Staci Guy is the Editorial Director of Focus on Artesia.
She can be reached at staci@ad-venturemarketing.com.
Tuesday
Nov242015

The List 

This morning as I was hastily cleaning out my son’s backpack before school I came across his papers from last week. One paper in particular caught my attention. It was a list of things for which his is thankful. 

While I love the fact that Jackson mentioned his family and friends amongst things for which he is thankful, the third item on his list, the last sentence in particular, managed to bring me to tears: “I’m grateful that we are able to worship God without being harmed.”

Yes, I’m a female and I cry rather easily, but allow me to explain the reason for my tears. In our home, we talk about things that many parents might be tempted to shy away from, or at the very least, keep their children as sheltered from as possible.  One such topic is the persecution Christians across the world face every single day of their lives. Issues arise and rather than pretending like it’s so far away that it doesn’t matter to us, we try to bring it closer to home for him (our four-year-old is still too young to differentiate and understand). He watches the news and when he asks tough questions, we give him honest answers. When we know of people and situations that will help paint a more real picture of understanding for him, those become resources for us as well.

Our son has traveled to Ukraine for a mission trip and is now able to put faces and names with the stories he hears about and sees on the news. It’s real to him. Those are actual human beings that are being torn from their families, whose lives are being lost, and whose country is being overtaken before their very eyes. He sees that now. He feels it. They’re not just some random people a world away.  They are John and Max, Ana and Angelic. They are his brothers and sisters in Christ.

More recently, our family sat down for a discussion about the horrifying conditions Christians in Burundi, Africa face every single day of their lives. Jackson has a friend right here in Artesia named Hans whose mother, Clara, is from Burundi. Over the years we have had the privilege of getting to know Clara through the boys’ friendship and the time they have spent playing sports together. She is a smart, articulate, passionate woman with a beautiful spirit, and she recently shared some personal insight into Burundi with a group of women at a Bible study. It was a gut-wrenching testimony that brought us all to tears, and at the same time generated an overwhelming sense of gratitude for our freedoms here in the United States. I felt compelled to share her thoughts with Jackson and my husband for two reasons: First, it helped me put a face to the conflict a world away, which in turn increased my compassion and created a sense of urgency in my prayers. I knew it would do the same for them. And secondly, it was another opportunity to help paint a very real picture of the world in which we live, which is a stark contrast from Jackson’s “world;” a world in which he has a comfortable life, in a blessed nation, surrounded by family and parents that would lay down their life for him. His is a world in which he can worship whom and how and when he so desires without fear of losing his life; a world in which he can freely carry a Bible down the street without fear of being gunned down. Life is much different in Burundi. He gets that now. We all do.  

 Jackson, third from right, and Hans, second from right, pose for a photo with their friends and teammates!

 

My son’s Thanksgiving list told me he gets it. He understands what we have talked about and what he has experienced. It told me he understands that not everyone is as fortunate as we are and he knows exactly who those people are; or at least some of them. That list told me he might be only 10 years old, but he actually appreciates his freedoms. I can honestly say I was much, much older before I fully came to appreciate the freedoms we are afforded here. But he gets it.

My husband and I were not at school with him when he wrote his list. He did that on his own. He could have put down his house or his video games, he could have put down all of his “stuff,” typical of a 10-year-old boy, but he didn’t. He is thankful that he lives in a country that allows him to live and worship as he so chooses. And for that, I am thankful! I realize I have a lot for which to be thankful this holiday season, but his list is right up there at the top of mine!

Our children might not act like they are listening and we might not feel like they understand things going on in the world around them, but they are and they do. His list is my proof.

Friends, I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Maybe you have big plans with friends and family, or maybe you plan to be alone and reflect on life. Whatever you chose to do, I hope you will choose to make gratitude a part of your plans. There’s always something to be thankful for! 

Thursday
Nov192015

"No"

Today was a big day for me. I said “No.”

Saying “no” is not something I’m good at. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is probably one of my biggest downfalls. My children might not agree, especially when it comes to answering questions like, “Will you buy me that? Or “Can I please just have cake and ice cream for dinner?” – but that’s another topic altogether.

