We would meet in the mornings at the pomegranate tree in my grandmother’s backyard, then make a plan for the rest of the day. We took turns spending our nights at each others’ houses and our days riding our bikes all over my grandparents’ farm. Our mothers allowed us to get in the kitchen and make our own breakfasts and lunches, scrambling eggs and making peanut butter, jelly, and cream cheese sandwiches - don’t knock it till you try it! :)
I don’t recall ever reading the Oscar Wilde quote on our latest t-shirt design until Katelyn showed it to me, though I’m sure I’ve come across it before. In any case, between wearing my shirt throughout the summer and seeing it on our chalkboard every day when I walk in to work, it has stayed on my mind. “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
In getting ready to send my older boys back to school, I began to think about what it’s like to grow up in the South and in particular, my favorite summer memories. I can recall riding my bicycle up and down our little country road over and over all summer long. Of course, I grew up in the country, so I had no real neighborhood to traipse through or many friends’ homes to hang out. My grandparents lived up the hill, and just past their house was my grandfather’s cousin’s house. “Uncle Merle” and “Aunt Margaret” lived there, and at some point in my childhood, their daughter’s family, Margie, Ron (aka “Rooster”), and Melissa moved in with them. Although Melissa and I were not closely related, we were very close in age, and became fast friends.
We would meet in the mornings at the pomegranate tree in my grandmother’s backyard, then make a plan for the rest of the day. We took turns spending our nights at each others’ houses and our days riding our bikes all over my grandparents’ farm. Our mothers allowed us to get in the kitchen and make our own breakfasts and lunches, scrambling eggs and making peanut butter, jelly, and cream cheese sandwiches - don’t knock it till you try it! :)
When I wasn’t riding around with Melissa, I was attending Vacation Bible School at one of our local churches. My friends and I had quite the VBS circuit, sometimes even attending one in the mornings, and one in the evenings! I also had the opportunity to go to a couple of different camps, Woodmen of the World at Camp Glynn and 4-H Camp at Camp Fulton. When there wasn’t anything else to do or anyone to play with, I spent quite a lot of time in my room reading. One summer, my brother actually built a platform in a tree for me to climb up and read there. It became one of my favorite places outside because I was enveloped in the leaves of that oak tree and surrounded by the scent of the jasmine vine growing up the trellis nearby. I felt so “outdoorsy” and almost as if I was in heaven, even though I was no more than 20 feet outside the back door!
Those summer memories helped make for a happy childhood, and even recalling them now gives me a happy feeling of nostalgia. I had freedom (limited, of course), books, even flowers and the moon, which are simple, everyday things we take for granted. You know, so many people chase happiness all their lives, but are never satisfied. They fill up with what makes them happy at the time, then when that no longer makes them happy, they become depressed or turn to something else to try to fill that void. At times, I’m sure we’ve all been there; I know I have.
Happiness is a result of our circumstances, while joy can be found no matter our circumstances. That is what I’ve learned to focus on, that I can choose to have joy in spite of whatever is going on in my life. The simple things in life can bring happiness, even in the midst of trials. On busy days, a flower or joke from one of my boys puts a smile on my face; when someone passes away, remembering time spent together brings laughter through the tears; during tough times, a song can life my spirits.
Although happiness can be short-lived, those moments remind us to focus on others rather than ourselves and bring us back to our true joy. I’m reminded of an acronym I probably learned in one of those Vacation Bible Schools I attended. JOY stands for Jesus, Others, Yourself. I know it seems a bit cliche, but if we live our lives with our priorities in that order, we can find true joy instead of just trying to be happy. Isn't it funny how simple summer memories can have a lifelong impact?!
It's not too late to order one of our Southern Merc T-shirts featuring original artwork by our Katelyn! Let our favorite Oscar Wilde quote help you remember to find your joy in simple things! They are on sale right now for $19 so grab yours while they last!
We are fresh off of a trip to Atlanta for Vintage Market Days of Greater Atlanta and boy, did we have fun! We got to stay with a good friend from home, visit with show friends that we only see once or twice a year, and we got to chat with so many of you! It was three days of excitement, creative inspiration and a touch of exhaustion! This has become a great show for us and a must-stop on the travel schedule for spring!
I was so pleased with this booth set up; it may have been my most favorite so far! I hope some of you caught my Instagram stories on set up day as I tried to give you the process from start to finish. It is always so amazing to me that we start with such a mess and end up with something so inviting! If you don't already follow us on Instagram, you can find us at @thesouthernmerc. The beautiful garden arbor that dad helped me build got to make another appearance and served as a lovely welcome to our space. The shelves were stocked with cute kitchen items, garden decor, and plenty of fun vintage finds!
My mom and I have such a good time junkin' and finding unique and fun vintage items. I love the personality and sense of nostalgia that vintage items give to your home and work space. Mixing old with new is such a great way to make a space feel warm and inviting. These vintage shows are so much fun for me, and also too tempting on my wallet! I have a hard time resisting the cool and unusual things the other vendors bring.
It is always a good day at work when you get to be with a good friend! My friend, Melissa, from Greener Grass Handmade and I love it when we can make our paths cross. We don't meet up for every show, but when we do, it is so much more fun!
As always, Matt and I had a great time meeting new people and getting to spread the Southern love of The Southern Mercantile! Thanks to all who signed up to receive our emails - we promise you will be happy you did! We are giving away one $50 gift certificate to one of our new subscribers, and that lucky winner is Jaime Watson! Be checking your inbox Jaime for your happy shopping coupon!
If you saw some things you liked in the pictures above, be sure to check out our online store. It is stocked with fun finds for your home and garden!
While we truly do enjoy our time on the road, it can be exhausting. Not only is the physical work so tiring, but the mental strain can be taxing. There is so much to think of and plan for when you are running a brick and mortar store, while traveling to promote your online business. The list of things to remember is endless, and you must always be friendly and helpful, even when you are tired! There is the constant mental battle of: Did I pack enough? Did I pack too much? Did I pack the right things? Am I making enough money? Is this worth it? It can all become very overwhelming! By the end of a travel season, I am usually feeling pretty exhausted and overwhelmed. On the last day of this show, I was feeling pretty defeated and worn out. I stepped outside, just to take a little break and regroup. I have been to this facility several times before, but never noticed the inscription on this bench that is placed at the front entrance.
