The Most Miserable Person in the World (Repost)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was ME!

He was talking TO me!

I WAS miserable!

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Memmie’s house (Bill’s grandmother)

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

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Bill and me – 2014

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

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

It took a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hallelujah!

Please share your stories of how God held you!

Those “What If” Moments (Repost)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

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

When It All Changed (Repost)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Pinterest

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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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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Lila Prints Etsy Shop

“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.

To receive emails each week when I publish posts, please subscribe to Servant Girl Stories (in the right sidebar). 

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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