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.”

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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Photo Credit: Pinimg.com

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

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

“I didn’t question God about the cancer,” Carol repeated at another point during our interview.  “But there was a time, years later, that I got very angry with Him. I remember being on my knees crying out to Him, ‘Is this what I get for being good?  I’ve lived my life for you!’” She stopped for a moment and took a deep breath.

“I was so broken,” she continued.  “I asked God, ‘Why would you do this to me?  You just don’t know how broken and rejected I feel!’”

She stopped again, and I could see her shoulders relax.  “After I said that to Him,” she went on, “there was a calm that came over me, and I got quiet.  I felt Him put His hand on my shoulder, and He reminded me of what He went through. He said to me, ‘I understand.  I was rejected, too.’”

There was another pause.

“After that, I still suffered from the rejection, but I did not complain,” she finished, matter-of-factly.

Thirty years prior to this encounter with God, in the mid 70’s, Carol had survived Stage IV colon cancer that metastasized to her lymph nodes.  Now, her world was falling apart again. Her husband of 33 years no longer wanted to be married to her.

“This certainly wasn’t the life I planned,” Carol said earnestly.  “My future looked hopeless. But then I had the encounter with God when He reminded me that He’d been kicked and spat on.  That only one of His disciples stayed with Him until the end. From that day on, my healing began.”

Carol commented that the divorce was worse than cancer.  When I asked her why, she explained that she had control of how she handled cancer, but she couldn’t control the rejection by her husband. That was something she never thought would happen.

“Like the cancer, the divorce brought me even closer to God.”  She explained. “He used the circumstances to grow my faith in Him.”

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Photo Credits: #GODisHOPE

If you’ve never experienced God’s provision during a storm in your life, this probably sounds insane – that you can grow closer to God during adversity.  Of course, it can go the other way easily. You can get angry at God because He’s allowed the storm, and you pull away from Him.

Or, you could turn towards Him, even run to Him, and fall into His arms like Carol did.

“When I was going through my divorce and long afterwards as I continued to suffer, I received encouragement from reading the Bible.  Many, many times God spoke to me through His Word and provided wisdom or the answer I needed in a particular situation,” Carol told me.

“Could you give me an example of something specific God said to you through His word that helped you in some way?” I asked.

She thought a moment, then said, “when someone hurts you, human nature is to hurt that person back.  We think revenge will make us feel better. But, God reminded me many times that it wasn’t up to me to exact revenge.  Romans 12:19 assures us that revenge is God’s task.”

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“What else did you learn?”

“Well, God taught me that a living prayer relationship with Him comes when we dare to level with Him.  When we dare to be honest with Him about how we feel…like when I complained to Him that He didn’t understand my brokenness and rejection.  When I got honest, He spoke clearly to me. I wasn’t making small talk anymore. I wasn’t pretending that my life was perfect anymore. I was on my knees with tears streaming down my face.  He came in and comforted me. This moved my relationship with God to a much deeper level.”

God also used Carol and her story to reach other people.  After the divorce, the Associate Pastor at Carol’s church in Wilmington, North Carolina approached her about sharing the adversity in her life with the church.

“She said, ‘People look at you and think you have no cares in the world,’ and she asked me to share my testimony as part of a worship service.”  Carol paused, and a smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

“I was never one to speak in front of others.  I liked to organize and work behind the scenes,” she explained.  “I really didn’t want to do what she asked me to do.”

“What made you change your mind?”  I asked.

“I had so much faith and trust in the pastor who asked me.  I knew the Holy Spirit worked in her, and I knew that whatever she asked was from God.  I just couldn’t say no.”

Services at Carol’s church were televised, so after she spoke, the church began receiving requests for her to speak at other events.  This led to years of travel around the southeastern United States sharing her story at women’s events.

“When you are sharing your story, and God allows you to see that other people receive help from it, you’re healed as well.  This is another way God supported me during this time.”

Carol stopped for a moment then continued, “plus I was driving a lot, so there was lots of time to pray, and talk to God, and listen.”

Then, she shrugged and added, “What good would the bad things be if you didn’t share them with others so you could help them, too?”

Please join me next week for the conclusion of Carol’s story.

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

This week’s post is a continuation of last week’s post, Portrait of a Servant Girl – Carol’s Story Part 1 in the Portrait of a Servant Girl series.

