Monday, December 15, 2014

Overflowing hearts....They Came!!!

Our hearts are full of thankfulness during this joyous season! I have so much to tell you about the last few weeks here in Charleston....Let's start with the week of Thanksgiving-

That Tuesday both Caleb and Noah's classes had "feasts" where families brought in different dishes to make one big Thanksgiving meal. It was very special  to get to eat lunch with my boys and their classmates. Since Emmie is only in school until 10am each day, she got to come too. We all had a great time....

Later that evening both of our families arrived! We were so excited to be welcoming my parents, Zack's parents and sister, Erin, and Zack's college roommate and his wife Megan and daughter Ellie to our home for Thansgivimg. Zack's family made it in time to attend an annual Thanksgiving meal at Summerville Baptist Church, the church we have been regularly attending. Since I have written about the church many times, I thought maybe you would like to see a picture of it....

The Thanksgiving meal was very nice, and reminiscent of the community Thanksgiving meal back home. I find that every gathering we attend at our new church is very bittersweet. Sweet because we are slowly becoming a part of a loving church body, but bitter because it only reminds us of the church body we left in London, and how much we miss and love them all. It is a very slow and hard process, the process of developing new relationships and friendships, but we feel confident that Summerville Baptist is the church where God is leading us.

Wednesday John and Megan Adams and their sweet daughter Ellie arrived. John and Zack were college roommates and best of friends throughout their college careers. They stood as each others "Best Man" in their weddings and even though they only see each other maybe once a year, they are always able to pick up right where they left off. It was such a blessing to have them in our home. Megan was able to share with me about her experiences moving to new places, as John is in ministry and they have experienced moving a couple times. It was so refreshing to hear Megan, a beautiful and Godly woman, share about her struggles and victories in moving to new town (Norfolk, Virginia) where they knew no one, just like us :) God truly used her to refresh my spirit throughout our visit.

 Being able to open our home to our family and friends was such a blessing and just what we prayed for when God gave us the opportunity to buy our home in Charleston. This week we are having some work done that will add a shower to an already existing half bathroom, and will make the makeshift guest room into an actual pack your bags and come and see us!!

 I have been promising some pictures of the inside, so here are a few. I want to thank both our parents for their help with the work that we have done to our house. They have helped us paint, change light fixtures, made curtains, cushions, strip wallpaper, and moved lots of furniture. For those of you who know our track record with buying, renovating, and selling houses, this home has required the least amount of work than any of them, and we are thankful for that :)

 Thanksgiving night we went to James Island County Park, our family's favorite park in the Charleston area. During the holiday season they have a Festival of Lights...kind of like Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park, and I hate to say it.....but this one is much better! The light displays were just breathtaking, and they had lots of other fun activities, shops, and just an overall wonderful holiday atmosphere. Everyone had a great are some photos from our visit:

Zack's family and John and Megan left Friday morning. My parents were able to stay until Saturday, and an added blessing was that my mom stayed until the next Wednesday and helped me paint our master bathroom and kept me wonderful company while Zack was out of town for work. Our bath had been covered in some very bright floral wallpaper. It took me and Emmie ( Caleb and Zack helped some too....all were great helpers!) about a week to get all the wallpaper, backing, and remaining glue off the walls. It didn't help that in some areas the ceiling height in our bathroom is over 12 feet! It was a challenge, but our hard work paid off and it looks great now. 

 I just have to say that I have such an awesome mom. She rented a car and drove home all by herself Wednesday morning. I couldn't have done this project without her help. We had a great visit together, and I miss her and my dad so much.

