Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Happy Heart

This post is short because my message today is simple.

My heart is happy. Today was a good day. A great day. And I am beginning to see the fruits of Philippians 4:6-7.

If you are not already praying scripture, let me encourage you to begin today. God means what He says.

From Isaiah 55:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Good Advice

There are times in life where we are pulled a thousand different directions, with no clear and concise "yes" or "no". Everything seems possible, yet nothing seems perfect. We grasp at straws, we wrestle with logic, we seek for answers. And we are forced to make a decision.

If you are like me, you have been in this situation time and time again. There is a problem, and no solution fits neatly into the puzzle. You try and try and try to work something out, but there's always a "but." This could work, but.... I know it seems crazy, but... It is a risk, but... Too many times, I have tried to make the piece fit, smashing the answer into my life and hurting myself in the process.

In this current season of life, I am learning so much about waiting on the Lord. Waiting for His response, waiting for His provision, waiting for Him to speak. The waiting period is difficult, and it is humbling. But, how do you know when to wait and when to move? How do you know when you should use your talents, knowledge, and wisdom to take a chance? How do you know when you simply need to sit still?

I'm a smart girl, and I can generally make good decisions. God has granted me the ability to make wise choices using His scripture as a guide, and sometimes He requires me (and you) to go forward without knowing the "next step". But, there are also those times where my brain gets in the way of God's instructions to wait. I try to make things happen on my own, getting too caught up in the possibilities. And I end up hurt, confused, and angry in the end.

The best advice I ever received (and I can't remember who it came from), was simply this: "Follow peace." Life-changing advice.

When I come to a crossroads, I follow peace. And if I can't find peace, I wait. There have been times when I jumped, not knowing how I'd land - because God gave me the peace to go forward. And there have been times when I waited patiently (or impatiently) at the fork in the road, waiting for God to speak. Going to college, for instance, was a huge jump. But, God gave me peace and He made an abundance of provisions along the way. Dating a guy after I heard clearly from the Lord that we did not need to continue dating, was also a huge jump. I did not have peace about it, and it ended in disaster.

God is the author of peace, not confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). We have probably quoted that verse to other people, but do we really believe it? Do we continue to try to make things happen on our own, or do we first seek the peace of God before we move?

Waiting isn't inactive. It's proactive. It's time to spend with the Lord, time to communicate with Him, time to trust Him, time to believe in Him.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, thanksgiving, present your requests to God; and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:6-7

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Don't Forget!

Yesterday marked ONE MONTH until the big day! There's just so much going on in my brain, and I feel like I have been so.... cliche lately.

"I can't believe it's almost here!"
"It's just around the corner!"
"It'll be here before we know it!"
"There's so much to do!"

I feel like a broken record!! But, it's all the truth! I am SO excited about the wedding and about getting married, but I'm just ready for it to BE here. Especially since the tornado, Blake and I have been "over" this whole planning-a-wedding thing. It's exciting, it's beautiful, it's sentimental, but we just want to be married already. And I want to go on our awesome honeymoon to Charleston.

But, in the meantime, we are still planning away and getting the final details in place. I feel uncomfortably calm... like, everything is taken care of (or at least there is a plan for it)... and it makes me wonder if I am missing something. While talking to another bride (who is getting married THIS Saturday!!), we started talking about the logistics of packing toiletries for the day of the wedding AND for the honeymoon. How do you make sure it all gets packed up after the wedding and put into the car before you leave? When I went to try on my dress the other day, it was Amy Sims who remembered to think about the bustle!! I hadn't even THOUGHT about a bustle for the dress (and it needs it!). And thank God Amy was there because a French bustle is as complicated as it sounds!

That's the kind of stuff I am afraid I will forget to think about! So, if you are reading this and you have any advice on random things to remember, please comment!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

For the Heck of It

Nothing monumental to report... just a series of updates.

- SUMMER FUN: I made sandwich bag ice cream with 13 2nd graders yesterday. SO MUCH FUN! We read Ice Cream: The Full Scoop by Gail Gibbons, and then went outside to shake up some yummy ice cream. This is a must this summer with your kiddos if you've never done it before!