I was moved to tears and had to take an extra minute to compose myself before going back in. It was a beautiful reminder to me that the Lord is with me every step of the way, ready and willing to give me all the strength I need if I will only ask. The prayer reads:
O GREAT SPIRIT Whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me! I am small and weak, I need your strength and wisdom.
LET ME WALK IN BEAUTY, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.
MAKE MY HANDS respect the things you have made & my ears sharp to hear your voice.
MAKE ME WISE so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.
LET ME LEARN the lessons You have hidden in every leaf and rock.
I SEEK STRENGTH, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy - myself.
MAKE ME ALWAYS READY to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.
SO WHEN LIFE FADES, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.
I had never heard of Paul Eddy, but he must have been truly loved and respected to have received such a beautiful memorial. He founded the American Indian Festival, which was hosted at The Gwinnett County Fair Grounds and you can read a little more about him here.
This little moment outside the facility gave me just the boost I needed to pack up and make my way home with a renewed spirit. Now, I am busy unpacking and getting the shop put back together as we roll into the ease of summer in the south.
If you find yourself on the road this summer, we'd love for you to stop in for a visit! Visit our flagship store in Ocilla, have lunch in our Cafe, and ramble around our sweet little town. If you can't make it in person you can always keep up with us on the website! Join our email list to stay connected and keep up with new products and our travel schedule. We can't wait to get to know you!
"It takes a village to raise a child."
This statement is an old African proverb thats relevancy rings even more true today. In a world where marriages are broken, families are ravished by poverty and addiction, and the lives of children are not cherished; it truly takes a village.
With the recent uproar over the war on abortion, I find my heart broken. Broken for the babies who will never take a breath, broken for the young mothers contemplating abortion.
As these thoughts swirl through my mind, I can't help but wonder how some of these young moms must feel...scared, embarrassed, unfit, unqualified, inexperienced, ill-equipped, lonely, unprepared, uneducated...the list goes on. To those mothers--where is your village? Do you even have one? You most certainly need one to take on the responsibility of raising a child today. I ran across a quote that perfectly expressed my heart on this matter, beautifully portraying how we, The Church, are called to be the village.
It seems so simple, yet why aren't we doing it? Why isn't The Church being the village? There are so many other practical ways to step in and be a champion for the cause, rather than participating in a march or holding up a sign.
"We must listen, love, foster, adopt, give money, babysit, donate supplies, mentor young women, and support in whatever ways God has equipped us."
I say, if we can't take care of the orphans that are living on this earth now, what shall we do? When there are over 30,000 abortions taking place in Georgia each year, what shall we do? If we can't find foster homes to house the children who are a result of addiction and abuse, what shall we do? Why are there over 170 children in foster care and only 10 foster families in my region? Why do Christians outnumber orphans 15 to 1?
These are the honest and convicting thoughts I struggle with as I contemplate our purpose as a family, and as The Church.
Phillip and I have officially been foster parents for three months now. As I type these words, tears fall from my eyes. No amount of preparation, training, volunteering, or even praying, opened my eyes to the reality of raising a child that is not your own. Responsibility, consistency, patience, kindness, understanding, strength, faith, selflessness, devotion...these are all words describing what must pour out of us daily. We knew it would be challenging, and it is. But we also never could have imagined the joy a child brings when they simply bring themselves.
During this season, we have had friends offer to bring us dinner on multiple occasions. Our church family has made us feel more welcome than ever, supporting us in so many seen, and unseen ways. My work family has rallied together to help us in any way they can--welcoming after school visits and making this child feel like she belongs. Our own families have treated her as their own blood, including her in family plans and spending one on one time with her. Sweet, dear friends, have gone above and beyond to help after school or when school is out so that we can maintain as normal of a work schedule as possible. College friends have taken the time to talk through issues over the phone--listening and giving advice. New friends have stayed up with us, hours into the night, encouraging and praying for us when times have been tough. And not to mention the sweet friends who have called, texted, visited, and prayed for us during this journey.
These children come from a broken past, often times with no family to care for them and no community to support them. But, when we welcome them into our home, they instantly have a village. A village of friends who care about them, a village that prays for them daily, a village that genuinely wants to spend time with them, a village that makes them feel like family.
Sometimes I wonder if this village is for them, or for me? I realize, now, that it is for all of us. It is for when I need a little encouragement on the hard days, it is for when Phillip needs an afternoon to himself, it is for when she needs a little girl time with someone who isn't acting as her "mom". When this village of family and friends come along side us in this broken journey--we find the light. We find a glimpse into what God created families and The Church to be. We find the strength to make it through another day. We find that extra little bit of love we need, just to pour it right back out again.
We are the village. YOU are the village. The part you play in this village may look a little differently than your neighbors, but I would encourage you to seek out the ways in which God has equipped you.
We have had people ask us on multiple occasions why we foster, do we not want children of our own? If it were only that simple. We foster because we don't want any child to feel unloved or go uncared for, we don't want any family to be broken. We foster because it isn't about what we want.
Now, three months in, we find ourselves expecting a baby girl of our own in just three more short months.
Though this was somewhat of a surprise, we are anxiously awaiting her arrival. What we wish for her is what we wish for every child that enters our home; that they will choose to work hard for what they want, love people whole-heartedly, live selflessly, stand up for what they believe in, and be brave. We have been blessed with what I believe to be the best village around--and I am overjoyed that we get to raise this child surrounded by such wonderful people.
So, thank you to my village. You'll never know how much it means to us to know how much you care. We couldn't do it without you!
If you find yourself looking for ways to serve, reach out to us! We have been blessed to be involved with a wonderful organization in South Georgia that supports foster families and birth families alike. We'd love to talk with you, and provide you with
information and opportunities to serve.
