Pouring Out

Change, Faith, Fruit, Good Works, Growth, It's Up to Us, Live It, Tansform, WALK

Have You Seen My Seeds? What about yours?

I often get asked how I went from being an outright Atheist to a woman madly in love with Jesus Christ. I guess that does raise an eyebrow if you haven’t lived it out with me.

If you haven’t read my testimony, please feel free to read my very first entry “Introductions are In Order.” That keeps this from being extremely lengthy. To summarize: for most of my life, all but the last 10 years, I was an atheist. A very angry, volatile, broken atheist who loved nothing more than arguing the fact that there could not be, and was no God.

As I look back over those years trying to piece together the events that unfolded to ultimately lead me here, the incidents that come to mind first (and most vividly) are the handful of genuine Christians that God strategically placed in my life. I say genuine because their church attendance and program schedule had nothing to do with the impact they had. It was their everyday lives. Their relationships and interactions; the way they spoke, treated others, and most of all, the way they reacted to adverse situations in their lives. They were unapologetic about their faith but very humble in approaching a person as abrasive as myself with a topic they knew I wasn’t fond of. But they did it anyway. And all though I brushed off what they were saying at the time, they planted seeds. When they would share their faith with me, it was as if they were digging back the packed in soil of my mind and placing a precious seed of hope. As I would watch them go about their days, really living out their faith, those seeds were being watered and nurtured. When I would hug them or try to comfort them during a hard time, I would always be amazed at their hope. I’m not talking about optimism here. I’m talking about real, unshakable hope built from faith. That type of witness and testimony of the God they worshiped was like pouring miracle grow on those seeds.

Everything we experience in life begins as a seed. Our relationships, marriages, businesses, churches, the choices we make, and most importantly, our spiritual growth. But NONE of those things can happen until the seed has been planted. What God can do with a seed planted in faith is something we, as humans, can’t fathom. That’s why it’s called faith. But we have a part to play. The planting of those seeds has been left up to us my friends. A good portion of the time, we won’t even know we’ve sown a seed (or seeds). We can trust that if we are living as followers of Christ are called to live, and acting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to step out and step up for the glory of His Kingdom, seeds are being planted…and God does the rest.

Out of our gratitude for His grace, we should be compelled to live this out; to walk our talk and let what we hear in the pew on Sunday morning meet the pavement on Monday. We should gladly take uncharted paths, letting go, surrendering, trusting, and knowing that we don’t have to do the heavy lifting. Living out our faith is much like working in a garden. No matter how hard I work in my garden, my efforts alone don’t force plants to grow. I do my part by carefully planting, watering, fertilizing, and pruning — and then I wait and trust that God will do His part to cause the growth. Take a leap of faith, live it out, and then sit back and watch God do His thing.

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‘It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. ‘ 1 Corinthians 3:7

Have you ever really thought about the part you play? If you are a believer, if you proclaim to be a follower of Christ, you have officially been drafted. His Word makes that clear. God has uniquely equipped you, through your life experiences and circumstances, with your very own batch of specially formulated seeds. Only you can fulfill the duty of sowing those seeds because of God’s specific plan for you at this very moment in time.

‘For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.’ Ephesians 2:10

‘Now may the God of peace— who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood— may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.’ Hebrews 13:20-21

If it had not been for those bold, Christian men and women that God purposefully placed in my life at just the right time, doing their part and being obedient, those seeds might have never been planted. Praise God for those who are unafraid, unashamed, and are more concerned with God’s opinion about them than the world’s.

I’ll end with this question for you, and myself, to mull over…. Is there evidence of fruit in your life that is the result of seeds being planted?

‘Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.’ Colossians 1:10

“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. ‘ John 15:1-5

‘You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” John 15:16

Change, Good Works, Grace, It's Up to Us, Kindness, Live It, WALK

Kindness Doesn’t Cost a Thing, yet it’s the Richest Gift You can Give.

I am always amazed at how God uses difficult situations in our lives to offer us an opportunity to stop and take a good look around and within.  Generally, in those moments, it’s much easier to become self-focused; worrying only about what we are going through and ways to overcome it.  But the more I listen to God’s Word in my life, the clearer it becomes that, that is not how He intends for us (believers) to respond.

