Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Surprises from God

It takes a sensitive spirit to recognize God’s hand when He chooses to surprise us. 


We often snuggle into our routines of praying, asking, wishing, petitioning, interceding… 

Yet we rarely watch with expectation to see how the Lord will bless us through the process.  We allow ourselves to see His provision as “coincidence” or “fate” instead of recognizing that God is at work.

With eyes blinded to the sometimes subtle and sometimes outrageous works of His hands, we’re lulled into a rut of accepting mediocrity, forgetting that 

“The walk of faith is designed to be a walk of adventure, filled with periodic and delightful surprises.” (Charles R. Swindoll)

Waiting expectantly for answered prayer then delighting in God’s provision (and giving Him all the glory) is one remarkable way to recognize and embrace God’s best. Holding God’s proverbial hand while he leads us on exciting adventures is delightful and joyous.  

Some call times of God’s obvious activity “God Winks” (when God winks on us and delivers blessing). I prefer to call these moments “Faith Builders.” They’re times when He chooses to move in ways that, when we’re sensitive to them, are clearly a work of His great hand. There are no other explanations for people of faith who choose to open their eyes to God’s work in unseen realms. 

It seems, as I commented to a friend last week, “maybe sometimes God likes to show off.”

Often God’s surprises look entirely different from our wishes and dreams. Occasionally, He delivers just what we’d asked, even when it once seemed utterly impossible. That’s exactly what happened in our family just a week ago. I haven’t yet stopped weeping in heartfelt gratitude. 

Our daughter, Taylor, announced her engagement to the love of her life on December 1st. As her parents, we’re thrilled.   

She’s never wanted a “church wedding,” but dreams of an outdoor ceremony surrounded by trees, water, twinkle lights, and loved ones. In a world of long engagements and extravagant weddings, the six months they've planned between engagement ring and wedding band seem far too short. Venue after venue turned us away with full calendars, booked a year or more in advance. Others were too outrageously expensive to consider. (One group proposed that we spend more than $20,000 on food alone.  Not. Gonna. Happen.)  

Most of us, as young ladies, consider our weddings to the point where we envision them perfectly in our minds. Taylor is no exception. A few weeks ago, as she sat at her computer perusing wedding venues, she found “THE one.”  She showed me the pictures and tearfully shared details that had filled her imagination for well over a decade. Her visions were fulfilled in intricate detail in the images before us.  Sadly, a look at the event calendar showed NO available dates for the entire 2015 summer.

There are a couple of reasons that a summer date is required. First, Taylor’s finance, Dean, is a school teacher. Second, there’s a particular date in June where a notable number of family milestones have occurred over several generations. For reasons I don’t pretend to understand, the Lord has chosen to highlight that date for us.  That date “happens” to be a Saturday in 2015. Taylor and Dean wanted to try hard to reserve that date for their wedding ceremony.

Seeing “THE” venue online then realizing it was not available was like smelling the choicest of fares, realizing they’d never touch your lips. I thought we should still go tour “THE” venue. Taylor hesitated, not wanted to fall deeper in love with something she could not have.

Our venue search was not going well. Taylor was discouraged, referring to herself as “Bridezilla” (which was NOT at all the case).  We continued in prayer, trusting that God would soon reveal His plan and provision in the matter. At last, I gave the difficult advice that it was time to determine which parts of her wedding dreams were negotiable. It was clear that we weren’t going to achieve them all. 

But God had a completely different adventure in mind. 

For reasons that only the Lord knows, Taylor finally called “THE” venue and asked for a tour. 

The proprietor on the other end of the phone line said, “Just an hour ago…”

Yes, 60 short minutes before Taylor called…

“Just an hour ago, I had a cancellation for a Saturday in June.”  

Yes, it was “OUR” date, suddenly made available at “THE” venue that also offered the most reasonable pricing we’d seen.  Here come those tears again. I don’t see it as coincidence. I don’t refer to it as fate. I recognize and embrace it as a gift of God’s best.

My friends, be blessed. Be encouraged. Because God is good. All the time.

If He’d provided a different venue on a different date, He’d still be just as good. He’s good all the time - when He comforts us through a trial or moves mountains to deliver a gift. 

In this situation, He chose to glorify Himself by placing dreams of a wedding in a young girl’s heart and then providing for them detail by detail. In this situation, He chose to continue the pattern of a significant date through the fourth generation in our family. In this situation, He chose to provide it all in a way that could only be explained as a work of His hand.

It builds our faith. It glorifies His name. We are thrilled to ride along, with seat belts firmly fastened, on this exciting adventure.

YOUR TURN

When has God moved in a way that is only explained as a work of His hand?

How does this story in your own, personal life, continue to encourage you and those around you?

Be Strengthened today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy










Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear? How to Conquer Confusion in a Noisy World

I sat among friends at a leadership training event, not at all prepared for what I was about to experience. 

One blindfolded volunteer moved out of earshot so the rest of our group could receive further instructions.  A second volunteer accepted the task of directing our blindfolded friend to walk to a specific chair and sit down. He could use nothing but his voice to guide him and couldn’t touch him. 

The leader challenged the rest of our group to do everything we could to prevent our blindfolded friend from moving to the chair. We could say anything we liked to him, move closer, and even touch him, but we couldn’t use force to pull him from the instructions he chose to follow.

It was all fun and games until everyone engaged in their roles. Voices were issuing dozens of commands, each trying to speak louder than the others to gain the attention and trust of our friend. Some were quite devious in their attempts to keep him from reaching his goal. As I looked at the face of our blindfolded friend, without even seeing his eyes, I detected his confusion.

