Friday, December 30, 2005

Home for the Holidays (up to Christmas Eve)

Hey y'all. We've been enjoying sweet tea, southern accents, and time with our families. Our vacation officially started a day or two before we left for home as we hosted 20 or so people from school for a Christmas drop-in at our home. We baked cookies, drank hot chocolate, and enjoyed Brandon's fiddle and our neighbor playing the guitar as we sang Christmas carols. We appreciated the time with our new friends outside the classroom setting, and we were amazed that everyone fit in our apartment at the same time!

We flew home and remembered what cold felt like. We spent the first few days with my (Nicole's) family in Columbia before hitting the road up to Greenville, Hendersonville and then back down to Charleston, SC. Go ahead and get that map out if you want to see how many times we've crisscrossed the state! After spending some time at the Seacoast Worship team Christmas party, we enjoyed the company of many of my good friends and mentors in the Charleston area. The time was short, but sweet and planned well enough that almost everyone was seen. Sadly, our last visit was to one of my precious friends, Amy, who lost her boyfriend, Nick, in a helicopter accident while he was deployed near South America. Though we wished the visit could have been on better terms, we enjoyed the time God gave us to share with Amy and her family just days after the accident. Please keep the Plebanek family and Nick's family in your prayers.

Next we headed back up to Greenville, where we spent time with Shelvis and Nancy Smith, Rodney and Marla Johnson, and Tim and Amy Pecoraro. Tim has been Brandon's mentor for the last few years, and he and Amy did our premarital counseling. They hosted us all at their home for a mini retreat. It was a marriage/ministry retreat, and afforded us some quality time together with everyone.

After the retreat, we headed back up the mountain to Brandon's family's home in Hendersonville. The next night was a bit of a struggle for both of us...Brandon decided to camp out with his buddies, and we therefore spent our first night apart as a married couple. Neither of us got good sleep that night. He didn't because it was below freezing and he was not prepared for such cold weather, and I because I was imagining his buddies finding him frozen in his tent the next morning! Thankfully, he made it home and thawed out before we packed up the car for a Snowshoe, WV ski trip!

We drove to Boone, NC to pick up his brother and sister-in-law, and then were on our way to a winter wonderland. The skiing was great and the time spent together was never dull. We enjoyed racing down the mountainside, watching Brandon and John get in snow fights, sipping hot chocolate, rewarming our toes by the fire, and relaxing our tired muscles in the hotel's jacuzzis.

Unfortunately, while we were on the mountain our cell phones didn't get any reception. During our trip, my mom who has been very sick, was put in the hospital with pulmonary hypertension. We received numerous voicemails when we got back into civilization, and were saddened to hear that she was not in good condition. Brandon and I made our way to MUSC in Charleston by late Friday afternoon. Mom had been put into a recovery room after some surgery, and we learned that she would stay there until the Wednesday after Christmas. The reality of her sickness was disappointing, but we were assured that there was medicine available that would allow her to lead a nearly normal life again.

We stayed with some dear friends, The Johnstons, who graciously opened their hearts and home to us on such short notice over the holiday. The love they showed us reconfirmed our unofficial status as 'part of the family'. We were humbled and thankful that the Lord would provide for us in our time of need.

Nicole's family has a Christmas Eve tradition to go out to a fun lunch during the shopping day. Needless to say that didn't happen according to tradition. However, as Brandon and I left to get some fresh air on King St in downtown Charleston, Mom mentioned that she would like some collard greens (that's my girl!). We decided to get take out from Jestine's Kitchen, the same restaurant that we ate at the night we were engaged almost a year ago. Jestine's cooks up the best southern food I've had in a restaurant. Unfortunately, we called and they had closed 45 minutes earlier! But we drove over there anyway, knocked on the glass door and were greeted by a smiling server who told us we had slept too late. We explained our situation and asked if there were any left over collard greens that they would be throwing out if we could take them to my sick mom. She left for a few minutes and came back with a bag that contained the goods. She said, "We don't know if we believe your story, but Merry Christmas." Ha ha! We wish it were just a ploy to get collards...I asked B, 'do we look like the kind of people that make up stories like that to get left over collards?' I concluded that no, he doesn't, but I may be that kind of girl... We got take out from another lowcountry restaurant, and brought it back to the hospital. Brandon got the nurses to put a white sheet over a rolling table, and we feasted. He played his violin for us, and then we took the show on the road, visiting other patients who were spending the holiday in the hospital. We played, sang, talked with and prayed for many patients on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Pastor Matthew Barnett often times preaches that if you're down, the best thing to do is to bless someone else. After you set yourself on seeing someone else smile, your hard times don't seem so bad. I think Brandon and I saw that to be true this Christmas.

We went to Seacoast for the Christmas Eve candlelight service, and I was glad to be 'home' with my friends and family at Seacoast. That was one good thing about having Mom in a Charleston hospital...being near friends and loved ones.

Stay tuned for the recap of Christmas-New Years.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Please Let It Snow!

No, it's not snowing here. In fact, today I ran in a tank top. It's more like 70 degrees. But, hey, we can turn the heat on and put the sunroof back and windows down in December...That's not too shabby! Actually, it gets quite chilly here at night, but for the most part, it doesn't exactly feel like Christmas.

Rewind a week or so ago...
On Tuesday, 11/22, we had a meeting for the college/young adult ministry. We saw about 15 people, and were encouraged to have them. Most of the people had not been to the first meeting, so we got to meet a lot of new faces! We had an incredible prayer time together. We spent time casting vision, asking input, and encouraging the people to finish the year well and get excited to start up the new year. We are seeing some neat relationships develop in and through the ministry already, and we are so thankful for the growth that is going to come to everyone in the coming years.