The kind of “no” I’m talking about is different; it’s more about me and less about the person asking the question. The kind of “no” I can’t seem to utter comes immediately after someone asks a favor of me, or needs my assistance, advice, input, or direction. I simply cannot say no.

Or so I thought.

Today though, I did. Today I said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t. Not at this time.”(and yes, I realize that by including “at this time” in my answer it leaves the door open for later on down the road, but that’s what I wanted. I wanted her to know that today’s “no” might be next year’s “yes”.) I came to my decision over the course of week and after prayerful consideration, which is exactly what the person asking the favor of me wanted me to do. “Please don’t’ answer now, just pray about it,” she told me over the phone last week. I cannot tell you how much peace that brought me or the amount of calm it brought into the decision making process. I thought to myself, I wish everyone that needed something approached it in such a thoughtful manner. Anyway…back to the “no” part.  

When I saw her this morning I knew she would want an answer, and I trembled. I honestly didn’t know if the words of my heart and the words that came out of my mouth were going to match up! Do you ever do that? Think and feel one way and then say something completely different? In other words, I hoped that when I saw her in person, I would be able to stick to the answer I knew in my heart I had to give.

“Have you had a chance to pray about it?” she asked me. The beauty of her question was that it took the burden off of me and placed it on God. Because I had prayed about it and the answer I came to was “No,” then who can argue with that? Thank you God for wanting to carry our burdens for us! Am I right?

“I have prayed about it and I’m going to have to say ‘no’ for now. I can’t at this time,” I sheepishly replied. It’s not that I didn’t want to help out, because I truly did. But I knew that by saying “Yes” to one more thing right now it was going to mean sacrifices would have to be made. After analyzing my schedule and seeing the things on my plate that already have my full commitment, adding one more thing would have left me spread far too thin to do anyone any good. You see, sometimes we have to say “no,” even to good things. We just do.

Much to my delight, the woman was more than understanding. In her eyes I could see a sincere understanding and an appreciation for my honesty. Between her words and her actions, I knew she did not resent me for my decision. On the contrary, I could tell she was proud of me for seeking counsel from the Great Counselor himself! It was a beautiful moment, even though she had no idea what was happening for me on the inside. Truth be told, if she could have seen inside my soul, she would have seen shackles breaking and angels rejoicing. I felt so free.

But even though it was freeing, it’s not to say I will adopt a “Just Say No” policy to all future requisitions. It did, however, prompt and encourage me to ask for time and to pray through my decisions before hastily replying “yes” to everything thrown my way.

I don’t believe in coincidence, so later in the morning when a different woman in my Bible study class mentioned an acronym for the word “busy,” I knew God was speaking directly to me. I knew he was reaffirming my decision to say “no, not at this time.”

Buried

Under

Satan’s

Yoke

All we were doing was answering a study question. This question in particular pertained to being “complacent” in our daily lives, and being typical women, our discussions jumped around a bit before landing on “being busy.” That’s when God, through the woman’s comments, spoke to me: “You know, I always think about the acronym Being Under Satan’s Yoke when I find myself taking on too much.”

She was right. Satan wants us to be busy, even if it’s busing doing good things. He delights when our minds are so stimulated we can no longer hear the still, small voice. He relishes in our hectic daily lives that revolve around rushing from one practice to another, from one event to another, from one meeting to another. We have a very real enemy that doesn’t mind us “committing,” even to church activities or charitable causes because if we do enough of it, it keeps us from seeking power and sustenance from Christ. We begin to work in our own strength, sacrificing our health and family for the good of the cause.

Being busy is just a part of life any more. And while I don’t think it’s necessarily a sin in and of itself, if we allow it to consume us, it can be. Being busy can divert our attention away from the most important things and direct it to just about anything and everything else.

Friends, today I hope you will slow down and listen. Listen for the still, small voice that, if you will allow it to, will direct you in your decisions and will help bring more peace into your life. If you’re not the praying or believing type, that’s okay. I would urge you, rather than hastily saying “yes” to everything that comes your way, instead really think about and analyze what and to whom you are replying before giving your answer.

