My Neighborhood

I can tell you right now that I have failed with all the author of 100 Days to Brave put in her devotion today. I have not loved my neighbor as Jesus says to in Mark 12:31. “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” This devotion talks about how we can take this verse to mean more people than just the people in our immediate neighborhood, and I do think I do a better job with that one, but, in my immediate neighborhood, no.

Why? I am not trying to make excuses, but let me explain the particulars of my living situation. Ever since we decided to homeschool and get by with just one income, we’ve lived in places that would be considered non-permanent–apartments, town homes and rental homes. And we’ve lived an itinerant lifestyle–going from place to place for the jobs. Being a naturally private person and not being sure how long I would be in a place has made me hesitant to make attachments in our neighborhoods.

Now, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been pleasant when we’ve crossed someone’s path. It doesn’t mean we haven’t taken care of the places where we’ve lived. (Yes, renters are judged because it is assumed they won’t stay long enough to care about their neighborhoods.) I’ve had conversations with my neighbors about the weather, about their pets, and about how nice it is we have a pool for the hot summers here. Topics that are more surface topics than anything else.

But, I haven’t let very many of them in. And I think I’ve finally figured out why. It’s because of my “moving from place to place” lifestyle. It’s what I experienced as a child, and it’s what I’ve had to deal with as an adult. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate all the places I’ve seen. I appreciate the opportunities my husband has had to have good jobs in different places. The opportunity to see so many different places in this vast country of mine. Having roots has almost become a lost ideal for the generation coming up behind me. With relocation being relatively easy nowadays, it makes sense to follow the jobs, right? It makes sense to live in a town other than the one you grew up in (if you grew up in just one town), right?

But, why do I still long for roots? How do I get to know my neighbors and plant roots when it is  likely I won’t be in one place for a long time? Is buying a home the only way to put roots down in a neighborhood? Some people would say it is and would stare at you in judgment if you didn’t.

Society has changed though, and I think we, as Christians, me especially, have to do a better job of being present in our neighborhoods even if our neighborhood is an apartment complex. Like the author says, “You can be brave enough to see those people around you, rather than just passing by. You can be brave enough to serve them and love them, and God will use you, friend. You will be living out your mission as a light in this dark world.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

I can and should be brave enough to get to know my neighbors even if they only live near me for six months or a year. I can be brave enough to be God’s light and share my reason and my hope with my neighbors even if I only know them for a short time. Who knows? By being God’s light here, I might end up spending eternity with them, and isn’t that what really matters?

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

My Home

I’m starting this post on Father’s Day while the rest of my home is silent either with people taking naps or preparing for trips that are happening this week. Yes, my younger son is leaving on his last trip ever as a youth group member tomorrow. (today, actually) It got me started thinking on this, the ninetieth post in this series. (Y’all, I am only ten posts away from finishing.) And it got me started thinking about this city, the city that’s been my home for almost seven years. When we moved here, my older son was entering his freshman year of high school. I had a dream. I had a dream we would be able to spend both of my sons’ high school years in one place where they could build some roots. Because I didn’t have that when I was growing up. In fact, in my four years of high school, I went to three different high schools. As you might imagine, that was a hard thing for me.

God granted that wish and that prayer. In fact, it looks like we will be in the same city for most of their college years too. I am so grateful because we and they have put roots down, sturdy roots.

At the same though, I am fearful because we are coming close to the most amount of time we have ever spent in one city during our almost twenty-four years of marriage. Two years from this September will mark the most time we have ever spent in one city–nine years. It probably doesn’t seem like that long of a time to you, but it is an eternity to me. It makes me afraid of what I might lose if we had to move again–our roots. So many people I know here have more roots than I will ever have in one place, and it is not something I want to lose.

Now, by saying that, you might think that I would be sharing my home easily and without reservation. You would be wrong. Because of my fear, I am holding onto things more tightly and not living in the freedom I know I have. It’s the wrong thing to do, I know. I should be demonstrating the truth of Galatians 5:13 instead. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather serve one another humbly in love.” I should be releasing things to God instead of holding onto them so tightly they might lose their breath. It’s hard though. It’s a struggle to work through the mess of life especially when  you think you’re making these sacrifices by yourself.

