This month flew by and our summer right along with it. 🙂

Last month, God taught me to walk with an eyes-wide-open approach, ever-alert to the open doors He provided. This month He’s been teaching me perseverance. I’m a doer by nature, and I like to see results, but walking by faith means obeying even if we never see the why or what. It means giving, expecting nothing in return, loving even when our love is spurned, and committing to a life of prayer even if it feels our prayers amount to naught.

It means clinging tight to God’s promise that tells us our work in the Lord will be rewarded. The ultimate reward, I believe, will be seeing men and women gathered at the throne of God, having crossed over from spiritual death to life. But as we continue to share God’s love with others, we need to remember, each person reaches that bridge at a different bend. Only God knows when. All we can do is obey with full, faith-filled, love-saturated surrender, leaving the rest to Him.

Virginia Hamlin’s story, Transformed by Love, touched me deeply. Watching the same homeless men and women come in and out of Taking it to Streets every Wednesday and Friday, I can easily become discouraged. (You may remember the post I wrote about this very thing the previous Saturday. You can read it here.) But Virginia reminded me to keep moving forward, to keep loving, to keep serving, because we never know when our Melodie will arrive.

“My husband and I were involved in our church’s compassion ministry for over five years from 2002-2007.

We helped prepare 100 meals each Sunday to feed the homeless in a local park. (We enlisted the help of other s to serve and sometimes play worship.) My husband would give a message and then we would break bread with the homeless. Yes, we would sit down at the picnic tables and get to know people. It was during one of those times that I was inexplicably drawn to a woman, Melodie, who was seated alone. We only talked briefly, but I knew God had ordained the meeting. I invited her to our home Bible study and ….” (Read the rest here.)

In Are You in Over Your Head, Katie Ganshert’s post reminded me it isn’t about me–my abilities, talents, or resources. Instead, it’s about the awesome, all-powerful God standing behind me. Watch her vlog here.

Tanya Eavenson reminded me to love without an agenda–unconditionally, with no strings attached. This is a hard one. We all want to receive this kind of love from others, but oh, it’s so hard to give out! Unconditional love–the kind God shows us–says, “I love you even if you never love me in return.” It’s a love exemplified in Christ who, while we were yet sinners, while we spurned Him, rebelled against Him, turned our back to Him, He died for us.

“The Bible clearly states in James, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them,  ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” But what happens when the poor aren’t responsive to your help?

I’ve recently been faced with situations like this. How do you share the love of Christ with a man who’d rather live in the woods and give his every last cent to his addiction? Or the woman who would rather sell herself to prostitution instead of receiving help to start over?

Do I give up?” (Read the rest here.)

I’d love to hear from you. What reach out story impacted you most and why? What lessons has God been showing you this month? Is there a loved one you’ve been praying for, reaching out to, for decades? In what ways has God encouraged you to keep pressing on? Tell us about it!

I also want to give a final shout out to my July Reach Out donors:

Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Authors, agents, and publishers, if you or one of your authors/clients would like to donate a book to one of the Reach Out gift baskets, shoot me an email at the above address.

After my post on Saturday, I find Virginia Hamlin’s Reach Out story very encouraging. Notice, she and her husband served for five years. Many of the men and women they served likely stayed on the streets. But one woman grasped onto the hope of Christ and found radical transformation. As you read Virginia’s story, stop to consider Jesus’ parable of the 99 sheep. It’s easy to get so focused on the 99, we lose sight of the one. But not God. Each one of us are incredibly important to Him–dearly loved.

One Woman’s Transformation by Virginia Hamlin

My husband and I were involved in our church’s compassion ministry for over five years from 2002-2007.

We helped prepare 100 meals each Sunday to feed the homeless in a local park. (We enlisted the help of other s to serve and sometimes play worship.) My husband would give a message and then we would break bread with the homeless. Yes, we would sit down at the picnic tables and get to know people. It was during one of those times that I was inexplicably drawn to a woman, Melodie, who was seated alone. We only talked briefly, but I knew God had ordained the meeting. I invited her to our home Bible study and to my joy she accepted!

I came to learn that Melodie was living in her pickup truck with a camper shell that had a hole in the roof and leaked when it rained. One particular night during our Bible study it began to rain as if the world was ending and knowing what I knew there was no way she was going to spend the night in her truck. To make a long story short, my husband and I took Melodie in based on my sharing with my husband that I believed God wanted her to live with us for a bit.

Melodie ended up living with us for over nine-months. During that period, God blessed her with a job, and my husband helped her learn how to budget. She saved her money and during those several months with us, she got medical insurance and dental work done. God also restored a strained relationship with her family on the East Coast. The most wonderful part of all of this is that she came back into relationship with her heavenly Father.

