What’s Your Story?

“…And thus, I make it my ambition to preach the gospel…as it is written, ‘Those who have not been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand’.” Romans 15:20-21 ESV

Paul quotes Isaiah here to explain Paul’s own mission to the Roman Church: to evangelize. Paul fulfilled his mission in part by sharing his testimony, and we are called to continue that today.

You may think, I’ve been a Christian since I was little. Nothing exciting has ever happened in my life. I wasn’t saved from drugs or a bad relationship or anything drastic like that. My testimony isn’t terribly interesting.”

While God has given dramatic testimony to some, the stories of others are less so. But those stories are not less valuable. All our stories are given to us by God to be used for His glory. And there is someone somewhere who would benefit from hearing it.

Be thankful for your redemption story. Share it boldly. Ask God to use it for His glory. After all, that’s why He gave it to you.

{ This post was written as part of Five Minute Friday’s Link Up }

Are You Stubborn Like Me?

The promises God gave us in the Bible are sufficient that we should obey what He tells us to do right away. He promises us, His children, everything He promised to the Israelites in the Bible. God, through His word, promised us His presence, salvation, grace, love…this should be enough to warrant our immediate obedience when we have a word from God.

But, just like Gideon in the book of Judges, we hesitate. Our faith is weak. Our theology is off. We want God to prove it’s Him! We ask for a sign to make ourselves more confident.

I’ve been there. I’ve taken months, even years to respond with obedience to conviction from God through the Holy Spirit. At first, it was because I didn’t know it was God. I wasn’t walking with Him. I wasn’t allowing Him to be my shepherd, so when He spoke, I didn’t know His voice.

Now, I honestly have no excuse. I walk and talk with Him daily. His voice is familiar. Yet I’m still slow to respond sometimes. I’m still reluctant.

At times, I’m just plain stubborn. I don’t want to do what He’s told me to do – not right then at least.

But delayed obedience is disobedience.

Sometimes I don’t want to do the thing the way He’s told me to do it. In my pridefulness, I think my way is better – MY timing, MY sequence, MY procedure.

Even though I know better, y’all!

In the end it always comes back to Him though. I try to do it the way I want to do it rather than the way God said to do it, and I screw it up. Then, I have to throw up my hands, and do it His way after all.

Wouldn’t I have wasted less time, used less energy, and endured less struggle if I just did it the way He told me to do it in the beginning? The first time I felt Him nudge my heart?

He gets the glory in the end anyway – no matter how I respond in the beginning. But do I miss out on some of the blessing I would have received if my obedience had been immediate? Do I fracture my faith? Do I tarnish my testimony? Do I hurt my heart? Am I a poor witness for others?

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.”

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.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

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.”

Photo Credit: Pinterest

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

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 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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7 Tips for Fighting Better

My husband and I had a challenging conversation the other night.  I like to call this having a “difference of opinion”. 😉

Have you ever had a difference of opinion with someone?  It happens, right?

So why not learn some ways to fight better?  No, I don’t mean learn how to always win the fight.

What I’m saying is, let’s learn some better ways to fight so that we can find an amicable solution or so that we can at least can walk away with our feelings and the other person’s feelings in tact.

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7 Tips to Fight Better

  • Stop.  Stay calm.  This is important whether the conflict happens on social media or in person.  The Bible calls this being “slow to anger,” and is full of verses that speak to the wisdom in remaining composed.  Take a moment to stop and pray, even if it’s just a short, “Help me please, Lord.”  Take time to think through what happened and ask yourself, “Am I really upset at this?  Is this worth getting into a disagreement over?” If the answer is no, move on. If the answer is yes, it’s still a good idea to wait and try to keep your cool.
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  • Acknowledge your own part in the conflict.  What assumptions and expectations do you hold that are influencing how you talk about this situation?  A related question to ask yourself is, ‘Did I do anything to offend the other person’? A familiar verse that supports this tip is Matthew 7:1-5.  Christians are challenged to deal with the “log in your own eye” before you “take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  It is hypocritical to point out all the things your spouse, sibling, friend, or in-law did wrong if you won’t acknowledge your part in the problem.
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  • Talk face-to-face and one-on-one.  Whenever possible, go to the person and talk in private.  Avoid venting to someone else. (Don’t fuss to your sister about your lazy husband or to your husband about your annoying coworker…you get the picture).  Also avoid taking the issue to social media. I think we all know what can happen here. This is called “airing dirty laundry”, and it almost always turns out badly.  In Matthew 18:15a, Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone”. This was a verse I saw over and over when I was researching this topic.  Matthew 18:15-17 was used often as the key verse to show biblical conflict management.