THANKSGIVING was awesome! We spent it with a wonderful family, the Jurados who just bought a beautiful ranch in the San Clarita valley. With over 30 people around the table, football on the tv, and the pool table racked and ready to go, we had an excellent time. Their family made us feel so warm and welcomed, and we so appreciated having a loving family to go to since we couldn't be with our own loving families at home. We have so much to be thankful for. Our life is, as some may say, blissful.

We were selfishly glad to have the entire weekend off. No ministry to do, as most of the staff and volunteers had gone away for the holiday. I realized it was our first weekend since we've been here that we haven't done any volunteer work.

With extra time on our hands, we were able to rest and relax and do things that we've been wanting to do...For me, that meant going to the Fashion District with a friend. Think NYC's Chinatown times 10. It's huge, and one can buy Gucci handbags (real, of course, right?) and Prada shoes for only $15! Such a deal! ha ha. It was fun, though, to be there on Black Friday.

This is our last week of school work and classes. Brandon has an exam on Monday for his Greek class, and I have a final paper due next Friday, but besides that we are done! Woohoo! It looks like both of us will make good grades this semester, so maybe we'll be eligible for scholarships next year!

Our time in prayer has been extremely rich these last few days. Previously, we had committed to at least one hour of prayer every day. God has met with us during these times of prayer, and we have grown closer not only to Him but to each other as well. It's amazing how quickly He answers some prayers and how He takes His time on others. But overall, He is certainly faithful!

Well, that's about it for now! Thanks for taking the time to read this! We'd love to hear from our friends and family about what's happening in your lives as well!

Joyfully, N and B

Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Best Friend

I've had the habit of having a best friend for a while now. It started in middle school. Her name was Heidi Best. I talked her into trying out for the Varsity soccer team at Irmo High school with me when we were in 7th grade. She had never played soccer before...she was a softball player. But she came out there in her white softball cleats and, without really knowing much about the sport, made the team. She ended up being one of the best players in the state by the time she graduated from Irmo, and went on to play Division I college soccer and now is in med school. Heidi and I were, as the saying goes, attached at the hip. Where one was, the other was close by. We took classes together, rode our bikes everywhere (before we got our licenses, and then it we drove around everywhere), played soccer together on countless teams (for two years, we drove 2 hours each way 3 times a week for practice with an out-of-town team because they were more on our level), and got into trouble together, too. After we graduated, our lives took different paths, and though we've been friends ever since, the depth of our friendship has dwindled over the years. She's in med school now, and this spring will be Dr. Best! Go girl!

In college, I met a precious girl named Mary Claire Holmes. Mary Claire was in my first class at Furman...an 8am English class. She was beautiful and athletic and sweet...I was a little intimidated. But we got to be friends throughout the term, and found ourselves both new members of Delta Delta Delta that year. By midway through our Junior year, I found out that I was the only one who called her Mary Claire still! I quickly dropped the 'Mary'. We were pretty good friends, and decided to live together with two other of our buddies in an apartment. From there, our friendship was on steroids. We made a commitment to pray together every night. And, the crazy thing was that we stuck to it! We got to know each other's little habits and big dreams. Our hearts were bonded, mainly I believe, because of those prayers. After college, we ended up living together again in Charleston, and the friendship continued. There's just something about living with a person that, in positive circumstances, bonds you to her. We ran together, laughed hysterically, sang into our hairbrushes, learned how to cook (really, she taught me), took fun road trips, and cried on each other's shoulders from time to time. Our friendship, rooted in Christ, is one that I cherish every day, and know that it will continue for years to come. One day, the handsome young Citadel graduate Claire was dating told me he needed to talk to me about something important. Chris proceeded to ask me to give up my reign as her best friend...so that he could be her lifelong best friend. I thought, 'well, you THINK you'll be her best friend, but there's no substitute for a girl". Of course, I gave him 'permission', and 9 months later I was celebrating their marriage with them.

Over the last year and a half, I have been developing a friendship with the most wonderful man on Earth. During my bridesmaid's luncheon, I told Claire that though I had been replaced a while back as her #1 best friend, I had kept her as my #1 best friend until that day. That day, she was getting scooted to #2. There's a new best friend in town, and HIS name is Brandon. Brandon and I were married and moved to California. For a while, he was my ONLY friend here, so it was easy to think of him as my best friend. But, again, there's something about going through life with someone that just bonds you together.