This past weekend we celebrated all three kids birthdays with one big party. Now let me just say, Zack and I were very skeptical about having a bday party for them in a town where we have only lived for just a couple months. Of course the big question for us was "Will anyone come?"  The boys had two to three friends from church they wanted to invite, and about the same in their classes. Emmie had fewer, as she is much shyer and it takes her time to "warm up" to new people. We sent invitations and were quite excited when a few parents called with their RSVP. But as the party got closer, I still wondered if they would come. Then, the day before the party, three more people sent their RSVP!  At the beginning of the week, the weather channel was calling for 60% chance of rain for Saturday. I told the kids we needed to pray and ask God to please let us have a rain free day so our friends could enjoy being outside, and the new trampoline Nanna and Papaw had bought them.  A couple days before the party, the weather forecast changed to only 20% rain, with temps near 75! Even the locals said that the temperature was unusually high for this time of year! Well, the day turned out to be beautiful, and even more kids came than RSVP!!! We were blown away, and so thankful for our children having people that cared enough about them, even in such a short time, to come to a birthday party in the middle of a Saturday during a busy time of year. People actually came :)

Another cool thing about this birthday party was that it was the most diverse birthday party we have ever been a part of, which we feel very blessed by. We had different ethnicities and faiths, all gathered in the same place. One of Noah's friends from school that came is of the Islamic faith. His friend's mother and sister visited longer than the rest of the parents, and I was able to listen to some of their life story and share mine as well. Despite our differences in faith, we had many similarities in our lives, and I truly hope that we can get to know their family at a deeper level, and that the love of Jesus will shine through in all we do and say, in every interaction.

Here are a few pics of the fun day:

In just a few days, we will be heading home for Christmas for almost a two week stay!! I am soooooooooo excited to see everyone and be back home in little London :) I am grateful at the way that different events have lined up while we are going to be home. While we are at home, the kids are going to be able to attend a birthday party, I am going to be able to see many, many sweet friends at a few different Christmas parties, Zack and I are going to be able to attend the annual tacky sweater party, and we will be able to attend First Baptist and a service with my parents. God is so good and we are so thankful that for this season where we can celebrate the love He showed to mankind by sending His Son to earth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

After the Dust Settles.....

The dust seems to be settling around the Caldwell house. Most of our boxes have been sorted through and put away (or are in their permanent location- the garage!). The kids are now well adjusted to their new schools and schedules. We have made a decision (90% sure) about the church we will attend permanently, and I have only been getting lost in this traffic about three or four times a week now (compared to almost every day when we first moved :) . Zack's job is going well and he feels very productive and is helping lots of customers and companies. But as the dust has been settling, the one are that hasn't been settling is my heart. Yesterday morning, thanks to the help of the Holy Spirit and Him working through my husband, I think I know why.

It all boils down to surrender (or lack thereof, in my case) and fear. My heart is unsettled because I have not completely surrendered my life to whatever God has for us here in Charleston. Why? The fear of never returning home to London. The fear of this (Charleston) being forever.

As I thought through the last couple months here, I realized that shortly after we arrived in Charleston, I decided in my mind that this would be a good place to live for a couple years, and then we could move back to London. I reasoned that this would give Zack a great experience working in a large city with large accounts, and that it would provide the children with lots of great educational and extra curricular activities, and a chance for them to experience cultural diversity, something important for all of us, but maybe especially so for them, given our family's makeup. I (emphasis on I) had it all planned out. And no doubt, this plan could definitely still work. We are free agents and can do what we want. In other words, no one can make us stay here....and I was kind of finding a lot of comfort in that fact.

But here is where the dust settles in my spiritual life: Without complete surrender, complete faith in God and His plan for our lives, I don't know that my heart will ever have peace. For me, I know that complete surrender at this point in my life means not putting any time constraints on God's plan for our family in Charleston. I can't hold onto my "two year plan", and I admit, this is hard for me to even type. In fact, I told Zack yesterday morning through tears that I don't know if I am ready to surrender it all. Not that much. Not ever going home. Not the fact that this could be where we spend the rest of our time on earth. Zack gently reminded me that unless I lay this down, it could keep us from experiencing all that God has for us here.....the relationships He may want to forge, the people He may want us to serve, and the ministries He may allow us to serve through.  Basically, my unwillingness to surrender could actually limit the abundant life that God wants to bestow on us. I don't want my lack of faith and trust to result in this, and so my daily prayer is for God to give me the faith, strength, and trust to surrender all to Him. How many times have I sung that old hymn, "I Surrender All" in my 30 plus years?? Hundreds I am sure. But actually doing it is another story.