Trust me, saying “no” when you need to will free you too! Be blessed, friends! 

Tuesday
Sep152015

What I Know

A couple of weeks ago I shared with you my thoughts and feelings regarding the recent passing of several people in my life. If you haven’t had a chance to read My Shouting Match With God, you can find it here.

I’ve had some time to think and reflect over the past couple of weeks, so I’d like to share a little bit of my takeaway in hopes that perhaps you can find something worthwhile to glean from it as well. If not, well…at least I’ll feel better having spewed my thoughts and feelings in writing once again!

During one of the funerals I attended, the pastor said something pivotal that began the process of shifting my mindset. Here is the first part of what he said: in times such as these, times when a loss is so difficult to wrap your brain around and it doesn’t seem to make any sense at all, it’s easy to focus on the unknowns – “Why did this happen?” “Why him?” “Why now?” 

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t think our human minds are capable of comprehending those types of answers, which is quite possibly why, even though he could, God does not often give us that insight. As our pastor said last Sunday during his sermon, our faith must be placed in God, not in an answer. And besides, God doesn’t owe us an explanation. He doesn’t owe us anything. Just like when you were a kid and your parents told you something, the “Because I said so” answer has to be sufficient. And just like it was with your parents, you might not understand his reasoning, but you know it comes from a place of love.

Going back to my takeaway from the funeral – the pastor said that rather than focusing on the unknowns, we are better served by focusing on what we do know.

Here’s an analogy of what happened next inside my head had it been projected on a screen for all to see: Oprah was in the chair next to me, she leaned in and in that know-it-all voice of hers, said: “That’s what we call an ‘Ah-ha’ moment.” I smile and pause and then the music from those old public service announcements from my childhood would play, (duuuh ding) “The More You Knowww” as the rainbow graphic and yellow star slide into the frame.

It was a game-changer for me. Of course! Focus on what I do know! Remember back before Al Gore invented the Internet and if we wanted to know something it took an act of Congress to figure it out? It would take trips to the library, phone calls to distant relatives, skimming through real-live books and still, you might only manage to get a half-answer to a burning question. Remember how it would drive you absolutely nuts to not know what you were seeking to know? That’s the way it can be when trying to figure out the "unknowns" of a bad situation. You can focus so much of your energy on trying to figure out “why” and playing the “what if” game that you miss out on the important things; you miss out on the knowns.

My “Ah-ha” moment that day provided a sense of clarity in an otherwise blurry couple of weeks. I was like a newborn animal that was starting to open its eyes and see a little more clearly with each passing day. I realized my energy would be better utilized by focusing on what I know for certain, rather than on being angry with what I may never fully understand. So here’s what I have tried to focus on these past couple of weeks:

I know I will see Richard and Paul and Marcos again one day and it will be more joyful than I can possibly imagine. I know I will see countless other souls that went before me as well, including the infant son my husband and I lost nearly six years ago, and I will get to spend the rest of eternity in his presence. Knowing those things brings me indescribable joy and peace.  

I know Richard and Paul and Marcos left lasting legacies on this earth and it is our responsibility to share their stories; to make sure generations to come get to benefit from their lessons like we did. Knowing that their stories and life-lessons will continue to help others also brings me great joy.

I know the ones left behind to deal with such sudden and tragic losses need their friends, family, and community’s support not only now, but throughout the years as they navigate the road of life. There will be days when the burden seems too heavy; days when the loss is simply overwhelming; days when they seem okay on the outside but inside they are a wreck. There will be days they just need an ear or a shoulder or a hug, and days when they need a meal or a cup of coffee. There will be days they want to laugh and share memories and other days when it’s just too painful to talk about, when all they want is space and privacy. And they will always need prayers. I know the loved ones left behind will have needs and I know God will meet them in his own way and as he sees fit.

I know we live in a community like no other. It might sound like an oxymoron, but I believe we are an extended community that reaches across the country and spans the globe. When a fellow Artesian is hurting or in need, prayers go up from all over the world; phone calls, texts, and emails pour in; food is provided, money is donated, and visits are made. It’s one of the best parts of living in Artesia, whether currently or at some point in the past. Knowing I am part of this community helps me cope and yes, brings me joy.

