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We have a winner! Pam Bock, congrats! You won your choice of Becky Lyles’ books! I’ll be in contact with you shortly. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog last week! And to everyone else–bummed you didn’t win last week’s book give-away? No worries! We have another book give-away today. :) The winner will be randomly selected from the comments below.

headshot red alternateToday pastor’s wife and talented author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter takes a trip back in time…some 2,000 years, well before air conditioning, manis and pedis, and wifi.

What Would I Have Done? by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

21 And when Jesus was passed over again by ship unto the other side, much people gathered unto him: and he was nigh
unto the sea.

22 And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet,

23 And besought him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.

24 And Jesus went with him; and much people followed him, and thronged him.

I can’t focus on this Scripture without mentioning what happened before this. There was no rest for Jesus that day. He’d already calmed a storm and cast out demons, then journeyed across the sea. Again. Why? Because the people asked him to leave. Only the demoniac Jesus had returned to his right mind was grateful.

As soon as he got to the other shore, a crowd awaited him. Jairus fell at his feet, begging Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus immediately went with him only to be thronged by the crowd.

I’ve wished so many times that I could have lived back when Jesus walked the earth. Me—put aside my love for electricity, air conditioning, and indoor plumbing? Yes.

I like to think I’d have been one of the ones who fell at Jesus’ feet. Who would have sold everything to follow him. Who would have railed and mourned when they killed him. Who would have been waiting for his resurrection because he’d said it was so.

But would I have? Or would I have been frightened by the Gadarene’s healing? Would I have been one of the people praying Jesus to depart from my coasts? Would I have been in the press thronging him, getting in his way, and distracting him from Jairus’ daughter. Not because I knew who he was, but because I’d heard of his miracles and needed one.

The people living then didn’t know who Jesus was. They were looking for the Messiah, but they expected a king not a carpenter. Some didn’t recognize him. Even the disciples didn’t understand the big picture.

Would I have recognized him? Or would I have fallen asleep in the garden instead of watching? Would I have denied him like Peter? Would I have been one in the crowd crying for the release of Barabbas? Would I have doubted him like Thomas?

Knowing my short-comings and how I often fall at Jesus’ feet only after I’ve tried everything else, I think I’m glad I didn’t live back then.

Arkansas Weddings coverArkansas Weddings:

Arkansas Weddings: Love’s never easy in three Arkansas romances. Pastor Grayson loves his wife. The problem is, Sara was killed by a hit-and-run driver two years ago. He knows he needs to move on, but it’s not until florist Adrea Welch arrives at his church that the seeds of healing are planted in his heart. Laken left home eight years ago and never looked back. Who knew when she applied for the promotion to postmaster that she’d end up in Romance, Arkansas, and much too close to her past—and Hayden Winters? Shell doesn’t have a good reputation. But no matter what everyone in Rose Bud, Arkansas, thinks of her, she’s back in town with a job to do. Ryler also has reasons for being in Rose Bud, and they don’t include Shell. But God’s love can soften the hardest heart and overcome the darkest past. These hearts may not know it, but they’re about to change.

Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom and pastor’s wife. Her debut novel won the2011 Inspirational Readers’ Choice AwardWhen not writing, she runs circles in the care and feeding of her husband, their son, and church congregation. Home is a central Arkansas zoo with two charcoal gray cats, a chocolate lab, and three dachshunds in weenie dog heaven. If given the chance to clean house or write, she’d rather write. Her goal is to hire Alice from the Brady Bunch. Visit her online!

Shannon Taylor Vannatter - 2011 Inspirational Readers Choice Award
WHITE ROSES, WHITE DOVES, WHITE PEARLS - barbourbooks.com
RODEO DUST, RODEO HERO, RODEO ASHES
RODEO REGRETS July 2013, RODEO QUEEN, RODEO SONG – 2013 – 2014
http://www.shannonvannatter.com   http://www.shannonvannatter.com/blog
http://www.inkspirationalmessages.com

Let’s talk about this. For me, it’s so easy to slip into pride and overconfidence. When things are going well, it’s like I don an invincible suit–my faith is strong; unshakable. I can handle anything! Yep! On fire for Jesus and ready to take on the world. Until trials hit, then suddenly, nastiness bubbles forth–nastiness that was always there, hidden beneath a layer of complacency or comfort. What have I learned, having received those surprising glimpses into my sinful heart? That I really don’t know how I’d behave in a certain situation until I’ve been there. :) So, in answer to Shannon’s question about how I might have responded to Jesus had I encountered Him some 2,000 years ago? I don’t know. I hope I’d be an instant follower, because He alone brings life and fulfillment. But then I must also remember, He is so much bigger than my frailties and faithless moments. And praise be to God for that. So, although I have no idea how I might have responded, I have full confidence that my Savior would’ve gently, persistently, and lovingly drawn me to Himself.  Because unlike us, He doesn’t give up or lose patience. :)

LivingbyGracepicI’d love to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments below or on Facebook atLiving by Grace. 

