Make in Me a Clean Mouth, O God

Confession: I have had a terribly filthy mouth in my day.

I guess having a “potty-mouth,” as it’s sometimes called, felt like a safe thing to do to be rebellious 🙂 Would keep me from being a complete goodie-two-shoesWouldn’t get me in a ton of trouble

That’s totally lame.  I know it now.

Anyway, a combination of being married to someone who wasn’t much for cussing, having children and not wanting to talk like that around them, and beginning to walk with God cleaned up the filth, for the most part.

But sometimes I have, shall we say, relapses, and my tongue gets a little loose.

I had one such relapse a few weekends ago when Bill and I spent the weekend at the beach with my sister, Tiffany, and her husband, Josh. We went to celebrate my 40th birthday, and it was just what I hoped it would be: we laughed a lot. I took naps when I wanted.  We went out to eat at “adult” times.  We walked on the beach.  We rode in the Jeep Wrangler…it was perfect.

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Photo Credit: Tiffany Manley – Tiff and me in the back seat of the Jeep on the way to dinner.  Call me crazy, but I have only ridden in a Wrangler a handful of times in my life…so it was on my list of things I wanted to do while I was at the beach celebrating my 40th 🙂

 

But, when I am around Tiffany…I might cuss a little…ok, I might cuss a lot. I guess I feel comfortable with her; I know she won’t think I’m a bad person.

Of course I knew at the time it was wrong, but I kept doing it.

Once the weekend was over and we got home, God began convicting me about my unholy talk.

During our morning devotion the Monday after our beach weekend, my director used some verses from Colossians, and one of them talked about how Christians needed to avoid filthy talk.

There were 15 or 16 verses in the devotion that morning, but I zeroed in on that one. I knew God was talking to me.

 

 

That afternoon, I texted Josh and Tiffany and apologized to them. I apologized to Bill as well.

A few days later during my quiet time, I read 2 Corinthians 2:15 about our lives being a sacrifice to God to use to reach people around us. This made me think of my mouth again. Everything I do and say reflects God to others. My life is how I worship Him.

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Image Credit: Pinterest

What God was saying to me was obvious: I cannot have a filthy mouth and be a tool for God to use to draw people to Himself.

I worship God with my whole life – it is my sacrifice, and it is on display for all to see (and hear). There shouldn’t be any unholy talk.

No inappropriate jokes.

No foul language.

 

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Image Credit: pinimg.com

Since I’ve taken the first two steps – acknowledged the conviction and apologized for my wrongdoing – I have to complete the journey. To fully repent, I must turn to God and away from the sin.

What does that look like?

Maybe I have fewer relapses.

Maybe I stop cussing altogether.

Maybe I don’t even think in cuss words anymore!

That would mean that I have truly and completely allowed God to change me – what I say and what I think.

And if those words don’t come out of my mouth, then they aren’t in my heart.

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Image Credit: flickr.com

That is truly what I want to give back to God. A changed heart.

Pray this with me:

Thank you, Father for choosing me, and thank you for loving me. Thank you for sending your Son to die for me so that I could spend eternity with you in Heaven.

I want to be a tool for you to use, Father. Change me so you can use me.

My life is my worship, Lord; everything I do and say points to you once I say I am a Christian.

Continue to convict me. Continue to show me things in my life that need to be given over to you. Continue to make me more like you.

I want my life to be a sweet-smelling sacrifice to you – every part of it. Do this in me today, Father.

Amen

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Image Credit: Pinterest

Why “Venting” Won’t Cut It

When God shows us our sin, we have to repent and turn from that sin back to God.  That means we aren’t supposed to go back to that sin.

Easier said than done, right?  YES!

Some things I turned from and never looked back.  Some things I turned from, and God had to work on me a while.  Some things God convicted me about, and I still struggle to turn from them.

You probably have a similar experience although the sins you struggle with – the things you do that do separate you from God – may be different from mine.

Lately, God has been convicting me about my talk.  He reminded me that we have to be holy in our behavior.  He also reminded me that what comes out of my mouth reflects what’s in my heart.

 

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Image Credit: Instagram

He reminded me that I should come to Him when I get frustrated with someone else’s behavior rather than “venting” to another person about what has made me angry or hurt my feelings.

“Venting” is what we call it when we complain or fuss to a third party about our frustrations.

For example, I could vent to my sister when I’m frustrated with my husband; I could go to her (and sometimes do) to complain or fuss about something he said that hurt my feelings or something he did that made me angry.