And lastly, I know God never leaves us the same as we were when we went into such life-changing situations. He refines us, he reveals in us resilience we never knew we had, and we come out stronger than we ever could have imagined – maybe not overnight, but eventually. That much I know from experience.

It is my sincerest hope that if you are struggling with a loss or grappling with the unknown, you will redirect your energy and thoughts toward what you do know. I assure you, it will change your thoughts and in turn, change your life.

Tuesday
Aug252015

My Shouting Match With God

If there’s one characteristic that defines me, perhaps better than most others, it is my empathy. I’m compassionate, but more than that, I sincerely empathize with others; even people with whom I am not closely associated. Almost as if by telepathy, I feel what those around me are feeling. Or at least the gist of it. That’s the best way I can think of to describe it. I guess that’s why I don’t like to watch fight scenes in movies or see someone get hurt – I get a strange reaction in my stomach and it’s not pleasant.

Sometimes those feelings can be overwhelming. Yesterday was one of those times.

In less than three weeks I have mourned the death of three men from our community who have impacted my life in great ways – Richard Martinez, Paul Lasater and Marcos Morillon. Today I’d like to talk about each man a little bit as a way of helping me work through my grief. Writing is one of the ways I cope and at times like this, when it feels like my heart can’t take much more pain, I get a sense of relief simply by sharing my thoughts. I figure maybe, just maybe, some of my thoughts can help others out as well.

This past Sunday started out much like any other Sunday. We went to church, ate lunch and then went home to relax a little before doing some work around the house. Later that afternoon my husband called me into another room and I could tell by the sound of his voice and then the look on his face that what he was about to tell me was not good. “Marcos passed away,” he said. Now, subconsciously I knew he had to have been talking about our son’s travel basketball coach because he’s really the only Marcos we know well enough to just reference him by first name. But my brain didn’t comprehend what he was telling me. Not that Marcos. He’s young, healthy, so full of life. It had to be another Marcos.

“Which Marcos?” I asked, wanting him to make up a name; any name that wasn’t Morillon. But it was. I, like my husband, was in shock. There had to be some mistake.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a mistake. The man that spent countless hours of his time coaching my son and more than a dozen other 10 and 11 year old boys in the game of basketball for the past several months was, in a matter of moments, gone. The 38-year-old picture of health, pillar of strength, shining example of humanity was gone just like that.

While watching game film, Marcos Morillon, a.k.a. Coach Mo, talked to the boys about the importance of learning from their mistakes. 

His was the third such notice I had received in less than three weeks and it was enough to push me to my breaking point. As the day drug on and gave way to night, I still struggled to process it. By Monday, my sorrow at his passing and the passing of Richard and Paul culminated with an all-out shouting match with God. I guess it’s not much of a “match” if there’s only one person doing the shouting, but you get my point.

Here’s what happened: besides writing, I also tend to decompress and process information by running. Something about lacing up my running shoes and heading out for a run soothes my spirit.

Not yesterday.

As I walked a warm-up lap, my brain went into overdrive. Emotions and memories flooded my mind. I recalled my elementary school days when Paul’s daughter, Sarah, and I were the best of friends. I would spend just about every spare moment at her house and her dad was always there. He was a hands-on dad. He’d make us play him in a game of H.O.R.S.E. for Sonic spending money or tell us we had to do 10 pushups if we wanted to go to the movies. He helped us with math and cheered us on when we played sports. He tolerated us at the pharmacy he owned and even let us hang around in the back. Even after we grew up, married and started families of our own, Paul always made it a point to check in on me and see how I was doing. He was one of the best men I have ever known and he was a monumental part of my childhood.