My mind immediately traveled to an earlier time in my life when the bombardment of suggestions and advice I received over a particular situation overwhelmed me. I felt pulled in multiple directions, trying to please everyone around me and desperately searching for wisdom and discernment. The Lord was surely speaking to me too, but I couldn't hear the Holy Spirit because worldly commotion was too loud and I hadn't yet learned to discern His voice above it.

If you close your eyes and imagine the exercise that our group went through, it should be easy to envision my friend’s confusion. Working through a scenario that so closely emulated life and the confusion around us was incredibly eye-opening to me. We know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us and, therefore, understand that we have our Counselor and Guide with us always. Why then, does He seem so hard to hear and discern at times? Why is it that we sometimes allow every imaginable type of worldly stimuli to drown out His Truth? 

Psalm 119:105 Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of Your Word gives light; It gives understanding to the simple

Psalm 119:133  Establish my footsteps in Your Word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.

Let’s avoid basing our decisions on worldly wisdom that’s often twisted to fit our circumstance. Let’s study God’s Word from cover to cover until it becomes our key to discerning instruction that He provides. 

Any prompting that we receive from the Holy Spirit will never lead us contrary to the path detailed in His Word. The more time we spend learning Scripture, the more we understand His character and grow in our ability to discern His leading.  We can then more easily recognize His still small voice, which becomes prominent and deafens the bombardment of the voices around us.  

Discipline in spiritual matters is essential to recognize and embrace God’s best. We learn to better discern God’s will through spending more focused time with Him. With practice, it becomes easier to recognize His prompting, walk in obedience to His leading, and persevere through obstacles to ultimately reach His best.

I pray God’s best for you this Christmas season, to include wisdom and clarity. Stay in His Word and receive the best gift of all - knowing Him more.

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy







Monday, December 15, 2014

Which Mentoring Style Describes You?



Growing up, I’d often describe myself as an only child with a brother and a sister.

The last of my much-older siblings left home when I was just 7 years old. We had large, laughter-filled holiday gatherings for years until drugs and other troubles caught up with my siblings. The effects of addiction took my sister’s life at 44. I haven’t seen or heard from my brother in nearly 20 years.

The phrase “sisters and brothers in Christ” means the world to me. Deep down, I thrill to the idea of spiritual siblings. I missed out on sisterly connection - not just arguments, but hard-earned advice, and long conversations about life from under the covers with a flashlight. 

For years after I lost my biological sister - first by physical distance and later to the grave - there was not another woman I’d consider a true sister in Christ. I didn’t understand how anyone could fulfill that missing role of sister in my life and provide the wise counsel I craved.  I wasn’t aware of the Biblical command to take counsel from other women, even if they were outside my own family. I didn’t realize I needed a mentor.

We don’t read specifically about mentors in Scripture, but the principle rings loud and clear. Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Elizabeth, Paul and Timothy, Lemuel’s mother and her description of a virtuous woman. In each example we see sharing of experience and knowledge that lead to spiritual growth. 

Most of the time we imagine a mentor as someone older and more experienced who provides one-on-one advice. We can feel intimidated when considering the responsibility of mentoring others; it is often hard to find a mentor willing to offer the gift of generous time. 

Thinking about mentoring in a non-traditional sense helped me recognize many who fill that role for me. I’m told that I've helped others feel mentored and inspired. I’m grateful for each relationship. 

There are a variety of styles through which we can give and receive mentoring:  

  • The “Modeling Mentor.”  Judith volunteers to clean our church offices. She makes things sparkle and spends hours finding each speck of grime that hides itself in our offices. Judith models a valuable ministry lesson that I carry every day: Whatever we do, do it enthusiastically as something done for the Lord and not for men. (Colossians 3:23) Judith doesn’t clean as a favor to me. She doesn’t even clean for our pastors. Judith cleans for the Lord. The aim of her efforts is to glorify Him.

  • The “Group Mentor.” Years ago, Cathi was my first female Bible teacher and one of the first people I ever watched live out the Word of God. She taught her students to dig deep, examine ourselves through the lens of Scripture, and walk in obedience to the Lord. She set the stage for spiritual growth and coached us through it. I think of her often and admire her methods. Her guidance still inspires me today.

  • The “Peer Mentor.”  My friend Sue radiates with a level of joy that few people carry. I’m blessed to know a part of Sue’s difficult story. She’s experienced profound pain and loss, yet models daily strength that comes from the joy of the Lord. I admire her deeply and want to be more like her.  Another friend, Deborah, pushes me to deeper faith. She challenges me to pray harder, seek more diligently and watch more intently for the Holy Spirit’s work.  My spiritual growth has blossomed through our friendship. We’ve earned the duty of speaking freely and truthfully to one another, even when those truthful words sting. Love and growth are our desire and when challenges come, we face them together.

  • The “Virtual Mentor.”  I consider Beth Moore a mentor, though we’ve never been formally introduced.  She’s mentored me through her writing and teaching ministry for nearly 2 decades. I’m also blessed to have received a literal face-to-face shove from the Holy Spirit that came right through Beth and pushed me into ministry. Ask me about it sometime. I love to share the story.

  • The “Reverse Mentor.”  Taylor is my favorite daughter. (Yes, she’s my only daughter but that doesn’t make her any less my favorite).  This precious one inspires me and pushes me to be better than I am.  If I ask any question she’ll respond in complete honesty (which can  make me careful what I ask). She knows me better than I know myself and predicts my response in most situations. Taylor has my trust - and not just the parental kind. I trust her with my heart and every emotion that courses through my veins. I trust her with my deepest, ugliest junk and she loves me right through it. She provides hope and helps me know that there is still goodness in this fallen world. I don’t just adore her, I learn from her, in spite of our generational differences. 