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Today, my guest, James Willcox, author of Choices,  tells us of an encounter he faced that radically changed his view on life. Although you and Iimag001 likely won’t face a life or death experience, God gives us each the same choice: to live or die. There is only one way to truly live …

What will you choose?

***

Prov. 29:25

The fear of man brings a snare,

But he who trusts in the Lord shall be safe.

         Fear…does it move or paralyze us? The choice is always ours. Do we need fear man? Not really. Do we need fear God? For sure…if we fail to accept Him. Unfortunately, we usually fear man the most. No one wants to be rejected. Yet, when we seek after the things of God and not the world, we often fear rejection by others.

lighttunnelOn September 21, 2011, I had a life threatening heart attack. While still at home, I had a wondrous encounter with the Lord! Death was very near. At first, it terrified me! Suddenly, I found myself enveloped in a soothing light that is beyond description. Next to it, extending into endlessness was blackness beyond imagination. Every object I now saw was either white or black. Jesus asked me…“do you want to live?” Immediately, I answered “yes.”

You see, I was in an extreme drought stricken part of my life. This condition was due to family situations, business conditions, and other factors that, from time to time, we all face. For several months I had been asking God ‘why’ He continued to let me live. Interestingly enough, when first confronted with death, I still wanted to stay here.

The pain in my chest was excruciating! This rancher was now leaning against the tire of a tractor. For a moment, I reasoned if I were to lie down, I would feel much better. Something deep inside told me ‘no.’ To voluntarily do so would be giving up and result in certain death.

The car was about eighty feet away and getting it was one of my jobs that morning. This journey took me through ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death.’ During this walk and for a short time afterward, I have no memory of chest pain. As I proceeded toward the car, the darkness tried to penetrate the wondrous light that protected me. At one point a voice spoke…“What if you fall down?” It was Satan himself who asked the question.

My response…“if I can’t help it, I needn’t be worried.” God’s safety was already surrounding and indwelling me.

Reaching the car, I leaned against it. Jesus again asked me if I wanted to live. Somehow, I knew my answer needed to be delayed. I now found myself in a unique room. It was rectangular, had a hard wood floor, a door with Jesus standing behind it at one end and the other end open to the world I knew. Colors could be seen out the open end but everything else was white and black. Having no desire to try and get to that familiar world, my focus became centered on the door to heaven and the figure behind it. I knew I could choose to go through that door and would be welcomed, leaving everything behind, including my troubles. Perfect peace dwelt deep within me in that amazing setting and it seemed as though time itself were standing still.

Have you ever been asked a question thinking there were only two possible answers? From a human perspective, that’s the kind of question I reasoned had been set before me. It wasn’t long before I knew it was time to answer Jesus’ question. Being led by the Holy Spirit, I suddenly realized there could be a third response. It was time to exercise my faith, knowing I would reside in absolute safety regardless of the outcome. My answer to the most important question I had ever been asked was, “You decide. It’s up to You.” Instantly, I was back in the world I knew, the chest pain once again overwhelming.

Our local hospital is a small, rural facility, not equipped to handle a major heart attack victim. A Flight for Life helicopter took me to a hospital one hundred miles away. Given the way our medical system works, I should have been taken to a hospital about half the distance. God went before me and prepared the way for emergency triple bypass surgery that same afternoon. Even though I had a major heart attack, there was no damage to the heart muscle. PTL!!!

Today, although life is still hard at times, I constantly abide in God’s comforting love, peace and safety. It’s my prayer that you openly seek God, bask in the safety only He can provide, thereby avoiding the snares of man.

James Willcox is a lifelong rancher in southern Colorado. He and his wife, Bobbie, have been married nearly forty four years. They have three adult children and enjoy being grandparents. James knows first had that God does give people second chances and is very aware of His love for us. Visit him online.

imag002About his book, Choices:

Does God really give us the freedom to make our own choices?

Even though Jim and Rick are lifelong friends, their lives have taken very different paths. Jim, as a devout Christian and follower of God, has spent countless hours trying to lead his best friend down the path to salvation. When Jim and Rick are involved in a terrible accident, the depth of Jim’s faith as well as the depth of his love for his friend will be put to the ultimate test.

Jim and Rick see and experience many incredible things as they discover that which awaits believers and nonbelievers alike. Follow these two friends as they realize the eternal consequences of their Choices.

