The negative experiences that shape our lives…

Good morning, friends! I’ve missed you all! I’ve been ridiculously busy lately, and my morning time (my usual writing time) has been replaced by devotion and prayer time to prepare me for my busy days.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our negative experiences are the ones that often shape us the most.

My sister came to visit over the weekend. For her birthday, her husband arranged club seats at the Pittsburg Steelers game for her and a friend, and paid to fly her home to visit family. She had never seen our studio, so we planned a visit. Since it was her birthday, I surprised her by inviting her friends to the studio to have a “paint party”. Our paint instructor led the class and ten or so of her long time friends came. Some of these girls were childhood friends that we’ve know for decades. Most of them live relatively local to us but Shannon, who now lives in Kentucky, stayed with us for the weekend as well.

We stayed up late each night talking about families and reminiscing about high school. During the discussion we talked about mutual friends and friends of friends, one in particular stirred up visceral feelings for Shannon. She said, “ I really can’t stand ___________, but I should really thank her. Truly, she shaped my life.”

Puzzled, we were all intrigued as she began to recount a memory from thirty-some years ago, when she was in middle school. A group of her “friends” were gathered in the hallway on the second floor of our junior high school, talking about the upcoming yearly trip to the amusement park near our town. At that time, it was cool to get matching shirts or outfits to wear on that day, and this group of girls were making their plans for the outfits and the trip. One of the girls, a particularly snobby, stuck up, nasty girl, said, “I don’t really want Shannon to come. Her family is so poor and she’s always mooching off of everyone” and didn’t realize that Shannon was right behind her.

Shannon’s parents were divorced and she and her three siblings lived with her mom, who had a job working evenings in the prison. Her mother did the best she could to provide but didn’t have a lot extra.

The words stung Shannon, but what she did with them was amazing. She said, “I got myself a career making decent money, and raised my children to never, ever treat anyone like that”. When her children would go out with friends, Shannon would always slip them an extra $20 and tell them that if any of them couldn’t afford a snack or a drink or whatever they were doing that they were to pay for it without saying a word, careful that they never looked down own anyone for not having money.

Shannon used that experience to make a difference in her kids’ lives and impact others along the way. I was sure to pass this story on to my youngest daughter, who is still in high school, to show her first, that sometimes the words we say about people leave lasting impressions on them, good or bad..second, to show her a real life example of using a negative experience to shape someone else’s life.

Thank you, Shannon, for the life lesson. It was great to reminisce.

Be blessed today, my friends!

SB

In Your presence

Lord, I feel Your presence all around. Your comfort touches my heart and fills me with peace.

Lord, there are those who don’t know this peace… touch them this day, that they’d feel Your Spirit in them and know they’ve been changed.

The old is gone. The new is who we are now. Continue to draw us to You, and fill us with an insatiable hunger for Your word, that we’d dwell on it day and night

Reveal to us who you want us to be, and peel off our ugly character, replacing it with your beautiful love. Continue to refine our flaws as we put our trust in You. When we are tempted to return to our old though patterns and behaviors, cover us with Your grace and give us the strength to resist the devil.

Let Satan have no authority in our minds, or pull us back into our old self. Bind him and thwart all of his attempts to harm.

In Your Holy and precious name, I give you today.

Blessings,

SB

Don’t count the cost

“Real love, born out of gratitude of a changed life, doesn’t count the cost.” Pastor John Soper, Missions 119

Luke 7: 36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

In my personal Bible study this week, Pastor Soper of Mission 119 talked about Jesus’ ministry on Earth, and the disciples he hand picked to follow Him. They were not the religious leaders, nor people of statue. They were sinners and broken people, like you and me, and He used them to change the world.

Think about that.

I’ve sometimes thought I could never measure up to what “Christians” believe is the standard… but Christ himself, called the broken sinners to be His friend and follower. I’m not perfect. I’m not even good sometimes. But I love Jesus with all my and am willing to pour into others what He has poured out into me.

