Strength | T-shirt Testimony

If you don't know Alayne from the inspirational blog Grace and Coffee, you must run to her blog and get to know her, ASAP. (Well, that is after you read her t-shirt testimony first)

I met her through our children, since they attend the same preschool. Even though I don't yet know her well, I feel like I've known her forever. She radiates Jesus. And after reading her words, you will be just as in awe of her as I am. 

-Anna

Read her poignant words below...

 

Psalm 38:7 "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him."

When Anna came to me about my t-shirt testimony, I fully intended to write about a life-altering time from my very early teen years. But God changed my plans, as He so often does.  The very next Sunday after speaking with her, I felt a tug at my heart that I was to share something completely different: a current, on-going trial that I've been hesitant to talk about.  And by tug, I mean the Heavens parted and a blazing spotlight burned a whole through me and set the pew on fire.  (At least that's what it felt like.)

My pastor made the following statement: "Being truly obedient to God means sharing with others what HE has done in your life."

I could have easily shared my planned testimony because God did carry me through an unthinkable time that very much played a part in shaping who I am today.  I even argued with God more than once that it should be shared instead.

But it was as if I heard Him ask "Alayne, why would I sustain you and give you the victory in this trial only for you to keep your mouth shut about what I have done for you?"  

Hello?  Conviction?  So, my prayer in sharing this is that it would glorify His name and speak to your heart of His great and mighty love for you - regardless of the circumstances that surround you.

February 4, 2016 was just another routine morning at our house.  Until it wasn't. My husband had gone to work, the kids were full of energy, and we had just returned home from our Thursday morning ritual of Hardee's biscuits.  It was around 8:30 am when I received the phone call from my OBGYN.  To set this up, I had just been in for a repeat pap smear and biopsy Monday of that same week.  If there is anything I've learned from repetitive medical tests, it's this - if they call you quickly, it's not good.  

I've had quite a few medical tests since the birth of my twins.  They are by far the greatest gifts the Lord has blessed me with this side of Heaven.  It's unreal to see so much of yourself embedded in a tiny version of you.  All of your flaws and imperfections intertwined and fashioned in this little person that seem to make them so perfect. Through the gift of my children, that big, distant God I perceived for a large portion of my life, has provided a glimpse of just how much He sees me and the depths of His love for me that no human heart can even begin to understand.  

But let me just tell you.  Those precious angels jacked. my. body. up. They are 3 years old and for 3 years I have worn a path between my home and the OBGYN's office.  From normal results to abnormal results to follow-ups that never turned into anything, I'm on a first name basis with every warm body in that office.  I guess you could say it's been a "let's keep an eye on it" type of situation.  

So on this particular morning, the nurse got the doctor who picked up the phone and told me I had endocervical adenocarcinoma. In English, cervical cancer. Phew, that word holds a lot of weight, doesn't it?  It's scary, overwhelming, and one of those words you never expect to be in the same sentence with your name.  It felt like somebody punched me in the gut.  So the doctor continues on but all I hear is cancer, cancer, blah blah blah, cancer.  Poison invading my body, with the intent to harm.  

And before I even hang up the phone, I'm getting my game plan together.  Half hearing the doctor's words because I have to call my husband and tell him I'm dying, my nurse practitioner sister to confirm I'm dying, and then cry about dying while further appointments are scheduled.  Nice game plan, huh?

The truth is, I'm helpless.  I have absolutely zero control over this situation.  

But I know the One who does.  

I know the One who helps the helpless.  

I can not only look to the future but I can look forward to the future, because I know the One who wrote it.  

Anxiety has been a stronghold on my life for as long as I can remember.  There have been times where I was so consumed by it that I physically made myself sick with worry.  And in the midst of waiting to meet with the oncologist, it prowled around to consume me again.  But leading up to that moment, long before I ever knew... God was preparing me for this battle.  He has proved time and time again that His goodness never ceases and His love never ends.  The evidence was there all the time.  I am the one who chose to believe it at a distance.  Maybe He loved me if it turned out ok, and maybe He didn't if it turned out bad.  

Friends, hear this.  The outcome is not the destination.  The work being done in the waiting is His purification.

In the waiting, God draws us in so very close to Him and says "know Me so intimately, trust Me so completely", that no matter if common sense or reason says this is impossible, you are not dismayed or discouraged but fully believe that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE THROUGH HIM.  He stands in the gap and meets us in the middle.  His presence is experienced in the middle.  The blessing is in the middle. What should have swallowed us up, has no power over us.

He is rightly to be praised in the middle. 

He is preparing us for eternity, and the understanding of how He works is not needed because we can rest secure that He is for us and not against us.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor reward us according to our iniquities.  This means that even in troubles that we've created all on our own, when we deserve the punishment and not the blessing, He reigns down His undeserved and unmerited grace.  

In this life, my flesh may fail me, but HE is the strength of my heart causing me to persevere in patience through trials. I need daily reminders that my hope is not in today but in the eternal. He wove us to hope and hide in His strength. 

