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A Bicycle Life

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It was one of those nights when I couldn’t sleep, and ended up indulging in a pity party.

“Lord,” I cried, “I feel like you’re taking away all my supports. I can no longer follow my old routines because of the demands of caregiving and my husband’s unpredictable work schedule. Things are flying at me so fast, and I don’t have time to process them. Life feels so unstable–it’s getting so hard!”

Out of nowhere I sensed His chuckling as He replied, “Yes, I finally took off your training wheels!” And I fell asleep chuckling myself.

~Viki Rife

The memory haunts me to this day.

My best friend and her sister were spending the night with their grandparents, and their Grandpa had gone to his room early because he wasn’t feeling well. When the girls were ready for bed, they went to say goodnight to him. He was looking at one of his guns, and barked at them to leave. Surprised, they backed out, and as they closed the door, they heard a shot. They opened the door and became the first witnesses of their grandfather’s gruesome death.

What haunts me most is that I only know what I overheard the adults whispering. My friends never talked about it, and I felt compelled to wait for them to bring it up. It was a hush-hush thing, an elephant in the room of our relationship. I had no idea how to minister to them, and I’m pretty sure the adults around me weren’t sure, either. Everyone chose silence.

How do we as Christians respond to a person contemplating suicide? How do we respond to the family that remains after a suicide?

These thoughts are on my mind especially today, World Suicide Prevention Day. The recent death of Robin Williams has once again brought concerns about suicide to the forefront. We’re left wondering, “Couldn’t someone have done something?”

In our upcoming GraceTouch e-newsletter, a mother who lost her son to suicide shares her story and her involvement in working with suicide prevention and postvention. She also offers guidelines for a Christian response to suicide.

The e-newsletter goes out September 15—if you are not a subscriber, you can sign up on our home page www.wgusa.org (scroll down to the green rectangle).

~Viki Rife

I was running late for an appointment, and my car was almost out of gas. It was raining, and to top it off, I couldn’t pay at the pump. Grumbling to myself as I hurried through the rain into the convenience store, I made a mental note of the fact that the road was suddenly filled with rush hour traffic—and my route required me to make a left turn!

As I opened the door, I saw a long line of people waiting to pay for their purchases. Irritated, I told the Lord how I felt about the morning. After all, I was on my way to do ministry. Couldn’t He have made my way a little easier?

The cashier, covered with tattoos under her skimpy tank top, threw out four-letter words generously as she waited on customers. As I finally finished and turned to leave, I heard her call for the next person in line. The woman approached and said, “How are you doing today?”

“Great. Doing great.” The cashier responded.

I got into my car and apologized profusely to the Lord. If I am a child of the God of the Universe, why wasn’t I saying I was doing great? Do delays and rain really keep me from “doing great”? Why don’t I appreciate what I have in Christ? Even if the woman was lying through her teeth, at least she was willing to admit that something could be positive.

Then a second realization hit me like a bolt of lightning. In my absorption with my problems, I had never bothered to ask the woman across the counter how she was doing.

“Open my eyes, Lord. I want to see Jesus—not the inconveniences, not the flaws of others—just Jesus.”

 

~ Viki Rife

For a child, one of the many fun activities at a petting zoo is giving a lamb a bottle. What is it about human beings that causes us to be fascinated with giving food to creatures? And in the spiritual realm, we have actually been instructed to do it!

Whether you are responsible for a whole ministry, an individual you mentor, or your own children, we are each called to “feed Christ’s sheep” in some way. How do we rise up to that challenge?

Last weekend, I went on a prayer retreat with a friend. Interestingly, we both had been thinking a lot about Jeremiah 3:15: “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

1. Who is the one who provides the shepherds? Our calling to shepherd comes from God Himself!

2. What kinds of shepherds are needed? Ones whose hearts are like God’s own. As a leader, how am I investing in making sure my heart knows and understands God’s heart?

3. What are the shepherds’ to do Feed the sheep. Not beat them, not complain about them, not ignore them. Our job is to make sure that the sheep entrusted to us are properly fed.

