Are You Stubborn Like Me?

The promises God gave us in the Bible are sufficient that we should obey what He tells us to do right away. He promises us, His children, everything He promised to the Israelites in the Bible. God, through His word, promised us His presence, salvation, grace, love…this should be enough to warrant our immediate obedience when we have a word from God.

But, just like Gideon in the book of Judges, we hesitate. Our faith is weak. Our theology is off. We want God to prove it’s Him! We ask for a sign to make ourselves more confident.

I’ve been there. I’ve taken months, even years to respond with obedience to conviction from God through the Holy Spirit. At first, it was because I didn’t know it was God. I wasn’t walking with Him. I wasn’t allowing Him to be my shepherd, so when He spoke, I didn’t know His voice.

Now, I honestly have no excuse. I walk and talk with Him daily. His voice is familiar. Yet I’m still slow to respond sometimes. I’m still reluctant.

At times, I’m just plain stubborn. I don’t want to do what He’s told me to do – not right then at least.

But delayed obedience is disobedience.

Sometimes I don’t want to do the thing the way He’s told me to do it. In my pridefulness, I think my way is better – MY timing, MY sequence, MY procedure.

Even though I know better, y’all!

In the end it always comes back to Him though. I try to do it the way I want to do it rather than the way God said to do it, and I screw it up. Then, I have to throw up my hands, and do it His way after all.

Wouldn’t I have wasted less time, used less energy, and endured less struggle if I just did it the way He told me to do it in the beginning? The first time I felt Him nudge my heart?

He gets the glory in the end anyway – no matter how I respond in the beginning. But do I miss out on some of the blessing I would have received if my obedience had been immediate? Do I fracture my faith? Do I tarnish my testimony? Do I hurt my heart? Am I a poor witness for others?

The Quiet Advent Calendar (Repost)

It’s December 1.  Did you start your Quiet Advent Calendar?  (I’m a little old-fashioned, so I printed out a hard copy of mine 🙂 ) This is a repost of last week’s post, but I don’t want you to miss it.  Please join me:

The frenzy is already building.  Can you feel it?!  The frenzy that is the Christmas season – only 31 more shopping days to go!  Who’s left on my gift list?  What am I going to bake to take to my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve?  I didn’t even start decorating yet!!!

Oh my goodness!  No wonder we rarely enjoy the season anymore.  It’s too crazy busy.

Let’s take back the holiday season this year.  Let’s focus on the real reason we celebrate – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let’s prepare our hearts for the Advent season.

I’d like to invite you to “The Quiet Advent Calendar” from my friend, Julianne Gilchrist.  Join me in 24 days of delighting in this season of Advent.  I’m excited for this Advent Calendar because, as I’ve gotten to know Julianne over the past 6 months, I’ve discovered that she’s all about slowing down, breathing in, and just being with God.  Her concern is helping people learn to hear God’s voice above the hum-drum of life.  And I can see her desire for sacred space built into “The Quiet Advent Calendar.”

If you plan to join, let me know, and we can walk through it together.  Just click on “The Quiet Advent Calendar”, fill in your name and email address, click Send Me The Quiet Advent Calendar, and settle in and get ready.

I can’t wait to get started.

I’m Sorry

I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by people and now you’re mad at the church or at God.

I’m sorry that someone who said she was a Christian was unkind to you because of what you wore to church or because you smoked or had tattoos or because of your past or who your parents were or who you married.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that a Christian did something to you and now you don’t like Christians.

Unfortunately, we’re just flawed people trying to share the perfect message of God’s Good News.  Trying to pass it on to others like He told us to. We’re gonna screw up. It’s gonna go wrong and get messy.

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Photo Credit: heartprintsofgod.com

But the other morning while I was studying Matthew Chapter 9, God gave me a message. First it was for me, and then I had to share it with you!

God desires compassion more than ritual (Matthew 9:13).

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Photo Credit: picmonkey.com

This is how He wants His people to treat others.

But it goes both ways, in a sense.  Our ability to show compassion grows from a strong relationship with Him because God is compassionate.  We don’t know how to love others unless we have learned to love Him. We won’t know how to love Him unless we’ve built a relationship with Him in prayer and in reading His Word.

