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.

Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story – Part 1

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.  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 introduce you to Susan Elder…

“It tickles me,” Susan grinned, “to look back and see where God gave His grace and where He answered my prayers.  So, I keep a journal, and I write down dates and what I prayed for or what God showed me that day. Then, when a prayer is answered, I can look back and see when I prayed for it.”

We sat on the floral-patterned couch in the den of her home.  The great room was still and quiet. The only light was from the big windows flanking the front door and the windows overlooking the back porch. The only sound was the soft whir of the fan as it steadily spun overhead.

My notebook sat on my lap, and I scribbled furiously as she told me the story of her life and her family’s walk with Jesus.

“I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee,” she told me.  “My family was the trash of the neighborhood. I always knew we were bad.  My dad was a violent alcoholic, and everybody knew it.”

Susan’s family included her parents and their five children.

“I always wanted to be good,” Susan said, matter-of-factly, “but we were trash.  I was helpless. I knew a few Bible stories, but I didn’t know Jesus died for me.”

When her older brother was 17, he bought a car and started going to church with his girlfriend.

“When he invited me to go to church with them, I went!”  She exclaimed. “I learned all sorts of things,” she said, more excited.  “Most importantly, I learned Jesus died for me. I never knew that,” she told me again.

Susan described a Sunday morning church service when her brother made a profession of faith.  She followed him and did the same. “I wanted to be saved,” she stressed, “but I didn’t understand how.  The Bible says, ‘All that call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ I followed my brother, and I said I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t call on His name.”

She laughed a little, and I looked up.  Her hand covered an embarrassed smile.

“I remember learning,” she began, “that the trump would sound and the Lord would come back.”  She paused again, and her sheepish grin spread larger. She didn’t cover it this time.

“Well, one night, I was in bed, and a car horn went off out on the street somewhere in our neighborhood.  It got stuck and just went on blaring. It scared me half to death. I thought the Lord was coming back,” she laughed.  “I jumped out of bed, went down on my knees, and prayed! I begged, ‘Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Please save me.’  And I heard Him say, ‘I forgive you.’ And He saved me and forgave me of all my sins right then and there. See it wasn’t until I fell on my knees beside my bed that I actually called His name.  That’s when I was truly saved.”

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Photo Credit: believers4ever.com

She laughed again to herself, no doubt remembering the car horn that heralded her arrival into the arms of the Lord.

Susan was 16 when she accepted Jesus as her Savior.

After that, her brother’s girlfriend gave her a Bible.

“I read it every night,” she breathed.  “And I prayed, and I talked to God, and I went to church.”

It was in church youth group that she met Steve.

“I noticed his smile,” she confessed when I asked what got her attention at first.

“We started dating,” Susan explained, “and I prayed to God asking Him to show me ‘the right one.’  I always ask God what to do,” she added.  “If you ask Him, He’ll tell you.”

Apparently, Steve was the right one.  They married in 1972. Three daughters followed: Vicki in 1974, Jenny in 1978, and Stephanie in 1981.

Susan said of Steve, “His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.  He just thinks differently than me.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

She didn’t even have to think before she clarified, “He is very detailed.  He thinks in three dimensions. He’s extremely thorough, always thinking about the next step, and I just want to hurry up and get things done.”  She laughed. Then she gestured at the room around us. “He drew up the plans for our house,” she continued. “He made sure there was no wasted space inside these walls.  Our half bathroom and master bathroom,” she said, pointing toward the hall, “are back to back so that all the plumbing is in the same place.”

She told me about the family’s move to Monroe in 1992.

“We didn’t know much about the area, the schools, or the churches,” she clarified.  “I remembered reading in Proverbs that you could flip a coin, and God would make the decision.  So, we said, ‘Heads, Piedmont; tails, Sun Valley.’ We flipped the coin, and it was heads. It tickles me,” Susan gave a little giggle, “because Vicki, our oldest, wasn’t satisfied with how we made the decision.  So, she grabbed the coin, flipped it three more times, and each time, it landed on heads. So we built our house in the Piedmont area of Union County, and all 3 of our girls graduated from Piedmont High School.”

The Lord guided their decision for a church to attend when they sought His will in prayer over that decision.  They prayed for God to send people to their home who would invite them to church. It happened just as they prayed it would, and they attended that church for eleven years.

