Triumphant Transformations…

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

What do you see when you look at me? Do you see a responsible, committed, intelligent, half-way put together, follower of Jesus Christ?  I hope so, but that is only half of me. What you may not see is an often fearful, sometimes insecure, controlling, critical, judgmental woman, who also struggles with co-dependency.

The last six years, through a series of difficult circumstances, God has refined me, and healed me. He has called me to follow Him more and more as I listen and strive to obey. Through these trials I have come to see His hand ever so gently guiding me to be the woman He wants me to be.

In the last three years I believe He has called me to work with women. I went back to school, finished my degree and dove into a midlife career change. Oh, the joy it has brought! I love being able to walk with women along their journey through difficult circumstances toward healing and restoration. I appreciate hearing their stories and am blessed when they listen to mine.

It is an honor and a privilege to be allowed into someone else’s experience, and when I look back at the road it took to get me to this place, I don’t look with regret, I embrace it with gratitude.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

This week I was brought to tears as I attended a Celebrate Recovery meeting at my church. I have been beyond blessed to work with several non-profit organizations in the city where I live. I have met many women along the way.  I have driven to meetings with some, cooked meals with others, and had the privilege of doing ministry with many of them.  We have cleaned houses, played games, laughed, and cried together.

On this particular night I saw women from many of those different ministries under the same roof. Most of them did not know each other. Many were receiving help from a variety of different organizations, but all of them were there for healing and restoration. It was like all my different worlds converged in this place of healing, where women shared their experiences, strength and hope. Shackles broken. Freedom found.

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial. Because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

My prayer for them continues to be that through their difficult circumstances they will find the same thing I found in mine; the joy of the Lord!

I’m a blessed woman. I am so grateful, hopeful, and overflowing with joy. I love to see the change in me and in the women around me as together we are …just living the thing.

 

Hope is here…

Adrienne Yerzy
Adrienne Yerzy

We identify with people based on shared commonalities. For example, when I’m in the mood to be creative or feel like an “adult”, I start cooking, search for food blogs, or look for fellow foodies on Instagram.  Likewise, if I’m preparing for a half-marathon, I find fit people online to give me inspiration and I gravitate towards the athletic types in my social circles.

We all feel a little safer with those that we can identify with, and lean towards those that we can share stories with. And THAT is exactly why I don’t like reading Proverbs 31.

For so many women, Proverbs 31 has become this measuring stick of perfection that I associate with white doilies and shallow conversation lacking heart and empathy. If I see “Proverbs 31” mentioned anywhere, I avoid that ministry like the plague, groan internally, and my shoulders slump. The truth is, I simply cannot identify with the woman described in that chapter.

Thankfully, I have found other examples of godly women I CAN identify with in the Bible!  Hannah, for example.  After feeling inferior because of self-imposed comparison to another woman for years, and after feeling like a failure as a wife,

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” (1 Samuel 1:10)

That single verse hits my heart in its very core.

Or what about Naomi? After losing her husband, and then her two sons, she hopelessly said to her daughters-in-law:

“’Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant),she told them. “Call me Mara (bitter), because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.’” Ruth 1:20-21, notes mine.

I can’t identify with a ‘perfect’ life, but I can identify with imperfection and heartache. Although the woman described in Proverbs 31 may have gone through a lot to become who she was, we only read the results of presumed struggles. However, I can definitely identify with Hannah’s feeling of rejection and inferiority, and I can identify with Naomi’s feelings of loss and hopelessness. Both women may have thought:

“My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God” Isaiah 40:27.

But, we cannot stay in the place of hurt and rejection. Let us also remember the truth. God eventually brought the hope, justice, and love each woman needed. He did NOT abandon them or leave them in a place of despair. Hannah received the baby she prayed for and Naomi received the family and security she thought were lost forever.

Neither woman turned her back on God, but with honesty acknowledged the truth of her situation, hung on to life…and waited. And God fulfilled each hearts’ need and desire. His answers were unexpected, but each answer was satisfying.  Heartache turned to joy!

Be encouraged! If you are going through something hard, oppressive, or seemingly hopeless.  God has not disappeared!

“Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
 Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40: 28-31)

Wait, pray, and seek God. He will be found. And for me that’s what it looks like … just living the thing.

 

Refuge And Other Forms Of Security…

Author, Colleen Fraioli
Author, Colleen Fraioli

My kind friends offered to help me sort through my parents’ kitchen after the big move. They scrounged empty banana boxes from Save Mart and together we packed up the remains of the day.

I found myself wanting to hang on to the “non-valuable” pile; cheap plastic glasses, cracked cereal bowls, old Tupperware circa 1965, and especially the chipped roast beef platter from Sunday dinners growing up in the parsonage.

But there is no room for all that in my house. Besides, my parents are still alive at 92 and 93, and I have heirlooms coming out my ears. So what’s up with the lump in my throat? And why is it so hard to walk away from the discard box?

