Growing Through the Hard Stuff––Guest Post by Jessica Brodie

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Imagine if we could all orchestrate life precisely as we desired. I’m certain most of us would seek out a pleasant, serene, and problem free existence. But would we also appreciate the immaturity that would necessary follow? While this isn’t my favorite truth in Scripture, I’ve discovered my greatest growth often comes during my most challenging times. This has been my guest’s experience as well.

Growing Through Hardship

By Jessica Brodie

Have you ever experienced a season in your life you thought would never end?

My struggle with infertility felt like it took forever. When I found out it was probably because my cycles were a little “off,” I thought, “No big deal. I’ll just take a pill, get back on track hormonally, and I’ll be pregnant in no time.”

Except I wasn’t.

Next I had minor surgery to scan my insides and make sure there wasn’t something else amiss. Two tiny scars and a lot of worries later, and that too was checked off the list—no problem there. It just boiled down to wonky hormonal imbalances. That and time.

Oh, time—the hardest struggle of all.

As the days passed, my obsession with my fertility only increased. Would it happen this month? How about this month? Surely, now…

Nope. Nothing. Two, then three friends had babies.

I began to realize pregnancy might never happen for me. I had to figure out a way to reconcile with that without it killing my soul. Finally, I surrendered to the truth—God had a plan for my life, and if it didn’t include birthing children, I’d adopt or figure out some other way to be a mom. Either way, I learned to embrace the hardship. I found joy in the center of my pain.

Long walks turned into meditative moments with God, and I realized, one way or the other, everything was going to be OK.

Later, I did get pregnant. Now I have two kids and two step kids, ages 11, 12, 13 and 14, and I look back on that time and see what I couldn’t see then: that trial was a testing period in my life. It was a struggle that taught me to rely on God, to trust His plan for my life, and to surrender my own desires for whatever mysteries He had in store for me.

It wasn’t easy. That time produced a bucket of tears and a lot of anguished nights. But the experience strengthened me as a woman of Quote pulled from post on gradiant blue backgroundGod. It helped me cultivate soul-survival skills I didn’t know I possessed.

The apostle James write that we should consider it “joy” whenever we face trials. As he says, “You know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Because I learned to persevere in my faith even through difficulties and disappointments, I grew as a woman. I matured and ripened. It prepared me for even harder struggles I experienced later, including divorce and poverty. And it helped me blossom as a daughter of God, ready and willing to shove my own wishes aside to truly embrace whatever it is He has planned.

Hardship usually isn’t fun. But looking back on previous difficulties shows me God’s hand in a perspective I didn’t see at the time. I’m grateful for the hard times, for they’ve made me to woman of faith I am today. And I don’t fear the hardships ahead of me.

For as the apostle Paul declares, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).

If this post encouraged you, make sure to listen to Jennifer Slattery’s Thriving With Chronic Illness podcast episode on living our our calling even amid great challenges. You can find that HERE.

You might also enjoy her episodes on depression (found HERE) and anger (found HERE).

Get to Know Jessica!

Jessica is an award-winning journalist and author with thousands of articles to her name. She is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, which has won 104 journalism awards during her tenure. She is author of More Like Jesus: A Devotional Journey (2018) and editor of Stories of Racial Awakening: Narratives on Changed Hearts and Lives of South Carolina United Methodists (2018), both from her newspaper’s the Advocate Press. She also writes fiction, represented by Bob Hostetler of The Steve Laube Agency, and her novel The Memory Garden won the 2018 Genesis contest for unpublished contemporary fiction from the American Christian Fiction Writers. A speaker and frequent contributor to Response magazine and the United Methodist News Service, among many other publications, she has a faith blog at JessicaBrodie.com. Subscribe to Jessica’s YouTube channel HERE.

If you’re looking for additional support, Jennifer and Jessica invite you to join Wholly Loved Ministries private Facebook group––a place where women can receive support, encouragement, prayer, and celebrate their praises within one another. Find us HERE.

 

Unstuck: Yielding to God’s Personal Growth Plan

What feels most tedious to you? Perhaps repetitious and unnecessary? I may be dating myself here, but whenever I consider God’s training, I’m reminded of the movie the Karate Kid. His coach actively invested in him, not by giving him great feats to overcome but rather training him through monotonous, ordinary tasks—washing and waxing a car. Painting. While we don’t for certain how long this went on, the footage indicates some time. Long enough for Daniel, the one doing all the work, to grow frustrated.

Why? Because he didn’t know his trainer well, and therefore didn’t trust him. In his absence of knowledge, he allowed falsehoods to grow: He determined his coach was not only not kind and caring, but was in fact manipulative. He felt certain the man was using Daniel for his own gain. As a result, Daniel wanted to quit. Had he done so, his story would’ve had a vastly different ending. That epic match where he conquered his enemy for good, in front of a cheering crowd? Never would’ve happened.

Daniel would’ve remained stuck. Stuck in his fear. Stuck in his ongoing pain as he dodged his enemy each day. Stuck in his defeat.

