What’s Your Story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You Stubborn Like Me?

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

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

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

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

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

But delayed obedience is disobedience.

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

Even though I know better, y’all!

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

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

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

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!

When It All Changed (Repost)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Note: All my sisters in Christ are Servant Girls, and we’ve all been given God’s stories to tell. I’m grateful to be able to write to you over the next couple of weeks about Meggan and her story.  We met over breakfast and talked about 2 1/2 hours about how she met Jesus, how He changed her when she gave Him her heart, and how He is working in her family right now.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to Meggan Love…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“I had 3 requirements,” Meggan said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wedding day – 2007.  Image used courtesy of Meggan Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But God was still with her.

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

 

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

That time you thought God had left you all alone…that He wasn’t doing anything in your life anymore…that wasn’t true.  He was working.  He was orchestrating this detail to fit in with that detail so that something extraordinary would come of it.  You wanted hamburger steak that very minute, but He had filet mignon on the menu.  You just had to wait.  Sometimes you have to trust.  And wait.

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Ask Donna.  She knows.  She’s lived it.  She’s experienced it.  And she’ll tell you.  It was God the whole time.

(If you haven’t read Part 1 of Donna’s story, please go back to read it, then join us back here).

Donna told me, “My testimony used to be about how God changed me.  Now, with Courtney, and everything He’s done in that situation, I truly believe in miracles.  I knew they happened before, but I have been part of one now, so I KNOW.  I see how God put things together, how He orchestrated everything to work together for our good.  I know this doesn’t always apply to earthly comforts,” she continued, “but I cling to God’s promise in Romans 8:28: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

About 6 months ago, Donna was forced to come face-to-face with something that had been a stronghold in her older daughter Courtney’s life for nearly 8 years: substance abuse and addiction.

For years, there were a multitude of signs that there was a major problem.  Donna admits that either she didn’t see them or wouldn’t see them – it was probably a little of both.

“I would catch her in lies; there were several car wrecks and wellness problems; she was always sleepy – I could go on and on,” Donna explained.  “Trust me when I tell you that the hardest thing to do as a parent is to let your kids make mistakes and suffer the consequences. Sometimes you just have to step back and put TOUGH LOVE into action.”

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Then there was the time, about 3 ½ years ago, when Donna intended to step in and help.   “Courtney and Madison came to spend the weekend with us, supposedly because Steve (Courtney’s boyfriend, and Madison’s father, who she was living with at the time) was horrible, doing drugs, etc. and she ‘just had to get away.’  I believed those lies and really wanted to help her get out of that situation.  The only way I could think of making that happen was for her to come stay with us for a while.  So, in order to convince Kevin of my great idea, I had a Plan A and a Plan B.  I had it all figured out and was ready to present it to him,” Donna smiled, remembering that night when she was ready to tell Kevin her ideas.  They’d eaten dinner together after Courtney and Madison had gotten there.  “I asked Kevin if we could talk, and we went out into the garage.  We get out there, and before I could even say anything, Kevin says, ‘She’s not coming here, Donna.  You can’t keep doing this.  She won’t learn, and it won’t be good for our marriage’.”

Donna was quiet for a moment, letting the weight of what Kevin said sink in, for herself and for me.  She looked straight at me; I could see resolution in her eyes.  “This is when I knew for sure that God was Lord of my life, by the way.  This conversation with Kevin proved it to me.  I had my Plan A and my Plan B all ready for him, but he completely shut me down.  I didn’t even get a chance to explain my ideas!  I never even asked if the girls could come!  Kevin just told me no!  Flat out no!  I didn’t even get to tell him my plan,” she emphasized.  “But, when he told me no, I just said ‘ok’, and I was honestly ok with it.  It was like God just said, ‘Donna go ahead and submit.’  And I did.  And I was ok. I knew Kevin was right, and that I should respect him.  That is when I realized God truly had changed me and truly was in control of my life.”

You might be thinking, ‘how could anyone say that kicking out your child was still the best thing that could have happened?’

Well, there’s still more.

