{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 18~How I Found Myself in Uganda ~ Part 1: Don't Be a Frog

If you've been around here for some time, you may know that I am a worship pastor's wife. Brad and I met while involved in youth ministry. We married and continued to pastor students for another 5 years before moving to worship ministry. We've been in the worship world for 8 years now.

My first role in ministry was with youth. It seemed a natural fit and it was the area all my friends were participating in. After Brad and I married, I continued to participate as he did...to youth while he did youth. To adults when he took the position in the worship department. It never really occurred to me that God might call me to something different until I found myself surrounded by Ugandan orphans years later.

The trip to Uganda came about so suddenly. I knew in my heart I had always wanted to go, but going was so stretching and uncomfortable. I started having panic attacks about a week before we left. Whenever I would think about leaving Brad and the kids, I would be filled with panic and anxiety. My heart would start racing and I would have a hard time breathing. One of the symptoms of a panic attack is:

"nervousness about the possibility of losing control and doing something embarrassing"

That's exactly what I was fearing. I was scared to leave my kids for 2 weeks. I was nervous about the possibility of little, or no, communication while I was gone. On the other side, I was really nervous about traveling to the other side of the world with a group of people I didn't know very well. What if they didn't like me?

The first night there, I couldn't sleep. Every time I would lay down, I couldn't breathe. I spent the entire night praying and planning an escape plan. I felt I had made a mistake and I desperately needed to get home to my family.

I made it through the night and made sure to not make a sound at breakfast the next morning. I kept my mouth closed for fear that if I opened it, I would say all the things I was actually thinking and our team would then know that I had lost my mind.

I found a way to call home that day and heard about all the fun the kids were having with their daddy. Everyone was happy and Brad told me exactly what I needed to hear. He was so encouraging and told me to take advantage of every minute. It would be such a waste to spend this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity being homesick. It felt like he was giving his blessing. I realized it was okay to enjoy my time away and that loving these orphan children was not a betrayal of my love for my family.

Although it was not immediate, I gave myself fully to the purpose for which I had come half way around the world. I worked hard, painting and cleaning orphan homes. I climbed ladders and hung mosquito nets, just feet away from chirping bats. I sat on the porch of Farida and Hanifah and learned all about their lives. They sang songs to me and I to them. I visited the home of sweet Marvin. I played with Desire. I met Sarah who had left 4 of her children in order to make money to send back to them. We took an excursion to the source of the Nile River, so sleek and calm. I laughed and laughed with my team. We worshiped together. I watched the sunsets fill the sky with colors like I had never seen before. I danced around and sang songs with the orphan children.

I felt so alive. I fell in love with those people. And I knew that I had found an avenue of ministry...a God-given ministry...that belonged to me. I realized I have gifts that go beyond serving my husband and children.

I was also so overcome with gratitude. So thankful to my God who awoke these dreams at just the right time. Who had planned this trip with me in mind...knowing that it would change me forever. So thankful to my husband who gave me permission to explore...to pursue dreams...to change.

I came home with a new confidence. I finally knew that God intends to use me, in ways that are unique to me. There should be no striving to be someone else. No hiding in the shadow of my husband. I now know that God has brought me to this place, this time, for a specific purpose and that it is not to the exclusion or the limitation of my role as wife and mother. If I follow His leading, it all works together. For His purpose.

This realization is so empowering. It's so freeing. I am wholeheartedly chasing this God of ours...chasing His purposes. After experiencing the pouring out of myself in such a way, I don't ever want to go back to the small-minded, complacent place of my past. It's like the analogy of the frog. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump right out. If you put it in cold water and slowly warm it to boiling, the frog will stay in the gradually warming water, happily swimming around, not realizing it will soon be dead. This is how complacency works in our lives. We don't suddenly become complacent. But we can stay still too long, not realizing that by resisting to move, we are closer and closer to dying.

We have to move. We have to continue to grow. I gave of myself to these people in really hard ways, but the reward is mine. It really is true that we can find ourselves, the true God-created self, through the pouring out of our lives.