At age 19, Carol felt stuck. She had lived for years with a controlling, abusive, alcoholic father. She was fearful, ashamed, and desperate to get out.

She saw marriage as her escape route.

“I got married for all the wrong reasons, and that marriage didn’t last long,” she said, simply.

After the divorce, she and her daughter, Beverly, moved on together.

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Beverly and Carol

“Then, I married the man of my dreams who was kind, charismatic, a businessman, and he never argued,”  she explained.

They were married, became a family of 3, and began what was, in many ways, the kind of life Carol always wanted.

It seemed that she’d achieved the perfection she’d never been able to grasp as a child in her father’s home.  She was in control. She was directing her life. Things were going the way she wanted them to go.

However, when Carol was 32, all that crumbled.  She’d been sick for about 5 months, going to their family doctor and complaining of weight loss and pain.  Again and again, the doctor told her she was probably just doing too much. He found nothing else wrong.

Finally, one day Carol left work and went to the emergency room pleading for help from the pain. Thinking the problem might be an ovarian cyst, the doctor decided exploratory surgery was the route to take.  During the procedure, he discovered a tumor that he knew to be cancerous based on its location.

After the procedure, the doctor told Carol that his first instinct was to close her up and take no further action.  You see, there have been many advancements in what doctors know about cancer and how they treat it since Carol’s surgery 44 years ago.  For example, it was widely held that exposing cancer to the air would cause it to grow and spread quickly, so he thought twice about taking that chance.

However, he decided to remove the tumor and part of the colon hoping to give Carol relief from the pain.

Tests revealed Stage IV cancer that had metastasized to the lymph nodes. After 21 days in the hospital, Carol was sent home and told to “get her affairs in order”.

“The first Sunday after returning home from the hospital, Beverly, Kent, and I were at church and went to the altar to pray.  The congregation was singing the hymn ‘He Touched Me,’ and I just totally surrendered to the Lord,” she said throwing up her hands.

“What did you surrender?”  I asked.

Carol gave a small laugh and dropped her eyes.  Then, she looked back at me and grinned sheepishly.  “I had a reputation for being a drill sergeant. I gave orders.  I was organized, and I controlled things,” she explained.

“You see,” she continued.  “At age 12, I gave Jesus the keys to the door of my heart, but I kept a lot of other rooms locked because I wanted to control the course and direction of my life.  Once I had the experience with cancer, Jesus became the Lord of my life. Before He was my Savior, but after that, I totally surrendered my life, and that brought me tremendous peace.”

“Were you angry at God because you had cancer?”  I asked her.

“I don’t remember questioning God about why,” she said.

“Were you afraid to die?”

“My prayer was to live long enough to take care of my young daughter,” she answered.  Beverly was in 5th grade when Carol was diagnosed.

That’s when God began to show what He’d been doing in the background the whole time.

Carol’s sister-in-law, Nancy, a nurse anesthetist, met Genevieve, another nurse, at a conference.  After hearing about Carol’s prognosis, Genevieve, who lived in Houston, insisted that Carol go to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

“All my drugs at Anderson were experimental,” Carol said.  I could tell she was still in awe of the whole experience – God’s timing, the people He put in her path, the calm strength He gave her.

“One of the first times I met with my team of doctors, we sat around a conference table, and they told me that 25% of my treatment and recovery would be the drugs and 75% would be up to me – healthy diet, regular exercise, and strong spiritual life.”

All total, Carol traveled between Texas and West Virginia for treatment and evaluation for 10 years.

Her care included weekly blood work, 2 years of chemotherapy, 3 years of immunotherapy, and traveling to Houston every 3 months for the first few years.

“This was a very hard time,” Carol confessed.  “I quit my job. I was away from home a great deal, and Beverly was young.”

She stopped a moment.  Collecting her thoughts.  Choosing her next words carefully.

“I’m not saying I’m glad I had cancer, but I am certainly saying that the experience enriched my life.”

The influence this ordeal had on her relationship with Christ was profound.

“I began to read the Bible more and pray more.  Jesus invaded my life, and I allowed Him to.”

Carol also explained the impact having cancer had on her personal life.  She shared that she learned to live each day to the fullest, appreciate her life and her family, and take time to “stop and smell the roses.”

Today, Carol is 44 years cancer-free.  Hallelujah!

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One of Carol’s favorite verses.  Photo Credit: Pinterest

She fought and won the battle for her health and life, drawing closer to her Savior in the process.  And she’s grateful for that because the next crisis in her path was, in her words, “worse than the cancer.”

