My most recent speaking engagement afforded me the opportunity to share with the Hershey Rotary our Leadership and Character Development initiative known as The Compass Project.
In Romans 5:3-5, we read: Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Perseverance is a word that I have heard a lot lately due to the work I do with young people at Milton Hershey School. As a result of our school's mission, to develop Social and Emotional Learning skiils in our young people, we recently hosted a gentleman named Brad Cohen. Brad learned that he had Tourette Syndrome when he was 6 years old. His disability made school an excruciating experience for him and he began to loathe his entire education experience.
Until one day, his middle school principal gave him the opportunity to speak to his classmates about his disability and why he made the noises and ticks that he did. When he was finally able to educate his school about his Tourette's, he became empowered to make a difference through teaching. His classmates began to respect him and his struggle with his ticks and noises became less frequent.
He went to college to study education, teaching everyone along the way about his Tourette's Syndrome. After graduating Cum Laude, he went for his first interview with a school. 24 interviews and rejections later, one school decided to take a chance with Brad. They hired him even though he made distracting noises because he had an amazing strengths-based approach to teaching.
After his first year of teaching, Brad received the Sallie Mae First Class Teacher award for the state of Georgia. His story is also a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, titled "Front of the Class". Below is a summary of Brad's visit with our school where he spoke to over 2,500 students and staff about how he "persevered through adversity."
Today is the day my firstborn son died. He lived for 5 hours because one of his premature lungs collapsed. He was only 24 weeks old in my pregnancy. We named him Kobe because we love professional basketball. His death was the beginning of my dark and hopeless journey with the Lord. Little did I know that He had so much in store for me! 17 years later Kobe has a 14-year old little sister named Korri, and a 10-year old baby brother AJ who both love him so much! My journey of restoration, healing, hope and lifelong faith can be discovered through my book, Faith's Pursuit: Understanding God's Faithfulness In Suffering. Find out how I discovered God's hope and healing through this devastating loss by reading my book! It's on Amazon!
Reflecting on 2015 can't help but bring to mind the 2nd scariest event of my adult life (the death of our first born is my 1st). Our house fire in May is all I seem to remember of 2015. I remember the fear, combined with the bravery of the firefighters and my husband. Yet this fear and bravery was also intermingled with the sweet sound of my children singing, "Jesus Loves Me This I Know", while wrapped in blankets (given to them by our neighbors) and sitting on the cool concrete across the street. They sang with tears streaming down their soft cheeks, all the while cradling their dog, Hannah. Korri had grabbed her phone on the way out of the house and while sitting on the sidewalk, launched the YouVersion Bible app that was on her phone. She sat hugging her little brother as the three fire engines idled loudly in front of them. Our entire block was aglow during the midnight hours of May 1 with swirling lights, and our house was aglow with fire. Our house burning, with our car still in the garage, was one of the most helpless feelings I have felt in a very long time.
The only other time I felt that helpless was when our firstborn son, Kobe, lay clinging to his life after being born at 24 weeks gestation because of my high-risk pregnancy. Though he had working lungs, one of them collapsed and remained deflated, stuck like a wet balloon because it lacked the surfactant to keep them inflated, so he was living with only 1 lung. He died 5 short hours after his birth. Something inside me died as well. On January 12th of this year, Kobe will be turning 17 in Heaven. I can't help but think of all the things I missed because I never had the joy of raising him.
I do know, even when life gets difficult, God's sweet presence promises to carry us through, just as it did 17 years ago when God's love carried my broken heart through months and years of grief. He showed up again this year in the sweet songs of my children during a blazing house fire. If I had remained bitter to him so many years ago, my children would have never learned to trust in him during our house fire.
Jesus tells us in John 16:33 -
We will never know when the tragic events of our life will take place. But we can know the One who promises to carry us through them. What will your 2016 hold? In difficult times, what will you do? Who will you put your trust in?
