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 2

Author’s Note: All my sisters in Christ are Servant Girls, and we’ve all been given God’s stories to tell. I’m grateful to be able to write to you over the next few weeks about Susan Elder.  We sat at her home one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and talked about how she met Jesus and some of the valleys He’s carried her through. It is my pleasure to continue Susan’s story…

“I have a habit of fasting at least one day a week,” Susan explained as we sat on the couch in the den of her home, continuing our conversation about her faith-journey.  “It’s a good thing for Christians to do. God’s voice is very clear when I fast. But, the Lord was silent that particular day,” she confessed. “Sometimes He is, so I wasn’t terribly concerned.”

It was early in 2007, and after 16 years working for the company that brought his family to Monroe from Tennessee, Susan’s husband Steve was laid off from his job.

Susan was on a water fast that day and began going to the Lord about Steve’s job.

She described to me a Friday morning.  Jenny, their middle daughter, was living at home at the time.

“I heard her throwing up about 6 that morning and asked her if she was ok.  She responded that she was very sick. We worried she might be getting the flu since it was flu season,” Susan recalled.  “Jenny taught at Hemby Bridge Elementary, and there’s always something going around a school. She’d suffered from a headache since she got home from school Wednesday of that week and stayed home on Thursday because she still felt bad.  By the end of the day Thursday, she didn’t feel any better, so she had already called the school to say she’d miss Friday as well.”

Jenny, 29 at the time, was working on her Masters of Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Steve and Susan’s older daughter, Vickie, lived in Pennsylvania, and Stephanie, their youngest daughter and a registered nurse, was currently staying home with her infant son.

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Stephanie, Jenny, and Vickie – Susan and Steve’s daughters. Image used with permission from Susan Elder.

Leaving Jenny to rest at home, Steve and Susan went to the store to get some bland foods their daughter might be able to eat.  When they got back home, they found her in a worsened condition.

“Well, she lay on a couch that was sitting over there,” Susan said, and she pointed to the front of the room.  “There was something about the way she was lying there. It just wasn’t right,” Susan told me.

Susan and Steve got Jenny into the car and went to urgent care.

“The only thing I remember her saying while we were in the car was that her head hurt very badly,” Susan explained.  “The doctor that saw her at the urgent care told me to get her to the ER for more testing.”

Steve and Susan contacted Stephanie and her husband, TJ who were signing papers on a house that day.  Everyone planned to meet at the emergency room.

“Stephanie was grieved that she wasn’t there sooner,” Susan explained. “But later I understood that the Lord moved Stephanie and TJ, who was a PA, out of the way because it was Jenny’s time to be with Him.”

It took a long time for the ambulance to come even though it was across the street.  But, the urgent care doctor insisted that they wait, so they did. When Jenny finally got to the ER, she was immediately rushed to a room.

Then, there was more waiting.

Susan prayed, “Lord, you gave her to us.  She’s yours. I want you to heal her but your will be done.”

Finally, doctors offered an explanation.  Jenny suffered an aneurysm that was most likely congenital.

Around 7 o’clock that evening, Jenny was transported by helicopter from the local ER to CMC Main in Charlotte.  At the hospital, the family found that the attending nurse was a member of Jenny’s Sunday school class. The nurse immediately called the class to start a prayer chain.

“At 11 that night, the neurosurgeon told us, ‘we can’t do anything.’  But in my mind, I said, ‘God can.’ So, they put her on life support.” Susan paused for a moment and gathered herself.  Then, she gave me that smile that Susan has. If you know her, you know the one I mean. That calm, serene expression that can only be worn by someone who walks daily with God and has experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus.  It isn’t necessarily a ‘happy-happy’ smile, but it is a smile full of joy.

“I was optimistic the whole time,” Susan said.  “We prayed for complete healing all day and all night.  Everyone did. Our life group and our church family prayed.  People at Jenny’s school prayed. I said, ‘Lord, heal her completely,’ because I knew that He could.”

Susan paused a moment.  I stopped writing. The fan still whirred overhead.  The sun still filtered through the windows.

She went on to describe the next day and the people who came to the hospital to support and pray with them while they waited: members of theirs and Jenny’s Sunday school classes, Jenny’s coworkers, Jenny’s sisters.

