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Remembering

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I’m sitting alone in the living room of our cabin surrounded by hand hewn logs, a stacked stone fireplace and our dog who has pushed her way between me and the back of the couch. It’s Thanksgiving and I’ve been considering the many things I’m thankful for. Where do I begin? Some things are the obvious: God, my wife, our children, our family, our friends. You know the normal list. But I’m thinking about a few people who aren’t always on ‘the list’.

I’m remembering my first piano teacher Marjorie Watson, who showed such love and patience and helped give me a wonderful musical foundation. Dr. Dorothy Shuford Griffith who I was privileged to have as my last teacher. She gave up so much of herself to invest in me and I’m forever thankful. In addition to my parents, she believed in me regardless. Paula Boyette for inviting Kim Crisafulli to our College & Career bible study/party. A year and 6 months later Kim Crisafulli took on Stone as her last name. I’m blessed and grateful!

Pastor Joe Wright, who I met during the summer of 1997. Thanks for finding me in the middle of 5,000 people and taking time to ask about my family. I never dreamed our conversation would change my life forever. Joanne, our tireless social worker (servant). We are so thankful for the opportunity to know you. There’s nothing like watching God’s hand move. Thanks for introducing me to a brave young teenager who had the courage to give her baby (our daughter) the chance to live and for choosing us to be parents; there are no words except thankful. Her braces came off two days ago and her smile makes my heart flutter.

To Mercy Ministries for your amazing passion to young girls and for the opportunity to be chosen by another brave and courageous young woman to be parents to a wonderful, healthy boy. It’s because of you that I drove 32 miles to pick him up from his grandma’s house last night because he was homesick. I didn’t mind.

Today will offer new opportunities for new memories. But for now I’m remembering. Have an incredible Thanksgiving and take a few moments to think about a few people who’ve been part of changing your life.

 

 

 

worship-without-limits

Worship Without Limits

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Worship shouldn’t have limits. However, when worship is placed in a box only to be taken out for the Saturday or Sunday weekend service, worship loses its flow. Psalm 150 says, “let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” We’re also told to pray without ceasing and Psalm 34:1 says our lips and life should offer praise continually.

Continually means recurring regularly or frequent.

Not interrupted. Steady.

If we set boundaries around worship only to be visited certain times of the week, we miss out on an opportunity to experience the relationship with God we were meant to have.

Last year, I traveled to more than 20 churches and I usually ask this question; “What gets in the way of your worship?” I hear these answers: time, schedule, worry, pride, self, kids, fear, work and so many other similar reasons. It seems most of us have filled our week with so much stuff that worship has often been set aside for a one hour weekend church service. Sound familiar? I’m sure we’d agree that the sermon is important along with the music and the offering and the videos and Sunday School and children’s church and everything else church has to offer for that matter. But more important is for you and me to live out worship every day.

And that is more important than any song we can sing. Or the latest must read book. Or the latest sermon series. Or the biggest and best conference in the land.

This is really more than a blog. It’s a call to take down the fences and walls that divide and separate us from God’s presence. Let’s throw away the box and let worship roam free. That’s the way it was meant to be.

Our Story

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Some years ago we found out we couldn’t have children. That was tough to hear. And living with that reality was even harder. We thought the first Laparoscopy would take care of everything. Then the second. And yet a third. Have you ever gotten your hopes up only to have them dashed like waves against a rock wall? It leaves you breathless. Unsure of how to cope or communicate. You make decisions you wouldn’t ordinarily and life feels like a fog that won’t lift. That was our world for two years.

“When are you guys going to have kids?” This was the question we heard more than too many times. Baby shower invitations were difficult to open and it wasn’t long before depression moved in like a cloud over our home. Been there? Writing about it brings up memories of great difficulty but living on this side of pain reminds me just how far God has brought us.

I traveled almost every weekend during those years which left my wife home alone. Alone, to deal with the pain. Even when I was home I wasn’t present when it came to discussing children. I can’t find any explanation why I didn’t communicate with her, but I didn’t and time dredged on. One particular weekend I was at an event when a gentleman approached me and introduced himself as Pastor Joe. He asked about my family and then the question came.

Do you all have children?

I told him we didn’t and then for some reason I told him we couldn’t have children. I didn’t mean to tell him it just sort of spilled out before I realized it. He said he was sorry and told me he and his wife had struggled with infertility year earlier but that God had blessed them with a beautiful baby girl through adoption. He told me with a smile, that they now were enjoying their grandchildren. Before he left he asked me to contact him to discuss coming to his church as music guest. Since he had never heard me sing or play, I figured it was a nice gesture and that I’d never see him again.

