LESSONS I LEARNED DURING FINANCIAL HARDSHIPS: PART ONE

Seek the Kingdom of God

As a young married couple, my husband and I were sailing through life enjoying the comforts of a really good income. Michael was super ambitious and working for Burroughs Corporation in his twenties. I was ambitious, too, and braved three interviews to get hired by Procter and Gamble.

During my first pregnancy, we were in excellent shape financially. We assumed we would be raising our family with a great income. To our surprise though, Michael was laid off due to the merger between Burroughs and Sperry. The two corporations became a new one: Unisys. This resulted in job losses for a number of employees. Michael’s job was cut during a third lay off period, three months before our first child was born.

In the midst of the shocking news, we saw God’s hand working. Christa was born only one day before our medical insurance was dropped. We were grateful for such perfect timing.

After the lay off, we were wondering: What should we do now? The main thing Michael and I agreed upon strongly is that we did not want to place Christa in daycare. My boss understood my situation, and she worked it out for me to drastically cut my work schedule, so I could focus on parenting.

Michael dreamed of being an entrepreneur, so he was elated when his boss retired from Burroughs and asked him to be his partner in starting a computer business. Michael worked from home, making a fraction of his previous income and stayed with our daughter while I worked very part-time hours.

Several years later, Procter and Gamble was transitioning into using computers for processing orders. The training would have required more hours of work for me. With mixed emotions, I took a leap of faith and quit my job, desiring to pour myself into motherhood more than any other job.

It wasn’t long after leaving my job that I learned the old adage is true: “When one door closes, God opens a window.” After leaving the corporate world, God opened new doors for me to earn money. Working as a nanny for other children kept me from having to leave my daughter in the care of someone else.

After my son was born, I was more determined than ever to savor motherhood. More doors opened for flexible part-time jobs, enabling me to be a home-schooling mom.

As my husband and I lived by faith, we chose to reject the popular definition of the AMERICAN DREAM. Our dream transitioned into living more purposefully. We intentionally chose the less popular path of a really simple life.

Our choice was not easily done, but taking the road of faith is never easy. Following Christ is the most fulfilling journey, but it’s not the easiest path.

With determination to stay true to our convictions, we passed through some really tough seasons. God carried us through the loss of Michael’s computer business, several more job losses and home business losses.

At one point, Michael had to deliver pizzas for several years. He worked nights at the YMCA in addition to his day job for a season. And while my daughter and husband attended college during the same time period, it was necessary for me to work weekends and late nights to make ends meet.

Our faith in Christ sustained us through every challenge and led us to new opportunities. In 2010, after two decades of riding a financial roller-coaster, we were elated when Michael earned a Biomedical Engineering degree. In his late forties, Michael began a new career in the medical diagnostics field.

I cannot say I miss the twists and turns of our past, but I would definitely relive all of the challenges over again for the great treasures I gained along the way.

Now that my children are grown—one in college and one college graduate who’s working for a non-profit corporation—I’m grateful I chose the kinds of work that gave me the flexibility I needed as a mother. Looking back, I know I made the right choice for my family. There’s nothing that could replace the value of the time spent raising my children.

I’m happy to share the priceless lessons I learned through experiencing financial hardships. I hope you’ll find encouragement from these truths.

God is the ultimate provider.

Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. — Matthew 6:33 (NLT)

Confidently knowing that Christ is trustworthy is the greatest lesson I learned during our financial struggles. My family received miracles in ways we could not have experienced otherwise. Our lack of finances at times forced us into an infant-like dependency upon Christ. Through our hardships, we got to experience the extraordinary power and provision of God, our Father.

Giving to others is better than receiving blessings ourselves.

We must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” — Acts 20:35 (ESV)

The greatest need as human beings is our need to give. Early in our marriage, Michael and I chose to give in various ways, including sponsoring missionaries with monthly support. After several job losses, our ability to sponsor missionaries was hindered temporarily. However, I learned that generosity doesn’t have to be limited by the amount of money we have. We can give generously by giving our time, our talents, and our love, regardless of our income level.

The greatest joy comes after seasons of waiting.

The Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him! — Isaiah 30:18 (NIV)

Instant gratification is not a good thing; I believe it actually limits our ability to appreciate and enjoy things. I learned that waiting is a gift. Having to wait on something actually heightens the experience, simply because the delay makes the fulfilled desire extra sweet. One of my best memories is when we visited Disney World in 2012 after many years of waiting to go together as a family. The joy was multiplied and intensified greatly as a result of the delay.

Christ carried our family through the challenges and then graciously restored our finances above and beyond what we had hoped for.

Christ provides. He restores. He directs our paths.

Be encouraged if you are facing a financial challenge. I am confident that God will do for you what He did for my family if you trust and seek Him wholeheartedly. With Christ, it’s possible to live abundantly in all seasons of life.

PART TWO of this article will be posted next week.