God wants a relationship with us rather than for us to be religious.  God wants us to have relationships with other people rather than being religious in front of them.  The latter will definitely drive them away from us and will probably drive them away from God. The former should draw them to us and, in turn, to God.

I imagine that’s what happened to you, and I’m sorry that you experienced someone who was more about religion than a relationship.

The MacArthur Study Bible commentary on Matthew 9:13 explains that religious people focus on “the outward, ritual, and ceremonial aspects of God’s law” but ignore the parts that were meant to show us how to live the way God would have us to live and the parts of the law that focus on our hearts.  When we focus on the ritual and ignore relationships, we become “harsh, judgemental, and self-righteously scornful of others.”

Does that remind you of an experience you’ve had with someone else?

Does it remind you of you?

When I read this commentary, I cried.  I knew this was me. God let me see how I am perceived through someone else’s eyes when I forget the compassion of God and only focus on the commands of God.

It is a blessing for our compassionate God to let us see ourselves through the eyes of others – even, or maybe especially, if what we see isn’t pretty.

So, I’m sorry if you’ve been hurt by people and now you’re mad at God.

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Photo Credit: perpetualbliss.me

But, consider this: people screw up, even if they had good intentions at the beginning. Rather than turn your back on God because of the way someone represented Him to you, why not go find out about Him for yourself?

Talk to Him.

Ask Him to show you the truth about Himself and how He wants you to live.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Read about Him in the Bible – start in the Gospels.  I’m reading Matthew right now, and like I said, 9:13 is what inspired this post.

Ask Him to send a Christian into your life who isn’t religious – someone who truly knows Him and is living for Him.

He’ll hear you.  He’ll answer you, and it’ll be beyond anything you could have imagined.

The Quiet Advent Calendar

The frenzy is already building.  Can you feel it?!  The frenzy that is the Christmas season – only 31 more shopping days to go!  Who’s left on my gift list?  What am I going to bake to take to my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve?  I didn’t even start decorating yet!!!

Oh my goodness!  No wonder we rarely enjoy the season anymore.  It’s too crazy busy.

Let’s take back the holiday season this year.  Let’s focus on the real reason we celebrate – the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Let’s prepare our hearts for the Advent season.

I’d like to invite you to “The Quiet Advent Calendar” from my friend, Julianne Gilchrist.  Join me in 24 days of delighting in this season of Advent.  I’m excited for this Advent Calendar because, as I’ve gotten to know Julianne over the past 6 months, I’ve discovered that she’s all about slowing down, breathing in, and just being with God.  Her concern is helping people learn to hear God’s voice above the hum-drum of life.  And I can see her desire for sacred space built into “The Quiet Advent Calendar.”

If you plan to join, let me know, and we can walk through it together.  Just click on “The Quiet Advent Calendar”, fill in your name and email address, click Send Me The Quiet Advent Calendar, and settle in and get ready.

I can’t wait to get started.

When God Says No But You Do It Anyway

“Even things of great value should be given up if they are leading a person to sin.”

        ~English Standard Version Study Bible

             Commentary on Matthew 5:29-30

Ouch!  That stings a little.

I might stubbornly hold on for a minute or two to (what I think of as) “real” sin when God convicts me.  These are things such as losing my temper with my children or watching TV shows or movies that don’t bring Him glory.  Then there are things that are easy for me to agree are outright sins – murder, abortion, adultery, worshiping another god…

But I don’t want to agree with Him, and I dig my heels in when He convicts me of something I don’t see as “real” sin.  When He begins to show me that I have to let go of something because it is distracting me from fulfilling His purpose for me.

You see, that is sin, too.  Anything that separates me from God is sin.  Anything that does not bring God glory is sin.  Anything I want more than I want Him is sin.

And that’s a bit harder to swallow.

If something causes me to sin, I have to get rid of it.  If God says something has to go, it has to go. If He points me in a direction, and I refuse to go, I’m being disobedient.  And disobedience is sin.

I’ve known for several years that God said no to my photography business.  But taking pictures wasn’t a “real” sin. I wasn’t getting drunk or cheating on my husband…and I liked photography, and people seemed to like my work, so I pursued it anyway.