Over the next 3 year period, Donna dealt with theft as Courtney stole from her, even her identity! There were “lies on top of lies on top of lies,” as Donna put it.  She even had to call DSS to ensure Madison’s safety.  “Some days it seemed like they were doing good, and then other days — well, not so good,” Donna said.

In June 2016, Courtney had another baby, Mackenzie.  She seemed to be doing good for the first few months after Mackenzie was born, but again, things were up and down.

Then in 2017, Courtney totaled her car one morning after dropping Madison off at school.  Courtney told Donna (much later) that the first thing she saw when the wreck was over was Mackenzie’s car seat.  It was empty, and she couldn’t remember if Mackenzie had been with her.  She was under the influence at the time and couldn’t recall where Mackenzie was, so for a few frantic moments, some bystanders searched feverishly for the baby…until Courtney remembered she’d left Mackenzie with the baby’s father, Steve.

This crash landed Courtney in the hospital.  And drug tested.  This was a wake up call for Courtney, but it wasn’t “rock bottom” yet.

A few months later, Courtney would get high at Donna and Kevin’s house during a visit.  No one realized it until everyone was back in the car taking Courtney and the girls home.

Donna recalled the scene for me.  “We were all in the car together taking them back home when Madison asked, ‘Mommy, why are you talking funny again?  Why are you laying all over me?’  I looked back and Courtney is laughing all weird and leaning over on Madison and then over onto Mackenzie.”

Donna said, “I nudged Kevin and said, ‘Look at her!  She is high right now’!”  Donna looked straight at me and said, “Heather, if my granddaughters hadn’t been in the car, I would have put Courtney out on the side of the road right there!  But I couldn’t do that in front of them.”

Instead, they went ahead to Courtney’s uncle’s house where she was currently living.  On the way, they called Steve and Courtney’s Uncle David and Aunt Beth.  Once Steve arrived and the girls were safe, Donna left.

This was Courtney’s rock bottom.

About two weeks later, Courtney called Donna confessing her problem and her need for help.  “I need somewhere to go now, mom,” Courtney insisted.  So, Donna gave her some places to call, and Courtney was able to go to a 7-day detox facility in Monroe.  The next step would hopefully be a treatment center.

Here’s where you begin to see how God was working in the situation, and it is so awesome:

Donna was praying.  Kevin was praying.  Everyone was praying: “Lord, Courtney has to get long-term treatment immediately!  Right now!  You’ve got to open a bed somewhere. Please show us the place You want her to go.”

Prior to this, Donna had gotten involved in a prayer group with some friends, praying specifically for their wayward, adult children.  Each mom picked a day/time to pray so that these adult children were covered every day of the week. Donna’s day is Tuesday.

As it happened, on a Wednesday morning, Donna emailed this prayer group, her Life Group, and the G2 Leadership Team (a Women’s Mentoring ministry from FBCIT in which Donna serves) asking them to pray for God to do a miracle and open a bed somewhere for Courtney.

Then, that Wednesday night after choir practice, Donna got a call from a friend in the prayer group, who got a call from another lady from the group who saw Donna’s email and was asking if she’d heard of a place in Monroe called the Solace Center, facilitated by pastor Michelle Feliciano, and best of all, they had a bed available right then!

Donna called them on Thursday morning to see exactly what kind of facility it was, and it sounded just like what they’d been looking for, so she called Courtney and told her of their availability and to call herself to see if it would be a fit.

Courtney called, got an appointment to see them on Friday, went for her Orientation on Saturday, and checked in that very day at 1:30!!!

You see, long before this ever happened, God had this special prayer group of moms planned.  God had already set it into motion for Donna to be a part of that group.  God put all of this together to get Donna in touch with a friend of a friend who knew about the Solace Center where God had a bed available…just for Courtney.  (There were lots of others from Donna and Kevin’s family, friends, and Life Group praying for Courtney as well.  Donna and Kevin are thankful for each and every prayer).

Today, Courtney is transformed beyond anything Donna could have hoped.  She is clean and sober and on fire for the Lord!  She is already almost halfway through the program.  She has a job and pays weekly rent at the center.  The best part, though, is that Courtney has now made Jesus the Lord of her life!  See, she asked Jesus into her heart years ago, but she strayed. However, God brought her to a point of confession and repentance, and Courtney has not been the same since.

