Dallas was routine and uneventful. When the familiar sight of the Dallas skyline came into view, it didn't bring its usual comfort and feeling of homecoming. As I passed the old Mercantile Bank building, with its blue and red neon clock and spire (where my grandmother had worked and eventually retired), I couldn't help feeling nostalgic as though it were the last time the Dallas skyline would represent something constant in my life.

When I walked into her hospital room and saw her lying there in that bed, my heart was overwhelmed and my mind was racing with memories of this amazing, faith-filled woman who was at the center of some of the few times I actually felt safe and loved as a little girl. I remembered the visits she and my Grandad made to see us at Thanksgiving. My parents generally behaved themselves when they were around. I remembered the time she refused to go with the rest of my family on a day trip to Reynosa, Mexico because I was grounded for losing a schoolbook. She drove me to the school and walked all over the place, even digging in a dirt pile where I had been playing until she found the book and I was ungrounded! She was loyal like that. She was a force of nature to be reckoned with and I know that her unceasing prayers and unwavering faith have a lot to do with why I am saved today and am seeking to continually strengthen my relationship with God. She was a spiritual dynamo! She was an inspiration to me and I hope someday people will be able to say the same thing about me, too.

My aunt and uncle had been there at the hospital for a while and they decided to go back home and get some rest. I leaned over and stroked my grandmother's beautiful white hair and sang hymns to her. There was no response from her at all. I sat with her and talked to her and held her hand. I called my sisters and held the phone to her ear so they could speak to her. Finally, I was all talked out and exhausted and tearfully said good-bye to her for the last time. I walked out of the hospital feeling unsettled and restless and profoundly sad. I drove to my aunt's house, chatted with them for awhile and then headed to bed still feeling empty inside and with no peace whatsoever. I planned to sleep in a little and then drive home after breakfast. But God.....

At the crack of dawn, my cell phone rang and it was my friend Michelle who NEVER calls me in the morning. To this day...I can't remember what it was she wanted but once I was awake I started feeling compelled to get up and go back to Mesquite to the hospital to see my grandmother one more time. I tried to talk myself out of it but there was this feeling that I knew it was right to go back. So, back I went and just happened to end up in the elevator of the hospital with my grandmother's doctor. He said his decision was that she would be released that day and be sent to the nursing home where she would probably remain until she passed. He said it could be days, weeks or (though unlikely) maybe even months. Right after he left her room and we were alone...the strangest thing happened. I felt peace come over me and I realized right in that moment why I was back and exactly what I had left unsaid the night before. I sat down next to her and whispered to her. I told her I loved her and that we were all proud of her for a job well done. I told her that I would take over in her place and pray daily for the salvation and protection of our family. I assured her that I was safe and that we would be together in heaven and that if she was tired, it was okay for her to go ahead and go to Jesus. That He was waiting for her with open arms. I cried all over her as she started making little grunting noises in the back of her throat for the first time since I had seen her and her eyelids were fluttering a little. I knew she was hearing me! So amazing. What a gift. I just can't even put it into words.

I left the hospital knowing I would never see her again but finally having peace about it. Driving home to Houston, I was singing praises out loud with the radio feeling such gratitude that God had led me back to her and given me the opportunity to say everything I needed to say. I was missing her and remembering her and then about an hour into my drive I received a phone call from my aunt. My sweet Grand Mattie had passed away a little over an hour after I left her side. Wow. Just...WOW.

The timing of those events was not a coincidence or an accident. It was simply a gift from God to both of us and he allowed us to fulfill a need in each other one last time. I know that my grandmother needed to hear that I would be praying without ceasing for my family's salvation and protection. I felt the baton was being passed and knew what God wanted me to do. My grandmother understood the power of prayer and in my mind, that was her most powerful and important legacy of all. Sharing her faith with everyone she met. She was an inspiration and example to many. I miss her so much.

Yes, I remember my grandmother often. I think of her with special fondness when I look outside and see my children squealing with delight on the zip line and watch them running around in their little Castle in the Trees. What does my grandmother's memory have to do with our kids' tree house? I'll tell you the rest of the story next time. Until then...



Thursday, October 6, 2011

Excuse Me, You Seem To Have Lost Your Manners...