***

This past month, during my morning Bible reading time, God has been sharpening my focus on those things that are eternal, encouraging me to not let my heart become dulled by the concerns of this life but that I would instead keep alert to His mission (and man’s condition) at all times. (Luke 21:34-36)

Because tomorrow is promised to know man.

 

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StrollingThroughProverbsWouldn’t it be nice to live life without regrets? To always know the best course of action, the right thing to say, the best path to follow? If you’ve been following my blog, you know I’ve determined to read through the book of Proverbs, focusing on one application to live out each day. Yesterday we focused on wisdom–wise living. Guest writer, Emilee Hendryx encouraged us to seek out God’s guidance in our daily choices, then reminded us of the promises God made should we do so. If you missed her post, I encourage you to read it. You can find it here.

Wisdom–living God’s way, seeking His will.

Why?

Proverbs 2 is full of promises of what we’ll receive should we align our hearts with God’s. Emilee pointed out numerous. We receive common sense, God’s protection and guidance, joy (Prov 2:10), safety, protection from others (v. 12-15), and protection from ourselves (v. 16-19).

But is that why we seek wisdom and strive for right living? This morning, as I was contemplating this in light of Proverbs 2, God convicted me of how often my desires are selfishly motivated–even my desire for wisdom! So often, I cry out for insight not to please God but in order to find a solution to some problem or steps toward achieving something I desire. But do I cry out for righteousness with the same passion? Do I search for right living with the same urgency as I would for a treasure? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Sadly, not always. Today, that is my goal–to approach God’s Word, to seek God’s wisdom, not for what I will get out of it, but instead, as an act of worship and with an open heart, asking Him what He would desire of me this day. In fact, as I approach my Creator, the One worthy of my admiration and submission, may He empty me of everything else but a desire for Him–to know Him and walk in moment-by-moment fellowship with Him.

For if I do that, if I completely surrender my thoughts, my heart, and my will to Him, I believe wisdom will enter my heart–the core of who I am, changing me from the inside out–and knowledge of who God is and what He desires of me, will fill me with the joy that can only come from Him.

Today my desire is to be so filled with God, so aligned with Him and His purposes, that like Jesus, I can say, I do only what I see my Father doing (John 5:19).

Let’s talk about this.

Join me at Living by Grace as we talk about surrendering our hearts completely to God and crying out for wisdom with passion and urgency.

Here are some questions to ponder or discuss:

1. Focus on Proverbs 2:10. “For wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will fill you with joy.” When I read this, I instantly thought of Jesus’ words in John 5:19: Jesus did only what He saw His father doing. In other words, at every moment, Jesus was in complete unity with the Father. What if we lived in the same way? What if we were so connected to God, so in-tune with Him, our first reaction was that of obedience? What are some ways to achieve this? Do any verses come to mind?

2. As I read Proverbs 2, verse 20 stood out to me: “Follow the steps of good men instead, and stay on the paths of the righteous.” I’ve heard it said we all need Timothys and Pauls in our lives. In other words, at every moment, we should occupy two positions–that of mentee and that of mentor. I believe God is sovereign and always at work in and through us. Which means, those we encounter in our lives are there for a divine reason–to help us receive God’s truth and grace or to receive God’s truth and grace through us. Who are you actively and purposefully learning from right now? Who are you trying to encourage and support?

3. What are some ways you can dig deeper into God’s Word?

Here are some tips/suggestions I’d like to share, and I’d love for you to share your ideas with us either through the comments, at Living by Grace, or in our Yahoo Bible Study Group. (The link is provided below).

*Underline action words like Emilee did yesterday. Pause to consider ways you can perform those actions then commit to putting one of those actions into practice that day.
*Use a lexicon to look up words that stand out to you. (A lexicon shows you the original Greek or Hebrew word used in the text, along with its meaning.) You can find a lexicon here.
*Read a verse or passage in multiple translations. This is helpful because often, the Greek or Hebrew word/words used by the biblical writers might not always transfer to modern day English fully. By reading numerous translations, we’ll often get a fuller understanding of the passage.

If you’d love to discuss Proverbs fuller, would like encouragement and support in memorizing weekly verses, and would enjoy the accountability of connecting with other believers desiring to grow closer to God, join our online Bible study group:


Click to join ProverbsStudy

Click to join ProverbsStudy

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I’ve enjoyed reading the various “Reach Out” stories posted this month, and each one inspired or challenged me for different reasons.

Here’s what I learned:

Mary Ellis reminded me to focus on the human element–to be careful not to allow the task to overshadow the person I’m doing the task for. This is true in all areas of life, isn’t it? So often, we can begin a project as an act of love only to become consumed by the project itself. But what people need most is time–human connection.