My best friend isn't perfect...but he's perfect for me. In the morning when we wake up, I realize that my delightful dream that I just had about him is actually a reality. Sometimes I have a hard time getting up...and then I'll hear him going into the living room to turn on praise music and then come back in to scratch my back and tell me, "Wakey wakey, Coley. It's a beautiful morning, and you're going to do great things today." He's focused and knows the goals he has set for our life are going to take work to achieve. He's not afraid to take the risk. He loves...not just his wife, but also the bum who lives under the bridge by our apartment, and the guy in his Greek class, and my friends here at school to whom he gives encouragement and is a big brother figure. He loves the kids down in the projects and the guys in Dream Center Discipleship who are getting their lives straightened out. He loves his family and my family. He encourages me and challenges me. He listens to me, and even though, being a guy, he naturally wants to 'solve' my problems, he is becoming quite good at just listening to me. He gives hugs freely, and his smile lights up a room. He isn't afraid to put himself out there...to let people know who he really is. He makes me want to be a better person, a better friend, a better wife. He loves Jesus with all of his heart. People can just tell. There's something different about this guy. He shines even among some of the brightest stars here at Fuller and the Dream Center. He likes to play sports, and doesn't get frustrated with me as I try, for the millionth time, to punt the football correctly. He teaches me how to play the guitar, too...and doesn't get mad when my rhythm is off. He makes the bed in the morning and runs to the grocery store and takes out the garbage and washes the car and vacuums. Then he asks me if there's anything he can do to help me out around the house. He cuts my hair, and doesn't get mad when I accidentally use the wrong guard on his hair when I try to cut his. He makes the best eggs for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. He sing and plays his violin for me with joy. He makes me feel safe and taken care of. He tells me I'm beautiful, even when I don't feel beautiful. He gives long back scratches and massages, not just those short ones that end with, 'now, it's my turn'. We laugh, we play, we explore this crazy city together. He lets me cry on his shoulder when I'm sad or lonely or homesick or overwhelmed. We have little inside jokes and are making memories to last a lifetime together. We pray together and dream about what God may have for our lives together. His simple love for me is a pretty close picture, I think, to how God loves me.

Who am I, that I would have a best friend like Brandon? I know that I don't deserve him, but I'm glad to have him.

So sorry, Claire...it looks like you'll be #2 for a long time (and I'm sure I will, too, as you enjoy Chris' friendship for many years to come). But how great is it that our #1's are such holy hotties?!?

My life ROCKS! Thank you, JESUS!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Best and Worst of LA

(I wrote this a day or two before we found out about Jack, but hadn't posted it yet. Thanks to all of you who have responded so lovingly during this time. We are doing a little bit better each day. Brandon's been really good about letting me recall Jack stories, and that's helped. We appreciate your prayers and notes so much. Attempting to regain a sense of normalcy, here it is...)

We really can't believe that it's been almost 3 months since we've moved across the country! The culture shock has (mostly) worn off, and we have been able to enjoy some great aspects of Southern California living...here are the top 5 things (Nicole's opinion).

LA's Upside Top Five

1. Beach and Mountains- Even though it's said that South Carolina has it all, beach and mountains, anyone who's been there knows that it takes at least 3 hours to get from one to the other. However, in Los Angeles, you can be surfing one minute and hiking the mountains in less than half an hour (when the traffic isn't ridiculous- see LA's downside).

2. Beautiful Weather- Out of the 3 months that we've been here, it's rained maybe 5 days total. Every other day has been sunny and nice. Even when it's 95 degrees, LA doesn't have to deal with humidity.

3. Randy's Donuts- We visited this joint on our scouting trip in March. Ever since, we've talked, dreamed and thought about the scrumptious goodies we had there. I'm a glazed fan, and Brandon is obsessed with the Apple Crepes there. We finally got to go back on our way home from the airport and appease our tastebuds with a taste of heaven. Another rediscovered love: 7-11. We love the slurpees and coffee bar!

4. Rose Bowl- Not only is one of the coolest sporting events in our backyard every January, but the Rose Bowl is the perfect running venue. The three mile trail goes around the famous stadium (Home of the UCLA Bruins), peewee soccer fields, and a golf course. My friend, Christy, and I run it a couple of times a week. Brandon and I have run it together a few times as well, when we're feeling the need to get rid of the honeymoon weight!

5. Diversity- This place truly is a melting pot! In our apartment complex, there are Korean, Chinese, Russian, Indian and Japanese people. At our school, I think that it is more common for people to speak English as their second language (maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration). We can be driving around downtown, and all of the sudden not be able to read the signs. There's Chinatown, Little India, Little Armenia, and Little Eithiopia just to name a few. We have eaten some really good Mexican food (every other restaurant in LA is a mexican restaurant). We got to try pineapple with chili sauce one day at our Food Truck location. It's a great place for us to learn to love people of all races and walks of life.

Now, before you go packing your things to come out here, let me warn you that it's not all fun and games. It's not for the faint at heart. You've gotta be tough to endure...the top five downside aspects of Los Angeles.

LA's Downside
1. Traffic- If you hit it just right, a trip that would easily be 10 minutes could turn into over an hour. Other insights: 16 Lane Highways. Double Merging. People flying past you (when you're going 85 just to stay with the flow). Many cars with 'bumps and bruises'. Traffic even on Saturdays and Sundays. Rush hour is every hour. On the upside: Carpool lanes. Since we only have one car, we're almost always together on the interstate, so we're eligible to take the fast lane.

2. Tea- If you go to a restaurant and ask for sweet tea, the server and your LA native companions look at you like you're crazy. Then a few packets of Equal or Splenda are thrown at you hastily. We've invited some of these poor souls to our home exclusively to share with them the secret of southern living. Almost every Westerner, Midwesterner, and Yankee that we've shared it with have liked it...of course!

3. Weather- Despite the fact that we love the sunshine and warm temparatures, enough is enough. We really miss the beauty of an upstate fall season. Palm trees don't have leaves that change. We wish for the crispness in the air, and long to pull out some warm winter clothes. So far, the furthest we've gotten is my denim jacket and Brandon't Furman Football fleece pullover.

4. News- We don't have cable television, and rarely do we even turn the thing on, but every once in a while, we'll turn on the news. It's horrible! Whereas in Hendersonville or Irmo (our hometowns), the local news would feature one or two sad or bad stories and then follow up with local high school football or something more uplifting, here in LA, most of the news is about murders, hit and runs, and drug busts. The commericials are all political, urging voters to vote "YES" on one PROP and "NO" to the next. (The next commericals will illustrate the opposite view).

