Tuesday, September 19, 2023

God brings our "halfway" all the way.

When I think about the original disciples, I know that they were chosen by God to witness miracles, be equipped by the best to spread the gospel and be challenged to leave their homes and families to embark on their work.  They were far from perfect but rose to the occasion to share God’s love and grace with everyone. 

But I also wonder if the disciples ever got tired of all that walking. How about when they needed to get off early that day? Or when they needed a nap from all that work? Did they ever feel like they didn't want to show up?  I know I do.

I found my answers in the Bible, and they gave me peace that I am only human:

Matthew 26:39-40 - Jesus was praying and when he came back to camp he asked Peter, "Couldn't you keep watch with me for one hour?” Yep, the disciples fell asleep! They could have been tired, right?

Matthew 14:15 - The disciples want to send people away, (you know the 5000 Jesus fed?)  They said "This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away..."  The poor guys must have wanted to leave early that day.  Also, there is no Costco to get that much food for everyone!  Maybe they forgot who they are working with... Jesus!

Mark 10:13 – “People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them."  Okay, this is not okay...but, hear me out: if you have children like me or work with children, you can wonder if the disciples were having a hard time getting the parents and children to follow directions so everyone could have a turn. I am just saying that they have had enough! (But we know this is not okay with Jesus.)

We all have been chosen to do something. At our jobs, as a parent, as a family member, in church, as a volunteer, you name it, we all have tasks to complete. Time never stops because we are tired, burned out or we simply don't want to.  

We had a family stop at the Prom Closet to get dresses. This was an appointment outside our regular hours, and I remember that day I was not feeling well myself and Tammy was with me. I can't remember if she had just come from work, but I am pretty sure she had and was tired, too.

Requests for special appointments are not unusual. They can be hard at times because sometimes people don't show up or can be very late. But they can also be rewarding.  Either way, God always has lessons, but I don't always do a good job of recognizing that until much later. 

Anyway, we found the dresses for everyone.  Tammy was bagging the dresses while I cleaned up the dressing rooms when I heard Tammy say "Yes, we have wedding dresses." All I could do was think God is not done but I am. 

We head over to the back room and start looking for wedding dresses.  Wedding dresses are something I try to stay away from receiving in the prom closet. They are the "children'' that I tend to reject because they are heavy and take up a lot of space.

We found two dresses we thought would work for this sweet bride. (Did I mention that she was going to get married that weekend three days after the appointment?) My heart was beating fast because our bride couldn't make any adjustments to the dress because she didn't have enough time. She tried the first dress and that was a no.  I started to get nervous.  We only had one more shot at this and we needed a homerun.

She tried on the second dress, and she looked amazing! That dress was perfect for her! Her aunt who raised her was there, too. She was anxious and happy for her, too. The emotions in the room I can't describe. This sweet bride ended with her beautiful dress, shoes, and jewelry to accent and we also found a tuxedo for the groom! 

But she almost walked out with a blessing halfway done.  I learned that my attitude doesn't stop God from blessing others! I am so thankful for Tammy, and I know she feels the same way about me because just like the disciples, we often fall short of the grace of God but we catch each other so the blessings coming from God are never halfway done!

God brings it all together.



Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Putting on Our Mary & Martha

Since the beginning of February, I have felt like I am running on a treadmill - trying to catch up with God. Have you ever felt that way? With everything going on, the more you do the less you feel that you are accomplishing anything.  I often get discouraged.  Ready to give up because it seems never ending.  The good news is, it doesn't have to feel that way.

Getting the prom closet ready to open for the season is a huge task. There are so many moving parts from getting the closet cleaned, making and hanging new curtains, getting tags for dresses, getting our war room ready for volunteers, making jewelry tags, sorting shoes and on and on.  Why not add to the mix my insecurities:  What if we don't have enough? That sometimes gives me anxiety on top of all the things that demand my attention like God (yes, God requires our attention), my family, job, life and so on.  See that treadmill?  On the outside I appear calm, collected, and positive but on the inside, I can be a hot mess!