But, it’s funny what happens when you do something after God has said no.  It might become very difficult and you have to work way too hard; you might begin to hate it when it was something you really liked to begin with, or He might take it away from you altogether.

He will get your attention.  He will continue to convict you.  Just because you pulled a four-year-old and folded your arms, poked out your lips, stomped your foot, and acted like you didn’t hear Him doesn’t mean that He gives up.

He is God, and He said no.  If you move forward anyway, you do so at your own risk and in complete defiance of Him.

“But it’s just photography!”  You say. “It’s just something to do for fun.”

True, but I tried to push it beyond that.  I tried to act on my own outside of God’s sovereignty.  I tried to make it what I wanted it to be.

See, I thought I would be a photographer when Emery went back to school.  I had worked up a nice like side business while I was at home with my kids, and I thought I could build it up to the point that I wouldn’t have to go to work outside the home.  I thought I could present it to Bill when he said it was time to go back to work, and he’d let me do that instead.

Long story short, God said no.

It honestly took me several years to let it go.  I kept holding on to little bits and pieces of it.  I almost completely stopped doing weddings but kept doing regular sessions.  Then, I slowed way down on the regular sessions…but in the end, God made it clear.  The answer was still no.

Not – “you can do other stuff just not weddings.”

Not – “just do a few sessions a month to make extra money.”

Not – “you can keep working with past clients, just don’t take on new ones.”

The.answer.was.no.

Not at all.

None.

Stop.it.now.

Taking pictures wasn’t a sin.  Making money wasn’t a sin.

Continuing to do something God told me not to do was a sin.

I finally started to come to grips with the truth of this earlier this year when I attended a women’s retreat and the speakers’ messages centered around John 15:1-11.

Their focus overall was verse 11, but God got a-hold of me with verse 2:

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that is may bear more fruit.”

I was so arrested by that verse the first night of the retreat that I couldn’t leave my seat after the session was over.  The speaker taught on other verses from that section, but I was fixated on verse 2.

That night, I studied on my own – reading a commentary on the verse and praying and journaling about it.

The ESV commentary said, “ ‘He prunes’ gives a picture of painful but necessary removal of some interests and activities in order that the remaining branches may bear even more fruit.”

There it was, plainly written on the page.

God wasn’t just “being mean” or saying no just because he could.  Taking pictures wasn’t a sin. But it was an interest or activity that needed to go so I could bear more fruit – fruit I wouldn’t bear if my energy and attention was on photography.

The next day at the retreat, another of the speakers focused on verse 2.

Hallelujah!!!

I was riveted!

Her name was Lindsay deBuhr, and she used an extended description of grapevines, vineyards, and vine dressers to explain John 15:2.

Among many other eye-opening tidbits about how a vine dresser cares for the vines in his vineyard, Lindsay clarified that pruning was removing clusters of grapes or leaves or branches so the vine could give its energy to the best fruit.

To the untrained eye, the clusters of fruit the vine dresser removes might look perfectly healthy.  There might be nothing visibly wrong with the leaves or branches he cuts off the vine.

But the vine dresser knows. (The vine dresser in John 15 is an analogy for God, by the way 😉 )  He knows the difference between good fruit and the best fruit. He knows which leaves are blocking the sunlight from the best fruit.  He knows which branches are growing the wrong way.

And He removes them.  Then, the vine can focus on the best fruit.

“God removes all things in the believer’s life that would hinder fruit-bearing.”

                    ~Macarthur Study Bible Commentary on John 15:2

Pray this with me:

Father, you are the divine vine dresser.  You know the fruit the branches could bear, and you know how to get the branches to bear that fruit.  You tend, and you care, and you cultivate, and you prune.

All I can do is submit to the pruning.  I am the branch, and I am in the vine, your son, Jesus Christ.  I want to abide in Him, and I want to bear fruit. I stretch out my arms, and I lay down my life, and I give it to you.  Prune me, Lord. Take out all the stuff getting in the way. Take out all the stuff keeping me from you. Take out all the stuff draining my time.  Take out all the stuff that divides my interests. Cut it all out. It may be painful at times, but I’ll abide in the vine, and I’ll remember you are cutting out the sins, the hindrances, the drain…you’re doing this because you know what is best for me.