  • The “Personal Mentor.”  Doreen is a dear, precious woman of God. I seek her out when I have a question or need to know how to navigate parenting, or marriage, or life. Never once has she lectured or pushed her opinions. She listens. Then she shares a personal story from her vast collection of memorial stones, which evidence the Lord’s great work in her life. She doesn’t profess to have all the answers or know how to solve every problem, but she’ll stop to pray with me, then generously share her wisdom.  I love her to pieces and call her my “Spiritual Momma.”


There are many other women who have had profound influence on my life - spiritually, professionally and personally. I doubt that most of these gems (named or unnamed) consider themselves mentors - and that’s the beauty of it. The way they helped shape who I am came in a comfortable, natural sense.

Mentoring can take on many different styles. Each provide a way to fulfill two of our Biblically commanded roles as women: serving as a mentor and learning from a mentor. 

As we consider mentoring, we don’t ask whether we should become or obtain a mentor. We already know we should do both as Titus 2 directs. The questions are, instead, “how shall I make myself available to mentor?” and “who do I allow to influence me as my mentor?”   

Our challenge is to accept both roles. God’s tremendous blessing - His best - awaits as we walk in obedience to Him.


Your Turn:

Who are the mentors in your life?

In which mentoring style are you most comfortable as you share with others?

How can you stretch yourself to mentor through a style that may feel a little uncomfortable?

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy


   






Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Power of a Testimony

This last month was tragic in the small community that is home to our church. 3 teen suicides occurred in 3 weeks, with a fourth in the last year.  



We never really know how to pray in painful situations, do we? We must rely on the Holy Spirit and His promoting to utter anything reasonable at all. Otherwise, our prayers come out as sorrowful blubbering. At least mine do.

As I prayed for the families of the victims, I asked God to give me words to pray for the mommas who could never again hold their children. The testimony of another mom came to mind.

Nearly 20 years ago, a woman named Debbie shared that her young adult son had been killed in an accident.  At that time, she knew virtually nothing about Jesus Christ, yet as she mourned, she felt the Lord’s presence surround her. She felt these words spoken into the depths of her grief: 

“You are not alone. I am with you.”

Debbie came face to face with Christ who would soon become her Lord and Savior. I remember how boldly she shared her story and the tears that welled in my eyes as she spoke. I remember the wonder I felt toward a God who cared enough to personally offer comfort. 

Her testimony touched me so deeply it comes to mind often even after the passing of so many years. When I pray for those who grieve, I regularly ask the Lord to let them know that they are not alone, recalling Debbie’s story as a beautiful example.  

A testimony is a powerful tool that draws its hearers through compelling eyewitness accounts. When we share what we personally saw, felt, and experienced, very few people would find themselves bold enough to dispute our story. Others may doubt, but they cannot reasonably deny the occurrence of the events. They listen. They consider. And the story sticks, whether or not they admit it.

The holidays are a difficult time of year for many people who may not disclose the depth of their despair. They may not share their pain, but they watch those around them more closely. They’re sometimes more willing to listen and take part in spiritual conversations. 

A coffee break with a co-worker may suddenly transform into an opportunity to share the hope that we, as Christ followers, profess. 

A carpool with the neighbors’ kids may provide a great opening to talk about reasons for joy. 

It may stir questions and longing when we use phrases like, “we are never alone,” and “there is no need to fear.” 

The world is searching for true, Holy Spirit-supplied peace and joy that truly satisfy. When they see it in others, they will want to know how to get it. 

We are called to preparedness. 1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Are you ready to give an account for that hope with gentleness and reverence?

How would you respond if a friend asked, “where do you find your joy?” Knowing your own story and practicing its delivery go a long way toward preparation.  Think through the details of your personal testimony and say it aloud a few times.  Be ready to provide a reason for the hope that is in you.  We never know when the Lord will choose to encourage others through our testimony.

God is sure to accomplish His purpose through our stories and will work through our willingness to share. 

Your Turn:

When have you heard a testimony that is unforgettable? 

When have you shared your own testimony and received encouragement from others?


Be Strengthened Today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy





Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How Dating Can Transform Your Marriage


If you’re married, there’s a 100% chance that you’re going to make relational mistakes. You’ll say the wrong thing. You’ll sigh at the wrong time, or hold your eyebrows in the wrong expression, or worse. However it comes about, there is 100% certainty that you’ll disappoint your spouse. Since no marriage nor individual is perfect, disappointment is inevitable. 


In a marriage receiving proper care and focus, we quickly overcome these times of disappointment. We set aside suspicious or selfish thoughts with the assurance that there’s no ill-intent involved.  On the other hand, when TLC of marriage is neglected, challenging times can seem nearly impossible to conquer.  

I’ve witnessed many of what appear as unbreakable relationships (marriages, friendships, and family relationships) crumble from lack of attention. We can’t strengthen a relationship while simultaneously neglecting it. 

No relationship is protected 
from breaking down 
without intentional effort to build it up.  

One of the most memorable seasons of neglect in our marriage came during shift work. As a patrol deputy, Mike rotated onto an annual 4-month period of swing shift (5 pm - 3 am) and our schedules were completely opposite from one another.  That’s tough on a young family.

When I’d get up for work, he was just reaching his deep sleep zone, so it was me, alone, getting myself and the kids ready to face the day. 

I’d arrive home from work after he was gone for the night. It was me, alone, picking up kids from day care, preparing dinner (often resorting to drive through), helping with homework, and getting ready for bed. 

Much of the time I felt like a single mom. It wasn’t fun, but we knew it was temporary so we muddled through. We had amazing kids. We had great careers and income. We had good friends who shared at least one evening a week with us. We really thought we’d arrived. 

We didn’t know we needed to take time, 
just the two of us, 
to cultivate our marriage. 

And so we didn’t.

The more time we spent disconnected from each other, the more selfish my thought life became. Selfish thoughts bred more selfish thoughts that worked in opposition to a healthy married life.