Okay, everyone...I'm going to admit to you right up front that I shall we say it...a bit PERTURBED! I heard something earlier in the week and I can't seem to let it go. Before I head full on into what's on my mind, let me give you a little background. I am a Texan. In Texas, we have always done things a little differently than other folks. The advertising slogan for tourism in Texas is this: 'Texas...It's a whole 'nother country.' See? Texans think nothing of creating new words when the ones everyone else uses just don't apply to our particular situation. I love that about Texas. You know what else I've always been proud of about Texas? We are notoriously nicer than other people. It's true. I'm sure you can look that up somewhere to confirm what I'm saying, though I don't have any idea where that might be. How about you just take my word for it.

Anyway, I live in a little rural town outside of Houston. I'm not from here, mind you...I just live here. Yes, that does make a difference. Football and athletics and school spirit are a big deal around here. So is pride in our community. So is hunting and fishing and all kinds of other manly stuff like that. I'll admit it was a little bit of an adjustment moving here after living on the east coast for so many years. Okay, so it was a BIG adjustment but I absolutely love it here now and can't imagine raising my kids anywhere else. One reason I love it? People openly pray and talk about God around here and aren't concerned about possibly offending someone while doing so. People actually know each other and look after their neighbors. And last but not least...people here have GOOD MANNERS!!!

Our children address adults with respect. They say 'Yes, ma'am' and 'No, sir.' They do not refer to adults by their given name. It's 'Miss Susie' or 'Mr. Sam.' They are taught to be polite and respectful in school. I love that because it lines up perfectly with what I am trying to instill in them at home: To be kind and generous people of integrity. To be good Christians and good citizens. To do unto others as they would have others do unto them. To be mindful of the needs of others. Is everyone perfect around here? No, of course not but at least we are trying. I feel like I have a better chance of teaching them those values here than probably anywhere else.

So, imagine my surprise and utter astonishment when the other day, I heard a woman (who I barely know) say this: "I have just about had it with the way the schools around here are trying to indoctrinate our kids to have perfect manners and be polite little robots." I'm sorry, but WHAT in the H-E-double hockey sticks is that supposed to mean?! Ya'll, I was steaming. I was speechless. And you know I'm never speechless! I had to turn around and walk away without saying anything and I'm sure she thought I was incredibly rude but I can assure you she would have really thought I was rude if I had stayed there for another second. Wow. I hope she doesn't read this blog but then on the other hand...I kind of hope she does! :0)

This is my opinion which I know is completely right no matter what anyone else says. (Ha!) What our country needs now more than ever is to teach common courtesy and manners to ALL of our children. We have become a nation of impatient, self-centered, over-indulged, and thoughtless citizens who think nothing of cutting off, interrupting and pushing around others in order to do or say whatever we want. Yeah, I said it. I said it because it happens to be true. In our childish determination to prove that we are FREE, we have let the pendulum swing way over into the land of the rude and the home of the intolerant. Does it make you mad to hear me say that? Good. We should all be mad at ourselves for allowing things to get to this point. Enough already.

Hear me out. Life was not handed to me on a silver platter. I have had to struggle and fight and pray my way through some extremely difficult times to get where I am today. You want to know the real reason why I have gotten so many good breaks and met so many great people who have helped me along the way? What's my secret? Here it is: I try to live as Jesus commanded. I'm nice. I have good manners. I treat people with respect and dignity. I care about them and take time to get to know them for no other reason than I am actually interested in who they are. That's it. That's my secret to success. JUST. BE. NICE. It takes very little effort and the rewards are huge. Am I perfect? Of course not but at least I'm trying.

I know most of you already know this and practice good manners and courtesy. I know there are many other places all over the country where parents and teachers are concerned about values. It just really burns me up when I see parents being rude and disrespectful to their own children and then turn around and demand respect from them in return. That is an exercise in futility. It makes me so sad to see parents wasting the only opportunity they will ever have to teach their children in the way they should go. It baffles me why people choose to be ugly and nasty when it takes way less energy and feels so much better to just be kind. I don't get that and I never will.

So, what do I have to say to the lady who made that obnoxious remark the other day? Let me try to use my good manners..."Excuse me, Lady... Please stop being ridiculous and be grateful that your children have a shot at becoming nice people simply because others have the knowledge and the foresight to teach them what you obviously have not. Thank you and have a nice day."