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Courtney with Madison (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

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Courtney with Mackenzie (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

What’s more, Donna and Kevin have found opportunities to serve together in ministry at Solace.  They serve on the Solace Board and their Life Group ministers to the Solace group as well. Most recently, they had a blast bringing in the new year 100% clean and sober (and no hangover the next day) at a party with the Solace residents.

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Donna and Kevin’s Life Group team for the Solace Kick Addiction Kickball Tournament (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

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Donna, Madison, and Courtney at the Solace New Years Eve party (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing).

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Donna with Pastor Michelle Feliciano of the Solace Center (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

“I’ve been mad at God about this,” Donna shared, “and I have been mad at Courtney, but now I just look at all that He has done through something so terrible!  He restored my family.  The relationship between my daughter and me has been fully restored; and many other family relationships have been restored through this!  He has transformed my daughter’s life and just 2 weeks ago, Madison asked Jesus into her heart.  My husband and I are serving together in ministry outside the walls of church. I’ve learned how to have empathy and compassion for people who have been jailed or who suffer from addiction.  God has shown me so many things.  He changed me from who I was, and that alone was enough, but then He’s done so much more.”

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Donna’s daughters and granddaughters (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

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Christmas Morning 2017 (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

I could tell she was excited, so I asked her what she wanted people to know about God.  Without hesitation, she answered, “He is real!  What He did, sending his Son to die on the cross for us, He didn’t have to do.  He’s a good, good Father.  There is nothing better.  He wants a relationship with us.  He loves YOU, and He wants YOU to come back.  He wants to talk to you.  How?  Through prayer.  This is our communication with our Lord, and it is also our weapon, along with the Sword (the Word), against Satan.”  She paused for a minute so I could catch up as I quickly scribbled in my notes.

More calmly and quietly she continued, “He was the ultimate servant. What if we all served…each other?!  We should because Jesus served, and serving is love.”

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

So, this is another story God has given one of His servant girls.  And she was gracious enough to allow me to write it so you could know God – who He is, what He can do, and how deeply He loves us.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Just for fun…

Here are a few fun tidbits about Donna:

I asked what actress would play her in a movie about her life.  She said, “Reese Witherspoon or Julia Roberts.  I LOVE them!”  She said the movie would most likely be something inspirational or encouraging.

Donna loves Christian music!

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Chris Tomlin – Donna’s Favorite artist – Photo Credit: Pinterest

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This is Donna’s current favorite song to dance to and sing at the top of her lungs!  Listen to Old Church Choir by Zach Williams

You can listen to Donna’s most favorite song of all time, Thou, O Lord performed by First Baptist Cleveland choir and orchestra.

Please join me next week for another post from Servant Girl Stories.

Portrait of a Servant Girl – Donna 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 about Donna and her story this week and next week on my blog.  We met over dinner and talked nearly 3 hours about who she was before she allowed God to be Lord of her life, how He changed her when she gave Him her heart, and how He is working in her family right now.  It is my pleasure to introduce you to the always smiling, always joyful, Donna Lawing…

“I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to be a secretary,” Donna told me. “I took a typing class in 10th grade, and that was it!” she said, with a huge grin on her face. (If you know her, you know that whole-face, contagious, brighten-your-day grin I’m talking about.)

So, after high school, she completed a 10-month program in Secretarial Science at King’s College and stepped into the working world at a company called SunHealth. That was 1987, and 31 years later, Donna is in her 21st year as the Executive Assistant for both Speedway Motorsports, Inc. and Sonic Automotive, Inc., working closely for Bruton Smith, Scott Smith and David Smith, as well as Bill Brooks, the Vice Chairman & CFO for Speedway Motorsports. (And sorry — no comment on whether or not Bruton is going to buy the Carolina Panthers.  I asked.)

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Donna (left) with Bruton (right) at Charlotte Motor Speedway (image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

“When I get to heaven, if God needs a secretary, I’m the girl for the job,” she laughed.

Obviously, this is the career she was made to do. It has been a constant in her life since she was 18. But, while her career path hasn’t changed, other aspects of her life certainly have.