This should come as no surprise. Jesus said it many years ago:

"Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." 
~ Matt. 10:39 NIV

The Message says it this way:

"If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me."
~Matt. 10:39 MSG

And that's exactly what happened. I found myself and Him!

Now, before you think I'm going to run off, leave my family, and become a full time missionary to Uganda...let me assure you that's not going to happen. Come back on Monday for Part 2 where I'll explain how it all works together....


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 17~The Balance of the People Pendulum

I'm an introvert. Have I ever said this here before? I don't know that I have. Being an introvert doesn't mean that I don't like people. I love people! Being an introvert means that I require time by myself in order to recharge.

My husband...he is an extreme extrovert. He can be grouchy, tired, discouraged...give him 30 minutes mingling with people and he'll be happy, energized, ready to conquer the world!

I am so introverted that I can spend days at home. In my pjs. No phone calls, no emails...and I'm fine. If I'm not careful, I can go days without talking to anyone but my husband and children.

But I'm not at my best this way. Ideally, I should have 2-3 days a week without a lot scheduled. I need a few things here and there to make sure I get dressed and actually shower occasionally...you think I'm kidding...

If I spend too much time on my own I can become cynical and edgy. I can get so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I become unbalanced. So introspective that I lose touch with real people and real needs. God didn't create us to live alone. He has given us each other. I am strengthened by people. My times alone with my thoughts and with the Lord are in turn used to strengthen others.

I think it's important to come in contact with a variety of people. Mixing it up every now and then keeps us on our toes. It keeps us from becoming too comfortable. Here are some types of people that I've found to help "round out" my rough edges. These are people beyond my immediate family:

A best friend. Hopefully one you've known for 5+ years. You've been around each other long enough to see the joyful, triumphant moments and the dark and dirty, unattractive ones (both physically and emotionally) and you still love each other. It's comfortable and yet, there's no doubt this person will lovingly tell you if there's spinach in your teeth...or a plank in your eye (both physically and emotionally)

A mentor. Someone who's been married longer than you. Has kids older than you. Has walked with God longer than you. Knows enough to tell you that it won't always be this way...A) If things are great, make sure you're storing up for the drought. B) If things are rough, hang on because things will get better.

A younger friend. Someone who's 5-10 years behind you. They make you feel smart because you're able to tell them A & B from above. Just kidding...they strengthen you because they require you to think beyond yourself. They require you to analyze what you actually believe and explain why you believe it.

A calling encourager. Someone who's actually doing (or has done) what is in your heart to be doing. A teacher, leader who can give you real practical tips and advice to help you get where you're going. If you want to sing, find a voice teacher. If you want to write, find an author. If you want to speak, find a speaker. If you enjoy taking pictures, find a photographer.

A new friend. Enjoy the newness and how this really feels like dating. Enjoy it even more when it moves beyond this point.

A hobby friend. A workout buddy. A crafting friend. A shopping companion. Can't think of a hobby? Find one!

A group of older people. Listen to their stories. Notice how easily (or not easily) they laugh. Notice if they still love their spouse. Ask them what gives them joy. Find out what their greatest life lessons are.

A group of younger people. Laugh. Goof around. Be silly. It'll feel good, I promise.

I know, it's A LOT of people! Tell me about it...I'm an introvert, remember? But life is so much richer with people...even the ones you don't like very much. Everyone has a story and has something to teach us and I've found much joy in being open to the unexpected surprises...

an unexpected friend,
an encouragement from an unlikely source,
seeing the world through someone else's eyes.

What do you think? Do you have these people? Is there someone I missed?


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 16~A Little Headache Goes a Long Way

I like coffee. I really like coffee. I like Starbucks coffee...Grande Nonfat With Whip Pumpkin Spice White Mocha with half the pumps...Mmmm so good. I have pumpkin pie spice creamer in my fridge right now and I can almost taste it as I write about it...

But I'm not drinking it currently because I'm on a cleanse. So I'm drinking this instead.

Yea, it tastes like it looks. I've been struggling with some health issues so I am "cleansing" in hopes of feeling better.