Most importantly, teach me to come to you first before I even bring this junk into my life in the first place. Teach me to let you make the decisions.  Teach me to seek you and to be obedient.

Amen

 

 

 

 

My Dog’s Trash Can Looting Helped Me Understand How God Responds to Sin

When Zoe, our miniature schnauzer, is bored, she goes into a bathroom and roots through the trash can.  Her favorite item to shred is the toilet paper someone used to blow their nose. She’ll also pull out napkins, chewed gum…basically whatever she thinks she can tear up.  We’ve learned to keep our bathroom doors closed since the bathroom trash cans are the ones she raids.

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Zoe on her first birthday – June 2018

Just the other day, I saw a piece of shredded napkin on the floor and started to get upset but stopped to ask myself – why?  Why would she nose through smelly, nasty trash when she could chew on any of the dog toys lying around on the floor?

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Does that look like the face of a dog that would do anything wrong?  Does it?

Why choose something trashy over something you were meant to have?

Then I realized God might ask himself this same question when His children choose sin over Him.

“My child,” He wonders, “why dig through the trash when I’ve set blessings in front of you?  Why work so hard to find something sinful to fill your time when you could sit quietly at my feet and be satisfied?”

I’ve noticed that Zoe is more likely to turn to trash can looting when no one is paying her any attention.  It’s like she can’t figure out what to do with herself, so she turns to the easiest thing: digging in garbage.

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Her favorite place to be – my lap 🙂

Isn’t that when sin creeps in on us, too?  When we think no one is looking? When we’re idle?  Bored? It’s much quicker and easier to turn to something sinful than to turn to something good…and I don’t even mean something extreme like turning on the computer to look at pornography…although that could be the case.

I’m talking about those things we default to when there’s a moment of idleness – scrolling Facebook or Instagram and comparing your body, house, spouse, car, job, clothes, children to what you see on your feed; jumping on Amazon and ordering the Deal of the Day just because it’s 30% off and you have Prime so shipping is free even though you know that purchase will put you over the budget you and your spouse agreed on at the beginning of the month; turning on the TV to watch that show you find so entertaining but is filling your heart and mind with thoughts that don’t glorify God.

Look, I’m talking to myself here.  I’ve turned to all these things and plenty others when I didn’t want to take the time to think of something wholesome to do.  When I just wanted to chill out. When I needed an activity that required no real thought or effort…just for a moment.

I promise.  I’ve been there, and I’m not preaching to you or fussing at you.

But, that little moment is when sin creeps in.  The jealousy. The lust. The anger. The gluttony.  The laziness.

And sin is what keeps us from God.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

I don’t want sin to keep me away from God.  I want to be able to go to Him clean. So, I have to repent.  That means that I am more than just sorry that I got caught; I am remorseful to the point of turning – away from that sin, away from that lifestyle, away from that way of thinking, away from whatever stands between God and me.  I turn from that, and I look to God.

Repentance was one of the first messages Jesus taught when he began his public ministry.  Both Matthew’s and Mark’s gospels record Jesus as speaking about repentance right away. So it must be important.

That means I have to do it.

That means you have to do it.

Ask God to show your sin to you.  Ask Him to convict you. Then turn from that sin and go the other way…toward Him.

 

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from my Grandma

“The best thing you can do to someone who is being mean to you is to be as nice as you can to them.” I distinctly remember sitting on a stool at the counter in my grandma’s kitchen one afternoon after school when she said this to me.

Seventh grade was my first real encounter with girls being mean just for spite – saying snide things about my clothes or my hair or something like that. Undoubtedly, she and I were talking about this, and her advice was to be as kind as I could in return.

That sounds crazy, right?! It definitely isn’t worldly advice. Worldly wisdom says to be mean back to those girls. The world’s advice is to get even when someone does you wrong. But, grandma was saying to be nice!

She said, “being nice in return is your best choice because it is the opposite of what the person expects. That person expects you to cry, but you don’t cry, at least you don’t cry in front of her. If you’re nice, she doesn’t get the reaction she was looking for. There’s no drama. And a lot of the time, that person will eventually move on. It’s a really good way to handle a bully. And,” she added, “it’s what the Bible says to do, too.”