5. 2430.58 miles- That's how far we are away from home. From our friends. From our families. From our church. From Jack Kitty (my beloved cat at my parent's house). From Sweet Tea and Collard Greens and a land flowing with Texas Pete. From the Blue Ridge Mountains. From El Paso in Hendersonville. From familiar roads and familiar accents. From hometown news and Mamaw Clara. From kayaking down the river from Carmelita and Troy's property. From Furman football and soccer games. From our beloved mentors in Greenville and Mt. Pleasant. From Chic-Fil-A and Sonic. From Brandon's beat up old truck. From real cornbread and milk, done Denice's way. From the idea that we really do know people and they know us.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Jack (Kitty) Malseed August 1, 2001 - November 7, 2005

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of our precious kitty friend, Jack.

When I found Jack, he was in a cage at the Humane Society with a bunch of other kittens. He was so small, that he had to climb into the bowl to eat his food. My roommate at the time, Michelle Vogel, had persuaded me to 'just go look'. We came back with two baby kitties that day, Jack and Jake. I named Jack after my Daddy because he had said, 'no more cats!' and I knew that if I ever had to move back home, I better have a way to get Daddy to like him. Jack and Jake wreaked havoc in our little apartment, and we enjoyed watching them grow up so much.

I did move home a few months later, and Jack Kitty and Jack Daddy quickly became good friends. Jack Kitty would wake Daddy up every morning at 4:30am with his cold, wet nose. He would put his nose to Daddy's nose again and again until Daddy got up and fed him. One day, Jack was missing. We couldn't find him anywhere. I remember that I had walking pneumonia and was really feeling awful. After church, I went back outside to call for him again. Faintly, I heard a pitiful meow. What a blessed sound! I ran around to find him...I looked up...At the top of a huge tree (at least 50 feet up) was my baby kitty hunched up against the trunk. I ran as fast as my sick self would take me to get my dad. I couldn't even breathe when I got to him. Daddy got the ladder, and at a risk to his own life, climbed the tree and rescued Jack. Even this experience didn't deter Jack from chasing squirrels.

Jack and I moved to Mt. Pleasant. We lived in a great neighborhood without much traffic. The kids all loved Jack. He would let them pick him up, pull his tail, pet him. He was so gentle. He quickly became the neighborhood mascot. One day he was missing...three days, 100 fliers, and many tears later, I got a call from a neighbor who said that he was at their house and asked if they could keep him! what? no way! I quickly retrieved him. I was the one who got the 4:30am wake up calls, but I didn't mind much at all. After he ate breakfast, he would always sneak back in my room and cuddle up next to me and purr until he fell asleep.

We moved again. Jack was a master at being flexible. This time, there were two white fluffs who ruled the house. Jack was most gracious to Bailey and Tucker. They became buddies, partners in crime. It was normal to see them running around the house together. Jack loved snoozing on the jacuzzi top in the back porch and walking the fence.

One thing that was a particular love/hate deal with Jack was his attitude towards car rides. I don't blame him for being freaked out, but incessant meows for two hours frequently got on my nerves. Sometimes I would meow back at him. He'd stop, and with big eyes look at me and we'd talk together for a little while. I tried to give him sedatives from the Vet, but he was so smart that he'd take them and spit them out when I wasn't looking! Then on the car ride, I would wonder why he wasn't getting tired.

After Brandon and I got engaged, I had to take Jack back to Columbia to live with my parents. It was a hard thing to do, but I knew he was in good hands. With the hopes of going to seminary in California, I knew that Jack wouldn't make the trip very well, and besides that, we couldn't have pets in our apartment. Mom and Dad joyfully took in their grandkitty, and it was no secret that he had captured their hearts.

My time in California has been so good, but one thing that I have really missed on a daily basis is my Jack Kitty. He was such a good friend to me. When I was living at home in Columbia and didn't really have any friends or any direction in my life, Jack was often times the one I would talk to. (I know it sounds crazy.) His sweet demeanor could brighten up even some of my darkest days.

Jack was such an awesome cat that people who hated cats would always say, 'I like Jack' after meeting him. He was laid back and easy to get along with. He never bit or scratched anyone. He would let anyone hold and pet him, and was just a lovable guy. He loved to lay out in the sun and under the furniture on our back deck in Columbia. Brandon and I were just talking this weekend about how our kids will know Jack. We joked that if we wanted to ever name our kid Jack, we'd have to make sure he wasn't confused with Jack Kitty.

This morning, Jack was found in the road and looked like he was sleeping. He had been hit by a car. Daddy is going to build him a little box and bury him.

Please pray for us. Mom, Dad, Brandon and I are all sad to say goodbye so soon. We loved him very much and one thing that we know is that he never had a chance to think otherwise. I know that many of you knew and loved Jack Kitty as well.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Brandon's Big News

OK...everybody start screaming hallelujah!!

For my first blog attempt, I'd like to start off by thanking all of our wonderful friends and family who have made us feel so loved since we've been out here. It's so awesome to know that there are a ton of you guys out there that are praying for us, are keeping up with us through phone calls, emails, and even occasional response posts on this blog thing that I still think is wild.