“Some strife arose there,” Susan reported, “so we prayed again that the Lord would show us where to go.  We prayed and visited about 17 other churches in a 3-year span. We asked, ‘Lord, would you send someone to our house who’ll ask us to join their church?’  A few of the churches we visited sent people to our house, but no one actually invited us to join until the third visit from a member of First Baptist Church of Indian Trail.  He was sitting right where you’re sitting,” she pointed at me,” when he said, ‘we would like you to join our church.’ Well,” Susan stopped, grinning widely,” I looked at Steve, and Steve said, ‘did you hear what he said?’  It was exactly what we asked from God. So, we joined the church in 2006. Now, Steve and I enjoy teaching 4th graders in Sunday school, and you know I love singing in the choir,” she finished.

Bill and I started going to First Baptist of Indian Trail about the same time, and I met Susan around 2010 when she was a mentor mom in MOPS.  When we met, we realized we sang in choir together, too.

“We love our life group and our church family at Indian Trail,” she beamed, but then somberly looked at her hands in her lap.  “They stood with us and prayed with us through some terribly dark times.”

A Love Letter from God (Repost)

Author’s Note: Ethan and Emery are in school, and I have been at my new job for a few weeks now (will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post). So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting used to the new job.  In the meantime, I am reposting pieces of my testimony that were published when I started the blog in October 2017).  This is the last post in this series, and new posts will start next week.

Why?  That’s the question I asked myself over and over when I was trying to “get right” with the Lord.  Why did this happen to me?  I was raised in church!  I was saved when I was young!  How did someone like me go so far as to not even believe in Jesus anymore?!  Why did I have to go through this?

The short answer is – it happened to me so I could tell you.

God gets glory through the lives of His children – when we surrender to Him.  When we live for Him.  When we obey Him even when what He’s asking is scary.

This happened to me – this time spent away from God and then coming back to Him again – so I could write to you and tell you.  This happened so you could look at my life and see who I have been and what I have done and where I have gone…and see Jesus.

This happened to me because it was the only way I was going to give Him control over my life.  He knew me and what it was going to take for me to honestly come to Him…not just go to church because that’s how I was raised.  He wanted me, but I had to want Him.  He wanted a relationship, not the religious person I was when I was younger.

I believed with my head, but He wanted my heart.  My heart was more difficult to convict, but I am grateful for the journey.  I wouldn’t have the relationship with Him I have now if it weren’t for this journey.  I’d still be trudging along in legalism and good-girl church stuff.

I wouldn’t have any idea how to talk with Him or listen to Him, and I certainly wouldn’t be telling you about Him.

But, here we are.

(If you just found this blog, please go back and start with the first post, June Cleaver? Who Me?, so all this makes sense).

Here’s some of what I’ve learned and what God wants me to share with you.  (I have included some scripture references; however, the list isn’t exhaustive.  It may not even be the best and most relevant reference, just one that I found while researching).

{WARNING: these may sound like the cliches you always hear Christians say.  They did to me at one time, but they are real to me now that I have truly experienced Him}.

  • The presence of the Holy Spirit – the one God sends to live inside you when you believe in Him – will change you.  You will not be the same.  You cannot think the same or behave the same as you did before.
  • God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19, Psalm 115: 3, Romans 8:28).  He wants us to surrender our lives to His sovereignty – TOTALLY.  Simply acknowledging that He is real is not enough (James 2:19).
  • Take thoughts captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) when they go against biblical truths.  Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) against lies the world will tell you.  Go to God whenyour thoughts are leading you astray.  Go to God when you find that your heart is turning away from Him.
  • God wants us to trust our lives to Him.  He was us to be obedient and follow where He leads (Psalm 37:5, Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • Pray (Philippians 4:6).  Talk to Him.  Read your Bible (Philippians 4:6, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Write what you’ve learned.  Write what you feel.  Write questions you have.  This is journaling, and this is a way to have a conversation with God.
  • HE IS ALWAYS RIGHT THERE (Hebrews 13:5). He doesn’t move.  He doesn’t go away.  You may, but He doesn’t (Psalm 16:8).  He is waiting right there for you to decide that you want Him.  He wants you, and He wants you to want Him.
  • God speaks to me.  God will speak to you.  It may not be an audible voice you can actually hear with your ears, but once you learn to hear and understand His voice and how He speaks to you, you begin to realize that He speaks to you all the time in many different ways (John 10:27).
  • God is persistent.  He has a plan and a purpose for your life.  He will continue to woo you in the direction He wants you to go (Proverbs 19:21).
  • God doesn’t need us to fix ourselves before we come to Him.  We can’t anyway.  We simply go to Him, give ourselves to Him, and then He does the fixing.  If you are waiting until you’re “better” or “right” or “good” to go to Him, please stop right now.  You’re wasting precious time.  Just tell Him you want Him to take over your life.  Tell Him you believe in Him and want Him as your Savior.  He does the rest.
  • Obey – immediately! (James 4:17)
  • Be still and be quiet (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14).  God doesn’t scream and shout and stomp His feet.  If you aren’t still and quiet, you’ll miss what He has to say.
  • Turn towards God.  That is what He wants – your permission to take control of your life.