And then, some of those relational mistakes hit us. Some big ones. While we used to find success talking things out, the neglect of our relationship had weakened our trust. We weren’t communicating effectively and had each become too self-centered. 

It took us several years to get back on track. We had to make some significant changes and let go of things we valued in order to protect what we valued most.  Eventually, with the Lord’s help we brought friendship, trust and balance back to our marriage. If I can name one thing that had the greatest impact, it was making our date nights a priority.  

It can sound so “high-school” to say we’re dating our spouse. But consider the history of your own relationship. When did you really get to know your spouse? Did you have one 10-minute conversation over coffee and realize this was true love? Was a quick hello and kiss on the cheek enough to develop a longing for life-long commitment? We get to know each other by spending time together. By talking, laughing, planning and even dreaming together.  

Saying “I Do” shouldn’t mark the end 
of a dating relationship, 
but the promise to continue it. 

Sadly, dating our spouse is one of the first things that ends when the honeymoon is over. Pressures of life (careers, kids, finances, and many others) often distract us from prioritizing marriage. The reasons for NOT dating are many:  

  • I see him /her all the time.  I need some “me” time. 
  • We don’t have a good sitter.
  • We feel guilty for leaving the kids after working all day.
  • Who has time for a date?
  • Cash flow is too tight for entertainment.


These are valid concerns, but also easy to overcome. The value of dating is not entertainment, it’s the investment of time into our relationships. It’s growing closer in friendship, trust, and communication. It’s the process of showing that you value and esteem each other.  

After years of a very rough road in our marriage, we experienced the most significant breakthrough when we learned to laugh together again. We considered ourselves friends anew and the romance sparked from there. 

Dating remains our go-to marriage solution. When communication begins to misfire (and it still does), we carve out time to spend alone. 

We meet for breakfast or sit outside to share morning coffee.  A date can look like dinner out or a few hands of a card game at our kitchen table. They can occur at any time of day or night. I’ll be honest, our dates almost always involve coffee but outside of that, nearly anything goes. 

Dating is transformational. It reconnects us. It breaks down any walls of ill assumptions. It helps us re-center our focus on what matters most: God and our family.  If Mike and I weren’t willing to continually invest in strengthening trust and connection, we’d have given up long ago. Instead, a series of dates helped (and continues to help) change our thought patterns and transform our marriage. I believe that with the right mindset and a focus on honoring the Lord, dating is effective enough to bring positive strides in any marriage. 

Don't let the hustle and bustle of the holidays stop you. Schedule a date night and spend some time laughing and connecting with your spouse. 


Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of God. (HCSB)


Your Turn:

When you’ve invested time and communication in your marriage, what has been the result?

How has dating your spouse helped you deepen your relationship?

Tell me about some creative and inexpensive dates you’ve enjoyed.


Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28


Cathy

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

When Ideas Take Flight: Exciting News at Strengthened by the Word!

Woo Hoo!  I can’t wait to tell you about exciting news at Strengthened by the Word Ministries. After recent treks down many unfamiliar roads, God continues to mold and stretch me in new and very exciting ways.  He’s leading down a new path that’s rather unexpected.  Believe me, I’m as surprised as you might be - maybe more!  

Something that started as a seemingly random thought has become an idea that's taken flight.


Here it is: My “Life Coach” shingle now officially hangs within Strengthened by the Word Ministries!

With everything else that’s going on 

[ you know: my husband’s political campaign, a building project at our church (where I’m on staff full time and serve on the building committee), the holidays, two new books that are in my mental crock pot, including an e-book that I hope to launch within 60 days, speaking opportunities, and just life in general ] 

when I felt the Lord’s nudge in this direction,
I looked at my husband and joked, 

“I think the Lord is trying to kill me.”  

Nevertheless, through a lot of prayer, endless study, research and preparation, I feel more than complete peace about the idea - I feel excitement and rejuvenation!  Everything inside of me, all of the feedback I receive from my spiritual leaders, colleagues, and trusted sisters in ministry say “GO FOR IT!’  It’s exciting when the Lord provides a passion we never expected, especially one that can help others. 

Coaching nests beautifully within the mission of the Strengthened by the Word Ministries: to help women recognize and embrace God’s best.  

Women often need a gentle nudge to pursue all that the Lord has for us and to break out of a rut of mediocrity.  As a Christ-centered Life Coach, I walk alongside career women, moms, housewives, students, empty-nesters, newly marrieds, and any other women who desire to journey toward God’s purpose, victory, and ultimate freedom.

Advantages of entering a relationship with a Life Coach are many. When involved in coaching-type relationships in the past, I’ve received the gifts of:
  • Focusing on the Lord when my day to day life seemed too overwhelming to carve out time for Him
  • Finding God’s purpose in my life during times of transition 
    • when I left a lucrative career to stay home with my children, 
    • when I re-entered the work force,
    • when I became and empty-nester, 
    • when I wondered if I had anything to offer to the Lord
    • when I left the work force to answer God’s call to ministry
    • when I finally acknowledged that I am, indeed, a writer and speaker
  • Finding energy and courage to press on when I felt stuck
  • Learning to live life intentionally with God’s plan as the center of my focus
  • Honoring God with my time, talents, and treasures 

I became…
  • a more supportive wife
  • a more patient mom
  • a more devoted follower of Christ
  • a more productive professional
  • a more respected and influential leader
  • a better friend

It is my God-given, heartfelt desire to help others in similar ways.  

Now coaching is much different than counseling. While counseling primarily deals with overcoming past issues, coaching focuses on the present and provides effective tools for moving forward with God’s divine purpose as the focus.  It helps us move from where we are, to discerning God’s will, to enthusiastically pursuing all that He has to offer.