Man, what an adventure! God has been so good to us. I know this is obvious to anyone that has been keeping up with Nicole's posts on here, but I am still pretty overwhelmed with it all. Married life really is the best thing going. I mean, I 'm out here with my beautiful bride and we get to go through life together. We travel together in our one car, we study together, we serve together, we worship together, we pray together...and yes, occasionally we even cook and clean together. :) And now for the big news... it looks like we're going to get to be pastors at the Dream Center together!! Yeah, we're still trying to believe it ourselves. Evidently God wasn't the only one watching when we were serving at the Dream Center. Pastor Matthew tracked us down one Sunday in the lobby of Angelus Temple and told us he'd like to set up a meeting. Several days later, we found ourselves in a room with Pastor Matthew and Pastor Dave Hanley and they told us they wanted us to become the pastors of the College and Young Adult Ministry. After a few weeks of praying, asking questions, and seeking for God's peace, we felt God leading us to accept the challenge. The Dream Center Leadership are in total support of us continuing full-time at Seminary and have given us incredible flexibility as far as what hours we will work. Pastor Matthew said that he feels blessed just to have us joining the team here. We have already been busy developing relationships with some of the Young Adults that are living and volunteering at the Dream Center and we are SO EXCITED!! God has given us such a passion for this, and we know that this opportunity will only continue to teach and prepare us for what he has for us in the future.

We are also proud to announce that we will be home for 3 whole weeks over Christmas Break! We fly in on December 10 and will leave on January 4. We are REALLY looking forward to seeing so many of the people that we love and miss so much! Until then, keep us in your prayers and let us know how we can pray for you.


Sunday, October 30, 2005

Roscoe's and Dreams

Sorry it's been so long since we've been in touch. Things have been great, and busy, but getting the time to put it into words has been difficult.

I'm trying to convince Brandon that our friends and family want to hear from him some of the things going on in our lives. He agrees....just like he agrees that he needs to help me with our Thank You notes from our wedding. (sidenote: if you haven't received a Thank You note from us, we are terribly sorry, and are trying to get to all of them soon. Only 80 or so to go and I'll give you two guesses who's handwriting they'll be in...). Anyway, so look soon for a blog post from Brandon. Until then, what you see is what you get, I guess.

First, let me just thank all of the wonderful people who have heard my cry for Texas Pete and valiantly responded. Praise God...ole Petey is gracing our cabinets and fridge in full force. I've had the chance to share the Texas Pete gospel with my new California friends as well. Though they don't share the intense love for the stuff that I do, they seem to think it's alright.

Tonight we ate at a place called Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles. Sounds a little sketch, but it's GREAT! And, all sorts of famous people eat there (actually, they eat at the one in Hollywood, and this branch that we were at is about a mile from our home in Pasadena, so we didn't see Will Smith except in pictures on the wall). I'm telling you something...I didn't come prepared. To begin the night, we planned on going to an Armenian restaurant because I am doing a semester long project on the Armenian culture and 'food' is one of my topics to research. However, Cesar's Grill is closed on Sundays. Duh, Nicole. So we went to Roscoe's. We'd been there once before, and I knew this was soul food that we were about to come up against. I should have had my Texas Pete! We ended up eating the fool out of collard greens, mac and cheese, chicken, cornbread, and golden waffles. Man, now that is taste of home. We dreamed of how much we were going to enjoy eating with our families during the holidays. We miss y'all.

Today church was great. Pastor Matthew Barnett did an illustrated sermon entitled Dreamer. It was very moving. I'm a visual learner, so it really spoke to those people like me. There were a lot of people at that church who have lost sight of their dreams, or even people who don't know the Dream Givers - God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Many people got saved after the service. Many people recommitted their lives to going after a dream instead of just living day to day. Brandon and I feel overwhelmed with the dreams that God has given us so far. They are so big that it will have to be Him accomplishing them because it would be impossible for us to do it on our own. What are your dreams? Are you connected to the One who can do immeasurably, abundantly more that all you could even dream yourself?

Please pray for us. This is a big church, and lately we've been burdened to get people CONNECTED. It just seems like there are a lot of lonely people who find their way to our church. They need fellowship, love, encouragement and accountability.

Speaking of that, there is some pretty exciting news that we'd like to share, but I'll let Brandon tell you...(nothing like a little suspense).