Cleansing feels very similar to fasting. Today is day one so I have a slight headache. If it continues to feel like fasting, tomorrow I'll be pretty sluggish and have a worse headache. I might be nauseated and have leg cramps too. This is only a 2 day cleanse, so I'll miss the experience of day 3. Fasting on day 3 is wonderful. No more headaches, still a bit sluggish...but the mental and spiritual clarity that comes on day 3 is glorious.

That is why the Lord says,
    “Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
    Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
~Joel 2:12

There are so many benefits to fasting. When we fast in our home, we limit television and music. We limit social media and electronic gaming. We set aside a few days to quiet ourselves and enable our hearts to be open to what God is speaking.

Don't misunderstand me and think that I'm saying it's not hard. Because it is. We are tempted to indulge. Our bodies ache. We're grouchy and tired. We cheat sometimes (gasp!). But our intentions for those times are to seek God.

It was during a fast at the beginning of the year that God revealed His plan for our year. And everything He spoke seemed so impossible. He had reassured us through His Word.

This is my command—be strong and courageous! 
Do not be afraid or discouraged. 
For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
 ~Joshua 1:9

And by July every single thing He had promised had happened.

I will always be thankful when I look back on that fast and remember how God met us right where we were and spoke promises that seemed way too big and how He was so...close.

When we clear away the stuff of this world...the food, the television, the internet...we allow ourselves an opportunity to meet with God in a new way.

I heard of a woman who lives in the poorest village in Zambia. She is a single mother of 4 children, who all have AIDS. Her husband left her for a prostitute. She connected with some Americans during a mission trip. The Americans, shocked and upset by the poverty surrounding them, said they wished they could just pack everyone up and bring them home to America.

This woman said, "You couldn't pay me enough to go. We have problems here in Zambia, but your problems are much worse. I fear I wouldn't be able to hear the voice of God in America."

I was so struck by the idea that this woman would give up food, quality healthcare and an education in order to hear the voice of God! So the question is, what are we willing to sacrifice? 

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 15~A Little Absence is Good

Thank you for your grace last Wednesday. I have been struggling with some health issues lately and sometimes it just requires a bit more rest.

Brad has been out of town for the last few days. He has been in Nashville writing for our upcoming New Life Worship recording and now he is in Kentucky ministering at a church there.

It used to be SO hard when he would leave. Even before we had kids, I would really struggle when he was gone. I felt lonely and left behind a lot of the time. And now, on the other side of it, I can admit that I was jealous. He gets some amazing opportunities and, at the beginning of our marriage, I would be jealous of those opportunities.

We had been married a few months when he left for a week. He was traveling with the worship team to lead at a conference. They traveled to a cool city, stayed in a hotel and went out to eat. I was at home, in our normal city, in our normal bed, eating normal food. We were working together in the youth department of the church, so I was left with all of the responsibility and in my mind, no fun.

We got into a fight over the phone one night and Brad vowed that he wouldn't travel anymore. The mature, right thing, for me to do would have been to (hmmmm....not whine in the first place??) insist that he follow the Lord and steward the opportunities God had given him. But I didn't. I took his vow.

So he didn't travel again for a year. We worked on our marriage that year (and still continue to!) and I had the security and stability of knowing he would be home with me.

We started having children soon after our first year of marriage. Having our new baby gave me renewed purpose and passion. Brad started traveling a tiny bit--just a few trips a year. They were still hard, but I didn't deal with the loneliness like I had before.

As you may know, we had our children very close together. While I grew in maturity and the desire for Brad to explore opportunities as God presented them, it was still physically very hard when he was gone. I was so exhausted most of the time. I no longer resented him for traveling, but I dreaded his trips simply for the fact that it was really hard on me and consequently hard on our children.

The demand for Brad to travel has ebbed and flowed. And as our children have grown, I have grown and it is no longer as hard.

Last year, as we were praying in preparation for this year, we both felt that he would travel more. He was excited about opportunities on the horizon. And I was too!