Melodie currently resides on the East Coast. She is no longer homeless. She has a place of her own. She is working full-time and was quickly promoted to a supervisory role. She is attending a local church and sees her family, nieces, and nephews on a regular basis.

I’ve included a copy of a letter she wrote to me (she told me long ago to share it whenever I was led).

Melodie’s letter

Dear Ginny,

“How do I thank thee, let me count the ways…?”

(Just a little paraphrasing of a very famous line.)

I started this letter this way because I couldn’t decide which “Thank You” to write first. Most people would start with the most important “thank You”, but to me they are all equally important enough to be first written or #1 at the top of the list. Even after writing this statement, I don’t know where to start.

So I will begin with telling you that I “thank God” for making me think I had hit “rock bottom” when I was so hungry that I had to swallow my pride and go to the “City Park” where I hear food was made available to the “homeless”.

That day was the day I met you and Ed for the first time. So I thank God for showing me why He let me wallow in self pity and made me swallow my pride and go to the park that day. I know now, he had been trying for months to get me there: because there was someone there he want me to meet.

You!

After I complemented Ed on his beef Stroganoff that day, you finished serving everyone , then came over to talk to me. It was a brief conversation, more of an introduction really, so I know I didn’t reveal my situation. Yet when I left the park, I knew, that you knew what I was going through emotionally, just to be there (among the homeless).

You see, I knew about the outreach program for months, but would go because of pride. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was at this desolate place in my life. I put on this “facade” of “No Worries”, so I wouldn’t be asked questions that would make me reveal my fears or emotions.

All my life I have been a “Giver” without expectations, except for one: I expected others to know or see through the facade when I was in need and offer assistance to me. For me, to have to ask , is such and emotional turmoil of feeling like a failure that it literally makes me ill. For days, I  will continually cry while awake. Exhausted from crying I will go to sleep, without eating, thus from not eating I will get sick. By the time I regain my strength, I forget what I am wallowing in self pity for  and start looking for answers to my “ dilemmas” in the same old way, until I get frustrated again, I start the self pity cycle all over. Since 1975, I have been repeating this pattern over and over. (But that is another story at another time.)

Do you know what they call people who repeatedly do the same thing over and over , not changing the way they do it but expect a different outcome? “Insane!!!”  I was very close to that state of mind.

Then I met you! From the first time I spoke with you I knew what an intuitive person you were. But now after only a few other conversations we’ve had, I know God has brought this lost, stubborn lamb back into His fold and has appointed You as my shepherd.

Don’t look shocked! (and close your mouth, I know it fell open when you read this last paragraph.) Don’t you see? Because of what you have been through, your trials, your struggles, your disappointments, your pride, your turning your back on God at a point in your life when you were saying, “If there is a God, why…?” All this and more I don’t know about, you have overcome through the guidance of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I don’t know if you got to the point of “giving up hope”, but that is where I was until the day I met you. God knew it! He knew I had given up hope. I ignored His pleas in the past and I believe in my heart, that He became desperate for a solution to bring me back and found hunger to be the answer. He showed me, through your own testimony, that you have been where I am now! God wants me to come to you for the guidance and knowledge I need, because He has already given you the answers. We were destined to meet. You said it yourself. “For some reasons I feel very drawn toward you”. The more I talk to you the more I am encouraged and uplifted. He wants me to have patience and to not give up hope. You may not know you are saying these things, but this is what I am hearing from Him in what you do say.

After church services tonight, I came home and went through all of the clothes you gave me. It was like Christmas! I tried everything on and everything fit. (Except the bathrobe and the two nightshirts.) In fact they fit me better than the clothes I’ve been wearing for the last four years.  So I started this letter to “Thank You”(and your mother) for all the beautiful clothes you gave me. This was around 10 p.m. It is now 4 a.m. and I still haven’t thanked you.

So, “Thank You” so much for the clothes. I feel like a new person when I put them on. Please thank your mother for me and tell her I’ll send her pictures, through you , of me in her clothes.

And “Thank You” for thinking of me. “Thank you for watching out for me, “Thank You for keeping me in your prayers and “Thank you for your words of encouragement. “Thanks you for sharing your life with me. “Thank you for being a good listener, friend and confidant. And “Thank You” for keeping your promises and strengthening my trust.

God Bless you for being you, for God Blessed me when you came into my life and rescued me for His sake.

Always in Friendship, with Love in Christ,

Melodie Lynn

Virginia Johnson-Hamlin is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers association and participates in two critique groups, which she also facilitates. She is an active member of her church and is involved in the church’s marriage ministry. Virginia also meets with women from the church in small groups, as well as one-on-one, to discuss women’s issues and the challenges of marriage and family life.