Six months later I contacted Pastor Joe and was invited to a 4-day conference at their church. I didn’t realize meeting him in the midst of thousands of people would be the beginning of a truly amazing story.

I arrived late on a Saturday afternoon, nervous but ready for the days ahead. Sunday morning went well and after lunch I invited some friends to the evening service. They came and brought a couple with a little baby. When I was introduced to their friends, I commented that their baby was cute. They thanked me and said they had just adopted him a couple months earlier. The next evening a gentleman purchased my CD and asked if I’d sign it. There’s a first time for everything. He gave me two names to address the CD to. I’m not sure why. but I asked him if the names he gave me were his children. With a huge smile he said, “yes, they are my adopted children.”

After a round of golf the next morning, my friends called and invited me to lunch. Their worship leader joined us and ten minutes into our conversation he asked if my wife and I had children. I told him no and he commented that he and his wife didn’t either. Finally, I had met someone who was like us. Then he said, “but we are adopting in a couple months.” What?? Unbelievable! I thought everyone in this town must be adopted. I remember most everything about that moment. The tree we parked under. The cracks in the pavement. The slightly overcast day. I don’t remember much about the food or any of the rest of our conversation. My mind was racing.

The next morning Pastor Joe picked me up for lunch. On the way, he told me about a woman who had requested prayer the night before for a young lady she was working with planning to give her child up for adoption. She was praying the child would be placed in a christian home. Pastor Joe said, “I know we haven’t talked about you and your wife’s infertility since last year but is this something you may have interest in?” I was glad I was sitting down. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t speak for a second. I remember him saying, “are you okay?”  Finally, I told him what had been happening ever since I had arrived. He said, “Regi, did you ever stop to think that maybe God is up to something?” That’s one lunch I don’t remember and I like Chinese food. I called Pastor Joe’s assistant as soon as I returned to my hotel room. Within a few moments I was on the phone with the social worker. After a 20 minute discussion she asked if I’d like to meet the birth parents. Whew. I’d never done this before. “Yes”, I blurted out. I was leaving early the next morning so she didn’t know if it would be possible. But she called back to say we could meet that evening after the service. I couldn’t tell you anything about that final worship service except that immediately after the final prayer we were walking out the door. My heart started beating faster. I felt like I needed to let down a window.

And then we were in the parking lot. Waiting.

As we sat in the parking lot, I could hear my heart pounding against my chest. My mind was racing. I wondered if I’d be cool enough. I was afraid my accomplishments wouldn’t measure up. I felt inadequate. Then a car pulled up 3 spaces over. A young couple appeared. Hesitant. Half smiles. With obvious apprehension. Table for 4 please. And there we were face to face sipping our cold soda’s when the birth mom quietly brought out a small pad of paper and pen and started asking questions. I answered until she seemed satisfied. The birth father hadn’t said 2 words. So, I asked him what he enjoyed doing. He shrugged and said he liked to bowl. Funny, God has a sense of humor. At that time I was in two bowling leagues. And, of course, that sparked an instant connection. Bowlers unite! Writing about this feels like it all happened yesterday.

After about an hour we said our goodbyes and I joined Pastor Joe and his family for dinner. He asked if he could pray for God’s will and we did. If you would have known me during this time of my life, you would understand just how unusual this story is. I didn’t talk much about having children. This left my wife reeling with frustration and the pain of not having me there, willing to communicate during our journey with infertility.

The next morning came early. Pastor Joe picked me up for the airport and just as I got in the car he said I needed to contact the social worker right away. I called and she informed me that if I wasn’t serious about adoption that I needed to tell her because the birth parents had called saying they wanted more information about our family. Whew! I figured now was probably a good time to call my wife back in Nashville to tell her what was up.

When Kim answered the phone I said, “you’re never going to believe what I did last night.”

I was home within a few hours after our talk and we started collecting pictures and we videoed Kim saying hi to the birth parents. We sent everything Fed-Ex and waited. I had no idea that Kim had slipped a letter in with the package to the birth mom.  Here’s part of that letter.

I can’t imagine what you are feeling as you are preparing to make one of the greatest decisions of your life. When Regi told me we were going to be among those considered to be your little girl’s parents, I cried and cried and cried. I never dreamed it could happen. But I realize how hopeful our future is and how God can work miracles in very mysterious ways. Please know above all that whether or not you choose Regi and me, it is my hope that you find peace in your choice of parents and that you gain the wisdom needed to make this decision. However, If we are your choice, you can be assured every night before you go to sleep that your baby will be loved unconditionally. My arms have longed to be filled with a baby for so long that I don’t know if I would ever let go of her. We are truly honored that you’ve even considered us. You have given me yet another moment’s strength and another day’s hope. May your years be filled with peace, love and happiness.”