RESTING IN GOD’S PROMISES

God Keeps His Promises

I was thinking, “Who’s calling late on a Saturday night?” Michael answered the call and he knew something was wrong when he heard our son’s voice. Thomas called from college five days ago in physical pain, asking for prayer and advice.

Michael encouraged our son, assuring him that he would seek the best medical care for him the next day. The phone call was short because Thomas had friends from Georgia visiting him for the weekend.

As soon as Michael laid the phone down, we discussed the fact that we were going to pray and trust Christ to work in this situation. I thought about the illnesses Thomas had suffered during the past two years. He went to the E.R. and spent a night in the hospital during his junior year of high school and he repeated the same scenario (with a different type of illness) during his senior year. During both stays at the hospital we saw God’s faithfulness powerfully. However, we did not want to repeat the former hospital adventures with Thomas in Oklahoma, eight-hundred miles from home.

Faith filled our hearts, as we prayed for Thomas. “Lord, we know it is Your desire to heal and protect Thomas. I trust You and believe that You want him to be well. Please heal him and take away his pain completely…”

Our prayers continued pouring out of us with fierceness, passion, and an unrelenting strength. We’ve become quite the prayer team. Two people praying together are better than one (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).

Peace filled our hearts as we finished praying. Then Michael sent a prayer request in a text message to Seth, a young man who’s involved in a prayer ministry for the city of Tulsa. We met him by a divine appointment while visiting Tulsa in April. Seth sent a message, saying he’d be praying and offered to pray with Thomas at his dorm. Since Thomas had out-of-town guests, it wasn’t necessary for Seth to visit him. Although, knowing Thomas was with his close friends and that Seth would be willing to go pray with him brought us comfort.

With certainty that God had Thomas in the palm of His hand, Michael and I went to sleep. We both were awakened in the early morning hours and prayed more for Thomas. Shortly after I got out of bed, I noticed Michael was already awake and in the other room.

He walked in and enthusiastically said, “I received a text message from Thomas. His pain
and the main symptoms are both gone.” I sighed with relief.

While praising the Lord for answering our prayers, I thought about the beautiful rainbow we had seen the morning before. It couldn’t be a coincidence that on the same day Thomas called us with the news of his pain, we saw the most magnificent rainbow at daybreak.

I was sitting there thinking about my reaction to seeing the rainbow in its entirety at the
dawn of the day. I had reacted with the giddiness of a child, and shouted, “How can anyone not believe in God?” The rainbow took my breath away as it reminded me of the way God keeps His promises.

Twenty-four hours after I was rejoicing over the rainbow, I was thanking God for what He had done for my son. Suddenly the thought occurred to me that the rainbow came as a symbol, reminding me of how the darkest hour is right before dawn. Then daybreak comes, and if we keep our eyes focused on Christ, a miracle comes, too.

Years ago, I heard a pastor say that spiritual warfare intensifies shortly before God is about to birth something new in our lives. I’ve seen a pattern of this spiritual law in my life and in the lives of those closest to me.

Last year, Thomas was lying in a hospital bed a few days before he received an opportunity of a lifetime. While in the E.R. I said to Thomas, “Something good must be about to happen. I think it has to do with football—a door opening for you.”

When I said those words, I could have never imagined that three and a half days later my son would get an offer to play college football at the division-one level.

Now that Thomas is living out his dream of being on a college football team and taking steps toward his God-given destiny, there’s a dark force trying to stop him. But with Christ, all things are possible, and all resistance is being met with a fierce kind of faith.

After Thomas had several doctor’s appointments this week, he was released to return to his usual schedule of football practices. Michael and I rejoiced over our specific prayers being answered, especially that there was no need for an E.R. visit. We are confident that God will protect Thomas and continue carrying him on the divine path laid out for him. I believe this medical challenge was part of the spiritual battle and just more evidence that Thomas is on the right path with more great things in store for him in the near future.

With childlike faith, I trust Christ wholeheartedly; I know He gave me a rainbow as a sign to assure me of His faithfulness to keep His promises.

Do you believe in the promises of God?

He promises that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

He promises whatever we ask will be done for us if we abide in Him and His words abide in us (John 15:7).

He promises He will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

He promises to give us rest for our souls (Matthew 11: 29).

He promises to heal the brokenhearted and save those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).

He promises to sustain us and restore us to good health (Psalm 41: 3).

He promises to watch over and protect us as we dwell in the shadow of His wings (Psalm 91: 1).

His promises are limitless. We can choose to believe they are true or we can choose disbelief and live a defeated life. What are you choosing?

I choose joy and faith. When things get hard, let’s keep focused on Christ, looking heavenward and resting in the the promises of God.

PHOTO CREDIT: Michael captured the photo of the actual rainbow that God sent on Saturday morning, October 31, 2015. I’ll remember it forever.