As an author, Virginia writes stories in hopes encouraging readers to live an abundant life, bringing honor to God, by inspiring them to pursue a Christ led lifestyle. Her novels reveal the natural consequences of the characters addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex, and pornography, which will lead them to face reality. Many will relate to the struggles portrayed by the characters in her novels and it is her hope the characters will create a bridge for discussion in real life

Virginia left her position as a public relations manager for a large southern California ambulance company to care for her mother, who was diagnosed with stage-four breast cancer in 2007.

Virginia (Ginny) Johnson-Hamlin writing as G.E. Hamlin

Ginny Hamlin

For Better Or For Worse

Once again, I want to give a shout out to all my July Reach Out Donors:

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Are you in over your head? If not, why not? Maybe it’s time to tread into deeper waters.

**Katie is giving away a copy of her debut novel, Wildflowers From Winter, to one randomly selected reader who leaves a comment.**

Today, I’m honored to have debut author and Clash of the Titles‘ May Release winner, Katie Ganshert here to share how God has nudged her and her husband to tread into deep waters, trusting Him to keep them afloat. As you listen to her story, consider what God might be saying to you. Is there an area in your life that keeps you clinging to the seashore, dipping your toes in faith, afraid to take the plunge?

Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she’s not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels. She and her husband are in the process of adopting from the Congo. You can find her online at her blog and on Facebook.

Wildflowers from Winter:

A young architect at a prestigious Chicago firm, Bethany Quinn has built a life far removed from her trailer park teen years. Until an interruption from her estranged mother reveals that tragedy has struck in her hometown and a reluctant Bethany is called back to rural Iowa. Determined to pay her respects while avoiding any emotional entanglements, she vows not to stay long. But the unexpected inheritance of farmland and a startling turn of events in Chicago forces Bethany to come up with a new plan.

Handsome farmhand Evan Price has taken care of the Quinn farm for years. So when Bethany is left the land, he must fight her decisions to realize his dreams. But even as he disagrees with Bethany’s vision, Evan feels drawn to her and the pain she keeps so carefully locked away.

For Bethany, making peace with her past and the God of her childhood doesn’t seem like the path to freedom. Is letting go the only way to new life, love and a peace she’s not even sure exists?

 What’s God asking you to do? What does He want you to trust Him with? Remember, when Peter stepped out of the boat, he stayed afloat as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus. God wants us to do the same.
The next time you’re anxious, follow the guidelines presented in Ephesians 4:6-7
 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Camp out on that phrase, “with thanksgiving.” When we pause to remember all God has done–all the times He came through–it reminds us of His infinite power and grace. In light of that, our problems are placed in proper perspective–centered in God’s loving hand.
We’d love to hear from you. When has God nudged you to step out in faith and what was the result?
I want to give a shout out to all our generous Reach out donors:

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

As a mom, I love to imagine what God might have planned for our daughter. I know He’s got a plan–an eternally valuable role–uniquely crafted for her. A crucial role in God’s kingdom.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

I’ve learned, more often than not God’s plans are so utterly different than anything I could fathom. And yet, when His plan begins to unfold, it all makes sense. We can look back and see the people and events God placed in an individual’s life taking them one step further.

As parents, the best thing we can do, in my opinion, is to embrace and encourage every dream our children have, teaching them to move forward with an eyes-wide-open expectancy. Because we never know which flight of fancy will lead to their divine-calling.

Today’s post is from my daughter. Ashley has always been creative. As a child, she’d craft elaborate two-story houses from paper. I’ve always been impressed with her ability to look at an intricate weaving or piece of jewelry, figure out how it’s made, and replicate it. But although this impressed me, I never gave it much thought … until we visited El Salvador last summer.

While we waited for crusades to start, she studied a wide-banded, beaded bracelets she’d purchased from the locals. Within ten minutes, she’d figured out how it was made and how to replicate it. Our church was teaching orphans how to make jewelry, and she wondered if perhaps she could help with the instruction, teaching them to make the bracelet she’d just deciphered. Although she never got this opportunity (yet. Grin), she didn’t give up beading nor her desire to use her love of beads to bring joy and hope to others.

Today she shares her story, or should I say, the beginning of her story. 😉

Bracelets for the Beautiful by Ashley Slattery

About a year ago my church helped serve a meal at a homeless shelter, and while I was there these two little girls were fascinated with the bracelets I was wearing. I ended up giving the bangles to them and they were excited. It made me think, if it made those feel beautiful would it make others? so I decided to use my beading skills to make bracelets for homeless ladies, make them feel loved and beautiful like those little girls did that way. Last month I had an opportunity to do so. My family when to a homeless ministry called Taking it to the Streets in Omaha, and I brought 20 some bracelets with me and gave them to the ladies there. I loved seeing that my hobby could bless them. It truly amazed me that a simple craft  put a smile on their faces. It showed me that God truly does have a use in mind for every aspect of you.

