Strength in Numbers

Strength in Numbers

We are designed for community.

I recently committed to a new gym. If anyone were to look at my gym history and record of attendance at establishments where sweat is expected, it would be determined that this was a very poor financial decision. I’m not a fan of working out.

But one day, I went out on the lake with my family and I couldn’t get back up on the boat. My arms were not strong enough to pull myself out of the water without assistance. I only managed to get back in by (very ungracefully) climbing on top of the motor and then into the back of the boat. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that relying on the motor to act as a ladder is a bad idea.

So, with new motivation, I accepted a friend’s invitation to step into a 14 day trial at her gym.

*Insert official statement that I am not getting paid to advertise anything. Hang in there guys, I have a point.*

Did I mention that I hate the gym? I mostly hate it because I’m not good at it. I also don’t know very much. All those machines look intimidating and I’m sure to hurt myself if I attempt to use any sort of weights. My first day was ROUGH.

Ya’ll, I moved my body in ways that it had never been moved before. I groaned every time I sat down, stood up, walked… my legs hurt so bad!

So why in the world did I sign up for a membership?!?

Because it felt different this time, at this gym. I wasn’t left on my own to figure out a machine. I was in a class and I was taught the movements before attempting them. When I did something wrong, the instructor corrected me. It felt safer to try things out because I had someone to guide me.

But, most importantly, I had people I knew cheering me on. It was easy to join this gym because no matter what time slot I attended, I seemed to know at least 1 person. These ladies either pushed me to do impossible things through their own example, or related to my need to drop the weight that round.

I wasn’t alone anymore. I had a community of people around me striving after the same goal to be strong and healthy.

Here is where I get to the actual point. Life is like that. We can’t do this alone. We aren’t meant to do this alone. We need people to cheer us on and encourage us through the hard things. It’s a relief to have someone else relate to what we are going through. It is a breath of fresh air when a friend takes the opportunity to celebrate with you.

We are designed for community because when we work together, not alone or against one another, we are stronger.

At church, one of my favorite things to do is to help someone else find their community. I love, love, LOVE witnessing the transformation that takes place when a person gets plugged in and finds their home.

I think, deep down, most of us are aware of our need for other people. But it can be scary sometimes. We’ve been hurt by people before. We don’t know how to find the kind of friendship we long for. We tried that once, and were left feeling disappointed. What if we put ourselves out there and history repeats itself?

I can’t alleviate that fear. People are human. Right next to that need for community is a need for a Savior. And that, is where we need to begin.

Have you been hesitant to dive into that community? Small group? Serving? Getting to know that person outside of a Sunday morning? Go first. Realize that all those people have the same needs as you, and simply see if you are able to be a piece of the community they just might be longing for. Not a good fit? Try again. And again. Along the way you will discover that the best part of community is getting to bring life to someone else.

I would fail at going to the gym if there was no one to push me and root for me. My gym community is going to help me become stronger physically. There is another kind of community that pushes us and grows us emotionally and spiritually. Don’t give up fighting to find that and to be that for someone else. Let’s do this together.

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Beautiful Crumbs

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We came out of dust. Dust in itself isn’t exactly something I would use to decorate my house. It certainly isn’t beautiful. But God took that dust, and with it formed man. He used something dirty to create something good. (Genesis 2:7)

We came out of clay. Muddy. Lumpy. But just like a potter with a wheel, God took our miss-shaped clay and formed it into something that would reflect His glory. Once useless, but He designated purpose. (Isaiah 64:8)

From ashes to beauty. He is known to bestow crowns, joy, blessings, and a reason to celebrate where before there was nothing but despair, mourning, and grief. (Isaiah 61:3)

From slaves to royalty. When we decide to surrender our lives to Him, making Christ our Lord and Savior, we are automatically adopted as His sons and daughters with full rights of sonship. To us who were once orphaned, He offers an inheritance. (Romans 8:15-17)

God is in the business of taking people who were nobodies and transforming them into somebodies. He takes the lifeless and breathes new life and meaning. What was once ugly becomes magnificent.

God loves to create beauty, and I believe He passed that character trait onto us.

For instance, I like to make cookies.

Sugar cookies specifically. The process is kind of complicated. I start with a list of simple ingredients. Scoops of flour and baking powder get mixed with butter, sugar, eggs, and a touch of flavoring. All of which slowly morph into a clump of dough. The dough is then rolled out and cut into shapes. The best part though, is the icing. I use a runny icing that dries hard and smooth to make art out of those cookies. By the end of the cookie making process, they are embellished with color and design. I often have to convince people that yes, I do want these mini art forms to be eaten and enjoyed. Wouldn’t it be sad if all that hard work went to waste?