- COMPUTER: I would post the adorable pictures from the aforementioned ice cream extravaganza, but my computer is out of memory. That's update #2. My hard drive has around 300 MB of space left... poor Margie (that's the computer's name). I guess five years of photos, music, and school work take up more space than I thought. The plan is to transfer what I need from this hard drive to the external hard drive, sell the laptop, and.... get an iPad!!!!! Better get on it!

- RAPTURE: Apparently the rapture has been rescheduled for October. Sweet.

- JOB: There are still no jobs posted for elementary ed. in Tuscaloosa County. Grrr. In the meantime, though, God is providing just as I knew he would. Blake got hired as a research assistant for a textbook project at UA, which pays pretty well and should take a few years' work. And I am going to be the KidZone intern at Vineyard for the next month! So cool!

- WEDDING: Thirty-two days!!! We had a shower this past Sunday and now I am even MORE excited to get married!! Since we will be living with my mom for a little while after the wedding, most of our "stuff" will have to stay in storage. It makes my heart just a little sad. Every day, I daydream a little about what it will be like to put all of our new things into a home of our own. :) It'll happen. But, until then, I'll swap out the kitchen rugs and the pots and pans and bath towels to make it feel a little more like ours.

- CHEESE: If you follow me on Twitter, you already know this. But, I just want to share with everyone else. Yesterday was not a good day for me and cheese. If you don't know, I am obsessed with cheese. I love it. I especially love a good Feta cheese, which I love to put on a good green salad with almonds and raspberry walnut dressing. We ran out of Feta about two weeks ago, and I have been hesitant to buy more because I was waiting for it to go on sale. Yesterday, there was Feta on sale at Publix. I bought two containers, only to get home and see that I bought FAT FREE FETA! Who in the WORLD likes FAT FREE Feta!?!? Seriously!!!!! It's disgusting. Then, I made this delicious dinner, practically my own recipe (which I NEVER do), and topped it with cheese. As I was putting the cheese on, I noticed it smelled weird - like nasty gym feet. So, I threw it out and used a different bag. I figured the smelly cheese was just beginning to go bad, and that it would be okay. NO IT WAS NOT OKAY! I took a bite of it after it cooked and it was SO gross!!!! Thankfully the cheese was only on the top, so I scraped it off, but... ugh. Lost my appetite.

That is all. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

He Touched Me and Made Me Whole

Just a little Sunday mornin' Truth...

I forgot how much I love this classic hymn until I heard it while streaming The Isaacs this morning. Written in 1963 by my favorite hymn writer, Bill Gaither, "He Touched Me" was made popular by - ELVIS! Even Barbara Streisand has done a cover of this great tune. Can a hymn get any better exposure than that!?

But, seriously, I do love this song - it's simple Truth and cheery melody... and it reminds me of my home church, Hargrove Methodist, where the youth would emphatically sing this song, and "touch" each other (appropriately) in the process. :)

"He Touched Me" - Bill Gaither

Shackled by a heavy burden
'Neath a load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me
And now I am no longer the same

He touched me, O He touched me
And, O, the joy that filled my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole

Since I met this Blessed Savior
Since he cleansed and made me whole
I will never cease to praise Him
I'll shout it while eternity rolls

He touched me, O He touched me
And, O, the joy that filled my soul
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole

Brought to you by: The Isaacs or Elvis or The Barb or The Gaither Vocal Band or this guy

Saturday, May 21, 2011


I have written and re-written a post about updates on our house about six times already this morning, and I can't figure out what to say or how to say it. There are so many emotions - pain, hurt, loss, relief, confusion, guilt - and I don't even know where to begin.

So, I'll just say this:

Psalm 46
For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolation he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Being still is the hardest of all. As far as our house goes, we have exhausted all options and feel God saying to just "be still." After being turned down again and again for assistance, we are exhausted. Being still means Blake and I are not moving forward with rebuilding my grandmother's house at this time. It means that we will have to live with my mom for a while after the wedding, which is not exactly what we had in mind for our "first home." It means that we have no idea what God is going to provide - just that He will.