Carol’s story will continue next week.  Please join me here again.

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

Hair still damp, she rushed through the door and ducked into a pew close to the back of the church.  Service had already started, and the congregation was standing, hymnals in hand. The lady standing next to the spot she’d taken offered to share her hymnal, so the girl nodded, thankful. At the end of the service, the lady introduced herself and handed the girl a piece of paper with her name, phone number, and address on it.

“If you need anything, please call me,” the lady said, a pleasant smile on her face.

Eighteen years later, they’re still friends.

“I can’t believe you gave me your address the first time you met me!”  Tiffany’s eyes were saucers, and her voice was raised. But she was grinning.  “I could’ve come to your house and killed you!”

Carol laughed and turned to me, her eyes genuine.  “Sometimes you just know what to do. I could tell she was young.  She introduced herself as a freshman at UNC Wilmington. I thought it was remarkable that she was at church…and by herself.  I knew it would be ok.”

She looked back at Tiffany, and they exchanged warm expressions.

I am privileged to have met Carol and gotten to know her through her relationship with my sister Tiffany.  Naturally, when the idea for Portrait of a Servant Girl came to me two years ago, Carol’s was a name I quickly scribbled onto the list of women I should feature.

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Carol and Tiffany in 2004 at my wedding.  (Image used courtesy of Carol Gandee-Jones)

The opportunity to meet her came when my family vacationed in Carolina Beach this summer.  One evening, Tiffany and I drove 20 minutes into Wilmington so I could interview her in her home.

She led us upstairs to sit on the sofa.  Then, she admitted that she’d been praying over our interview all day.

“When you emailed me about this, Heather, and you described me as a godly woman…” she broke off, looking back and forth between Tiffany and me.  “Well, I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes.”

We all have.  There’s no denying that.  Thankfully, we have the gift of grace, and God offers us salvation.  When we accept it, Jesus’ blood wipes away all our mistakes.

This saving grace is something Carol has gladly accepted and vividly experienced.  Now, it’s part of her life’s story, and she has graciously allowed me to share that story with you.

Carol was born and raised in West Virginia, spending the first 3 years of her life with her grandparents as her father served in the military.

Even after her father came home and found work in a coal mine, her grandparents’ home continued to be a refugee.

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Carol and her grandfather.  (Image used courtesy of Carol Gandee-Jones)

“My parents seldom attended church,” Carol told us.  “My father was an abusive alcoholic, so I stayed with my grandparents as much as possible, which gave me the opportunity to go to church with them.”

For Carol, both her grandparents’ home and their church were places that provided security.

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Carol (Image used courtesy of Carol Gandee-Jones)

“I felt safe there – at church with my grandmother.  It was so different from being at my home,” she said.  “I wanted to feel safe and to belong somewhere, and the church provided that.”

In their church, members believed that a child wasn’t able to accept salvation before the age of 12.

Carol waited desperately to turn 12 so she could ask Jesus to live in her heart.  Finally, her chance came at a revival after her 12th birthday in July.

“I can still remember going to the altar that night and asking Jesus into my heart,” she said, a faraway look in her eyes.  “I understood that Jesus wanted an intimate relationship with me, and I believed John 3:16.”

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Despite the security she felt at the church and the joy she experienced with Jesus in her heart, there was still fear and pain in her life.

Fear because she was the oldest of 5 children and felt tremendous responsibility to protect her younger brothers and sister from their father.

Pain because it was difficult to make friends.  She was too ashamed for anyone to know what her family was like.

Even more fear because there were a great many “do’s and don’ts” in the church.  Don’t play cards. Don’t dance. It was difficult to keep up with everything.

“It felt like God was looking over my shoulder,” she confessed, “waiting for me to mess up.  Judging me. I wanted to be perfect and good so God would continue to love me.”

At the same time Carol felt pressure from her church to be perfect, she also felt from her father the need to strive for perfection.

“He was controlling, and he demanded perfection,” Carol explained.  “He never offered praise or encouragement. Mostly, he just looked for ways to punish.  So, I learned to work toward excellence. I thought if I could just reach this ideal, I could get some positive attention.”

Carol’s drive toward excellence did help her earn a scholarship for college.

“My dad wouldn’t let me go though,” Carol said as she settled back into the plush pillows of the couch, folding her hands into her lap.  “He said, ‘why waste the time when a woman’s just going to get married and have children’?”