I’ve been tempted to remain stuck.

It took me twenty years, numerous moves, and attending eight different colleges in five different states to earn my degree. With each relocation, I waited to establish residency then pulled out my thick binder of dates and colleges, sent transcript requests to each, figured out what classes did and didn’t transfer. There were times I wondered, “Why bother.” Times when I could entertain lots of reasons, in fact, that I shouldn’t. The classes were expensive. I’d spent over half of my life without a degree and had gotten along just fine. And if I had to take conflict resolution one more time, I was pretty sure I’d scream. (And I may have. The irony was not lost on me.)

I’ve also been tempted to remain stuck in relationships and negative patterns of behavior, because sometimes the journey to change just feels too hard. Too painful, too long, and perhaps even a little too uncertain. Not because the outcome is indeed uncertain. Scripture promises otherwise. We know God will use everything we experience for our good, to mold us into the radiant, life-giving men and women He created us to be.

We know this in our head. But sometimes, trudging forward day after day, especially if it feels we’re getting absolutely nowhere, we can forget. We’re tempted to run ahead of God, or maybe dart right when He’s leading left or left when He’s telling us to turn right. Because in that moment of monotony, our wisdom suddenly seems brilliant, so brilliant, in fact, we feel we don’t need to wait on God.

Oh, how foolish can we be?

Looking back over my life, the early days of my marriage especially, the answer was—pretty foolish. Thankfully, God’s been patient with me, persistently nudging me toward increased health and freedom. Many times, this looked like a lot of apologizing, a lot of marriage classes and more than a few counseling appointments. A lot of difficult conversations where we passed the “talking remote” between us to keep the discussion balanced. This process was hard, many times frustrating. There were months where we not only felt we made zero progress but where we actually seemed to be slipping the other direction.

But because we kept at it, our marriage never become stuck—stuck in the hard, in the dysfunction, in the confusion and false perceptions.

I wonder what God was doing internally, in each of the Israelites’ lives and families, as He led them, day after day, through the desert. What attitudes was God adjusting? What falsehoods regarding His heart and His ways was He systematically correcting? What wounds was He healing through the monotony, the routine, the leading and the following? What relationships was he forging or strengthening?

Quote from blogHot, dry, tiring desert situations have a way of causing all our inner gunk to rise to the surface.

I’m certain this occurred with each of the Israelites, young and old, mature and immature, as they followed the cloud of God’s presence further and further from all they knew. All that was hard and defeating, yes, but familiar and predictable just the same.

Scripture tell us, “On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law.  Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran” (Numbers 10:11-12).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to camp. I like the fresh air, staring up at the night sky, the scent of burning wood, and the soothing sounds of nature. I do not like all the work involved, however. Packing everything into the car, unpacking it at the campground. Setting up the tent, arranging all your sleeping gear, finding wood, building a fire to cook (or heat) your dinner on. Waiting for cold river water to boil for coffee in the morning. (So painful!)

You might disagree, when considering a night, a weekend, or even a week. But what if you did this day after day after day? Erecting the campground each night, tearing it down each morning. Walking further, only to do it again.

Can you imagine the bickering, the fighting and crying and whining? The cold food the sore feet, the unkind words spoken in the midst of fatigue. Each moment an opportunity for growth, for radical transformation. Yet, when you read the full story, one thing becomes clear: Most of the Israelites remained stuck. Stuck in their disbelief. Stuck in negative patterns of behavior, in sin, in their miserable small-story thinking.

In whatever monotonous deserts we find ourselves in, may we choose to respond differently. May we choose to trust, to lean on Jesus, and to let Him grow us into something beautiful. Because as we yield to Him, that’s precisely what He does.

Let’s Talk about this! What is God teaching you now? What is He trying to grow in you? Most importantly, how are you cooperating with Him in this? Share your thoughts here in the comments below, because we can all encourage and learn from one another.

If you’re struggling with chronic illness and wondering how to grow in God through it, you might find my podcast, logo image for chronic illness podcastThriving With Chronic Illness helpful.  You can find that HERE.

If you’re struggling with anxiety related to C19 or any other difficult, desert-like situation, you might find my Faith Over Fear podcast helpful. You can find that HERE.

I also encourage you to join my private Faith Over Fear Facebook group (HERE) and my ministries private Wholly Loved Ministries group. Both are great places to find encouragement, support, and prayer.

 

Growing Through Relational Conflict

Sad woman sitting in a caféMy friend was struggling. She’d been hurt deeply, unjustly, and by someone she’d once been close to. Worse, past experience told her this individual wouldn’t likely handle the situation in a godly manner. Rather, she’d spew her anger and her slanted representation to all who would listen. My friend worried her social group and faith community would be shattered, or at the very least, that she’d be shoved aside. That others would form conclusions and opinions on what they heard and would ultimately reject her.