My journey wasn’t in vain.  I know this.  God has shown me.  It happened for me – to save me, and it happened for you – to save you.  You need to know that God is right there.  You need to know that whatever you did wasn’t so bad that He doesn’t want you.  You need to know that you haven’t gotten too far away from Him.  HE’S RIGHT THERE WITH YOU!  HE LOVES YOU. HE WANTS YOU.

Talk to Him.  Read about Him.  Write to Him.  Ask trusted Christians about Him.

He’s got a journey to take you on, too.

I was the Prodigal (Repost)

Author’s Note: Ethan and Emery are in school, and I have been at my new job for a few weeks now (will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post). So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting used to the new job.  In the meantime, I am reposting pieces of my testimony that were published when I started the blog in October 2017). 

It was a gradual thing: me turning my back on God and deciding Jesus never existed.  It was gradual, but it eventually held fast.  My heart became stone.

Just as gradual was me turning back TO God.

He had been working on me persistently since about 2005, and He really stepped it up when He called me to leave my full-time job to stay at home with our son.  Through a series of events, He kept wooing me closer – slowly but steadily.  He had me in a group of Christian moms who met in a MOPS group sponsored by our church.

I was searching – this time for Jesus.  I really wanted Him to be real to me again.  When I read things in the Bible that He’d done, I wanted to KNOW for sure that those things had actually happened.

I wanted to KNOW that His feet had taken Him to sit by the well where He talked with the woman from Samaria (John 4:4-26).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

I wanted to BELIEVE that He actually wore the cloak that the woman in the crowd touched.  She’d been afflicted for nearly 12 years and had found no relief.  However, she heard that Jesus was coming and believed that just touching His clothes would heal her (Luke 8:43-48).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

After about a year, the MOPS group dissolved into a Women’s Bible study.  I moved on to that with some of the mom-friends I had from MOPS.  I was very excited!  I was ready to be pushed and challenged and really dig into the Word.  It was time!  God was stirring. He had been working on my stone heart; it was softer now and ready to be fed.

I dove head-first into the first Bible study, Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering, by Angela Thomas.  In this study, Thomas uses the Sermon on the Mount to show how to give our lives as an offering to God.

I prayed.  I read the study and my Bible.  I wrote in my journal – things I felt, prayers to God, and what I learned from reading the scripture.

God began to speak to me – through the study and through sermons at church.  I had never been convicted by a sermon in my life!

Our preacher, Mike Whitson, talked one Sunday about how a Christian should show God’s love.  We should love other people simply because they are God’s child, not because they are lovable.  I realized I didn’t love people unless I wanted to.  During the invitation, the preacher called for people to come to the altar, and I practically RAN down there!  It was one of the few times in my life that I have voluntarily gone to the altar.  I begged God to help me love people because I didn’t.  I asked Him to break my heart and make me love people the way He did.

About the same time, Preacher Mike gave another sermon about the Christian life producing fruit because of the Christian’s relationship with God.  I didn’t have anything like that in my life.  I could say I was saved when I was 12, but now I was in my mid-30’s and had nothing to show for it.

Those two sermons convicted me.  I prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  I asked God to break me.  I asked Him to help me to love people like He did.  I begged Him to help me believe in His Son again.

And, all of a sudden, He DID!  Jesus was there, and He was REAL!  The process God used to get me to that point was gradual, but He was working on me and softening my heart. When I finally realized it, it seemed like everything was just…“POOF”…fixed…after praying and begging and reading and journaling.

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Photo Credit:Pinterest

HE WAS REAL AGAIN!

When I read things in the Bible that He’d done and said I saw them and heard them and believed them.

The Angela Thomas study showed me that I did a crucial thing – I turned back towards Jesus.  That’s all He wanted.  He wanted me to ask.  He waited for me to give Him permission to take over my life and heart.  I didn’t need to do anything to fix myself or make myself believe in Jesus again…except turn my face back towards Him.  He did the rest.