But, I want to change. I want to release this burden off my heart so I can feel this freedom that God gives us. I want to be able to talk about my hurt and anguish as well as I can write about it. And I want to share my home without feeling inadequate about what I have and without feeling fear that I will lose it all through another move. It’s all a matter of trust, and it starts with trusting God with our biggest resource we have–our homes. Praying that all of us, me especially, would be willing to release our burdens to God so we can experience the tremendous blessings and freedom He wants to give us and so we can be brave in the sacrifices we make for Him!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Meeting With God: I Met God On Inverness Parkway

I’m sitting on my bed and listening to Christian music as I begin writing this post. I’ve taken a few minutes to listen to the words, to really listen, and I’ve realized the conclusion I came to the other day is correct. I have been in the wilderness. God has used the last few months to bring me closer to Him, or He’s tried to anyway. 🙂 I’ve come along for the ride, most days, kicking and screaming, because being brought to my lowest is not one of my favorite things. All of the things I don’t like about myself have come out in full force–pride, jealousy, worthlessness, ugliness. But, God is willing to meet me there, within the ugliness. It doesn’t have to be gone before He comes. And I praise Him for it just like I praise Him when I am walking in His creation.

That seems to be when I’m the bravest–when I’m alone and meeting with God in His creation. Like the author says, “His love makes me brave, and there is no place I love to meet with God more than sitting in His creation. Sitting in nature.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) It bring to mind this Scripture from Psalm 96. Verses 11-12 say, “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.” I can praise God with abandon when I’m alone with Him, and it brings me so much courage.

But, then I have to be around those pesky beings called people, :-), with the chances to wound, to be cruel, and to not reflect what I want to reflect like Paul says in Romans 7. From Verses 18-19, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” We all can be so cruel to each other even when we don’t want to be.

But when we meet with God though, we’re reminded of what those hard times are supposed to do for us. I’m not sure I would have had the words to verbalize this if I hadn’t read them in my friend’s blog. I’m only going to give you a small sample because I want you to go there and read the whole thing. “That bothersome thing, that circumstance, that person, that difficult time, is your school teacher. When it comes, you’re supposed to recognize it at once and say, ‘By the grace of God, I will pass this test.'” (https://upliftgirl.com/2018/06/15/that-thing-is-your-school-teacher/) Here’s a little more. “I’m going to love. I’m going to trust. I’m going to be patient. I will choose God. I will hold on in faith. I will wait.” (https://upliftgirl.com/2018/06/15/that-thing-is-your-school-teacher/) Ok, that was more than a little, but they were words I needed to hear because I seem to have forgotten them lately. Please go visit her blog anyway. The whole post is just brilliant, and she has a lot of wisdom.

Those words, her words–we all fail at them, me especially. I meet with God; I talk to Him; and then I go back out and do the same cruel things because they have been done to me. Where’s the grace we’re supposed to give each other? I know where it is. It’s in the part of our hearts that says we don’t deserve it. Ok, some of you might not have a problem with unmerited favor and grace, but I know I do, and I’m freely admitting it.

I’m working on it though. Working to root the truth of Ephesians 2:8-9 into my heart. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Because, you see, we don’t just meet with God once, and everything gets settled. No, while we are still here on this earth, we are fighting a battle every day like my friend says in her blog and like it says in Ephesians 6. I’ve not been as well-equipped to fight that battle recently as I should have been, but I know better now. And because I know better, I am starting to feel better.

So, as I end this post, I want to quote Ephesians 6:13 as a goal for myself, and hopefully, a goal for all of us who are believers. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything to stand.” (emphasis mine)

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

An addendum or postscript of sorts:

I Met God On Inverness Parkway!

I usually don’t do this, but something important happened between my writing and typing this post. Like the sub-title says, I met God on Inverness Parkway. I was going to run an errand and put gas in my son’s car when I ran out just before getting to the main highway. I said all the not-so-nice things people usually say when I was trying to start the car again and cars were mounting behind me. Then, I realized what was wrong. The gas had completely run out. I made a call and was told that the person would get there as soon as they could. I got out of the car and started directing people around me. I had a big gulp in the middle of my throat because we have all heard the stories about road rage and how people don’t like to be delayed when they’re going somewhere. I was not in a very safe place on the road.