This situation consumed her. It stole her joy and distracted her from her God-given mission. Which was ironic as the original conflict stemmed from that mission, or more accurately, challenges to it. In other words, she’d expressed concern regarding behavior she deemed counter-productive to the gospel. And while she admitted she hadn’t addressed the situation with the grace she should have, her urge to do so stemmed from Christ.

Unfortunately, however, she’d allowed her passion to initiate action before her heart had a chance to listen.

Oh, how often I do the same! When I see sin or dysfunction, manipulative or hurtful behavior, something deep inside pricks as an impulse to act ignites. And while that emotion, that conviction-based reaction, isn’t wrong, it’s incomplete and uninformed. It’s a signal that I need to seek God—His heart and guidance—for the situation and all involved. Because only He knows the best way for me to proceed—how to bring hope and life and healing to areas and interactions that are dark and diseased.

In Psalm 25, a man named David, who later became ancient Israel’s second king, endured frequent and ongoing attacks. Evil men, driven by insecurities, jealousy, and pride, hunted him down. One man in particular, the nation’s current ruler, wanted David dead and made this desire his life’s mission. He was relentless and his actions were unfair. David could’ve fought back. He could’ve told everyone he encountered of the injustice of it all, of how evil and deranged his enemies were.

What’s more, he who’d single-handedly conquered a nine-foot, tyrannical giant, could’ve assassinated his greatest threat and, presumably, spent the remainder of his life in peace.

But he didn’t. Instead, he sought God—regularly, fervently, and fully.

In Psalm 25, clearly written during a time of intense conflict, he said:

“To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust. … let not my enemies exult over me” (v. 1, ESV). In other Image of Ps 25:1words, “I surrender my life and this situation to You and trust You to protect and defend me.”

He continued, “Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous” (v. 3).

David was able to wait, to rest in God’s sovereignty and timing, because he knew deep in his heart that God was just. That though evil appeared to be winning at that moment, truth and goodness would prevail.

But here’s his power prayer:

“Make me to know  Your ways, O Lord; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all day long” (v. 4-5).

In the middle of his pain and fear, while enduring injustice, David sought God, saying, in essence, “What should I do now? How do You want me to respond? Show me, lead me, and teach me.”

Oh, the wisdom and strength in those words. Can you imagine what our relationships might look like if we learned to seek not just God’s intervention or vindication, but more importantly, His heart?

A while back, a loved one came to me in tears. She, like my friend, had been deeply hurt. I listened, hugged her, then asked, “Have you prayed about this?” When she responded that she had, I asked further, “And how are you praying?”

She said, “I told God this sucks.”

I laughed and nodded, agreeing with both her and Christ in her. But then I said, “Ask Him what He wants to show you.”

Her venting to God openly and honestly was a great start. May we always unveil the depths of our heart and hurts to the One who knows and loves us deeply. But may we not stop there, lest we get stuck in the pain or respond in unguided emotion. Rather, may we, like David, ask our Savior to show us, lead us, and teach us.

When we do that, the results will be beautiful, regardless of how our situations turn out, because God will strengthen and change us through it. He’ll help us become a little more like His Son, who demonstrated incomprehensible love in the face of injustice and evil—because His vision centered on something far beyond that moment to the souls of all mankind.

Connect with Jennifer Slattery on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, join her private Faith Over Fear Facebook Group, Logo image for Faith Over Fearand watch out for her soon-to-launch Faith Over Fear Podcast and Bible reading plan on the YouVersion app.

 

 

 

 

Setting Aside Expectations to Love With Grace

 

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Sometimes I forget that transformation takes time. I’m not just talking in regard to my own growth, but this is especially true when I watch others. I can easily expect them to have reached a certain level and therefore to behave and think a certain way.

The problem is, I have spiritual forgetfulness. I forget where I once was and how slow my progress came; all the tentative steps forward followed by numerous slips and stumbles backward. I forget about all the nights I lay in bed reviewing my day—all the ways I had failed and all the people I had hurt. I often felt so defeated.

I felt certain I wasn’t growing, wasn’t changing; at least not in ways I could readily see. And I worried that maybe I never would, that maybe this Christianity thing wasn’t working for me, or that something about me was irreparably broken. I didn’t understand the reason for my struggle or the process of growth. I didn’t realize that transformation takes time. A lot of time.

It takes time for worldviews to shift, for attitudes to change, and habits to be broken.

This spiritual forgetfulness causes me to lay unrealistic expectations on my precious sisters in Christ, and in the process I unknowingly speak condemnation. In my attitudes and my expectations I say, “You’re not doing this right. This faith-thing isn’t working for you. You’re irreparably broken or maybe too hard hearted for God’s grace to reign within you.”

When discussing sinful behavior displayed by others, I often hear, “Yes Jesus loved the sinner, but He told them to ‘Go and sin no more.’” And this is true; Christ never encouraged or applauded or condoned sin. But neither did He—nor does He—expect instant transformation. Nor do we have any idea what transpired in people’s lives days or even months after their encounters with Jesus.