Here’s a snippet of her story: “But most of all, we prayed with them, listened to them, and demonstrated lessons taught by the Savior. Several of them joined our church afterwards. What did I gain from the experience? There, but for the grace of God go I. These people were no different from you or me. Loss of employment or a serious illness could place any of us into dire straits. I get down on my knees each night and ….” (Read the rest here)

Mary hinted at numerous truths in her story. I’d be curious to know what you gleaned from it.

In Love For a Felon by Kenneth W. Bangs, I was reminded of the importance of maintaining an authentic welcome mat, and of staying alert for divine appointments. God’s timing is always perfect, and He never wastes a moment. May we, as His children, never close a door He’s opened nor walk away from a wounded soul.

Here’s a blip of Kenneth’s story: “He nodded and started talking…told me his whole life story. I’d heard it so many times before…so hard, so violent. I prayed with him and told him to enjoy the fishing. He brought his grandson by several times and then stopped. I got a call from a local pastor. He told me Herschel had cancer, no insurance and asked if we could help. …” (You can read the rest here.)

I’d love to hear how Kenneth’s story impacted you.

Cara Putman’s Reach Out story reminded me that God is ALWAYS there, especially during the storms in life. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “Jesus with skin on.” God’s love is never-ending, always flowing, but often, it comes to us through others. May we, as God’s children, daily be conduits of God’s love as we reach out to the hurting.

Here’s a snippet of her story: “After the tornadoes that ripped through Joplin, Missouri, last year, I’ve been burdened by their horrific paths of destruction. I first asked God what I could do when I saw the horrific images of Alabama. Then the weekend storms hit Joplin. A third of the town…gone.

It’s almost too much to fathom.

But the burden wouldn’t leave.” (Read the rest here.)

What impacted you most in Cara’s story?

Our final story this month comes from Ada Brownell. This one was very dear to my heart as I’m passionate about reaching out to the next generation. I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s often said this current generation is the “unloved generation.” Our youth are craving adult interaction, acceptance, role models, unconditional love. It’s easy to point fingers and complain about “how things are,” but love goes a bit deeper and focuses on how things could be. Love looks past the behavior to the hurting heart beneath.

Here’s part of Ada’s story: “According to the last statistics I gathered, five million elementary-age U.S. children grow up with no supervision after school. Twenty-two million adolescents are unsupervised between 3 and 6 p.m. on a typical day, according to the U.S. Department of Health’s Child Care Bureau.” (Read the rest here.)

What impacted you most about Ada’s story?

More importantly, how have these stories motivated you to reach out this month? What have you done to actively share the love of Christ? Share it here so we can be motivated to do the same and so we can rejoice at the giver of love, Jesus Christ, who stirs us to act according to His will.

Once again, I want to give a loud shout-out to April’s reach out donors!

Leave a comment for a chance to win a free book, and submit your “Reach Out” story for a chance to win a gift basket.

April’s donors include Mary Ellis with An Amish Family Reunion, Deborah Raney with Almost Forever, Cara Putman with A  Wedding Transpires on Mackinac Island, Vannetta Chapman with Falling to Pieces, Rebecca Lyles with Winds of Wyoming, and Gina Holmes with Dry as Rain. (Read more about all these great books here, and show your appreciating by clicking on their names to visit their websites.)

Come back Thursday to see who won the gift basket and give-away.

(If you have a reach out story to share, send it to jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.)

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Pre-baby, I used to dream about parenting. I had this idea that everything would fall into place and I’d spend my time snuggling pudgy-faced children with a picture book spread between us. Yep, it’d be easy. As long as I followed steps A, B, and C, everything would work out great. But once our sweet little baby came, reality hit and a terrifying thought ballooned: “What if I can’t do this?” Worse yet, “What if I mess our daughter up?” I worried about everything from vaccinations to nutrition, but my biggest concern centered around her faith. How could I encourage her to fall madly in love with Jesus—to make our faith her own? Not knowing what else to do (Read the rest here, then join the cyber chat at Mom’s Together.)

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Between VBS, taxiing teens, getting our daughter set up for the new school year, writing, and starting a new job, this summer’s turned crazy. Listening to other friends, it appears I’m not the only one with a rapidly mounting to-do list. For me, a lot of jobs and little time equals a dull mind. Yesterday is a perfect example. First, I missed our daughter’s orthodontist appointment, then I showed up to our doctor’s appointment without the physical forms and had to return home, wasting time I didn’t have.

By the time evening rolled around, I felt squeezed and ready to pop. My first inclination was to put things in overdrive, although I’d already seen how ineffective frantic scurrying was. Instead, I chose to slow things down and reconnect with my Maker.

