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.

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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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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Scared Straight? (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. 

Posts will keep coming though because I am republishing some of my testimonial posts that I wrote to introduce myself when I kicked off the blog back in October.  Some new readers have come aboard since then, and it is really important to me that people know what God has done in my life, so I will share those again.  You may want to go back and read my first two posts, “June Cleaver! Who? Me?” and “A Simple Southern Childhood” before reading this one).

Jesus has been a part of my life since the beginning – well, since before my life began if you want to go further than that.  My dad was “born and raised” in church as was my mom.  So, my younger sister and I couldn’t help but be, right?  We grew up in the same church where my mom had gone her whole life.  As children, we sang in the children’s choir, went to Vacation Bible School (VBS), participated in church fundraisers, and went to youth lock-ins and retreats.  You name it, and we did it if it was church-related.

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Children’s Choir at Olivet – mid 1980’s. My mom is playing the piano, and my sister and I are in the choir (she is front row, far left, and I am second row, far right).

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Youth retreat – mid 1990’s.  (I am standing on the bench, 5th from the left).

I never felt forced toward God though.  It was just an expectation that my parents had that they made clear to my sister and me: If you live in this house, you will go to church.  So, I went.  I was christened as an infant.   I read my Bible.  I went to Sunday school.  I invited my friends to VBS.  I went through confirmation and joined the church.  I took communion.  I was an acolyte.  But, there was never a time I thought any of that would get me into heaven.  I knew what salvation was and that only salvation would get me into heaven.

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Confirmation Sunday – early to mid 1990’s (the day we joined the church after going through Confirmation classes to learn about the Methodist denomination).  I am the second from the left.

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VBS Final Presentation – mid 1990’s.  (I am second from the right).

As some point, I told my piano teacher that I understood that I could die at any time.  I told her that I knew I wasn’t going to live forever; I wasn’t invincible just because I was young.  I must have been 10 or 11.  She told me that since I was mature enough to accept that fact, I was ready to be saved.

Now, I have to tell you, I have no idea why I was compelled to tell her this!  She wasn’t someone I was particularly close to or with whom I have a spiritual connection.  I guess my preteen self just had this on my mind at the time and she was the one who I felt I could tell.  Who knows!  Whatever the reason for the conversation, it has stuck with me as something that was part of what led me to accept Christ as my Savior.

Then, when I was about 12, I was at a lock-in at my church.  We stayed up all night and watched a series of movies about Jesus’ second coming when He will rapture the living Christians to heaven and about the tribulation and what will happen to people who become Christians during that time.  (This wasn’t the Left Behind movie series; it was earlier than that).

What I remember most is the depiction of the tribulation and what life would be like for people who became Christians after the rapture.  In particular was a scene where Christians were being beheaded because they wouldn’t renounce their belief in Jesus Christ.  The guillotine and the actual beheadings weren’t shown, but what was happening was clearly discussed so I knew what was going on.  The scene played out in a dungeon or cell where the Christians were being held.  Someone was coming to get them, one by one, to take them out to the guillotine.  They were given one last chance to renounce Christ.  If they didn’t, they were beheaded on the spot.  I remember this scene especially because there was a child in the dungeon.  Just before he was taken, the adults told him that he’d be asked if he loved Jesus.  He told them he would say that he did.  Then, the adults told him that he’d be laid down on a stone.  They told him to close his eyes and the next thing he knew, he would see the Lord.  Then, the bad guys came and got him and gave him a red balloon.  He goes out with them; you see the sky through the dungeon’s window, you hear the guillotine fall, then the red balloon rises past the window.

I can only imagine what must have been going on in that 12-year-old brain of mine as I watched that movie.  My heart is racing and I am breathing a little faster just thinking of that scene.

At this point, I must be totally honest and tell you that I don’t want to tell you any more of my story.  I am embarrassed and ashamed.  When God started working on me to write a blog and share my testimony, I told Him no.  Me!  I said no to the King of the World!  I didn’t want to do it.  I didn’t want people to know who I’d been and what I’d done.