Consider the woman at the well. You can find her story in John chapter 4. Though she has initiated a great deal of speculation, we don’t really know what her behavior had been prior to encountering Jesus. We do know, however, that she lived perpetually empty—because Christ offered to fill her. We know she wasn’t living as the radiant daughter He created her to be, because apart from Christ, we’re all living false versions of ourselves. We also know she had spent decades among other humans, navigating her way, without God, through a broken and sinful world. Therefore we know she behaved sinfully and harbored deceived thinking.

We all did, before God’s intervention. And we all do, on occasion, likely more often than we’d care to admit, even now.

Our thoughts, desires, and habits change, slowly but steadily, as we draw ever-closer to Christ and soak in Scripture (Romans 12:2).

As we “renew our minds” daily with truth, as we surrender to God’s Spirit within, He takes us from “glory to glory.” In other words, He molds us ever-increasingly into the likeness of His Son. This speaks of an ongoing progression, one I’m certain the Samaritan woman experienced, and needed to experience. By the time she met Jesus, she’d lived a lifetime apart from Him. She’d developed a particular way of perceiving, acting, and reacting. She might’ve been fowl mouthed, short-tempered, and addicted to men. Those parts of her, whatever her particular sins were, had become ingrained deep within. I suspect it took years, if not decades, for God to remove and redeem them.

At least, that was the case for me, and I’m still learning, growing, and changing.

Sometimes, I encounter people who remember me from five years ago or perhaps even one year ago, and they expect that woman today. But she’s gone. She’s been transformed. She has grown and she has experienced a new level of freedom. And a year from now, God willing, I’ll be dramatically different—more patient and loving and self-controlled—than I am today.

Some people recognize this, and they treat me as if that were true. In this, I find the freedom, courage, and the hope to keep growing. But others don’t get it, and when they treat me as if those things were not true, as If I haven’t grown, or perhaps can’t grow, I’m tempted toward shame and defeat.

How we treat others matters. I want to be one who speaks life. I want to recognize growth regardless of how big or how small, to celebrate it and call it out. I want to allow others to change, not holding past behaviors or attitudes against fall background with lantern and quote from postthem. I want to treat others with the same gentleness with which Christ treats me. I love the apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 1:6. Speaking to relatively new believers living in Philippi, he said, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul was confident God would continue to grow the Philippian believers.

I want to live and love with that same confidence. I want to live recognizing that it is God who transforms, and that God always complete what He starts.

I’ll say it again: God always completes what He starts, in His way and His time, by the power of His Spirit working in all of us broken and sinful humans.

Let’s talk about this! When do you most find you struggle with unrealistic expectations, when it comes to your growth or the growth of others? How does God direct you during those times? Share your thoughts, stories, and questions with us in the comments below.

Speaking of grace, and God’s gift that came through Christ, you may also enjoy an article I recently wrote for iBelieve on all the symbolism and truth wrapped up in Christ’s birth and birthplace. You can read it HERE.

 

Filled to Overflowing

puddle of waterFor years, I was a stale and stagnate Christian. Christ had deposited His living water within my sole, but it was more like a trickling creek than the gushing river He desired.

I wasn’t thriving. In many ways, I was barely surviving. Then one weekend, I went on a women’s retreat and heard the account of the Samaritan woman (John 4) who’d gone through a string of relationships and, I felt certain, lived as empty as I was. She may have been widowed numerous times, abandoned by her past husbands, or she may have chosen divorce. Regardless, she’d engaged in and lost five relationships, and that had to leave emotional scars.

Jesus saw her pain and He sought her out. Knowing she’d soon reach the community well, He arrived first, sent His disciples away, and waited.

Just as, each day, He patiently waits for us. Once she arrived, He initiated a conversation by asking for a drink of water, triggering a deeper thirst than any liquid could quench. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks for a drink,” He said, “you would have asked Him, and He would’ve given you living water” (John 4:10, NIV).

In Ancient Palestinian, water was rare, precious, and necessary. Rain only fell during a few months each year, and when it did, the previously brown and barren countryside became lush and green. Against this backdrop Jesus said, in essence, come to Me to come alive, fully alive. Speaking of the Holy Spirit, He later said, “Whoever believes in Me, as image of a stream in a forestScripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-39, NIV).

This felt confusing. I’d already entrusted my eternal salvation to Christ. But I had never learned to truly live in Him, for numerous reasons, many of that took over a decade to unpack. However, much of it came down to this: I didn’t know how to live loved. Past hurts, fears, and a continual blanket of self-loathing covered my heart in scar tissue, and it blocked me from fully receiving the grace God continually poured upon me. Equally depleting, I spent so much time attempting to fill all my empty places in my own strength—through alcohol, social functions, food—I routinely distanced myself from the only One who could fill me completely.

I hadn’t a clue how to hold authentic relationships—with anyone, let alone the all-knowing, all-powerful, ever-present yet invisible Creator. So I asked Him to show me. To teach me. To heal me. And He did. For the next fifteen or so years, He soothed my hurts, removed my distrust, and helped me discover the freedom of living love.