 

 

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  • Find common ground.  Focus on the relationship.  If you can find something you have in common with that person, you’re much more likely to be able to cooperate, acknowledge the other person’s feelings, show that you care about that person, be honest about your feelings, and be respectful of the other person’s feelings .  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that our enemy isn’t flesh and blood but the spiritual forces of evil.  Remember, the other person isn’t your enemy – Satan is, and he’s the one who wants the conflict to tear apart your relationship.

 

  • Listen. Let the other person talk, even if you’re the one who brought up the issue because you were hurt or wronged.  After you explain what’s wrong, allow the other person to have his/her say, too. Sit quietly. Don’t plan your retort.  Just listen. It’s ok to ask for clarification as the person is speaking – to repeat some of the things he/she said to be sure you understood – but leave some space for her otherwise.  There may be some underlying issues you don’t know about or unspoken expectations or assumptions that have made the problem worse.
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  • Focus on the main issue.  It is very likely that other problems will surface while you’re trying to work this out.  While those shouldn’t be ignored completely, they should be sidelined for the moment as you focus on the current situation.  What offended you in the first place? If it was the fact that your husband doesn’t help with the dishes and cleaning the kitchen after dinner, you’ll have to table the issue of him not helping get the kids in the bed and come back to that later.

 

  • Forgive.  Give grace. Did you know that God wants us to put our worship on hold and forgive someone we have a grudge against first.  It’s THAT important. Matthew 5:23-24 says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  God wants us to come before Him with clean hearts – not hearts burdened with contempt over an offense or argument.

 

The next time you find yourself having a difference of opinion with someone, remember these tips.  Take a moment to stop, pray, and ask for God’s guidance. Then, go to this person, and begin the conversation.

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Think back to some recent conflicts you’ve had.  Which of these tips did you use? Which ones didn’t you use? How did the use of these tips (or lack thereof) influence the way the conflict was handled?

Can you think of other helpful tips to share?

For more on the subject of biblical conflict management read When Your Feelings Are Hurt.  Also, see What To Do If You Have a Critical Spirit.

I used the following resources in my research for this post:
9 Ways to Handle Conflict Biblically

Conflict Resolution

Experiencing Intercultural Communication 4th Edition

Interpersonal Communication: Everyday Encounters 8th Edition

Sermon: Jesus’ Plan for Resolving Conflict – Matthew 5, 18

Tips and Tools for Healthy Conflict Resolution

Christian Mom – What are You Teaching Your Kids?

What do you want your children to remember about you after you’re gone?  What do you want them to learn to value from you? What’s the most important thing you could teach them?

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The Hooks Family June 2017 – Image by Real Promises Photography

My children will likely learn that family is to be treasured.  We are very careful to spend time with both sides of our families: their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and first cousins as well as extended family – great grandmothers, great aunts and great uncles and other cousins.

Ethan and Emery already know a little bit about household finance as Bill has focused on that since we used Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball method to get out of debt.  Bill frequently plays Ramsey’s radio show podcasts in the car and at home.  Ethan even requests to hear them sometimes.  (I think it’s because Ramsey often says things like “dumb”, “idiot” and “stupid” – words we have asked our kids not to use.  I hear stifled snickering coming from the back seat when Dave explains to someone, quite emphatically, how stupid it was to go into debt to buy a new car).  The main thing is, though, that both kids are learning at a young age that it is essential to manage your money and that going into debt is a big no-no.

The kids also are learning that it is necessary to take care of our bodies – to remain physically active and to consider what we eat. Bill and I typically get up an hour early 3 days a week to do cardio workouts at home.  Sometimes the kids get up early too, and heckle us about how we’re doing the moves wrong or asking how come mommy is stopping (breathing heavily with my hands on my knees) when the people on the video are still going. We often have conversations about why they should eat less mac-n-cheese and french fries and more green beans and grilled chicken.

But, I have to ask myself, “Are these the most vital things my kids should learn from me?” Family, finances, and fitness are valid lessons. In fact, they are part of what it means to Christians to be stewards of our bodies and the resources God has given us.  They are significant pieces of the Christian walk. But, should they be our main focus?

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Family photo of me and the kiddos summer 2017

The answer is – NO.