Even as I am writing this, it is so hard to believe that I am reflecting on the past 15 years of my life. In some ways it has flown by, and in other ways 15 years seems so long ago! You have heard me say before that I was young and dumb when I started this adventure in retail so many years ago! I was fresh out of The University of Georgia with no clue what I wanted to do next. I always swore I was never moving back to my home town of Ocilla, GA, but it was home that came calling after graduation. So I made my way back, and here I sit, 15 years later, with a life I never could have dreamed up for myself!
In 2003, my dad had been retired for a couple of years and was running a floral and event business with his business partner, Lisa. They decided to take on a huge project in our downtown by renovating this century-old, Greek-revival style bank building.
The renovations began in the spring, and I moved home in the summer of 2003. The building was to house a market-style retail shop with a café in the downstairs and an event space upstairs. Dad and Lisa were going to need someone to run the shop while they focused on the floral business, so I agreed to come home for one year and help get things going.
That June-December of my life flew by! I worked part-time at another gift shop downtown to make a little money until our shop opened. On days I wasn’t working, I helped work on the building. As you look at all of my pictures, you might be imagining a very large work crew that got this place whipped into shape in such a short period of time, but you would be wrong! Dad and Lisa, with the help of a couple of paid workers, lots of family, and many sweet volunteers, moved mountains that summer. I have never done so much painting in my life!
The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry opened in August of 2003, and I was blown away by the excitement of the community. The first couple of weeks were so fun. People flocked in to see the building.
All of the older residents in town had so many great stories to share of what the building was when they were young - how they used to get their hair done upstairs at Lily Mae’s beauty shop, or how they dreaded having to climb those tall stairs to get their shots at the health department.
The shop was just beautiful and unlike any store we had ever had in our little town before. Lisa was, and is, a very talented designer. I soaked up so much from her in a short amount of time and definitely learned a lot about the design aspect of running a store from both her and my dad.
The grueling work didn’t end when we opened, as we had to move upstairs to finish renovations in time for a wedding in October! I was still painting trim the morning of the wedding while Dad and Lisa were doing all of the flowers!
That was a crazy weekend, but I guess at that point, we had all gotten used to the hustle. Fifteen years later, I can tell you that the hustle continues! There is always something to fix, paint, clean, move, or cry over in this old building. It has been a labor of love for sure!
I like to say I went to the school of hard knocks in the early days. With Dad and Lisa, you have to catch on fast! One wedding weekend they left me in the florist shop and said, “We need 15 table arrangements; we’ll be back after we decorate the church.” I guess I should have been honored that they had so much confidence in my abilities, but I was stressing! It seems I had soaked up a few tricks by watching my dad all those years because the arrangements turned out ok, but I was a nervous wreck! Another weekend, we were catering a party in a neighboring town. Dad and Lisa had done an out-of-town wedding and were traveling to be back just in time for the dinner that night. She had me, by myself, take pot roast for about 100 people to the venue with all of our cookers to cook the roasts, with her giving me instructions over the phone. I had never cooked a roast in my life!
In 2004 Lisa’s husband, Harvey, was diagnosed with cancer that would later take his life. This was a devastating diagnosis, and Lisa had to spend most of her time with him, traveling to treatments in Maryland and caring for him when he was sick. Around the same time, my grandfather in Colorado became ill so my Dad was away for 8 weeks. It was a stressful time for me to be pretty much alone at the shop so Dad and Lisa decided to sell the building and business. The short version of this part of the story is: in walked Matt Seale. He was a financial advisor from Atlanta and looking to invest in real estate. Little did he know he was about to get a building, a retail shop, a floral and event business, a café, and a wife!
Matt bought the building and the business in the fall of 2004, so he and I have been in it together almost the entire time. It was a trying first few years together, as we both had limited experience with events and running a small business. I think we did pretty well considering how young we were! We married quickly in August of 2007 because Matt was being sent to Iraq to serve with the Navy Reserve. It’s not the month I would have picked (the day we got married was, literally, the hottest day of the year) but it is pretty neat that our wedding anniversary always coincides with the anniversary of The Shoppes, since it is what brought us together in the first place. We spent our first year of marriage apart, and looking back, it was probably the hardest year of my life so far. Because of our quick wedding, I had to deal with the daily onslaught of nosy, southern women asking me when my baby was due. I was a newlywed with no husband, the owner of a struggling small business with no business partner, and the caretaker of an old building that seemed to just develop one new problem after the other. I don’t know what I would have done that year without my parents and a few really good friends. Needless to say, that is not a time in my life I like to look back and dwell on!
The years rocked on as we continued catering events, making prom and wedding flowers, and keeping the shop going. I have been involved in over 37 weddings and rehearsal suppers, countless smaller parties, and more funerals than I could ever count.
Vendors in the shop came and went. I have had over 40 vendors and 14 local consigners throughout the years. It was so nice to get through those first few years of turnover and settle in with some serious shop owners that help make The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry so great!
It has been so interesting to learn to deal with the specialties of running a business in a small, southern town. Over the years I have had more than one person call and ask me to look up someone else’s number for them in the phone book. I’ve had a customer ask me to order her something off the internet because she doesn’t have a computer. I have customers drop off gifts for people (that they didn’t buy here) because they know we’ll make sure they get passed on to the right person. I’ve had a customer give her bag of purchases to the mail man, as he walked in to deliver the mail, and ask him to deliver it to her mother at the nursing home (which he did, sweetly and without question). I could fill a book with stories about customer interaction - some funny and some not so funny! The Fourth and Cherry team has been blessed over the years to have mostly very sweet people enter our doors, and we thrive on providing as many services as possible. We still operate a traditional wedding registry where brides can register for fine china, flatware and other things needed to set up a home. We deliver to local showers, sell flatware by the piece (so there is something for everyone’s budget) and offer free gift wrap. We try to include the address of the giver on the back of every wedding card to make it a little easier for the bride to send her thank-you notes. We’ve made salads with croutons only, cut crusts off of bread, and kept lists on the café wall of how certain customers like certain meals. We are happy to help customers over the phone, happy to pick out Christmas gifts when you send over the list, happy to walk your packages to your car, let you borrow our phone, and even fill out your check for you. (Yes we still take local checks and no, we don’t have a stamp. If you don’t know what that means, you are definitely not from a small town.)