And then I thought about Richard. I met him when I worked the crime beat for our local newspaper and he was a commander for the police department. He always treated me with respect but had a way of joking with me that kept things light and enjoyable. If ever there was an honorable law enforcement officer, it was Richard. He was strict with the law but not a jerk about it. I admired that about him. I changed jobs and didn’t get to see as much of him as I once did and he eventually retired and went on to serve as municipal judge. The last time I saw Richard was at the courthouse when I was summoned there to answer for my dogs that had been “running at large.” Even though it was in a courtroom and I was facing multiple fines, it was actually good to see him. Ever the professional, he made sure that I had taken the proper precautions and had repaired the gate my dogs escaped from and then proceeded to dismiss the tickets. When we were done, he smiled at me in his trademark grin and said, “Have a good day, Ms. Guy.” I knew he meant it. I knew he wanted me to have a good day because that’s just the kind of guy he was. As a disclaimer, I still had to pay the court fees! Like I said, he was “by the books.”  

And then there was Marcos. I could go on for days about his contributions to our youth and the community and to the school system. He was more than a coach and teacher – he was a mentor, friend, source of encouragement. Marcos was the type of leader that made his students believe in themselves simply by believing in them. And not only students. I even read a Facebook post from his barber that talked about the encouragement Marcos gave him by praising his haircutting abilities. He had a way of getting the absolute best out of others and not settling for anything less – 100 percent all the time. Marcos left the teaching profession to start his own business, but being a coach at heart, he couldn’t walk away from it entirely. He coached every sport his son played, including baseball, basketball and football, and he had recently started coaching cross country again for the high school.

As I thought about the impact he had on my son’s life, it lead me to thoughts of his own son, Mateo, who had battled and beaten brain cancer. Mateo’s love and admiration for his father was quite obvious and I always enjoyed watching the two of them interact on the basketball court or the baseball field.  

As those final thoughts crossed my mind, that’s about the time my grief and sadness turned into something far worse. That’s when anger set in. As I continued running, I began to sob, almost to the point of hyperventilation. My emotions became so intense I physically fell to my knees. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. I physically fell to my knees and just stayed there, in the dirt, sobbing uncontrollably. Without even thinking about it I shouted out to the heavens; an angry, red-faced shout that you do when you’re just flat out pissed: “You be there for them…BE there for them. It’s the least you can do!”

Yep, I said it. I yelled at God to “be there for the Morillon family.” I didn’t ask or plea, I demanded it. I demanded that He be there for the Martinez family and the Lasater family. But I didn’t stop there: “You took their dad, their husband, their grandfather. You BE there for them. You show up and you make it known you are there for them. You BE there for our community. You have taken so many amazing people from us this year. BE HERE FOR US!”

Friends, I was angrier with God than I have ever been in my life. And I’ve gone through some bad things. I have dealt with grief and sadness; I have experienced loss and heartache. But I can honestly say I have never really been angry with God before. My faith tells me that there is always a bigger picture. My faith tells me that God has a plan for everything that happens and I have always just believed it. That’s not to say I always understand why things happen or how, but I have always believed that if they happen, it’s for a reason and that one day, whether in this life or the next, it will all make sense.

Yesterday was not one of those days.

Yesterday I questioned everything I have ever believed. Yesterday I shouted at God and shook my fist at the sky. Yesterday I experienced what most non-believers must feel like on a regular basis. I didn’t like it. It felt dark and lonely. It hurt. It was an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness that sucked me in like a vortex.

I wallowed in those feelings for the remainder of the day and into the evening. It was exhausting. I went to bed early and prayed myself to sleep. When I woke up this morning, I felt better, but not good. The truth is, I’m still angry with God. I’d love to tell you that just like that my feelings have changed and I am okay with my grief. I’m not.

But I believe God is okay with me being angry with him. He can handle it. He knows our human minds struggle to fully comprehend the bigger picture. We might not understand it now or any time soon, but one day His plans will be revealed and it will all make perfect sense. For now though I’ll have to continue to remember the lessons each man taught me. I’ll work on being honest and upstanding like Richard was, funny, upbeat and giving like Paul was and I’ll strive to bring out the best in others and give 100 percent to everything I do like Marcos did. Those are the lessons each man taught me and those are the reasons for which I’m grateful our paths crossed.