But, then people surprised me, and my faith in humanity was restored. One man stopped and pushed my car onto a side street so it wouldn’t be in the way. Several people stopped and asked if I was okay. More than a dozen by the time my friends with the gas got there. Someone else I know happened to stop by and was willing to help as well. In fact, we were all ready to have a church meeting by the time the gas got there as my pastor and associate pastor were the ones coming to my rescue. I am so grateful that God showed me I wasn’t alone today because sometimes I don’t think I have anyone besides God. Know what I mean? We all think church is the building we go to, but we are all supposed to be the church in the middle of our communities.

So, thank you to all who stopped and asked if I was okay. Thank you to the man who pushed my car out-of-the-way. And thank you especially to my three friends, Garry, Charlie, and Justin, who showed me God in the middle of Inverness Parkway!

The Road Less Traveled

Now that the school year is over, one of the things I’ve incorporated into my day is a regular exercise routine. I’ve found that the more I exercise, the better I feel–physically, mentally, and emotionally. The trifecta, so to speak. Anyway, when I walked my route this morning, I saw things that reminded me of a poem by Robert Frost and then gave me the words I wanted to write for this post when I came back. I took pictures and started mulling over the phrase “a road less traveled” as I walked. By the time I was done, I knew I was going to use the phrase in some form today.

When I first saw today’s devotion, I thought of a couple of different titles for this post than the one I ended up using. “Be Present Even When People Walk Away”  or “Be Present When You Feel Lonely.” The title of the actual devotion is “Be Present Where You Are,” and it’s talking about putting your phone down to be present in the moment. Now, I’m not saying I couldn’t stand to be less reliant on my devices, but those other words were the first that came to mind. I’ve had people walk away from me to talk to someone they considered more valuable. I’ve thought of something to say in a group of people, but by the time I said it, they had moved on to another topic. See what I mean? Lonely. Undesirable. Odd. Different.

But, there’s that word again. Different. It brought me back to Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” and it brought me back to what I wrote on Monday about being brave enough to be different. (http://thrivingingrace.com/brave-enough-to-be-different/) Then, I knew I had to change the title. My life has been a series of “taking the road less traveled” events. We’ve only owned a home once. We chose to have just one income so we could homeschool. We don’t have the latest gadgets or clothing. (Yay, Wal-Mart and thrift stores!) I’m different, and people don’t know how to react even when I’m trying to do the things God has asked me to do. I liked what the author had to say. “God loves us so much that He gave us His everything, and He asks us to love others the way He loved us. Loving others means being present with them in their pain, being present with them in their joy. It means being all there.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

This also reflects today’s Bible verse. From John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” I try to reflect this in my own life, but sometimes, my presence isn’t what’s wanted or needed. It’s a lonely feeling–not feeling like I’m part of a community.

Then, though, I think back to the poem and to Micah Tyler’s song “Different,” and I think, maybe, that’s the point God is trying to make to me. Maybe I’m not supposed to be invited to the parties or be a part of the conversations. Maybe right now, God wants me to be in the wilderness and not be a part of the community. I don’t know. I don’t know if withdrawing is the answer or continuing to struggle is. I feel so unsure of my value to my community. It’s deep-rooted and deep-seated inside my psyche. But, I know I am valuable to God, and I think that’s where my focus needs to be because it is what has made the difference in my recent struggles.

As I finish this post, I want to quote the poem and the song so you can see the words that started my thoughts rumbling. May God bless you all today!

“The Road Not Taken”

by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
“Different”
by Micah Tyler
I don’t wanna hear anymore, teach me to listen
I don’t wanna see anymore, give me a vision
That you could move this heart, to be set apart
I don’t need to recognize, the man in the mirror
And I don’t wanna trade Your plan, for something familiar
I can’t waste a day, I can’t stay the same
I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
In me
And I don’t wanna spend my life, stuck in a pattern
And I don’t wanna gain this world but lose what matters
And so I’m giving up, everything because
I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different; oh-oh
I know, that I am far, from perfect
But through You, the cross still says, I’m worth it
So take this beating in my heart and
Come and finish what You started
When they see me, let them see You
‘Cause I just wanna be different, ye-ey
I wanna be different
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Oh is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different
I just wanna be different
So could You be different
In me

Sacred Places

I’m by myself today in my home. This doesn’t happen very often. One of my children is on a trip, and the other is at his internship. And, of course, my husband is at work. I have Christian music playing from my Spotify list, and I am writing this post. It is quiet and peaceful. God is present like He has been present since the beginning of my day.