Over the years our little business has grown, evolved and changed. At some point we closed the florist, but I can’t remember what year. The shop and the café were becoming busier, and my Dad was retired and traveling a lot, so it just made sense to let that go. We have still continued to do weddings here and there because I just find it so hard to say no! The Café has slowly grown and now offers a much more extensive menu than we did in the beginning. The Fourth and Cherry Company now has three full-time employees in addition to seven part-time. I can’t pass up the chance to mention that Mrs. Carolyn has been with us the entire time we’ve been in business. She has long been a friend of my family and came to work in The Café after she retired from the school system. Her hours have shortened over the years and roles have changed, but she has been a steadfast and dependable friend to us over the last 15 years. She has tried to “retire” at least twice, but we are always thrilled when she decides she wants to come back! She tells me she is going to retire for good when she is 80, so I’ll keep you posted on that! And one other fun fact, Mrs. Carolyn came to Lily Mae’s beauty shop, located in the upstairs of our building, on her wedding day to get a perm! Just one example of how the history of our building is so intertwined with the history of our community and the lives of our customers.
In 2015 (deciding that we didn’t already have enough to do) we created The Southern Mercantile. I had always loved the name and even threw it in the hat when Dad and Lisa were choosing a name for the shop. I kept it in the back of my mind with the hopes of getting to use it one day. We are now growing and building this new brand, while running The Shoppes and Café at Fourth and Cherry, in an attempt to expand our market a little bit and share our love of the South. We are on a mission to preserve some of our more noble traditions by sharing our simple, southern lives with you. It has been so exciting to meet many of you at shows when we are traveling, and to hear from you through email, social media and the website. We have loved every minute of getting to connect with a whole new tribe!
We are excited to share with you that The Southern Mercantile is currently setting up a brick and mortar home inside The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry! The historic bank room of our building is in transition and will soon be our flagship Southern Mercantile location. The bank vault has already been set up as the Southern Merc office and we are slowly transforming the retail space into a beautiful shopping area. It’s just another way the Fourth and Cherry Company is growing and changing.
Love for our community is at the heart of everything we do. In 2011, Matt and I made a choice to stay here and to commit to working hard for Ocilla. We work hard to keep this building standing, keep this shop running, and keep our online presence thriving because we want to see our little town prosper. Our team has a deep desire to continue to love, encourage, support and work for the community we live in. We thank all of you from the bottom of our hearts for your support of our mission. Whether you have been a fan of The Shoppes for the last 15 years, or if you are a new fan of The Southern Mercantile, we want you to know that you are appreciated. Every purchase you make, every Facebook post you share, every kind comment you give, strengthens our mission as we move to be a force for good in our community.
If it seems this post has been more like the story of the last 15 years of my life rather than just the history of my business, it is because they are so connected, I could never attempt to separate them. This shop and what it means to our little town is all I know. It has been my everything. I am humbled when I think of all of the people that have loved and supported me personally over the last 15 years. Without your support and prayers (and checking for my horns from time to time), I would have succumbed to stress and discouragement many times. I can’t wrap this up without a very special Thank You to my parents! You are such an example of selfless love, always there to help, no matter what the problem is. Water, termites, absent employees, plumbing problems, leaky roofs, holiday baking; nothing keeps you from running to my aid!
15 years of perspective has helped me to see that time and time again, the Lord has provided just what we need, when we need it. I know He will do the same for the next 15!
My husband, Chris, has always wanted another baby. I’m the one who proclaimed we were done, especially once my boys were old enough to start taking care of themselves. Of course, in the back of my mind, I felt that maybe we weren’t completely done with children, but I really thought that God was leading us toward a path of fostering and potentially even adopting down the road. Our family and friends always joked with us that we needed to try one more time so I could have a little girl for Chris. He’s such a fun uncle to all our nieces, but I knew if we had a baby girl, he’d never be able to say no to her!
l’ll always remember how he would play and make faces with all babies and little kids while we were dating. It didn’t matter whether we were at church or with family around children we knew, or if we were complete strangers to a child in a store or restaurant, kids seemed to be drawn to him. I knew he would make an incredible father, thanks to moments like this, and that’s one of the things that made me fall in love with him. I was right; he is an incredible father!
With our first two boys, I was a stay-at-home mom. I’m grateful to Chris for making that time work because I know it wasn’t easy for us financially. Although teachers don’t make enough, losing my salary and insurance was quite a blow! Once Caleb started pre-school, and Seth started first grade, though, I began to toy with the idea of working outside our home again. I took a couple of long-term substitute teacher positions, which made it clear to both of us that I shouldn’t go back to teaching. Soon enough, Roxie and Matt talked to me about coming to work for them in The Cafe, which is how I joined the Fourth and Cherry family in 2011.
Fast-forward six years. By this point, I’m shuttling Seth and Caleb to school and extra-curricular activities, while working in The Café and as part of The Southern Mercantile team. I truly enjoy my job and feel as if I’m not only helping my family achieve their goals, but am starting to realize some of my own dreams. And then, I find out I’m pregnant again at 38 years old! (By the way, I turned 39 in March.) I must admit, I freaked out a little bit - my mind was reeling with thoughts of “I’m too old for this,” “My boys are old enough to do for themselves,” and “I don’t have time to have a baby!” When I revealed the news to Chris, I couldn’t tell if he was going to cry or pass out from the shock!