Thomas used the story of the prodigal son to illustrate this concept.  She described how the prodigal realized the error of his ways and set out for home to ask his father’s forgiveness and to ask him for a job.  The story says, however, that when the father saw the son, way off in the distance, coming back toward home, the father RAN to meet the son.  The father was so excited that his wayward child was coming home that he didn’t wait on his child to get to him…he RAN out to meet his son.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Thomas explained that this is how it is with God – you simply have to turn towards Him and He will run to you.  This is exactly what happened to me.  He saw me turn towards Him.  He knew my heart, that I wanted Him, and HE RAN TO ME!

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Praise the Lord!

He healed my damaged mind.

He softened my heart to allow Himself back in…and I believe!

I KNOW!

Hallelujah!

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Fixing Me Was God’s Job (Repost)

Author’s Note: Ethan and Emery are in school, and i am on week 2 of my new job (will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post). So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting used to the new job.  In the meantime, I am reposting pieces of my testimony that were published when I started the blog in October 2017). 

God can use any time, place, or circumstance He wants to use to get through to you.  He can speak to you in the most unlikely of places and in the craziest of ways.

When I was 31, after spending more than 10 years ignoring God’s voice (and at times even denying that Jesus existed), I actually obeyed God’s calling and left my full-time job to be a work-from-home-mom and be with my then-16-month-old son.

To date, it it probably the craziest thing I have ever done.  Most of the things God asks us to do seem crazy at the time; that’s why those things are known as a “leap of faith.”  They aren’t things we could accomplish in our own power or with our own knowledge, skills, or money.

And that’s where I was in May 2010: being obedient to Jesus when I still wasn’t even sure I believed in Him!  I didn’t have trouble believing in a Creator God overall, but I had lost Jesus – the man who walked and talked and healed and taught and died and lived again.

So, what God did was to remove me from the busyness of the life I had created with a job and a mortgage and a husband and a child and a pet, and He sat me down at the family-heirloom dining table in our house and confronted me with myself.

Now, I’m not trying to say that staying home with your baby isn’t busy, but it was a lot less so for me than when I worked full-time outside the home.  I still worked part-time from home and cared for our home and our son, but God had cleared my schedule quite a bit.

Life was quieter now.  Life was slower now.  I had time to think.  (Funny, “thinking” was what got me into the mess I was in in the first place, but thinking was also what God used to get me out).  I finally acknowledged that I needed help with my mind and my thoughts about God and Jesus.

At first, I tried to fix myself.

I remember reading a book or two I thought would help me believe in Jesus again.  At this point, I really wanted to believe in Him but couldn’t fathom ever being able to again.

I did pray sometimes and ask God to help me.

I was so used to scholarly-type study from 6 years of higher education that I thought maybe I could study my way back to believing in Jesus.

So, I got a Bible commentary to read what scholars said about the Bible hoping that some smart person’s “proof” would sway me.  I read the book of James because I heard someone say it was a good idea for new Christians to start with that book when reading the Bible.

God led me to meet some Christian moms from our church and start going to MOPS – Mothers of PreSchoolers – at our church with them in the fall of 2011.

I began to feel God more.  It was slow, but it was there.  I knew my worldview was made-up, but I still didn’t want to submit it to God.

I was working hard to fix myself before I went back to the Lord.  I thought He wanted me fixed before He would take me back.  {Spoiler alert} That’s where I was wrong.

Fixing me was God’s job.  Fixing YOU is God’s job.

He doesn’t require us to come to Him already perfect.  {Hint} If you wait until you’re perfect before you go to God, you’ll never go to Him.  If God waited to save us until we were perfect, He’d never have anyone to save!

The Time God Told Me to Leave My Full-Time Job (Repost)

Author’s Note: Ethan and Emery are in school, and this has been my first week at my new job (will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post). So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting used to the new job.  In the meantime, I am reposting pieces of my testimony that were published when I started the blog in October 2017). 

“The most miserable person in the world is a Christian who isn’t living for God.”

Those words, spoken by the teacher subbing for our regular life group teacher, were the words God used to start an awakening in my soul.  They moved me.  They disturbed me.  They were FOR me!

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Bill and I had been attending First Baptist Church of Indian Trail for a year or two at this point.  I had started singing in the choir.  I was still going to life group, and I had started going to Bible studies led by our life group teacher’s wife.  I had even gone to my life group teacher and his wife a time or two to talk about this worldview I had created.

I was still actively fighting against God’s convictions though.  Four years passed, and I put up a valiant fight against His whispers and tugs.  He’s persistent though, so He kept chiseling.