“That evening, about 7:30, Jenny’s doctors gathered the family around and said they wanted to remove life support for about 15 minutes to check for brain function.  Stephanie asked if she could be the one to turn off the machine. She felt like she should do this for her sister rather than letting a stranger do it. Well, they agreed, and I left the room because I didn’t want to see it, but Vickie stayed, too.  Then, Stephanie turned off the machine. After a few moments, when they were sure there was no brain activity, she stopped breathing, and her heart stopped, and the doctors pronounced her dead at 8:00 pm. It was March 1, 2007.”

There was silence for a moment.  I didn’t write. I just held Susan’s gaze.

“What could I give Jenny here on earth?”  She asked after a moment and shrugged a little.  “God gave her heaven,” she said calmly. “Jenny always said she didn’t want to be 30 and not be married.  She wanted to get married and have kids. Well, God made her a teacher, so she had lots of kids. And, He took her before she turned 30, so she didn’t have to worry about not being married.”

Before Jenny’s funeral, the family’s pastor, Dr. Mike Whitson, spoke with Jenny’s Sunday school teachers to gather information about how Jenny served God through the church.  During the funeral, Preacher Mike used the stories to illustrate the great impact she had on the lives of others – an impact she never knew about. But, it helped the family greatly to hear these stories.

“It was encouraging,” Susan told me.  “But the most comforting thing to us was the 36 souls that were saved at her funeral.  Even in death she was used for God’s glory. Her funeral was a testimony that death comes to any age, though, and it could come without warning, like in her case.  My daily comfort is that the Lord promises that we will see her again and that she walks the streets of gold with our Savior, Jesus Christ!”

And there was that Susan-smile again.

“After a while, God showed me what a blessing it was that Steve was laid off from his job before this happened.  God put Steve where he could spend time with Jenny.”

Susan looked at me.  “I still tell people that I have 3 children because I do.  They’re just scattered to the four winds. One is in Pennsylvania, one is in South Carolina, and one is in heaven.”

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Jenny Elder – Image used with permission from Susan Elder

 

Please join me again next week for the conclusion of Portrait of a Servant Girl – Susan’s Story.

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

Author’s Note: All my sisters in Christ are Servant Girls, and we’ve all been given God’s stories to tell. I’m grateful to be able to write to you over the next few weeks about Susan.  We sat at her home one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago and talked about how she met Jesus and some of the valleys He’s carried her through. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Susan Elder…

“It tickles me,” Susan grinned, “to look back and see where God gave His grace and where He answered my prayers.  So, I keep a journal, and I write down dates and what I prayed for or what God showed me that day. Then, when a prayer is answered, I can look back and see when I prayed for it.”

We sat on the floral-patterned couch in the den of her home.  The great room was still and quiet. The only light was from the big windows flanking the front door and the windows overlooking the back porch. The only sound was the soft whir of the fan as it steadily spun overhead.

My notebook sat on my lap, and I scribbled furiously as she told me the story of her life and her family’s walk with Jesus.

“I’m from Chattanooga, Tennessee,” she told me.  “My family was the trash of the neighborhood. I always knew we were bad.  My dad was a violent alcoholic, and everybody knew it.”

Susan’s family included her parents and their five children.

“I always wanted to be good,” Susan said, matter-of-factly, “but we were trash.  I was helpless. I knew a few Bible stories, but I didn’t know Jesus died for me.”

When her older brother was 17, he bought a car and started going to church with his girlfriend.

“When he invited me to go to church with them, I went!”  She exclaimed. “I learned all sorts of things,” she said, more excited.  “Most importantly, I learned Jesus died for me. I never knew that,” she told me again.

Susan described a Sunday morning church service when her brother made a profession of faith.  She followed him and did the same. “I wanted to be saved,” she stressed, “but I didn’t understand how.  The Bible says, ‘All that call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ I followed my brother, and I said I believed in Jesus, but I didn’t call on His name.”

She laughed a little, and I looked up.  Her hand covered an embarrassed smile.