The day before we were set to open for the season, we took the Prom Closet “on the go” to a high school in Winston-Salem.  On top of all the things we had to do we added unloading and reloading racks of dresses.  Going in on the first day we were already tired from the trip. 

I feel tired just thinking about it and you probably feel tired just reading this…

But, then God steps in.

Have you ever heard the story of Martha and her sister Mary from Luke 10:38-42?  Martha opened her house to welcome Jesus.  Can you imagine what you would do if Jesus was coming to your house?  I know I would faint first and then get busy cleaning!

Both ladies offer their forms of leadership to Jesus.  Martha is a doer and gets down to serving.  Mary on the other hand offers a tremendous act of worship and sits at the feet of Jesus.  Many times I have heard "Be a Mary not Martha,” but what if I am both? There are times when I respond by doing rather than in worship. 

The part I love about this story is that both had a genuine conversation with Jesus. Just because Martha asked Jesus "Lord don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me." (Luke 10"40b) Jesus didn't reject her. He didn't say to her “Listen Missy, do you know who I am?” 

He doesn't mind that we tell him exactly how we feel.  Let's face it, He already knows. 

My point is it takes time and effort to get the Prom Closet ready because we want to welcome students and their families into our home. We don't want them to see our dust bunnies.   The great part is our Prom Squad volunteers have both Martha and Mary personalities.

I remember Saturday being tired, worried, and anxious. I usually am tired on opening day because I don't sleep well from fear that I won't get up in time.  So, I put on my Martha spirit.  Then in our "war room" our squad gathered for the first time in the season to pray. I Remember praying for energy, for each of our squad members, and for the families coming in.  We were able to display our Mary spirit and worship at the feet of God. 

Then the clock struck 9 a.m. and Martha was back in all of us!



The "War Room"

Friday, March 17, 2023

Do omelets come with eggs?

We have entered week four of this season at the Prom Closet!  You are probably wondering what has God been up to all this time? Well, get ready!

On February 17 we packed up 341 dresses, shoes, and accessories to take our "Prom on the Go" to Winston-Salem. Yep, the day before we were set to open for prom season here in Huntersville!

That morning our prom squad went out for brunch at a local cafe before heading to Winston-Salem. As we started to order our meals, one of our amazing golden girls asked the waitress in the most innocent way “Does this omelet come with eggs?” All of us at the table got really quiet.  Our amazing waitress didn't know what to think, how to react, or what to say (she was not alone, the rest of the prom squad was the same way.)  You could tell by her face that this was a serious question for her.  Then we all burst out laughing.

As I looked at the menu to check what was on the omelet I realized that to make such delicious breakfast a lot ingredients are needed.  The prom squad is like one big omelet.  Each of our squad members brings a different gift, personality, walk of life, and spiritual life. But somehow God holds it all together. Get it? We are the ingredients, and He is the egg that covers us all. What a way to start season 13 being compared to an omelet!

As we all finished our brunch, sharing laughs and prayer around the table, we all knew was God was already there and providing a hope that we would at least serve one student and that would be worth the trip.  God had a different plan: we served 25!!!!

One notorious dress in our inventory we called the “cupcake dress” because it’s long, flowing ruffles reminded us of icing on a cupcake.  We were determined that dress was not coming home with us! God put together all the ingredients for this to happen. The girl that got this dress was beautiful but when she put on this cupcake dress she glowed and her smile was miles long.  As she modeled the dress it no longer reminded us of a cupcake.  Instead, we saw a beautiful part of God’s creation beaming before us.

I learned that if the Prom Closet wasn't there that she wouldn't have gone to prom.  More importantly she wouldn't have felt God's love over her. That was the case for all the students there that day and we realized the work we had done to get there was beyond worth it.