As hard as it is, though, we believe (and it is extremely hard for me to to believe, but God helps us in our unbelief!) God will provide something perfect in His time. It's hard to let go of our own plans, our own hopes and dreams, and latch on to His. It's hard to see that big old beautiful house surrounded by overturned trees, covered with a big old ugly tarp and to look through it to see what He sees. It's hard to look at the gifts we've been given for our wedding and know they will sit in storage for a while longer, and to imagine them in this future house God has promised to provide.

God requires us to be still at times. He asks us to stop grasping at straws and to just wait on Him. It's not as easy as it sounds. It means you will have to rely on Him fully and trust that He knows what He's doing. I repeat: it is not as easy as it sounds. It means your plans will get uprooted, you'll have to go against the grain, you'll have to suck it up and live with your mama after you get hitched.

We are being still because it is what God requires of us at this time. It isn't the way we planned, and it took a lot of tears and begging to get to this point. But God's word says, "Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth." By being still, our hope is that God is exalted. I wanted to share this post now - in the moment - so that when God provides, you will know that "we told you so". I don't know what He's going to provide or when, but it's going to happen in only a way He could orchestrate.

We rest in His providence, believing whole-heartedly that He loves us and has already planned our "next step" for us. He's planned the "next step" for all of us - it's just a matter of whether or not we are listening closely enough to hear His instructions and whether or not we are willing to heed those instructions at any cost.

Blake and I may not have a house of our own right now, but the God of Jacob is our fortress. There is no better House than that.

When the oceans rise and thunders roar, I will soar with You above the storm
Father, You are King over the flood, I will be still and know You are God

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Problem with Praying Proverbs 30:7-9

While reading Francais Chan's CrazyLove a few years ago, I started watching his YouTube videos. He's a funny guy, a radical guy, and a guy who obviously loves the Lord and loves sharing His Word with others. One day, I stumbled across this video, titled 'I dare you to pray this'.

In the video (in case you didn't go watch it), Chan dares viewers to pray Proverbs 30:7-9 which says this:

7 Two things I ask of you, LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

He talks about how people often pray that God would give them an abundance - that the Lord would so bless them with more than enough so that they would always be secure. While I understand the heart of that prayer, Proverbs 30:7-9 blows that prayer of false security out of the water. We don't need a hefty special savings account to keep us "safe," we need God's provision. We need God's faithfulness. We need God's grace.

So, being the daring Christian that I am (not!), I prayed this prayer. I kept praying it. I wrote it in my journal, I memorized it, I shared it with others. And just recently, I have really seen the fruits of this earnest prayer.

Firstly, Chan doesn't really hit on this, but the first request in this passage is for the Lord to "keep falsehood and lies far from me". If you haven't noticed a trend in my blog posts or in my speech or in conversation with me, I have (by God's design) become a Truth-seeker. I hear things or read things or see things and start to wonder if they really deliver God's Truth. It is a bit annoying, because I feel like I am cautious of everything. But, that's a different post. This is about the second part of that prayer.

Over and over again since I started praying Proverbs 30:7-9, I have experienced those "oh crap" moments... where the numbers in the bank account and the sum of bills due are so close it hurts. I have had those moments when I can't see what's ahead - I just know the here and now - and the anxiety sets in. Blake and I are in one of those times now - wondering what to do next and how to pay for it.

And I remember these verses, and remember... I asked for this. I asked to be given JUST enough.

The problem with praying Proverbs 30:7-9 is that God answers it faithfully. The problem is that you have to begin to rely on God instead of yourself, your bank account, your paycheck. The problem is that the tests will come when the numbers are so tight. The problem is that the extra you are given is miraculously just enough to pay for an unexpected bill. The problem is that you can't get a job because of student teaching, and then God provides an abundance of babysitting and dog-sitting opportunities to help ease the stress. The problem is that you wait and wait and wait to sign a lease, and then find out that God has opened a door to live in a big old beautiful house FOR FREE. Then that place gets hit by a nasty tornado. Then His church offers to help rebuild it.