I am so crazy blessed right now with blessings that it’s truly hard to put into words my gratitude for the Savior of the World, who loves me enough to answer prayers

Changed lives. I’m watching reborn lives of some very special people right now, each who have, by God’s Grace, been given new life…. physically, Spiritually, emotionally.

For one, it is literally an answer to a thirty-three year old prayer; a prayer I had actually given up on… but God didn’t. Thirty three years. Some of you aren’t even that old!

The other represented much more intense suffering over a much shorter period of time, though it felt like an eternity (at least for me), but forced me to complete surrender because there was literally nothing more I could do for the situation…. and then God showed up.

Both are the culmination of God’s question. “Will you trust me when it gets really tough?” the inaudible yet unmistakable voice of God asked. With my faith tested but not shattered, I trusted God, but could have never imagined the answer He had waiting. He truly is bringing all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

A couple of years ago, one of my mentees was complaining about Matthew 28, where Jesus commands his people to “go and make disciples.” “Why is it MY responsibility”, she said, “to tell others about Jesus??” In as loving a way as possible, I replied, “it’s because you haven’t had a real encounter with Jesus yet. When you do, and you see the power of God first hand… when God answers prayer for you in such a way that you KNOW if could only have been Him… you will WANT to tell everyone about it.”

I’m so in love with the God of the Universe and I really want everyone to know! I literally feel like shouting from rooftops, “hey world! Can’t you see what God has done here??? He’s changed lives!!!”

May you be blessed today, my friends.

SB

My friend, John

I am amazed by God every single day of my life.   I remember a pastor who used to tell us that we were designated by God to be in exactly the place He wanted us at exactly the time He wanted us here — that we could have been born at any point in history, but weren’t – could have been born any time in history, but we weren’t. God put us right where He wanted us to be.

I’ve been watching posts on Facebook from a guy I went to school with – actually as far back as first grade.   We weren’t necessarily best friends or anything, but he was part of my class the whole way through elementary school and into junior high.  We probably lost most direct contact in high school, but were friendly enough with one another and are connected on Facebook.  Over the past couple of months, I’ve seen him post positivity memes, and memes about surviving tough things.

Today, I decided to reach out just to let him know I noticed – and to tell him God cares about him.  He shared with me some personal things he’s gone through over the past 10 months – something that really threw him for a loop at first, but he’s managing to work through – he said he is really a fairly positive guy so wants other people to be as well – despite hard circumstances.  He was thrilled that someone noticed and took the time to reach out.

I asked him if it was ok to add him to my prayer list – he said “sure”.   My prayer list is long enough to spend hours in prayer each day – I guess that’s the idea, right?

I’ll be praying for John.

blessing to you!

SB

God-Winks

A few months ago, my dear friend gave me a book called, When God Winks, written by Squire Rushnell.   If nothing else, a name like Squire should make you want to buy his book.  The book is a collection of real-life “coincidences”  – or, as one dictionary entry puts it: “a mysterious event that is not a coincidence, but of divine origin”.  In the author’s note at the beginning of the book, he acknowledges that Godwinks are signs of hope.  There are times in life when we just need a Godwink.

Over the past 12 months, my entire life has been a Godwink.  Eventually, it will all unfold in the sequel to Masquerade.  I have actually laughed (and cried) to my closest friends that my life has truly been a made-for-TV movie.

The past 6 weeks of my life, in particular, have been a whirlwind, to put it mildly.  I will spare some details so that he can share himself, but my dear friend and business partner (Which was a Godwink in and of itself) had a bad reaction to the immunotherapy drug he was taking for cancer, which had a tremendous affect on his cognitive abilities until the doctors were able to figure out the cause.  During the weeks of confusion, well-intentioned (for the most part) people were trying to inform the doctors of his symptoms, habits, medical issues, etc, to try to paint the clearest picture to help the doctors the best they could to determine what was wrong.  I went to the hospital every single day for a week straight to be present when each of the doctors – and he had an entire team of them – came in to discuss his condition.   He went through a battery of tests from CT scans, MRI’s, to spinal taps, etc. There were several times throughout the process where the doctors seemed to make a conclusion of his condition based on verbal feedback from family members despite medical evidence they had to the contrary.   I fought tirelessly to try to help the doctors see they needed to keep looking for the root of the problem – so much so that family members were upset.  During this time, several close to the situation, who claimed to be Christians, became extremely ugly and attacked my character.  In a time when I felt it was important to unify in Christ, and come together to be his support, there were those so fueled by jealousy and bitterness that they sought to destroy, and they made it perfectly clear they weren’t interested in unification.  I was particularly despondent because I knew they were Christians.