FACING GRIEF COURAGEOUSLY

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO MOURN

Grief is an inescapable reality. In this life there is death, divorce, and hardships of all kinds. Thankfully, we have hope through the blood and power of Christ. In the Bible verse, John 16:33, Christ said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Because of Christ, we can overcome the troubles of this world and live a beautiful, victorious life.

Grief is the opportunity to run into the arms of Jesus and experience His healing love in unimaginable ways. Pain is what takes our eyes off this present life and draws us into an eternal perspective and leads us to joy that cannot be stolen away from us. I’ve experienced some of life’s greatest joys while in the midst of life’s most difficult losses.

It was nearly twenty years ago that grief touched my life profoundly when a close friend’s life ended tragically. For weeks, she was missing; search groups were formed to look for any hint of her whereabouts. It was an agonizing time of uncertainty while we were searching and desperately wanting to find our friend. Eventually, in February of 1996, her body was discovered. She had been murdered at the age of thirty, leaving two children behind. Sweet, beautiful Angela was gone—she was ripped from our lives in the most horrific way. It was grief I had never known before.

After I heard about Angela’s death, memories of our late night talks flooded my heart, and I resisted the feelings of guilt for not reaching out to her during the prior weeks. I clung to my faith and drew near to Christ.

I’m thankful I have journal pages filled with the details of all Christ did for me during such a traumatic time. The words in the next several paragraphs are written just as they are in my journal, with some of the words and pages omitted.

 

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I feel such a strong presence of God in my life. I had no idea this whole tragedy was going to hit me so hard. But in the midst of the pain, God had His hand on me continually.

Sunday night I met Stephanie, a lifelong friend of Angela’s. And right away I felt like she was the nicest person. Then Monday night, they asked me to help with the eulogy. Tuesday morning, Ginny, Kim, Susan, and Kelly and I all met to finalize the writing of the eulogy. Stephanie was distressed over how she could read this in front of so many people without falling apart. I asked her if she wanted me to pray for her. So we all held hands and I prayed. I reassured Stephanie by saying, “You’ll get through it.”

When we were at the funeral and she was reading it, I never imagined she could do it so perfectly. It was like God touched her in that moment. He had answered my prayer. The eulogy was perfect. She could not have presented it more beautifully. There was not a flaw. At that moment I knew everything was going to be okay. It was like God came down and wrapped His arms around me and comforted me. God was in the middle of this! He did immeasurably more than I could have imagined. After the service, I began searching for Stephanie. As I looked for her, I saw her face looking around and her lips we’re saying, “Where’s Amy?” She saw me and I embraced her. I cried a little and said, “It was perfect; God answered our prayers.”

I don’t know that I’ll ever see Stephanie again. But I know she is a special person and God used her in my life through this painful time. She blessed me with her kind spirit and comforting words. As the day of the funeral came to an end, I felt uplifted. I felt great sadness that I had lost a friend, but at the same time I felt joy that I had found a new friend.

Thank You, Lord, for answering my prayers. Thank You for the peace and joy You have given me during this difficult time. What wonderful timing You have. It was a blessing for Christa to pray the sinner’s prayer and ask Jesus into her heart on the same day that we said goodbye to Angela. Thank You for bringing joy to my life on such a sorrowful day. And what a blessing to have met such a special person: Stephanie.

This is the end of my journal entry.

 

In 1996, I wrote several more journal entries, documenting the ways God brought comfort to me. I thanked Christ for the gift of Stephanie’s friendship in my life during the months after Angela’s death.

My daughter, Christa, was six years old at the time, so she didn’t attend the funeral or know how Angela died. However, her spirit was tuned into the presence of God in our lives during that trial. It was beautiful for Christa to accept Christ as her savior at such a painful time. I’m grateful for how the Lord orchestrated beauty during a tremendous loss.

God carried me through my grief even when I wasn’t dedicating much of my time to Him. During the time of Angela’s death, I was in the busiest season of my life. I was a busy mom, home-schooling a kindergartner, working as a nanny, and volunteering in the children’s department at my church. With so much responsibility, I sporadically wrote prayers in my journal and seemed to only pray when I was desperate. Even with my neglect of making time for solitude and prayer at that time, Christ was waiting for me with open arms and met me in my painful days.

I think some people miss out on the incredible goodness of God during times of loss, because they turn away from Him in anger or numbness instead of turning toward God with faith to believe that He is capable of bringing beauty into the broken places of life. We live in a broken, fallen world in which grief comes to us unexpectedly, but Jesus stays the same (Hebrews 13: 8).

With a recent and sudden death in my extended family, my heart is greatly empathizing with the ones most affected by the tragedy. I am comforted by knowing that it’s in the darkest seasons that beauty emerges from the ashes.