Thirteen-year-old Donna asked Jesus into her heart one night at a church camp called Camp Lurecrest. As she sat around the fire with the other campers, the counselor began talking about God – explaining how much He loves us, so much so that He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to earth. The counselor went on to describe how Jesus lived a sinless life but chose to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to.

As the counselor talked about Jesus being raised from the dead three days later, Donna became overwhelmed with this feeling of being ‘drawn’.

“There was this incredible love and this desire to really know Jesus,” she told me. “So, I asked Him into my heart that night, telling Him that I believed He died for me and took my sin on Himself, to make a way for me to be with Him forever.”

Unfortunately, as time went on, she went her own way and chose her own will over God’s. “I really wasn’t… discipled,” she admitted. The next 20 or so years were marked with many bad choices. While her career path was stable, her personal life was anything but. After two failed marriages, she found herself a single mom, raising her two daughters, Courtney and Jess, and working full-time to support them. She was very angry with her second husband and harbored a good bit of bitterness and resentment toward him and their failed marriage.

To make matters worse, Donna admitted she was always a bit vengeful, but life had sharpened this. Typically, she would only apologize if she “knew” she was wrong – but you had to prove it to her first. If you hurt her, she would definitely hurt you back; she would get revenge. She wasn’t humble. She was always right. Her way was the right way – the only way.

However, the Lord was about to change all that. He was orchestrating things for her path to converge with that of a high school crush who would be instrumental in leading her to a true relationship with her Savior.

Donna and Kevin knew each other in high school and lived in the same neighborhood. She was interested in him, but he was older. “Seniors did not date sophomores back then,” she said. So nothing came of it.

Evidently, it wasn’t God’s timing for them back in high school, but it was in 2003. They’d seen each other around Charlotte over the years, but Kevin happened to show up at Donna’s work one day; he was there for his job and saw her outside on her break. He stopped to say hi and ended up inviting her to dinner so they could catch up. After a few more dinner dates, they became a couple.

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Kevin and Donna Lawing (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

As they dated, they began attending church together, alternating Sundays between First Baptist Church Indian Trail (Kevin’s brother and his wife were attending FBCIT and invited them along) and the church where Kevin’s dad was pastoring in Charlotte. Donna began learning more about the Lord, studying the Bible more, asking questions, and soaking it all in. Kevin became involved with her daughters as well, coming to their home once a week to have a family style meal together.

It was at one of those meals, in January 2004, that Donna realized that she needed to surrender her life to the Lord. The conversation that night was about life – how people say one thing and then do another.  Donna began to see that she had been doing just that – claiming to be a Christian, but being no different from anyone else. She didn’t want to be that person anymore. She wanted Jesus to know that she was sorry for being a hypocrite; she wanted to “walk what she talked.”

That’s when Kevin told her, “we can make it right, right now.” And that’s what they did. Kevin and Donna went into Donna’s bedroom, knelt by her bed, and talked to the Lord. She told Jesus that she was sorry for how she had been acting and living. She told Him that she didn’t want to live that way anymore; She wanted Jesus to be Lord of her life. She surrendered all to Him right then and there and has never been the same since. She truly made Jesus the Lord of her life. She couldn’t blame who she was on her circumstances any longer. Her encounter with the Lord brought her face-to-face with herself, her sin nature, and she had to own up to the consequences. For so many years, she had tried to make her own way, but now she wanted Jesus’ way. She asked Him for forgiveness, and He took her back.

What’s more, all vengefulness was gone. “The Lord taught me how to be humble, and He taught me to submit – both to my soon-to-be husband and to Him.” Donna also shared that the Lord immediately took away her nasty mouth — her excessive and unnecessary use of profanity. It was literally, in that very moment, gone!

The couple got engaged and became involved in premarital counseling with Rick Jordan at FBCIT. This led them eventually to join FBCIT and Rick’s life group. (Incidentally, this is where I met them and where Kevin said those fateful words in class one Sunday when he was subbing for Rick: “The most miserable person in the world is a Christian who isn’t living for the Lord”.)

Donna is confident that their church and church family have been very influential in her development as a Christian. She told me, “A lot of where I am with the Lord and who I am in the Lord is due to our church and life group.”