Of living filled.

We receive God’s living water, the Holy Spirit, the moment we trust in Christ for salvation. But our experience doesn’tend there. As we deepen our relationship with Christ and our surrender, the streams God deposited within us grow stronger, filling us so completely, His Spirit pours out in like a refreshing, life-giving fountain.

Let’s talk about this! Have you experienced God’s living water? How’s your stream? Is something slowing the waters of God’s Spirit? How can you give Him more access to yourself so that He can flow within and from you unhindered? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, and make sure to connect with me on Instagram or Facebook.

If today’s post encouraged you, make sure to check out Wholly Loved Devotional, Drawing Near:

Drawing Near Daily DevotionEach day, God beckons us to Himself, calling us to rest in His love and grace. As we do, He heals our hurts, overpowers our fears with love, and restores us to the women He created us to be. This 90-day devotional, written by women who are learning themselves to live anchored in God’s grace, will help you deepen your faith and grow your relationship with Christ.

You can buy it HERE.

The Power of Living, Daily, in Grace

text pulled from quote and image of a woman gazing across the water.

Sometimes I want to tack sticky notes to my forehead declaring: I acted like a jerk today. Or, I chose fear instead of faith, or selfishness when God called me to give. Not because I enjoy self-degradation but because I encounter too many Christians who continue to live in guilt and shame. They praise God for His abundant grace but then live as if it’s been withheld. Worse, as if grace is somehow no longer needed, moral perfection was obtainable, and their failure to consistently live as Christ desires proves how worthless or insufficient they are.

If only they prayed more, or memorized more Scripture, or attended more Bible studies, then they’d live more like all their smiling, hymn-singing friends flooding their social media feeds. But all their striving leads to temporary behavior modification at best, leaving them feeling worse than before.

I think this hiding and self-condemnation, exists, in part, because we’ve given hurting, reactionary, flawed, and broken people power over us and our emotions. We’ve made their perceptions our standard instead of our relationship with Christ. As a result, we’ve traded the life-affirming growth of Christ for perfectionism.

Perfectionism paralyzes every time. It eventually drags us backward as we substitute time with our Savior, simply resting in His presence—no hiding, conniving, or striving— with checking off lists and following rules. As we do, our self-reliance grows, weakening our dependence on Jesus.

Our source of power, hope, and life.

And we wonder why we feel so defeated, exhausted, and consumed with guilt. For being unable, in our own strength, to demonstrate the power of grace.

A while back, while going through a particularly challenging time, a ministry team member confronted me regarding a series of behaviors. Some were inherent to my “dream-big-and-run-fast” personality, others from inexperience, and tangled between the two, lay my pride. In the past, that pride almost always initiated defensiveness and hiding, turning what should’ve been a growth opportunity into regret and yet another reason for shame.

Yet another reason for self-condemnation.

Only this time, that didn’t happen. Armed with a more robust understanding of grace, when I sensed a reaction rising, I mentally hit pause and reminded myself of what I knew to be true: That Jesus loved me, had died for me, forgiven me, and was growing me.

More than that, I reminded myself of grace and the simple fact that I needed it as much that day (and every day) as when I first trusted in Christ for salvation. My weaknesses were simply proof of what He and I already knew—that apart from Him I was (and am!) a hopeless mess!

Therefore, with the joy of my liberating Father welling within me, I was able to smile and say, “You’re right. I really stink at that, and here’s how God’s growing me in this area.”

That simple statement, “Your right,” defused her anger, my fear, and placed me exactly where I needed to be—in a position of dependency on Jesus.

That’s where strength, freedom, and life-change are found.

Image of a flower with text pulled from post“This is eternal life,” Jesus said, speaking of heaven but also of the here and now, that we would know, through an ever-deepening relationship with our Creator, God the Father and Jesus Christ, whom God sent. (John 17:3). To experience the abundant, thriving life Christ promised, we need to recognize how completely dead, apart from Him, we are.

And then determine to do something about it, not by working or trying harder but instead by connecting deeper.

Let’s talk about this! Are you living in grace? A great indication of this is how you respond to constructive feedback, failure, and personal weaknesses. If you find yourself getting defensive, that probably indicates you’re not consistently living in grace. Share your action steps, celebrations, examples, and prayer requests with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from one another.

Additional Resources:

 
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Pursuing Intentional Growth

verse image for 1 Timothy 1:7Unless we fight against it, entropy will get us every time. Inactivity, laziness, choosing what’s convenient over what’s beneficial … Those habits may satisfy in the moment, but ultimately leave us weak and, potentially, diseased. My guest today shares how a 22-day challenge motivated her to change and what God showed her through that. But first, I’ve got fun news to share! I recently signed a contract (well, my agent did) for a Love Inspired Contemporary set in a fictional town located in the Texas Hill Country. I’ll share more info soon!