The first person I called was my sister, Marcy, who is a nurse practitioner in a maternal-fetal medicine practice, which means she deals with high-risk pregnant mothers. She has been such a valuable resource and voice of reassurance throughout my pregnancy - once she stopped laughing! Because of my “advanced maternal age,” I knew I would be referred to her practice, which was just fine with me. I trust my sister and wanted her to be as involved with my pregnancy as possible!
Once the initial shock of being pregnant wore off, my mind turned to worry and fear. I worried that I would miscarry early on, as I figured out I was pregnant around 5-6 weeks. Then, I worried I would have a later miscarriage, even into my second trimester. I worried about my baby having Down’s syndrome or some other chromosomal abnormality due to my age. There was a possibility that I could deal with Intrauterine Growth Restriction. And, the fact that Chris had a cerebral hemorrhage and seizures when he was born was a concern for the doctor, which made me worry about that.
You should know that I am not normally a worrier. When I do have irrational thoughts that flit through my mind, usually I can talk myself out of actually worrying about whatever is going on. With this pregnancy, though, I found that hard to do. I have had so many friends and family struggle with miscarriage, still birth, and infant loss, that it became a real fear for me. I had this horrible feeling that something terrible was going to happen to my baby, and then I would not only deal with grief, but also guilt over the fact that I felt so overwhelmed when I found out I was pregnant. For some reason, I had this irrational fear that I would never meet my baby, and I felt like it would be my fault.
At some point, after being reassured by my sister (and multiple test results) that my baby was growing as he should, with no signs of any abnormalities, I began to worry that my fear meant something terrible would happen to me instead. This made me worry more about leaving Chris, Seth, and Caleb behind to raise our baby boy. Instead of blaming me for losing him, would they blame him for losing me?
No one really knew how I was struggling. I’ve never understood how someone could be so paralyzed by fear and worry, but now I do. It is mentally taxing, and I see now how it can even be physically crippling. I prayed and prayed for God to grant me peace somehow, but it didn’t come. Until Easter Sunday.
I don’t remember much else about our Easter Sunday service, but I remember singing “Because He Lives.” And, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit about me like I never have. I’ve always loved that hymn, even as a child. When I sing this song, I hear my Mama’s sweet soprano voice singing it along with me. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the chorus:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, He holds the future.
And, life is worth the living, just because He lives.”
Such simple words, but so powerful. I’m wiping tears even now as I recall trying to sing along that morning. I was emotional then, but could still sing until we began the second verse:
“How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
and feel the pride and joy he gives.
But, greater still, the calm assurance,
this child can face uncertain days, because He lives!”
By this point, I was a blubbering mess, just trying to hold it together, hoping no one would notice! I felt God’s peace washing over me, a “calm assurance,” and “all fear is gone.” Somehow, no one else saw me falling apart, or at least they never said anything. I’ve told very few people about this experience so far, but felt compelled to share it with y’all. I want you to know how powerful God’s peace truly is, if you can allow the Holy Spirit to work in you. As Philippians 4:7 states, it really does surpass our understanding.
I left church Easter Sunday feeling so much lighter, even though my belly didn’t show it! And, wouldn't you know, God had already placed a reminder around me for when I would begin to fear again? A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law was cleaning out cabinets and found a plaque someone had given her when Chris was born. She passed it along to me, and somehow, that plaque ended up on the desk in the foyer of our home. What’s on the plaque? A copy of the hymn, “Because He Lives.” As I mentioned earlier, I’ve always loved this hymn, and as it turns out, this hymn brought great comfort to my mother-in-law when Chris was born with a cerebral hemorrhage and faced surgery once his seizures stopped. (That’s a miraculous story for another time!)
The week after Easter, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes; no surprise, given my family history and the fact that I had almost every risk factor on the list. This means I have to keep track of my blood sugars, and if I don’t keep them under control, my baby could grow too big, which could mean I would have to have a C-section. I’m now on medication, which has a slight risk for stillbirth, so I have to go to the doctor twice a week to monitor his heart rate, while I make sure he’s moving throughout every day. While these are valid reasons for me to be scared, I don’t worry like I did before, “because I know, He holds the future.” And, whatever happens, “life is worth the living, just because He lives!”
A big thank you to Summer Laurel Photography for our new family portraits.
In the fall of 2015, a group of people from our community gathered to discuss the growing needs within and around foster care in our area. Led by a local pastor with a heart for foster care, we agreed to form a local chapter of an organization already in place,
Called to Care. Towards the end of the meeting, he asked if anyone felt called to be a part of the leadership team, and I felt my hand rising. Little did I know that my life would be forever changed by the information presented to me over the next few weeks.
Why is there a need for an organization like Called to Care?
Within Ben Hill, Irwin and Berrien counties, we have 160 children in foster care and only 10 local foster families. This great divide is bridged by foster families who live in other counties, as well as children's homes that are located hours away. This means that not only are children being uprooted from the only home they've ever known, but they're also being moved miles from their schools, communities, extended family members, and friends. The only remedy to this is to prevent children from coming into care (by supporting those families) and to recruit more local foster families!
Called to Care acts as a liaison between the Department of Family and Children Services and the community by communicating the needs at hand. We (with the help of our 884 Facebook friends) started a clothing and supply closet at Ocilla Baptist Church. Thanks to generous donations, we have clothing of all sizes, shoes of all sizes, undergarments, diapers, hygiene items, blankets, toys and books available to our foster children. Working closely with our local DFCS workers, we are able to meet most of the physical needs in our area.
Our brick-and-mortar retail store, The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry, is a drop off location for donations. We have also hosted drives for specific items, which is conveinent considering that we are in the heart of downtown!
We had a local mom, Kirsten, recently bring in an overwhelming amount of donations. Kirsten's sweet baby girl, Lindy, just turned 1 year old. To celebrate her birthday, Kirsten asked if guests would bring a donation to Called to Care in lieu of a gift for her daughter. The donations poured in as family and friends gathered to celebrate Lindy. What a special way to celebrate her daughter's life! We have been so encouraged by this gift, and so many families are going to be blessed by her selflessness.