If you’ve ever considered utilizing a Christ-centered Life Coach or know of others who have, please click here for additional information and don’t hesitate to contact me. The first session (held face-to-face in the Denver-metro area or via Skype or Face Time if you’re not) is absolutely free with no obligation to continue in a coaching process.  

There’s nothing to lose, yet mountains of blessings to gain.

“…the fruit merely a manifestation of what was inside the tree all along.” 
― Laurie Beth Jones

So every good tree bears good fruit, Matthew 7:17a (NIV)

Your Turn

What good fruit would you hope bear with the help of a Life Coach?

What blessings do you believe your family would receive if you hired a Life Coach?

How can a Life Coach aid you in the goals you want to pursue in 2015?


Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anything Helps: One Way to View an Age-Old Problem

We see their faces.  Their woeful expressions etch into our hearts.  The homeless. The beggars. The transient, The less fortunate.  All down on their luck, in need, and all created by God.  We see them in every community, at nearly every busy intersection.  The more often we pass them, the more numb our emotions become to their pleas. 



Sometimes they hold signs that say “Will work for food,” or “Anything helps.” Recently, on a trip to the West Coast, I saw signs providing more information than what we generally see in Colorado. I suppose in warmer climates, panhandling signs warrant more effort and creativity because they won’t disintegrate with the first snow storm. West Coast signs tell stories:

“My ex-wife had a better lawyer than me.”

“I’ve made some bad decisions, but I’m worth a second chance.”  
Boy, doesn’t this one describe us all?

“Can’t you see I have a baby?”  

“Why lie? I need a beer.” 

A few years ago, our daughter, Taylor, participated in a project for High School where she and a group of friends posed as homeless. They positioned themselves at a busy intersection and sought help from the community. If someone stopped to help, the students were to explain their project and the plan to donate money to a homeless shelter.  

Sadly, no one stopped to help. 

No one.

The students were ignored, disrespected, and scorned. Several days later, they dressed as they normally would and stood at the very same intersection. They asked for help in raising funds and awareness for the homeless. This time, they had some success and received a few donations.

I believe people want to help. Our compassions lead us to do something - to take action.  But our logic tells us our handouts will be used for addictive indulgences like cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs.  When a sign blatantly tells us their motivation for alcohol, we don’t have to wonder.  Most of the time it’s not that clear.  So instead of helping, we look away.

Taylor’s project changed our thinking. It enlightened us to those who are truly in need but aren’t receiving help. Shelters are overcrowded and that sort of help isn’t always readily available. In a community with one of the highest homeless saturations in our state, needs are ignored.  We took the matter to prayer and asked the Lord for direction on what to do.  His Word is clear:

Is 58:7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Mt 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in

Rom 12:13 Share with the Lord's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Heb 13:2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Personally, here’s where I land on this issue:

There is no question that any money I give to the homeless can be used for all manner of activities of which I don’t approve.  However, as I’ve said many times, 

We are responsible to walk in obedience.  

The Lord is responsible for results. 

If the Lord prompts me to help, if His Word tells me that I should, then I have no choice but to obey.  This is a heart matter between the Lord and me. 

I have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens once I’ve obeyed. How a person utilizes my help becomes a heart matter between that person and the Lord. Once a gift has let my hands, I am out of the picture.

Having said that, there are many ways to provide help without giving money.  If we plan ahead, we can purchase gift certificates to a fast food restaurant. At times when I know I’ll pass a particular intersection, I’ll have small bags of vegetables on hand. I’ll often hand my leftover food from a restaurant out the window.  

And sometimes, when I feel that the prompting comes from the Holy Spirit, I’ll give money - without hesitation, free from the need to guess what it will purchase. 

Those are my convictions. They may or may not be yours.  Whatever you decide, and however you respond, I encourage you to seek the Lord before making your decision.  Let’s walk in obedience and leave the results in God’s sovereign hands. 

Your Turn:

How have you handled times when you were approached by those in need?

Please share a story about a time when you’ve helped another. 

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28
Cathy


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Thankful Heart: 7 Unexpected Benefits

I found myself in one of those pits.  You know, the kind where we might sometimes start to feel comfortable. I justified my feelings, as if I deserved to be angry, and hurt, and bitter. Perhaps you feel that way sometimes, too.

There are times when I rest a little too comfy in my alter-ego as “Mrs. Crabby McCrabberson” - like putting on my favorite PJ’s and slippers on a brisk fall evening - and I don’t want to change. As I settled in to this particular pit, I recognized a problem. I was on the brink of a fast downward spiral.  My negative thoughts started slipping…

from annoyance 

          to anger 

                    to bearing a grudge 

                              to recognizing hints of hatred 

                                        to a desire to withdraw completely 

I didn’t like feeling that way.  I knew it wasn’t honoring to God.  I understood the need to change, and while I didn’t think I should have to change, I recognized I was on a path to destruction. I stepped into action on an impulse. Almost without thinking, I pulled a brand new spiral-bound journal off of my bookshelf and started writing. I listed all the reasons I was thankful to the Lord. It became an exercise I practiced daily.

A Thankful Heart: 7 Unexpected Benefits

Years ago, when I was involved in prayer with a ministry now called “Moms in Prayer,” (www.momsinprayer.org) several ladies gathered and prayed through a time of gratitude.  Giving thanks was not a new idea in my life.  It wasn’t reserved for the month of November and our national Thanksgiving holiday. It was a discipline, albeit one I’d recently shelved. I’d neglected it for far too long.

The act of turning - from a crabby attitude to one of thanksgiving, from the act of grumbling to the practice of giving thanks - brought some immediate results.  Other benefits took a little longer to manifest:

1)  I saw a drastic change in my attitude.
Almost as soon as my pen touched the paper, I felt a shift in my attitude. Instead of dwelling on what was bothering me, I began to see the good in my life. The abundance of good hit me like a steamroller.