Over the last week or so, I have had the unfortunate experience of having multiple kidney stones.  Several of which were too big to pass, leading to a surgical procedure to place a stent in my left ureter.  And yes, it IS as painful and uncomfortable as it sounds.  Even though I was dealing with pain and the stress of trying to make last minute plans and arrangements because penciling in a surgical procedure wasn’t on my radar, I could see God’s sovereign hand all around me. Even though it was a “last minute” procedure, everything fell right into place. Each nurse and medical professional that I came in contact with seemed to genuinely be happy.  They were very kind and accommodating.  One of the nurses even liked the snow as much as I do.  That might sound odd, but around “these parts” in Kentucky, most people don’t like the snow.  But there is a small niche of us crazies that actually pray for it.  We had a good laugh about it as they wheeled me down to the operating room.  What better way to get someone prepared for what can be a terrifying situation?  I drifted off to sleep with a smile on my face and laughter still lingering in my heart.

As I woke up in recovery, I can remember opening my eyes, and the first thing I could hear the staff discussing was the opportunities for foster care and adoption.  Again, I instantly began smiling.  My husband and I have recently started the process of fostering, and it was as if God was using that moment to give me confirmation.  Still being a bit groggy from the anesthesia, I’m not at all positive what I said, but I do know that I interjected myself into the conversation.  They smiled and happily allowed me to join in.  Possibly just for entertainment purposes, nevertheless, it was very kind of them.

Once I had spent the necessary amount of time in recovery, they wheeled me up to my room where my parents were waiting for me.  At that moment, my new nurse walked in.  As she was introducing herself and starting to take my vitals, I can remember looking up at her and wondering why she looked sad.  She was never rude or cross in any way, but my mother and I could tell something just wasn’t right.  She seemed very busy and was struggling to juggle everything.  It also appeared as though she might not mesh very well with the other staff members.  It was apparent that she was the outcast and the sadness was from being lonely.  She was always surrounded by people but still felt alone.

I went out of my way to smile and talk to her.  I told her what a good job she was doing and to take her time.  I told her to go finish up whatever it was that she needed to and not to worry about me.  I wasn’t going anywhere.  She cracked the first smile I had seen from her and sighed a breath of relief.  As she would walk in and out of my room, bringing me things to sign or asking me questions, it appeared that she walked a little taller and was even beginning to laugh a little.  She thanked my mother and me for our patience and instantly tried to make us understand why she was struggling.  We again encouraged her and let her know that she has a tough job and is doing the best she can, and that’s all that matters.

God blessed me with so many compassionate people as I was going through that procedure.  Maybe He sent my mom and me there to be a blessing to that nurse.  All I know is when we left, and she wheeled me out to the truck, she hugged me and had a smile on her face.  Even if that smile only lasted a few minutes, I am thankful that God chose to use my situation to put it there.

Could I have been inpatient because I was in pain and wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible? Yep.  Could we have treated her like everyone else had been treating her, perpetuating her misery just because we were too worried about ourselves to notice? Yep.  Do people do that to her, and others, EVERY single day because we live in a society that is so consumed with self that we aren’t even able to see the pain and heartache of those around us? YEP!

We often ask how things have gotten this bad or why everything and everyone seems broken.  We live in a world that simply doesn’t show or receive enough kindness.

We go about our days with our headphones in, and instead of being aware of those around us, we often choose to exist in our own little world. Sometimes we’re just not conscious of our surroundings, but often we are entirely aware but make the conscious decision to stay introverted and ignore the fact that there are people besides ourselves on this planet.

People who are hurting.  People who may be doing just fine. People who may need a kind gesture or smile.

Despite the needs of others, we often choose to be stingy with our acts. Why are we acting as though kindness is costing us time or money?

So, to sum up these ramblings… compliment someone’s shoes if they stand out to you. Share your umbrella with the person without one. Strike up a quick, cheerful conversation with the cashier who probably feels invisible a good part of time unless someone is irritated. Reach out to those in need. It may not seem like much, but these little compliments, gestures, and conversations could go a long way in making someone’s day and changing the world.  Who else is going to do it? BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE IN THIS WORLD!

”Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

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Brokenness, Change, Faith, Grace, Growth, Live It, Lost to Found, New, Salvation, Tansform

Your First Ingredient is Brokenness

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We must be broken in order to be made whole.

A Sociologist named Brene Brown said, “We are ‘those people.’” The truth is… most people in our world are one paycheck, one divorce, one addiction, one mental health diagnosis, one serious illness, one hurt, or one bad choice from becoming “those people”— the ones we don’t trust, the ones we pity, the ones we don’t let our children play with, the ones we don’t want living next door, the ones we know deep down need our love and God’s love more than anyone, but we can’t approach “those people.”

Our minds are so sensitive to the quiet voices telling us to keep up appearances, keep ourselves busy if we don’t think about it; it’s not really there, it will eventually get better.

Our generation has become artists of illusion, masters at covering pain, self-medicators, slaves to their finances, and lost in loneliness even when we are surrounded by those we love. All because we can’t seem to realize that the only solution for being broken is… brokenness.

We can never truly be whole until we’ve been broken. Those in this world that can make the most significant difference have not only risen to the top but have also fallen to the bottom.

Jesus makes the broken whole again. He takes the overlooked, the undervalued, the left out, the written off, the damaged and devastated, and then He does what only He can do.

I know this may not sound like it makes much sense, but brokenness is the first ingredient in a miraculous transformation. I am living breathing proof of that. The fact that I am alive, sober, full of peace and joy, and madly in love with Jesus Christ is all the proof I need. But in order for God to build me up and bring me this far, I first had to be broken down. Through loss, pain, anger, doubt, and tears I was not only broken…I was shattered, fractured and in pieces.

It was in that darkness that Christ’s light shone the brightest — illuminating each piece, gracefully fitting them together to form a new creation. “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Not only that but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence.” Colossians 1:20-23 (The Message)

The best part of all, the part I still can’t believe most days, is that time after time God chooses to use the broken things. The ones that when asked how they have made such a miraculous transformation, they can only point to Him. That is why I am thankful for every tear, every heartache, every circumstance that broke me.

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“If grace was a kingdom
I stopped at the gate
Thinking I don’t deserve to pass through after all the mistakes that I’ve made

Oh but I heard a whisper
As Heaven bent down
Said, “Child, don’t you know that the first will be last and the last get a crown”

Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King
I wish I could bring so much more
But if it’s true You use broken things
Then here I am Lord, I’m all Yours

The pages of history they tell me it’s true
That it’s never the perfect; it’s always the ones with the scars that You use

It’s the rebels and the prodigals; it’s the humble and the weak
All the misfit heroes You chose
Tell me there’s hope for sinners like me

Now I’m just a beggar in the presence of a King
I wish I could bring so much more
But if it’s true You use broken things
Then here I am Lord, I’m all Yours

Grace is a kingdom
With gates open wide
There’s a seat at the table just waiting for you
So, come on inside”

Broken Things – Matthew West

Discouragement, Faith, Growth

It Took a Broken Foot to Run For God

My pastor recently gave a message describing how Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Being different than a hired keeper who might run away in the face of danger, the flock belonged to the shepherd who would stay and defend them. He had a genuine loving concern for what belonged to him. Jesus is that loving protector and caretaker for His flock. Jesus, the good shepherd’s purpose, is to give life and protect from destruction.  And although this next imagery may make those of us animal lovers shudder, it helps to confirm that sometimes love is shown in ways we don’t always like.  A shepherd would often break the leg(s) of his sheep to prevent them from running off into danger.  He would then carry that sheep over his shoulders down the path each day until its injuries healed.  While being held, the sheep grew to love and rely on the shepherd like never before.

Oddly enough, I believe Jesus did this very thing to me.

Five years.   I had been living in this small town in Western Kentucky for five years and had yet to make any meaningful relationships.  I not only avoided bonding with the people; I also lacked a REAL one on one relationship with God.  I was, what I like to call, a “baby Christian” who had a history of anger and atheism, with little to no guidance and the life choices to prove it.  I had always been very independent and didn’t really care about having friends because I didn’t trust people.