So, I vent to blow off steam, to let off the pressure, and then it’s all over, and I can move on, right?

But really this is just talking behind my husband’s back, isn’t it?

And it didn’t really fix anything, did it?

In fact, the only thing I’ve succeeded in doing is making it worse.

If we honestly look at it, venting is dangerous.  It changes our mind and heart toward the person or thing we are venting about.  It hardens our hearts more toward the situation and the people involved.

It also hardens the heart of the person we vent to.  It literally changes how that person perceives the person we’re venting about.  So, it causes the confidant or third party to sin, too.

So, what the heck do I do when I’ve been wronged, and I’m angry?  When I need to fuss about what someone’s done to me?  When I need to vent my frustrations?

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Image Credit: Les Feldick Bible Study 

Go to God.  Pray to Him.  Talk to Him about what that person said or did.  How the person made me angry.  How I want God to change that person.

You can do this, too, when you need to vent.

You can yell at Him.  You can cry.  Be angry.  Be hurt.  Be heart-broken.  He can handle it.

Warning – God might not change that person who wronged you.  But, He’s very likely to change your heart toward that person.

I know you don’t want that.  You aren’t the problem, right?  The other person is…so you may have to “get right with God,” as they say, before you can do this – knowing you’re more likely to be changed and the other person might not be.  Wrestle with Him about that, too.  God will speak to you in that wrestling. He wants you to bring it to Him.

And maybe God can use the change in you to bring about change in the person who wronged you after all.  Maybe the other person sees the change in you and how you treat them, and God uses that to soften their heart so He can change them…kinda crazy, huh?  But that’s how God works.  His kingdom is upside-down, and His ways are not our ways.

So let’s try it.

I’m working on it, too.

The next time I am angry or hurt and feel the need to talk to someone about my issue with someone else, I’m going to talk to God instead.  I’m going to take my frustration or anger to Him and allow Him to have His way with my heart.

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Image Credit: Klove.com

Pray this prayer with me…

Dear God,

Living in the world as your child seems difficult sometimes.  Your ways aren’t my ways.  You call me to be different, and I want to do your will.  You are wise.  You are love.  You are the Creator.  You know how this is supposed to work.  You see how it is meant to go.  You know how it is going to end up.

You have control, and I thank you for taking that from me.  You take my burdens and ask me to simply rest in you.  You ask me to take your yoke which is light.  You ask me to live according to your commands.  Help me to do that.

Take my life, Father.  Have your way with it.

Amen

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Image Credit: Pinterest

Read more posts about how to handle hurt feelings.  Also, read more posts about how to handle Satan’s attacks.  The temptation to vent to someone other than Jesus comes from Satan, and you can combat that temptation the same way I discussed combating other temptation from the enemy.

Change Your Mind and Turn, for the Kingdom of God is at Hand

“Sorry,” Ethan mumbles.  He’s just knocked his cup of water onto the floor while talking and flailing his arms. We reminded him several times to move his cup away from the edge of the table.

“Sorry, mommy,” Emery says and scurries back to the bathroom.  She’s left her dirty clothes on the floor…again.

“I messed up,” I confess to Bill after I discover that I didn’t pay a bill last month.  As a result, this month’s bill is doubled AND we owe a late fee.  Now we have to adjust our budget.

In each scenario, we said we were sorry for something we did wrong.  In each scenario, we felt badly because of what happened.

This is what I always thought repentance was – feeling sorry when you did something wrong…maybe even taking it a step further and confessing your sin and asking someone to forgive you.

But my understanding of the word missed the mark.

Maybe it’s more accurate to say that some of the richness of the word was lost in translation.

In English, the word is typically used to mean feeling regret or feeling sorry and asking forgiveness.  That’s how I always used it.

Then, I encountered another, richer meaning when I read Matthew’s gospel. In Chapter 3, Matthew introduces John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who prepares the way for Jesus’ coming.

John said, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2)

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

When I read commentary on this verse, I saw that, in the original Greek, the meaning of the word translated “repent” was “to change one’s mind.”

Also, I read that, when the Greek word for repent was used in the Old Testament, it meant to change your attitude toward God, to “turn from one way of thinking and living to a different way.”

The same commentary said when John the Baptist used it in Matthew 3:2, he was calling “for people to remove obstacles from their lives that might hinder their reception of the Messiah and his Kingdom.”