I’m not pretending to know the pain of others. I cannot fathom the pain of losing a child or a beloved spouse. And I cannot imagine the devastation a child experiences in the loss of a parent. Even though I have not experienced the depth of your pain, I know Christ has felt your heartache. He knows your grief. His love is enough to fill the void and heal the pain. As you face your grief courageously with Christ, He will carry you one moment at a time and lead you to eternal treasures.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting comfort and hope which we don’t deserve, comfort your hearts with all comfort, and help you in every good thing you say and do.”

— 2 Thessalonians 2: 16, 17 (NLT)

 

FIVE TIPS FOR RESURRECTING BURIED DREAMS

The Beauty of Dreams

Every little girl and little boy has dreams in their hearts. God places those dreams there for a purpose. He knows their dreams will someday be the fuel that pushes them into their destinies. When I was a child, my heart was filled with dreams.

My imagination was limitless. I would spend hours pretending and dreaming elaborate plans for my life. A dream that is very prominent in my mind is my dream of dancing. I have vivid memories of myself as a young girl dancing and choreographing routines that I hoped I would share with others some day.

Somewhere along the way my dreams were stolen—snatched away from me and replaced with doubt. By the time I was nineteen years old, my heart became disillusioned and I dropped out of my dance classes and stopped dreaming. Then I entered adulthood like a dead man walking, blindly feeling my way through life.

It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I realized there were dreams hiding deep within my soul. It was during a church service when a dream from childhood was slightly awakened. A pastor in my church laid his hands on me to pray and began speaking prophetically over me. He spoke of how he saw a vision of me teaching little girls to dance. I had never shared anything about my childhood dream for dancing with that pastor nor with anyone associated with that church. Only God could have shown the pastor those things about me. After-all, I wasn’t even aware myself of the dream—one I had long forgotten.

My dream for using my ability to dance was completely dead, and a pastor’s words ignited a spark buried deep within me. That message from God needed to incubate for a period of time in order for the dream to be fully awakened and released in my life.

Several years later, the prophetic words proclaimed over my destiny came to fruition in the most unexpected way. While interviewing for a part-time job with a company called, Creative Movement and Dance, I was offered a position to teach ballet to little girls.

The fascinating thing about the job offer is that I had not applied for a dance instructor position. I had responded to a Craigslist ad for an instructor specializing in sports skills for preschool age children. I worked part-time for years at a children’s gym and worked in elementary schools as an etiquette instructor, but I had absolutely no experience in teaching dance.

My soon-to-be boss, Heather, shared with me that she had accidentally booked two dance classes during the same time slot. She explained, “I can’t be in two places at the same time, so I need to hire a dance instructor.” I adamantly and kindly replied, “I’m not qualified at all for teaching dance.”

She kindly responded with words something like this: You have many years of experience with teaching children and years of being a dance student. I am certain you are qualified. I was stunned. I left the interview that day still uncertain about accepting the dance instructor position.

A few days later, during a phone conversation, Heather said, “If you don’t accept this dance instructor position, I’ll have to cancel the class.” Instantly, I knew it was a scheme by God to get me in this position with a corporation that had talented instructors with degrees in choreography and dance. While letting go of my fears, I enthusiastically said, “Yes!” to Heather because I knew that only God could orchestrate something so amazing.

I was thinking, “How could someone like me with no credentials for teaching dance be presented with such a great opportunity?” God had miraculously opened a door for me to live out my dream and I began teaching dance. After decades of lying dormant, my passion for dance was fully revived.

The dance instructor job was miraculous in more than one way. It fit into my schedule as a mom. My children were taking classes two days each week at a hybrid type of school for home-schooled students. I was able to work during the days they were away from home. Additionally, the job served as a very fulfilling and refreshing way for me to earn money, and it complemented my other part-time work during the years my husband was unemployed and attending college.

I loved teaching dance so much that I would have happily done it for free. It was a “dream” job in every sense of the word. With much gratitude, I worked for Creative Movement and Dance for six years (five of the years as a substitute teacher) until after my husband earned a Biomedical Engineering degree and began his new career. Once Michael was settled in his job, he persistently encouraged me to quit the dance job, so I could focus solely on an even bigger childhood dream: writing inspirational stories.

The day I started dreaming again was the day my heart came alive. My renewed ability to dream enabled me to wake up each day with extravagant expectation from God, fully living and hoping. My dreams push me forward and compel me to do brave things. Since I’ve tasted a dream fulfilled, I can’t imagine life without hoping for more.

Do you believe there are dreams buried within your heart that need to be awakened? Begin praying today for Christ to reveal your dreams to you. There are ways we can dig for the treasures God has placed in our hearts.

1. Surrender everything to Christ and pray that He will reveal His dreams for your life. Set aside a time to be quiet and search your heart for the unfulfilled dreams buried deep in your soul.

2. Start a “Dream Journal” to record your deepest desires and passions. Making a record of your dreams will serve as a reminder to keep pressing on in pursuing what seems impossible.

3. Form a network of positive people who will listen, encourage, and support you in your dreams. Be cautious in choosing people to share your dreams with. Some people will try to sabotage your efforts to dream again.