***

God willing, Ashley hopes to teach the ladies down at Taking it to the Streets how to make jewelry. She hopes this will not only give them a marketable skill, but something they can feel good about–a hope-infusing sense of accomplishment. It’s hard for someone who’s been beaten down to strive for better. (Read When Helping Hurts, a phenomenal book about the psychological struggles inherent with poverty.) But often, success is contagious–motivating.

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Authors, agents, and publishers, if you or one of your authors/clients would like to donate a book to one of the Reach Out gift baskets, shoot me an email at the above address.

Twenty years ago, I was far from a fully devoted follower of Christ. In fact, I imagine many who encountered me back then thought I was a hopeless cause. God began reaching out to me at age four (or five) through a precious Good News Bible club leader named Dorothy. He followed me through my childhood years, placing loving Christians in my path each day. But the results weren’t seen for over a decade. In fact, for a while, it appeared I was slipping in the opposite direction. (Listen to my chat with Lisa Buffaloe, host of Living Joyfully Free Radio.)

Consider where I might be now if God had given up on me. Or if any one of those patient, initiating, gentle, and loving Christians had said, “Oh, she’s not worth my time. She’ll never change.”

As you read Tanya’s story, I hope you’ll pause to consider:

1. All we see is the outside. Most often, deep, deep pain lies buried beneath a walled heart. Pain that won’t heal with a quick “Jesus loves you.” It could take decades of sacrificial love before the wounded truly understand what love is and trust it for what is it. We also can’t see what God’s doing in another’s life. As I said, had you known me at 17, I believe many would have deemed me a lost cause. But God was working, loving, healing, in His way and His time.

2. Love is patient. I love Senior Editor of Christ to the World Ministries, Dr. Art Criscoe’s quote: “In our Western culture conditioned by television programs where everything is ‘wrapped up in a package’ and resolved in thirty minutes, we are not accustomed to waiting. We have forgotten that it took William Carey seven years in India to win the first convert to Christ, and it took Adoniram Judson six years to win the first convert in Burma.”

         When the homeless say, “No,” by Tanya Eavenson

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

The Bible clearly states in James, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them,  ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” But what happens when the poor aren’t responsive to your help?

I’ve recently been faced with situations like this. How do you share the love of Christ with a man who’d rather live in the woods and give his every last cent to his addiction? Or the woman who would rather sell herself to prostitution instead of receiving help to start over?

Do I give up?

I’ve always held a deep desire to help those less fortunate, to provide for their needs. My job provides the opportunity to do just that as I portion out government checks and manage funds. In my work, I search out housing, buy groceries, or find avenues to help people with their financial needs, but I’m also able to provide for their spiritual needs like giving out Bibles. I love being able to spend time in prayer with someone who has cancer or another whose mother has told her she could never come home. But there are times when people won’t accept my help. They would rather shiver on the streets, sell themselves, or live in jail and pass up living arrangements it took me two weeks to arrange.

More than once my emotions have gotten to me and I’ve cried at my desk. One particular day, I asked, “Why can’t they accept my help? Why do they turn away from Your mercy? Are they not listening?”

An example from Jesus own life came to mind. Scripture records He left Nazareth because “He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief.”

I rose and wiped my face. An image ran through my thoughts. A picture of a man. He was beaten and bruised, skin torn, almost unrecognizable. He wore a crown of thorns, carrying His cross down the Via Dolorosa willingly to suffer and die for my transgressions. Not only mine—everyone I meet.

Jesus was 33 years old when He cried out “It is finished.” Was there still more work to do in telling people about the Father? More mouths to feed? More people to help? Of course. However, Jesus had done everything His Father asked and not everyone believed or turned from their life styles. So how much more should I obey the Father in helping the needy, the poor, or the lost? I should never give up, but press on in perseverance to what God has called for me to do no matter the circumstances or rejection I face. I need to be as obedient as Jesus was taking up His cross.

Jesus is the example.

Has there ever been a time in your life when someone rejected your help? If so, were you able to help after all or did you walk away and leave it in the Lords hands? Jesus promises we are never alone and He will help us to never give up.

Or maybe you’ve been on the other end. Has someone reached out, consistently and patiently to you? What barriers did their love help to break down? Tell us about it.

***

Tanya Eavenson grew up in a non-Christian home, catching a bus to attend church as a child. She accepted Christ at a young age after walking down the reddest carpet she’d ever seen. At sixteen, she received her first Bible for Christmas. Never in her wildest dreams did she think God would use her to reach others for Him. But that is exactly what she’s been doing since God called her and her husband into the ministry. Tanya is also writer for Christ to the World Ministries, has written for Novel Editions Reviews, Reflections In Hindsight, and The Bookshelf Newsletter. She is a member of ACFW and was a semi-finalist in the 2011 Genesis contest.