The author is talking about sacred places today, about how she has a special place in her home where she goes when she wants to talk to God. It’s not the only place where she goes, but it’s the place where she’s intentional. It’s special to her.

All through the Old Testament, it talks about the places God goes and how these places are sacred. Moses even had to take his sandals off to be with God. From Exodus 3:5, “‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'” People recognized that God was holy and deserved our reverence. They also were bound by God’s law that said they needed to recognize this.

We’re not bound by Old Testament law anymore because we have Jesus and because the Holy Spirit lives in us. We can talk to God through Jesus anytime and anywhere. It’s amazing! God’s grace is amazing! But, I think we might have lost something through this immediate access. God is holy too! We should revere Him and make talking to Him a priority with our reverence.

This is something I know I need to work on. I live in a small home with three other people during the summer and two other people during the school year. There’s always the possibility of an interruption which is why I write my prayers down more often than not, why I say them inside of my head, and why I don’t have a sacred space within my home. I admit I have a tendency to be self-conscious about praying out loud, and I also can be easily distracted which is why I’m glad it’s quiet here today. I can talk to God out loud when I’m by myself. It’s not a problem at all.

There is a space I consider sacred though, but it’s not inside my home. It’s at the lake which is near my home. I can walk down there and view God’s creation. The plants, animals, water, trees, sky, clouds–it’s all amazing. This place is holy ground for me. I can go down there and breathe, and the world doesn’t seem so bad. I pray too and ask God to give me strength to cope. Maybe, that needs to be the place I go when I want to talk to God–my sacred place.

But, I’m not always intentional about going out there. Sometimes, it’s raining. Sometimes, it’s too hot. Occasionally, it’s snowing or too cold. (That’s weather in the southeastern United States for you. 🙂 ) So, I think I might need to figure out a place where I can go and pray inside my home. A place where I will be the least likely to be distracted. A place that is sacred. Like the author says, “Brave people are intentional people, and you’ve got to be intentional about your time with the Lord. You can’t expect to be brave without spending time with Him–which is the whole reason you can be brave.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) This is something I want with all my heart–the ability to be brave in God’s presence and in the presence of others! May God be with us as we seek Him today!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Brave Enough to be Different

Including today’s post, I have fifteen more posts to write before I am done blogging through the book 100 Days to Brave. It’s been an interesting journey. It’s been an educational journey. It’s been a journey full of sadness and of joy. And it’s been a journey where I’ve learned about myself and my faith. Today’s post has been on my mind for a few days, and it’s almost a relief to get the words out of my brain and onto the screen. Be patient with me. It might not make sense at first, but I promise, I will pull it all together by the end.

I heard a story a few weeks ago. Someone was telling me how they didn’t like to talk about what they were interested in because no one around them was interested in it. They thought Jesus might think they were rude  if they weren’t focused on their friends’ interests and concerns. My first thought was, ‘Wow! This person really gets it. They could be the poster child for teaching others what it means when Scripture says we’re supposed to deny ourselves.’ Just as I was recovering from this thought though and from what I thought this person could teach me, they said something that struck  me. They were lonely. Now, I’m not saying they didn’t have anything at all in common with this group of people. They share the same faith; they share some similar interests; they like spending time together. But, it wasn’t enough for this person not to feel lonely. They even told me they were looking forward to branching out in the next few months and meeting other people who shared their interests.

This got me thinking because I’ve often felt this way in a group of people. Lonely. Odd. Weird. Different. We all come at faith and denial of self differently because, well, we are different. God made each of us differently. But, is there such a thing as being too different in the church to be accepted for who we are as a person? Should we have to deny ourselves completely to be accepted? There shouldn’t be a thing as being too different, but sadly enough, I think there is. Some differences are okay, but when the differences get to be noticeable, rejection happens. We are uncomfortable with what we don’t understand so we avoid it.