If I follow Christ, and I do, the most important thing my children should learn from me is to trust God.

End of story.

I was reading a lesson in the Experiencing God bible study by Henry and Richard Blackaby and Claude King, and was reminded of this.  The authors write, “Our greatest contribution to God’s kingdom is teaching our children to watch to see where God is at work around them and then join Him.”

The thing is, God already has a purpose for them.  He did before Bill and I ever even decided we wanted to be parents.  {Hint – He has a purpose for everyone. Don’t believe me? Read Psalm 139: 13-16 and pay close attention to verse 16}

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Yes – God already has a plan for each and every one of us including my kiddos.

The lesson in Experiencing God reminded me that, first, God’s purpose is that people become more like Christ.  I was reminded to pray with and for my children.

Ethan has already asked Jesus to be the Lord of his life, so one of my prayers for him is that God will show us how to disciple Ethan so that Ethan will learn to follow God’s call on his life.

As far as we know, Emery has not asked Jesus into her heart, so my prayer for her is that she will and that she will come to trust Him and follow His calling on her life as well.

I was also reminded to talk to my children about how God has already worked and continues to work in my life and in our family’s life.  (This should be just as much a part of our family’s story as are Dave Ramsey radio show podcasts and cardio workouts).

Incorporating this could be a little tricky for parents though.

Our first instinct as parents is to point our children back to ourselves: when they ask for advice on making a decision, when they face a difficult situation with peers, and so on.  I don’t think this is 100% wrong 100% of the time, but we have to be careful. Are we facing these issues in a Christ-like way or as the world would face them?

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For example, Ethan is already talking about what he wants to do after school, what his job might be.  When he talks to me about it, I try to encourage him to ask God. I have assured him that God has a plan for him and will tell him what to do if he will only ask.  Plus, I don’t want to inadvertently point him toward or away from something just because it is what I would prefer for him to do.

Henry Blackaby says to ask “God-centered questions.”  He explains: “Instead of ‘What would you like to be when you grow up?’  I would ask, ‘What do you sense God wants you to do?’…I wanted my kids to learn to put their trust in God, not in their parents.” (emphasis mine)

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This is ultimately what my husband and I want as well.  I pray that this is what you want for you family, too.

So, let’s follow the recommendations in Experiencing God: Pray with and for our children.  Talk to them about how God has and is working in our lives.  Worship and serve with them.

This is the greatest thing we can do for God’s kingdom.

How about you?  How did your parents point you to God and encourage you to seek Him and His purpose for you life?  How do you foster this in your own children?

If you do not have children of your own (or yours are adults), how can you encourage a pursuit of Christ in the lives of younger or less mature Christians around you?

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“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”Hebrews 10: 24-25, NIV

 

A #parentingfail – Part 2

I could have sworn this post published last week…I even checked?!  I must be crazy.  Anyway, if this is a repeat, I apologize.

Author’s Note

Sharing things that I’ve failed at doesn’t exactly bring me joy.  However, when I began to realize that I was going to have to be obedient to God’s conviction and write a blog, God showed me that I would have to be honest, real, vulnerable. That I would have to be truthful and tell you things about being a wife, a mom, a believer, a woman that maybe weren’t so glamorous or flattering or honorable or joyful.  This was one reason I held off for so long. There are a lot of things I don’t want to tell you about myself. But, in the end, I realized that I am just God’s servant girl, and right now, He wants me to tell you some of the stories He’s given me so you can connect, so you can relate, so you can see God in my stories and in the stories that He’s given you.  Last week, in A #parentingfail – Part 1, I had to disclose what I see as one of my biggest failings as a mother. This week, I reveal the answer I got from God after years of pleading to Him to make me a better mom.

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After I scream at one of my kids or slam the door in frustration over something they’ve done, I feel the most horrid feeling.  It’s like my heart and soul are fighting to stay alive. I feel tight and hot and putrid in the center of my chest. Satan tells me I am not fit to be a mom.  He whispers that, if I continue yelling at my children, my son in particular, they will hate me when they grow up and will have nothing to do with me. Then, the tears come, hot down my cheeks, and I just want to curl into a dark corner and stay there.  It’s a disturbing feeling – the notion that your children might walk away from you one day and never look back.

I don’t want that.

Early on, I read all the articles I could find and talked to as many people as I dared to admit to that I frequently lost my temper with my children.

And, I cried.  Storehouses of tears.