 I know what you are probably thinking as you read this: "Oh cry me a river. You are complaining about living in a beautiful city that most people go to for a vacation??!! Get over it." And you would be somewhat justified in thinking that :) Charleston is definitely a beautiful city, and it's not like God is asking us to go to the jungles of Africa or a war torn Middle Eastern country. Trust me, through this experience I have even more admiration and respect for those who answer the call to serve God in other countries and "hard places". I truly thank God for their obedience. And I get the line of thinking that wouldn't understand what the big deal is. But no matter how much beauty a town possesses, or how great the shopping or food is, it's the relationships in life that matter. The people that we love, the experiences that we share, the memories that we have. Nothing can replace those. Maybe God's will is for us to return to London one day, bringing the experiences and lessons learned back to London with us.  But maybe not. Maybe He will provide in other ways. And if that's the case, with His help, we will give thanks for the new relationships, new opportunities, and new mission He has for us here in Charleston.

I have been meditating on Hebrews 11 this week, and have been greatly encouraged by it. Consider what Hebrews has to say about faith:

Hebrews 11:6

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:8-10

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance,obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Hebrews 11: 15-16

15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

In family news.....the first picture above is of the kiddos after AWANA, which they LOVE! What a blessing it is to see them putting God's Word into their hearts each week. This past weekend we made a visit to the Lowcountry Children's Museum in downtown Charleston. PNC Bank sponsors several free nights every year, so this was a special treat for our family. They have several very cool areas including a Pirate Ship, Medieval Castle, and Waterworks, just to name a few.

One of the great things about the schools here is the amount of parental involvement that they encourage and support. This past week Emmie's class had an opportunity for parents to come in and watch some of the activities that the students participate in, and even help lead the activities.

Emmie and I made fun owl graham cracker snacks together and I got to see how she uses the Smartboard to learn math skills. It was a fun morning. Later that morning at the optometrist office we discovered that Emmie will need glasses as she is quite farsighted (very interesting!). Now, I know that I am bias, seeing that I am her mom, but really people, does it get much cuter than this??

The next week will be busy and full of excitement and fun, as my parents, my inlaws, and Zack's college roommate and his wife and daughter will be spending Thanksgiving with us! One big happy family. We are greatly looking forward to their visit!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Highlights of the Past Two Weeks.....

The past couple weeks have flown by down here in Charleston. The weather is beginning to cool (we even had some 30 degree nights!) and a fall time feel is slowly beginning to take hold- I love it!!!

 Halloween was a fun time here. The boys school had a Trunk or Treat that over 1000 people attended. The kids had a great time, even though we saw no one we knew! I have to admit it is a strange feeling to be surrounded by that many people and to still not know anyone. A lonely feeling, but each week that passes seems to bring a little more of a sense of familiarity.

 On Halloween we attended a Fall Festival at Summerville Baptist. It was very reminiscent of the fall festival we have at FBC London- inflatables, games, food, and fellowship. The kids had a blast, and we did recognize a few faces from our time attending Summerville, so that was a nice feeling. Here in Charleston Trick or Treat is from 7-9, so we were able to visit the Fall Festival and still have time for Trick or Treating too. It had just started getting dark when we got back to our subdivision. We met up with a new buddy of Caleb and Noah's- his name is Ben, and he just recently moved to our subdivision. He lives just down the road and he and the boys have become fast friends. They play together almost every day and share a bus ride home from school each day as well. I am thankful for this new friend for them. The kids and I spend time talking about our London friends, and I assure them that their friends back home aren't going to forget about them. Emmie wanted to pray for her "old" friends to come here so she would have someone to talk to :(  Right now she tells me her friends are her teachers, Ms. Carrie and Ms. Vickie. I know she will make friends soon, but it makes my heart sad to think she is lonely.