Anyone else feel as if Christmas was strange this year?! Our country's climate held record-breaking temperatures most of the week. Tornadoes were frequent in Alabama and the Northeast had a 75-degree Christmas Eve.
My household had its own bouts of month-long bronchitis infections and other colds that seemed to linger with the warm temperatures. I even wondered if I was suffering from allergies. Last week as I gazed out of my office window, I spotted two trees sprouting blossoms as if it were early April! Even the infamous cherry blossoms that usually dot East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., in early March bloomed this month (see photo of live webcam taken as I am drafting this blog!)! You can track the blossoms on a live webcam at this website!
Needless to say, we stayed home this Christmas, which is also strange because we typically travel to Chicago this time of year (I believe that the house fire that we had in May has changed our perspective of what it means to truly have a home). So we stayed put.
Although our Christmas was "reverent" (complete with the Christmas story of Jesus' birth, Angels and messages of God's love for us), we still gave extravagant gifts and received them in return.
But the Lord Jesus gave me an extra special gift in the most unlikely form. We received a visitor on Christmas Day. She is a dearly loved soul who has seen her share of ups and downs. Her life has never been easy. She seems to transcend earthly existence. Sometimes when she speaks to me, I am convicted of my selfishness and greed. Other times I suffocate under the weight of her extreme brokenness and need. I have learned a long time ago that I am unable to truly help her so the weight becomes unbearable. This "visitor" is my twin sister who has been mentally ill and emotionally scarred our entire life.
We spent this Christmas evening playing board games, laughing and holding a guinea pig that we are baby-sitting for some friends over the holiday. We also enjoyed watching some of my 14 year-old daughter's favorite videos on YouTube. We even enjoyed late night burgers and fries from Sheetz (McDonald's was closed for Christmas)!
Right before my sister left, she handed her niece and nephew each a $5 bill for Christmas. She apologized to me later for her seemingly "small" gift because she wished she could have given them so much more but she wants to make it through the winter with the money she has saved up from temporary jobs. She is very familiar with homelessness, rape and violence. She used to live on the street for 6 years drowning in her own mental "demons" that were bent on destroying her.
After her apology, I was immediately awash with guilt over the money I spent for Christmas, the things I enjoy everyday that she doesn't have, and the steady paycheck I receive that she hasn't had in nine years.
When she left, I stayed up for a long while and wept. It was a selfish weeping for my own soul who receives more than I give and who loves conditionally more times than I care to admit. I also wept for the gift that I received--GRACE this Christmas in the form of my sister.
James 4:4-7 reads--
For those of you who haven't had the chance to hear me speak about my journey, I will be appearing on the Harvest Show* (LeSea Broadcasting) on Monday, July 6 @ 9:00AM EST.
You can access the live broadcast here:
I'll be sharing with viewers my journey growing up in poverty, with mentally ill parents, discovering a new life at Milton Hershey School and eventually allowing God in to heal my hurts and to set me free. I'm excited to have the opportunity to share Him with thousands of viewers all over the globe!
See you on the set!
*The Harvest Show is the number two highest rated international show in the Christian Genre.
As I write this, I am learning from one of the leading best-selling authors on parenting and raising teens! Dr. Tim Elmore!
What's even more exciting is a private dinner that's happening right now especially for authors! So many cool tips, ideas and strategies from marketing to self-publishing and even a conversation from an agent!
I feel very blessed right now.
I've only been in one fight in my entire life...and it didn't end well for me..I got beat up. I'm not ashamed to admit it. My twin sister fought my battles for me. If she saw someone picking on me, she challenged them to a battle...and she usually won. So I let her fight my battles for me. Whenever she felt that I was vulnerable, she confronted my enemies on the playground, on the school bus and even in the classroom.
Well, If you've ever experienced a house fire, then you can attest to the feeling that slowly creeps up on you when the fire is put out, the smell of ash remains, and the cleaning crew is gone--
It's the feeling of being vulnerable...and alone.