Sugar cookies are one way God’s love of beauty is reflected in my life. He brings it out differently in each one of us.

Here are a few ways I’ve seen women around me discover and reproduce beauty in their lives and the lives of those around them:

Home decorating
Raising godly children
Gardening
Making meals for those in need
Photography
Leading a ministry
Hair & Makeup
Writing books, music, blogs, etc
Painting and/or coloring
Pottery
Volunteering in her community
Assisting a mother give birth
Teaching
Words of encouragement
Sewing
Hosting
Providing for her family
Organizing

The list goes on and on and on because one of the ways that God creates beauty is the way He makes us all unique with our own passions and talents. We each have the opportunity to provide a little beauty to the world around us in our own special way.

How do you love to create beauty? What process of creating brings you joy? What hobby, activity, or interest makes your heart skip a beat? Maybe that’s there, because God’s Spirit in you cannot help but create something beautiful through you.

It matters not how unworthy you feel. How messy, broken, or insignificant you perceive yourself to be. God’s favorite way to create beauty is through those who haven’t yet realized just how beautiful they are. Allow Him to do what He does best. Offer Him your crumbs and He cannot help but to make something stunning out of them.

“When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
the moon and the stars you set in place—
what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5)

Dad Brags

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Throwback to my sister’s high school graduation! We were standing in our living room/embroidery business/home school room.

I’d like to brag on my Daddy for a bit.

My Daddy (and yes, I still call him “Daddy”), is a man of many talents. I grew up with him leading worship in the church (is it any wonder I ended up marrying a worship leader?). I’ve also known him to learn new skills in order to take on various business endeavors.

I’m posting this now, because years ago one of those endeavors got him into a bit of trouble, and he has recently made it all right.

I don’t know all the details. Quite frankly, I don’t believe the details are any of my business, nor are they the important part of the story. I’ll give you a quick summary.

He started a business.
He got a business partner.
The business did well.
The complexities of running a business left a few details undone.
His business partner left in some tough circumstances.
My Daddy was left with a mess.
Debt. Taxes. $$$.

It was rough there for a bit. But you know? I’m proud of my parents. Momma, I love that you stuck by your husband in the midst of the mess and didn’t leave even when I’m sure that could have been a tempting option. Daddy, I love that you were not too proud to make it right.

Both of my parents have worked hard. My Momma is a successful pilates instructor. My Daddy has done a little bit of everything. When the embroidery business faltered, he started working in a Family Dollar warehouse. He was in Toastmasters for a while, hoping to increase income through a bit of public speaking. He worked in a mailroom at Derek Prince Ministries.

A mailroom. This man, a leader in the church and talented salesman, humbled himself to work in a mailroom. I am so proud of him for it.

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Dancing with my Daddy on my wedding day. And yes, that’s a bounce house in the background. 

My Daddy didn’t give up. In time, he worked more hours doing odds and ends for Derek Prince Ministries. He taught himself new skills and took over the social media for the ministry. He learned how to update, manage, and create websites. In fact, in the last year, my Daddy was commissioned to build the websites for Derek Prince Ministries in multiple countries across the globe.

Do you know what that means?

After years of hard work, faith, and more hard work, my Daddy has paid off his debts. He is free. The phrase, “pray as if it all depends on God, and work as if it all depends on you” comes to mind.

I asked his permission to share this story, because don’t we all at some point have a weight on our shoulders we want to shake off? A huge goal we are striving toward that might seem impossible in the moment? My Daddy is an example of making it happen. And I am so proud of him.

He’s mentioned that people have asked whether he is excited to be rid of the financial obligation. His response? “I wish I was more excited! The truth is, I asked God to help me be content through it all, and He did.”

And I love that too. Because yes, we all have goals. We all have stuff. But our goals and the getting rid of the stuff isn’t the point. The point is clinging to Jesus and focusing on Him no matter where we are. Whether on a mountaintop or in a valley, the only way we can be truly content is to find our purpose in Him.

So Daddy, just in case you weren’t sure, I’m proud of you and I’m proud to be your daughter.

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My Daddy carrying my oldest girl.

“‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

He Gave Us a Sword

A year ago, I was a mess.