I truly reached a point where I could no longer be his advocate.  Those of you who know me well know I don’t give up easily.  I’d like to think of myself as person pretty capable of getting things done, but I found myself in a situation that I could not control at all…  his health was 100% out of my control.  I HAD to allow God to be the advocate for his health, and for the ugly family circumstances that truly broke my heart.   I HAD to release it completely to God and trust that God WOULD be his advocate (and mine!)  Oh, I knew God COULD be his/my advocate, I just didn’t know if He WOULD. I sort of felt as though I wasn’t worthy for God to work miracles.

It was in this same week that I decided to return to a Bible Study Ap that was recommended to me over a year ago.  I opened the Ap and it returned to where I left off – in the book of Gensis, studying Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  The first couple of days of the study were filled with lessons that Abram/Abraham learned as God was testing his faith – and I learned that he failed some of those tests!  Not only that, but God was patient with him as he learned from those failures, and gave him more tests, not to give up on him, but to allow him to grow and learn to trust God completely.  Returning to this study was a Godwink for me.   In a time when I felt I was failing tests God was giving me, I needed to know that He is continuing to develop me into what He needs me to be for His purpose.

With no other choice, I found myself praying differently…  truly praying without ceasing that God Himself would advocate on my friend’s behalf, that He would lead the doctors to the right conclusion.. truly praying that God would bring healing where healing was needed, in ALL circumstances, and believe me, it’s needed in A LOT of places! I found myself having to rely completely on God…   and sometimes that’s just the place He needs us to be…

In the afternoon of the day I reached out to my friends to let them know I was REALLY losing the battle, (Bridge notes…. losing the battle), my friend called me and asked me to come and talk to him “about the next ten years”.   His voice sounded so weak that I wondered if he’d even make then next 10 days.  I hadn’t planned to visit, but made arrangements to be able to and headed straight for the hospital.  I was visiting with him when one of his doctors came in and described what he thought was going on – I remember asking him directly if he thought it could be stopped/reversed and he said he was hopeful.  Over the next few days, the doctor team seemed to align on the cause of his medical issues – the very drug that he was taking to treat his cancer.  They put him on a strong steroid to counter-act, and his cognitive skills began to improve.  He had to go to a rehabilitation facility to learn how to walk again as he’d been bed-ridden for over a month.

Yesterday, he learned that he will be coming home tomorrow!  By the grace of God, my friend has been given a new lease on life.  Even better than that, he knows completely, without a doubt, that it was God who touched him and healed him, advocated for him when he couldn’t, and has dedicated his life to serving the One True God.  He has told me, and everyone else he can, that he just wants to be a disciple of God and do what God directs him to do.  God has given him opportunities to share his story all through his rehabilitation center, and, in doing so, he is allowing himself to be a Godwink to someone else who needs it.

I suspect his road might get a bit bumpy, especially because the devil will be unhappy about his zeal, but one thing the past 6 weeks have taught me (again) is that being in the center of God’s will is the best place we could ever be.  I messaged him this morning to say I’d be praying that God fills him with an unquenchable thirst for God’s Word and that He reveals the next step of His purpose in his life.  I’m truly excited to see God work.

There are really a lot of details I’m leaving out – and Godwink’s throughout the past 6 weeks.  In due time, they will be shared.  In the meantime, I am enjoying reading the book, When God Winks, and suspect that I will continue to read others in the series.  There are still unresolved plots in my story, and not everything in my story has been a fairy-tale with a happy ending, but I can truly see that God’s hand is over my friend and over me – and over you – and over every situation which we face – being out advocate even when we don’t know it.

Be blessed today, my friends!

In Him,

SB