Her pain was heavy in the room.  Tiffany and I were both quiet. It seemed disrespectful to that memory to hear the scratching of my pen, so I stopped writing.

Carol continued, shrugging.  “If I couldn’t get out by going to college, it seemed my only other choice was to get married.”

And that’s what she did.  Got married. She was 19.

Carol’s story will continue next week.  Please join me here again as I share with you what Carol described as the first real crisis in her life which she encountered at 32.

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

{If you’ve missed the past few weeks, please read Part 1 and Part 2 of Meggan’s story first then join me back here}.

Meggan flew home late in the summer of 2013 totally defeated.  Despite her best efforts, she had come back without Joyce.  But, attention had to turn to Faith and the baby she’d deliver soon, so she jumped back into life at home.

On October 22, 2013, Rwenzori Grace was born.

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Renzori is born!  (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

While the couple adjusted to their new roles as parents, they also refocused on Joyce.  A lawyer was hired (pro bono) to investigate the case further and try to get the facts straightened out.

For about 6 months, the Loves worked with their lawyer and the U.S. Embassy in Uganda to collect the information the Embassy required.

In February 2014, Dane sojourned again in Uganda: 1 week on a mission trip and less than a week finishing the adoption process for Joyce.

Meggan waited out the time at home with her two babies.

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Meggan’s “Uganda Journal” contained scriptures she prayed specifically for their daughters and their trips to and from the country.  2 Corinthians 1: 3-7 was particularly comforting while Dane was gone.  Photo Credit: Pinterest

March 1, 2014, Dane and Joyce were met by a hoard of friends and family when they arrived at the airport in Charlotte.  The ordeal was over.

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Dane and Joyce at the airport on Joyce’s Gotcha Day (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

All of a sudden, the Loves were a family of 5!

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At the airport (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

Life fell into a new normal.  Joyce tested and started elementary school.  Dane and Meggan worked out childcare for the two younger girls for the times when both parents would be at work, and time pushed forward as it is prone to do.

Now, just because it was God-ordained doesn’t mean it will be easy, and it most certainly hasn’t been.  There have been difficult times, many with Joyce as she struggled to learn that she could trust Dane and Meggan.  There have been tests of authority.  There has been a lot of yelling and some dishes thrown.  They’re a lot like any other family now that all the paperwork has been signed.

After we talked through the 3 trips to Uganda and the 2 adoptions, I asked Meggan what all this had taught her about God.

“He is the Giver of grace.  He is merciful and loving.  He is sovereign,” she listed confidently.  “People have trouble with the sovereignty part a lot of the time, but He is, like it or not.  It really is something to wrap your head around.  When you’re in the midst of something difficult, you have to tell yourself that He has the power to change it, but He might not.  He didn’t do this to punish me or hurt me, but He did allow it.”  She paused a minute staring past me at nothing.  “He knows better than me.  He can see the end, and I can’t.”  She looked at me.  “I had a third miscarriage.  Last September.”

 

That would have been September 2016.  I had no idea!  I felt my eyes smart and that achy feeling you get in the back of your throat right before you cry.  But, looking at Meggan’s face made me stop. Her eyes were mournful, but there were no tears.  What I saw was more a somber resoluteness.  This was just another part of the plan.  She didn’t have to like it, but it was another chapter in the story of her life.  It was beyond her control.

“We went in for the ultrasound at 6 weeks of pregnancy, and the heartbeat was low, but it wasn’t terribly concerning yet.  So, we went home and prayed that whole week.  When we went back, there was no heartbeat at all.  We could see the baby on the monitor, but the doctor was talking about medication I could take or surgery I could have.  I asked if we could wait another week.  My body had done this two other times,” she explained.  “I didn’t need medicine or a DNC.  My body just did everything naturally.  So, we went home for another week and prayed”.

“When I talked to God that week,” she continued, “I said, ‘God, if you take this baby, help me to still love you – to be ok.  To move past it and realize you have a plan, and it’s better than my plan’.”

After another agonizing two weeks, they went back and had a third ultrasound.

During the scan, the ultrasound tech asked, “Why are you having this ultrasound?  There is nothing left but debris.”  Her tone was harsh.

Dane and Meggan held it together long enough to get out of the stifling exam room.

Once they got with Meggan’s doctor, who confirmed that there was no life, Meggan agreed to take the medication to help her body finish what it had already started.