I hope that the students and teachers got a glimpse of God's goodness that day. I hope they saw all the ingredients made that omelet taste like the grace, love, worthiness, and mercy of God.

Next time you eat an omelet, think about all the ingredients you use.  Think about each ingredient as your gifts and how God has been using each one.  And if not, what are you waiting for? Omelets do taste better with lots of ingredients and that usually allows others to smell the delicious aroma, too.

I guess omelets always do come with eggs - just like God's presence comes with grace, strength, and hope.

"He will cover you with feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart" Psalm 91:4




Friday, November 4, 2022

"Your love made the way to let mercy come in ..."

 When I entered the prom closet recently and saw all the racks, boxes, dresses, and shoes everywhere, I felt overwhelmed and embarrassed.  What would people think? I felt that I needed to clean it up and get things looking decent.  So, I got busy. 

As I worked, I was reminded how this beautiful mess was started 12 years ago because of HIS vision. It was then that I realized my faith walk is just like the prom closet! A HOT MESS! I don't think Tammy, or I could have ever dreamt of all God has done and provided through the miracle that is the prom closet.

At last count we have given out at least 4,145 dresses and probably many more because we didn’t keep up with every single one. The number of dresses given out seems like a big number and it is!

For 12 years there have been so many God stories that have made us cry, laugh, inspired, and challenged.  We have the best seat in the house because numbers are just a representation of the impact, but we have the privilege to see deeper and see God at work as He brings each of us into His purpose.   

For the last few years my faith has looked like the Prom Closet - a HOT mess and just like the Prom Closet I was embarrassed to allow others to see that.  What would people think? How do I begin to clean things up again? Start again, find my faith, and find connection?

I heard God say “Aileen what are you doing here?” while doing my Bible study a couple of weeks ago.   The topic was 1 king 19 where Elijah experienced God's power and miracles (We all have experienced His power and miracles in our lives.) But at some point Elijah hid because of fear (ouch… is that what I have been doing lately?)

"Then the word of the Lord came to him ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” 1 Kings 19:9b as Elijah is hiding in a cave! 

The lesson doesn't end there.  Elijah doesn't answer the question but let’s face it God knows our heart and He knows why we hide. I have been hurt, I am afraid, I am not enough, my faith is not strong enough, I am not equipped, _____________(fill in the blank.)

For 12 years I have experienced God and seen the miracles he has done through the Prom Closet but lately I have been hiding in a cave much like Elijah.  Afraid to get out.

But this song hits hard and for the most part I can't really listen to it because it makes me cry. It's my worship song for now as I try to figure out how to step out of the cave:

"Alone in my sorrow and dead in my sin 

Lost without hope with no place to begin 

Your love made the way to let mercy come in 

When death was arrested, and my life began" 

With lyrics like “I am not a prisoner” and “Jesus arose with our freedom in hand” WOW! talk about raising eyebrows!

Faith is complicated and never perfect, and I am always a work in progress. I am still inside the cave, but it is not as deep in there anymore.

As we move towards a new milestone, the TEEN years in February of 2023 let’s not forget the miracles that have happened.  And they won’t be the last ones…. 



Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Day the Lights Went Out

On our third week of the Prom Closet this year something strange happened that has never happened in our 12-year history. The lights went out. 

Have you ever been in darkness? During those times I have not always been at my smartest. For example, one time at home when the lights went out, I decided to look for a candle but couldn't find one.  I decided to open the refrigerator for some light. Go ahead and laugh. Definitely not my smartest move since the fridge runs with electricity.

However, I realized something as my eyes were trying to adjust to the dark.  I was able to remember familiar things around the house so I could get where I needed to go without getting hurt. (Or at least that is what I thought until I stepped on my son's tiny Lego.)  I tried not to cry as my eyes adjusted to the dark and my foot throbbed in pain.