Called to Care hosts quarterly events in which the kids are provided opportunities to leave their worries at the door and to simply play. Snacks, bouncy houses, art projects, nail painting and one-on-one basketball games make for a fun afternoon. We love every minute of getting to know these kids and are thankful for the opportunity to encourage and serve them.
Here's a few examples of other projects we've completed in our area:
DFCS Visitation Room Before:
DFCS Visitation Room After:
From the very beginning, I became heavily involved in the needs presented to Called to Care. Not only was this an overwhelming undertaking--but also a heart-breaking one. With each request, with each need, the tears would come. I had this aching desire to do more than meet the physical needs of these families. I suddenly felt the very real call from Jesus to care for the widows and orphans. It didn't take long for my husband, Phillip, to feel the exact same way. We were faced with desperate needs on a weekly basis that broke our heart and changed our thought process. We knew fostering was where our family was being called, so we started making preparations.
In less than a year's time with Called to Care, Phillip and I felt the need to create a home for our future family--whatever that may look like. Our budget was small, but we wanted to purchase a home of our own and begin to settle in. We looked at homes that were "move-in ready" as well as fixer-uppers, but nothing felt just right. I was set on having at least three bedrooms (this would be necessary in foster care if you have children of the opposite sex in your home) which narrowed our search tremendously due to our budget. We made a list of pros and cons for some of our favorite homes, trying to make sense of it all. Finally, my mom asked if I'd be interested in looking at a home in town that wasn't listed, but she knew the owners tried to sell it a few years ago. I said yes, and she made the call. This couple was happy to show us the house that would soon become our home. Learn more about our home and the renovation process by checking out Beech Street Bungalow: Before.
After we began putting our home back together, I started dreaming up what the "girl room" and "boy room" should look like. I loved the idea of creating a comfortable and safe space that any child might love. Lots of thought and planning has gone into these two special rooms in our home, and my heart is anxiously awaiting the day when these rooms will be finished and full.
I have always loved children. I have always wanted to be a mom, and to have a family of my own. After coming to know the Lord, I realized I had a heart for adoption--but still wanted to birth children of my own. After maturing in the Lord, and seeing the unrelenting needs around me, my thoughts began to change and turn into what I believe to be His. This is what I know to be true: He has given me a deep desire to be a mother. He has given me a husband who shares my same desires. He is good. He is faithful. He will bring children into my life who need me at that exact time, whether I birth them or only have them in my home for a few months.
We are excited, and we are nervous. This process is slow, especially when you're in the middle of remodeling a home! We now have a group of 7 local families ready to complete training to have children in their homes. (Roxie, Jorjanne and I are three of those families!) What a blessing this journey has been and will continue to be.
If you are interested in being involved in Called to Care, please let us know! You can visit our Facebook page or email us at email@example.com. If you don't live in South Georgia, look for ways to positively impact the foster care system in your area! We would love to hear from you and answer any questions you may have. I believe that we are indeed called to love, called to serve, and called to care. The beautiful thing is that everyone can do something.
I grew up in a small town. Scratch that. I grew up in a rural community outside of a small town. Next door to my grandparents’ farm and within a mile of the county line, I was the first one on the school bus every morning and the last one off every afternoon. Keep in mind, we have one elementary school, while the middle and high schools share a campus, for the entire county!
That summer of 2001 was so eye-opening and the best way we could have started our marriage. We did have a team to work with, and we lived with a young couple and their toddler daughter, but we really only had each other and God to lean on. There were breakdowns and culture shock, all of which brought us closer together.
After that summer, we went back to our normal lives in Atlanta, Chris completing his final classes and working part-time with a civil engineering firm, while I began my first year teaching middle school. Even though this was the life we had always dreamed of, something was still missing. We felt like we had left part of our hearts in Brazil and began to have new dreams of going back. Soon, we were presented with the opportunity to go back to Brazil as full-time missionaries and help create a Globalscope campus ministry. We were so excited!
The following spring (2002), Chris’s family farm was featured on a Food Network show called “Food Finds.” If you’ve read my blog “Muscadines, Grandma, and a Husband,” you’ll know that his family grows muscadine grapes. Chris’s grandfather, father, and uncle were interviewed for the show, which focused on the capsules “Papa Jacob” was making from the seeds of the muscadines and the health benefits they offered. At the time, he was making them by hand in his home office. I remember watching the show in our little apartment with one of our friends from Ocilla who also lived in Atlanta. Afterward, we all just giggled and stared at each other, amazed and bewildered at what we had just seen on TV!
Over the following year, it became more and more evident to us that we were supposed to stay in Irwin County. Serving God was our first priority, but we realized that we didn’t have to leave the country to do that. Looking back now, I can see how God worked through us and the chain-reaction of events that continue as a result of our decision to stay.
That summer, I discovered I was pregnant! Chris and I wanted to share our exciting news with our family in a fun way, so we went to The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry to purchase a frame for our ultrasound picture. Roxie was at the register, so she was technically the first person we told that we were expecting. We had always known Roxie, since we went to high school together, but we weren’t close friends at the time. Little did I know how close we would grow!
Thirteen years ago, we could not have known how our decisions would affect the course of our own lives, much less so many others. Although we always tried to be faithful to what we believed to be God’s will, we haven’t always understood while in the middle of it. So many times, we’ve wondered what life would be like had we gone to Brazil. Our boys think it’s crazy that they would know how to speak Portuguese! We still have a special place in our hearts for the people of Brazil. I used to wonder if we missed God’s will by not going to Brazil. And, while I know that God would have used us there, I feel like our purpose is to be here, in this small town, to encourage this community, and to share it with the rest of the world. I feel like for the last thirteen years, we’ve been on the cusp of something great in so many areas.
Christmas is my most favorite time of the year. I know, you must hear that a lot. I can truly tell you that when November rolls around, I am ready to start decking the halls and wrapping presents. Yes, I am one of those people, and yes, I do love Thanksgiving and fall, but who says you can’t already have a few decorations up when you sit down to carve the Thanksgiving turkey?