She had to take 2 rounds to have it do its job.

In the end, it made her the sickest she’d ever been.

“I wasn’t mad this time,” Meggan slowly shook her head.  “I just accepted that He knew what He was doing.  I knew I’d be alright with it.”

This kind of response comes from years of praying, countless hours of studying God’s Word, and a trusting, loving relationship with her Heavenly Father.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

{Note: Dane and Meggan welcomed their 4th daughter, their second biological child, Delaney Jo, this past September – one year after enduring their third miscarriage.}

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(Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

In the beginning of our interview, Meggan confessed that she’d hesitated to agree to come.  She didn’t feel like a Servant Girl.  She was just a mom – helping with homework, cooking meals, changing diapers, refereeing arguments…but after reading about these chapters that God has written so far, you have to see that she is so much more, and her story is so much more.  This is the story of how Meggan, her husband, and their family have walked by faith with their Father.

They’ve been through some monumental struggles, but right now, they’re in the midst of being mommy and daddy.  However, the things they’re doing now are no more or less important than the plane trips, the embassy visits, the lawyer’s fees…the tears.

Now, their monumental task is to raise their daughters to know Jesus Christ!  That is a God-given job, isn’t it!?  A job that can only be accomplished with God’s help, too, right?  (I feel like a rousing ‘AMEN’ ought to go right there!)

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

“The 5 loads of laundry and the snotty noses – that’s what the Lord has me doing now,” Meggan insisted, maybe still working to convince herself that God could even be found in the day-to-day tasks that can become so monotonous.  “Sometimes you just wait, right?!”

That seems to be the crux of what she and Dane have learned so far: when you walk with the Lord, there are times to wait, but do so in prayer, trusting that God is working things out for the good of His children.

Wait. Pray. Trust.

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The Love Family Fall 2017 (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

Read more of The Love’s story in Meggan’s own words through her blog – AdoptLoveUganda

 

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

“And that’s how you have three kids in a year and a half!”  Meggan grinned and slapped the table with the palm of her hand.  “I didn’t do it gracefully, but boy did I learn, AND I don’t argue with Him anymore,”  she emphasized.  “We are still a work in progress,” she continued.  “It is as imperfect as imperfect can be.”

The year and a half Meggan was referring to was from roughly December 2012 to March 2014.  During this time, she and Dane would adopt two daughters from Uganda, endure two miscarriages, and give birth to a biological daughter.

Consequently, it was also during this time that Meggan told God no when He clearly told her what He had for her to do.

“I literally stomped my foot and said no!”  She declared.  It happened as they were in the midst of adopting their first daughter, Faith…but let’s back up a bit more first.

In October 2011, Dane and Meggan decided – next year, it’s baby time!

“We didn’t care if it was biological, through adoption, or both.  Dane’s mom was adopted, so it was always in the plan for us to adopt anyway, especially once we got into missions,” Meggan explained.

While on one such mission trip to Uganda in January 2012, the couple realized that God had international adoption planned for them.

“We came together immediately on this,” Meggan reported.

Through friends, the found out about the HOPE Center, an orphanage in Uganda run by an American family.

“We started talking to Angie online, and that’s how we found Faith Hope – a newborn who was at the HOPE. Center and needed a family.  We knew she was our daughter, so we began the process of getting everything together,” Meggan relayed the events to me.  You see, Dane and Meggan’s last name is Love, so Faith’s name would be Faith Hope Love!  (She even has her own Bible verse).  It was immediately obvious to the couple that they were meant to adopt Faith.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

It was May 2012, and as they were making this decision, Meggan also had a positive pregnancy test.  They happily thought, ‘We’ll have two babies at one time!’

However, Meggan had a miscarriage within two weeks; the doctors called this a “chemical pregnancy.”

Shortly before leaving for Uganda to bring home Faith late in 2012, Meggan and Dane again found out they were pregnant.  They had an ultrasound and saw the baby and a strong heartbeat.  Again, they had hope that they would adopt AND have a biological baby.  They were exhilarated.

At this time, Angie also showed them a picture of another girl named Joyce.

“Angie wanted us to adopt Joyce, too!  But she told us Joyce was 5, and I could tell by her picture that she was older than 5!”  Meggan said.  “I told her I would pray about it, but I didn’t.  Then, I told her no,” Meggan admitted.