And, I prayed.  Mountains of prayers.  For God to take away my temper and make me stop yelling at my children.  For them to still love me even after all my temper tantrums.

But then, I’d be right back in that place, that hot, angry place where I’d end up screaming again.  And, I’d think, “why aren’t my prayers working?! Why am I still yelling so much?”

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Truthfully, the years have worn off the sharpest edges.  I’ve learned better ways to interact or deal with disagreements or how to walk away.  So, there has been some improvement, but it has been minuscule compared to what I wanted – a total transformation, a 180 degree turn…June Cleaver, maybe?  😉

I didn’t think God was answering my prayers if He didn’t make me stop yelling altogether…after all, that was what I asked for, cried for, in my prayers.

Then, a few years ago, I was in a Be Still Mama Bible study, and we read Stuck by Jennie Allen.  In the study, Allen discusses 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 where Paul discloses the thorn in his flesh and how he has pleaded with God to take it away from him.

So, to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. ~ ESV

In essence, God told Paul no.  God would not take away the thing that was tormenting Paul.

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Why not?  Why would God say no to a fervent prayer from one of His children?  Why wouldn’t He give relief when it was requested?

The answer was the same for Paul then as it is for me now: Without the thorn, Paul wouldn’t look to God as he should.  Without my thorn, I wouldn’t lean on God as I should.

Our weaknesses, just like our strengths, are God-given – and they are both ultimately for God’s glory.  We use our strengths to glorify Him, and we bring Him glory in our weaknesses as well.

How is that?  That doesn’t make sense!

When we are weak – when we lose our tempers and yell at our children, for example – we must acknowledge our need for God.

When we read every possible child psychology and parenting article, scouring for something that will work, and we still yell, we come face-to-face with our need for God.

And we throw ourselves down at His feet.  We beg forgiveness. We confess that we can’t do it alone.  We ask Him to help us.

In our weakness, He is strong.

I remember the moment I came to that conclusion after completing the section in the Stuck study where Allen talked about Paul.

I KNEW in that moment that God said no to me, that the temper and outbursts were a thorn in my flesh that wasn’t going anywhere.

And, you know what?  I was immediately at peace with it.  Immediately!  That was my confirmation that God was indeed saying no but that everything would be alright.  God always gives peace.

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Now, this isn’t to say that God will always say no to our requests. Surely He’s said yes to some of yours as He has said yes to some of mine.

And, it isn’t to say that He’ll say no to you specifically about your temper and your interactions with your children.  You may get a different answer.

What’s more, it isn’t to say that God won’t give me relief in some ways.  He has. He has let me see better ways of interacting with my children that don’t always lead to meltdowns.  There will probably be other breakthroughs and lessons to learn in the future as well.  We are called to pray no matter what.

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What I am saying is, It’s ok to ask.  It’s ok to plead and cry. However, if you pray and the answer is no, do not be discouraged.  Accept God’s peace when He says no. Find solace in the fact that He is leaving the weakness so that you’ll lean into Him and grow closer to Him.  He will get glory in some way, and that is in fact our ultimate purpose, to glorify God with our lives, even through parts we don’t like.

When has God told you no?  What were you asking for? How did it feel when you realized that the answer to your prayer was no?  I realize that these may be painful situations, but, if you are willing, please share as your stories can help others in similar situations.

*I’ll conclude A #parentingfail next week with Part 3.

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Afterword

I wanted to share some of the notes I took in the Stuck study after I realized God was telling me that He wasn’t going to take the thorn in my flesh.  It was a kind of prayer that I journaled. Maybe it will help you, too. 

It was written in response to the following instructions: Read about the apostle Paul’s stuck places.  As you read, think about these two questions – “Who are you, Lord?” and “What do you want from me?” and journal your thoughts…

My response – Who are you, Lord?  – a God full of grace – a God with enough grace for me and all the horrible things I have said, done, and thought.  A God whose power is most evident when I am weak. When I know and accept that I am weak, I cannot brag and take credit for the blessings and good things in my life.  I have to accept that these things have come from God.

What do you want from me?  God wants me to allow myself to be weak.  God wants me to lay the weaknesses on Him.  God wants me to give Him the glory when He sustains me despite my weaknesses.  The weaknesses allow me to see that I do need God. The weaknesses take the pressure off me – I don’t have to be perfect, strong…I can’t be those things.  The weaknesses allow me to make room for God – to let Him take over.

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