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~ Written by Sharon MacMillan 

If there were ducks to be placed in a row, they would be fluttering in all directions. My husband and I feel like we are in a Stage Nine hurricane. Circumstances around us are blowing out of control. We’re trying to finish study projects. Fix up our home to sell. Move to Texas in May so I can get to Japan by June to help my son’s family welcome their twins. I catch my frenetic self over-thinking how to solve things, only to be set back to where I started. I feel like I’m lying face down in the mud, like a storm-blown fence, waiting for someone to help me up so I can move on to the next set of circumstances.

Then I remember to whom I belong. I am the daughter of the Almighty God, the Master Builder, the Perfect Manager of everything. I go into His presence a bit shy for being so slow to turn my mess over to Him. But I don’t find condemnation or see a finger pointing. I see arms that welcome me in. His presence is the place of peace, safety, security, and help. What was I thinking, trying to manage life without Him?

Then I realize He’s arranged my hurricane so I would come to Him. He wants to teach me something from his treasure box of riches. His Word reads, “I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel, my heart instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord before me because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”

My heart feels the warmth of His love. I read on. “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

God is delighted and honored as I answer those who say, “How did you get through all those circumstances?” I tell them, “It was the Perfect Manager who helped us. He’s known for doing all things well.” 

She Said Yes! 

~ Written by Nicole Miller

The story was not a new one, but on this day it resonated with us in a way that amazed us. We were sharing with our SMM (Sisters Mentoring with a Mission) girls in our after-school discipleship ministry the story of Abram. God asked him to leave his homeland and go without knowing the details. We asked them, “What do you think his response was?” They had a variety of answers ranging from “maybe he had questions” or “maybe he hesitated.” They landed on the answer, “Abram said yes!”

As we asked the girls what their responses would have been, many of them replied that they would have said yes too, even if they had questions. It’s easy as young people, and even as adults, to hope, even believe deeply, that we will always respond “yes” when God asks us to do things. Knowing this, my co-leader Santina and I wanted to draw in a bit of our own story and tie it into the 7th grade girls’ lives.

We had previously asked the girls how important SMM was to them now that they are in middle school. The answer was unanimous: “Very important.” So we shared with them, “Last year when you asked us to have SMM in the middle school we could have said no.”

The look on their faces was showed their shock. They couldn’t believe we could have made that choice. When they asked about it in the elementary school SMM last year, though, we had no idea how to make a middle school program happen. But it felt as if God was asking us to do it. So we answered yes without knowing how it would happen. Through our efforts, but mostly God opening doors, we were able to start our after-school SMM in the middle school this year.

As we retold this story, we wanted to share the complete picture with our girls. So we kept going back. If Santina hadn’t decided to serve in SMM several years ago, she would not have met these girls when they were in 4th grade. In fact, if she hadn’t said yes to going to Grace College she would not have been able to say yes to SMM.

Following this line of thought brought us back to a series of “yeses.” If I hadn’t said yes to leading the elementary SMM, there would never have been a program in the first place. On and on, the series of single “yes” moments went. A simple opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to God may seem like a small moment, but you never know where one “yes” will lead. This train of thought was a great lesson to teach our girls, but ultimately it gave us as leaders joy and hope.

Sometimes ministry can begin to feel tedious. It is easy to lose sight of how big God’s story is. As we took time to connect to these girls’ lives, God moved our hearts to recognize how precious our “yeses” have been. We have had the chance to know one another, to know our girls, to serve God, just because of a mindset of simply answering yes when God asked. 

~ Written by Pat Ashcraft

Barbara was the youngest of four children. Born in the early 1920’s, she lived through the depression. When she was seven, her mother died and she was raised by her dad and grandmother. She later met and married Bob Mason; together they had five children in six years. Their first child died at childbirth.

Barbara was very intelligent, funny, and outgoing. Everywhere she went, she was the life of the party. She was a good mother, wife, friend and neighbor. At the age of 33, after several years of problems, Barbara was hospitalized for the first time for bipolar disorder.

I know all this about Barbara because she was my mother. I am the youngest of her children.