The problem is that God becomes your currency. The problem is that God becomes provider. The problem is that God becomes responsible for the bills. He becomes the source, you become the manager. You become the "What now, Lord?" pray-er who diligently seeks God's direction in handling money. You become the one who budgets wisely and heeds financial endeavors with caution, waiting patiently for the "OK" from God.

It may seem foolish or irresponsible. But, God is the most responsible money-manager I know. He is the most trustworthy person I know because He knows all and sees all. He has already made provisions for challenges we haven't even faced yet.

I dare you to pray Proverbs 30:7-9.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Conquering Goliath

Gandhi (never thought I'd ever start a blog post this way) once said, "Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it."

I watched a little flick called Remember Me last night while dog-sitting for a lady who has been working her tail off since April 27. The main character stated that line from Gandhi, and the emotions started rolling.

Ever since the storm hit I feel like I've been "frozen," in the words of my dear friend Kathryn. The past ten days have been up and down, up and down. I have been running in a thousand directions, doing a lot, but nothing that I felt was significant. The temptation is even there for me to list all the things I HAVE done in the past ten days, as if I have to prove something to whoever is reading this. I read the Twitter feeds of my friends who are repairing roofs or feeding the hungry or chopping up trees or taking care of the homeless. And I feel guilty. Very guilty. What have I done that is truly meaningful?

Remember a little dude named David. And remember "a champion named Goliath, who was over nine feet tall. He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. His spear shaft was like a weaver's rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels." David, young and boyish as he may have been, was not the slightest bit afraid of that giant.

"Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. 'I cannot go in these,' he said to Saul, 'because I am not used to them.' So, he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

David said to the Philistine, 'You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied'..."

And, as we all know, David triumphed over Goliath with just a sling and a stone. No sword, no shield. Just a pebble.

What I have to offer my city right now may be mere pebbles, but one by one those pebbles are going to help tackle this monster of a mess created by that awful tornado. And combine my little efforts with your little efforts, combined with the people from DAPHNE who have been working here in RALPH... this giant is going to fall in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel.

So, whether you're throwing stones with a slingshot or wielding a chainsaw, whatever you do in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will not be done in vain. And together, we can conquer Goliath.

Oh, and congratulations to the seniors of the University of Alabama whose college careers abruptly came to a hault, with a rather anticlimactic end. For a year, my classmates and I have been anxiously awaiting May 7 - the day we would wear our caps and gowns and march across the stage of Coleman Coliseum, grab our diplomas, and run!! What we all know is that our new graduation date - August 6 - is going to be the BEST commencement ever. We all have so much to be thankful for, so much to look forward to, and so much to give to our communities in the meantime.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Non-Extreme Couponing

Coupons are becoming more and more important to me as we draw closer to the wedding and as I look for great deals to help stock the pantries of those in need. The power was out at my house for four days, so we ended up tossing everything in our freezer and most everything in our fridge. Could've planned better to save them, but there were more pressing issues at the time.

This is where I have to give Publix a huge shout-out. I just love Publix. Even if I could save even MORE money at Wal-Mart, I don't think I could ever shop Wal-Mart again after the amazing Publix experiences I've had in the past several days. I've preferred Publix for a while, but the past week really sold me on them for sure.

1. Publix's staff members are generally super-friendly and helpful.
2. Their coupon policy rocks - doubling coupons worth less than $0.50 every day. Can't find the item you are looking for? They will HAPPILY write you a rain-check!
3. The stores are clean, stocked, and easy to navigate.
4. You can make a shopping list from their online weekly circular. When you print the list, you might pee in your pants a little - it's that awesome. It organizes what's on your list by AISLE NUMBER (according to the store YOU select) and also lists the sale price. You can type in items you need that are not in the circular and it will recognize those items and also organize them in the list. If the item is in a freezer or cooler on the perimeter of the store, it will tell you the general area (back center cooler; dairy case; far left cooler). It is AMAZING.
5. MOST of the clerks know the circulars fairly well themselves, and if they know Publix offers a coupon that you don't have, they will often scan one for you. This has happened to me twice in just the past week!
6. Their bathrooms are CLEAN. (Very important!)