4. Be bold and courageous. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from going after your dreams. Failure can be a good thing. With every failure, you will learn and grow.

5. Take steps toward your dreams by taking classes or joining a group. Signing up for an art class, joining a writer’s group, singing in a choir, taking dance or music lessons, enrolling in college for the 2nd or 3rd time—any of these things could lead you to the next step toward a fulfilled dream.

Renewing the ability to dream ignites passion in our hearts, allowing us to have clarity and purpose for our lives. We are never too old to dream. Where there are no dreams, there is no life.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Let your heart come alive by asking Christ to resurrect your buried dreams.

TEN TIPS: A RECIPE FOR A BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE

 

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After a tumultuous season in our marriage and a brief separation, my husband and I decided to do whatever it took to get our lives back on track. Michael and I met when I was an eighteen-year-old student and got married six weeks before I turned twenty in 1985.

Over a decade later we had two children and piles of debt from several job losses and failed businesses. The stresses of life had taken a toll on our relationship. Our marriage hit rock bottom. Then after a season of brokenness and desperation, the healing of our rocky relationship began. Through prayer, forgiveness, and the love of Christ, our marriage not only survived—it was gloriously restored. God gave me the desires of my heart for my marriage.

To celebrate what God had done for us, we renewed our vows and celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in 2010. Our marriage is now better than it’s ever been, thirty years after we said, “I do.”

 

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Marriage is a gift from God that is supposed to be a beautiful mirror image of the love between Christ and His church. It’s a covenant that is meant to last our entire lives. How do we keep the passion alive throughout a lifetime? Is it possible to be deeply in love after three or four decades of being together? Absolutely! Choosing to love each other unconditionally and allowing the sanctification that comes from walking with Christ will result in a lasting, loving marriage.

I will never stop sharing the story of my restored marriage. It’s a story of redemption that I hope will encourage other married couples to never give up.

Three years ago my friend, Lori, had a great idea for putting together a “Happy Marriage Recipe Booklet” for a bride-to-be. She asked me to contribute my own special recipe for a great marriage. After a few days of praying and searching my heart for the best marriage tips, I wrote a list of the top ten things that have contributed to my thriving marriage.

1. Live a life that is fully surrendered to Christ. Let Jesus be the lover of your soul. Let God be your primary love relationship. Do not expect your spouse to meet the needs of your soul that only Christ can meet.

2. Forgive every day. Keep a pure and tender heart toward your spouse always. Never let the sun go down on your anger.

3. Pray together every day. Pray for each other and with each other every day.

4. Talk intimately every day. Let your spouse see your heart. Share your dreams and the secret places of your soul to cultivate intimacy.

5. Compliment each other verbally every day. Never criticize. Ask the Lord to change your own weaknesses and pray for your spouse to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth naturally decreases the power of weaknesses. The Lord will purify you and your spouse if you pray and draw near to Him.

6. Keep a gratitude journal. Write at least one thing every day about your spouse that you are grateful for. Keep it in a place where it can easily be picked up and read every day.

7. Intentionally cultivate romance. Write love letters. Have candle light dinners. Dance together. Laugh together. Play together. Act as you did when you first met your spouse. Look your best for him/her. Take care of yourself.

8. Be your spouse’s best friend. Never put anything or anyone but Jesus before your spouse. Your children, friends, family, church, work, hobbies should never take higher priority than your marriage.

9. Never ever gossip about your spouse. Gossip will destroy a marriage relationship. Go directly to your spouse to discuss problems. If there is a serious problem, seek wise counsel from a pastor or licensed counselor. Don’t talk about your marriage problems with friends or family members.

10. Affair-proof your marriage. Never talk on the phone, be alone, or have heart conversations with the opposite gender unless it’s a close family member. This is how affairs start. Innocent phone calls to a friend’s spouse can lead to sharing intimate details of your life. Even same gender friendships can rob your marriage of intimacy. Don’t be tempted to share your most precious pearls with a friend. Save the treasures in your heart for your spouse. If you want a passion-filled marriage, you shouldn’t be best friends with someone else.

The list could go on and on. But these ten things have impacted me as a wife more than anything else. My marriage is not perfect, but it is very fulfilling and beautiful. It’s an ongoing learning process for both me and Michael. Together with Christ, we are learning how to love each other perfectly.

Are you in need of a marriage make-over? If Christ could restore my broken marriage, it’s possible for yours to be healed, too. Nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37). I know for sure—a marriage built on the Rock of Christ will never fail. It will serve to purify your heart more than any other relationship on earth. A Christ-centered marriage is guaranteed to be filled with passion and love beyond measure.

“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.”

Song of Solomon 6:3

This post was written for my former blog and has been updated and revised.