Therefore, I will boast of my helplessness and offer up my brokenness so that the Perfector of my faith is glorified through this storm. This storm that has already and will further require decisions and procedures, but praise the Lord was detected early, making it very treatable.  And while my heart may be grieved, I can honestly say that I am so very thankful for the truth He has revealed to me during this uncertain time.  I will yield my spirit to Him, cling to His strength, and rejoice in the middle because my God has already won the battle! 

-Alayne

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Gravity | T-shirt Testimony

On July 3rd of this year, I sat at the doctor's office. My heart racing and my feet tapping the cold metal table in anticipation.  It had been eight weeks since my husband, Drew, and I cried tears of joy and excitement over a little plastic stick with two blue lines. I was eight weeks in to my second pregnancy and I was about to get the first glimpse of that sweet little blob of a silhouette. That day, I heard the word that will drop an expecting mother to her knees.  Miscarriage. 

Two days later, on July 5th, Drew and I buckled our seat belts and headed for the hospital.  We didn't say much to each other that morning, but when we turned out of our neighborhood and a certain song came on the radio, we both reached immediately to turn it off.  Yesterday, I was in the car on the way to a hair appointment and I listened to "Oceans" by Hillsong United for the first time since that day.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

As I listened to the words, tears streamed down my face.  Why couldn't we handle that song on that awful morning? When we both needed those words so badly at that point.  That July morning was one of the many times in my life that I could feel my world spinning out of control. How many times have you had a feelings like this? A moment where you feel everything moving around you, but you are completely still. Unable to move...Even scared to move. 

My day job is to teach 23 precious third graders.  We had a discussion about gravity a few weeks ago.  Try explaining that to an eight year old mind. Heck, someone please try explaining it to me. Gravity is defined as, "a natural force that tends to cause two physical things to move toward each other". Many thanks, Mr. Webster.  However, for me, gravity has always been defined a little differently. 

Over the past few years, there have been several times that my gravity, my Heavenly Father, is the only thing holding me in place.  Grounded.  Able to stand, rather than spin completely out of control.  Whether it is my faith, my friends, my family, or situations that He so conveniently places me in, He has equipped me to handle it.  Life is not something that was done to you, it is something that is given to you.  Because of Him, throughout these hard times in life, I can feel the cement thickening under my feet.  His hand is nudging me down, holding me firm in my faith.  

 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 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 12:9-10

If you've never really listened to the words of "Oceans", I urge you to take a moment and do it.  What a beautiful expression of Christ's love for us.  I expect many more instances in my life when my feet may fail me, but so far, The Lord has not failed me and I know He won't start now. 

Love & Blessings,

Ashley 

Encouragement | T-shirt Testimony

We have been friends with Wes Canestrari for a long time. We have worked mission trips, community service projects, participated in bible studies and worshiped together.  He's always got a wink and a hug, not to mention- he's the guy that you always want on your team for Trivia Night at our local Mexican restaurant because he's chock full of useless knowledge...seriously, I sometimes wonder if he just sits around and reads Trivial Pursuit question cards for fun.  The three of us (Anna, Wes and I) have a sibling-like relationship that I wouldn't trade for anything. 

A few years ago he told me he was getting a tattoo.  Tattoos scare me. Not necessarily the needle part, but the finality of one.  It's there. Forever. Eek. So of course, when he told me this, I rolled my eyes and thought "Oh me, what now?" He wouldn't tell me what he was getting, just that he had been toying with the idea for a couple of years...which was worse than knowing he was getting one in the first place.  

The tattoo that Wes designed was one of the most poignant, meaningful tattoos I've ever seen.  The thought behind it, how it meshed with his story, the Bible verse that was referenced...All of it. I loved it. It was perfect.  So when Anna and I began this little venture and started coming up with ideas for designs, that tattoo kept coming up in conversation.  Fast forward several months to our T-shirt Testimony series; Enter, Wes and the inspiration behind the design for our newest shirt. 

We are thrilled to have him introduce our newest design, his design, which is benefiting Celebrate Recovery, "a Biblically balanced program that helps individuals overcome hurts, hang-ups, and habits.  It is based on the actual words of Jesus, rather than psychological theory." (retrieved from www.celebraterecovery.com)


For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes. Proverbs 24:16

Years ago, during a tough time in my life, I was directed to this verse.  I was in school, away from home, studying a program that I had no confidence that I would finish.  I felt like a burden to everyone I loved, both family and friends.  I felt like I had ZERO direction in my life.  I knew that the situation that I was in was going to come crashing down around me soon, but this verse gave me hope that it would all work out.  It made me go back to some tough physical times like sports growing up, and more serious times like surviving a horrible auto accident that left me bed ridden for 2 months.  It made me think about how if I had not endured my weaknesses, my emotions, my lack of stamina, and mostly my pain, I would not be where I was at that time physically.  