2)  The weight of my burdens lifted.
I began to realize that with the Lord’s help, I could walk through my circumstance.  Rather than thinking, “I just can’t do this anymore,” I began to believe that Christ would empower me to overcome. And He did, just as He always does.

3)  My productivity increased.
The sense that I was completely overwhelmed began to dissipate.  I recalled times in my past when God proved Himself faithful and I remembered that He walks alongside me in all my trials.  Instead of falling in exhaustion, I found energy to get up and participate, knowing I never walked alone.

4)  My heart wanted to sing praise.
Seeing the Lord’s glory in my personal life - written as a long list on paper - spurred me to praise.  God never leaves His throne and never removes His crown of victory.  When times are difficult, He still reigns supreme and pours out His blessing. I found myself singing hymns and praise songs even when my radio wasn’t on.

5)  Thankfulness multiplied. 
The more I gave thanks, the more my eyes were opened to see additional reasons to be thankful.  Some of what I listed seemed tiny and inconsequential, but seeing on paper that the Lord provides for the smallest details as much as the biggest trials was encouraging.  Gratitude flowed like a mountain waterfall in spring.

6)  My attitude became contagious.  
Gratitude began to enter my vocabulary and I noticed that others around me began using similar vernacular.  Family members, colleagues, volunteers, and others began sharing ways they were thankful, too.
   
7)  Joy erupted.
“Mrs. Crabby McCrabberson” was put to bed.  There was no room for her with a heart so full of gratitude.  My frown turned to a smile - small at first, but growing over time. Without focusing on my difficult circumstance, it was easy to find my joy and savor the fruit of the Spirit.

I’ve learned that a heart of gratitude is very effective in helping me snap my out of a bad mood, or to serve as a ladder on which I can climb out of a pit. Whether I’ve struggled with my negativity for 12 years or 10 minutes, turning from grumbling to thanksgiving helps clear the mental fog nearly every time.  

in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.  1 Thes 5:18 (NASB)

Your turn:

November is upon us and this is the month when we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving.  How can you practice a heart of gratitude in your day-to-day living?

What are some ways that you can communicate gratitude and help spur others to give thanks as well?

Will you share your stories with me?

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy






Tuesday, November 4, 2014

It Comes To This

Today’s the day!  It's the end of the race.


It’s Election Day and, Lord willing, by the time our heads hit the pillows tonight, we’ll know the results of our work, the fruit of our labor. For the last 3 years, we heavily invested our lives into Mike’s campaign to become the Sheriff of Adams County, Colorado. I’ve shared ownership of Mike’s calling to the point where I can’t consider it merely “his.”  

It’s “ours,” all the way.  

There are times when we’re called to give our all.  Sometimes God calls us to pour ourselves into a thing until we have nothing left to give. To press on through discouragement and realize that quitting is not an option.  To keep facing giants knowing that our only hope is full surrender to the Lord’s strength and will. 

Today marks the end of one such season for Mike and me. 

Throughout the campaign, we’ve stretched to the the point of breaking. We've pushed past the point of exhaustion. We’ve sacrificed things we value. Without a doubt, 

it was the most difficult, challenging experience we’ve ever intentionally faced. 

Through it all, we’ve watched the Lord manifest Himself as we never imagined. This particular call demanded that we lean wholly on God and focus on obedience. We find encouragement knowing:

We’re responsible for obedience. God is responsible for results.  

I praise the Lord that when things were especially hard, our personal “crashes” happened at different times from one another so that we could lift each other up.  When I faced times of discouragement, Mike prompted me to keep my eyes firmly fixed on God. He’d help me put things back into perspective with the reminder that we’re pursuing no less than the best God has for us.  If the Lord leads us to “point A,” we want no part of “point B.” And vice versa. 

When Mike was down, I pray that I had some part in doing the same for him. He tells me that I most certainly did. To God be the glory.

When we face any challenge, 

it is helpful to remember the “why” behind the adventure. 

In our case, we often called to mind why Mike entered the campaign to begin with. 

I’ll tell you that running for Sheriff was not a decision surrounded by personal ambition.  Mike has served a long time - nearly 27 years with the Sheriff’s Office. He looks forward to retirement.  For our family’s financial future, it would be more beneficial for him to retire and begin a 2nd career. 

There is an overwhelming amount of responsibility carried by a Sheriff - especially in a metro-area county.  We’d certainly enjoy more time together and have more time to serve in ministry if Mike said farewell to the Sheriff’s Office.  

During times of our deepest discouragement, these truths wailed loudly in our ears.  It would have been easy to give up and pursue the desires of the flesh.  But when we disregard the path that the Lord reveals and pursue fleshly desires, it always leads to destruction. Always.

Mike’s true “why,” came as response to a profound calling.  The Lord prompted his desire and then confirmed the instruction through prayer, through His Word, through circumstances, and through His people.  The need became increasingly evident.  Soon, while he was still doubting his discernment, Mike’s staff, peers, and colleagues began to encourage him to run. They fanned the embers into flames.

Sometimes people around us believe more in us than we believe in ourselves. 

When Mike stepped into obedience, we realized that all of the pieces had already fallen into place. This helped us to press on toward the goal, even through times when we believed we didn’t have the strength to take another step. We walked in the Lord’s strength and He carried us through each and every stride. We know that we serve a faithful God who is always working toward His glory and our good. 

Tonight we’ll finally learn what the Lord had in mind all along.  Win or lose, the victory belongs to God.  We trust Him entirely and have no doubt that He’s taking us into a good land.  (Dt 8:7)



Your turn:

When has the Lord prompted you to do something you knew was too big to accomplish without Him?