I think about the differences that are noticeable and the ones that are not so noticeable. I think about the ones I know who have left the church because they were too different and not accepted because of it. I think about the ones who don’t come that often because they haven’t been able to connect with others because of their differences. And I think about those of us who make the effort week after week though we are lonely within the crowd and not even sure we are making a difference by being there. (That would be me.) My mind wants to understand why this happens, but I don’t think I’ll know for sure until I see Jesus.

So, what does all this have to do with denial of self and being brave enough to be different? First, I get the part about not being selfish. I Timothy 6:18-19 says, “Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” God doesn’t want us to be selfish. I agree with this and embrace it, but it’s not what I’m trying to say.

Scripture also gives us several examples of putting off our old self and sinful nature. From Ephesians 4:22-24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Of course, I agree with this. We’re supposed to put off our sinful natures each and every day so we can become more like God. We won’t be totally successful until our journey here is done, but we’re supposed to keep trying anyway. I also embrace this, but it’s not what I’m trying to say either.

I guess what I mean is deny ourselves and embrace our differences. The church should make sure all know they are welcome. Race, gender, physical illness (Even the ones that can’t be seen.), mental illness (Those definitely can’t be seen.), financial status, marital status, occupation, age, different interests–none of those things that make us different should manner. None of them!  We should embrace Jesus and embrace what all of us bring to the table. But until that happens, I will be brave enough to be different out loud so that others will know they aren’t alone.

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Generous With Our Homes

In the years of our marriage, we’ve done very little entertaining in our home for many reasons. First, many times our home wasn’t big enough. When we started homeschooling twelve years ago, we knew our homes would be small from then on. In fact, since then, we’ve lived in apartments and town homes with only one house thrown in during that time. It doesn’t bother us or our kids, but having people over tends to be more difficult the smaller a person’s home is. Second, we’ve felt self-conscious, or at least, I did. Because of the choices we had made about educating our kids, we didn’t have a lot of money and didn’t think people would like spending time with us because of it. And finally, we haven’t opened our home a lot because we tend to be introverts. We walk into our home and expect it to be a shelter from a world which has become dark. We want to be by ourselves until the next time we have to go out and be a part of the world again.

We’ve used these reasons for years only opening our home when our kids wanted to have people over or when I’ve wanted to invite special children over. (Children tend to not be as judgmental as adults are.) We’ve also found bigger spaces to have eighteenth birthday parties for our sons because we knew we wouldn’t have enough space to host all the people they wanted to invite.

But, God wants us to open our homes to others no matter how much we have, and I’m just now realizing this might be a good thing for me. When I was younger, people opened their homes to me. There was one family in particular, while I was in college, who have always made me feel like I was a part of their family. They are family to me, and I am family to them. I’ve always tried to pay that hospitality forward, but not as much in my home as I possibly could have. And I’ve realized that needs to change. The Bible verse the author used in today’s devotion and her words themselves particularly touched me. First, here is Hebrews 13:16 from the Message version of the Bible. “Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship–a different kind of “sacrifice”–that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets.” I believe making that sacrifice will lessen the loneliness of the people I come in contact with and will in turn lessen my loneliness. The author of the devotion agrees. “But brave people recognize that they can use their home to love others with the love of Christ. Brave people are generous with their homes. Brave people share–even their sanctuaries–with others.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

So, will all that, my husband and I have been cleaning and re-organizing in preparation for the hospitality we want to begin. I’ve been walking towards the bravery required to make the invitations. God is giving me courage as I’m considering taking the first steps out of my comfort zone with regard to my home. Hopefully, we will be able to show God’s love to the people who enter our home like my friends did all those years ago with me and like God wants us to do today. Praying for all of us as we consider how God wants us to be generous with all the aspects of our lives!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Generous With Our Words

I spoke of how I had done a bad job with words during the month of May last week. (http://thrivingingrace.com/words-can-heal-and-words-can-destroy/) I reminded myself and us all that our words could heal as well as destroy our relationships with each other. Now, it’s time to talk about being generous with our words.

Being generous. In my small corner of the blogging world, I’ve met some incredible people from all over the world including two young people from Nigeria who share my faith. It’s been interesting and enlightening to get a glimpse into their culture and the things that matter to them. Through their writing, I’ve learned how they are different from me and how they are the same. It reminds me of the Scripture from Acts 2:44-47. “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Even though we are different, we are still the same because we are all children of God.