This made it a bit difficult when they arrived at the HOPE Center in Uganda.  Angie continued to try to persuade them to adopt Joyce as well.  “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve never been a mom before!  I’m about to take home an infant and then have another shortly after!  That’s all I can handle right now…’  So, I kept saying no,” Meggan shrugged her shoulder.

The day Meggan and Dane saw Faith for the first time, they were also introduced to Joyce.  “The moment I saw her, God told me she was going to be our daughter.  But I was still defiant.  I stomped my foot and said no!”

Everything was going as smoothly as it could with the adoption processor Faith, and Dane and Meggan were looking forward to going home soon with their daughter when Meggan went into preterm labor and suffered another miscarriage.

“It was devastating,” Meggan said flatly.  “Here I thought I’d show up at the airport with Faith AND a baby bump, but that wasn’t going to happen.”

And there was still the prodding to adopt Joyce as well.

‘It’s funny,” Meggan paused.  “I was saying no and stomping my foot and all that, but I knew Joyce was going to be our daughter, too.”

After experiencing the miscarriage, they almost decided in Uganda to adopt Joyce at the same time they adopted Faith, but the Lord convicted Meggan.  “He told me, ‘you did not pray about this.  This is emotional.  It’s quick.  You didn’t seek wise counsel.’  Dane was frustrated; he was ready to take Joyce home, too, but I said no.  I wanted to go home with Faith.  I needed to heal physically and emotionally from the miscarriage,” she said, her eyes on the table.

So, they finished the process to adopt Faith, got on the plane, and came home.  It was December 1, 2012, and Faith was their first daughter.

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Dane and Meggan with Faith Hope Love!!!     (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

Just a month later, January 2013, Dane and Meggan found themselves cleaning out a room in their home they’d previously used as an office.  “Let’s just go ahead and say what we’re doing this for,” Dane challenged Meggan.  It was as if he were reading her mind.  “We’re turning this into a room for Joyce.”

“This is for a Joyce,” Meggan agreed without hesitation.  By this point, they’d prayed about another adoption.  They’d spoken with wise, godly friends.  And they knew it was time to move forward to bring Joyce home.

Two weeks later, they found out they were pregnant.

At the end of June the same year, the couple set off again for Uganda.

However, this trip was much different.  From the moment they got out of their car at the airport, everything went wrong:

  • The departure time for the first leg of their flight, Charlotte to Chicago, was bumped up, and they only have 30 minutes to get to the terminal.
  • During the flight, the pilot came over the intercom and told them they were nearly out of fuel and would be diverted to Detroit to refuel.
  • When they finally got into Chicago air space, they had to circle from 30 minutes before they could land.
  • They missed their connecting flight.
  • During the extended layover in Chicago, they got into a cab with an Egyptian driver.  They told him their story as they drove around.  “I hope you don’t end up with a layover in Egypt since with the revolt going on,” he warned.
  • Their new flight plan took them to Egypt.  During the layover, airport staff asked if they’d like to secure temporary visas so they could sight-see.  “I would have loved to see some pyramids,” Meggan admitted, “but we told them no thanks.”
  • They eventually got to Uganda, but their checked luggage didn’t.  They were without it for 2 weeks.  (Remember, Meggan was pregnant…she had packed lots of snacks in her checked luggage).
  • Once they got to the HOPE Center, they learned that their first court date had been pushed back a week.  No one had told them.

Things didn’t improve once the process finally got started.  Nothing went as planned.  Meetings didn’t happen when they were scheduled.  Paperwork was not ready on time.  There was one misstep, rescheduled meeting, and late form after another.

“I finally gave up,” Meggan threw her hands up in the air, a look of defeat on her face as she remembered the circumvention they endured.  “I told God, ‘This isn’t going according to my plan!  All my organization and planning is out the window.  I.Am.Done’!”

Then, Dane had to go home.

He’d been there 3 weeks and used all the vacation he had.

“I was there another 4 and a half weeks by myself,” Meggan told me.  “I was also in my third trimester of pregnancy.  In Uganda by myself.  Trying to finish everything and get Joyce and go home.”

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Meggan and Joyce in Uganda (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

Trying to complete the adoption process was…in a word, arduous.  At what was to be the last meeting – the exit interview with the U.S. Embassy – Meggan was questioned by the consulate.  She was completely honest – even about the misinformation uncovered in Joyce’s file.