Photo Credits: Pinterest

Then, in early 2009, our son, Ethan, was born.  I went back to work after 8 weeks because that’s what you’re “supposed to do,”  but by the fall of 2009, I started having the strangest notion: I wanted to be at home with my baby.

That was TOTALLY foreign to me.  It had never occurred to me to stay home with my child.  Honestly, I always thought people who did that were…well, crazy, quite frankly.  Why in the world would anyone want to be at home all day with a whiny, screaming, snotty-nosed kid?!

Even so, God had been placing me into different situations and was using various things to soften my heart and convict me in that direction since our son was born.

I was scared!  This was crazy!  What would my poor parents think after paying for me to earn a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree?  What would my poor husband think?  We’d bought a house two years prior to our son’s birth and just bought a new car since Ethan was born.  I was crazy confused.

Then, I started to realize that this must be something God was calling me to do.  I had no idea if that was true or not though because I had no idea what it was like to have God tell me to do something.

I had to figure it out, so I started asking people – trusted women I had met at church.  One of the women I talked to was the wife of our current Sunday school teacher (we’d gotten a new teacher in the past 4 years).  I explained what I was feeling and that I was starting to think this was something God was telling me to do.

“How do I know the difference between something God is directing me to do and something that’s just my own idea?”  I asked her.

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She explained that, first and most importantly, God would never tell anyone to do something that wasn’t biblical.  If what you think God is telling you to do goes against something written in His Word, then it isn’t God telling you to do it.

This trusted lady also told me that, if this thing is actually a conviction from God, it won’t go away.  God will gently but consistently keep convicting you of what He wants you to do.  Sometimes, when we think up things on our own, they come and go easily, especially if it takes a while to achieve it or we meet lots of opposition while trying to do it.  However, a conviction from God doesn’t just shrink away at the first sign of difficulty.  He won’t let it.  I’ve heard it said that God is a gentleman.  He won’t ever force Himself on us, but He will continue to woo us and encourage us in the direction He wants us to go until we choose to go that way on our own.

Finally, my confidante asked me if I felt peace about this – leaving my job and staying at home with my child.  I remember a smile quickly spreading across my face as I confidently told her that I did feel peace!

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It was insane!  I had been afraid of it at first, but the more I thought about it and all the details that led me to believe it was God prodding me in that direction, I had indeed experienced a peace and calmness.  Our life group teacher’s wife told me that peace was one of the best ways to judge whether God is telling you to do something or not.  If you feel conflicted, it probably isn’t from God.  If you feel peace, it is most likely from God.

I felt TOTAL peace about this.  I was confident that this was a “God-thing,” as people say.  It just wasn’t anything I would have cooked up on my own!  But, as I was learning how to hear God’s voice, I began to trust that this was in fact what He had in mind for me.

Bill, on the other hand, was definitely NOT at peace with this crazy idea.  (That is a blog post all its own that I’ll share another time).  So, we prayed about it a great deal over weeks and months it seemed.  Finally, he just shook his head.  “The numbers don’t add up,” he said, referring to the many times he’d calculated our bills versus his salary to find out that his salary alone wouldn’t cover what we’d need to pay out each month.

“But,” he went on, “if you’re saying God is telling you to do this, I can’t go against it.  We have to do it.  We’ll just have to trust that He’ll take care of us.”

In May 2010, I worked my last full-time semester at the community college where I had been teaching for 6 years.

I couldn’t have known, but this was another crucial turning point in my journey back to God.  It was the first time in my life since I accepted Christ as a 12-year-old, that I stepped out in faith and completely submitted to His will.  (I was 31 when I left my full-time job.)

I experienced God’s provision during this time in my life, and that was a big deal for me.  Obviously, there were plenty of other times in my life that He provided, but I never acknowledged that it was Him until He told me to leave my job and go home…and I did it…and He provided for us.

The Most Miserable Person in the World (Repost)

What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made?  No, I don’t mean that time in middle school when you tried to cut your own bangs and ended up with about an inch and a half of hair in the front that stuck out from your forehead when you tried to curl it and spray it into submission.

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Looks kinda cute on her but was horrific on me, and I did it more than once! Photo Credit: Pinterest

I mean that big, life changing (or at least life diverting) mistake that took years, maybe even decades to recover from.  I have a few like that, but one of the most costly mistakes for me was the time I spent trying to act like Jesus wasn’t real and wasn’t sovereign over my life.

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That all started back in 1997 when I was a freshman at UNCW.  Fast forward to 2004, and I’m married and looking for a new church in a new town with my new husband.