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FBCIT Life Group that Kevin currently teaches. (Image used courtesy of Donna Lawing)

“Of course, we are all still a work in progress and always will be,” Donna was quick to remind me.  “I do still struggle with patience,” she confessed. “I tell everybody, jokingly (sorta), that I’m pretty sure God put me with my husband to help me learn and exercise patience! God is teaching me to be still. Sometimes you just gotta wait.”

The waiting, surrendering, and trusting part has really come into perspective lately as Donna has walked through one of the toughest situations she’s ever faced…her oldest daughter, Courtney’s, substance abuse and addiction.

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Donna (seated, front center) with her daughters, Courtney (top), Jess (right), and granddaughters, Madison (center) and Mackenzie (left)

“Considering all I have been through — and some of those things being what I thought were just the worst things ever — my life is really good. I have peace; I have joy; I have hope. Even in a moment of fear and despair, I am not broken by it.”

Donna knows now that life isn’t about her, it is about God and what He can do in and through her.

Next week, in part 2 of this Portrait of a Servant-Girl, I will share how God used Courtney’s struggle with addiction to restore their family.

What was your life like before you met Jesus? What did He change about you and your life when He saved you?

What Jesus Really Came to Do

Help me want the Healer

more than the healing.

Help me want the Savior

more than the saving.

Help me want the Giver

more than the giving.

Oh, help me want you, Jesus,

more than anything.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

This is the chorus to Natalie Grant’s new song, “More Than Anything.”  I heard it for the first time last week on the heels of the post I just published about desiring a closer relationship with God in 2018, so the lyrics quickly caught my attention, especially the chorus.

The Gospel of Luke was the book God put on my heart to start reading at the beginning of January, and God has shown me some awesome things so far.  But, one of the lessons so closely coincides with the meaning behind this song that I knew God was using it to speak to me, and it is something He wants you to see as well.

As soon as Jesus began his public ministry (Luke starts sharing details of this in Chapter 4), people were drawn to Him.  They noticed the authority with which he spoke, but they were totally amazed by His ability to heal the sick and his other miracles.  They followed Him everywhere and brought Him sick people constantly.

In Chapter 4 verse 42, Jesus was trying to get away to be alone and pray, but the people continued following Him and tried to keep Him from going.  He said to them, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.”

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Jesus wanted to do more than heal peoples’ bodies.  He came to do more than that.  Jesus wanted people to want Him.  He came because we need healing for our souls for eternal purposes, not just healing for our bodies since our bodies are temporary.

So, I hear this song as a prayer, and I sing it as a prayer.  I invite you to do so, too.  Listen to the lyrics and sing those words back to God.  Ask Him to make it so with you…to make you want Him even more than you want what He can do for you.

“More Than Anything” by Natalie Grant

What are you praying and asking God for right now?  What does God have you reading or listening to?  How has He spoken to you through what you’ve read or heard?

A Love Letter from God

Why?  That’s the question I asked myself over and over when I was trying to “get right” with the Lord.  Why did this happen to me?  I was raised in church!  I was saved when I was young!  How did someone like me go so far as to not even believe in Jesus anymore?!  Why did I have to go through this?

The short answer is – it happened to me so I could tell you.

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God gets glory through the lives of His children – when we surrender to Him.  When we live for Him.  When we obey Him even when what He’s asking is scary.

This happened to me – this time spent away from God and then coming back to Him again – so I could write to you and tell you.  This happened so you could look at my life and see who I have been and what I have done and where I have gone…and see Jesus.

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This happened to me because it was the only way I was going to give Him control over my life.  He knew me and what it was going to take for me to honestly come to Him…not just go to church because that’s how I was raised.  He wanted me, but I had to want Him.  He wanted a relationship, not the religious person I was when I was younger.

I believed with my head but He wanted my heart.  My heart was more difficult to convict, but I am grateful for the journey.  I wouldn’t have the relationship with Him I have now if it weren’t for this journey.  I’d still be trudging along in legalism and good-girl church stuff.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

I wouldn’t have any idea how to talk with Him or listen to Him, and I certainly wouldn’t be telling you about Him.