Visit Tanya online:

Guided Girls

Proof, See the Evidence

Thanks to July’s Reach Out Donors: Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sandra Robbins with Shattered Identity, Katie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Authors, agents, and publishers, if you or one of your authors/clients would like to donate a book to one of the Reach Out gift baskets, shoot me an email at the above address.

God’s used each Reach Out post this month to stir my thinking, and there seems to be a common thread. In fact, this thread has woven it’s way into articles I’ve written (in quotes provided by other authors), other posts I’ve read, experiences God’s brought my way. The thread is always be alert and obedient to divine appointments. The foundation for this thread is love. People need love, and God longs to love them through us.

As I recap this month’s posts, I’ll share what God taught me through them. I invite you to do the same.

I loved Thrust in the Spotlight by Sherry Castelluccio because it reminded me to look past the surface to the human heart beneath whatever dirt, frowns, or outward behaviors we see. Until we see people as God sees them–dearly loved children of God.

“I was not exactly excited when we started God’s Helping Hands ministry at our church. The prospect of giving large quantities of food and clothing to low-income families made me uncomfortable. Most of these people were drug addicts or alcoholics or both. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown or even a sad case of snobbery that caused my trepidation.” (Read more here.)

(Those of you who are writers, I also encourage you to visit her blog to find out about a Hunger-Games dissection she’ll be launching soon. We’re going to analyze these best-selling novels, looking at chapter hooks, subplots, characterizations, plot twists, etc, to see what makes them so successful among such a wide demographic. It’ll be a fun, relaxed time of chatting and idea-swapping. Join us on her blog and FB!)

I loved Shannon Taylor Vannatter’s story, It’s Not About Us because it reminded me of one of my favorite phrases: “When God guides, God provides.” God is in the stretching business. Quite often, He’ll put us in a position where our resources, talents, abilities fall short–on purpose. Because He wants to remind us it’s not about us. It’s about Him–the Creator of the universe–working in and through us.

“In 2010, our ladies prayer group at church set a goal of thirty shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Some of us had struggled financially that year. Some could only afford to fill one box, some no boxes, and some several boxes. We decided we would all buy however little or much we could, then bring our gifts to the church and fill the boxes together.” (Read the rest here.)

I loved Elizabeth Veldbloom’s story for many reasons. She had a real fear–one triggered by wise words spoken by her parents, the same words I often speak to my daughter–stay away from strangers. But instead of focusing on her fear, she sought out her Savior in prayer. Don’t miss this: Instead of reacting–positively or negatively–she first sought guidance from God. This is so important! By doing this, she allowed God to speak to her heart and prepare her for this man. (So often I do the opposite–react first and pray later.) You may remember, Elizabeth felt like her words were insufficient, but remember what Jesus told the disciples in Matthew 10:19?

“…do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.” And as we saw from reading the man’s reaction, the words God gave Elizabeth were perfect.

“One day when I was working as a receptionist I went outside to enjoy my lunch. As I rounded the corner to my favorite spot, I stifled a groan. A man I didn’t know was sitting at my table. Normally, I liked having lunch alone. It gave me a chance to think and re-energize for the rest of the day.

I decided to sit at the other table across from him, smiling and nodding. Maybe he’ll leave soon, I hoped.” (Read the rest here.)

Your turn. What account impacted you most this month and why? Most importantly, how did it change the way you went about your day?

I believe God will place someone in each of our paths *today.* Someone in need of a kind word, a prayer, a hug, a helping hand. Don’t walk away and miss the amazing opportunity to be part of God’s outpouring of love.

Once again, I’d like to thank all our June Reach Out donors!

Sandra Robbins with Dangerous Reunion, Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sherri Johnson with ebook To Dance Once More, Jerri Ledford with ebook Biloxi Sunrise, and Shannon Taylor Vannatter with Rodeo Hero.

Do you have a reach out story to share? Or something you’d like to donate to a future gift basket? Send me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Before I share another wonderful Reach Out to Live Out post, I’d love to tell you more about this campaign, how God sparked it, and how He reached out to me. In my teen and early adult years, I imagine many thought I was a lost cause. But not God. And through the consistent love of others, He showed me His unfathomable, unending, healing love. Visit Living Joyfully Free to listen to my interview with Lisa Buffaloe.

Further expanding on this idea of reaching out–wherever we’re at, at whatever phase we’re in, pop by Internet Cafe Devotions where I talk about our shelf-lives.