You might wonder why I write all this in a post about words. Well, the words of our posts are what offer encouragement and community to each other since we are located halfway across the world from each other. When I see a post from either of them, I read it and comment if God leads me to do so making sure I tell how it encouraged me and what a good job they did with the post. More often than not, God has given them words to help me grow in my faith, and I make sure I say that as well. They are both neat young people, and it has been a joy to encourage them.

This is what the author talks about in today’s devotion. God wants us to speak words of grace and love into the lives of others. There’s a verse in Proverbs that describes what this looks like. From Proverbs 16:24, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

These words are a pinprick to my heart; actually, they are several pinpricks, enough to where I’m bleeding. I know I haven’t done well with this. In fact, I think we all have problems being gracious with our words. It seems like every time I turn around people are being ugly with their words. We use our words to hurt others and to gossip, and we don’t care who we hurt. We also lash out at others who hurt us not caring that we are doing the same thing. We live in a polarized world.

God wants us to be different though, and He showed me how through an encounter yesterday at VBS. I have been assisting in different areas this week, and yesterday, went to an area called Kid-Vid. The lady in charge has younger children, and it had been awhile since I had seen her and had an in-depth conversation. She knew my younger son had just graduated from high school and wanted to know what both of my kids would be doing this summer and next year. Then, she asked me what I would be doing since she knew I would now have an empty nest. She seemed to be genuinely interested so I told her about this blog and the stories and books I hoped to write–the things I wanted to pursue now that my children were grown. I was so touched. I’m not sure she knew how much it touched me because it was just an ordinary conversation. But, to me, it was invaluable and a soaking of love for my soul. She showed interest in the person I am and hope to be, not the person she thought I should be. She spoke genuine interest and love into my life and made the loneliness go away, if only for a moment. God used her to show me what generous words of love looked like, and I will never forget how those words made me feel. Thank you, sweet sister!

What she spoke into my life was a direct reflection of this quote by the author in today’s devotion. “When we put God’s Word in, diligently and routinely, the lesser things fall away. God makes us new, again and again, and we can be intentional and generous with our words to ourselves, to each other, and to God.” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) I want to be like that. I want my words to heal hearts instead of hurt hearts. I want to feel confident in who I am in God’s eyes so I can speak like that into the lives of others.

I think this might be why God has put me on this journey to bravery, and I want to end with these words from the author as my prayer for us and especially for myself because I know I need it most of all. “Friend, be brave. Be different in a world that uses words to hurt. Use your words to heal, and use them often. Give those words of life, the words found in Scripture, to as many people as you can.” (100 Words to Brave, Annie F. Downs)

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Generous With Our Money

This is a hard one, y’all. I’ve been challenged and continue to be challenged with how God wants us to be with our money. It’s the area where I am the least brave. If I have the choice between paying for a place to live and food to eat versus giving money to the church, usually, the first one will win out. We all tend to be most interested in our own survival. And then there’s the question the author asks in today’s devotion. “But are you brave enough to believe that if you are generous with your money, you won’t run out?” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) My answer to that question most days is ‘I don’t know.’

And coupled with that answer is one of the main reasons I might eventually lessen my involvement on social media. At least lessen the amount of time I look at other people’s pictures. Because, sometimes, I have a hard time looking at the pictures of someone’s trip to Hawaii, Europe, or somewhere in the United States, reconciling it with that particular person saying we needed to give more to the church, and being jealous that they got to take those trips. Now, before anyone gets bent out of shape, I’m talking about how I feel and how I’m sinning when I have those thoughts, not about anyone else. 🙂

God wants us to be generous with what money we have and not wish we had someone else’s money. This one is so hard for me and is a part of my giving story. So, for the rest of this post, I’m going to re-post something I wrote last year. I hope you are blessed.

The Complexity of Giving–My Giving Story–January 2017

On Saturday, someone I know posted a Facebook status asking people why they thought people didn’t give to the church. I was interested in what people might say so I kept going back to the post over the afternoon though I had no intention of answering the question myself. Why, you ask? My answer would have been more complex and might not have fit in the character limit for a Facebook comment. Actually, that’s not true. 🙂 I don’t know what the character limit for a Facebook comment is. I just thought it would help you understand that my experiences with giving involve a story more complex than a Facebook comment.