At some point in the conversation, I’m pretty sure I remember the phrase “heaping burning coals on their head.”  Grandma said that was the part from the Bible… So, if the Bible and Grandma said it, it was good enough for 13-year-old me.

In my lifetime, I have come to find that Grandma was right. The best thing to do is to be kind to people even when they aren’t kind to you. She was also right when she said that most of the time, your response would make them leave you alone…eventually.

But where did Grandma get this? She told me it was biblical?

As an adult who is concerned with living a godly life, I’ve looked into this further and found that it is indeed advice from the Bible. King Solomon, in all his God-given wisdom, wrote about it in Proverbs, and Paul echoed it in his letter to the Romans.

Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “if your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you. “

Um…what?

The English Standard Version Study Bible (ESV) explains these verses the best:

The image of the burning coals on your enemy’s head is “likely an image for leading him to repentance or shame, suggesting that he will feel inward burning pangs of guilt for his wrongdoing. In any case, the message is clearly to repay evil with good… The image of ‘burning coals’ does not imply something that harms the enemy because it further explains the bread and drink in Proverbs 25:21, which do him good, and also because Proverbs forbids taking personal vengeance… Finally, ‘the Lord will reward you’ implies a good result from ‘burning coals’ which is most consistent with leading a person to repentance.”

To understand how this works, jump ahead to Romans 12.  Verses 9-21 discuss Christian behavior and echo things many of us are used to hearing:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (verse 14)

“Live in harmony with one another” (verse 16)

“Repay no one evil for evil but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (verse 17)

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peacefully with all” (verse 18)

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God” (verse 19)

Then, we get to verses 20 and 21:

“… if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he’s thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not overcome evil by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

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Photo Credit: sermonquotes.com

“There are those burning coals again,” you might think. “Heather, are you sure this is what it means to be nice to someone who has wronged me? Sounds like you’re just being mean right back. “

Well, in Romans 12:20 (above), Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22, but, you have to go back to Romans 12:9, earlier in the same section, to get some context and to properly seat the instructions of Romans 12:20 in the right frame for the Christian. Verse 9 says, “let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil and hold fast to what is good.”

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Photo Credit:Pinterest

That explains the whole thing.

Being nice to someone who is mean to you isn’t some weird way to get revenge.  The important thing to ask yourself is, “how do I feel about this person in my heart when I am nice to her in return?” Literally, what is the condition of your heart? What is your motive?

The point – and this is the hard part, this is where prayer comes in – is that your love for that person has to be genuine. Verses 9-21 of Romans 12 are, according to the ESV, a “description of the life that is pleasing to God.”  And the section starts off with love.

When we are genuinely kind to the person who wronged us, our motivation is love. We don’t heap coals to hurt that person; we heap coals to help that person.

When we repay evil with good, we do so in hopes that our behavior will soften the heart of the wrongdoer. Our purpose is always to point people back to God, to show people His love.

The strangeness she feels when you repay her evil with good should start something in her heart. It should cause her to stop and question: “How can she be nice to me after how I spoke to her?”

God can use that to change a person’s hearts; all He needs is a little soft spot to take hold of.

Above all, we are called to love, genuinely.

This takes a lot of prayer… Prayer for God to show us how to live. Prayer for God to change our hearts. Prayer for God to show us how to love people like He loves them.  Prayer for God to help us love the unlovable.

This is how we live the life of a believer the way that God wants us to live. And it’s what Grandma was talking about all those years ago that afternoon in her kitchen.

 

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Grandma last year on her 90th birthday with Ethan and Emery.  We celebrated her 91st just a few weeks ago 🙂

 

Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story Part 3

“The day of Jenny’s funeral, Steve’s 90-year-old father had a heart attack, and we left for Tennessee that night,” Susan told me, her shoulders slumped a little.  “Ten days after that, he passed away. Through it all, the Lord carried us as our dear, sweet church prayed for us.”

Susan and I sat in the den of the home she shared with Steve, her husband of 45 years.