Today’s post comes from a fellow Jewels of Encouragement writer, Sherry Castelluccio. She didn’t want to go. Spend an evening with alcoholics and addicts? But God nudged her forward, pouring His love through her. (Because He didn’t see addicts. He saw hurting hearts desperately in need of a Savior. May He open our eyes to see the same. 🙂 )

Thrust in the Spotlight by Sherry Castelluccio

I was not exactly excited when we started God’s Helping Hands ministry at our church. The prospect of giving large quantities of food and clothing to low-income families made me uncomfortable. Most of these people were drug addicts or alcoholics or both. Perhaps it was the fear of the unknown or even a sad case of snobbery that caused my trepidation. Home was safe; church with people who were vastly different from me, not so much. I knew that God wanted to use me. The only way to do that was to humble myself and allow Him to work through my bad attitude. One day I finally stepped outside of my comfort zone and I was never the same again.

My odyssey began at 9:30 on a Thursday morning. I arrived and greeted three volunteers who were swiftly filling plastic produce bags with whole loaves of bread, pastries, and desserts. I donned a pair of gloves and made myself useful. At about 11am the real food arrived. Two four wheel drive pickup trucks loaded to the ground with produce, meat, and more bread backed into our single door entrance. With the help of ten more volunteers we filled 60 paper bags of food to be distributed later that night. We would expect to give away every single bag plus about ten extras. As I rubbed my tired shoulders that first afternoon, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would see later that night.

Our guests seemed to arrive as grudgingly as I did. Their sour expressions and stiff body language revealed everything I felt inside. They were given a number and told that the bags would be distributed after the short sermon. If they chose not to attend church, they were welcome to come back in thirty minutes. Numbers were called and food was collected without incident. Little conversation was made and eye contact was rare. Eventually I was asked if I would like to participate in the worship part of the service. I consented despite my overwhelming stage fright. I had never sung in front of so many people in my life and knew this was a challenge I would have to face head-on. To say I was daunted was an understatement. After a few weeks I began to notice something extraordinary.

The change was gradual but obvious. I began to see life behind tired eyes. Stiff, stoic expressions slowly gave way to smiles and softened limbs. Crossed arms began to open and receive the hugs that were offered. Some were even returned. My heart began to thaw as I got to know these people and listen to their stories. Were they really so much different than I? At the core of every person lies an intense need to simply be loved. As I shared my gifts with this community I was humbled by their honesty, courage, and strength. I was moved to tears by our mutual acceptance of each other and the love that grows stronger all the time. Today I cannot imagine a week without a Thursday night church service. The prospect of rubbing shoulders with real, genuine people is too tempting to resist.

***

Sherry is a stay at home mom, associate pastor’s wife, and aspiring freelance author. When she is not writing, she enjoys reading and singing. She has been a volunteer contributor for online publications Jewels of Encouragement, Faithwriters, and the CypressTimes.com. Paid credits include the Antioch Press and EverydayChristian.com.

Sherry’s blog, Embattled Warrior (www.fightingvictorious.blogspot.com.) is taking a short hiatus but should be back up and running soon.

It’s easy to get stuck on the exterior–the scowls, crossed arms, hostile eyes–protective barriers erected by those who have been beaten down and deeply wounded. But God sees past the rough exterior to the hurting heart beneath. Today, I challenge you (and myself) to do the same.

Who might God be calling you to love today? Can you share a time when He shattered your initial perceptions by unveiling a deep need hidden behind what you thought was a hardened heart? Tell us about it.

I want to give a shout-out to our June donors:

Sandra Robbins with Dangerous Reunion, Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sherri Johnson with ebook To Dance Once More, Jerri Ledford with ebook Biloxi Sunrise, and Shannon Taylor Vannatter with Rodeo Hero.

Do you have a reach out story to share? Or something you’d like to donate to a future gift basket? Send me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today’s post comes from my dear friend, Shannon Taylor Vannatter. A talented writer with a heart for God, Shannon crafts beautiful stories of grace. Her post reiterated something God’s been showing me this month–it’s not about me–my gifts, talents, and abilities. It’s about God working in and through me, through us. Whether He’s setting us up for a divine appointment or using us to bring joy to children across the globe, all He asks us to do is surrender and obey. He takes care of the rest … perfectly.

The Result of Corporate Surrender by Shannon Taylor Vannatter

In 2010, our ladies prayer group at church set a goal of thirty shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Some of us had struggled financially that year. Some could only afford to fill one box, some no boxes, and some several boxes. We decided we would all buy however little or much we could, then bring our gifts to the church and fill the boxes together. We ended up with a closet full of donated toys, jewelry, crayons, coloring books, school supplies, and hygiene products.

Before everyone arrived to fill the boxes, we decided we didn’t have enough items for older kids. Some people had donated money, but the treasurer hadn’t arrived yet, so we didn’t know how much. On faith, a couple of us went shopping and ended up spending more than we thought we should. When the treasurer arrived, the donations amounted to almost exactly the money we’d spent.

By the time we ran out of boxes, another donation had come in to pay for more. Another shopping trip only brought in four more boxes. Apparently several of the churches in our town were participating in Operation Christmas Child. Once we found more boxes, we filled a total of fifty.