Letting go feels like I am losing something foundational and irreplaceable. This move to assisted living is making me feel unstable, and my heart doesn’t seem to have a landing place.

Maybe that is the crisis. My security has latched on to sameness. There is comfort in the familiar, especially when it has been a refuge.

I look up “refuge” in my thesaurus. Many restful images surround this word. Retreat. Haven. Harbor. Resort. Shelter. Hiding place. These words describe how I’ve felt when we have prayed together in this home over the years.

A verse has been running through my mind during this process; as the movers came on Monday, as I talked with a potential buyer on Wednesday, and now as I say goodbye to the little things,

“GOD is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

…not the home they are leaving, or the dishes, or the roast beef platter.

It seems like I’m being asked to decide where I will find refuge in the middle of this big change. Maybe I can try and recreate the past… God plus everything staying the same…God plus the stuff that makes me feel good… God plus my parent’s faith. Or, I can release the props and let it just be God. Rearranging the environment doesn’t rearrange Him.

My head knows I can trust the Changeless One, It’s my heart that needs a little coaxing. It feels vulnerable and uncertain to leave the things. I grieve all they represent. But when I think about it I realize they are symbols of His faithfulness. Trusting the source is way better than trusting the leftovers, when you’re… just living the thing.

The Man To Love Me Through This…

Wendy & Dave Morgan
Wendy & Dave Morgan

I met the man of my dreams in 1991 and I rediscovered him two years ago as he came along side me in this journey that is cancer. Dave has always been there for me but over the years I had come to take this for granted.

Like every marriage we’ve had our ups and downs; with the stresses of raising a family, and just the business of everyday life. When I was diagnosed with cancer our life came to a sudden stop and the things that seemed to consume our time weren’t so important any more. I learned to cherish my husband again, and in return I got a husband who is worth cherishing.

Because of this, I can honestly say that if given the chance to change what I have gone through I wouldn’t do it. I have come to appreciate and love Dave at a deeper level than ever before and I know we are blessed to have the relationship we do.

A couple months ago Dave gave me the lyrics to a song and told me,

“This is the husband I want to be for you”.

So to quote the country wisdom of Martina McBride in her song “I’m Gonna Love You Through It”;

When you’re weak I’ll be strong        

               When you let go I’ll hold on;

          When you feel lost, scared to death

               Like you can’t take one more step,

          Just take my hand

               Together we can do it

          I’m going to love you through it.”

 And he has done just that.

He’s the man who, with every fiber of his being wants to “fix it” when I hurt, has learned to just be there.

He’s the man who can always find the good in me.

He’s the man who told me it’s an honor to care for me, even if that means holding my hair while I throw up.

He’s the man who brought pruners to the hospital so he could cut a branch that always caught on my wig.

He’s the man who has made it his life’s mission to make my stoic doctor laugh no matter what and in the process has me cracking up when I might want to cry instead.

He’s the man who has helped me through all of this with his wonderful sense of humor; always making me laugh even when other people may think we’re nuts.

He’s the man who loves me in a way everyone can see and I wouldn’t trade him for the world.

Our life isn’t perfect and the stresses we face now make the others pale in comparison, but when things get tough we jokingly tell each other,

“You’re lucky I love you baby because next time I’m marrying for money.” This may be why people think we’re nuts.

We are thankful that we have the strength of each other, and our faith in a good God who is going to love us through this as we are…..just living the thing.

Set your minds and keep them set…

Bible-readingIt was entirely unintentional (read, guilty as charged), but recently I offended a friend who made some strong comments about a speech at one of the political conventions, which I mistakenly interpreted to mean she was getting really ‘worked up’.   I was wrong, was told that in no uncertain terms, because that’s how Jamaicans roll, and promptly apologized.

However, I am still deeply concerned about the nature/content of comments I’m seeing and hearing from some fellow believers in Jesus, expressing their views on the candidates for president and politics in general.  Our participation in the vitriol, anger, and fear/hate-mongering, coupled with blinders-on, impassioned, and almost deified expectations of one candidate or another is seriously alarming me.

Hard life experiences have ensured that I’m neither “super-spiritual” nor self-righteous, so I’m blaming this increasing concern and hyper-awareness on my recent study of Paul’s letter to the believers at Colossae.  He wrote;

If then you have been raised with Christ to a new life,…aim at and seek the rich, eternal treasures that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. And set your minds and keep them set on what is above, the higher things, not on the things that are on the earth…” Colossians 3:1-2 Amplified Bible

Paul was not telling them to be so “heavenly-minded they were of no earthly use”, but that their worldview, and how they lived their everyday lives were to be influenced primarily by how God sees things.

Because we believe in Jesus, we are challenged to daily approach, comment, and act on socio-economic, racial, political, cultural, and every other issue in accordance with God’s perspective and directive.

Of course, determining and acting on God’s perspective isn’t always easy or popular.  I’m still trying to figure out how anybody would read the Bible and conclude that slavery was okay with God!