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Steve and Susan on their wedding day

She described to me her life as a believer in Christ. One of the most striking things she shared with me was the sudden death of her daughter Jenny who suffered an aneurysm at the age of 29.  Susan detailed the love, support, and prayers from their church that surrounded their family and carried them through a devastating storm.

On March 31, not long after she and Steve returned from Steve’s father’s funeral in Tennessee, Susan got a call that her mother had gone into congestive heart failure.

“When I talked to her, I said, ‘Mama, you can’t die on me, too.  I really need you right now!’ And she did help me a lot. She listened mainly and gave me suggestions about things to do like putting away Jenny’s bed and changing her room,” Susan explained.

She gave more details about learning to grieve Jenny’s death.  “I came to the conclusion that grief is a process, and it would take time.  Even if I put away everything that reminded me of Jenny, the grief would still be there.  Only the Lord can heal grief.” She paused, remembering that process. “As I was trying to save everything that Jenny hand-wrote, I heard the Lord tell me, ‘You will either join the living or join the dead.’  I guess it would be easy to mourn yourself to death and isolate yourself from the living. I believe that is how Satan tries to smother out your life when someone dear to you dies.”

During conversations with her mother, Susan talked about praying that the Lord would help her accept Jenny’s death.  Susan’s mom said she would pray for that, too.

“My mama and I talked a lot on the phone over the next eleven months until she passed away on her birthday, February 14, 2009.  Several years later, I was able to put Jenny’s bed back in place in her room. I changed the comforter, but I put up pictures of Jenny on the walls and put out some of her favorite things.  These bring sweet memories of her beautiful life on earth.”

Steve, too, had a lot to endure as he grieved over his daughter’s death and his dad’s death and worried about being out of work and his elderly mother living in Tennessee.

He searched day and night for work without success.

“Steve got the opportunity to go back to school,” Susan told me.  “He did very well, and he graduated in 2010 with an Associate’s degree from Central Piedmont Community College.  After graduation, he still had difficulty finding work in his field, so he applied at Lowe’s but changed his mind because the job would require him to work on Sunday.  A week or two later, the Lord opened the door to a job that was more in line with his expertise. We knew this job was not equal to the work that he was designed to do, so we continued to pray.  We knew God had something for us to do. We also knew God would take care of us while we waited.”

Susan was grateful for the provision God gave during the time of Steve’s unemployment.  One of the biggest ways God provided was in respect to the home they built when they moved to Monroe in 1992.

“One of our main concerns was losing our home during unemployment,” Susan told me.  “But God provided a way to pay off our house while Steve was unemployed through the 401K he started in a previous job.  We used it to pay the whole thing off.” Susan beamed. She told me confidently, “The Lord always provides a way.”

Also during Steve’s unemployment, God opened the door for Susan to work outside the home.  “I got to work with school children, just like Jenny did.” Susan’s eyes shone when she said this.

She found fulfillment in after-school and summer camp programs for public and then private schools around Union County.

“I worked at Unionville, Sardis Road, Porter Ridge, Indian Trail Elementary, and Metrolina,” she listed.

This is what Susan was doing when I met her through the Mothers of Preschoolers group (called MOPS for short) at our church.

During a particular MOPS meeting, she gave the devotion and talked about the need for Christians to tell others about God.  She said that Jesus told his disciples to spread the Word, and that she was certainly going to do it, too. I was struck by her boldness, and I realized that she was indeed a godly woman.

It was during this devotion that I remember her sharing about how she talked to some of the students about Jesus.  She was in awe when she met children who had no idea who Jesus was, had never seen a Bible, or had never been to church.  She realized God had given her a mission field.

The public schools would allow teachers and leaders to teach the Bible as history especially during holidays, so that is what she did.  She remembers three children asking her how to go to heaven, and she told them. They were saved on the playground.

At this MOPS meeting, I recall her saying, “I am going to talk to these kids about Jesus even if it gets me fired.”

I’ll never forget that day in MOPS when Susan made that statement, and when I mentioned it, she recalled it with a twinkle in her eye.