Since Emmie is only in school until 10am each day, she and I get to spend a lot of time together. One of our favorite things to do is ride bikes through our neighborhood. We have a great place to ride bikes- sidewalks, and safe, wide roads that go for miles and miles. Every day I truly look forward to our time of bike riding. She is a loyal partner :)

Since being here, our family has made a new fun family tradition- first, let me explain how it came about. Every Sunday morning while we were at FBC London, our wonderful kitchen crew at church provided donuts, fruit and coffee. We loved being able to eat breakfast at church and fellowship around the table. I am ashamed to say this, but having that every Sunday morning for the past 8 years was something we took for granted. We have visited three different churches on Sunday mornings since we have been here in Charleston, and none of them have donuts :) So, on Sunday afternoons, we drive down the road (literally, a quarter mile down the road) to Dunkin Donuts and get a half dozen donuts and have a little family time before heading to Sunday night church. The kids get so excited every Sunday afternoon to see what new variety of donut will be is a fun time!

We have also discovered a pretty cool Barber shop in North Charleston. The boys thought it was a cool place, and they do definitely know how to give a guy a cool haircut. The boys now refer to the barber by his first name, so I think he has secured two loyal customers :)

This past week Noah received an award for being on the Honor Roll at his school. This was a special accomplishment because Noah was placed in what South Carolina Schools calls a "GATE" class (gifted and talented education), and the work is very rigorous and challenging. It has been so amazing to see Noah rise to the challenge and take responsibility when it comes to completing his homework, studying for tests, etc. He takes his work very seriously and wants to do his very best. He makes us so very proud.

One interesting  highlight of last week was visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles....four one day. Yes, we visited the very nice people at the DMV 4 times. Good thing they were friendly. One of the reasons we had to visit them so many times is the fact that South Carolina requires basically every document the government has ever issued to you since you were born- birth certificate, marriage certificate, social security card, drivers license, and a proof of your current residence. And, each document can only serve one purpose. So no "double dipping".  Another surprise was the costs of licensing your car and registration/taxes in good ole' SC. After it was all said and done, we had spent almost a cool $1k to have SC drivers licenses and license plates. So, since we spent so much money, I figured I might as well share my license picture. Please note that I intentionally wore a Kentucky blue shirt. I also have two, not one, but two, Kentucky Wildcat license plates on my car. True Blue baby!

We continue to get mail, emails and texts from folks at home, and that means the world to us! Though we are feeling more settled, reality still hits us that the people we love the most are not here. But at the same time, we know that God is growing us, stretching us, and has opportunities here for us that we would most likely not have been able to experience at home. So that keeps us going. Just this week I have found some very cool ministry opportunities for our family. More about those soon!

Love from Carolina!!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why Sundays are the Hardest.....

What a whirlwind the last two weeks have been. On Wednesday, October 15, we signed  papers and bought a house! Yes, Zack and I have done this several times in the past, but never in a different state than Kentucky.....not much was different in terms of the paperwork, but it was a strange feeling knowing we had bought a house in a town where we really don't know anyone. It was the like the final piece making this whole thing seem real!

The weekend before we close, Zack and I had driven to London with the kids on Friday night, got up Saturday morning and packed a Penske truck, then drove back to Charleston the same day. It was a quick and hard trip. Not something I want to do again. But, in the long run it saved a lot of money, as everything packed in the Penske truck was less the movers had to pack and bring, and that is where the savings came in :)  So, on the day we closed, we had a Penske truck packed full of our things to unload, and the movers brought the rest the following day. My mom's cousin's daughter and I connected on Facebook, and we found out that she lives very close in the next subdivision! She and her husband were so kind and offered to help us unload the truck on Wednesday. She also took the kids over to her house and let them hang out so we could get some work done. Also, on that same day, my parents came into town to help out. I was so excited for them to see our house and well of course just to seem them!! So we had a great crew of helpers, and got the truck completely unloaded Wednesday evening. The next morning the movers showed up and brought in boxes as fast as they could. All of our furniture, boxes, everything we owned was either in the garage or our house in about two hours. Needless to say, it was two hours of total chaos.