God has seen our unloveliness - the deep brokenness and rebellion in our hearts - and instead of withdrawing, He pursues us to the very end. - Matt Chandler - Postcard available at https://www.zazzle.com/our_unloveliness_postcard-239551337646667759 #postcard #MattChandler #brokenness #unloveliness #rebellion #Jesus #Christ #withdrawing

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But, if God has ever convicted you to do something, you know He won’t let you go until you obey (remember Jonah?!).  I kept telling Him no, and He kept pursuing me and encouraging me.

Earlier this year, a friend encouraged me to find out how other Christians were blogging.  So, I started looking around and found several blog posts by Ann Voskamp.  One series of posts in particular was very inspiring, so I prayed and journaled about what I was reading; I wrote my thoughts, my fears, and my prayers.

When you get tired of it all, God’s there

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Finally, God showed me that people have to see who I was so they can know who God is.  This is why He gave me this life – my story.  And this is what He intends for me to do – write it for you so you’ll know that God loves you.  So, I’ll put aside my fear and obey.  If you’ll keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

John 15:16-17 God chose you to write a letter to the world. That letter is love.

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The Right Way to Fold a Bath Towel

(Author’s Note: Sometimes, in this terrible wonderful journey called parenting, I catch myself doing something so totally ridiculous that I absolutely must share it).

“Here.  I’ll show you how to do it,” for the hundredth time, I thought as I took the bath towel from my son and showed him the right way to fold it.

The right way to fold bath towels is the way my mama taught me, by the way.

“Why does it matter how I fold it as long as it is folded?” Ethan asked.

Seemed like a genuine question.  I didn’t think he was trying to be smart aleck.

I started to answer.  I started to explain that it was the right way to do it because I said it was the right way.

But then I stopped.

And I thought about it.

Does it really matter?  Does it really matter how the towels are folded as long as they fit into the linen closet?

Is this a battle worth fighting?  A hill worth dying on?

Probably not, to be honest.

If I can get the kids to fold towels, I should just be happy that they are helping, right?

So I kept my mouth shut and let him fold the towels however he folded them…

 

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You can see how this would never properly fit into the linen closet, right?!

And then I went behind him later and folded them the way I wanted them folded before he took them upstairs to the linen closet.

Guess I didn’t learn my lesson this time.  Maybe I’ll get it right next time.

Portrait of a Servant Girl – Carol’s Story – Part 4

This week’s post is the conclusion of Carol’s story in the Portrait of a Servant Girl series.

“As I was reeling from the separation and divorce from my husband, I was also caring for my father who was suffering from dementia,” Carol said, continuing with her story. I sat in the upstairs office at her home along with her and my sister Tiffany who has been friends with Carol for 18 years.

The harsh irony of this part of Carol’s story was palpable. I certainly didn’t expect her to tell me that she’d cared for the man who was controlling and abusive to her, her mother, and her siblings.

I must have looked surprised because she went on. “Yes, after my mother died, I inherited my father. He couldn’t live alone, so I brought him home with me. Within a couple of months, his dementia became so bad that we had to put him in a memory care center.”

Carol talked about visiting him daily, early in the morning, when he was at his best. “He had ‘Sundowners Syndrome,’”she explained, “so he was more lucid and pleasant earlier in the day and confused and agitated in the evenings.“

This was yet another painful experience that involved her father. But, as she talked about those months, she actually smiled. “At the time, taking care of my father was very painful, but now those memories bring laughter. Daddy was always trying to get to the coal mine,” she said. “Most days I found him sitting by the door waiting for his ride to work. I would try to redirect his thoughts and tell him it was his day off.”

She stopped and smiled to herself, and I realized she called him ‘daddy’. Throughout the interview, she referred to him as ‘father’ but, in reliving the memories of caring for him during his illness, and recalling the humorous times, she called him ‘daddy’.

“He was always looking for his keys,” she continued, shaking her head but smiling a little. “And one morning we worked and worked for a long time trying to jump-start his wheelchair!”

She paused. Her eyes were far away, but she wore a pleasant expression, one of nostalgia and happiness.

“That day was the best!” She laughed.

She looked at me, and her thoughts came back to the room. To the present day and our interview.