But, then I saw the sound bites start to come in. “up to their eyeballs in debt” “not agree with church leadership choices” “not connected” “easiest expense to dump when necessary” “We are all selfish.” “amount spend on bricks and mortar and not on helping people” The sound bites went on and on. Now, I’m not saying these aren’t true. Most news reports have sound bites that draw people to listening to the whole report, and with the attention span we all have nowadays, the sound bite might be the most we get out of the issue. This is sad, but it is what it is.

That’s when I heard the promptings from God. ‘Daughter, you need to share your story. People need to know giving to me isn’t a sound bite.’ I argued with God a bit. My story involves a painful part of my past that I would prefer not to revisit. But, as those of us who are believers know, arguing with God tends not to work.

So, in all its glory, here is my giving story.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. God wasn’t spoken of in my home, and neither was tithing. If we did go to church, which wasn’t often, it might have been at Christmas or Easter. My parents would hand me a few dollars to put in the offering plate, but that was it.

When I was a teenager, they allowed me to go to church with a friend. I think it was a prompting from God. I heard about Jesus and his unconditional love and grace, and it was amazing to me. I accepted Christ as my Savior not long after. I started learning about the Bible in my youth group and during the services. I heard teaching about tithing and giving too, but it seemed far above me. I was a teenager, after all, and didn’t have a regular income to tithe. It was also not being reinforced at home. So, I continued putting a few dollars in the offering plate at this church and the other churches I went to as a teenager and didn’t think about it anymore.

Then, I went to college across the country from my family. I found a college church and a campus ministry to become involved in. I thrived in college because of this community and made lifelong friends. We were encouraged to give, but community was what was most important. We were college students, after all. This was a precious time for me. Like I have said, I still have relationships with some of these people over thirty years later. We did mission work. We were a part of our community and impacted lives for Jesus. I ended up going to graduate school at the same university so I was in college for six years.

Eventually, though, I entered the real world and started working as a teacher. I was still going to church and still giving, but something changed. It was no longer about the community or serving God. It was about seeing how much you could accumulate. The talk among my friends was who had the newest car, who had the newest clothes or music, or who had a boyfriend. I was still at my college church which I loved, but there was one thing it was missing. Single guys! The message I was getting was that it was time for me to settle down. I decided I needed to try some of the larger churches in town. I went through a couple of boyfriends and then found the man I would eventually marry when I went out for visitation with the church I had started going to. It was love at first sight. He was recovering from surgery, but there was something about his kind eyes, his sarcastic wit, and the way he made me laugh that I was drawn to. He asked me to marry him six months later, and we married a year after that.

For the next few years, we drifted between churches. We were both Christians and wanted to go to church, but we couldn’t find anywhere we felt comfortable. He also had not been raised in the church so neither of us had good teachings about giving to draw from. We also had not had good teaching about community. In particular, I remember one Sunday School class where we were asked when we were going to buy a home with the implication that living in an apartment was not a good thing and that we would not be welcome if we didn’t buy a home. We did not stay at that church.

We moved across town a few months after I found out I was pregnant with my first son. After he was born, we decided we wanted to plant roots in a church, but not one where we would be noticed. We went to a few smaller churches, but then found a bigger one we liked. There were things to be involved with and ways to serve so we became involved pretty quickly. We also started giving more, but we weren’t tithing, and it wasn’t as regular as it should have been. We had our second son, and he was dedicated in that church. Life was good.

But, we started noticing things, little things at first, and then they got bigger. Because, you see, we had moved to one of the wealthier parts of town. We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. The talk at some of our Sunday School class fellowships started to be about what houses people had bought, what cars or boats people were thinking about getting, and where was the best place to get exclusive children’s clothing. My husband and I tried to keep up, but there was only so much we could do. The talk was about the toys and not about Jesus. Oh, we still helped people, but the unspoken implication was that we were better than them. As I think back, it makes me sad that we lost sight of who Jesus was in this church.

Then, it started getting noticed that we didn’t have as much or give as much as other people. The people who gave the most were recognized at our church. It was a competition we had no hope of winning. People would give us the side-eye if we were not wearing the best clothes or not driving off in the nicest cars. Conversations would stop when we walked up. I remember one thing in particular. My husband asked a guy in our class where his jewelry store was–that he wanted to buy me something. The guy replied in a snooty voice, “Don’t bother. You can’t afford anything in my store.” We were in shock and didn’t know what to say.