Publix has some great deals this week, especially if you already have coupons. My goal was to get some items that can be donated, as well as items to restock our own pantry. I wanted to share some of the savings we got yesterday as an encouragement for those of you out there who, like me, want to "do" something but feel you have little to offer. Without income from a job, my budget is TIGHT. So, coupons and shopping the sales are a great way to help me help others.

For the record, he recent addition to TLC's line-up, Extreme Couponing, isn't realistic. (Hopefully you already know that if you've ever seen an episode.) I actually have a lot of problems with this show because I feel like they don't show the realistic side to couponing. Generally, most people will save 50-75% on groceries. To get the 99% savings, you have to bend the rules a little and then you end up with a garage full of supplies you will never use while feeding an unhealthy obsession for shopping. But, my rant on Extreme Couponing can stand for a post in and of itself. I guess I just want to say that, if you are new or unfamiliar to couponing, don't expect to save $879 your first trip... or ever.

My list from yesterday:

R = Regular price C = Coupon S = $$ off from sale price XC = Multiplied Coupon

1. Folgers coffee (1o oz brick): $4.57 (R) - $1.58 (S) - $1.00 (C) = $1.99 (Savings of $2.58, and I bought two - I usually buy the LARGE cans, which are $9-12, so I really saved a WHOLE lot by buying the smaller bricks on sale and using the coupons I had!)

2. Kraft Mayo (30 0z jar): $5.09 (R) - $2.54 (B1G1) - $1.00 off for 2 = $2.05 (Savings of $3.04 per jar, and I bought 4 jars - some for donation!!!)

3. Sister Schubert's Rolls (8 pack): $3.69(R) - $0.69 (S) - $0.50 (C) - $0.50 (XC) = $2 (Savings of $1.69 per bag, and I bought two bags)

4. Philly Cooking Cream: $2.99 (R) - $0.99 (S) - $1.50 (C) = $0.50 (Savings of $2.49 per jar, and I bought 3 jars)

5. Bird's Eye Frozen Corn (16 oz bag): $1.79 - $0.90 (S) - $1 off for 2 (C) = $0.39 (Savings of $1.40 per bag)

Those are just a few of the deals we found yesterday. We also bought some things that were just on sale, without a coupon. I was able to get my Yoplait Smoothie mixes 50% off!!! That made me happy, since I had to throw away three bags from the freezer melt-down!

I guess I wanted to write this post to say this - if you want to buy groceries or house supplies for families in need, check your papers and the coupon wesbites first! You may be able to get MORE for your money and help more families than you originally intended! Match the coupons you have with what is on sale. People are going to be in need of groceries even AFTER the city is rebuilt from this storm - there were people in need BEFORE the storm!! So, learn the basics of couponing - and, again, expect to save 50-75%. Use your abilities to help those in need, and do so while being frugal with your own budget!

Some great sites:

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Time Doesn't Heal

"Time heals all wounds," I was told. "You will feel better in time," they said. "It just takes time," echoed in my head.

When my dad died in 2006, I was told over and over again that time would cure my broken heart. I kept waiting for this magic moment when the grief would suddenly disappear. As each month passed, as each year flew by, my grief did not end. It merely transformed.

As you walk or drive past the destruction of last week's tornadoes, it's hard to imagine how anything could mend our crushed city. We have faith, though, that our cities, businesses, houses, lives - that all of those things will be rebuilt, in time, and made new. But to believe that time will heal us is a lie.

The first time Jesus predicted his own death, he promised that he would be raised to life on the third day. The disciples, though they had heard Jesus' promise on more than one occasion, did not take his promise of miraculous resurrection seriously. They couldn't see how a man, beaten and slain, could ever live again. But, just as he promised, Jesus rose from that grave after just three days.

It wasn't time that healed Jesus. It wasn't the number of days or some magic time frame that set him free from death. And it surely wasn't the faith of his followers holding vigil over his lifeless body. It was the power of his Heavenly Father that gave him new life!

Time doesn't heal. God heals.