Feeling convicted about not being a part of a church family, my husband and I began visiting some in the area and knew we had been led to the one we now call home.  After just a few weeks of attending, the Lord brought several women into my life that completely changed my heart.  My relationship with them grew stronger and stronger as I began to experience what can come from real love and encouragement.

One Sunday morning, one of those women invited me to a Run for God class. I wish I could illustrate the facial expression I made. You see, my words say one thing, but my face speaks from the heart. I laughed and said, “The only time I run is if something is chasing me.” With persistence from my friend and growing pant size, I conceded.  The way I understood it was that it was basically a couch to 5K training program with a devotional.   Little did I know that God was putting something into motion that would altogether transform my life.

I showed up for class each Saturday morning, bright and early (also outside of my character).  With each devotional and time spent running with God, it finally clicked. I can run because I am doing it for God.  I can make real friends because I am doing it for GodWhat would happen if I did everything in life, FOR GOD?

Ten weeks into the class, we all registered for a 5K in our town that promoted to suicide awareness.  As my first race ever, I had zero expectations for my outcome.  I just wanted to finish.  As they were calling out awards for age groups, they called my name as the third place winner.  It took me by surprise, but it didn’t take long for my pride and competitiveness to kick into overdrive.  I was already plotting the demise of the two women who beat me for first and second place.  Just as the Lord revealed what life could be like when you do it all for Him, He let me know very quickly what can happen when you begin to do it for yourself.

The very next day, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my foot.  I would not be able to complete the 5K for our Run for God group.  Even though I was discouraged, I continued to go to class.  While others ran, I sat.  I sat and encouraged them as they struggled through the long runs. I SAT and read the Word.  I SAT and prayed.  I SAT, growing closer to God every day.

While still in what I called “the dreaded boot,” I sat and cheered as all of my new friends ran past me to complete their race.  My heart was full.   God had set me on a different track.  A race towards Him and onto the path He had planned for me.

We quickly started a second class, and I was asked to help instruct.  Still unable to run, I knew God meant for me to focus on the “God” portion of Run for God. To show others that training to run successfully mirrors training ourselves to walk successfully with Christ.  It takes work, commitment, sacrifice, discipline, and occasionally a boot.

Learning to put God first and dedicate all I do to Him, the ability to stand before a group and teach due to the confidence I gained through the Spirit, the forever friendships that I have made, are just a glimpse into how God transformed me…. all through a broken foot.

John 10:11-18

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

 

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Brokenness, Change, Faith, Grace, Growth, Lost to Found, New, Salvation, Tansform

Introductions Are In Order

I am so thankful to begin this new year as a part of this ministry.  Before I jump right in though, I think some introductions are in order.  I am a true believer in the fact that, for you to understand and get a deeper look into the heart of a message, you need a pretty good picture of where that person has been and what God has rescued them from.   A visibly transformed life can have a major impact on the world around you.

Ten years ago, if you would have asked someone to describe me, I’m afraid they would’ve used adjectives like angry, lost, empty, aggressive, broken, self-destructive… I’ll stop there, I’m sure you get the picture.

After moving around for a good part of my childhood as a military brat, we finally settled in Western Kentucky where most of our family was.  Within our home, there was no prayer, no Bible reading, no foundation of faith.  I don’t blame my parents.  They were both very young and did the best they could while dealing with their own childhood trauma.

To spend as much time as I could with my grandmother, I began going to church with her every Sunday.  The bond that I had with that very special lady is something I could never describe in written words.  We were inseparable.  I remember sitting beside her each Sunday, in amazement, as she gracefully played the piano during worship. She loved me like I had never felt love before and made me feel deserving of that love.  Around the time I would be starting middle school, something terrible happened.  My grandmother was life-flighted to Barnes Hospital in St. Louis because her heart was failing.  I can remember my aunt picking my sister and me up from school and taking us to the movies to keep us distracted. Fortunately, she was blessed with the opportunity for a transplant, and it seemed like everything was going to be ok.  She lived for eleven years after the transplant.  The last two years of her life were the two years of my life that the devil used to catapult me into a lifetime worth of anger and emptiness.  The medication she had to take to keep her body from rejecting the new heart destroyed her kidneys.  She began dialysis several times a week but was withering away.  I watched her light and life slowly fade as she suffered every second until the end.  The questions, fueled by anger, started flowing.  Why her?  She went to church! She played music in church! She loved the God that was supposed to love her back! She was too young! Could there really be this all-loving God? No, there couldn’t, He wouldn’t do this.