Darkness is not a place that God has designed for us to remain in. We can take the darkness for granted and not even think about it.  Better yet, you can look at the darkness in a deep and spiritual way. 

In my faith walk I had moments that felt like either the lights went out or they were too dim.  My eyes were adjusting to get familiar with my surroundings and keep moving forward without getting hurt.  Much like moving around in my house in the dark I can still get hurt (remember the Lego) but my eyes can adjust to the surroundings.

When the lights went out at the Prom Closet we had only been open an hour and a half and were full of shoppers.  To my surprise (eye roll and all) God used that moment!  It was pitch black inside and as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized it was hard to pick out dresses in the dark.  Before long phone flashlights came on to fits of laughter and fun as the shoppers adapted to the new situation.

Are you ready to be my twin again?

I apologized to people for the inconvenience.  I felt like I needed to do that even though I was not the one who broke the tree that took the power lines down (I think it was the strong squirrel that hangs around.) I told them that they will never forget this experience! Who else is going to give them a prom shopping experience in the dark? But, did you notice a couple of things I mentioned before?

1. My eyes were trying to adjust to the dark.

2. People couldn't be in the dark for long before turning on their phone flashlights. 

In my faith walk sometimes I have tried to adjust and just roll with it. After all isn’t it my responsibility to grow my faith? At times it was hard to see people holding their flashlights in the form of hope, grace, and mercy.   I was missing God because I was focused on adjusting my eyes to my surroundings - not realizing how faith grows. 

Faith grows when surrounded by people who love God that are willing to share their light when it is too dark for you to see God's mercy, grace, and love.

That day at the Prom Closet strangers were surrounding each other with their flashlights. They let their little light shine and instead all I could think of was “are the lights ever going to come back on?”

We are created to chase the light because darkness is not a place God has designed for us to remain. Just like the tree that fell on the power lines and took the light away from the Prom Closet, there are things in our lives that happen that take the away our faith in people.  We often hope that someone else with a good deed will restore it forgetting that true faith doesn’t come from people.  People can’t provide you with faith only God can. However, we have responsibilities as people of God. 

1 Peter 2:9 New International Version

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

It reminds me of the lyrics to the song Gratitude that has become a challenge to me in my praise time:

So come on my soul, oh, don't you get shy on me

Lift up your song, 'cause you've got a lion

Inside of those lungs

Get up and praise the Lord

If you are struggling to see THE LIGHT, you are not alone.  Remember that there is a lion inside of your lungs.  Don’t get shy and dim your light.  Lift your voice! 

After all, you are a light chaser! 



Sunday, March 6, 2022

Today I want to share about Faith and how God uses the one place that challenges me every time I step in it - the Prom Closet.

Why would Jesus single out my lack of faith? 

I hope this has not been you but if you can relate, then we are twins LOL.

Before opening for the season, I was excited, scared, overwhelmed and yes full of doubt. Wow! What a familiar feeling somehow, I found myself back to day one of the Prom Closet 12 years ago. I remembered standing in the hallway staring and thinking...would anyone show up?  After not having normal years of proms, would anyone remember we are here? 

On the day that we had our "work out day" some of our Prom Squad came to get the Prom Closet ready for opening day. We were busy cleaning, hanging dresses, dusting, moving things around, laughing, enjoying each other... it was a familiar feeling of fellowship that only God can put together.

My doubts grew from there.  The little voice in my head was now real voices, many voices really asking the same question.  “Do you think people will come?”  I will admit I as trying to stay positive when just wanting to check it all off.

The real test came the first week of appointments.  That week I had my regular Bible study and the topic was Jesus’s story about the mustard seed that grew into a mighty tree.  I realized God could use my small amount of faith.  He isn't asking me for a mountain size faith (one day I will get there.) For now, my little mustard seed is all He needs if I am willing to let go and sit at His feet.

So, with my little sassy voice I said “fine, ok this is yours and as for my doubts, well, those are yours, too.”