For now I’ll continue to cry out to God, seek His peace with my prayers, and look to the scriptures for comfort as I wait for my anger to subside. For now though I'm just angry. 

Monday
Aug172015

It Starts With Us

Today is the first day back to school in Artesia and can I just say – I love seeing all the “First Day of School” pictures my friends post on Facebook! I do! I love seeing how much their children are growing, how emotional they, as parents, are as they drop their children off, and how excited/nervous/anxious the students claim to be.

This is my beautiful niece, Kirsten. She's all set for her Freshman year! 

 

I’d also like to give a big shout out to Facebook for implementing the Time Hop feature that allows us to see pictures the same parents posted of the same children at this time four or five years ago! Love it! It’s neat to see missing teeth filled in with big ol’ bucky beavers, pudgy, baby faces slimmed down as they age, and nervous grins replaced by annoyed half-smiles. Adorable, I tell ya! And don’t even get me started on the students heading off to college! I’ve shed a few tears for them as well!

As much as I love summer break and all the perks that come along with it, I welcome Back to School time with open arms! I mean, I love sleeping in and relaxing by the pool all day, don’t get me wrong, but by the end of summer, if my children so much as lay eyes on one another the fight is on and I’m once again playing referee. It’s maddening. And being a “work at home” mom, getting any work done at all while your children are home all day long is next to impossible. If I so much as glance at my laptop, my four-year-old “is dooone!” and needs a wipe or my 10-year-old can’t wait a second longer to have a conversation about having a friend come over. Back to School time means we all get back into our routines and life resumes to some kind of normalcy (whatever that means!).

With that being said, I thought I’d share with you the crux, or heart, of my prayer last night as we put our children to bed. I’ll start by saying; of course I want my child and every other student in our entire school system to have a safe and successful school year. I do. I want him to thrive, both academically and emotionally. I want him to be happy and get good grades. I want other kids to treat him nicely and I want his teacher to understand who he is. I want those things but here’s what I want more and here’s what I prayed, out loud, over my son last night – I prayed for him to have strength and boldness  to do what’s right and conviction if and when he doesn’t. I prayed for wisdom – for him, for his teacher and principal and for my husband and me as we navigate his education this year. I prayed that God would ease and calm the nerves of his teacher, who is fairly new to the community and new to the school. I prayed that our son will have the courage to let the light of Christ shine brightly in everything he says and everything he does. These are the things that matter most.

You see, I know Jackson will not have a flawless year. My daughter, Mollie, starts her second year of preschool next week and I’ll pray the same thing over her. And I know she will not have a flawless year either. They are children, they deal with human emotions and they are far from perfect. But just because they are imperfect doesn’t mean we, as parents, can sit idly by and not provide direction and encouragement. We are the first step in making sure our children get the absolute most out of their education. But we are also the first step in making sure our children know the difference between right and wrong, know the importance of treating others kindly, know their value, and know how to value others. We are the first step in teaching our children to respect, listen to and obey their teachers. And we must be the ones to teach them to treat the school’s property even better than they treat their own, pick up what they drop and clean up after themselves. We can’t place the entire burden on teachers, principals, pastors or Sunday school teachers. It starts at home. It starts with us.

How cute is this! This is Braden and I have no doubt he will accomplish whatever he sets out to accomplish!

 

Friends, there is so much craziness that goes on in our world. Our children see and hear and feel all of it. They might not verbalize all of those feelings, but they’re there. They know our anger. They sense our resentment. They feed off our anxiety and can become immobilized by our fears.  In the same light, these precious children see how we treat others. They feel our love and share in our joy. They learn from our actions and those little sponges soak up everything we say and do. I don’t know about you, but to me, that is both scary and encouraging!

I hope that as we begin another school year, you too will pray big prayers over your children. Pray great big, bold prayers over our future leaders. Pray over their teachers and administrators.  Pray over their classmates and peers. Pray that you will have the insight to raise children worthy of praise and able to contribute to the betterment of society. Pray that you will be a living example of grace and integrity for your children to learn by. Pray, because we can’t be there with them at all times, but God can and He is!

And this is Braden's sister, Brooklynn! She'll make a great cop one day!