How long did you wait before seeing results?

Did the outcome look differently than you had hoped?

How did the Lord reveal His character to you in the process?


Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  2 Corinthians 3:5 (NIV)


Be strengthened today, by His Word
Psalm 119:28

Cathy

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Extinguishing a Bad Attitude? 5 Steps That Can Help


Like me, I'd guess you’ve been there.  Someone did something - again - to annoy you.  And it wasn't just a one time incident; it was the latest in a pattern repeated far too often.  You felt like you just couldn't take it any more.

Now that it's behind us, let's examine how our thoughts may have looked:

If you’re a student, maybe someone on your study team didn’t hold up her end of the assignment and all the work fell on you at the last minute.  You had to drop EVERYTHING and complete her portion of the assignment or risk taking the bad grade.  If she'd had a reasonable excuse, maybe you could understand… but this was the 4th time this semester she’s dropped the ball.
Perhaps you got in your car for a heavy day of errands and tightly scheduled appointments, only to discover that your teen driver left the gas tank empty.  You can’t count the number of times this has happened, how many times you’ve stressed the importance of putting gas in the car, and you wanted to explode in frustration. 
Professional friends, is there an office irritant?  You know, the one who can’t adhere to a deadline and habitually turns in her work long after it’s due.  It's not all that bad, except for all of the reports you'd completed that now need modification because her information wasn't included. You spent an additional 3 hours on a project you thought was finished. She just can’t seem to grasp the obvious fact that her lack of attention to detail affects others.

We could list many other examples of behavior patterns that push our buttons and irk us to the point that we question our witness. If you’re anything like me, this is when our obsessive thought pattern kicks in and we find it nearly impossible to turn off negative thoughts and a toxic attitude. We wonder how effectively we can show the love of Christ when exasperation spews out of our ears.

My reactions seem to magnify most rapidly when I’m feeling overwhelmed.  The tasks I face every day are overwhelming enough without having to cover for others. Dare I admit this? In private moments, I’ve resorted to screaming and slamming. I sometimes snap at people before thinking. Surprising things come out of my mouth. There they are - a few ugly facts that I’m not proud to share. For me, these are the results of allowing a bad attitude to steer my actions.  
When our attitude takes a wrong turn, we can choose a different route.  

There’s hope for us, my sisters. I’ve walked through more rotten attitudes than I care to admit and I’ve finally identified a few ways to overcome.  Why should I allow my indignation to ruin my day and dim the light of Christ?  When my ire raises and I struggle to take my thoughts captive, I try hard to remind myself to step back and walk through a few simple steps.  

Keeping in mind that simple is not always easy, here they are:

 1)  Pray.
I know, this seems like an obvious, pat answer. I find it very difficult to pray while my mind swirls around an offense. I’ve noticed how anxious thoughts multiply and interrupt my prayers.  Before I know it, I’m no longer praying - I’m stewing on why I’m upset. Now, instead of merely feeling frustrated with a person or a situation, I’m also frustrated with myself.  This circumstance is NOT more worthy of my focus than the Lord God Almighty.  Why have I allowed it to interrupt my time with Him? 

 2)  Focus on the name of Jesus.  
Say (or better yet, sing) the name of Jesus - again and again, until your pulse rate slows.  It will, if you’re truly focusing on Jesus Christ, His goodness, character and supremacy.  Meditating on the power of the name of Jesus helps me look at my situation from an eternal perspective and realize it’s not the mountain of an issue that I’ve made it. 

You might wonder why I didn’t put this step first.  I’ve found that I have to fail at point 1 before I realize my NEED for point 2.  I pray you’ll learn faster than I and can start with this step. (I need this teaching as much as anyone, so point 1 remains.) 

3)  Pray again.
Now that you’ve shifted your focus to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, lift the matter in prayer again with a refreshed heart. 
  • Ask for forgiveness and the strength to repent 
  • Ask for help to overcome your rotten attitude
  • Seek a heart of love, and the ability to see others the way God sees them
  • Pray for wisdom on whether or not to speak into the matter and for the grace to do so
  • Quiet yourself and wait for the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  
  • Allow His peace to wash over you

4)  Remember how others (including Christ) have shown grace to you.
Read Colossians 2:13-14 and then consider the following questions:
  • When have you blown it, even repeatedly?
  • How did others react / respond? 
  • How did their response make you feel?
  • When did you receive undeserved grace from a friend?
  • How can you respond in a similar manner?
  • How can you reach out - with kindness - to the person who offended you?
  • How might this affect future incidents?

5)  Get to work.  
It’s time to end the pity-party and move forward. Fix what needs fixing, fully surrender the matter to the Lord, and put it where it belongs - in the past. 

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17 (NASB)


What did I leave out?  How have you turned your focus onto Christ to overcome an upsetting situation? I’d love your comments! 

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Psalm 119:28

Cathy

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Back From Hiatus

hiatus |hīˈātəs| noun (pl. hiatuses) [ usu. in sing. ]
a pause or gap in a sequence, series, or process
(New Oxford American Dictionary)

I took an unplanned hiatus from blogging.  That can’t be news to you since you can see that my most recent post was in March. I considered serving up my carefully written excuses on a blogging platter, but there’s really only one reason for my absence:  My husbands political campaign took over nearly every aspect of our lives.  

I wish I could say that my hiatus looked like this:

Really, it looked more like this:

I know that we can do ALL things through Christ who gives us strength.  I also realize that we make time for the priorities in our lives, so technically, my absence was a prioritization issue more than a time constraint. Other bigger, bolder, and more pressing priorities took over.