We love y'all and miss y'all. Keep praying for us as we do for you. Blessings

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Texas Pete Conspiracy

I guess it all started back when I was a server at the Charleston Crab House in Columbia, SC. (I know, Charleston Crab House in Columbia... it doesn't make sense -maybe that's why it's not in business anymore, but I'm getting sidetracked already). So...It started at CCH. During those late nights after we closed, I would feel hungry and would ever so sweetly put on that southern charm (which doesn't work as much in the south as it does outside the south) and ask the guys who worked in the kitchen if maybe they had some leftover fries or potatoes. One guy named Stephen said, 'girl, you need to learn what it's like to eat real soul food. Here is some collards. Go grab that red stuff...NOT THE TABASCO, the other stuff. Put a whole lot on these here collards, and you tell me if they ain't the best things you done ate in a long time."
I was clearly challenged. Being the competitor that I am, I took on that challenge determined to tell him that his soul food was NASTY and to give me those fries right now. I took the greens. They looked pretty sad, all wilted and laced with pork pieces. I got the red hot sauce with the name Texas Pete on the bottle. I doused a little section of these greens with the Texas Pete, took them on my fork and put them in my mouth....
Heaven, I tell ya. That guy was right! I should have known. He had a belly on him that gave away the fact that he knows what good food is. (Advice: never take restaurant advice from a skinny guy. Go ask the guy with the belly where to eat, and you won't be disappointed.)
So...Ever since, I've loved, maybe even slightly been addicted to, both collard greens and Texas Pete. Especially TP. I eat it on almost anything. Eggs. Popcorn. Vegetables. Meat. Soup. Cereal (not regularly, but I have tried it). Grits. Potatoes. Sonic breakfast burritos (except there is only one sonic in southern California, and it's about1.5 hours away). Chili. Casserole. Everything.
When we arrived in L.A. we went to the grocery store for our essentials to begin building our kitchen. Of course, one of the first things on my list was Texas Pete. We walked up to a looming hot sauce-laden shelf. Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. It wasn't there. I asked Brandon, "do you see it?" I searched. I moved the other stuff. HOW COULD THEY NOT HAVE TEXAS PETE?!?! I said, "Brandon, we have to leave right now, and go back to South Carolina to get the Texas Pete." We asked people if they knew what it was. Blank stares. No one knows! Can you believe it?
I sent out an S.O.S. to some of my girls who know the intensity with which I love Texas Pete. I got two responses, both positive, saying "don't worry, we've got you covered". Phew. I anxiously awaited a TP-sized box to arrive in the mail any day. Finally, one came. My best friend, Claire Eckert had come through for me. I opened it up. I was like a kid at Christmas tearing into that box. Finally, I broke through the wrapping...WHAT?!?! Tabasco?! Surely this is a dream. I mean, she's my BEST FRIEND. She knows everything about me. She knows I like Texas Pete, not nasty Tabasco. The two are not even remotely in the same category of goodness. I talked to her a day later and told her that I appreciated the gesture, but was a little confused about the Tabasco. She seemed genuinely embarrassed that she forgot. I forgave her and told her that I would survive, but please don't ever tease me like that again.
A few weeks later, Claire called again.
"Did you ever get the second package I sent you," she said.
"Well, I sent you two packages. One right after the other. The next package was supposed to get to you the next day. It had Texas Pete in it!"
"What? No, I never got it."

Now some postman from the south is enjoying my Texas Pete... Good joke, Claire. Ha ha. :)

A few weeks later, my friends Jodi and Josh were coming out for a conference in L.A. Jodi called ahead of time to ask if she could bring me anything from home that I needed. Of course, all I asked for was Texas Pete. "That's all?" she said. "Yes, that's all I need." "Okay, no problem."

They arrived and we all enjoyed each other immensely. However, at one point she gasped. "OH MY GOSH! I forgot your Texas Pete! I'm SO SORRY!"

So, I've come to the conclusion that all of my friends and family back home have been playing a trick on me by not helping a sister out with her addiction. PLEASE HELP!

You can send Texas Pete to:
Nicole Berry
670 N. Hill Ave. #3
Pasadena, CA 91106

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Love" by a 4 year old

Joneil is my new little friend. She is the 2nd youngest of 7 kids. Every Saturday when I arrive, I look for Joneil and her sisters. They've started to look for me, too. That's a big deal, you know? To have project kids actually care that you're around. They find me, and usually run up to me. Joneil and two of her sisters may give me a hug. One of the girls likes to throw Cheetos at me (sometimes sand...when it's Cheetos, I tend to not mind it as much). Another one is not really sure if she wants to hang out with me yet. She'll come around.

I started this little word game with Joneil that I like to play with Brandon. I simply say, "Who loves you?" She doesn't talk much anyway (you try getting in a word edgewise with 5 older brothers and sisters), so for the first few times, she would just look at me and shrug her shoulders and smile. But one day our conversation went like this:
"Joneil, who loves you?"
"That's right I DO love you! Who loves me?"
"You love me, Joneil? Wow, that's so great! Why do you love me?"
(She thought about this for a little while)
"'Cause...I want to."

I was amazed. I mean, she could have said, "cause you bring me candy" or "cause you carry me around all day every Saturday and let me put my sticky, dirty hands in your hair and stain your clothes with popsicles". But she didn't. She just said, "Cause I want to". I like that answer. I think that is why God loves me, too. Not because of the clothes I wear, or what I do for Him. Not because I say my prayers or read my Bible or give candy to kids and let them put popsicle goop all over my clothes. He loves me because He wants to. Even when my words, actions, or attitudes reflect the fact that I don't always love Him, He still loves me. He chooses to love me without regard as to the color of my skin, my grade point average, or how well I can keep our apartment clean. Joneil doesn't care about any of that either. She's my friend. And it's good to have a friend that loves...just because.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

School Daze

So Monday was our first day in class. We started the day with breakfast and an 8am class time. Brandon commented how in undergrad he never really got to class early (this is as we were approaching our classrooms at 7:45). Funny how things change.

We have enough homework to last us the semester already. I think we're going to have to figure out what of the assignments is SUPER IMPORTANT, and what is simply "important". I guess it's all going to make sense some day.

We've been hanging out in the library. Actually, in the basement of the library where Brandon got 'shhshed' in broken English by another student as he was trying to pronounce his Greek. Speaking Greek, I mean, speaking OF Greek, Brandon came up with a catchy song to learn his Greek alphabet. We've enjoyed singing it together. What other wife would learn Greek just to help out her hubby? Actually, probably a lot of them.

Today, I met with two girls from class to do a project. We had to pretend that we are Martians, and go to a public place (we chose the main gathering area on campus) and observe the people. We wrote down lots of stuff like: "Why do some of them wear protection on their feet, while others only have straps?" and "What are some of them doing with these tin cans up to their ears? Are they getting energy from that? Maybe they are relaying information back to their leader." Anyway, it was a pretty fun project, and we are going to meet again and write a paper (they are really big on papers here in seminary) about our findings and hypothesis. If it's any good, I may share a bit with you.