Yes.  You read that right.  I was still ignoring Jesus but looking for a place to go to church.  I was newly married and knew that, like my parents, my husband expected a girl that was going to church.  And, I wanted young, married couple-friends to hang out with, so we visited churches in our area.  I was raised in the Methodist church and Bill was raised in the Baptist church, so we went to both.  Sometimes friends invited us to their churches and sometimes we went to churches we’d seen in the area around our apartment.

We finally visited First Baptist Church of Indian Trail (FBCIT) around 2005 because Bill’s mema had seen a service from this church on TV and suggest that we try it out.

Mema had mentioned this church to us several times after we moved to the area.  I was against it though.  It was a Baptist church for one thing, and it was huge!  It took 3 services to accommodate people on Sunday morning, for crying out loud!  But, it was around 5 minutes from our apartment, so we finally went.

The Wednesday after our visit, as was the church’s practice, they sent people to visit us and invite us to come back.  We went back the second Sunday and asked to be placed into a Life Group (that’s a Sunday school class for those of you old-schoolers like me).  That day, we were taken to a class that hadn’t been together very long but was for newly married couples like us.  We met the teacher and his wife and 3 or 4 other couples. After service, they were all going to lunch and invited us.  We went, and that was it.  FBCIT became our church.

I don’t remember a ton from those early years except the life group.  It was growing fairly quickly as other couples were added and some started having children.  A few of the ladies in the class who sang in the choir invited me to join, and I did.

I know now that God meant for us to be at FBCIT.  It was the church and those were the people God was going to use to woo me back to Himself.  I sang in the choir.  I went on the choir retreats.  I listened to the sermons.  I participated in the life group lessons.  (Sounds a lot like the first 18 years of my life, doesn’t it)?

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God began convicting me during this time.  I can’t tell you much of what He said or did though.  For one thing, I don’t think I’d ever been convicted before – or maybe I just didn’t recognize God’s voice.  For another, I’d gotten very good at ignoring anything that might be from God: ignoring it, rationalizing it, getting angry at it, whatever I needed to do, I did to avoid whatever He was doing or saying to reach me.

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Then, one morning during life group, we had a substitute teacher.  I have no idea what the lesson was about, but I will never forget this one thing he said: the most miserable person in the world is a Christian who isn’t living for God.

I almost burst into tears right there in the middle of that class with all those new friends.

That was ME!

He was talking TO me!

I WAS miserable!

I hadn’t known exactly what was going on, but I knew something was wrong.  I hadn’t realized it until that very moment; I had become an expert at pushing it back for all those years.  I had gotten good at doing church things and living like a Christian, but I wasn’t living for God at all.

Whoa!  Talk about a turning point!  I still had a very cold, hard heart of stone, and it would take a few more years to soften it completely, but this moment definitely got my attention.

 

He’s a ‘Hold On To You’ Kind of God – Repost

(Author’s Note: August means school is right around the corner, and the kids start 4th grade and kindergarten in a few days.  Plus, I start a new job after Labor Day – will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post.  So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting ready for the new job.  In the meantime, I am reposting pieces of my testimony that were published when I started the blog in October 2017). 

Once you belong to God, He keeps you, even if you don’t want to be kept. I’m thankful He doesn’t let His children go. (I know somebody just said ‘amen’ to that)!

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I’m sure there were many ways God held on to me when I decided to walk out on my own, but one way was by keeping me in church. The whole time this mess was going on, I never stopped going to church. Weird, right? I really don’t even believe in Jesus at this point, but I am sitting in church!? I know. I know.

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On the surface, the thing that kept me in church was my parents. I knew they expected me to go, so I went. From the time I was 18 and moved out of my parents’ house, I found a church to attend in the difference places I lived. That was God keeping me. That wasn’t me. Now, I’m not saying that I went every Sunday, and I certainly wasn’t involved in the activities at the church like I was when I was young, but I still went. That’s one of the major things that kept me from totally going into oblivion. That, and God had a Christian husband in store for me, but I didn’t know that yet.

I’d known who Bill was since high school although we’d never spoken to each other that we can remember. But, we were in a group of friends who were hanging out while some of us were home on break over the Christmas holiday in 2000. Over those weeks of break, he and I met and started dating. That was 18 years ago, but God had Bill planned for me when He separated the dry land from the water and said it was good.

Bill grew up in a close-knit, Southern family just like I did. He was raised in church (the same church where his mom went as a girl with her family). He spent summer days running through the woods with his cousins, and he spent many a meal with his feet under the table at his grandmother’s house. It’s a little eerie how many similarities there are between his childhood and mine.