The next few days seemed like forever.

The rest of our story is written by Kimberlee.

The phone call from Regi came out of nowhere. I was in the bathroom putting make-up on to go to my job selling make-up. Life was miserable. And I sure didn’t want to hear my cheery husband calling from an exotic location where he’d probably ordered room service the night before while I ate a bologna sandwich. (Okay, so Kansas isn’t exactly exotic, but at the time, anywhere was better than the hole I was in.)

To top things off, he called with a story about a baby. The last thing this woman dealing with infertility wanted to hear was about some rosy-cheeked baby he held between services so I tuned him out. I don’t know at what point I started listening, but I remember sitting down as my freshly applied mascara turned into big black tears. As if God were whispering in my ear, I suddenly knew this baby girl would be ours.

Two years earlier, my doctor confirmed my suspicions of infertility. So after many tests, my last option was outpatient surgery. All I remember as I lay in the recovery room is Regi telling me that it would be nearly impossible for me to have a baby. Instantly everything became clear. God had kept a record of my sins. Every scripture I’d ever highlighted in bright yellow had been a big lie. Too angry to cry all my tears, I determined that when the Big Guy and I got alone, we’d have it out once and for all.

You know that feeling you get when your electricity goes out on a night when the moon is hidden by clouds? That’s what the next two years were for me. Anger. Tears. Guilt. More tears. Ugly, ugly night. Eventually I would learn that the darkness has to come in order to give way to the light. It was during this time that I found my way to a 13-week Bible study and embarked on a journey of learning about God in a whole new way. A funny thing happened when I got honest with myself and God—my heart began to heal. Finally, two years later, I began letting go of things that I had no right to carry.

And the lights came back on.

I stood firm in my faith and acceptance of God’s love for me just the way I was. I found scripture I never knew existed. And I wrote through the pain. Before long, it was the beginning of a new year and I believed in my heart that I would become a mom this year, that my body would be healed this year. The days came and went, with nothing. Again I questioned…Are you there, God? It’s me, Kim.” I even tried to take back all the anger and guilt I had given Him, but He couldn’t remember where He put it! Helpless, I looked up and said, “What are you gonna do? Drop a baby out of Heaven into my arms?”

I guess you could say that’s what He had in mind.

Upon returning from Kansas, the man who had never even discussed adoption with me could hardly be contained. We wrote some letters, scrounged up the best pictures of family we could find, and took pictures of an empty room that we hoped would be filled, before sealing our dreams in a FedEx envelope. We waited for one very long week until the phone rang at 11:00 p.m. on April 15th. Thankfully, it wasn’t the IRS.

It was JoAnn, an angel from heaven in the form of a social worker. She told Regi, “Before you go to sleep tonight think pink. You’re going to be a father.” She said something to me next but all I remember is hearing the word “Mommy” and then crying. This time, the tears didn’t hurt.

We headed to Kansas on July 4th and by the next day we were at the hospital awaiting our precious daughter to be born. It seems crazy that we shared so much laughter and excitement with the birth parents and their siblings, parents, friends, and my sister who flew in from Florida. But it was like a puzzle taking shape before our eyes. No fear. No doubts. No anxiety. Just peace as the pieces began to take shape.

When my baby girl was placed into my arms for the first time, it was like the hand of God was handing her to me. She looked at me and all I heard God say was, “See how much I love you? You had to wait because your gift wasn’t ready. I’ve never left you. I’ve never turned a deaf ear to you. And I haven’t punished you like you thought you deserved. Don’t ever forget how much I love you.”

I assure you that the road to Kansas and finding my way to being a mom was a difficult one. I felt so forgotten, so unloved, and so disgusted with myself that I didn’t think there was any hope for my dreams to come true. I know now that the path God carves for us in the mud sometimes takes a completely different route than we imagined. You can’t be afraid to trust where He leads just because you might get a little dirty. Do you need to hear from Him? Then search for Him with your whole heart. I remember praying that someone would come my way who could help me through my depression, who I could talk to when the pain got unbearable, who would simply understand me. Know what I heard God say? “I’m not sending anyone to help. This is about you and Me.” And it was in His true faithfulness that God met me, at my lowest pit and changed my life for good. Oh, I’m grateful for the children that call me Mom. I’m grateful for my husband who obediently went to Kansas because he thought he was there to sing a few songs. I’m eternally grateful for the brave girls who chose life and gave us the privilege of becoming parents.

But more than that, I am forever grateful to a merciful Father who loves me. Who works all things together for my good. Who never leaves me or forsakes me, and who doesn’t deal with me according to my sin or repay me according to my iniquities.

He has written a story we’ll never get tired of telling.