In 2011, we set a goal of fifty boxes. Again we didn’t make any plans on who would buy what, how many, for a boy or girl, or what age group, but it all worked out above and beyond our goal. We didn’t have to shop for more gifts and had plenty of items to fill boxes for every age group. Enough for seventy boxes. The only thing we had to shop for more of was boxes.

Our church is small and I know there are churches who send thousands of boxes to Operation Christmas Child each year, but I’m very proud of our giving congregation. Come October, we’ll be in the throws of the ministry once more and I have faith that we’ll achieve whatever goal we set. And then some.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/
For more information about our church: http://heberspringsgracebaptistchurch.org/

Shannon’s donated a copy of her novel, Rodeo Hero, to this month’s Reach Out to Live Out gift basket:
Kendra doesn’t need rescued.

Kendra Maddox isn’t thrilled when Stetson Wright steps in to help fend off her overanxious date at a wedding. A new Christian, she’s struggling with a promiscuous past, and Stetson’s firm belief that true love waits only makes his gallant attempt to defend her honor even more unwanted. Then her friends continually push her and Stetson together. . .but can’t they see she’ll never be good enough for him?

Stetson doesn’t need any distractions. And Kendra Maddox is definitely a distraction. From his job as the new youth director at church to moonlighting as a rodeo clown, Stetson has other things to think about. Finding the perfect wife will have to wait.

When Stetson saves a prominent bull rider, he makes headline news, and Kendra’s ad agency is hired to promote the rodeo hero. Attraction simmers, but will they be able to accept each other for who God sees?

***
Central Arkansas author, Shannon Taylor Vannatter is a stay-at-home mom/pastor’s wife. Her debut novel, White Roses won the 2011 Inspirational Readers Choice Award in the short contemporary category. The 18th Annual Heartsong Awards named Vannatter 3rd Favorite New Author, and White Roses #1 and White Doves #8 in the contemporary category.
The first two books in her Texas rodeo series, Rodeo Dust and Rodeo Hero are currently available. Rodeo Ashes releases in August 2012. Find her books at barbourbooks.com, amazon.com, christianbook.com, and readerservice.com. All titles are in the process of becoming e-books as well. Learn more at http://shannonvannatter.com and check out her real life romance blog at http://shannonvannatter.com/blog/. Connect at @stvauthor on Twitter and http://www.facebook.com/shannontaylorvannatter.

Is there something God’s calling you to do today, something you feel ill-equipped for? Perhaps bills you don’t see how you can pay? A ministry without enough volunteers, a dream that seems out of reach? If so, I hope Shannon’s Reach Out story brought you comfort by reminding you God’s ways are not our ways. He can do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. All He asks is that you surrender and obey.

I want to give a shout-out to our June donors:

Sandra Robbins with Dangerous Reunion, Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sherri Johnson with ebook To Dance Once More, Jerri Ledford with ebook Biloxi Sunrise, and Shannon Taylor Vannatter with Rodeo Hero.

Do you have a reach out story to share? Or something you’d like to donate to a future gift basket? Send me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Today’s post comes from a sweet woman I first met at the Writing for the Soul Conference in Dallas. Elizabeth is one of those people that brighten up a room–always smiling. She radiates the love of Christ in all she does. The story she shares with us today is a perfect example of how.

Strange Praying

by Elizabeth Veldboom

            One day when I was working as a receptionist I went outside to enjoy my lunch. As I rounded the corner to my favorite spot, I stifled a groan. A man I didn’t know was sitting at my table. Normally, I liked having lunch alone. It gave me a chance to think and re-energize for the rest of the day.

I decided to sit at the other table across from him, smiling and nodding. Maybe he’ll leave soon, I hoped.

I can’t remember how the conversation started, but I know one did. The man told me about how he had to ride the bus because he didn’t have a car, how he didn’t have a car because he’d been too nice to his ex-wife after their divorce, and how he had a meeting nearby at 2:00 with some people who were going to help him find some housing.

            2:00? I thought. That’s two hours from now! I guess that means company for lunch.

I winced with guilt at the thought. This man didn’t have a home, and there I was, upset because of my disturbed lunch hour.

I studied the talkative man across from me. He didn’t look especially scary, but I rarely spoke to strangers. I’d actually listened to that talk when I was younger. I could hear my dad’s warning voice clanging like a bell in my mind, and I thought about what I should do. From the man’s talk I surmised he was homeless, or close to. He had a big belly that hung over his old shorts, a long scrape going down one of his skinny legs, a face full of haunting eyes, and a head full of disheveled hair. Not exactly “respectable” company, but not dangerous, either.

But I was all alone, and he was poor. The perfect situation for a lot of bad things to happen. Still, something in his demeanor told me he wasn’t going to hurt me. I decided to stay.