How learning to do pushups helped my faith walk

By Jessica Brodie

With spaghetti-noodle arms, I never could do a proper pushup. My version of this exercise involved me on my knees, arms splayed wide, barely bobbing up and down.

“I’m just not built for it,” I’d insist when my well-muscled husband encouraged me to try one the traditional way. “Easy for him,” I huffed to myself. He can lift twice my body weight. I, however, was that kid in elementary gym class who couldn’t last longer than three seconds on the pull-up challenge. Nope—I could power-walk all day long, but pushups were out of the question.

Then about four years ago, I started working out with weights. The trainer on the video, also a small-framed woman, had great abs and biceps. She inspired me to think maybe I could step up my abilities if I worked hard enough.

One day, my brother-in-law posted a Facebook video about a 22-day pushup challenge he was doing. This involved doing 22 pushups a day for 22 days to raise awareness for the 22 veterans who take their life each day. I’m not sure exactly what seized my heart, but I knew right away—I needed to participate. So I trained ever harder, built up the strength, and soon did my own 22-day awareness challenge—without doing any on my knees. Motivation teamed with training allowed me to achieve what I thought impossible.

In 1 Timothy 4:7, the apostle Paul tells a young pastor, “Train yourself for godliness.”

Reading those words reminds me of what we can accomplish with dedicated training. In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he lays out criteria for his mentee and encouragement for other church leaders to be trustworthy, righteous, self-controlled, hospitable, and gentle, steering clear of drunkenness, evil, and love for money (1 Timothy 3:2-11).

Paul knew well that all people are sinners and cannot be saved except for true faith in Jesus. But he also knew God loves holy living, and as followers of Christ, we’re expected to turn from sin to embrace the way of the cross—the way of Jesus. We’re to imitate Jesus in our thoughts, words, and deeds by loving God with our whole heart and loving others as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). Everything we do is to be done for the Lord.

Paul didn’t say, “Be godly.” He knew this took effort. He urged Timothy to strive to set the best example possible in spite of his youth. What he modeled, Paul knew, would lead others to Christ.

Just like it took me some time to build up the muscles I needed to do a proper pushup, it takes time to learn what godliness looks like—and to live that out. But we have tools to help us develop those spiritual muscles: prayer, daily reading of Scripture, spending time with other Christians, wisdom from pastors and other faith leaders, and quiet time in nature with our Lord.

In my example, my love for veterans motivated me to reach my goal. Similarly, our love for Christ should stir us to live in a way that pleases Him.

Now it’s time to train.

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Let’s talk about this! Have you participated in any challenges similar to the one Jessica shared? Did the challenge help motivate you? In what ways do you intentionally train yourself in godliness? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below because we can all learn from and encourage each other!

Get to know Jessica!

Author Jessica Brodie's headshotJessica Brodie is a Christian author, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach. She is the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her blog at http://jessicabrodie.com/shiningthelight.

Before you go, I encourage you to pop over to Crosswalk to read my article on ways to increase marital intimacy. You can read that HERE.

 

 

Becoming What God Desires

Mirror images of a womanWe all have an idea of who we want to be, who we think we are, and who, in Christ, we’re becoming. Sometimes those “identities” contradict one another, leaving us feeling confused, frustrated, and defeated. If you’ve entrusted your life to Jesus, Ephesians 2:10 says you’re His masterpieces, handcrafted for a specific purpose, planned before you took our first breath. As my guest today illustrates, the more we allow God to chisel and mold us, the more we discover who we truly are–who God created us to be.

 

Becoming What God Desires

by Katie Clark.

It’s hard to live as the person God created me to be. Sometimes this contradicts who I think I am. Other times, discovering her involves pain and heartache. I criticize, talk down to myself, and obsess over all my failures.

Broken dreams, failed plans, and unexpected roadblocks have diverted my vision and altered my steps. Instead, I find myself on a different path—the one God put me on.

I’m slowly learning how to be whom God designed instead of the person I thought I would be. I’m also learning, even in my broken places, I’m still the person I always thought I was. I’m broken andflower image with some broken petals and text from the post whole. Broken because of the path my life has taken, but whole because of how Jesus put me back together.

I struggle with knowing whether I can be both at once, but I know it’s true because I’ve lived it. 1 Peter 2:9 tells me I’m chosen, whether I feel this or not. Daily Bible reading, devotions, and prayer time are my most trusted means of coming to terms with who God made me to be.

But I’ve also found being this person—this broken yet whole person who struggles with grief and pain—allows me to connect with others in a way I never knew was possible before. I can see the brokenness in others now, and I want to help them. I believe serving others can bring healing and wholeness in a way nothing else can.

I still struggle with self-degradation and living in regret. Questioning all my choices that led me to this place. But through a gentle walk with God I’m learning I don’t have to listen to those negative voices in my head. I can stand boldly in Christ and be the person He fashions me into each day.