I now actually desire these trips for him. When he travels, he learns so much and gains fresh perspective. It's so good for him to "rub shoulders" with other worship pastors and music artists and song writers and pastors. He comes home refreshed and excited about all that God is doing. I look forward to these times as well...I cook less and focus on fun, meaningful times with our kids. Caleb is the man of the house while Brad is gone and I love watching him grow in maturity and responsibility. I've come to enjoy some evenings to myself as well...I can do whatever I want, watch whatever I want on tv and go to bed whenever I want AND I sleep right smack dab in the middle of the bed!

And guess what? God has given me some trips as well! I have traveled more this year than ever before. I've traveled with Brad a bit and for work and for missions. I also come home re-energized and excited to reengage with our church body.

 hanging out with fellow worship leaders in West Palm Beach, Florida

 working breakfast with the ladies of The Thorn

And absence really does make the heart grow fonder. And stronger. We both learn so much during our times apart and it's really fun to reconnect when we're back together. I am so proud of my husband and I'm really excited about what the future holds. We serve a great big God with great big dreams and I love the life He's laid out for us!


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 14~There are More Stars in the Sky

I've recently noticed that the way the earth is aligned with the sun and the moon is just right for the view from my bedroom window. It's a skinny window, but I can sit in my bed (my favorite place in the whole house, by the way...am I alone here?) and have a perfect view of the sunrise and the moonrise. I'm not sure if it's always like this...I'm sure one of you know way more about this than me (or maybe I could ask Caleb...he would probably know!). But if it's always been this way, I never noticed it until recently.

One evening a few weeks ago, I pulled open the blinds on my bedroom window so that I could watch the moonrise from my bed. It was just after the sun had gone down behind the mountains and it wasn't really dark yet. It was a perfect, pretty, dusky grey-blue of evening. As I peered out my window to take in the view, I noticed a really bright star. It was so bright that I didn't notice any other stars. I walked back to my bed and just stared at that one star that was just SO bright. And the Lord spoke to me...

That one bright star was peering through the dusky, grey-blue sky. But it wasn't the only star out there. It was so pretty as it twinkled and shimmered, but there were SO many more stars that I couldn't see.

I think this is how our dreams are with God. We may have a dream or goal that we want so badly and it's a GOOD dream to have. In fact, it may be a God-given dream that He placed in our heart! But we can get so focused on that one dream and lose sight of the big picture. There are SO many other things that God may have for us, but we may not be open to them because we are focused on the one dream that is so attractive and exciting.

I was reminded of our trip to Uganda this summer. In the beginning of the planning, I had in my mind what kind of trip we were going to take. We had one really strong contact at an orphanage with over 1000 children. We spent two weeks there last summer and I was so excited about taking our team (and my husband and 2 oldest kids) to meet all of the wonderful children that have taken hold of my heart. Well, as we moved forward with dates that worked on the U.S. side, we realized that those dates didn't work the way we needed them to on the Uganda side. In a matter of a few days, the trip that I had envisioned changed. We wouldn't be able to go back to that orphanage for 2 weeks. We had a shorter window of time that worked for the orphanage and we would need to find other opportunities for the remainder of the trip.

I was heartbroken thinking we would travel all that way and we would only get to see those children for a few days. One of my co-leaders was disappointed as well. We consoled each other and realized that this trip was out of our hands. It was obviously going to be very different.

The next few months were amazing as the details for our trip fell into place. I knew God's hand was on our trip...we never once had to go searching for a contact or reaching for a way to fill our time there. Each contact came at just the right time and seemed to fit perfectly with the goals we had as a team.

And wow, what a trip it was. We did everything from playing with orphans to physical labor, building a brick wall. We traveled to a remote village to share the Gospel with people who had never heard from "white people" before. We shared and performed skits and worshiped with children on a remote island in the middle of Lake Victoria. We lead worship at several churches and shared and learned with local worship teams. We played soccer aka "football" with Ugandans. We had the opportunity to do so many wonderful, amazing, humbling, crazy things...plans I never could have made on my own. Opportunities that happened because we couldn't do what we had originally set out to do.