“I had the opportunity to read the Bible to him,” she said, satisfaction in her voice. “We talked about his relationship with Jesus.”

Carol shared that the week before he died, he saw angels.

“I had to write his eulogy,” she told me. “The morning after he died, I got up, and the words just flowed from my pen. I wrote about how he had to raise himself, never had a father, lived in a boarding house, and went to work in the coal mine when he was 13.” Her voice was clear and strong as she described this. Her face was calm and resolute. “When I was writing the eulogy, God showed me that my father had learned to survive by controlling at a very young age. I realized that he did the best he could with what he had.”

Carol’s voice was calm and peaceful. I was amazed to see her reliving all those painful memories – abuse from her father, cancer, divorce, caring for her father in his old age and sickness – with… was it joy? Joy because of how those trials deepened and strengthened her relationship with God? Joy because of the redemption she experienced both for herself and for other broken relationships in her life?

“I thank God for the time I had with my father before he died,” she said after she had been quiet for a while. “ I thank Him for revealing all this to me and for helping me to love and to forgive my father. I have peace about that now.”

What a beautiful story of love, mercy, and grace! And isn’t this what God has done for us? We neglect Him. We abuse Him. We want Him to do things our way. Yet He patiently waits. He cares for us when we need Him. He redeems us when we come to our senses and allow Him to take His rightful place in our hearts. And, most amazing of all, He loves us the whole time.

Carol’s marriage ended in July 2001, and her father died in September 2001. For the next few years, she rarely went anywhere other than to church.

“Finally, my sister and my daughter told me I needed to get a life. They asked, ‘what do you want to do?’ Well, I always wanted to take Shag dance lessons,” she shrugged, “so I decided to do that.”

Carol signed up for lessons and showed up for class on the first day. She didn’t know one other soul in the room. However, a sweet lady saw her come in by herself and asked Carol to sit at her table.

“We talked a little while, and then she said, ‘I have a friend you just have to meet!’”

The lady told Carol about a man named Ed Jones, a widower who lost his wife to ALS.

“She talked about him for a while, and I said I would be willing to speak with him on the phone,” Carol explained. “He called me, and we spoke for a while, and I invited him to a party I was having at my house the next month, December 2003. He came to the party, and we had a nice time talking. He even stayed to help me clean up. Several busy months passed, and we connected again in February 2004 and were married that May.”

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Carol and Ed Jones

When Carol married Ed, she inherited a wonderful family: his children and grandchildren including his youngest granddaughter who was a toddler at the time. Carol was thrilled to have a grandchild who lived close.

“I got to see her every week,” Carol beamed.

We spoke a little about Ed’s family, and then, as if on cue, we heard a deeper voice from downstairs say, “Do I need to pull out the guest bed up there?”

Tiffany laughed, “That is Mr. Ed’s way of saying it’s time to go!”

I looked at my phone. It was after 10 PM. We had been talking for over two hours!

We spoke for another minute or two about some of Carol’s work in the church: she’s been on a mission trip to Guyana to help build a youth center. She’s planned church fundraisers and other ministry events. She serves in the kitchen in the summer youth camp. She’s been a delegate for her church at the annual conference. She volunteers in the church office.

“I’ve also been on an outstanding trip to the Holy Land and participated in the Methodist Church’s Emmaus walk. I experienced an enormous spiritual growth on Emmaus,” she explained.

I knew it was very late and that Tiffany and I need to go, but I wanted to wrap up with one final question.

“What would you like people to know about Jesus?” I asked her.

She listed many important things about Him that she’s learned in her life.

“He will never leave you or forsake you,” she began. “You can always trust Him. He will give you peace, and joy, and be the best friend you could ever want. You have to pray and study the Bible to grow this relationship though. It doesn’t happen on its own.”

As we were standing to leave, she said, “I’m not saying there won’t be any more valleys in my life, but I have the assurance that God will go through them with me.”

I know that she recently experienced another valley this past spring when she had hip replacement surgery.

“I also know that the Bible tells us that when we are weakest, He is strongest. I have certainly found that His strength is enough for me.“

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