What about you? How do you find strength and courage to step into God’s role for your life? What are some ways you combat negative, self-defeating thought patterns? Share your thoughts, tips, and examples with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

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Before you go, make sure to sign up for Jennifer’s free quarterly newsletter (HERE)!

You’ll receive great content sent directly to your inbox (a short story, devotion, recipe, and more) cover image for study based on 1 Timothyalong with a free, 36-lesson study (ebook) based on 1 Timothy (sent separately via a clickable link in the follow-up welcome letter). Note: If you signed up for her newsletter but never received your free ebook, please contact me HERE.

Want Jennifer or one of her team members to come speak at your next women’s event? Contact her HERE. 

Get to know Katie!

Katie's author pictureKatie Clark started reading fantastical stories in grade school and her love for books never died. Today she reads in all genres; her only requirement is an awesome story! She writes adult inspirational romance, including her novel Securing The Handyman’s Heart, and her Christmas novel Radio Wave Romance. She also writes young adult speculative fiction, including her romantic fantasy novel, The Rejected Princess, her supernatural survival novel, Shadowed Eden, and her dystopian Enslaved Series. You can connect with her at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

 

Check out her latest release, The Rejected Princess:

When Princess Roanna Hamilton’s parents arrange a marriage with a prince of Dawson’s Edge—the cover image for The Forgotten Princessmysterious and backwards kingdom to the south—Roanna reluctantly agrees. But when Roanna is introduced to Dawson’s royal family, strange mind-bending anomalies are awakened within her, and she discovers the Dawsonian royal family holds secrets of their own. With threats growing daily, Roanna comes to realize the danger she is in. If Roanna is to save herself and her future, she must stall her marriage and squelch the growing rebellion—all while discovering how deeply her power runs.

The Dangers of Pain Avoidance

danger signPain avoidance can lead to devastating, enslaving, and life-squelching results. No one enjoys pain, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. In fact, most of us will go to great lengths to preserve our comfort level—many times, unfortunately, to our own harm.

Admittedly, I’m likely more pain adverse than most. My husband and I became engaged in Nebraska (where I live now), and at the time, one needed blood tests before they could receive a marriage license.

This scared me on a couple levels. First, my past was far from squeaky clean and I’d always harbored a fear that I’d become infected with HIV. Second, I hated needles. So much so that the mere thought of one pricking my skin caused my pulse to rise, my muscles to tense, and my stomach to engage in enough fluttering to initiate a violent sense of nausea.

But I loved my fiancé (now husband) and desperately wanted to spend my life with him! So, each day, I’d drive to the local hospital, add my name to the blood-draw list, and wait. And wait. And wait.

And in my waiting, my anxiety grew until, ten to thirty minutes later, I walked out and drove home in defeat. Finally, my husband took time off work to drive me there himself, sitting with me in the waiting room to make sure I didn’t leave.

All fear stems from pain avoidance, and often, this avoidance ends up costing us much more than what we may have experienced had we simply confronted our fears.

We fear the pain of rejection and so we hold tight to unhealthy relationships or become relational chameleons. But by presenting a false self, we rob ourselves of the gift that comes from connecting with those who know us fully and love us anyway.

When our daughter entered public school after years of homeschooling and a short stint in Christian education, she suddenly found herself in the throws of a completely different culture. One that, at times, could be quite antagonistic to people of faith. I feared her desire to fit in, to make friends, to avoid the sting of rejection and loneliness, would sway her behavior, potentially leading her in a dangerous direction.

Until she told me about an incident during her social studies class. The teacher asked the students, if they could change the world, what would they wish for? Ashley raised her hand and said, “That everyone would be Christians, because then there’d be more love and less hate.”

Knowing how much she longed to make friends in this new environment, I was flabbergasted and asked, “Were you worried how the others might respond?”

“No,” she replied. “I’d rather they know who I am, and either like me or not for that.”

In other words, she was prepared for the possible sting of rejection, and though I have no doubt some amount of fear lingered at the thought, she faced that fear, and in so doing, embraced a deeper level of freedom.

She also discovered her people—friends who loved her for who she was, not who she could’ve pretended to be.

When we think of pain, usually our minds jump to the physical, and that can be daunting for sure. But emotional pain—loss, rejection, betrayal—has the capacity to hurt us most. Because of this, pain avoidance can become our driving motivation. It can cripple us and hinder our ability to live fully alive, if we let it.

But like I did in that hospital lab so long ago, and my daughter did in a middle school classroom, we can face our fears, even if that means embracing potential pain, to live in freedom.

Growing in Love–a 1 Timothy Bible study

Follow the fruit–I read that statement during a time when my life seemed to contradict it. Or at least, when my circumstances left me confused and uncertain. I knew God was up to something, I could sense it deep within, but I hadn’t a clue what that was.

Lots of opportunities seemed to come my way, and many of them quite good, if they were from God. But if they weren’t, I knew they’d merely be noisy, time-sapping distractions. My heart mirrored Moses’s words in Exodus 33:15: “Then he said to [God], ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here.'”