I’ve talked about this a bit in some previous posts, so I won’t go into much detail now. The truth is, it’s hard for me to believe the contrast between this year and last.

Depression to JOY.
Anxiety to CONFIDENCE.
Defeat to VICTORY.
Anger to PEACE.
Loneliness to CONNECTEDNESS.

There wasn’t one moment that changed things, but rather a collection of moments and revelations. I’ve talked about some of it here, but I want to share a specific moment with you today.

This one happened in January during the 21 days of prayer and fasting at my church. During these 21 days there was an opportunity to get together with other believers at 6am Monday-Friday for a time of worship and prayer. A season for strengthening. I don’t often get the chance to attend because I have little ones sleeping in their beds, and my husband usually has responsibilities early in the morning. He does work there after all.

But I got to go one lovely Friday morning, and in a brief instant the Lord encouraged me through a simple phrase and an image.

“I have a sword…He gave us a sword.”

In my image I saw myself cowering. My surroundings were hazy and unclear. I knew there was a battle going on, but I was clearly losing; just barely managing to miss the arrows flying toward me. There was a sense of hopelessness.

But then, it started to clear, and I came to realize I wasn’t empty-handed. I had a weapon. A Sword.

I was armed, and with that realization came a strength I had not previously known. The fog continued to clear and I saw I wasn’t by myself after all. The body of Christ was standing together, proclaiming the coming victory, wielding their Swords with power. We were going to FIGHT TOGETHER.

Friends, I share this with you because as we move forward in Christ, the enemy has to step back. The more we recognize our identity in Him and utilize the tools He has bestowed upon us, the more powerful we become.

Are you living in defeat? There is more than what you can see in this moment. Call your enemy out for what he really is and grasp onto the promises your KING has for you.

Here are a few tools you can use to sharpen your sword:

Depression: “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and SET ME FREE.” Psalm 118:5

Anxiety: “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come BOLDLY and CONFIDENTLY into God’s presence.” Ephesians 3:12

Defeat: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me VICTORY. This is my God, and I will praise him – my father’s God, and I will exalt him!” Exodus 15:2

Anger: “You will keep in PERFECT PEACE all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3

Loneliness: “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such PERFECT UNITY that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” A prayer of Jesus in John 17:22-23

The art of fighting with a sword requires practice and care. Our sword is our Bible. To use it well we must read it, memorize it, study it, and dwell on it throughout the day. Left unattended, it will rust and become useless. Don’t neglect your Sword.

Brandish your weapon. Victory is ours for the taking.

Infertility: Caroline’s Story

If there is a form of etiquette concerning asking people to publicly share about their infertility experience,  I’m pretty sure it includes not bringing it up at a baby shower. But Caroline and I got to talking, and the Holy Spirit stirred it up, and out it came. I am so grateful.

I love that we end this week of stories here. No matter your own personal struggles, even if it has nothing to do with infertility, I believe you will be encouraged by Caroline’s words. It is my prayer that everyone have a chance to know this sort of sweet love from the Father.

Infertility: Caroline’s Story

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The last four years have had its share of heart ache, disappointment, financial strain, and just a complete emotional drain.  But there has also been a new awareness of God’s goodness, joy, and a spiritual wholeness than can only come from my loving Father.  I want that to be the focus of the last four years.  God’s goodness is the testimony, not the loss and pain.

Billy and I have been married for six years.  After a year of trying on our own to get pregnant and several tests to see what was wrong, we were told it was unexplained infertility (basically nothing obvious was keeping us from getting pregnant, some couples just need a little medical boost!).  We were were encouraged to try insemination, which resulted in a positive pregnancy after the first try!  We were beyond thrilled!  But around week 5 I began spotting – leading my doctor to do an early ultrasound.  I was told this was an ectopic pregnancy.  I had never heard that term before but my doctor began telling me that my baby was growing… just in the wrong place.  My baby was growing in my tubes which if left alone would kill us both.  I thought I had options.  I had none.  I had to go straight to the hospital to get a shot that would dissolve the pregnancy but save my life.  Billy and I were devastated.  I sat in that public waiting room watching mothers who already had children with them having more children.  I felt a bitterness I’d never felt.  You see, up to this point, I had been in a place spiritually that I had never been before.  Through different small groups at church and intentional days of prayer and fasting, I felt God had brought me to a place with Him I’d never been before.  So why would he do this to me?  Why would He take this good thing from me?  I was mad at Him.  I would sit through my quiet time, skipping over the prayer time and tell God I just needed to read His word in silence because I didn’t trust what I might say to Him.  I didn’t participate in worship at church, and if you know me, I LOVE to worship!  I was broken and didn’t know how to feel ok during this time or how to get back on track with God.  But God was doing something in me I couldn’t see at the time.  He was faithful to send me friends who spoke words of life over me.  He gave me songs that began to mend my heart.  I’ll touch on those specifics later but let’s get through the rest of the tough stuff.