This helped me relate this process to my spiritual life.  Even though it was extremely tough, I knew that God had a plan for me, and was going to use these hard times to mold me into who I am going to be in the future.  Admittedly, this was the beginning of my darkest time of my life.  I had almost no self-esteem, almost no prospect of a job, but the worst thing was the fact that I had no drive to correct my situation.  But during this dark time, I kept remembering that the wise or righteous person always gets back up after being knocked down.  It is the wicked person that lays down and does not fight to make things right in his or her life.  This person is wicked because they do not trust their Father in Heaven to mold them.  With the encouragement of my family and friends, I was able to get back on my feet, get knocked down, get back up, get knocked down again, and get back up again. I felt God’s Grace through the Holy Spirit moving my soul, as well as God’s Grace through all the people that loved me.

Over the next few years of being knocked down I had a want to get a tattoo to be a daily reminder of what I had to do every day of my life.  I designed it myself over the span of a few months.  Finally I landed on eight arrows pointing up, and seven arrows pointing down on top of them.  I had it done on Easter Sunday of 2010 with the support of a dear friend.

Over the years of having this, I have gotten the opportunity to explain the significance of this design.  It is my goal and hope to encourage others, just as others encouraged me, to keep pushing forward and keep getting up after being knocked down.  The Earthly life can be a roller coaster of ups, downs, loops, and rolls, but if we keep our trust in Jesus and our Lord, we can overcome any hardship that we might face.

I know that my life will continue to have some times where it hits me in the face, but now, I have a peace to know that there is always a better situation around the corner.  I just have to get up off the mat and take the next step.  Hope is a powerful thing, and when one feels it slipping away, depression and madness follow.  I know, I was there.  This design is here to show others that you do have hope, but it is up to you to believe in that hope.  God NEVER gives up on us, even when we tend to lose faith in him.  It is my hope that by wearing and seeing this shirt you will be blessed with the knowledge that “It will get better.”

Thank you and God Bless.

Wes Canestrari 

I Am _______

During the summer of 1989, my parents decided to make the move about 45 minutes west to quaint, little, laid back Athens, Alabama. My parents wanted a smaller and closer knit school system, slower pace of life and they had fallen in love with Athens while my mother was taking classes at Athens State. 

After setting us up into our respective schools, the next task was the find a church to attend. We began visiting a church where many had invited us and there were lots of friendly and familiar faces. 

This particular church had a preacher, at the time, that was passionate. He would often get into his sermon and begin to raise his voice in a powerful way. At 5 years old (and maybe a little to this day) I could be quite sensitive. His way of preaching truly scared me, even though I know that it should not have. 

One particular Sunday, in the middle of the sermon, I looked up at my mother and asked,

"Mama, why is our preacher always so mad at us?" 

The next Sunday we were visiting another church.

For most people, this sort of preaching would light a fire under them and encourage them to change their ways or start serving Christ in a way they hadn't before. My mother knew, though, that if I felt as though the preacher was always mad at me, I would eventually view God the same way. She knew my nature and knew that fear did not motivate me, it crippled me. We found our way to another church in town that our family could agree on and one that had a softer delivery for my mama's sensitive youngest child. 

Christians often spend much of their time arguing which way of worshipping is the right way. "With so many churches, denominations and traditions, one way has to be the right way", we tell ourselves. But God made so many different personalities and character traits- don't we need an array of different churches that will speak to our hearts in the language that it can understand? I sure think so. 

I believe the same is true with God

You might be thinking, "God is God, He's no different for you than He is for me."  

I don't agree. 

In her book, "The God of All Comfort" Hannah Whitall Smith explains it like this...

"God tells us through all the pages of His book what He is.
'I Am,' He says, 'all that my people need'.
'I am their strength'; 'I am their peace'. 'I am their salvation'. 'I am their life'. 'I am their all in all.'"

When God calls himself "I Am", he isn't conceitedly saying that he is everything or that He needs no further explanation. He purposefully leaves it unfinished. He is allowing us to finish the statement.

"I Am ______."

It's open ended, but with no limit. He is whatever His children need him to be. 

What is He for you?

I needed a caring, loving and comforting Christ. Not an intimidating and powerful presence lurking over me. Others may need a strong and stable figure in their lives and he can amazingly fill all of our different needs at the same time. Smith describes I Am as "the most comforting name the heart of man could devise", because we are able to finish the name to describe exactly what we need him to be in our lives. 

This is what has inspired our new "T-shirt Testimonies".  Men and women from all backgrounds and with starkly different lives will be sharing with us their testimony by finishing the name "I Am" with a shirt that reads, "He is my _____". 

 

We hope these testimonies will be an encouragement to you in your walk and let you see that no matter where you began your journey or what obstacles stand in your way, He will be there for you and fill the need in your life. 

Stay tuned to Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #TshirtTestimonies to follow along!

Love and Blessings, 

Anna