Re-building a life after a tragedy, no matter how small, is draining. Little decisions are slow to make. Even the simplest of choices feel overwhelming. Emotions run high...and it's usually not the pleasant ones, either.
Then, there's the task of re-building--which means assessing damage, adding up the figures and then deciding on the work that needs to be done. These past few weeks, I have often felt helpless, not knowing what to do or what to believe. Then there are the doubts in my mind that tempt me to think that we are still not safe in our own home. I woke up every night this week and, through bleary eyes, instinctively looked toward our bedroom window where I first saw smoke streaming into our house.
But in the midst of my emotional rollercoaster, the Lord led me to the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was a very important official in the citadel of Susa. He was cupbearer to the king. You know the one who tested the king's wine for poison? If the wine was poisonous, guess who ended up dead...you got it, and it wasn't the king! Talk about a vulnerable position.
At the very beginning of the book, a report comes to Nehemiah that the walls around Jerusalem had been broken down, and its gates had been burned with fire. (Chapter 1:1-3) Nehemiah's first response was to weep, then to pray for his people. (verses 4-10). But he bravely went before king Artexeres and requested a long-term leave of absence to attend to his people's needs. Permission is granted, so he leaves (Chapter 2).
All goes according to plan initially, until some enemies of his people start threatening their rebuilding. They are naysayers who begin to add to the feeling of vulnerability. They are the thoughts in our minds after we realize that even though God spared us "Now What?!" How do we know something like this won't happen again? What if it does? What if it's worse the next time?
Opposition to the Rebuilding
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. 9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”
13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.
16 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah 17 who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, 18 and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.
19 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall. 20 Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”
God has shown me, through His word, that when we feel attacked (physically or otherwise), we fight and it's through prayer. I love to pray. Maybe that's why those of us who love to pray are called prayer warriors, because it is an act of fighting. Scripture also states that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (KJV) or things we cannot see.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; 3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,…
While the feeling of vulnerability is unavoidable, as long as we are on this side of Heaven, it gives me comfort to know that the primary way that God wants us to fight against fear is through prayer. Even though I may not be able to rebuild our home, I can do the more important thing: carry my weapon of prayer to fight my fears, lean on God's Word for confidence and, come what may, stand in the spiritual gap for my family and my home.
Just after midnight on Friday, May 1st my dear family and I experienced a house fire! I am unable to describe in words, what went on, but in images, the story is startling. While most of the house remained unscathed, the garage took the brunt of the damage and the entire house was filled with smoke as the firefighters went to work.
The Hershey Fire Department is volunteer. Engine 48 is its house, and quite a few of the men and women who came to our rescue are people that I know...some are fellow housefathers whom Andy & I worked alongside for many years. Others are folks who coach in town on sports league of which my children belong.
They are all heroes.
What makes a hero?? I define a hero as someone who defies the odds and performs something supernatural for the sake of saving someone else's life.
While my children and husband backed away from our beloved burning house, men and women ran in to save it. In the closed up garage stood our gold Toyota Prius with half of a tank of gas in it. One firefighter asked for the keys so that he could back it out of the flames that had engulfed it. The car runs fine because it never caught fire.
How did the fire start? An electrical wire caught fire in the rear of the garage due to a faulty swimming pool pump timer. In the picture below, firefighters are inspecting what they believe is the source of the flame.
We were in fact home when the fire started...in fact we were just heading to bed when the kids and I smelled smoke. Ironically, my kids had asked me earlier if they could go to the midnight showing of the newest Marvel's "Avengers", but I said no because I had work in the morning. It's interesting because looking back--I suppose we DID get to see some Super Heroes after all!
Thanks, Engine 48 for your tireless commitment. We appreciate you so much!
~The Slamans Family
SOAR 2015 ushered into women's hearts so much of God's grace, mercy and love that it was difficult to contain.