Taking an hour to pray and listen to praise didn’t magically erase or accomplish my to-do list, but it did bring things back to perspective. It reminded me of God’s sovereignty and His promise to perfect that which concerns me. (Psalm 138:8)

Ephesians 2:10, Jeremiah 29:11, and Psalm 139:16 remind me that God’s still on the throne, even when my to-do list fights for dominance. No failure or missed appointment can impede His plans. Knowing that gave me peace to finish my day strong.

What about you? How do you regain perspective when your stress level rises? What about today? Feel like you need to xerox yourself in order to accomplish everything on your agenda? Meditate on the following verses, then focus on doing the best you can with the time you’ve got. God will take care of the rest.

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Ephesians 2:10 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.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jesus is called the Prince of Peace. Not only has he enabled us to have peace with God, but He also gives us a daily peace that surpasses our circumstances–when we abide. If we abide in Him, remain in Him, draw near to Him throughout our day, He’ll come to us, soothing our anxieties and filling us with peace and strength. It might feel like we don’t have time for prayer, but honestly, if we’re feeling frazzled and pushed to the max, we don’t have time not to pray.

Let Jesus be your all in all today.

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Todays story comes from a woman who understands the depths of grace and learned through experience what it means to let Jesus carry you. The Bible promises God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. Learning to lean, or perhaps more accurately, learning to fall, is never easy, but when we let everything go, close our eyes and jump, we find God’s protective hands to be strong, steady, and unmoving. And when everything else is stripped away, one thing remains–God’s love. And in that moment, we find it to be more than enough. We find it to be all we need. (The author of the following story wishes to remain anonymous.)

*   *   *

“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’” John 5:8 

My story starts 20 years ago when I fell in love with and married my husband. Well, it really starts before that, with my upbringing, because that of course shaped the way I behaved with him. I had a stable, safe and comfortable life, but my family wasn’t very affectionate and close-knit. We laughed and enjoyed family times like camping trips, but we weren’t touchy-feely. We didn’t talk much about important things. We had no faith to hold us together. As a result, I never felt deeply loved. So when I met Evan*, I found someone who became my lover and best friend. I knew he really loved me. We had a good marriage. He made me laugh. We could talk deep into the night. He told me often that he loved me and that I was the most beautiful woman in the world. I responded that if he kept saying that I might just start believing it.

There was just one problem. I found out very early on that he had an addiction. He used crack. His usage was almost always brought on by drinking too much. He didn’t do it if he was sober. Mostly, he drank too much on the weekends, but also during the week. He would drink and then take off to get some crack, then come back and stay up all night and sleep half the day. At first, I was fearful and worried, but I thought it wasn’t that serious and that he would get over it. We were still young. He couldn’t possibly want to continue his habit once we started a family, right? I didn’t leave or tell anyone or tell him to get help, because my fear of losing him and his love was much greater. The time we spent together when he wasn’t drinking or using were almost always enjoyable, so I put the pain and fear away in a box and closed the lid tightly.

We lived two lives. One where everything was fine and happy. Another where he was using and everything looked dark. I can’t tell you how many times I cried in anguish for hours from the moment I heard the garage door go up just minutes after I took the boys upstairs to bed. I knew the weekend was done for. I felt abandoned on those days. I wondered how he could say he loved me one night and leave me the next. In those early years I begged and cried. I called in sick for him. But the good times gave me hope, kept me going, made me happy for a while. Eventually, I resigned to it.

I was paralyzed. And I stayed paralyzed for 18 years.

Like the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda, I had no one to help me into the healing waters. I had no one because I didn’t ask and didn’t tell. My paralysis wasn’t obvious, however, like the paralyzed man’s. No one knew. Evan* was a master at keeping his secret life secret. And I helped him. His parents didn’t know. He always kept a job and paid the bills. He was liked and respected. Even our boys didn’t know!

So what changed? How did I get from paralysis to walking freely again?

The problem with living two lives is that eventually the dark side starts to seep into the good side and infects it. In the last few years we were together, he began to get more withdrawn and depressed. His bursts of anger were more frequent and scary. His drinking got heavier. We didn’t have those late night talks anymore. He stopped telling me about work because he didn’t think I was interested (which wasn’t true). The boys and I had to tiptoe around him, keeping quiet while he slept, leaving him alone as he read or watched TV.