Part of my love of the Holidays comes from owning a small, retail store The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry in Ocilla, GA. This is the time of year that my shop looks the prettiest. Ornaments and twinkle lights have a magical way of transforming a space and, of course, there is always lots of glitter! Sales are good, so the normal worries of small business subside, temporarily. People coming in are usually happy and excited to pick out the perfect gift for the special folks on their list. Cakes and casseroles are being picked up, children are counting down the days to Santa and we can’t wrap gifts fast enough to keep up! I am usually happily checking off names on my list and finding great joy in picking out gifts that my special folks will really love. This time of year is usually so exciting! Usually.
To be perfectly honest with you, I am struggling this year. I am not super sad or depressed, just having trouble getting into the spirit of the season. I am low on Holiday cheer. I have found myself not super excited about Christmas shopping or wrapping presents. (Check my temperature!) I have struggled to throw together a Christmas party for my Shoppes family, an event I usually look forward to all year. I have not put up one single decoration at my house. I am also pretty sure that I am not the only one who is experiencing a holiday cheer deficiency this year.
I am surrounded by so many who have lost loved ones, are dealing with illness, or are going through a divorce. It seems extra hard to summon your Holiday cheer from within when you are feeling burdened by the state of the community around you. Burdened by the fact that there are not enough hours in the day to call or send notes to all who are hurting. Burdened by the fact there are more foster children than I can count from my community that will be wishing they were home this Christmas, in their own beds and wishing they had family to love and take care of them. Basically, burdened by the needs, both spiritually and physically, of my community, and feeling like there is not enough of “me” to go around! It seems selfish to focus on gifts and parties when there are so many who are hurting and in need.
So, what should I do about this holiday cheer problem? Be a scrooge and just not celebrate this year? Just let Christmas pass and pretend it is not happening? Well, I don’t think that is the answer to the problem at all. There are people that need me. They need me to be cheerful, to greet them with a smile, and to show them the love of Christ, no matter how I am feeling on the inside. I know you have all heard the phrase “fake it til’ you make it.” There really is something to that. The act of going through the motions, even if you heart is not in your task. I believe that if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep showing up and being faithful, your heart will catch up with you eventually.
I have decided that I will keep singing my favorite Christmas songs. I will keep greeting folks with a smile, and be as loving as I can be. I will write notes and visit with as many hurting folks as I can. I will keep collecting shoes for foster children and praying for their comfort and peace this holiday season.
I will have a great time at our Shoppes Christmas party and celebrate our 14th year in business together! I will take great joy in wrapping my gifts and giving them to my loved ones. Most of all, I will remember that my life is not my own, my time is not my own, and this Christmas season is just that, a season. This season of my life will pass and another will follow. My purpose here on earth is to love and to share the good news of Jesus. To be burdened and aware of the hurt of those around you is essential in being able to encourage and love those around you.
If you are feeling burdened this year by life’s circumstances, take heart in knowing that this season may pass, but Christ is sovereign and eternal and his love is with you always. Go home and put a wreath on your door. Take some goodies to your neighbor and put on your favorite Christmas music. Spend some time focusing on those around you, and I promise, your heart will catch up. Even as I was writing this, a very sweet foster mother in town brought in a bag of shoes and a coat for our clothing closet. Don’t you just love those little encouraging “winks” from God, to remind you that He is standing right with you? This sweet act of kindness inspired me to go home last night and decorate my mantel, hang up our stockings and put a wreath on the door!
I looked ahead to December 25th in my daily devotional book, “Streams in the Desert,” to find a little inspiration for this blog. I love the power in the simplicity of this thought: Let us be glad and rejoice today, because He has come. And let us remember the proclamation of the angel: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!” (Luke 2:10-11)
Let’s be about the Lord’s business this holiday season and in the coming year. Let’s make it a point to be aware of the needs of our community and see that burden as a blessing, not a curse. Opportunities to share the "good news of great joy," the love of Jesus to a hurting world!
I am sitting at my desk today with a heavy heart. I have lost a good friend, somewhat unexpectedly, and I am feeling a bit lost. I was supposed to write a post about our Southern Mercantile Wedding Design Service, but somehow that seems so unimportant right now. I am finding myself trudging through the day, struggling to keep a smile on my face for all my team mates at work and for the guests that enter our doors. The only thing I feel like writing about today is my good friend Janis Roberts. Many of you that keep up with the blog are from my hometown of Ocilla and are very familiar with Janis. For those of you that have not had the pleasure of getting to know her, let me just take a minute to tell you how amazing she was!
I have known of Janis my entire life. Some places have a town troubadour but in Ocilla, we have a town clown! (Yes, a real, live, been-to-school-for-it clown.) Clancey the Clown, that is, the Mayor of Smileville in the state of O’silly that left a trail of donut seeds and laughter wherever she went.
I didn’t really get to know Janis until I moved home from college to run The Shoppes at Fourth and Cherry, our business in downtown Ocilla. Janis rented a booth space here when we first opened our doors in August of 2003 until this past February of 2016. It is safe to say that we got to know each other very well over the course of the last 12 years! Janis had a larger-than-life personality that would almost knock you down when she came through the doors. Though she struggled over the past few years with illness and trying times, she loved coming and tinkering around in her little booth and getting to visit with everyone at The Shoppes. When she entered the doors she would shout “helllooo everybody” and never left without saying “down the road, bump a nose” never good-bye: good-bye was a big no-no. Any time “Midnight Train to Georgia” would start playing on The Shoppes ipod, Janis would start singing it at the top of her lungs, whether we had two customers in the store or twenty!
Janis was a wonderful friend and counselor to me over the years through my own trying times. Even when she was feeling low she was a beacon of encouragement to others. She loved the Lord with all of her heart and her faith in Him never wavered. Through the ups and downs of my life she always loved me and encouraged me. I have numerous little newspaper clippings she cut out and sent to me and so many special little mementos and gifts that she has given me over the years. Every note she ever wrote, whether it be in a card or on a gift tag, was so thoughtful and meaningful. Always with lots of exclamation points and a smiley face. She was a true, true blessing to all that knew her. I have never known a person quite like Janis, and I doubt I ever will again! She was truly one-of-a-kind.