That kind of evil and our other general craziness only happens when we come to God’s Word with our worldview already set in place; with hard hearts and minds stubbornly made up; just searching for ways to make the Bible say what we want to justify our self-willfulness.

Come November, I am going to exercise my right and privilege to vote for one of the three candidates for President, giving more weight to what they’ve already done,

“You will fully recognize them by their fruits…” Matthew 7:16a Amplified Bible,

and after much prayer asking God alone to guide my decision.

“Lean on, trust in, and be confident in the Lord with all you heart and mind and do not rely on your own insight or understanding.  In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 Ibid

Meantime, I continue to seek to know God’s viewpoint on everything, holding my peace, and confident that,

“He changes times and the seasons; He removes kings and sets up kings…” Daniel 2:21 Ibid

so no matter who is elected, I’ll still be… just living the thing.

Ann Marie

Disappearing destinations…

Author, Wendy Morgan
Author, Wendy Morgan

It felt good to swing a golf club again. It had been at least three years since I had played the game and I realized just how much I missed it. I was surprised that I could still drive the ball 150 yards; 100 yards straight and 50 yards to the right. Anyway I was thankful that after three surgeries I still had a good range of motion and no pain.

By that evening, however, things had changed. Fast forward one week and I am having an unexpected surgery to remove my left implant and clean up an infection that two strong antibiotics couldn’t heal. This wasn’t part of the plan and just like that I was back at square one.

Home for two days and on the couch, held hostage by my nightly physical therapy treatment, I lost it. Physically I was fine, but emotionally I was done; I didn’t want to do this anymore. With tears streaming down my face and one hot flash after another sapping my energy I gave into despair.

I felt like I was on a journey whose final destination kept disappearing around the next bend. This bump in the road threw me for a loop because just when I thought I could see the light at the end of the tunnel; it turned out to be a train.

Not surprisingly God was faithful in the midst of my struggles. You see, that train turned out to be full of the hands and feet of God in the form of wonderful friends and family; people ready to speak truth and scripture into my situation, reminding me to live like I really believe those scriptures and not let my feelings take over.

The first thing one friend said was, “The Lord is keeping you on your knees”. Simple words packing powerful conviction and definitely not a bad place to be. Katelyn, one of my favorite 10 year-olds, told me to listen to the song “No Matter What” by Kerrie Roberts. One line says;

“No matter what, I’m going to love you; no matter what I’m going to need you. I know that you can find a way to keep me from the pain but if not I’ll trust you, no matter what”

The song is now part of my daily play list and a great reminder to me that God is stronger than my feelings. Katelyn’s mama gave me this verse:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

I camped on this verse for the better part of a week letting it become part of my thinking. If God has commanded me to be strong and courageous He will give me the power to do just that. This time it came through his praying people who make me feel surrounded by love and filled with gratitude to be…..just living the thing.

I Will Still Praise You

Author, Sonna Evans
Author, Sonna Evans

It was a long day. I was up early with a headache; way too early. My day was already slated to be a long one. One of those days where things just need to get done so you just plow through them. I had an evening meeting, and then one of my clients had to go to the emergency room. I really had no room in my tight schedule for this. I started to feel flustered.

Well, everything got taken care of and I hit home late, tired, and worn. As I walked toward the door I saw my dogs in the window. I had left them locked up so this was not a welcome sight. In a nanosecond I also remembered that I had not taken the trash out that morning. Ugh! My dogs like to get into the trash when they are left out.

In those couple seconds as I walked to the door I realized that after this never ending day I might have to walk into the house and pick up trash. And, just as I was about to unlock the door this thought jumped into my mind;

“Lord, even if I walk into a mess that I will have to clean up, I will still praise You.”

Seems kind of silly, but sometimes it is a small thing that becomes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. I was not going to let a little trash steal my joy.

What is it that causes you to stop praising your Lord? We often find ourselves in circumstances that can try to rob us of our contentment in Him. I want to be able to walk ever so closely with Jesus that when those things come I can say:

  • I lost my mom…I will still praise You.
  • I have cancer…I will still praise You.
  • My child walked away from the Lord…I will still praise You.
  • My husband had an affair…I will still praise You.
  • Things did not go my way…I will still praise You.

God’s Word calls us to praise Him, in fact in Luke 19 Jesus says if we don’t praise Him even “the very stones would cry out.”

“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!” Psalm 146:1

“With all my heart, I will praise the LORD.  Let all who are helpless, listen and be glad.” Psalm 34:2

“But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.” Psalm 22:3

What is it that is currently threatening to steal your peace, joy and contentment? Our circumstances do not dictate whether God is worthy of our praise, He is always worthy! Because of this truth, we can still praise Him.

Father in Heaven; God of mercy, grace and compassion, thank you for Your love. Gently remind us when the circumstances of life seem too overwhelm us, that You are sovereign, that You have us in the palm of Your hand and that we can rest in You as we are…just living the thing.