I began to confide in a few friends. I secretly went to Al-Anon meetings. My friends wrapped me in the love and grace of Christ and walked with me through months so painful I could not have imagined. In May of 2009, I had been feeling very anxious because I felt Evan*was lashing out at me frequently about little things. I got so upset one day that I spent the night at a friend’s. We “patched” things up in the next couple days and decided to go up to the mountains for a long weekend we had already planned. The boys were on a trip with their grandparents. My anxiety didn’t go away, however. I had resolved to make a very clear statement to him about his drinking and drug use. It took me until Sunday to get it out. I told him I loved him and accepted him for who he was, but couldn’t accept what he does. I was going to get help, counseling, talk to my pastor, talk to friends. I said I wanted him to get help, too, but if he wasn’t willing I would go on my own.  Well, I guess all he heard was “I hate you. You’re a jerk.” He shut down immediately. For the next couple weeks his silence was so hostile it got unbearable. I had to move into another room to sleep. Then I moved back. Over the next couple of months, we gingerly tried to make up, talk a little, understand each other – with some good days and some bad.

Then in late July, I told him a couple of things that I had withheld from him… that I had bought a cell phone when I was feeling especially fearful of how things were going, and that I had confided in a friend of ours. I’ve always hated keeping things from him. All hell broke loose, literally. From that point on until late October when I finally told the boys the truth and we moved out, he barely spoke to me, except to hiss nasty things under his breath. He glared at me and avoided me almost completely. We even went on a trip to the Rocky Mountains, during which I was a complete non-entity.

What I hoped would happen as a result of moving out was that he would wake up and want to get some help to get his family back. My in-laws were devastated. They had no clue all those years. It was awful telling everyone. I gathered some family and friends and we attempted an intervention. He took off and wouldn’t face anyone. The boys and I along with my mother-in-law and her husband went to the Betty Ford Center’s family program together. Evan* and I communicated by email for a while – with great frustration on both sides, but he called no one. He completely refuses to talk to or see anyone even now. The boys haven’t seen him or talked to him in over a year. I filed for legal separation, still hoping that he would do an about-face. He didn’t show up for the custody hearing or court. Now he has initiated changing it to a divorce.

So this all paints a pretty sad picture, eh? But, my friend, this is only part of the story. To see what God has done throughout this experience has overshadowed the pain and loss. He has set me free from bondage! Not bondage to marriage – I grieve the loss of it – but bondage to sin. I have come to know the reality of His great love and grace. I have never felt so sure of God’s will and assured of His love for me. He has poured out his love for me through the support and prayers of friends and family. He pulled me up out of a pit that I had been stuck in for many years and got me moving forward.

“There is a difference in the woman who is saved and getting by as best she can and the woman who is saved and living every day of her life filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. The first woman is a carnal Christian. And the second one is a spiritual woman. If we stay with our illustration, we’d say that the second woman is dancing. The first one continues to walk according to her old desires, and the other is being led by the Spirit of God. There is only one degree of choosing that separates these women. But as it turns out, one degree makes all the difference.” -Angela Thomas, When Wallflowers Dance

I realized that, although I thought of myself as spiritual, and had a great desire to live a Spirit-filled life, I was just getting by as a carnal Christian. The one degree that made the difference for me was an act of obedience, that is, I finally voiced my opposition—with truth and love—to something I had kept silent about for years. And then, once I left, I felt I was being carried along with the Lord going before me, that it was all out of my hands and truly safe in His perfect will. The image I shared with a friend at the time was of a leaf being carried along the top of a rushing stream. I was the leaf and the stream was Living Water.

Here are a couple things I wrote last year:

April 2010: “Being saved and seeing Jesus are not the same thing.” -Oswald Chambers

Have you ever felt so completely helpless about your future, not knowing when-how-if it will all work out? Have you ever felt compelled to take actions that seem to be the opposite of God’s will (like leaving your husband) and seem to take you further from resolution and away from your ultimate desire? That’s where I am and it is such a strange place to be! I’ve never dove deep like this and completely placed everything in God’s hands, trusting Him to work out what is impossible for me on my own. I feel like I am just standing before Him with my hands limp at my sides, and at the same time moving forward. I’ve been saved for many years now, but am really seeing Him for the first time. I only caught glimpses of Him before. I feel safe and confident as I look to Him and not at my circumstances (although He doesn’t shield me from the pain, but walks me through it).