4. How should they be fed? I feel the responsibility to know God’s Word so I can give them knowledge, but I also feel responsible to understand the “sheep” and their needs. The combination of knowledge and understanding is powerful in nourishing the sheep! We need to know what food is best for each sheep.

The more I meditate on this verse, the more I feel a deep desire see God’s people well-nourished and tenderly cared for. What a beautiful word picture God has provided for us! May you delight in feeding whatever sheep God has entrusted to you!

       ~ Viki Rife

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Over the years, I’ve read many articles on the loneliness of leadership. I know it’s there—I’ve felt it myself.

Sometimes I have identified with Elijah’s cry, “They have killed all the prophets, and I’m the only one left.” But God’s response is very reassuring, “I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” Then God gave him Elisha as a companion.

Our society is in many ways similar to Elijah’s. Sometimes we feel that we’re the only ones standing. What a comfort we can receive when we spend time with others who are also standing firm against the tide of public opinion!
I have learned much from watching the interaction of the Women of Grace USA board.

Take ten or eleven women with very different personalities, put them in the same house for three days, and it can be a recipe for tension. However, these women have one thing in mind—bringing glory to God and obeying Him. They have a heart to shepherd God’s people. Even though I have a title that could indicate that I’m “in charge,” I know that there is no way I can do it without this wonderful team of women who are so committed to listening together to the Holy Spirit’s leading. I know I can lean on them to help make sure I keep my eyes on Christ.

Leadership doesn’t have to be lonely. As a leader, don’t be afraid to lean for emotional support on those you lead. They are God’s blessing to you.

~~ Viki Rife

I never dreamed when I agreed to a three-year term as president of WMC (now Women of Grace USA) that my term would last 17 years. While the world has changed much in that time, some principles I have learned are relevant to any leadership position. I share them with the hope they will help and inspire others with leadership responsibilities:

Your role is a calling from God. When I first became president, leaders were chosen by election, and women were asked to allow their names to be placed in nomination for an office. However it was becoming harder to find women willing to serve, so the attitude was often, “I’ll do it if no one else will.” In fact, that was somewhat my own attitude until one day God showed me that what I was doing was more than a job that no one else would do – it was a ministry to which He had called me. Suddenly I felt free: free to be who He called me to be, free to stop worrying about finding a successor, free to follow the direction He was setting for the organization.

Be yourself. Initially I did everything in the same way as my predecessor. But I began to see that while we had similar gifts, my personality and style of leadership were different. I began to “feel comfortable in my own skin” and accepted the fact that God had given me the experiences and abilities I needed for the task at that time. You are not your predecessor, nor should you try to copy her. Be yourself, because God has uniquely prepared you for this job at this time.

It is not your ministry, it is God’s, so hold it in your hands lightly. Occasionally I’ve known people who held tightly to a plan or ministry, then were upset when people didn’t do what they expected; or they expressed disappointment that their hard work was not appreciated. Pride can stand in the way of what God wants to accomplish, but a humble spirit lets God lead the way and does not expect the credit.

Appreciate the unique giftings of team or board members, then trust them to do their jobs – don’t micromanage. My obsessive-compulsive, perfectionistic side really struggled with this (and still does, sometimes). Would she do the job right (read that “my way”)? Would she meet the deadline? I had to learn to release people to God and let him take care of things. And if she didn’t do it “my way,” I learned to appreciate her way and her style, thanking God that we are all different parts of the same body, and each part has a special job to do.

Take time to share what’s going on in team members’ personal lives. Some of the most blessed times in board meetings have been when we gathered around one who was hurting and poured out our hearts to the Lord for her. Times of sharing, rejoicing and weeping together have helped us to see that doing God’s business can be more than passing motions and checking off items on an agenda; it also can be the fellowship of a community that is safe, authentic and loving. How beautiful if all women’s ministry teams and church boards could work together in such a safe, loving community. Imagine what God would be able to accomplish!