Janis’ funeral was held a week ago Friday. Though it was a sad day, it was amazing to be surrounded by so many that love Janis and that were loved by her. There was plenty of laughter to go around as we gathered to celebrate Janis’ life and to rejoice that she is now with her savior, Jesus Christ! Even in death, I have felt such comfort and encouragement from Janis. You see, I have been having a bit of a dark time myself. I go through spells of difficulty in this small town when I spend way too much time focusing on the negative aspects of my life and imagining how much better life would be if I lived somewhere else. I often think of how successful my business could be if I lived in a bigger city, or that my creative talents would be more appreciated, that I could make more money and that life would not be such a struggle. So on and so forth, down the negative spiral.
Last Friday I was reminded of how blessed I truly am to live in a place where I am loved and supported by so many. I reflected on my last 12 years in Ocilla and all the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to build relationships with, all the sweet people that have ministered to me in my times of struggle and all the folks that I have been able to minister to through my business. I know I have mentioned before that my husband and I consider Ocilla our mission field. We are on a mission to help better our community, to love and support those who need us and to spread the love of Christ through the streets of this little town.
I will be the first to admit to you that there are times in my life that I fail miserably at this. When I let the negative thoughts creep in and take over, I am letting Satan win the day. I subscribe to a daily devotional from one of my favorite, Godly women, Christine Caine. I wanted to share with you the message I received yesterday:
That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Corinthians 12:10)
“Difficulty is hard. It's the bully that steps into your path and tries to arm wrestle you to the ground until you cry uncle. And no matter what you're trying to do, especially if it's worthwhile, difficulty will try to outshout both God and your own thoughts to confuse you. It tries to look so large that you can only see what's right in front of you – the problems, the obstacles and the walls. But we can't let difficulty keep us from daring to go where God wants us to go. God will make a way, and He wants to show it to you today. Seek Him!”
It is shameful that it took the death of a very good friend to shake me out of my funk! It is time to move on and continue embracing this small town that I do love so much. One of Janis’ best friends, whom I am also blessed to call friend, stopped during the eulogy she was giving to say through tears, “aren’t we all so lucky to live here and to have each other?” Yes we are! Janis loved this town with every bone in her body (especially her funny bone)! If you are not from Ocilla, and you are wondering why I chose to share all this on the blog today, then let me just tell you. This is a representation of small town southern living at its best. These are the times that we band together, in times of grief and struggle to comfort each other and help each other. Not only will the church ladies drown you in casseroles and hams when you have lost a loved one, but you will be prayed for in times of illness or hardship. You will be offered a ride if you are walking somewhere, folks will ask you how you are doing and usually they mean it. If you need your grass mowed or something heavy moved, there is always someone you can call on to help you.
As our community grieves the loss of Janis, it seems an almost impossible feat to “delight in weakness” but let’s remember that when we are weak, we are strong! I love you Janis Roberts, every bone in your body, especially your funny bone! Thank you for loving me.
This portrait was painted in honor of Janis by a local artist, Della Farmer. Della has chosen to share this treasure with everyone, she will even send you a high resolution image to print. To learn more about Della and her artwork, click HERE.
I became serious about painting my nails in the summer of 2012. I have always enjoyed the process, but it wasn't until then that a sweet stranger and I began to bond over it. It was a mutual interest and it was how we formed a friendship. We would spend hours talking about boys and sorting through colors just to change our minds midway through. What I realized during this time was that I wasn't just looking forward to doing my nails--but I was looking forward to spending one-on-one time with my new-found friend, Mary Claire.
Our friendship blossomed and we ventured into other areas, but we never forgot our love for nails. As time went by, our array of colors and fun personalities opened doors to other friendships along the way. We even joked that painting nails could become our "Ministry". It isn't often that you set aside an hour to chat about life with the only distraction being what color you will choose.
After settling in from my move back home, I realized that it was time to invite someone new over to "do our nails". I knew I wouldn't have to search them out--they would come to me. Soon, a conversation with a co-worker led to a mutual interest in nails. I invited her over and we hit it off. We quickly bonded over painting our nails and girly TV shows. I gained the sister I never had that year. Abi and I became the best of friends (regardless of our 7 year age difference) and she has taught me just as much as , if not more than, I have taught her.
As our final farewell--we celebrated the only way we knew how. We went to have our nails done with no distractions, only time to chat (and a Chik-fil-a milkshake of course). One day, after she made the move to Virginia, she sent me a picture of her freshly painted nails. Believe it or not, I had just painted my nails the exact same color that day! Facetime and Snapchat are now our main forms of communication, but nevertheless we love sharing life and nail advice.
Though these two particular girls are ones I have grown to love and keep up with regularly, there are others I have shared my love for nails with along the way. We've had two "nail parties" in the last few months and little did Roxie know, she loves gold nails!
Jorjanne was blessed after her accident when we gathered at her house and did her toe nails for her after dinner. This Christmas I had the idea to put together nail kits for teen foster girls, and it was SO MUCH FUN! I found a manicure set that said "The only time a woman is helpless is when her nail polish is drying." How perfect. I hope that those girls felt the love and encouragement I was sending their way.
Painting your nails take time, patience, and practice. The result of painting your nails is confidence, joy and a finished look. My goal in painting someone's nails is that they feel loved, cared for and beautiful. I hope that they saw the meaning behind my efforts, knowing that I care about their heart more than their nails. I hope that they enjoyed our time together and were encouraged in who they are and who they're meant to be. This is why I think nails were meant to be painted.
If you're not into nails, but like the direction in which this is going, what can you embrace with this attitude? What can you utilize as an avenue to strike up friendships and start conversations? Walking, gardening, craft projects--whatever it is, just choose something you love and you will love the results.
What we're Pinning