This was all building to something though–something that would take us away from that community. A family tragedy brought something out of the shadows that had happened a long time ago. It was something that made us unworthy in the eyes of the person who found out. He thought it was necessary for the whole church to know, and we were betrayed. The hurt was unimaginable. We had lost what we thought was our community. Fortunately, my husband found a job in another city, and we moved there not long after.

My first thought upon moving to our new city was to find a new church. I wanted to meet people. We did find one. It was where our older son was baptized. It didn’t take long for the same things to happen again though. People thought they were better than us because they had more and gave more. What we gave wasn’t enough. It hurt me down to the core of my being. We left that church and the church itself for what we thought would be forever. We told ourselves we could be Christians without having a church. This is true, but we didn’t understand what we would be missing out on since we had never been in a true Christian community.

Years passed. We moved to the Midwest and then back to the Southeast. Our kids grew, and we decided to homeschool them. Finally, we moved southwest from where we had been after we had experienced another family death, surgery, and job loss. Finding another church wasn’t even on our radar, but God hadn’t given up on us. My fifteen year old son asked if we could go to church, and a friend told me about one and said we needed to try it. We’re still there, almost five years later. It was so refreshing. No one cared that we lived in an apartment. We were welcomed warmly every single time we walked in the door. And this was with me staying in the background after I had walked in trying to figure out these people and what agenda they had. For the first several months, I just came and participated in the services and figured the agenda would come out soon enough, and we would be hurt again. It didn’t though. My sons made friends, and the trappings didn’t matter. We learned the way God truly meant for us to love one another. I didn’t know how wealthy some of the people were until we actually went to their homes. They were that down-to-earth. No one knew how much other people gave to the church.

Several months passed with all of this staying the same, and my husband and I talked about becoming consistent givers. We had never done this, but we were in a place that was touching our family in miraculous ways so we wanted to try. God blessed us from that first time of giving. Now, I’m not saying we became instantly wealthy. We didn’t. We have gone through heartbreak galore over the last four years–unemployment, multiple hospital stays,  health concerns, and just struggling to believe God and our community wouldn’t desert us again. It was logical. We had been deserted before so there was every possibility it would happen again. We haven’t been deserted though, and I don’t believe we will be even though I relive our pain every year at stewardship time. Sometimes, I flash back to the past when I hear stewardship sermons because of what we went through, and we are giving now.

So, before you reduce someone’s giving to a sound bite, ask them what their giving story is. It will probably be more complex than you think.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Generous With Our Wisdom

When I went to church on Sunday, I went early so I could pray. After I was done with my prayer time, I ran into a friend of mine who said he had some visitors coming he wanted me to meet. Turns out it was a mom with two teenagers from my old state who was also homeschooling. If that wasn’t a perfect set-up for sharing wisdom, I’m not sure what would be. It made me feel really good to have that conversation about what homeschooling in my state was like. I shared wisdom and knowledge that I often feel like I don’t have.

God wants us to share our wisdom with others though many of us have the same hesitations I do about whether they have wisdom or not. The author of today’s devotion asserts that we do have wisdom, but also points us to Scripture where it says we can ask God for it. From James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Wisdom was also the only thing Solomon, from the Old Testament, asked God for, and it was given to him abundantly.

So, God gives us wisdom to share with others which makes us qualified. No matter how young we are or how old we are. We just need to be brave enough to believe it and to share it.

I remember another time when I was the recipient of some much-needed wisdom. It was right before we moved to the state we’re living in now. I had just found out we needed to have a cover school for homeschooling our sons. I had done some research online, but wasn’t sure what the best choice would be. I asked some of the moms on a homeschooling website I frequented what they knew about them, and they were generous with their wisdom. By asking that question, I also found that we would be moving near one of those families, and we met them in person the first weekend we were there. Meeting that family changed our family’s life. I am so grateful these women were willing to share their wisdom at a pivotal point in my family’s life.

In conclusion, God will give us wisdom to share, and we need to be willing to share it with others. May we all be willing to share what God has given us!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!