THE POWER OF KINDNESS

A Few Kind Words

During the years my husband was attending college full-time, I worked at an event facility that specialized in hosting weddings. It was the most physically exhausting time of my life. I was working multiple jobs during the week and I was working long hours and very late nights on the weekends to make ends meet while Michael was unemployed.

Even though it was a season that stretched me, I would relive it all over again because of the spiritual growth and the lessons I learned during that time of life.

One memory from those hard days stands out more than any other. It happened while I was working at the event facility during a night shift. The kind words and actions of a complete stranger encouraged me and left a permanent mark on my heart.

I remember it clearly. I was moving swiftly around the ballroom, dressed in a tuxedo shirt, black vest, and a bow tie as I cleared plates and silverware off the big, round tables. My arms ached from the long hours of hard work during my husband’s season of unemployment.

As I reached down to pick up a plate, I heard a woman’s sweet voice speaking to me. I felt her hand gently nudging my arm as she said, “I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing. I have children, and I’m working a job similar to yours to make ends meet.”

Immediately, her words began melting my stress, and she slipped some folded money into my vest pocket. Then she paused for a second or two and did something that touched the deepest part of my soul. She leaned over and kissed me on my cheek, treating me like royalty.

My tear-filled eyes locked with her eyes and my voice cracked as I said, “Thank you.” It was obvious she knew I was feeling weary. My tears conveyed the message that she had deeply touched me.

Her kind gesture and words of encouragement caused my spirit to be lifted high in an instant. It was as though Christ had shown her that I, too, was a mother, and I needed to be encouraged.

With the formal setting of the ballroom, I knew it would be unprofessional to show the full extent of the emotions in my heart. So I hurried over to the door that led into the storage room. As I pushed the door open, I burst into a deep cry.

While reaching into my vest pocket and pulling out a twenty dollar bill, the magnitude of what she had done hit me. At a place where tips are not normal, it was obvious that God had nudged her to be kind and to generously tip me.

That evening I went home feeling treasured, and during the remaining years of working at my weekend job, I felt empowered. A woman’s small act of kindness helped me to be invigorated and remain strong through a tough season.

Later on, my husband earned a college degree and landed his dream job, and my long-time dream of being a stay-at-home mom was fulfilled. Looking back, I realize the power of that sweet woman’s kind words and deeds helped to strip away the pride in my heart and helped mold me into a more compassionate woman.

It’s been quite a few years since a stranger at my job powerfully impacted my life, yet I remember it like it happened yesterday. It was the tough season of living paycheck to paycheck—barely able to pay our bills—that I learned the most about kindness and generosity. Now, when I’m out and I see a weary person, I think of the woman whose kindness uplifted me during a hard season, and I strive to be one who shares the same kindness that was bestowed upon me.

A few kind words or a generous tip could be all it takes to change a person’s outlook and make a real difference in the world.

Have you ever been the recipient of a stranger’s kindness? I pray God will convey His love to you through someone’s kindness today or prompt you to share kind words and that you, too, will experience the power of kindness.

Lord,

Thank You for being the ultimate example of kindness and encouragement. Help us to remember to encourage the people around us with gracious words and gestures of kindness. I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

“Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”

— Proverbs 16:24 (NLT)

LETTING GO: 6 TIPS FOR PARENTS OF FIRST-YEAR COLLEGE STUDENTS

Choose Joy and Let Go with Grace

Letting go of adult children can be complicated and hard to navigate a new way of parenting. When my oldest child left for college, I was surprised by the emotions that followed. I remember the sadness I felt as I drove away from her campus. After about three weeks of vacillating between feelings of joy and sadness, my tears subsided and I embraced the new season. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t prepared for the transition and it could’ve been easier.

Seven years have passed since my daughter left for college, and I have grown in many ways during those years. I’ve learned that letting go isn’t something to be dreaded.

Letting go can be smooth and fairly easy when we realize that endings are precisely where beginnings are birthed.

An ending is the necessary place to step into an exciting new beginning.

In June, about seven weeks ago, I let go of my youngest child, Thomas, as he moved away to begin a summer class and football training at college. It’s not been a hard transition because I prepared ahead of time through much prayer and choosing to focus on the great things ahead for us.

Saying goodbye to my son went as smoothly as possible. Minutes before we left Thomas, I hugged him longer and tighter than usual. He said, “I love you” in a subdued tone. Determined to keep my composure, I said, “I love you, too. I know you’ll do great!”

As we were leaving, I could see a little bit of nervousness in my son’s eyes. The normal mothering thoughts were running through my head. “How can my little boy be grown up?” It’s hard to believe he’s ready to spread his wings and fly on his own.” I purposefully pushed those thoughts out of my head. And hand in hand with my husband, we walked away from Thomas.

Everything in me wanted to turn around, walk toward my son, and “mother” him in the way I had his entire life. But I resisted that urge. I knew that the sooner I could let go, the better off I would be, and then Thomas could move on to becoming a true man.