Listen to those who disagree or are critical. One of the best things that happened to me was when a board member met with me and lovingly pointed out a major flaw in my leadership style. At first it was hard to hear, although I knew she was right, but I’ve been deeply grateful for her courage to confront me about something I badly needed to hear.

Celebrate often. I’ve had a little card in my kitchen for years that says, “Give God the glory in all that you do and watch Him do great things for you.” I am convinced that God has blessed Women of Grace USA far beyond our expectations because we not only have prayed, but also glorified and praised God, sometimes even before our prayers were answered. He has truly done great things.

• Last but most important: Care for your own soul. In the pressure of travel, preparation for meetings and speaking, caring for other people, answering requests, meeting deadlines, serving your family, even putting out the occasional fire, it will be easy to let soul care take a back seat. But you can’t lead out of coldness or barrenness. Keep your relationship with Jesus your highest priority. As one blogger recently said, “Leading begins with following [Jesus].” When it seems impossible to get alone to sit before Him in silence, ask God to show you creative ways to hear His voice and meditate on His word.

I have no profound words in conclusion, only gratitude. Gratitude for the lessons God saw fit to teach me. And much gratitude for the many women (and some men, too) over the years who have walked with me, been patient with my failures and mistakes, prayed with and for me, and helped me to learn. To all of them I say, “Thank you.” To God alone be the glory.

Day before yesterday was the first Sunday of Lent. I have never been a part of a church that observes Lent and I’m not attuned to the liturgical church calendar, so I was caught by surprise when I read a blog last week about Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten observance.

In my growing up years, the only people I knew about who observed Lent were Catholics. I knew they had special church services, did penance for their sins, and gave up certain things during the 40 days prior to Good Friday (minus Sundays, which are a celebration of the Resurrection). Then I learned that other denominations followed the same practice – but not ours.

Ask.com defines Lent as “a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. The purpose is to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ – his suffering and his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection.”

While many of our churches that grew out of the Anabaptist tradition do not observe Lent, viewing it as a manmade holy day and frowning on rituals and liturgies, I think there can be much spiritual value in taking time at this season to meditate on scripture that describes Christ’s suffering and sacrifice on our behalf. The greatness of his love and the depth of his sacrifice should lead to confession and repentance from sin. Fasting can be a part of our observance. Spiritual fasting may mean anything from going without meals or a certain food to eliminating certain attitudes or activities from one’s life in order to free ourselves from the desires of the flesh and turn our hunger toward God. The decision to fast should be led by the Spirit of God.

While I do not feel led to fast, I have decided to observe Lent by focusing my devotional times on the cross of Christ. I am working through Contemplating the Cross, a small book by Trisha McCary Rhodes that provides daily scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments, a brief narrative of a few moments in Christ’s journey to the cross, and probing questions to consider. I want to understand in a deeper way the rejection, the anguish, and the terrible suffering Jesus endured for my sake!

Some blogs I’ve read offer insights and suggestions for observing Lent. You may find something helpful on one of these sites:
http://blog.lifeway.com/womenallaccess/2014/03/03/what-lent-taught-me-about-myself/#.Uxd_QWex4rg
http://www.christianitytoday.com/amyjuliabecker/2014/february/in-defense-of-lent.html
http://www.judydouglass.com/2014/03/discovering-mercy-lent/

If you don’t choose to fast, you may want to make a donation to someone in need. A suggestion would be to help our sisters and brothers in the Central African Republic who are experiencing severe hunger – an unintentional fast caused by the bitter suffering and destruction they have experienced because of the warring factions in their nation. You can donate at http://www.encompassworldpartners.org/component/k2/item/4590-africa-relief.html

I trust that during these days leading up to “Good” Friday (the darkest of all days for our Lord), your heart will be stirred again by the depths of his suffering on your behalf. Then rejoice, because after dark Friday comes Resurrection Sunday!

Do you observe Lent? What practices are especially meaningful to you? I’d love to hear from you.

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