May 2010: Sun at my back, legs heavy, breath labored, I put one foot in front of the other to climb another hill. It’s early in the morning and there is still a chill in the air. I listen through all the chirping to pick out a red-winged blackbird. The thistle and wild mustard stand as tall as my shoulders and the wild grasses tickle my shins. The hill before me is steep enough that I have to lean forward as I climb. My legs burn and the arteries thump in my thighs. At the top, I feel invigorated. Recently, I have been feeling very depressed. Our house is sold and in escrow and it feels like the last nail in the coffin of my marriage. I knew I couldn’t continue feeling this way and even contemplated going to the doctor for medication. I also knew that a better option would be exercise. So the first day I ventured out to the rolling hills nearby (one of the best perks of living in XXX*), I started climbing and hiking and going and going and going. I finally returned an hour and a half later. A friend of mine said that as I do this I will squeeze out every ounce of sadness with each step. I don’t know about that, but hiking does lift my spirits and gives me energy for the day. It gives me time to thank the Lord for all the good things he provides – from the care and love of friends and my boys whom I adore, to the ladybug on the thistle and the cottontail that appears to fly over the grass as it dashes away from me. As I keep leaning into Jesus and pressing on with perseverance, I grow stronger. I know there is a hilltop ahead where I will feel invigorated and renewed, and I pray, if it is His will, see restoration.

The Lord has shown His love and care for me and my boys in amazing ways over the past year. He gave us friends who let us live with them for eight months, caring for us and walking with us. Staying with them allowed me time to get my bearings and to grieve my marriage. Giving yourself room to breathe and grieve is so healthy! And so painful. But I resolved to allow myself whatever feeling came along, without embarrassment or trying to bury it. Then God sent me work that I could do at home when I was looking elsewhere and provided an apartment surrounded by friends and church family. He has given my boys friends and support from church that enrich their lives and are helping them grow into godly, caring young men. A long-awaited visit from my sister and her husband was a source of great comfort and joy. 

I have come to truly know deep within my soul how much God loves and cares for me.It took a work of the Holy Spirit to get that from my head into my heart. He has enlivened my spirit. For so long, I saw in others joy and peace and longed for them for myself, but didn’t know how to get there. But now God, in His mercy, has given me a white stone with a new name (Rev. 2:17) – Joy. I still look at the future as uncertain, but now there is no fear. My future, and my husband’s future, are in God’s hands.

*Name and location have been changed/deleted for privacy purposes.

(If you have a story to share of Jesus took you from bondage to freedom, send me an email, jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot) com. Your story may point the way to the ladder of grace for someone else still trapped in the pit.)

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I have a dear friend who is going through some unimaginable difficulties. When we speak, I am often at a loss as to what to say, primarily because I have no clue what it would feel like. Oh, I can imagine, but I know whatever I imagine pales in comparison to the emotions she faces daily. One Sunday, while at church, I stopped to ask a friend to pray for her. During our conversation, I shared a bit of what my friend was going through–the emotions she had shared with me. Not because I was looking for a solution, or advice, but because I wanted friend number two to understand so she could pray effectively.

I was told I “needed to help her…” and was then given instructions on how I needed to help her see truth.

Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

Funny thing was, my friend wasn’t failing to see truth. She was sharing what she was feeling openly and honestly. And what she needed wasn’t someone to bombard her with advice, but instead, someone to cry with her.

Through out my life I have had many “friends” speak truth, but few have stuck around when I needed them most. And on my end, I’ve crushed many, many friends by letting my mouth run. After I’ve dealt the painful blows, usually spoken in pride, I am reminded of something our pastor in Louisiana used to say, “Don’t try to be the Holy Spirit in someone else’s life.”

Think about that for a moment. True, we are to speak truth to one another and there does come a time when we must say the hard thing, but I wonder if perhaps that time arises much less frequently than we presume. Often the best course of action is to provide a listening ear and point our friends back to Jesus. Because the goal is not to encourage them to rely on us and come to us for wisdom. The goal is to encourage them to develop a closer walk with God, learning to hear His voice and seek His comfort. Because quite honestly, He’ll do a much better job than we will.

The book of Job is a perfect example. Job’s friends felt the need to correct Job’s thinking, to show him the error of his ways, but what Job really needed was someone to stand by him, to say, “I love you,” and “You aren’t alone.”

So the next time you are tempted to bombard a hurting friend with truth, pause and pray, and point them back to Jesus instead. He is their comfort. He is their friend who sticks closer than a brother. And He alone knows the best way to minister to His children. Then, if after considerable prayer, you still feel the need to speak the words that are burning on your tongue, do so, but do it with gentleness, love and humility.

 

 

 

 

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We live in “the dog neighborhood”. And “the kid neighborhood”. That’s what we were told the day we moved in. Probably to make sure we wouldn’t be one of those fuddy-duddy, don’t let your mutts pee on my lawn and we prefer kids to be seen not heard, type of people. Nope, that’s not us. We love kids and have two dogs, and love the fact that our daughter and our dogs have playmates. Each afternoon, the cul de sac fills with animals, kids and parents. Kids ride bikes, parents converse, and dogs gather in pacs and play chase, or whatever it is dogs play. And at first, our dogs were able to join. But it didn’t take them long to lose their freedom. Our Cocker Spaniel/Scnauzer mix and a Chiweenie are a bit too sneaky, and stubborn, for their own good.