My mother’s life and our family were greatly affected by her illness. In our house growing up, we never used the words “mental illness.” Our dad would just say, “your mom is sick, try to help out more.” We were all adults before we knew what her diagnosis was. We never discussed with anyone else that our mother was mentally ill.

My oldest sister took over running the household. My next sister took care of mom but also learned to cook at a young age. My brother coped by ignoring everything and keeping busy outside the home. I was the “baby” and was cared for and protected by the older kids. I probably had the most normal childhood, as I was allowed to be a child and not take on adult duties.

All of us had various issues that affected our schooling. It wasn’t until 12th grade that anyone asked me if there were problems at home. Even then, I didn’t tell the principal that life was a total upheaval at times because of my mother. At that point, I was soon going to graduate and leave home, so it seemed like a moot point.

When I was 16 years old, my mother was having a very bad manic episode. She hadn’t slept or eaten or stopped talking for about five days. She was totally confused. She would pick fights over the smallest things. We were all exhausted.

My dad decided to put her in the car and drive her to the hospital. She knew that meant another stay in the psychiatric ward and didn’t want to go. I was helping my dad get her shoes and socks on and helping with her coat. She was fighting us every step of the way. I was thoroughly disgusted with my mom. I had had enough of her and all we had to live with. I was tired and angry that I didn’t have a “normal” mom. I said to my dad, “How can you stand this?” He stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “I don’t ‘stand’ anything. I love your mother. And when you love someone, you take care of them. Don’t you ever say anything like that about your mother again.” Wow, what a lesson in love.

When my mother was at her worst, her least attractive and most difficult to deal with, my dad chose to love her. What a picture of God’s love for me! When I was at my worst, ugly from sin and full of pride, God chose to love me. He sent His only Son to save me. That’s unconditional love at its best!  

Forgive And…

~ Written by Sue Knight

Forgive and forget.

Forgive and move on.

Forgive, but return to the offense and allow it to overwhelm you once again.

Forgive and plot your revenge for later.   

You can fill in the blank to this familiar phrase using a variety of words. Personally, I do not adhere to the “forgive and forget” camp (nor to any of the other options listed above). It is true that memories can be triggered at a most unexpected moment and an avalanche of thoughts comes rushing back into our hearts and minds. However, it is what I do with those thoughts that counts.

When I look back on the hurts and offenses I have experienced in my life, I am learning to say, “Thank you, God, for this reminder of how important forgiveness is.”

Forgiveness is as much for the offended as it is for the offender. God granted us forgiveness before we even knew we were sinners and separated from Him. Ephesians 4:29-32 speaks directly to forgiveness – “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” A powerful step to take, one which can bring God’s healing balm to soothe our pain as we ask God to give us a Christ-like heart of forgiveness.

But does a painful ordeal end with forgiveness? While forgiveness can be both thrilling and powerful, if we are able to experience reconciliation as a result of that forgiveness, it is even more exciting. Max Lucado has said, “The key to forgiving others is to quit focusing on what they did to you and start focusing on what God did for you.” Forgiveness is required by God. The next step, reconciliation, is forgiveness in action.

The process of reconciliation depends upon the attitude of both the offended and the offender. The wounds which hurt so deeply in the beginning have been replaced by scars. Forgive and forget? Forgetting is just about impossible because of the way God uses painful experiences to shape our lives. The scars left behind are just that, something we don’t think about a lot, but every once in a while, we notice them. Ask our Father to use these times as a reminder to thank Him that they represent forgiveness and perhaps reconciliation—reconciliation as illustrated by the Cross.

The purpose of the Cross is to repair the irreparable. Jesus Christ reconciled the human race, putting it back to where God designed it to be. We have not only experienced that reconciliation through our salvation, but recognize that reconciliation has brought us back together into oneness with God. Praise God—forgiveness is the prelude to reconciliation. 

New Beginnings

~ Written by Rosa Munoz 

My life is full of new beginnings. In January 1983 I came to the USA, a new country, with great expectations of new adventures with my husband Hector Melendez. We had very little financial resources and connections. We had left our family and friends in our native land, Puerto Rico. Immigrating to a new country, culture, place, and environment was exciting but challenging.