In other words, if God wasn’t in it, I wanted nothing to do with it. I refused to waste my time pushing against a wall that would never move or leave no lasting impact. The converse was also true–I wasn’t moving unless I sensed God’s nudge.

At first, I got nothing. No divine word. No clarity or confirmation. Zilch.

After a while, I figured He didn’t plan on speaking, which was His prerogative. He’s God, after all, and I’m not arrogant enough to think He owes me anything.

So, I went about my way, vacillating in indecision while fulfilling the responsibilities I’d already accepted, because I knew this much–God wants us to be a people who honor their commitments. One of these responsibilities included completing a class I was taking at Grace University, one that felt almost identical to classes–three, in fact–that I’d taken previously.

My attitude stunk. This again, Lord? But I already know all this!

If the fruit God was referring to was the fruit of the Spirit, mine had shriveled to raisons. And it turned out, I didn’t know as much as I thought I did, as is often the case.

But, regardless how I felt, regardless how vague the road ahead, I kept walking, and two weeks into this class, I became obsessed with 1 Timothy. Each morning, I’d camp out in the corner of my couch, Bible and journal opened, reference books within reach. This was a special, intimate time between me and my Savior.

So often, we discover the blessing through obedience.

So this is the fruit, Lord–spending time with You.

“This isn’t for you.”

I stopped and simply sat there. Glanced at my notebook full of notes, thought again of those Bible study classes I’d taken, and that simple statement encountered one day in the assigned reading:

“Follow the Fruit.”

That same day, I received numerous messages from Christians who’d read articles I wrote for Crosswalk–those with broken marriages desperate for a do-over, those wanting to know how they could grow in Christ, those who simply wrote to tell me how much a particular piece had meant to them. And suddenly, simultaneously, my blog seemed to be blowing up. As if, over night, God had sent people my way.

But what did all this mean?

I knew He was showing me something, but I still wasn’t certain what that was. So I prayed for guidance. I can’t say I’ve received it, as of yet, other than my next step, which is usually about as far as God allows me to see.

And this, my friends, is what this post is all about. That obsession for 1 Timothy–it wasn’t for me. Oh, it was, and it is. There’s so much God wants to do in my life through that book, so much growth He wants to bring about, so much truth He longs to implant within my heart, but I believe there’s also a lot He wants to do in yours.

Will you join me and a friend as we dig deep into this practical book written during a time of incredible opposition and persecution to a man known for being timid and insecure? Together, may we pursue lives of love that come from pure hearts and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Those of you who’ve participated in my online Bible studies in the past know the format. This 10-week online discussion will be incredibly informal as Maria Morgan launches each week with some basic information on each lesson’s verse/passage. Then I’ll follow on Thursday with a testimonial devotion pointing toward real-life application.

We’ll also have weekly memory verses, because there’s power in Scripture, and I believe living empowered includes making the Bible part of us. You can join the discussion as your schedule allows here, on Maria’s blog, or on Facebook. (If you haven’t connected with Maria, I suggest you do. She’s a wonderful sister in Christ who loves Jesus with everything in her and loves to walk alongside other women as they grow in faith and love.)

We’re excited to travel on this journey with you!

Start date: July 11th.

Posting dates and topics:

On Tuesday July 11th, Maria will open the study with a look at 1 Timothy 1:5, which is our theme verse and the main point of our study, discussing this verse in detail. Then on Thursday July 13th, I’ll share a testimonial thought and life-application.

July 18th and 20th, we’ll focus on 1 Tim 1:12-17, discussing what it means to live as testimonies to God’s grace.

July 25th and 27th, we’ll discuss 1 Timothy 2:9-10, focusing on the dangers and destructive nature of pride.

August 1st and 3rd, we’ll focus on 1 Timothy 3:11 and the importance of guarding our tongue, taking an honest look at slander, venting, gossip, and why these types of conversations are so harmful.

August 8th and 10th, we’ll discuss one of my favorite verses in 1 Timothy–4:7-8, dialoguing on spiritual disciplines and our responsibility, as believers, to be intentional about our growth. (Spoiler alert: If we belong to Christ, growth isn’t an option; it’s an expectation.)

August 15th and 17th, we’ll discuss 1 Timothy 4:12, talking about what it means to live with integrity, love, and faith–showing others what it looks like and means to walk with Christ.

August 22nd and 24th, we’ll take a look at 1 Timothy 4:13, discussing ways (and the importance of) limiting our focus in order to maximize our effectiveness for Christ.

August 29th and 31st, we’ll discuss 1 Timothy 6:6-8, talking about the necessity and blessings of learning and practicing contentment–choosing contentment! 😉

Then we’ll close on September 5th and 7th with 1 Timothy 6:11-12 with a discussion on staying engaged in the battle.

Discussion days/times: Ongoing; participate when it’s convenient for you.

We’re really excited to get to know each of you better, grow closer to Christ, did deeper into His word, and to grow in love, faith, and purity. I hope you’ll join us!