I didn’t have the mental or emotional bandwidth to do everything needed of me.  Something had to go, and that something was writing for God.  Maybe this makes you gasp - from where you sit, I suppose it could seem like disobedience. Believe me, I sought His will more times than I could count and cried out repeatedly, asking where I should focus my energy. I believe I stayed in God’s will, but won’t know for certain until I see Him face to face. 

Instead of elaborating on the overwhelming details of what we’ve gone through over the last three years - and more specifically over the last 11 months - what I’d rather share is the spiritual growth and surprises that we experienced along the way. After all, that’s what this blog is about:  

Finding strength in God’s Word, even when life is challenging 

Finding joy the journey

Pursuing the best that God has for His children

I pray that over the next many weeks I can put our family's experiences into words - not with a political focus, but as a demonstration of God’s faithfulness.

I pray that I can / will write again with some measure of consistency.  

I pray that you’ll receive my words again, in the time you devote to online reading.  

I pray that you and I will both receive blessing as I sort out the struggles, emotions, and joys that came through the most intense, difficult period that our family has ever intentionally faced. 

And finally, I’ll ask for your prayers as we face the final 14 days until the election.  We desperately need it. 

Sometime after 7 pm on Tuesday, November 4th 2014, we’ll know the final results of efforts that started with a small team gathered in our living room in January of 2012.  Win or lose, God is good and He is sovereign.  For that I am eternally grateful. 

I declare my trust in the Lord and in this blessed promise:

“For the LORD your God is brining you into a good land” Deuteronomy 8:7a

Will you walk with me into a good land?


Be strengthened today, by His Word
Psalm 119:28
Cathy


Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Beauty of Vulnerability


Imagine that you were hired to build a bridge across a large river. You're offered all of the supplies and equipment you need plus a large sum of money to complete the task. The trouble is, you’re the only one allowed to develop the plans for this project and you’ve never built a bridge of any size before. There are years of study and apprenticeship required to engineer a bridge and undertake such an enormous building project, yet your hope is that you’ll figure it out as you go along, on your own, without the need for any help.  

Of course this is ridiculous.  You would never risk your personal safety, the safety of your work crew, or the masses of people who would cross this bridge on a daily basis. I’m sure you’d get the help and direction that you needed, or acquire an engineering degree before you started.

Navigating life is much more complex than bridge building, yet we often feel that we should figure it out on our own, without the help and guidance of anyone else.  We hope that we can solve the mysteries as we go along.  We value our own independence, in fact most of the world values independence.  We teach our children to be independent and cheer them on when they perform tasks on their own.  When we create a resume for a new job, we describe ourselves as “independent thinkers” and “problem solvers.”  Sometimes, as much as we hate to admit this, when someone asks for our help with a menial task, we might grumble, thinking they should be able to get it done without help. 

Yes, the world values independence but God values dependence on Him and interdependence on the body of Christ that He’s provided. Think back to Genesis 2:18 when God created woman.  “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper as his complement.’” (HCSB)  The Hebrew word for helper derives from a word meaning to protect, to surround, to aid. A body of Christ that is interdependent upon one another offers protection.   

Protection can come from our sisters in Christ who help us resist temptation that leads to destruction… but only if we will allow it. So often we avoid the risk of making ourselves transparent with others.  But when we take the risk, blessings often follow.  I’m not advocating church-wide broadcasts of our most private temptations, but it is healthy and wise to have a few, close people in our lives who know every single thing there is to know about us.  When we allow ourselves to be completely transparent with a trusted few individuals, we have greater protection to stand firm against the schemes of the enemy. Remember, he is prowling around like a lion waiting to devour us.

Our trusted companions can easily recognize when temptation seizes us, and they can help us resist that temptation, take every thought captive, or immediately do an about face and head toward safety instead of danger.  I have a few people like that in my life, who can take one look into my eyes and know I’m struggling with something.  Even when I don’t wish to talk about it, these few people often pester me (yes PESTER me) until I share my thoughts.  And then… they carry the burden with me. There are times I wish I could run from them, but in the end, I deeply value their friendship and their unrelenting way of keeping me on the right track. I love them immensely.

This level of companionship took time to develop.  In most cases it took years, if not decades, of baby steps toward deeper vulnerability.  We invested in friendship to develop a trust strong enough to talk about the really hard things.  (In rare times, one in particular, trust was established much more quickly – almost in a supernatural manner, but that is by no means typical and such situations should be handled carefully and covered in unceasing prayer.)  These trusted friends hold me accountable and refuse to allow me to walk a dangerous path.  Not by bossing me around or setting an expectation of daily check-ins, but by knowing me well enough to pick up even the slightest scent of trouble and then pursuing it and helping to root it out. 

I could have kept my walls up with these friends.  I could have maintained my independence and continued to believe I could navigate this life all by myself.  Instead, I risked vulnerability.  I allowed a few people to get to know me.  I didn’t just allow them to know what I wanted them to know, I shared it all – even the ugliest, most embarrassing and shameful stuff that’s deep inside of me.  I’ll tell you that I expected every one of them to run for cover.  When they saw what the real me looks like, I fully anticipated that they’d never want to speak to me again.  That was the case for some.  Not all of my risks turned out well.  But some took it as an opportunity to love me deeper and walk alongside me down long roads of distress.  I pray they feel I’ve done the same for them.

There’s risk in vulnerability, but until we take those first steps of baring it all and exposing the truth, we’ll never know the blessing that God has in store for those who walk through life together – in community.  I encourage you: don’t miss the blessing because you’re too afraid to risk.  Step out in faith.  Pray for God to reveal your trusted companions.  Act on His leading and leave the results and the consequences in His loving, capable hands.

I’ll leave you with Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up. Also if two lie down together, they can keep warm; but how can one person alone keep warm? And if someone overpowers one person, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not easily broken. (HCSB).

Be strengthened today, by His Word,
Cathy
Psalm 119:28