A year later we did another insemination which also ended in an ectopic pregnancy.  This time I wasn’t mad at God but I did get lost in the “whys.”  Again, God was faithful to give me what I needed to push on.  After these two ectopic pregnancies, a laparoscopy was done and it was discovered I had endometriosis and damaged fallopian tubes.  Both tubes were removed.  We began looking into IVF.  Unfortunately, my Type I diabetes had gotten so much harder to control in my late 30’s, even with good eating habits and exercise.  My blood sugars were so out of control my doctor could not recommend me to try to get pregnant.  I was crushed.

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But then, an angel appeared.

Amy and I have been best friends since high school. One Sunday at church, I was telling her about there seemingly being no remaining options for having a baby. She grew quiet and then said she would have our baby, she would be our surrogate!   She told me God had actually put it on her heart months ago but she felt like she needed confirmation.  I’d say that conversation was it!  Billy and I talked and prayed about it.  Amy and her husband Jason prayed about it.  The church prayed with us.  This was totally a God thing!

We got started with appointments and doctor’s consultations and visits right away.  The four of us had a lot of decisions to make.  I’ll tell you, you think you know where you stand morally on pregnancy, abortion, when life begins, etc…until you’re faced with infertility and needing the help of science and medicine.  All four of us involved felt very strong in our pro life convictions, but there were SO many details and decisions that had to be made that most people never have to think twice about.  I want to get to the “God’s goodness” part so I’ll make this brief.  We had two transfers with Amy: the first ended after the second week, the second transfer ended in a miscarriage around week 10.  Through the heartbreak, God was still moving and working miraculously in me!

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Here are the things that helped along the way.  After the first ectopic, in my season of being angry with God, a sweet friend said, “Caroline, God grieves with you.” And it clicked.  God hadn’t done this TO me, it just happened to me, but he was WITH me through it all.  This is also about the time I truly grasped the promises in Matthew 7:11 “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”  I began to trust that if it wasn’t a baby we would get, God would give us an even better gift!  It’s hard to imagine what could be better than a baby, and I’m not talking about a monetary gift or thing, but that’s why we have earthly eyes and imaginations and God does not!  After the second ectopic, I remember sitting on my bed in my room and hearing the song “Beautiful Things” by Gangor. I began weeping at these words:

“All this pain I wonder if I’ll ever find my way.  I wonder if my life could really change at all.  Could a garden come up from this ground.  You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.”

I wept because I believed these words – that God would make beautiful things out of my dust.  I also prayed that all this pain wouldn’t be for nothing.  God doesn’t intend for our trials to be for nothing, but we in our messiness and earthly selves, often get in the way of learning from our trials and disappointments.  Just before Amy’s first miscarriage, her dad, who has been like a spiritual dad to me since high school, reminded me not to ever let the devil steal our joy.  This was just a general conversation, Amy hadn’t miscarried yet, but that came to help me through that loss.  When I got the call from the doctor’s office, I was doing yard work and had been listening to a message on how grieving can be a way of worshipping God.  So when I got the call, I wept.  I cried and cried but in those tears I told God that Satan was NOT going to steal my joy!  I told God that I loved him and thanked him for helping me through this!  Yes, my heart throbbed, but I had such hope in Jesus!  I also heard a song from Shane and Shane called “Though You Slay Me.” There is a version that has an excerpt from John Piper’s message on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. John Piper says, “Every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.  Don’t look to what is seen.  Don’t say ‘It’s meaningless!’  It’s not!  It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.”

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Billy and I still don’t have a baby.  We have some options and a lot of praying to do.  But what we do have are God’s promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us.  He does grieve with us.  He does walk through each and every heartache with us.  My pain has not been for nothing.  I’ve been able to share the gospel through sharing the ups and downs of the last four years with unbelieving friends.   He is a good, good Father, in all circumstances, all the time!  Trust Him that He wants good things for you!