I remembered praying and telling God, “I will look to you, follow your will with all my heart and mind. Oh! my Heavenly Father, my Lord all the days of my life.” The Bible reminds us about God’s faithfulness in Lamentations 3:21-24. His hope, faithfulness, goodness and provision have been evident throughout the 34 years of my life here in the USA.

We started out in Miami, Florida, for seven years. I experienced growth in a different aspect of my life. We then moved to Tampa in 1990. We had hoped for a baby, but it wasn’t until September 1992 that our miracle baby, Matthew, came to us. We rejoiced in God’s faithfulness in giving us a child.

A year later, my husband died in a car accident. I began a new, different life as a young widow with my little one-year-old in Tampa. Once again I waited on God, looking to Him and relying on His faithfulness, hope and provision. My focus became seeking God’s direction for taking care of my little boy and pleasing Him. I praise God for the godly women He brought to my life and the prayer partners who strengthened and helped me to grow daily in Jesus Christ. I was learning that I was not alone.

The next summer I met a widower, Jesus Munoz, with three children. He had been through similar life experiences through losing his wife in a car accident. God was preparing a new beginning for our lives. After four years of friendship and God’s perfect timing we married in July of 1998. This brought on another new beginning as we embarked on blending two families, church planting and leadership development. It has been a great gift to our lives. I have been richly blessed to meditate on my memories of new beginnings and remember that God is faithful. Our hope is in Him.

Chicken Delight

~ Written by Cindy Bushen

I’ve been told that I’m lacking in the laughter factor; that I take life to seriously. When my daughter suggested that I knit vests for their six chickens for Christmas, I thought, “Ok, that’s funny.” I imagined my son-in-law, who finds humor in the smallest of things, would be delighted with this Christmas gift. He was.

As the evening was winding down at our Christmas gathering, with just a couple friends and family remaining, Mike brought in a chicken to model a vest. The chicken appeared to be quite pleased with her new attire as she strutted around the family room. But true to a chicken’s nature, in just a few minutes there was a mess on the floor to clean up. My daughter headed upstairs to gather some paper towels to take care of the task. Mike disrobed the chicken and perched her on his arm to return her to the coop. Just as he reached the stairs, he stopped to comment to a guest. My daughter was coming down the stairs. Her eyes widened as she proclaimed, “Mike, this chicken is going to lay an egg! Seriously, it’s laying an egg!” Her eyes were three times wider than normal. We all participated in deep hysterical laughter that occurs when the totally unexpected happens.

Psalm 37:4 is a favorite passage of mine. The verse reads, “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your hear.” While it may be a stretch to apply it to my chicken story, I believe that God orchestrates turns of events into unexpected humor for our delight.

This passage states that the desires of my heart will be given if I delight in the Lord, but I am certain that God delights even more when observing us enjoy (even to the hysterical point) the opportunities for laughter He creates. Only a close daily walk with the Lord will keep our hearts light and ready to observe what has been placed in our path for the purpose of delighting us. Today, slow your pace, observe the commonplace with an eye for the unexpected. God has a delightful experience just waiting for you.

   

~ Written by Cathy Simms

Have you ever thought about how you treat people when you enter your church on Sunday? Do you enter your bank or grocery store and treat others the same way? How about your friends and family?

Philippians 2:4 (NLT) says, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” It begins with taking “me” out of every situation and putting “others” in its place. When we have the mind of Christ, we are able to see others as Christ sees them.

The word “servant” is defined as “one who serves others.” Galatians 6:3 (NLT) says, “If you think you are too important to help someone in need, you are only fooling yourself. You are really a nobody.” It is in small acts of serving or looking out for others’ interests that we grow like Christ. He specialized in menial tasks that everyone else tried to avoid.

Small tasks often show a big heart. Having a servant’s heart is revealed in little acts that others don’t think of doing. Sometimes we need to serve upward to those in authority but sometimes we need to serve downward to those in need.

So I challenge you, don’t wait until Sunday to think about how to help someone. The people God puts in your path today need to know somebody cares! Who will you be willing to serve today?

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