And it was all completely in God's plan. HE knew what He wanted us to do way before we ever did. Going over and spending 2 weeks playing with orphans would have been wonderful. But we got to love on orphans AND do all of those other things!

He gave us the one, bright star and also, because of our obedience, the many other stars that were hidden until His perfect timing.

We could have given up in the beginning. When it seemed that things weren't working out the way we thought they should, we could have decided to cancel the whole trip...grasping for the one opportunity that we wanted so badly. Or we could surrender and let God have His way, remembering that He is a good God and will always lead us down the right path, the one that is PERFECT.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord
“They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
Jeremiah 29:11 NLT


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 11~Give Up

I've never really liked asking for help. I've always been pretty independent, a go getter, a driver. I've always said I don't want to be a burden to anyone. I'd rather suffer quietly than make someone feel obligated to help me in some way.

About two years ago, my doctor had advised me to undergo a surgery to help with some issues I'd been having since the birth of my last baby. I found a time that worked with our schedule and a time that my mom had available so that she could help with the kids. It's not easy finding time in our personal schedule, much less find a time that coordinates with my mom! But we knew we needed her. The recovery was to be pretty intense the first two weeks and I was supposed to be fully recovered after 6 weeks.

Unfortunately, when I called to schedule the surgery, my doctor didn't have that week available. He had the previous week available...right when my mom was supposed to be out of the country!

We had a decision to make. We could wait another two months until we had another clearing in our schedule that coincided with the doctor's or we could go ahead with the surgery without my mom in town. I decided I didn't want to wait any longer. We would go ahead without my mom.

You know those times when you just want Mom? This was one of those times. I am confident in my mom's ability to care for my children. She knows how things work. The kids love her and find comfort in her. She knows ME so well! I wanted HER to be there when Brad brought me home. I wanted her to comfort me and help me and cook me her amazing egg rolls and know what I needed before I did.

But it wasn't going to work out that way. So I told Brad that he didn't need to stay at the hospital. He could drop me off for my surgery and then pick me up when it was time to go home. That way, he could stay with the kids. A friend was arranging meals for the week. Everything was in place.

As the date for the surgery drew closer, I grew more fearful. I was scared to "go under the knife". I was nervous about being at the hospital by myself. Really, I wanted Brad to be there with me but in order to make that happen, I had to entrust my children to friends.

I remember clearly...my eyes tearing up and almost choking on the words as I asked a friend for help. We had decided that Brad would stay with me until the evening, spend the night at the house with the kids, and then come back to the hospital the next morning. We needed someone to come to the house early and get the kids ready for school and drive them. I had everything else covered except that one morning. My friend was offering help. She was wanting to help. She was available to help. So why was it so hard to ask?

Because I had to give up control.

I had to admit that I couldn't do it all. There was no given, simple solution. I had to trust my friend (who has 4 kids of her own, by the way) to care for my kids. I had to admit that although it may not be done "my way", it would get done...my kids love her and would enjoy being with her. She loves my kids and loves helping.

I had to give up control. And let someone in. I couldn't guarantee that the house would be picked up. Or that my kids would behave perfectly. I couldn't guarantee that she'd ever want to speak to me again after she witnessed first hand the craziness of the Parsley household!

So I did. I gave up control. My husband was with me to comfort me (exactly where he wanted to be). The house probably was a wreck and I'm sure there were some hiccups during that morning. But she is still speaking to me...and we're closer now...and she's kept my kids for several nights in a row since then!

I gave up control and I received comfort. I gave up control and I gained a closer friendship. I gave up control and it was all okay!

What are you holding onto today?

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 10~An Open Door is Better

We were created for relationship. And I think most of us desire relationship. But we live in a fallen world. A world of hurt and disappointments and unrealistic expectations.

Our relationships are messy. The close ones are never clean and easy. They require effort and grace and forgiveness. When we've reached a point of closeness, it's easy to settle in and feel like we've accomplished the task of friendship. As if we can check it off our to-do list. Why would we need more than a few really close, or best, friends?

