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.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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!

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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.

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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.