When it came time for Joyce’s parents to go before the Embassy consulate, they were not truthful.  Their story contradicted Meggan’s.  Somehow, they thought they were being helpful.

In the end, the adoption was denied since the information on both sides was incongruent.

“They told me that Joyce wasn’t going to be leaving with me. They denied her visa.” Meggan said somberly.  Her shoulder slumped.  She was there again, standing in that room with the consulate.

“I ugly-cried,” she looked straight at me, her eyes glistening.  “In front of everybody in the Embassy.  I was 7 months pregnant.  I was worried about the baby because my emotions were all over the place.  I was by myself.  The trip had been hectic to begin with, and then they denied Joyce’s visa!  I left that place bawling my eyes out.  I asked God what in the world was going on!  ‘I’m doing what you want and you’re still making me wait!’ I told Him.  I was totally distraught,” she declared.

“I had to leave Joyce,” Meggan’s face was flat.  “I tried to tell her that we’d come back for her, but she didn’t understand.”

It was late in the summer of 2013 as Meggan got back on a plane and came home.  This time, she had a baby bump but no daughter.

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Photo Credits: Pinterest

Meggan’s story concludes next week.  God’s still working, so please join us again next week.

 

Portrait of a Servant Girl – Meggan’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 couple of weeks about Meggan and her story.  We met over breakfast and talked about 2 1/2 hours about how she met Jesus, how He changed her when she gave Him her heart, and how He is working in her family right now.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to Meggan Love…

Where is God in the mundane?  Where is He in tragedy?  Where is He when you can’t decide whether to go down this road or that one?  Simply put, He’s right where He’s always been – going before you, making a way for you.  All you really have to do is whatever He says.

God began speaking to Meggan through her pastor at the church she attended with her parents when she was 6 years old.  At the end of the sermon, the pastor asked for people to raise their hands if they wanted to accept Jesus into their hearts.  For 6 months he asked, and for 6 months, Meggan raised her hand.  Every time, her parents told her to put down her hand.  They didn’t think she realized what the pastor was asking.

Finally, Meggan’s mom and dad asked if she really wanted to do what the preacher had asked, and she told them yes!  He’d asked if she wanted Jesus in her heart, and she did!  Appeased, her parents took her to talk with their pastor.  Afterwards, 6 year old Meggan asked Jesus to come into her life, and she was baptized.

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Meggan, age 6, about the time she received God’s salvation and was baptized.  Image used courtesy of Meggan Love.

“It was childlike faith,” she told me, her tone matter-of-fact.  “Obviously, I didn’t understand all the theology and eschatology, and all of that other stuff,” she smiled, gesturing in circles over her heard.  “But, I knew He died for me, and He rose for me, and I wanted to go to heaven and be with Him.”

What drew Meggan to God, even as a 6 year old, was the overwhelming feeling of love.  “He loved me enough to die for me,” Meggan emphasized.  “I was very young, but I understood that important truth and that made me want to live for Him and serve Him.”

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Even though Meggan was a small child when she made this decision, she distinctly remembers the change that occurred in her once she received the Holy Spirit.  “Before I had the Holy Spirit, I was very selfish,” she confessed.  “It was all about me, me, me!  But once I gave my heart to Christ, I began experiencing strong conviction from the Holy Spirit.  I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind,” she told me with a grin tugging at the corners of her mouth, “but having the Holy Spirit gave me confidence to speak up for Christ.  For example, “she said, sitting up straighter at the table, “when I was in the 4th grade, I had a classmate who was Muslim.  One day, he told me that he hated Jesus.  ‘I don’t know why,’ I said back to him, ‘He loves you’!”

The Holy Spirit convicted Meggan to spend time studying the Bible, being alone with God and praying to Him.  Peer pressure from friends was still a real struggle for her as was her desire to be selfish.  She still made poor choices from time to time, as anyone would, but she was almost immediately convicted.

“I remember occasions where I would look at my friends and tell them that what we were considering doing was sin.  That was because of the strength and power of the Holy Spirit living in me.”

In middle school, Meggan felt the tug on her heart to begin praying for her future husband!  (This was actually something her parents had prayed for both Meggan and her brother years before.  Her parents prayed that both their children would meet their spouses while they were young).

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“I had 3 requirements,” Meggan said.

“For what your husband would be like?” I clarified.