This is the attitude I've had. I've worked hard for the few close, trusted friends that are in my life. It's taken years of living life together. Seeing each other at our worst. Confronting and working through issues even when it's difficult. Laughing at our mistakes. Listening to heartache. Being together. It takes time and effort to develop this kind of friendship.

And sometimes friendship hurts. A friend betrays. Or doesn't have the capacity to give what we need. Or we just drift apart. I have felt this sting and it makes me want to close up. It makes me want to hold on really tight to the few good friends that I have and not risk the chance of the sting again.

But this is not what it's about. The stinging, the pain, the hoped unfulfilled...these strengthen us. They open our eyes to the way of people. If we handle them right, we heal and come out on the other side not broken, but more wise. We learn to be forgiving. We learn to be a better friend ourselves.

And when we come out on the other side and remain open, we allow God to surprise us. Have you ever looked at that woman who is 20, 30, 40 years your senior and wondered if she might be a good friend? Have you ever noticed a college student and wondered if she has something to give? Or something you could give to her?

The answer, if you're honest with yourself, might be no. We tend to look at those who are in our same demographic or for those who are similar to us. For me, I would tend to look at moms, Christians, women in ministry, who are around my same age. I've also tended to lean toward serious, truth talkers who aren't afraid to talk about deep heart issues. This criteria makes for really good friends but because this was my tendency, I'd narrow the field. I would walk around with a closed door to those who may not fit into this demographic.

I found myself lonely. And needy! I was a super clingy, insecure friend. If my one or two friends weren't available I was on my own!

I was invited to a birthday breakfast for one of my closest friends and several of her other close friends. Because we were all gathered in one place, she took the opportunity to tell each of us what we mean to her and what we add to her life. I was struck by the variety of her friends. Some really close, some more casual. Some she sees on a regular basis, some she sees less often. Some she's known for years, some that are newer friends. Some older, some younger. I was so happy for her in that moment. The love that was shared around the table that morning was palpable. I walked away thankful that I was included in such a group. I also felt a twinge of sadness as I realized that I also longed for this depth of relationship. It's like going all morning without eating breakfast...I've been too busy to recognize my hunger for it. And once the hunger was acknowledged, I realized I was famished.

So I made a decision. I decided to be open to different relationships. I opened myself up to be surprised. Soon after that decision, I found myself...

...crying as a woman hugged me and told me she prays for me and sees me as the daughter she never had.

...talking excitedly (and yes, crying again) with a friend who is as passionate about the nations as I am. I've also found that we are more alike than I thought and we share other passions as well.

...hesitantly opening up to a newer friend and being rewarded with such wonderful encouragement and support.

...turning a "coffee-date" into a full day of heart to heart connection with someone I just met.

...making new friends...and enjoying it!

Of course, true friendship goes both ways. It will take vulnerability on my part and a giving of myself in order for these relationships to flourish. I love how God matches people together so that we can truly grow and strengthen each other.

I went to a women's conference this weekend. As I sat there in an arena full of women, I was so thankful....

To my left sat my closest, life-long friend.

To my right, a new friend who's close already.

In front of me were some of my friends from our worship team and choir. These girls see me weekly...sometimes happy and energized, sometimes emotional and tired. They know my heart for worship and watch my husband and I lead together.

In the row behind was: a close friend who's becoming closer. A friend who's life I am so honored to be a part of: her entire life is a miracle. A friend who's support and love and ability to give is such a challenge to me.

 I think this picture is hilarious. That's me, 2nd row in the middle, giving the stink eye to my friend, Krista, as she takes the picture.

I feel so incredibly blessed by these women. They are not all my very best friends. Some of them will become better friends, some will continue to be less intimate. But they are all valuable. They all have unique gifts and abilities. And they all have a different piece of my life, a different perspective of who I am, a different piece of my heart! I am more open now to God adding people to my life. And through each person, through each of their gifts, He reveals a bit of Himself to me.

We were created for this. For the complementing of each other. For the strengthening and encouraging of each other. Together we are more equipped, more prepared. Together we are stronger!


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.