But, here we are.

(If you just found this blog, please go back and start with the first post, June Cleaver? Who Me?, so all this makes sense).

Here’s some of what I’ve learned and what God wants me to share with you.  (I have included some scripture references; however, the list isn’t exhaustive.  It may not even be the best and most relevant reference, just one that I found while researching).

{WARNING: these will sound like the cliches you always hear Christians say.  They did to me at one time, but they are real to me now that I have truly experienced Him}.

  • The presence of the Holy Spirit – the one God sends to live inside you when you believe in Him – will change you.  You will not be the same.  You cannot think the same or behave the same as you did before.
  • God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19, Psalm 115: 3, Romans 8:28).  He wants us to surrender our lives to His sovereignty – TOTALLY.  Simply acknowledging that He is real is not enough (James 2:19).
  • Take captive thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5) when they go against biblical truths.  Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23) against lies the world will tell you.  Go to God when you think your thoughts are leading you astray.  Go to God when you find that your heart is turning away from Him.
  • God wants us to trust our lives to Him.  He was us to be obedient and follow where He leads (Psalm 37:5, Proverbs 3:5-6).
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  • Pray (Philippians 4:6).  Talk to Him.  Read your Bible (Philippians 4:6, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Write what you’ve learned.  Write what you feel.  Write questions you have.  This is journaling, and this is a way to have a conversation with God.
  • HE IS ALWAYS RIGHT THERE (Hebrews 13:5). He doesn’t move.  He doesn’t go away.  You may, but He doesn’t (Psalm 16:8).  He is waiting right there for you to decide that you want Him.  He wants you, and He wants you to want Him.
  • God speaks to me.  God will speak to you.  It may not be an audible voice you can actually hear with your ears, but once you learn to hear and understand His voice and how He speaks to you, you begin to realize that He speaks to you all the time in many different ways (John 10:27).
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  • God is persistent.  He has a plan and a purpose for your life.  He will continue to woo you in the direction He wants you to go (Proverbs 19:21).
  • God doesn’t need us to fix ourselves before we come to Him.  We can’t anyway.  We simply go to Him, give ourselves to Him, and then He does the fixing.  If you are waiting until you’re “better” or “right” or “good” to go to Him, please stop right now.  You’re wasting precious time.  Just tell Him you want Him to take over your life.  Tell Him you believe in Him and want Him as your Savior.  He does the rest.
  • Obey – immediately! (James 4:17)
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  • Be still and be quiet (Psalm 46:10, Exodus 14:14).  God doesn’t scream and shout and stomp His feet.  If you aren’t still and quiet, you’ll miss what He has to say.
  • Turn towards God.  That is what He wants – your permission to take control of your life.

My journey wasn’t in vain.  I know this.  God has shown me.  It happened for me – to save me, and it happened for you – to save you.  You need to know that God is right there.  You need to know that whatever you did wasn’t so bad that He doesn’t want you.  You need to know that you haven’t gotten too far away from Him.  HE’S RIGHT THERE WITH YOU!  HE LOVES YOU. HE WANTS YOU*.

Talk to Him.  Read about Him.  Write to Him.  Ask trusted Christians about Him.

He’s got a journey to take you on, too.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

*I typed this post last night and then got up this morning to read “Day 21: He is Immanuel” in O Come Let Us Adore Him: A Study for Advent by Kristin Schumucker and Cara Cobble Trantham.  The last few sentences seemed to echo what I described here, so I’d like to share them:

“Immanuel means ‘God with us.’  It is one of the most profound and mysterious names of our God.  It displays His greatness and power as He is the almighty and eternal God.  Yet it also displays His humility and love for us personally.  He is the almighty God who has chosen to come and dwell with us…He came to dwell with us for usImmanuel – God with us is an invitation to us.  It is a reminder that we can come to Him because He has come to us.  it is a reminder that this personal and glorious relationship was initiated by Him when He humbled Himself to be a baby in a manger.  It is a reminder that no matter what lies ahead, He will never leave us.  Our God is with us.”

How does God talk to you?  How do you know His voice?  How did you learn that it was Him?  What has He shown you on your faith-journey with Him?