We have faith that, yes, God will repair and rebuild what has been damaged and lost. He will make all things new again. It will take time, but it will depend solely upon God's mighty power. Trust in HIS promises - not in time. Put your faith in action, rely upon God's sovereignty, and declare that God and God alone is the Creator and Rebuilder.

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed." - Isaiah 53:5

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Good News

The past two days have held some monumentally encouraging news. Please, allow me to share:

- Tuscaloosa's missing persons list dropped dramatically yesterday to 80!! Only 80 still missing!! At it's height, the missing persons list was in the 500s due to duplicates and lack of updating! Praise Jesus! I pray we find these 80 people!!

- Tuscaloosa's "death count" (isn't there a more tactful phrase?) is still at 40! It did not change yesterday. What a miracle. Forty is still a huge number, and my heart aches for those who have lost their lives or lost loved ones. But, I think we can all agree that we were expecting so much worse, and I am praying the "count" stays at 40.

- ALL - 100% - Every-Single-One - of the students at Holt Elementary, Davis-Emerson Middle, and Holt High have been found safe and accounted for!! On Monday, there were still 40 Holt Elementary students missing. What a miracle!

- My family applied for assistance to rebuild my grandmother's house!! I knew they were going to do this, but finding out the paperwork is in process made my heart happy. The damage to the house is contained to two specific areas (and the yard), and we are praying that the house will be repaired quickly!!

- Received some encouraging words from my most recent cooperating teacher. :)

- Gave each of my students a copy of "101 Great American Poems" as a "farewell" gift yesterday, and wasn't sure what their response would be. I did a unit on poetry with them, which started with the question, "Why do you hate poetry so much?". Kids generally don't like poetry, so my job was to teach these fifth graders a thing or two about REAL poetry. I would read from my copy of "101 Great American Poems" (which my 11th grade teacher read from!), and the kids would sit around and snap their fingers (instead of clapping). By the end of the unit, many of them claimed to really enjoy poetry - and wrote some incredible poems of their own!! When I told them what I got them, I saw several of their eyes light up. :)

- Before I left the school, each and every one of my students came to give me a hug. Normally, that's not such a big deal. But, I learned a lot with these kids - and, to be honest, they really didn't like me very much at the beginning because I tend to be a bit strict. But, I think they realized that I really do love them, and that I am tough on them because I expect great things from them. So, those hugs meant the world to me.

- Saw a leopard moth outside the bathroom at a gas station. I guess that just made going to a gas station bathroom more enjoyable.

- Got a free mani-pedi from our pastor's daughter. I have green toenails and a combination of ladybugs and bumblebees on my fingernails. :)

- A beautiful rainbow appeared over Tuscaloosa yesterday.

Blake and I drove down McFarland for the first time yesterday. Most of the work we have been doing since the storm has been in Ralph or in Northport, so we really haven't seen much of the damage. We walked down 15th street last Thursday, which was enough for me. I tend to be very sensitive to my emotions, and the sight of all the wreckage literally makes me sick. As we drove down McFarland, I honestly forgot about the damage we would see. I have seen pictures, but nothing really prepares you to see it in person.

Just last week, I took some friends' little girls to the 15th Street McDonald's for ice cream. Just last week, Blake and I ate Taco Casa on 15th - swearing it would be our last trip out to eat for a long time. Just recently, I shopped at the CVS at the intersection and saved a bundle with my coupons. My bridesmaid's dresses were ordered from Burch and Hatfield (and some of the dresses were in the shop). I banked at the University Regions. I have made many U-turns to go get my "Hot and Now" Krispy Kreme donut. And, oh, the hours I have spent in Hobby Lobby!!!! They may be "just" businesses - and I am confident they will all rebuild. But, to see my favorite little intersection lying in rubble hurt. It hurt real bad.

I can't help but sing praises to the Lord for saving so many people and for bringing so many volunteers to our town and to all the towns hit by the storm. These amazing people who have poured in from all over the country are a huge blessing. In time, the mass of volunteers will leave and we will be left to finish the work on our own. Tuscaloosa is pulling together in a way I have never seen before, and I pray that our energy will constant and that we will continue pulling together long after our beautiful city is restored.