The man-who later introduced himself as Richard-said he’d been waiting since 10:00 that morning for his meeting because it was the only time the bus could drop him off without making him late. He said he’d walked across to City Market and bought himself a water to pass the time, and only had two dollars left. He brought his hand out of his pocket to prove it but was surprised when he found three instead.

I stared down at my $5.00 lunch.

“It might be enough to buy me a beer somewhere,” he said. “I haven’t had a beer in three years. I might go buy one.”

Was he a drunk, and that’s really what had gotten him into his current financial situation? Or was he just an occasional drinker, longing for a treat he hadn’t partaken of in years? Either way, it didn’t make sense to me. Why spend your last few dollars on a beer?

“Why?” I finally asked.

“Because it’ll make me feel good,” he shrugged.

My heart tore for him. I couldn’t imagine an existence where a beer was a person’s only source of comfort. As we continued talking, I felt more and more sorry for him.

“Dropped out of school to join the army. Seventeen, and jumping out of airplanes,” Richard said.

He’d been through three divorces and was once a vacuum salesman. He never spoke of children, and his wives seemed to want to have nothing to do with him. My heart grew heavy for this man Richard as he shared his story, and I yearned for some way to help him. He’d had such a sad life. I thought about offering my lunch, but I’d already eaten half of it and didn’t want to offend him. I could give him money, but what if he just used it to buy a beer? Then I remembered I didn’t have any money with me anyway.        What I wanted to give him most of all was a relationship with Christ.

The thought entered my mind that I could pray for him. But I’d never prayed out loud for someone before. It was a fear I’d wanted to conquer for some time and was considering putting on my blog (each month I faced a fear of mine and chronicled on my blog what happened when I did) but was I brave enough to do it right here, right now?

I knew it was the most important thing I could give him. I knew it was what I wanted to give him. So I prayed how I was comfortable at first- silently with just God and I.

            Oh, God. You know me. I’m bad at these things! Please, please, please give me the courage. If you want me to do this, you’re going to have to give me some kind of opening, because I really don’t know how to do this.

It was only minutes before I needed to be back at work, and I was running out of time. I needed to do it if I was going to. But I hated praying out loud! Whenever I did, my prayers became awkward, fake, and staged. It seemed so wrong to condense the Living God into a plastic prayer, as if He weren’t actually listening. And yet, that’s what I did every time. It was easy for me to speak to God when it was just Him and I, but praying out loud and for other people was another story. It felt strange, unfamiliar.

I looked helplessly again at my purse. I don’t have any money to give him.             Suddenly, I was reminded of a similar situation in the Bible. It was Acts 3 when Peter and John went to the Temple and met a beggar lame from birth. When the beggar approaches them for money Peter says, “‘I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk!’

Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.”

That was it! God had given me my opening. I knew what to do, and how to do it.

I leaned forward, all apprehension gone. “I have to leave soon, but before I go, there’s something I’d like to do. I don’t have any money to give you, but can I give you what I do have? Can I pray for you?” I held my breath.

He paused. “Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt, could it?”

I shook my head with a smile and bowed my head. ”Father God, thank you so much for giving me the chance to meet Richard today. It was great getting to know him, and I pray you’ll bless him. Give him money where he needs the money, and let him know you and how much you love him. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

As I looked up, I saw the most precious sight, one I’ll never forget: tears glistened at the corners of his eyes.

He let me see them for only a moment, straightening and blinking. Still, his voice was a little husky when he spoke. “I feel the same. I’m glad I got to meet you.”

My prayer was nothing special. It was one of the shortest and most simple I’d ever heard. It wasn’t what I’d wanted it to be, but it had still seemed to touch him.

I’m not sure I’ll ever know what happened to Richard. I don’t know if he got his life turned around, or started a life with Jesus as his Savior. But I do know I will never regret praying for him or seeing those tears.

I believe in the power of prayer and in the name of Jesus, so I have no doubt God moved. How he moved is His business. But it might just have left a man broken from birth leaping and dancing. At least, that’s what I’m praying.

***

Bio: Elizabeth Veldboom is devoted to God, a small town girl, and a freelance writer. An Apprentice graduate from Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild, she has previously been published in places like CBN.com and Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Mothers and Daughters. Visit her blog anytime at www.thefearlist.wordpress.com– the place that is for the faint of heart.

***

Before you embark on your busy day, I’d like to ask … Where will you spend your lunch? And who might you encounter while there? Perhaps pause to pray that God would keep you alert to the open doors He provides–open doors to show, tangibly, the love of Christ to a hurting world.

I want to give a shout-out to our June donors:

Sandra Robbins with Dangerous Reunion, Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Run and the Promise of Deer Run, Sherri Johnson with ebook To Dance Once More, Jerri Ledford with ebook Biloxi Sunrise, and Shannon Taylor Vannatter with Rodeo Hero.