That same week one of my dad's favorite cousins also happened to be in town! They were so gracious and on Thursday night (the day the movers came) brought us a wonderful dinner. It was so nice to see them and the dinner was much appreciated. She brought me a sweet framed reminder of My Ole' Kentucky home, and brought all the kids UK apparel....definitely needed down here!

We truly have felt very blessed with the help, support, and love we have been shown over the last couple weeks. We could not have gotten moved in and settled in the short amount of time we did without the help and thoughtfulness of so many. So a big thanks to all who have helped and prayed!!

We have spent the last week unpacking, painting, organizing,  changing out light fixtures, decorating,  and taking things to Goodwill. God help me not to buy anything else I DON'T NEED!!  We really love our neighborhood and our house. It is actually less space than we had in London, but I honestly think the space we have meets the needs of our family just as well, if not better, in most ways.  We don't have a huge yard, but the yard we do have is flat (of course, this is South Carolina :) and we are very close to our community pool and playground, and there is a huge field to play soccer, baseball, etc. So all we have to do is hop on our bikes and we are there in a jiffy! Speaking of bikes, it's a great neighborhood for bike riding as well. So here is the house....I think it looks more fancy and bigger than it really is. It is an older home, just a comfortable house. I don't have any pictures of the inside of the house to share yet....but soon :) We really love it and feel very blessed to have found it.

My amazing inlaws were here with us almost the entire week and were a HUGE help. We painted our kitchen (which wasn't as easy as it sounds because it was covered with wallpaper :) installed several light fixtures and ceiling fans, and of course checked out downtown and Charleston's amazing parks. They left today after church, and we all already miss them. We had a great time.

Speaking of church, today was the third time we have visited Summerville Baptist Church. The church is about 15 minutes from our house, right in the heart of downtown Summerville. It is a fairly large church, with two church services and soon to be two Sunday School hours. It is a very traditional Southern Baptist Church, so Zack and I feel right at home in that regard. We have felt very welcome at Summerville Baptist, and the kids love it. No tears at all for Emmie, which we honestly think God used to help us decide between this church and another church we had visited. The minute we would pull into the parking lot at the other church, Emmie would break into tears. There was no rhyme or reason for this! But at Summerville,  Emmie just walked in, went straight into her class, and said "bye mom!". We have attended Sunday School each Sunday we have visited and the class is a good size group of 30 somethings, all that are in the same season of life as us. They have children's church for the kids, and Awana on Sunday nights, which the kids absolutely love. It has been fun watching them get excited about putting God's Word into their hearts. We haven't made it to a Wednesday night service yet, but they have a church choir and they practice on Wednesday nights (a must for me :) and the kids also have music and missions on Wednesday nights. Oh, and they have a church softball team (a must for Zack). Most importantly, we have found the teaching to be very Theologically sound.

So why did I title this post "Why Sundays are the Hardest"?  I just told you what a great place our new home is and how great Summerville Baptist is, and what good experiences we have had here. What is hard about it? This is what is hard about it- On Sundays, I am reminded of this:

These people are not here! 

And come to think of it,  lots of other people we love aren't here these people....

And these......

And of course these....

  Zack and I both agree, we are in some type of grieving season right now. We are faking it for our kids....I mean, they know we miss our friends, but we don't mope around and cry all the time. We try to be positive and encourage them, because they are doing awesome!  But inside, we feel a huge hole. I am not sure if everyone has such a special group of church friends, co-workers, and high school buddies like we have been blessed with, but I have to think it is a pretty special, once in lifetime (or maybe twice in a lifetime :) kind of thing.  They are the kind of friends that you want to have for the rest of your life. They are the kind of friends that you want your kids to grow up with so they can have friendships with their kids. They are the kind of friends that know you and still love you. They are the kind of friends that right now, seem like we will never have again. I know what you are thinking- you'll make new friends. And yes, I know that God is faithful and is capable of bringing new and wonderful relationships into our lives. He can do whatever He wants, and I do trust that He will meet all our needs.  And I even believe that He is using their absences to create character in us that wouldn't have happened otherwise. But these friends will never be replaced. A piece of our hearts will always be with them, and with our church body at First Baptist London- we miss all of you terribly! 