Well, I would love to stay on this and share my thoughts, but what do you know...I have some more reading to do!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Taste of Home

What a great day today was. After waking up and spending sweet time with the Lord, Brandon and I headed over to the Dream Center. There we met up with some friends from home...Jodi Felty and Josh Surratt. Jodi is the missions and outreach director at Seacoast Church in Mt. Pleasant. Josh is the small groups pastor there as well. They were in CA for a Saddleback P.E.A.C.E. confererence and afterwards spent some time with us. What a refreshing time of fellowship. There's just something about sharing our new lives with old friends that makes things even more special. What a great time for God to remind us of His faithfulness to us as we have been able to tell story after story of the adventures He's taken us on, the way He has provided for us, and the direction He is leading us towards. And what a wonderful way to hear about what He is doing in and through the church that I've loved, attended and served in for the last few years. Man, it was just so great. We got to share the Dream Center with them and take them on a tour. Josh had been before with his dad, but this was Jodi's first time, and she loved it. We went to our home and spent time together in our new town, eating, talking, sharing ideas and testimonies to God's goodness. I just feel filled up (and it's not just all the wonderful food we ate at the Cheesecake factory). Brandon and I have been so blessed with wonderful, encouraging people in our lives. We thank God for each of you who mean so much to us.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


A lot of friends and family have asked how school is going. Quite simply, it isn't yet. We began New Student Orientation this week, and have really enjoyed the time getting to know other students, faculty and staff at Fuller. Brandon, who is beginning the Masters of Divinity program, is planning on taking Greek, Greek, and more Greek this term (it's ALL Greek to him). Nicole, who is pursuing a Masters in Cross Cultural studies with an emphasis on Leadership Development, is taking two classes on cross cultural communication and transformation, and one class entitled Lifelong Leadership Development. The professors in the School of Intercultural Studies (affectionately known as SIS--everything here has an abbreviation) are dynamic and have so much experience on the mission field. Even after the introductory sessions, she feels that this is EXACTLY where she is supposed to be. Classes start on Monday.

As for making friends...well, anyone who knows us knows that we jumped right on that! Generally, people from California are...different from our Southern friends back home. Maybe a little more reserved. And it's funny to get made fun of for our accents (what accents?). But usually, it's a good ice breaker if nothing else. We have made a couple of young married friends. One couple from church is a candidate for lifelong friendship...We really hit it off with them, and look forward to seeing what God does in the relationship. We also really enjoy getting to know Slyvia, Sandy and Craig. They came in from Pheonix to help out with the Katrina relief at the Dream Center. We have all worked closely together for about 2 weeks straight. We have been able to really get to know them, and they are some of the most wonderful, hard working, committed people ever! What a blessing they have been to us. During Fuller orientation we have not been able to help out at the Dream Center, and though we don't miss the used clothes, dust, and sun beating down on us, we do miss interacting with them and serving beside them.

Mainly, we are really excited to discover that with each passing day, WE become better friends. Our time together has been extensive in the last two months, and we are so glad to see God's hand in it as He binds us closer together daily. The other day when Brandon went to the SOT (School of Theology) and Nicole went to the SIS, we really missed each other. We know that our situation has been an anomaly lately, and we're ready to get on with real life, but we have taken full advantage of our quality time together.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Make Room for the Broom

We were working over at the Dream Center the other day, and there were about 200 students from Pepperdine helping us. All of the sudden (as suddenly as 200 people can possibly disappear), they were gone. Where did they go? Brandon went to look for them, and found them in the gym getting ready to go on Adopt-A-Block. We were not able to go that weekend because of all the donations, and it was really great that they got a chance to experience that kind of outreach. Anyway...so Brandon went into the gym and there was a guy speaking to the volunteers. He was up front along with two girls. One girl was holding a broom up in the air. The other girl was holding a microphone. This man, Jason Hamlin, (who, by the way has an amazing ministry feeding the poor all over the world), was speaking so passionately that Brandon had to stay and listen. Pointing to the broom, Jason said,
"The kingdom of God is about THIS!" (pause)
"But we think it's about this" (points to the microphone).
"So many people want this" (microphone), "but are not willing to become acquainted with THIS" (broom).
"God wants you to know how to use THIS (broom) and MAYBE after you learn how to use it, He may give you the opportunity to use this (microphone), BUT ONLY so that you can point people back to THIS!"

It's so simple, but so true. Our society today wants to be successful so quickly. We want to rise to the top, or rather, start out on the top. Very few emerging young leaders understand the concept of "Make Room for the Broom", and yet, some of the greatest leaders in history have been SERVANT LEADERS.

It's our prayer that if God ever gives us the microphone, that we will already be well acquainted with the broom...that we will know how to serve, how to be in the trenches, how to do the jobs that don't get any glory...we pray that God would keep us out of the spotlight so that He can develop us as we humble ourselves and do the dirty work. Then, and only then, will we have something to share with others.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Guests to the Dream Center