“I remember learning,” she began, “that the trump would sound and the Lord would come back.”  She paused again, and her sheepish grin spread larger. She didn’t cover it this time.

“Well, one night, I was in bed, and a car horn went off out on the street somewhere in our neighborhood.  It got stuck and just went on blaring. It scared me half to death. I thought the Lord was coming back,” she laughed.  “I jumped out of bed, went down on my knees, and prayed! I begged, ‘Lord, please forgive me of my sins. Please save me.’  And I heard Him say, ‘I forgive you.’ And He saved me and forgave me of all my sins right then and there. See it wasn’t until I fell on my knees beside my bed that I actually called His name.  That’s when I was truly saved.”

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Photo Credit: believers4ever.com

She laughed again to herself, no doubt remembering the car horn that heralded her arrival into the arms of the Lord.

Susan was 16 when she accepted Jesus as her Savior.

After that, her brother’s girlfriend gave her a Bible.

“I read it every night,” she breathed.  “And I prayed, and I talked to God, and I went to church.”

It was in church youth group that she met Steve.

“I noticed his smile,” she confessed when I asked what got her attention at first.

“We started dating,” Susan explained, “and I prayed to God asking Him to show me ‘the right one.’  I always ask God what to do,” she added.  “If you ask Him, He’ll tell you.”

Apparently, Steve was the right one.  They married in 1972. Three daughters followed: Vicki in 1974, Jenny in 1978, and Stephanie in 1981.

Susan said of Steve, “His strengths are my weaknesses and vice versa.  He just thinks differently than me.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

She didn’t even have to think before she clarified, “He is very detailed.  He thinks in three dimensions. He’s extremely thorough, always thinking about the next step, and I just want to hurry up and get things done.”  She laughed. Then she gestured at the room around us. “He drew up the plans for our house,” she continued. “He made sure there was no wasted space inside these walls.  Our half bathroom and master bathroom,” she said, pointing toward the hall, “are back to back so that all the plumbing is in the same place.”

She told me about the family’s move to Monroe in 1992.

“We didn’t know much about the area, the schools, or the churches,” she clarified.  “I remembered reading in Proverbs that you could flip a coin, and God would make the decision.  So, we said, ‘Heads, Piedmont; tails, Sun Valley.’ We flipped the coin, and it was heads. It tickles me,” Susan gave a little giggle, “because Vicki, our oldest, wasn’t satisfied with how we made the decision.  So, she grabbed the coin, flipped it three more times, and each time, it landed on heads. So we built our house in the Piedmont area of Union County, and all 3 of our girls graduated from Piedmont High School.”

The Lord guided their decision for a church to attend when they sought His will in prayer over that decision.  They prayed for God to send people to their home who would invite them to church. It happened just as they prayed it would, and they attended that church for eleven years.

“Some strife arose there,” Susan reported, “so we prayed again that the Lord would show us where to go.  We prayed and visited about 17 other churches in a 3-year span. We asked, ‘Lord, would you send someone to our house who’ll ask us to join their church?’  A few of the churches we visited sent people to our house, but no one actually invited us to join until the third visit from a member of First Baptist Church of Indian Trail.  He was sitting right where you’re sitting,” she pointed at me,” when he said, ‘we would like you to join our church.’ Well,” Susan stopped, grinning widely,” I looked at Steve, and Steve said, ‘did you hear what he said?’  It was exactly what we asked from God. So, we joined the church in 2006. Now, Steve and I enjoy teaching 4th graders in Sunday school, and you know I love singing in the choir,” she finished.

Bill and I started going to First Baptist of Indian Trail about the same time, and I met Susan around 2010 when she was a mentor mom in MOPS.  When we met, we realized we sang in choir together, too.

“We love our life group and our church family at Indian Trail,” she beamed, but then somberly looked at her hands in her lap.  “They stood with us and prayed with us through some terribly dark times.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That day was the best!” She laughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Carol and Ed Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Pinimg.com

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

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

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

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

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

There was another pause.

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credits: #GODisHOPE

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

On October 22, 2013, Rwenzori Grace was born.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At the airport (Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

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

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(Image used courtesy of Meggan Love)

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

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

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

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

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

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

Wait. Pray. Trust.

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

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