The discussion caught my attention; repenting went deeper than I realized.

To repent meant much more than simply saying I was sorry.  It meant more even than asking someone to forgive me.

I kept repeating what I read:

Repent – change your attitude toward God

Repent – turn from your old way of thinking and living

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

I fixated on that word – repent; I wanted to know more.  So, I turned to a strategy I learned called word study: I look up the word in the concordances of my Bibles so I can read other verses where it’s used.  This usually gives me a fuller understanding of the word as I read how it is used in scripture and as I read the discussion of that scripture in other commentaries.

During my word study on repentance, I read another commentary that explained that the word can refer to “the desire to turn from sin and restore one’s relationship with God.” 2 Corinthians 7:9

You see, sin separates us from God.  I cannot come before God with unrepentant sin in my life. So when I am convicted of my sin, I have to repent – not just feel bad, not just ask for forgiveness, but change my mind about the sin and turn from it toward God.

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Photo Credit: Truth For Life Blog

Repenting isn’t just a feeling I have.

Repenting is something I must do – an action; I have to change, and I have to turn.

It’s the whole “turning to God” piece that really convicts me, I think.  To truly get rid of the sin, I have to change my mind about the sin and then look to God.

Since I have been walking with God, I have been asking Him to show my sin to me, to convict me of it.  Since learning about the true meaning of repentance, I have started asking Him to not only show it to me, but to help me change my mind about it and then to tell me what to do instead.

The funny thing about talking to God and asking Him to do things is that He sometimes does what we ask 🙂  Especially the part about showing your sin to you and telling you what to do instead.

Next week, I’ll share a sin-trap I am falling into and how I am turning from it toward God.

How Satan Used the Size of My Shirt to {Almost} Ruin My Weekend Retreat

It happened because I chose the wrong shirt size.  I probably shoulda gotten a medium, but I got a small.  It fit fine over my arms, shoulders, and chest, but I’m a pear shape, so it was a little snug over my rear end and my hips.

This was over the weekend at the Be Still Mama women’s retreat I attended at The Cove in Asheville.  (This was my second Be Still Mama retreat at The Cove.  If you’ve never been to The Cove, you absolutely HAVE to go).

When we arrived Friday, the 70 participants changed into our retreat t-shirts and took a group picture.

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Be Still Mama Women’s Retreat Winter 2019

“Mine is a little big,” one of the ladies commented after we put on our shirts.  The sleeves, meant to be three-quarter length and fitted, were longer and hung loosely.  The body of the shirt itself fell over her petite torso and covered her backside.  It looked comfortable but oversized.

“What size did you get?”  I inquired.

“Medium,” was her reply.

“Oh!” I said, a little surprised.  “You should have gotten a small.”

“No way,” she responded.  “It would have been way too tight and clingy all over my stomach.”

I was silent.  Here stood this lady clearly more petite than me saying she wouldn’t order a small shirt because it would be too clingy…while I stood there in a size small shirt that I repeatedly tugged over my rear end and hips.

All of a sudden, it hit me like a hot wave…those old, familiar feelings of inferiority and self-consciousness.

Before I knew it, my mind was racing…

“You shouldn’t be here.”

“You don’t really belong.”

“That shirt is too little!  What made you think you could fit into a small?!”

“Your face is breaking out, too,”

“Can’t you do anything with that crazy, curly hair!?”

And I just wanted to shut myself in my room for the rest of the weekend.

I didn’t want anyone to see the shirt stretched over my hips or the acne on my face or the frizz on my head.

I didn’t want to be there anymore.

But, I went to dinner and to our first session that evening.  I sang the praise and worship songs and turned to 1 Kings 17 in my Bible.  Afterward, I went back to my cabin and hid in my room for a little while – fiddling with the stuff in my suitcase and taking off my make-up and brushing my teeth and putting on my pajamas. Finally, I made myself go to the den to talk with my cabin-mates.

The whole time, the inferiority and self-consciousness was still there – feeding itself on my weakened spirit.

The next morning, I woke up after a sound night’s sleep and puzzled for a little while.

“What was that all about last night?”  I wondered.

After all, nobody had said anything directly to me.  The lady had only made a comment about her own shirt.

Then, I realized it!  That was Satan.  He did that.  He brought up all those negative thoughts and insecurities.

I could have done a forehead-slap!  Why didn’t I realize it was him as soon as it started?