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Memmie’s house (Bill’s grandmother)

But all those similarities don’t negate the most important reason: Bill believes in Jesus. God knew that I would need a Christian husband to hold my hand and help lead me back to Him, so He sent me Bill.

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Bill and me – 2014

Bill and I met in December 2000. We got engaged in July 2003 and were married in June 2004. During the 3 years of our courtship, I don’t recall telling him a lot about my worldview although we did talk about it a few times before and after we got married. More recently, he told me those conversations scared him and that he prayed that I’d go back to my faith for the sake of our family.

Thankfully, God was working in my life to reconcile me to Himself.

It took a while.

He let me walk out on my own for a long time.

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In Psalm 81:11-12, God says, “But My people did not listen to My voice: and Israel did not obey Me. So, I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart, to walk in their own devices.”

This verse makes me shiver; it is as if God were speaking specifically about me here because this is exactly what He let me do. He gave me over because that was what I wanted. He knew His child well enough to know that I had to learn the hard way, so to speak.

I was going to have to walk away to get back to Him.

In a recent Bible study, I heard Elizabeth Poplin explain why God gives His children over to their own devices. She said, “That’s what God does. We think we’ll get freedom out there, so we leave and taste it, but it doesn’t free us. He does. So we go back. We have some of the world in us when we come back. He will clean us up”.

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And He’s kept us the whole time. He’s just waiting for us to get our fill of whatever it was we thought we wanted more than Him. He’s been watching. He’s been working. He’s been waiting – like the father in the famous parable of the prodigal son. God waited for me to look His way, and as soon as I did, He came running!

Hallelujah!

Please share your stories of how God held you!

Those “What If” Moments (Repost)

(Author’s Note: August means school is right around the corner, and the kids start 4th grade and kindergarten in a few weeks.  Plus, I start a new job after Labor Day – will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post.  So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting ready for the new job. 

When you look back over your life, and see how things are coming together, and understand how one decision in one moment created a mistake that changed things and brought you to where you currently stand, do you wish you could go back to your 18-year-old or 25-year-old self and warn yourself not to do it?  Sometimes I do.

Then, I realize that our lives were set in motion long before we were even being put together in our mothers’ wombs.  What we did we were probably going to do no matter what, so it is a waste of time to wish you could change it.  The best we can do is to ask God to show us what He wanted us to learn from what we did and how He wants us to glorify His name through that experience… and then move on – as the person He intended for us to be as a result.

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But, there are times when I still can’t help but think, “What if?”  What if I hadn’t taken that Introduction to Religion course?  What if, when I began having doubts, I’d prayed for God to show me the truth?  What if I had opened the Bible to see what God had to say?

What if, a few semesters after the Introduction to Religion course, I hadn’t taken that Survey of Asian Religions course?  This was another elective, and I chose it so I could have a class with the guy I was dating at the time.  Turned out to be an extremely stupid thing to do for many reasons, one of which was the fact that we broke up early in the semester, so I had to sit through the other 3 ½ months of the semester in a classroom with him!

This class covered Buddhism and Hinduism and other minor Asian religions.  What I saw were a few similarities between these religions and Christianity: how to treat others and how to live, for example.  It seemed everyone had a variation on the Golden Rule.  There were also a myriad of creation and flood stories.  All this information and these perceived similarities burst through a door in my mind, further muddling and blurring what was true about Jesus.  Things started mixing up.  I continued to hear that Intro to Religion teacher explain that religion was what man created as he tried to figure out how he got here and what he as supposed to do.

All this jumbled together.  I didn’t take captive any thoughts.  I didn’t guard my heart.  I didn’t pray and ask God to show me the truth.  I didn’t talk to any trusted Christians.  I just jumped head first into this…hole.

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I remember thinking, “Everybody’s just trying to figure out the meaning of life!”  That led me to conclude that everyone was right; all religions and belief systems were valid. Everyone just created their own realities – little ‘t’ truths.  What is right for me and works for me isn’t necessarily right for you.  This led me to another conclusion: How can I tell someone of a different belief system that he or she is wrong?

Ugh!  I hate talking about this!  I feel so silly.  Why didn’t I guard my heart?  Why didn’t I take captive those thoughts?  Why did this happen to me so easily?  Why didn’t I give God a chance to straighten me out?