“Yes,” she nodded once.  “I asked God to send me a husband who was Southern, Christian, and who could make me laugh,” she counted on her fingers as she listed.  “I prayed for them in that order, too!”  She pointed out, her eyes wide.  “Not really sure why it was so important for him to be Southern, but that was always first on my list.”

“Does Dane make you laugh?”  I asked, a knowing smile passing between us.  (We were in Life Group at FBCIT with Meggan and Dane for about 5 years).

Meggan rolled her eyes but blushed a little.  “Oh yeah!  He does!”  She said emphatically.  “Every day!  He makes me crazy, but he definitely makes me laugh.”

Meggan and Dane’s relationship began in the 8th grade; they were 13.  “I knew early on that he’d be my husband,” she confided.  “But knowing that at such a young age, and loving him the way I already did scared me!  So, I broke up with him the summer before 9th grade,” she said firmly.  “I just wasn’t ready for all that.  But,” she continued with a quick shrug of her shoulders, “we got back together in the middle of 10th grade and have been together since.”

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Dane and Meggan before the 10th grade winter formal – 2002.  They had just begun dating again.  Image used courtesy of Meggan Love.

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Dane and Meggan at their high school graduation – 2004.  Image used courtesy of Meggan Love.

Before they were married, Meggan was able to help lead Dane to Christ.  Dane had been baptized, but he confessed to Meggan one day that altar calls made him uncomfortable.  Meggan explained to him that the feeling of discomfort was God’s conviction.  He wanted to draw Dane into a closer relationship.  So, Dane and Meggan prayed together, and Dane asked God to be his Savior.

“Did Dane change after that?” I asked Meggan.

“Definitely,” she responded.  “I saw him become much more passionate about Christ, for getting to know the Lord and learning about our faith.  It actually spurred me into a deeper relationship, too.”

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Wedding day – 2007.  Image used courtesy of Meggan Love

Dane and Meggan were married in 2007.  God has continued to work in their lives both individually and as a couple.  For Meggan, that means God is still working to change her heart in the area of expectations of others.  She admits that nothing is ever good enough for her.

“It’s always been part of my sin nature,” she revealed.  “I remember it when I was little.  I’d get presents for my birthday but wonder why I didn’t get more or why this one thing I wanted was left out.

As an adult, specifically as a mother, this presents itself in another way.  “I’ll come home from work or running errands when Dane has been at home with the girls, and as soon as I hit the door, I start listing everything that’s wrong…breakfast dishes are still on the table, the kitchen is a mess, the clean clothes haven’t been put into the dryer…” she trailed off, shaking her head.  “It isn’t enough that he fed them and kept them alive while I was gone!  I never point out the things he has done; I just focus on what I think is lacking.  That thing from when I was little, it’s still there.  It’s part of my sin nature.  It’s getting better though.  I feel conviction to see the positives and ignore the negatives, or I am convicted to take a step back before it goes too far and apologize to the person and repent to God.  It’s just a work in progress.  The older I get, the more I realize that our faith grows as we grow.  That’s how it’s supposed to be.  We go through seasons.  It’s a race to run all the way to the finish, and it’s a cross-country run rather than a sprint.  We just have to continue to let Him change our hearts.”

Currently, Meggan’s in the motherhood season of her life; she is mommy to 4 precious little girls: Joyce, Faith, Renzori, and Delaney.  This is the race she is running today.

When she sat down across the table from me, before we began our interview for this post, she sighed, “I don’t know, Heather…Servant Girl?  I just don’t feel like I am one.  I’m just mommy right now.  I’m just sitting around nursing my baby.”  She gestured over to then 4-month-old Delaney, snoozing quietly in her carrier.

But, I know that God has given everyone a story, and I already knew a little about Meggan’s.  I knew you needed to read it so you could see God as He has revealed Himself to Meggan.

She can tell you that God will be with you at your lowest point.  There may be a fleeting thought that He’s deserted you, but then you have those quiet moments, like when it’s 3 in the morning and you’re up changing diapers and nursing your newborn, and life “circles back” as Meggan put it, and you see what He was doing in the midst of your pain and suffering.

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Now that she’s had time to look back, Meggan can see that God was with her even in that specific moment, about 5 years ago, when He clearly told her something to do, and she said no.  “I literally stomped my foot, and said no!”  She told me, shaking her head at her own audacity.

But God was still with her.

What did God ask of Meggan that caused such a defiant response?  Join me back here next week for Part 2 of Meggan’s story, and I’ll tell you.