That anger combined with a life that was in a constant state of chaos due to a lack of involvement, lack of faith, substance addiction, abuse, and family members who were out of control…I was left to let the anger, sadness, and loneliness open the door for the devil to make himself at home.   I began trying to fill that brokenness and emptiness with every terrible thing this world has to offer; partying, attention from anyone willing to give it, and more and more anger.

When I was 21, I became pregnant.  Of course, we had to get married because that’s what a good southern woman does to save face.  But this wasn’t all bad.  I started to feel a little peace and happiness.  I thought I loved the man I was marrying, we were going to have a child, I was doing great in college and could still finish so everything was fine.   The day I had to say goodbye forever to that baby, I felt myself break.  I can remember it vividly.  Any anger that had been buried came erupting to the surface.  That was it! There definitely is no God, and if there was, He could care less about any of us! That is what I told myself for years.  I was an anthropology major in school, so there was no shortage of professors who were quick to reinforce that thought with scientific facts and figures.  And boy was I ready to argue with anyone who dared to try and convince me that there was a loving God and that “He had a plan”, and that “there was a reason for everything”.  I was educated, had an aggressive personality and was motivated by so much anger that the devil had a field day with me.   I did what I could to try and convince everyone around me to give up on all those silly stories and rules created by men to control society.   The only person I know I successfully pulled away was my own mother.

My marriage was anything but happy.  How could it be?  We were so young, and I was so volatile.  We each turned to different ways to numb the pain.  Two years after the loss of our first child, we were both preparing to graduate college and had big plans for our future.  But God had a different plan.  I became pregnant with Chloe.   It was a shock because due to health issues, I wasn’t expected to be able to have any more children.  When that child was born, I felt myself begin to heal.  Just as I felt myself break when I said goodbye to my first child, I felt myself, LOVE.  Really love.  I knew then that she was sent to me for a reason and that there had to be “something” or “someone” out there because this kind of love could not be explained with science.  But I had no understanding or faith to fall back on.  I was the poster child for someone who was “lost”.

I struggled for years after Chloe was born.  Her father and I couldn’t seem to get through past hurts, and our marriage was so unstable that we divorced when she was one.  I was a single mother moving from place to place and job to job.  I know now that I was moving every year because I was running.  Running from my sadness and emptiness.  But no distance ever made a difference.  I was still angry and lost.  Along the way, everywhere I went; I met and got to know bold Christian men and women that tried their best to lead me to Jesus.  Each planting seeds.   I would always disregard them though.  Until one person, someone I had grown to love, all but forced me to go to church.  I started attending on Sundays.  I enjoyed the singing and meeting new people but would zone out and not pay attention to much else.  But one day was different, I woke up feeling different.  I went into the church, sat in my pew by myself as usual and listened, really listened.  I didn’t feel alone.  I had been so ashamed of myself for so long, thinking that even if there was a God, “How could He love me now? Look at what I’ve done, what I’ve said!”  That day, I heard and felt that He does love me because Jesus loves me! He suffered and died for me! ME! Not just the righteous people that have never fallen.  Me!  I could feel Him right there with me as I fell apart.  Almost like He had His arm around me as I finally let go of all that anger, shame and guilt and gave it to Him.

On August 8, 2009, at the age of 28, I was baptized.  And I’ve never been the same.   The devil didn’t and still doesn’t make it easy, but now “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

I saved the happiest part of my testimony for the end.

The sorrow I felt for convincing my mother there was no God was unbearable.  I prayed for years for God to allow me to bring my mother to know Jesus. On Mother’s Day of 2017, my mom gave her life to Jesus and was baptized.  Now we worship Him together!

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You see, that is what we are created to do.  To be transformed through God’s Grace and to live it out each day to be a living testimony to those around us.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me down a path that helps those as lost as I once was.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

“ ‘The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ ” “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15: 21,24