“Well, we had an empty nest after Jenny died.”  Susan’s voice and face went a little flat. “Vickie already lived in Pennsylvania with her children.  Stephanie, her husband, and their son moved to South Carolina shortly after Jenny passed away. And it was very hard.  But God gave me children to take care of in the schools where I worked. I got to be a mom to those kids. I got to tell them about Jesus.”  Now she was smiling again.

In 2017, when Steve was working at a job in Concord that he’d had for about 4 years, he got a call from an old friend he used to work with.  This friend told Steve that he knew of a company that needed Steve’s skills in their workplace; he thought Steve was the only man for this particular job.

“We were excited because we had asked the Lord years ago when Steve would get the work he was called to do? Later, during a fast, the Lord told me that we would receive an answer to our prayer about Steve’s work in November.  Well, the company owner called Steve on November 1st and offered him the job his friend mentioned!”

A huge smile spread over Susan’s face.  “Jesus is our redeemer!” Susan exclaimed.  “He restores all you lost! It isn’t exactly the same, but the Lord of all comfort always gives us just what we need.”

Two years after Jenny’s death, Steve and Susan’s youngest daughter, Stephanie, gave birth to her second child, a daughter.

“She reminds us so much of Jenny that it’s amazing!  We are thrilled to see this little girl grow up. It is just a touch of heaven that the Lord gave us.”  Susan described her birth and life as a way God restored them after losing their own daughter.

“You know,” she said after a while.  “We know that the Lord has a plan for us!  He loves us with an everlasting love. We have prayed to work until we die to fulfill His purpose for His glory.”

That’s how Susan lives her life.  Waiting on God. Trusting in God. Praying to God.  Listening to God. Talking with God. Walking with God.

“The Bible tells us over and over that we have hope in God…not to lose hope in God, so I’m just going to let Him do the driving.  I’m going to pray and trust Him. Satan tried to break us after Jenny died, Steve’s dad died, and Stephanie moved away. But God didn’t let us go, and we didn’t let Him go…and here we are today…still trusting Him.  He can do anything. Nothing’s impossible with God.”

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Steve and Susan today 🙂

Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story – Part 2

Author’s Note: All my sisters in Christ are Servant Girls, and we’ve all been given God’s stories to tell. I’m grateful to be able to write to you over the next few weeks about Susan Elder.  We sat at her home one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and talked about how she met Jesus and some of the valleys He’s carried her through. It is my pleasure to continue Susan’s story…

“I have a habit of fasting at least one day a week,” Susan explained as we sat on the couch in the den of her home, continuing our conversation about her faith-journey.  “It’s a good thing for Christians to do. God’s voice is very clear when I fast. But, the Lord was silent that particular day,” she confessed. “Sometimes He is, so I wasn’t terribly concerned.”

It was early in 2007, and after 16 years working for the company that brought his family to Monroe from Tennessee, Susan’s husband Steve was laid off from his job.

Susan was on a water fast that day and began going to the Lord about Steve’s job.

She described to me a Friday morning.  Jenny, their middle daughter, was living at home at the time.

“I heard her throwing up about 6 that morning and asked her if she was ok.  She responded that she was very sick. We worried she might be getting the flu since it was flu season,” Susan recalled.  “Jenny taught at Hemby Bridge Elementary, and there’s always something going around a school. She’d suffered from a headache since she got home from school Wednesday of that week and stayed home on Thursday because she still felt bad.  By the end of the day Thursday, she didn’t feel any better, so she had already called the school to say she’d miss Friday as well.”

Jenny, 29 at the time, was working on her Masters of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Steve and Susan’s older daughter, Vickie, lived in Pennsylvania, and Stephanie, their youngest daughter and a registered nurse, was currently staying home with her infant son.

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Stephanie, Jenny, and Vickie – Susan and Steve’s daughters. Image used with permission from Susan Elder.

Leaving Jenny to rest at home, Steve and Susan went to the store to get some bland foods their daughter might be able to eat.  When they got back home, they found her in a worsened condition.

“Well, she lay on a couch that was sitting over there,” Susan said, and she pointed to the front of the room.  “There was something about the way she was lying there. It just wasn’t right,” Susan told me.

Susan and Steve got Jenny into the car and went to urgent care.