Okay...I think I'm done here. Whew! I feel much better now. Thanks for listening.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Facing Fear: Fighting the Good Fight of Faith

I hate to be scared. I know some people enjoy horror movies and Halloween haunted houses, etc. but not me. I'm just not wired for it. Like I always say...I have a lot of courage and faith but unfortunately also have the nervous system of a Chihuahua. I love roller coasters and thrill rides but that's about it for me in the adrenaline seeking department. Otherwise I'm really just a big weenie.

Some of you may know that I had an unstable and sometimes violent childhood which involved (among other things): physical and verbal abuse, an airplane crash, a custodial kidnapping (we haven't gotten to that one yet!) and being released into the world at 16 years old as an emancipated minor. Quite a resume, huh? By God's grace and mercy, I am safe, healthy and whole. But...there are a few scars I've had to deal with. One of these is called PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Now, you all know I'm not a big fan of labels. I am NOT a victim and I certainly don't play the PTSD card to excuse me from doing things that make me uncomfortable because I love life and want to live it to the fullest. And yet...there is no denying that I am vulnerable to the symptoms. I startle easily at loud noises, people coming at me quickly, lights flashing on or off and even when my children cry or cough during the night. My fight or flight response kicks in and my heart starts pounding and it takes me a little while to chill out again.

My husband asked me once what PTSD felt like. This is the best explanation I could come up with on short notice: Let's say we all have a 'watchtower' in our brain. And say that the average person has a calm, brave, noble, and strong knight as the guardian of their watchtower to alert their body to any potential danger that may arise. Got that visual? Okay. So in my 'watchtower', there is also a guardian but instead of having the brave knight like everybody else...I have...(drumroll please) Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show.

(If you don't know who Barney Fife is, here's a video to give you an idea. Do yourself a favor and take a minute to watch this. If you don't laugh, you should be afraid because something is seriously wrong with you).

Okay, back to the subject at hand...After my twins were born, I began having episodes of unexplained anxiety. First, the Dr. said it was hormones. Then he said it might be caused by sleep deprivation. It started becoming a constant companion that I dealt with in various ways none of which were particularly effective or healthy. I had three babies under the age of 3 with no help and no family nearby. It was a joyful but very stressful time in my life. I prayed continually for the fear to go away. Gradually the anxiety faded and I thought it was gone for good. Unfortunately it came back when we moved to Houston in the form of a full blown panic attack. If this has never happened to you, then consider yourself blessed. You might be surprised to find that this happens to a lot of people but they hardly ever talk about it. It is a terrifying physical event brought on in my case by underlying stress and it was awful and eventually painfully embarrassing.

Many people have offered help and counsel by telling me to basically "Fear not." As if it were just that easy! I know the scriptures regarding fear and I have read and recited them and they help tremendously but this is the point I want to make here: I've actually been chastised and told I was acting sinfully by 'giving in to fear' by well-meaning Christians who just really didn't understand. This is so disappointing to me because there is a lot of guilt and shame associated with anxiety. It is humiliating and embarrassing and most people who deal with it will never tell you about it because they know they will be judged and found lacking by the majority of people who hear about it. This is something that should be handled with love, compassion and understanding. It is a chemical reaction in the brain and is difficult to get under control. I hope whoever reads this- whether you suffer with anxiety yourself or know someone who does, you will be comforted by the fact that I understand how scary and isolating it is but I also know it CAN be overcome.

Over the last several years, I have certainly been engaged in a battle of fear vs faith. I have overcome so much and I am no longer dealing with fear and anxiety on a regular basis, praise God. It shows up occasionally when I am near my cycle (sorry guys) and I have learned to pray my way through it. It didn't go away overnight. It has taken time, prayer and fighting the good fight of faith to get the tide of this particular battle to turn in my favor. God is so faithful but we must realize that when we ask God to change something that is rooted deep in the foundation of our lives, we sometimes have to be de-constructed in order to be re-constructed. I'm willing. Are you?

Fear is part of the human experience. It will not be removed completely but I know where to find peace that passes understanding. As far as the good fight of faith is concerned? Well, I'm finally learning that the battle was never actually mine to begin with. Surrender, believe, stay rooted in God's word and wait. You are safe...God is the guardian of your watchtower.

Say to those with fearful hearts,

“Be strong, and do not fear,

for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.

He is coming to save you.”

~Isaiah 35:4 (NLT)

Peace and Blessings,