Walking toward the car, I was thinking, “He’s becoming a man in the truest sense…I know the next time I see him, he will be different and more mature.”

In that moment, I sighed deeply and I released Thomas to God. In my head, I prayed, “He is Yours, Lord. Keep watch over him for me.”

Even though my heart had a tinge of sadness, I didn’t allow myself to focus on what was behind us. God’s grace covered me in those moments of letting go. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, it says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

God’s grace is truly sufficient to carry us through anything. His grace carried me through the process of letting go of my son.

My prayers from the previous months had been answered. God had prepared my heart to leave my son at a college eight-hundred miles away from home.

Amazingly, our drive home was filled with joy. My husband, Michael, and I talked about all the new things ahead for us and for our son as we drove through the beautiful Ozark National Forest on our way home. One of the highlights of our trip was a picnic at the Natural Dam in Arkansas. After a fun trip and hours of driving, we reached our empty house, and there was an indescribable peace instead of sadness.

As the weeks went by during the summer, Thomas had some tough moments while he adjusted to a completely new life.  With the Lord by his side, he pressed through the feelings of homesickness and persevered until college began feeling more like home.

Thankfully, we had acquired ‘Sky Miles’ with Delta, so we let Thomas come home on an airplane to visit before his fall semester. When we greeted Thomas at the airport, I saw the difference in him that I had foreseen on the day we were saying goodbye back in June. He had grown and matured already. He said, “I know Tulsa is where I’m supposed to be.” He’s excited to go back to his new home in a few days. And as his mom, I am ecstatic that God answered my prayers for him.

With having such a smooth transition, I would love to share a few tips that made the adjustment easier for me.

1. Pray often.

Praying with my husband every day helped more than anything. Every time a fearful thought would come to my mind, I would ask Michael to pray with me. Together, we have prayed every day for the Lord to be with our son and protect him. The peace that comes through prayer is simply amazing.

2. Choose a scripture to meditate on.

Meditating on scripture is a practice that my grandmother taught me. Prayer coupled with meditating on God’s Word is powerful. I chose a verse in Deuteronomy to meditate on and shared it with Thomas as he was leaving. In Deuteronomy 31:6, it says, Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” This verse gave me confidence to know that Christ would be with Thomas every moment of every day.

3. Choose Joy and focus on the new beginnings.

Staying grateful and focused on the positive aspects of a situation brings light to the most difficult transitions. I have chosen to be joyful and embrace all the great things I have to enjoy. I could make a long list of the exciting things about having an empty nest. The best thing is having so much quality time with my husband. Michael and I feel like we’ve gone back in time and regained the freedom of our youth. With our children grown now, the possibilities for new beginnings are endless.

4. Write a letter.

The week before Thomas left, I put my heart and soul into writing a letter that recapped my best memories of his childhood. As I wrote the letter with tears flowing, it enabled me to release the past and to begin looking forward to the future.

5. Trust that your college-age child is capable of making good decisions.

Years ago, I heard Ruth Graham talk about how to raise teens. She encouraged parents to lecture less and give teens the room to make choices on their own. Ruth’s words helped me to have the courage to trust Thomas to begin making wise decisions. Sometimes the only way a person can grow is by learning from their own decisions and mistakes.

6. Resist hovering. 

To hover over our child after he has left home makes the transition harder for him. At a college orientation meeting, the speaker advised the parents not to call their children too often. If we are constantly checking on them, it will be very hard for our grown children to learn to be responsible adults.

LORD. HELP MY SON BE STRONG AND COURAGEOUS

A PRAYER

Dear Lord,

Thank You for helping us to raise our children and helping us to be brave enough to let them go when it’s time. Help us to choose joy as we let go and give us the grace we need to get through the difficult moments.  Hold us close when we’re missing our children and let it be an exciting season of new beginnings. I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.

THE GIFT OF STILLNESS

Be still, and know that I am GOD.

Years ago during a very difficult season of my life, I remember praying desperately for God’s intervention. There were intense circumstances surrounding me that drove me to the throne of God.

In the midst of that difficult season, I read the scriptures in Psalm 46.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolation he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

After reading the 46th Psalm, the tenth verse practically jumped off the page.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

As I focused on those eight words, I knew that the Lord was speaking directly to me through Psalm 46:10. At the time, my circumstances seemed impossible to overcome, but I clung to the hope found in Christ.

Through the trials of life, I learned about the gift of stillness. From that low point, I discovered that God’s presence is the greatest treasure of all, and prayer became the key component of my life. My circumstances did not change instantly. In fact, it took over a decade for me to see permanent change in my life.

Step by step, Christ restored my broken life and turned it into something beautiful. It was a long process, kind of like creating a magnificent work of art. In most cases, beautiful art cannot be produced instantly. Real beauty is created through a process.

Are you waiting for God to turn something bad into something beautiful?  Keep pressing forward in faith and draw near to God.

Be still, and know that Christ will bring beauty into the broken places of your life.