“The only thing I remember her saying while we were in the car was that her head hurt very badly,” Susan explained.  “The doctor that saw her at the urgent care told me to get her to the ER for more testing.”

Steve and Susan contacted Stephanie and her husband, TJ who were signing papers on a house that day.  Everyone planned to meet at the emergency room.

“Stephanie was grieved that she wasn’t there sooner,” Susan explained. “But later I understood that the Lord moved Stephanie and TJ, who was a PA, out of the way because it was Jenny’s time to be with Him.”

It took a long time for the ambulance to come even though it was across the street.  But, the urgent care doctor insisted that they wait, so they did. When Jenny finally got to the ER, she was immediately rushed to a room.

Then, there was more waiting.

Susan prayed, “Lord, you gave her to us.  She’s yours. I want you to heal her but your will be done.”

Finally, doctors offered an explanation.  Jenny suffered an aneurysm that was most likely congenital.

Around 7 o’clock that evening, Jenny was transported by helicopter from the local ER to CMC Main in Charlotte.  At the hospital, the family found that the attending nurse was a member of Jenny’s Sunday school class. The nurse immediately called the class to start a prayer chain.

“At 11 that night, the neurosurgeon told us, ‘we can’t do anything.’  But in my mind, I said, ‘God can.’ So, they put her on life support.” Susan paused for a moment and gathered herself.  Then, she gave me that smile that Susan has. If you know her, you know the one I mean. That calm, serene expression that can only be worn by someone who walks daily with God and has experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus.  It isn’t necessarily a ‘happy-happy’ smile, but it is a smile full of joy.

“I was optimistic the whole time,” Susan said.  “We prayed for complete healing all day and all night.  Everyone did. Our life group and our church family prayed.  People at Jenny’s school prayed. I said, ‘Lord, heal her completely,’ because I knew that He could.”

Susan paused a moment.  I stopped writing. The fan still whirred overhead.  The sun still filtered through the windows.

She went on to describe the next day and the people who came to the hospital to support and pray with them while they waited: members of theirs and Jenny’s Sunday school classes, Jenny’s coworkers, Jenny’s sisters.

“That evening, about 7:30, Jenny’s doctors gathered the family around and said they wanted to remove life support for about 15 minutes to check for brain function.  Stephanie asked if she could be the one to turn off the machine. She felt like she should do this for her sister rather than letting a stranger do it. Well, they agreed, and I left the room because I didn’t want to see it, but Vickie stayed, too.  Then, Stephanie turned off the machine. After a few moments, when they were sure there was no brain activity, she stopped breathing, and her heart stopped, and the doctors pronounced her dead at 8:00 pm. It was March 1, 2007.”

There was silence for a moment.  I didn’t write. I just held Susan’s gaze.

“What could I give Jenny here on earth?”  She asked after a moment and shrugged a little.  “God gave her heaven,” she said calmly. “Jenny always said she didn’t want to be 30 and not be married.  She wanted to get married and have kids. Well, God made her a teacher, so she had lots of kids. And, He took her before she turned 30, so she didn’t have to worry about not being married.”

Before Jenny’s funeral, the family’s pastor, Dr. Mike Whitson, spoke with Jenny’s Sunday school teachers to gather information about how Jenny served God through the church.  During the funeral, Preacher Mike used the stories to illustrate the great impact she had on the lives of others – an impact she never knew about. But, it helped the family greatly to hear these stories.

“It was encouraging,” Susan told me.  “But the most comforting thing to us was the 36 souls that were saved at her funeral.  Even in death she was used for God’s glory. Her funeral was a testimony that death comes to any age, though, and it could come without warning, like in her case.  My daily comfort is that the Lord promises that we will see her again and that she walks the streets of gold with our Savior, Jesus Christ!”

And there was that Susan-smile again.

“After a while, God showed me what a blessing it was that Steve was laid off from his job before this happened.  God put Steve where he could spend time with Jenny.”

Susan looked at me.  “I still tell people that I have 3 children because I do.  They’re just scattered to the four winds. One is in Pennsylvania, one is in South Carolina, and one is in heaven.”

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Jenny Elder – Image used with permission from Susan Elder

 

Please join me again next week for the conclusion of Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story.