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