As you wait on God, I pray that you will savor the gift of stillness every day.

TEN THINGS I WANT MY SON TO KNOW AS HE BEGINS ADULTHOOD

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As I watched Thomas, my youngest child, walk across the stage to receive his high school diploma, it signified the official rite of passage into adulthood. It was the culmination of the growth and maturity over several years.

During May, I’ve attended three commencement ceremonies. As I’ve listened to the various speeches, it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on my highest hopes for my son’s life.

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The thing that struck me most while listening to the words of the class of 2015, is their understanding of purposeful living. There seems to be a trend of the younger generation believing that real joy does not come from the “American Dream.” They seem to understand that there is so much more to life than making money to fill their own desires. It’s obvious that their generation wants to truly make a difference in the world.

One graduate (at a local public school) spoke of the “emptiness” that comes from seeking the most popular definition of success. She passionately said, “Define success in your own terms.” I agreed fully with every word she shared.

After pondering her challenge to her classmates to find success in a unique way, I wrote a list in my own words of the things I want for my son to know before he leaves home.

In four weeks, Thomas will begin classes and football training at a college that’s twelve hours away from the home he has lived in for eighteen years. Thomas is a wise, young man, but I can’t imagine sending him off to begin a new season without a few pieces of advice.

 

Thomas, I want for you to know these ten things, most of all…

1. Christ is the way to fill the emptiness of a man’s soul. He loves you deeper than you can possibly imagine. Nothing can separate you from His love. Seek Him in everything you do, and you will have a meaningful and fulfilled life.

2. One bad choice can change the course of your life and could possibly sabotage your dreams.

3. God has given you a unique set of talents and gifts that will enable you to carry out your purpose for living.

4. Having friends who have similar values and beliefs will strengthen you and help keep you on the right path.

5. Volunteering and helping others will take the focus off yourself and help you to avoid homesickness and any other negative emotions.

6. Quitting is not an option. If you quit, you will possibly miss the greatest opportunity of your life. Perseverance coupled with faith in God will carry you to places you cannot imagine.

7. With Christ, anything is possible. With Him, you can overcome any obstacle.

8. Negative people are toxic. Be kind to them, but you don’t have to be their best friend.

9. Bitterness will destroy your life. Walk in love toward everyone, and you will experience perfect peace.

10. Prayer is the most important practice of the Christian life. Keep the scriptures hidden in your heart and pray continually. When you feel weak, ask Christ to strengthen you. He is your ever-present help.

 

I am confident in my son and I am excited for his future. I thank God for hearing and answering my prayers for him.

As I prepare to send my son off for a new beginning, I am thanking God for the words of this year’s graduating seniors. Their words were a reminder to me that Thomas is grounded in truth, and I know he will find a success that is unique and is defined by living authentically, loving God, and loving others well.

Thank you, CLASS of 2015, for your wise words. I feel certain you will impact the world in great ways and you will live with purpose like no other generation before you.

“There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path.” — Proverbs 23: 18-19

REVELING IN THE BEAUTY OF THE CROSS

It is finished.

The beauty of the springtime flowers is breathtaking. Every year, as the wintertime barrenness is overtaken by new life, it simply amazes me.

This year in Georgia, it seemed as though the change was instant. I don’t recall another time when the seasons have changed so abruptly.

During my jogs, I noticed the flowers peaking through the dirt and the plants that were lying dormant were showing signs of life even before the weather changed. The plants and flowers were obviously ready and waiting to come alive as soon as the first sign of warmth emerged in the atmosphere.

As I’ve been reflecting on the emerging beauty of the new season, it made me think of the resurrection of Christ and His power to resurrect life out of the barren places in our souls.

As quickly as the seasons change—the condition of our hearts change when we turn away from those things that deaden our spirits (see Ephesians 4: 22-24). 

In my past, there were yucky things—bitterness, fear, pride, self-righteousness, and on and on the list goes—embedded in my heart, and they were keeping me from experiencing a beautiful, new life in Christ. The day I realized how simple it is to live fully alive and free in Christ, I received a new heart and never looked back to the past.

Christ died an agonizing death so that we can live abundantly and free from all the things that weigh us down. When we stumble, we can simply pray, Lord, please forgive me for that mistake. Then the Lord embraces us in our brokenness, and His reply is always filled with love…I imagine Him saying, “Yes, beloved one, you are forgiven for every mistake you’ve ever made and every mistake you’ll ever make in the future. Rise up and live with no regrets, and let Me help you walk in the Spirit, free from the grips of sin and shame and doubt and all things that burden your soul.”

 Jesus said, “It is finished.” We do not ever have to agonize over our failures or mistakes again.

Are you living in the finished work of the cross? Are you living abundantly in Christ?

My prayer this Easter week is that you will breathe in the loveliness of the springtime flowers and revel in the beauty of Christ’s magnificent gift to mankind.