As I mentioned week one of appointments was on like Donkey Kong and I was in for yet another lesson.  First week I booked for the opening month, and it looked like the first weeks of our first season.  But before I knew it (because I didn't learn very well) the second week came around and we were completely booked through the second week of March! 

Can you see what is happening? God singled out my lack of faith. I am the one that set up the appointments and I talked to people before they stepped into the Prom Closet and lacked faith (please anyone? Am I an island?) Oh well.  God wasn't done with me yet because my Bible study the following week in Matthew 14 these verses stood out

Matthew 14:28-31 New International Version

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Can you see how I became Peter?  I learned that faith is not defined by a specific moment of doubt. Faith is much bigger than a short time of questioning. Our faith isn't the object of our faith; it's a tool we use to see, and grab hold of Jesus.

As I navigate through my lack of faith, I need to remember to trust that my questions will be met with gentleness. My doubts were met with mercy to allow my mustard seed of faith to grow a little bit more. He took the time to give me grace.  He looked at me! 

If at time you feel the same way, I can tell you this: tomorrow I will doubt again, you will doubt again but we are going to be met with gentleness and mercy. I am not a workout kind of person, but I do know that I need to keep working on those faith muscles!



Monday, July 27, 2020

Dream Small

As I pressed “end call” on my phone I wondered what I had just agreed to.  Why didn’t I ask more questions? What was I thinking?

That morning started with preparing a devotional for others, not for me (or so I thought.)
It started with two questions:
1. What is the biggest dream for yourself that you can think of?
2. Think about whether your dream is according to God's will?

If you know me you know dreaming big is not my thing! I like to dream small, but somehow God seems to turn these very small dreams into something much bigger than me.

I think the reason I like to dream small is because of fear.  Fear of failing the people around me because WHAT IF I don't do a good job? WHAT IF I don't meet their expectations? WHAT IF I fail? Would people be disappointed?  This devotional was turning out to be a recipe for disaster for me.  I was saying one thing but thinking quite another!

At the beginning of the Prom Closet, Juan often said "This is going to be big" my response was always  “Nope, I don't think so.” Through the years many people have added their thoughts about the Prom Closet that echoes Juan's belief.

My response is always “Nope, I am not saying and I am not dreaming it because if I do, it is out of my mouth and into God's ears and I can't take it back. SO NOPE! No worries I AM NOT writing it either.  What If God reads this and then is for His eyes and I can't take it back! so Ha! I like the Prom closet to be "small!"

As you may know, I lost that battle.  God took this ministry and made it bigger in a blink of an eye and I had no say so!! It became pretty clear to me that this ministry was never ours  -  it has always belonged to God. He started it with six dresses and two crazy ladies 10 years ago.

Back to my phone call…

When this ministry started I never dreamed I would get this kind of phone call.

“Hi Aileen” a nice the lady said.  “I have a few dresses to donate."

That should have been my first sign but I am a very slow learner.   After I agreed to take the dresses a few questions came to mind.  How many?  Do we have the room?  Too late I guess.  I have already agreed.

When she finally told me how many I was speechless.  It was probably only a few seconds but it seemed like an eternity.

"Hello.  Are you there?"  she asked.

All I could say was “You know that about 3,000 is not a few dresses."

Yes you are reading that right.  Last Sunday evening, we hooked up the grey trailer, and two families headed to pick them up.

You are probably thinking WHAT? WHERE DID Y'ALL PUT ALL THOSE DRESSES?  They are all in the "war room"  We named the room that because of the mountains of dresses from donations we would have when we first started the ministry.  Mountains of dresses gave the name to our war room because we always went into battle with each new load and when we got a handle on it even more dresses would come and the battles would continue!

Are you thinking what I am thinking -  WHAT IS GOD DOING? This is not a small dream!! When did it get so big! And why didn't He warn us?

I guess regardless of my desire for a small dream it doesn't stop God from doing what He does best!