On September first our pastor, Matthew Barnett, announced to the church that God had given him a vision to help in the Hurricane Katrina Relief effort. He was driving down the road praying and wishing that the Dream Center was in New Orleans so we could help them. God said, 'you can still help them out in L.A.' He then received a call from a pastor buddy in Baton Rouge who asked him if he could house 300 guests at the Dream Center for up to a year to help them get on their feet again. Pastor Matthew agreed to it, and started making arrangements and phone calls. The dream was birthed, and the church backed it up wholeheartedly. By Sunday, there were 10 evacuees who had been flown in on a donated private jet at our morning service. They are now our guests, part of our family. Over the course of the week, over 200 more were brought in to join them. Each guest will receive free housing, food, clothing, medical care, grief counseling, childcare, job training and placement and help to get back on their feet for up to a year. The media took hold of this and ran with it. Our parking lot was filled to capacity with news trucks. Celebrities came out to offer support...Magic Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Dr. Phil, just to name a few. In fact, Dr. Phil did a show from the Dream Center and gave three families homes and apartments, and it aired on 9/13. Donations and volunteers came pouring in, and before we knew it, we were put in charge of both. From 8am to 6pm we were responsible along with three other folks who came in from Arizona, for anywhere from 50-1000 volunteers and over 5 hospital floors full of donations. We've been working our tails off, and have both gotten sick from all the dust and lack of rest. After over two weeks of work, we've had to take a little time off for school orientation and to make sure our bodies are ready to take on the vigors of seminary and ministry.

Thanks so much to all who have been a part of our journey so far, both prayerfully and financially. It is such a blessing to have the support of so many friends and family who love us and believe in us. God is doing amazing things, and we are so excited to be a part of it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dream Center Dreams Come True.

One of the first things we did when we got settled was attend a Thursday night service at Angelus Temple near Echo Park. Angelus Temple is the church affiliated with the LA Dream Center. This is the main reason that we chose to move to California to attend seminary versus staying close to home. We really wanted to go somewhere that we could apply what we are learning on a regular basis. What good is an education without application? We immediately felt at home in this ministry, and were determined to get involved as much as possible before school starts. On Saturday, we went to Adopt-A-Block, a ministry that reaches out to thousands of people to ask them one question..."How can I be a help to you?" This one question is answered in many different ways, and with each request, it's important to try to fill the need and build trust with these people.

That afternoon, we went to Back to School Bash at the Dream Center. 2000 backpacks were given away, along with plenty of school supplies, bikes, toys, candy and fun. At the end of the event, we had a divine appointment with Kelli, Kim, and Clint. These folks are our age, and are laboring for Christ in some of the hardest neighborhoods in LA. They invited us to take the kids by bus back to Jordan Downs, and we accepted the invitation. We didn't know what we were getting into. That trip has escalated to a commitment to spend time investing into the lives of the kids and youth of Jordan Downs. We've been back every weekend since, and Brandon has even decided to start a football clinic with some of the guys who love the sport and have potential. What a great way to channel their energy and give them a positive focus. Brandon may be one of the only consistent, positive male role models in their lives, and he takes that responsibility very seriously. The experience has been tiring and tough, because these kids have been so ingrained to hate. They are hardened to loving themselves or others. Everyday, they are exposed to things that kids shouldn't be exposed to. In comparison, our time with them is only minimal. But, we believe that God can use that time to plant seeds of hope and love in them. We may never see the fruit, but His word will not come back void. With consistent love and positive influence, their lives can turn around. They can be a new generation, that doesn't believe the lies Satan tells them that they are doomed to a life of gangs, drugs, prison, and misery. They can be world changers...lovers of God and of people.

We also had a chance that week to serve with the Food Truck Ministry. We drove to a Filipino neighborhood and helped unload, sort, and distribute groceries to about 150 people. It was an awesome feeling to be able to meet physical needs, and build relationships with these precious people. There were a lot of single mothers who came, and it's evident that they really rely on this ministry to make ends meet. We hope to continue to participate in this ministry as well.

Overall, it's been an amazing start to our time here. We came out to Los Angeles believing that God has big plans for our lives, and that this is a training ground for us. We are investing in the dreams of our Pastor, Matthew Barnett. We believe in him, and in what God's doing in and through him.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

Getting from There to Here

Wow, so much has happened since we've arrived in Los Angeles! Where do I even start? Well, to begin, let me just say that satan is out to get us. The week after our honeymoon, we were in a pretty bad car wreck and totaled our Camry. Though it wasn't our fault, and the other dude's insurance covered it, we were definitely bummed that our plans to see and say goodbye to everyone were ruined, and we had to spend that time looking for a new (old) car. We finally found one, and of course, God had good plans for us, and our time at our parents' homes were really wonderful. We finally found a 1995 Honda, who we affectionately named "Rhonda". Not 30 minutes after we purchased her, we had her strapped on a tow dolly behind a Penske truck. We loaded our stuff, and the next day were off on the adventure of our lives. The trip was wonderful. We had a chance to spend some time with some dear friends, Shannon and Patrick Jordan in Nashville, TN. Then we made it to Lenexa, KS and got to enjoy the company of my cousins, Jimmy and Debbie, and their family. A few random cities later, we found ourselves staring out over the Grand Canyon, and then made our way to Phoenix to catch a service at Phoenix First Assembly, pastored by Tommy Barnett, a general in God's army. Finally, we made it out here, and settled into our apartment, which is a lot better than we were thinking it would be. It's actually great for us. One bedroom, and plenty of space for the little we have these days. It's going to be a great place to look back one day and say, "Remember our first place. It was small, but we made it a nice home."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Honeymoon in Costa Rica!

We had a wonderful time in Costa Rica on our honeymoon. Thank you to the Holmes' family who so generously arranged for us to stay in their beautiful bungalow in Playa Hermosa. What a blessing that was. We relaxed, swam, got thoroughly sun burned, ate all sorts of wonderful foods, zip lined through the rainforests and absolutely enjoyed all the benefits of married life! God is good!
Honeymoon in Costa Rica...woohoo! Posted by Picasa

The Berry Family. Established July 15, 2005. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 17, 2005