And why in the world was he after me anyway?

Oh…duh!  (another forehead-slap moment) I was at a Christian women’s retreat!

Of course it was a plan to distract me.  If Satan could distract me by getting me all wrapped up in self-consciousness, I would miss the message God had for me.

And every.thing.made.sense!

I stood right there in the middle of the bathroom where I’d been washing my face when I had my epiphany, and I said, “that’s enough!  I’m not doing this today.  I came here to spend some quiet, relaxing time with Jesus, and that’s what I’m going to do!”

Any time I even thought those feelings might come back at any point over the weekend, I reminded myself:

Those thoughts are from Satan.  He wants to distract me this weekend, but he isn’t going to win.  Jesus is with me, and He has something to say to me that I want to hear.

And I went on with my day!

Honestly, that kind of thing has happened to me a lot in my life.  I’ve only recently been aware of what is really going on – a spiritual attack – and been able to combat it by praying and asking God to intervene for me.

I imagine this has happened to you before, too.  Hopefully, you realized what was going on and put a stop to it before you got sucked too far down in the muck.

The sooner we get a handle on what’s truly happening, the sooner we can stop it.

Recognize the attack and the attacker and immediately resist it with prayer, by calling on Jesus name, or by rebuking Satan and letting him know he has no place in your mind and in your heart.

Don’t let him ruin one more beautiful moment of your life.

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The infamous shirt 😉  

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

Fixing Me Was God’s Job (Repost)

Author’s Note: Ethan and Emery are in school, and i am on week 2 of my new job (will blog about that soon since I addressed it in an earlier post). So, I am taking a short break from writing new posts this month so I can focus on time with the kids and getting used to the new job.  In the meantime, I am reposting pieces of my testimony that were published when I started the blog in October 2017). 

God can use any time, place, or circumstance He wants to use to get through to you.  He can speak to you in the most unlikely of places and in the craziest of ways.

When I was 31, after spending more than 10 years ignoring God’s voice (and at times even denying that Jesus existed), I actually obeyed God’s calling and left my full-time job to be a work-from-home-mom and be with my then-16-month-old son.

To date, it it probably the craziest thing I have ever done.  Most of the things God asks us to do seem crazy at the time; that’s why those things are known as a “leap of faith.”  They aren’t things we could accomplish in our own power or with our own knowledge, skills, or money.

And that’s where I was in May 2010: being obedient to Jesus when I still wasn’t even sure I believed in Him!  I didn’t have trouble believing in a Creator God overall, but I had lost Jesus – the man who walked and talked and healed and taught and died and lived again.

So, what God did was to remove me from the busyness of the life I had created with a job and a mortgage and a husband and a child and a pet, and He sat me down at the family-heirloom dining table in our house and confronted me with myself.

Now, I’m not trying to say that staying home with your baby isn’t busy, but it was a lot less so for me than when I worked full-time outside the home.  I still worked part-time from home and cared for our home and our son, but God had cleared my schedule quite a bit.

Life was quieter now.  Life was slower now.  I had time to think.  (Funny, “thinking” was what got me into the mess I was in in the first place, but thinking was also what God used to get me out).  I finally acknowledged that I needed help with my mind and my thoughts about God and Jesus.

At first, I tried to fix myself.

I remember reading a book or two I thought would help me believe in Jesus again.  At this point, I really wanted to believe in Him but couldn’t fathom ever being able to again.

I did pray sometimes and ask God to help me.

I was so used to scholarly-type study from 6 years of higher education that I thought maybe I could study my way back to believing in Jesus.

So, I got a Bible commentary to read what scholars said about the Bible hoping that some smart person’s “proof” would sway me.  I read the book of James because I heard someone say it was a good idea for new Christians to start with that book when reading the Bible.

God led me to meet some Christian moms from our church and start going to MOPS – Mothers of PreSchoolers – at our church with them in the fall of 2011.

I began to feel God more.  It was slow, but it was there.  I knew my worldview was made-up, but I still didn’t want to submit it to God.

I was working hard to fix myself before I went back to the Lord.  I thought He wanted me fixed before He would take me back.  {Spoiler alert} That’s where I was wrong.

Fixing me was God’s job.  Fixing YOU is God’s job.

He doesn’t require us to come to Him already perfect.  {Hint} If you wait until you’re perfect before you go to God, you’ll never go to Him.  If God waited to save us until we were perfect, He’d never have anyone to save!

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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