 

I Was The Prodigal

It was a gradual thing: me turning my back on God and deciding Jesus never existed.  It was gradual, but it eventually held fast.  My heart became stone.

Just as gradual was me turning BACK to God.

He had been working on me persistently since about 2005, and He really stepped it up when He called me to leave my full-time job to stay at home with our son.  I obeyed; it was May 2010.  Through a series of events, He kept wooing me closer – slowly but steadily.  He had me in a group of Christian moms who met in a MOPS group sponsored by our church.

I was searching – this time for Jesus.  I really wanted Him to be real to me again.  When I read things in the Bible that He’d done, I wanted to KNOW for sure that those things had actually happened.

I wanted to KNOW that His feet had taken him to sit by the well where He talked with the woman from Samaria (John 4:4-26).

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I wanted to BELIEVE that He actually wore the cloak that the woman in the crowd touched.  She’d been afflicted for nearly 12 years and had found no relief.  However, she heard that Jesus was coming and believed that just touching His clothes would heal her of her affliction (Luke 8:43-48).

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I needed Him to be real again.

After about a year, the MOPS group dissolved into a Women’s Bible study.  I moved on to that with some of the mom-friends I had from MOPS.  I was very excited!  I was ready to be pushed and challenged and really dig into the Word.  It was time!  God was stirring.  He had been working on my stone heart; it was softer now and ready to be fed.

I dove head-first into the first Bible study, Living Your Life as a Beautiful Offering, by Angela Thomas.  In this study, Thomas uses the Sermon on the Mount to show how to give our lives as an offering to God.

I prayed.  I read the study and my Bible.  I wrote in my journal – things I felt, prayers to God, and what I learned from reading the scripture.

God began to speak to me – through the study and through sermons at church.  I had never been convicted by a sermon in my life!

Our preacher, Mike Whitson, talked one Sunday about how a Christian should show God’s love.  We should love other people simply because they are God’s child, not because they are lovable.  I realized I didn’t love people unless I wanted to.  During the invitation, the preacher called for people to come to the altar, and I practically RAN down there!  It was one of the few times in my life that I have voluntarily gone to the altar.  I begged God to help me love people because I didn’t.  I asked Him to break my heart and make me love people the way He did.

About the same time, Preacher Mike gave another sermon about the Christian life producing fruit because of the Christian’s relationship with God.  I didn’t have anything like that in my life.  I could say I was saved when I was 12, but now I was in my mid-30’s and had nothing to show for it.

Those two sermons convicted me.  I prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  I asked God to break me.  I asked Him to help me to love people like He did.  I begged Him to help me believe in His Son again.

And, all of a sudden, He DID!  Jesus was there, and He was REAL!  The process God used to get me to that point was gradual, but He was working on me and softening my heart.  When I finally realized it, it seemed like everything was just…“POOF”…fixed…after praying and begging and reading and journaling.

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HE WAS REAL AGAIN!

When I read things in the Bible that He’d done and said I saw them and heard them and believed them.

The Angela Thomas study showed me that I’d done a crucial thing – I had turned back towards Jesus.  That’s all He’d been waiting for.  He was waiting for me to ask.  He was waiting for me to give Him permission to take over my life and heart.  I didn’t need to do anything to fix myself or make myself believe in Jesus again…except turn my face back towards Him.  He did the rest.

Thomas used the story of the prodigal son to illustrate this concept.  She described how the prodigal realized the error of his ways and set out for home to ask his father’s forgiveness and try to ask him for a job.  The story says, however, that when the father saw the son, way off in the distance, coming back toward home, the father RAN to meet the son.  The father was so excited that his wayward child was coming home that he didn’t wait on his child to get to him…he RAN out to meet his son.

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Thomas explained that this is how it is with God – you simply have to turn towards Him and He will run to you.  This is exactly what happened to me.  He saw me turn towards Him.  He knew my heart, that I wanted Him, and HE RAN TO ME!

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Praise the Lord!

He healed my damaged mind.

He softened my heart to allow Himself back in…and I believe!

I KNOW!

Hallelujah!

Have you ever been a prodigal child?  From God or from your family?  What made you turn back towards home?

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