Monday, September 1, 2014

Lessons from Women of Faith-Day #1

Women of Faith.  Wow.  Have you attended? Many of you reading this blog haven't had the opportunity to attend a Women of Faith Conference.  Well, buckle your seat belt because I'm going to give you a fast and furious overview of the lessons learned last weekend in Kansas City.  There are too many wonderful lessons that it would be selfish of me to NOT share my learning with all of you!  This post is chalk full of links to the speakers, blog posts, and even YouTube videos, so make sure to take advantage of the random bunny trails links provided.

Friday, August 22nd

Gateway Worship started the evening with praise songs.  I love watching worship groups who have a spiritual gift for music.  It goes beyond having a good voice.  You can just see God shining through each member!  If you haven't heard any of their music, check out my favorite song of theirs--"Come Thou Fount, Come Thou King."  Even though they didn't sing it this weekend, you still need to check it out!

Anita Renfroe filled the Sprint Center with laughter through her witty jokes and HILARIOUS songs!  Many people cried from laughing so hard at her tongue-in-cheek advice about leggings to all women in a song called "Those Ain't Pants."  Sadly I can't find this gem on YouTube, but I found a highlights reel.  If you need a good laugh, Anita is your go-to gal!  She once told her friend, "Laughter is the bridge that leads people to Jesus."

Scottish powerhouse Sheila Walsh started her teaching by sharing a story about picking up pieces of broken glass as a child.  Her grandma shared a lesson that we should all hear when she told Sheila, "Sometimes broken things, when they're brought together, make something beautiful."

Sheila's message was inspired by a couple of scriptures.  The first is Psalm 86:11:
Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.
Psalm 86:11 NIV

The next scripture Shelia read comes from the book of Matthew.
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

While I've heard that scripture many times, listening to Shelia share the it from The Message brought things to a whole new level for me.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  
Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Sheila's message was for us to participate as we ask God to give us an undivided heart.  We can't just sit back and ask God to do all of the work.  One thing she said really made me think: "Imagine all the baggage you've been carrying around inside of you suddenly became visible.  Would you like what you see?  Would you want to carry that home {to Heaven} with you?  As she unpacked some of her baggage on the stage, noted the difference between guilt and shame.  Guilt tells me I've DONE something wrong; shame tells me I AM something wrong.  With the recent news of Robin Williams' death, Sheila shared that her dad committed suicide.  She couldn't figure out why Robin Williams' suicide hit her so hard until one day God brought it to light for her.  She told us, "I bought into the lie by the enemy that I was going to do what my dad did."  All these years she was walking around with what she thought was shame about her father's death, but she realized it was fear she was carrying with her--fear that she would end up like her father.  Sheila held on to God's promise of resisting the devil, which is found in the Bible.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 
James 4:7-8 NIV

Sheila pointed out that our fight with the enemy IS real and cannot be taken lightly as she noted, "This is not a playground.  We're in a battle!"  This is why it's so important to cling to the truths in the Bible and put on the full armor of God (see Ephesians 6:10-18). If you're struggling with storms in your life, Sheila's book "The Storm Inside" looks like a FABULOUS resource!

After Sheila's deep message, Natalie Grant took the stage.  Oh my word, talk about being blessed with a set of pipes!  She belted out familiar tunes like "Your Great Name" and her Grammy nominated song "Hurricane," and I sang along like I was blessed with Natalie Grant's amazing voice.  It's socially acceptable to sing at the top of your lungs 1)When you're in the shower 2)When you're around a group of elementary school students who don't care how you sound, or 3)When the music at a concert is so loud that it drowns out your lackluster performance.  Thanks to the crew working at Women of Faith for ensuring that no one around me heard me sing out to God!

While the songs I knew were fun to sing, it was the story behind one song that REALLY got my attention.  Natalie talked about her nephew who came to know the Lord when he was six years old.  Sadly he got addicted to drugs and turned from God.  Natalie wrote the song "Burn Bright" for this precious nephew.  As I listened to her sing, my tears flowed freely as I saw her emotions and her passion for this nephew shine.  While I don't know how it feels to be a mama yet, God has blessed me beyond my wildest dreams with 9 nieces and 2 nephews.  It's not a blessing I take lightly.  These 11cuties are the closest I've ever been to becoming a mom, and many times I feel like a mom as I share in their joys and their sorrows.  Every woman--especially mamas and aunts out there--needs to listen to this song.  Warning: By the end of it, you'll be in UGLY tears.  Not only will you have the big crocodile tears, but you will also have the snot flowing uncontrollably.  Arm yourself with an arsenal of Kleenex before hitting the play button.  You can thank me later!

What a whirlwind night packed with laughter, praise and worship, and an awesome reminder of the might God we serve!  Stay tuned for my recap of Day #2 at Women of Faith!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Looking for Love In All the Wrong Places

Valentine's Day.  A day for LOVE.  To celebrate that special someone in your life...

Card created by JulieAnnArt on ETSY.

BAH HUMBUG!!!  For many, February 14th is anything but special.  Single Awareness Day is a term I stole from a friend several years ago, and it's a phrase that many know very well.  It's the day that I used to dread.  While the rest of the world was out celebrating their meaningful relationships, I sat at home drowning my sorrows in a pint of gooey chocolate ice cream.  I found a card on Etsy that seems to echo my sentiments.  "Happy Singles Awareness Day.  Have fun watching 'The Notebook' with your cat."  Click here to see this fabulous card in all its glory.

Single Awareness Day was the perfect time for me to sit down each year and make a mental list of all the reasons I was still  single.  Ok, I know what you're thinking.  This is one of those sad blog posts that's going to plunge into the depths of despair in about 30 seconds.  Don't reach for the Ben & Jerry's gets better.