By the end of my four years in college, I had developed a tolerant, open worldview.  I know a name for it now: relativism.  You do your own thing, have your own beliefs, and you’re right.  I will do my thing and have my own beliefs, and I’m right, too.  I picked off the buffet of world beliefs and created my own worldview that suited me and the way I wanted to live my life.  It was “I won’t mess with you and tell you that you’re wrong, and you won’t mess with me and tell me I’m wrong.  We’ll all just get along”!  It was very nice and non-abrasive.  There isn’t much to argue about or stand up for with this worldview.

What can I say?  It seems like total craziness when I write it now, but that is where my mind was, and I was totally happy with it.

The problem with this type of thought process is that there isn’t any room for Jesus to be a real man, much less the Son of God. I never thought of that when all this mess started, and by the time I had arrived at my own worldview, He didn’t fit in anymore.  If everyone’s reality is right for them, then Jesus isn’t who He said He was.  He wasn’t born.  He didn’t walk among us.  He did not turn water to wine or heal people.  Most importantly, He didn’t die for me, walk out of the grave, or ascend back to heaven.  He isn’t alive and loving us today.

All the truth about Jesus and who He was got gobbled up by the worldview I created for myself.  There was no room for Him.  Before I knew it, He was gone.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

That’s scary, isn’t it?  It is scary on this side of that experience, now that I have been reconciled back to the Lord.  But I wasn’t scared at the time.  I didn’t realize the seriousness of my situation.  I didn’t realize that I had turned my back on God.  It just happened.  I was just living in it.  And, I thought I had been so smart to figure it all out.

When It All Changed (Repost)

(Author’s Note: August means school is right around the corner, and the kids start 4th grade and kindergarten in a few weeks.  Plus, I start a new job after Labor Day – will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post.  So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting ready for the new job. 

Have you ever been walking along through your life, happy in your own little bubble of comfort and familiarity, when all of a sudden – BAM – the bubble bursts, and you realize not everybody is like you?  Yep!  That’s exactly how I felt when I was 18 years old, and I stepped onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW).

The first 18 years of my life were fairly structured and sheltered.  I had a simple childhood.  Most of the people around me had grown up in a similar way.  Most of my friends were from middle-class, southern, Christian families, too.

My family went to church regularly, and I was saved sometime around 12-years-old.  To add to that, my parents were fairly strict, so I stayed out of trouble in high school.  I grew up in a small town anyway.  Everybody knew my parents and me, so it would have been challenging to get away with very much.  I was what you’d call a ‘good girl’, for the most part, but it wasn’t necessarily because I was convicted as a result of my relationship with God and wanted to bring Him glory.  It was mostly to avoid being grounded and having my car taken away. 🙂

But, when my parents cut me loose on the campus of UNCW in August of 1997, I took full advantage of the 150 miles between my hometown and the exciting new place to which I had moved.  I had my wild streak and made up for the lost time in high school.

(It is noteworthy to mention that, although they were a two-and-a-half-hours drive away from me, my parents and my upbringing still held pretty strong sway over much of my behavior.  I did what I wanted to an extent, but I still held it in check.  That distance didn’t mean they had no influence or power over me at all.  I didn’t want them to make me come home, so I took my rear end to class and made decent grades).

Although I got to exercise my freedom and experience some of the things my parents warned me about, the thing that was damaged most by my choices was my faith…and I didn’t even realize it was happening.

During my first semester as a college freshman, I took an elective called Introduction to Religion.  It was a survey of religion as a whole – more of a philosophical look at the institution of religion, if I remember correctly.  I have no idea why I took it though; I must have needed an elective, and it fit into my schedule.

I distinctly remember a lecture early in the semester when the teacher said that religion was man’s creation.  He explained that man-made religion was a way to answer life’s big questions: Why am I here?  How did I get here?  What happens when I die?

Those words stand out to me even now.  That was a pivotal moment for me.  I should have followed Paul’s warning to the Corinthian Christians in 2 Corinthians 10:5…”take captive every thought to obey Christ.”  But I didn’t do that. I highly doubt I even knew that was a thing.

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Instead, I remember thinking that my eyes were being opened.  I was excited!  I felt enlightened!  I felt as though I were figuring out some mystery all by myself.  This was an epiphany – an important revelation to which I was privy.  I thought, “Everyone is just trying to figure out life and make it in this world!  We just do it differently.”

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This enticed me further onto a path that I happily walked down.  I was willing.  I was discovering.  I was eager to uncover more of this new reality about which I was learning.  I didn’t see it at the time, but these patterns of thought were what led me to completely turn my back on Jesus and spend more than 10 years walking out on my own.  I thought I was liberated.  I thought I was so modern.  But I was heading toward a dangerous place, a place God doesn’t intend for His children to go.

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