The minute Ajay (the Chiweenie) is off leash, he bolts. Sheba, the Cocker Spaniel mix is a bit smarter. She’ll wait until you’re caught up in conversation or looking the other way to make her escape. And where do they head? To the busy main street, where they’ll end up as pancakes in two seconds flat.

The result? They’re no longer allowed to play with their doggie friends. It’s rather sad, really. Whenever I take them out, they see the rest of the crew romping and playing, and they’re stuck to a leash. How I long to give them freedom! But their desire to “break free” has actually placed them in a position of bondage.

The other day I was talking with a friend on the phone. This person is having problems. I don’t need to go into any more detail than that, except to say, most of their problems are self-inflicted. They are living in bondage. Their heart cries out for a Savior, only they spurn the very Hands that want to give them freedom. And because their deepest need is not filled, they reach and grasp for temporary fillers. Only those temporary band-aides don’t suffice. As I listened to them talk about the leash around their neck–bitterness, selfishness, pride, fear, disillusionment, unfulfillment–I was reminded of what Jesus said in Luke 13:34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”

If we only understood the love of the Father. Jesus came that we may have life and have it to the full. Apart from Christ, we are living in bondage. Freedom comes from full surrender.

As you listen to the following song, ask yourself this question: If everything comes down to love, then just what are you afraid of?

And this is God’s love song to you. 

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Yesterday one of my friends posted this video on facebook, which led to about an hour of instant replay. 

And it’s not just because it has a catchy beat. The words, “How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er” touched me deeply. As I sang, memories of all the times Jesus has shown up—again, and again, and again—came washing over me. When I’ve had nowhere else to turn, He was there. When everyone else turned away, He was there. When I was too tired to lift my face, He lifted it for me. When I felt like my heart would break, He comforted me with words of love. Like a gentle father enveloping a weak and timid child. God has proven His love and faithfulness to me o’er and o’er.

One day I was speaking with an atheist. This was one of those intellectual conversations–you know, “According to the first law of thermodynamics…therefore there must be a God.”

He wasn’t buying it.

Although, I suspect he was. Each one of us knows deep in our hearts there is a God. And I believe each one of us catch glimpses of His all-consuming love throughout the day, but we rationalize those moments and faint whispers away.

That’s easy to do, even for believers. We’ll hear a word from God. Maybe a verse will speak to us, asking us to do something we’d rather not do. And in that moment, we surrender completely. But then the next day rolls around, and the words, and our passion, fades. How do you know that verse was from God? (Besides the fact that it’s in the Bible?) Maybe you’re making too much of it. You do have a tendency to make every verse your own. (News flash–the Bible is God’s Word to you. Own it.)

Or, we’ll ask for another confirmation, then another, then another. And over time, that tiny flame begins to fade. Life seeps in, and we tell ourselves it was never really a call.

Given enough time and enough human rationalization, even the miraculous can be explained away. Maybe it wasn’t a worldwide flood. Maybe Jonah’s life was an allegory. Maybe that check that came in the mail at just the right time was a coincidence.

Until we’re leveled–totally broken, without a glimmer of hope, and God shows up. Then there’s no doubt. No explanations suffice, and that memory of God reaching down His hand and plunging us out of whatever mess we were in resonates so deeply, it cements itself into our hearts.

After a long, and fruitless conversation with my atheist friend, he asked me what I would do if someone proved the Bible wrong. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of how many years I had spent studying cannonization, biblical archeology and books upon books discussing the credibility and authority of the Bible. But despite all the evidence I’d seen in favor of the Bible’s authority, I contemplated his question honestly.

After all the times God surrounded me, held me, spoke to me, saved me, healed me–showed Himself to me in both the big and the mundane–could anything convince me of His non-existence?

No. Once you’ve tasted the water, there is no way someone can convince you it is not real.

What about you? Pause for a moment and think…contemplate all the times and ways God has shown up in your life. Then listen to the song again. Do you find yourself singing, “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him. How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er.”?

Not there yet? Curious? Maybe even a tad thirsty? Wanna see if God really is who He says He is and really does what He says He does? Ask Him to show you, for all who ask receive, all who seek find and to him who knocks the door will be opened.

Jeremiah 29:12-13 “Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.”

If you want to know God–truly know Him, and experience His freeing, cleansing love first hand, tell Him. If you seek, you will find. He’s already there, loving you, drawing you. Waiting for you to life up your face.

And now I’ going to play that song again. Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him. How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er.

Jesus–life, peace, joy…rest.

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