For so many years, I thought the only thing missing in my life was a husband.  There was this void in my heart that I KNEW would be filled as soon as Prince Charming came riding up on his white horse.  What I soon came to realize was that it was a relationship with the Lord that my life was missing.  After becoming a Christian in 2012, my outlook on life changed.  I believed I was still single because God wasn't ready for me to be married.  He needed to do some work in my spiritual life first.  THEN He would send me a husband.

Last summer I read a book that transformed my thoughts about love like no other.  A dear friend let me borrow her copy of A Confident Heart  by Renee Swope.  As Renee painted a picture of God's love for me, I realized that telling myself I needed the love of a husband to complete me was all wrong.  What I really  needed was to fully realize God's love for me.  I know some of you want to shake your head and roll your eyes a little.  But, this is something I had never been told.  I was journeying into uncharted waters with this whole notion of love.  "If you've ever doubted God's personal pursuit of you, let this truth sink in, my friend: wherever you are, He wants to meet you there.  He is waiting for you to stop, come up close, and turn your heart to listen to His.  You'd don't have to pretend things are fine when they aren't.  He knows what is going on in your thoughts.  Nothing could keep Him from wanting to be with you" (p. 37).

Once I understood God's love for me, my next step was to better understand my relationship with the Lord.  "We don't just know about  our God; our God wants us to know  Him.  We were created for that kind of relationship.  He wants us to find lasting soul-security in knowing we are valued and pursued by the One who knows and loves us--the One who created our inmost being and wove us together in our mother's womb (Psalm 139:13).  Have you let the gospel of God's grace move from your head to your heart, so that you know without a doubt you are known intimately and loved completely by God?" (p. 41)  These words prompted me to dive into God's Word and REALLY understand Him.  Daily I prayed for God to help me to learn a little more about Him and to love Him a little more. 

Although I understood God's love for me, something still seemed "off" in my heart.  I was still struggling to figure why I wanted more--even though I didn't know what I wanted more of. Then I read it.  "Until our hearts find complete security and significance in God's unconditional love, we will never be satisfied" (p. 52).  That sounds simple, right?  Well, I couldn't just trust some book to tell me God loves me.  I had to dig into God's Word even more. 

I can honestly tell you I was still a little doubtful.  While my heart
was filled with His love, would God's love be enough to fill every  empty place in my heart?  Or, would that only happen when Prince Charming showed up?  Well, Renee had the same doubts, and reassured me by saying, "You see, God put a longing for unfailing love in our hearts because He knew it would lead us back to Him.  Only God's unfailing love will fill and fulfill the desires of our hearts.  It is the deepest thirst of our souls.  Until God's love is enough, nothing else will be" (p. 55).  Oh.  THAT'S why God didn't send Prince Charming my way.  He knew that longing would lead me to Him.

I figured it was just me--that God needed to change my heart before I was ready for a husband.  But, a few chats with my spiritual mama helped me understand that God wasn't just preparing me for Prince Charming.  He was also preparing Prince Charming's heart at well.  This dear friend also told me I should start praying for my future husband now--not praying that God would bring him my way, but praying for Prince Charming's protection, his health, his integrity, and most importantly, his walk with God.  Wow.

Navigating through A Confident Heart  wasn't easy.  It forced me to peel back the layers I placed around my heart.  Those layers held onto anger, bitterness, and many scars from my past.  Once I learned to get rid of all that junk in my heart, my relationship with the Lord soared to new heights.  I also studied the Bible with my mentor, and the more I learned about God, the more I wanted to KEEP learning about Him.  I had this hunger and thirst that could only be satisfied by reading God's Word and through prayer.  "You're blessed when you've worked up a good appetite for God.  He's food and drink in the best meal you'll ever eat" (Matthew 5:16 MSG).  Yep, that pretty much explains my relationship with the Lord!

I've accepted the fact that I'm almost 34 years old and still single.  God has proven over and over that His timing is perfect, and my faith tells me He'll bring Prince Charming at just the right time.  While the days leading up to February 14th no longer require a vat of chocolate, I still wonder if this is the year I'll meet my future husband.  Yesterday as I was reading my Bible, and ended up in 1 Corinthians 7.  Check this out:

"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided." (1 Corinthians 7:32-34)

The Lord definitely got my attention with this.  Then I read the footnotes for these verses.  "Some single people feel tremendous pressure to be married.  They think their lives can be complete only with a spouse.  But Paul underlines one advantage of being single--the potential of a greater focus on Christ and his work.  If you are unmarried, use your special opportunity to serve Christ wholeheartedly."

Don't you just love those moments when the Holy Spirit leads you to exactly the right place in the Bible?  I call those winks and hugs from God.  That was His gentle reminder to me that it's ok for me to be single still because it is His will for me right now. He has work for me to do, and I look forward to discovering how He will use me to build His Kingdom!

My prayer for those of you reading this post is that you too will truly understand how much God loves you.  If you are walking with the Lord but doubt that His love could ever be enough for you, I encourage you to find a mentor, a pastor, or even ask me to help you work through those layers you have around your heart.  If you haven't accepted Christ as your savior, I pray that you will find someone you trust to talk to more about what this means.  I promise it's the most important decision you will ever make, and your life will change for the better!

Want to read a little more?  Click here to read Renee Swope's blog post called "Letting God Fill My Empty Places."  Lysa TerKeurst offers "5 Ways to Survive Love Season" here.  While the author or "Single and Not Waiting" is 10 years younger than me, she speaks truths that are sure to spark a few "AMEN!!!" comments from people.  Click here for that blog post.