Zack and I both know God desires to work in our lives here in South Carolina. We are trusting Him to grow us, mold us, and lead us. He already has through this time of separation from family and friends. We are relying on Him more and more each day to guide and direct us as to how He desires for our family to serve Him where He has planted us. We have decided the only way to go about this is to go "all in" here in South Carolina, whether it is for a few years, or for the rest of our lives. So we plan to get involved in every way we can- church, school, community. We want to give God our best and let Him lead us. So many of you have texted or emailed to let us know you are praying for our family as we transition. To think that you would pray for us is just overwhelming and we feel so blessed. Thanks for your prayers. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Beauty of Charleston and Giving God our Dreams!

 One thing you can't deny about Charleston is that it is a beautiful place.....

 Especially downtown. The architecture and attention to detail of the homes, shops, landscaping, etc. It is lovely. Picturesque is a good way to describe it. The water is serene and tranquil (hopefully most of the time, anyway). I can definitely see why people like to visit Charleston, and some decide to call it "home". Now, as you probably know, I am still up in the air about whether or not I would ever want to call Charleston home, but one thing that the Lord has shown me over this last week is that my attitude needs to reflect the reality that for now (and until further notice) it is our home, and there is something great, wonderful, and God ordained  for our family here. Through prayer, daily devotions and Bible readings, God has shown me that He is ready and willing to do great things through our family in Charleston, if we will but only ask! Consider this thought from one of my daily devotion readings from the magazine Journey: "If we get to know God and His perfect and loving character, we'll joyfully release our dreams into his mighty hands and wait with great anticipation to see what He'll do with them".  I realized that I have not been releasing anything since we arrived here, and especially not joyfully. You see, I have realized it all comes down to how I view God, and if I truly trust Him. If I view him correctly, as the loving Father He is, then I have no reason to not put my full trust in Him, and that includes my hopes and dreams! Consider Jesus' words in Matthew 7, verses 9-11: "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" 

It struck me as I read this passage how much I love to give gifts to my children. I love to see their reaction, their smile, their excitement. But even my best attempts to give good gifts do not come close to comparing to what God desires to give us as His children. Now I am not speaking of material blessings, though sometimes we are blessed in that fashion, but I am talking about the abundant Christian life- a life that is so much more than possessions and earthly things. A life that has eternal purpose and value.  I am asking God to each day help me to release my dreams for this sort of abundant life to Him, trusting that He loves me beyond my comprehension, and desires to work in and through me, for His glory.

This past week we had a wonderful visit from my mom and her best friend, Belinda. The visit came at just the right time as my homesickness had seemed to peak the day before they came. We had a great time visiting the quaint downtown of Summerville and its many boutiques and unique stores, checking out the awesome consignment and Goodwill stores (and they are awesome!), driving through the many subdivisions,  and of course exploring downtown Charleston. We tried out a great seafood restaurant downtown called the Noisy Oyster. Very yummy.

In just a few days both my parents will be here as we will be moving into our home. We are all excited to have the chance to be able to run and scream and "spread out" once again. The kids have been troopers over these last several weeks and have had to learn a new type of respect when it comes to apartment living. If you know my kids you know they tend to be loud and rough and tough, and you just can't do that in an apartment with neighbors all around (we found out the hard way....a couple times :) I am very proud of them for being so flexible and patient as we have waited to move. I am very proud of them in general. They continue to get up every morning bright and early like troopers, and have great stories to tell me when I pick them up. They are making friends and challenge me to have as positive of an attitude as they do!

I promised to write about our experiences visiting churches here, and I will definitely do that in the next post. We have had good experiences and have been treated very kindly, but have found that Sundays make us the most homesick of all day. We love and miss our church family. More to come on that soon.....