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

Text graphic on the goodness of God

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.

 

No More Leftovers: A Gift For My God by Guest Blogger Jessica Brodie

quote from Keller with woman gazing toward sunset

Our trust in God is often most clearly seen in our checkbook. Our finances are also often the hardest areas to surrender, because we’re apt tie our sense of security to our paycheck more than we do to our Lord. At least, that’s my tendency. Unless I regularly guard against this, I can easily make our savings account my god, but like so many other idols I’ve clung to at various periods in my life, those crisp little green bills make lofty but empty promises.

As I read my guest’s post last night, I thought back twenty-some years ago to all the financial struggles my husband and I used to have, all the tension and stress and conflict that seemed to plague our home, back when we bowed to the almighty dollar.

No more leftovers: A gift for my God

By Jessica Brodie

I used to be that girl who’d slip a dollar, maybe a five if I were feeling flush, into the collection plate at church and feel just fine.

“God doesn’t need my money. He’s God. He’s ‘above’ such things,” I’d tell myself. Besides, I was a broke college student, or later, just scraping by in the workforce. Tithing was an Old Testament concept, or something only wealthy people did… or so I thought.

Much later, I came to understand tithing was for me—a way to honor God, to acknowledge Him tangibly as Lord over my life, to know that everything in my life (including my bank balance!) belongs to Him and I am merely His manager, His overseer. Twice a month, I forced myself to allocate ten percent of my paycheck to God’s tithe. Soon it became a habit, and eventually a joy. Some months, when finances were tight, I’d hold off on my tithe until I’d paid all my other bills, or I’d double up and pay it all the next pay period. But it always got paid.

I was feeling proud of myself… until this morning, when I was reading the Bible.

In the Book of Nehemiah, the Israelites had recently returned from exile to Jerusalem and had just learned through the Instruction Scrolls all the ways they’d disobeyed God’s Laws. Feeling horribly guilty about their behavior, they made a covenant with God to follow His commands, include pledging not to let their children intermarry with other faiths and to keep the “sabbath year,” which meant forgiving all debts and letting the land rest from crops every seventh year.

They also pledged to give toward the upkeep of God’s house—not just with what was left over, but with their “firstfruits,” the best and initial results of whatever it was they could offer:

  • “…the firstfruits of our crops and of every fruit tree…” (Nehemiah 10:35 NIV);
  • “… the firstborn of our sons and of our cattle, of our herds and of our flocks…” (36); and
  • “… the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil…” (37a).

The point hit hard within me: These Israelites pledged to bring the first, the best—not the leftover.

And that was what I needed to do, too.

Ouch.

See, the Israelites had gotten off track in obedience. Some of this wasn’t necessarily their “fault,” for their parents hadn’t taught them these things, and no one in their life remembered God’s rules because His commandments were all hidden away.

They’d forgotten or never understood what God had commanded His people way back in the wilderness: “Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God” (Exodus 23:19a NIV) and “When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest” (Leviticus 23:10 NIV).

But when they learned all those years later what God had asked of them, they wanted to do right. They wanted to honor God with their very best.

What I was doing—making sure God “got paid” His tithe—was behaving as though my tithe was a bill and not a sacrificial offering. And that was not the point. My tithe is not a bill. It’s a gift and an honor.

Just like the Israelites, I was off-track in my own obedience. And now that I understood this, I needed to make things right.

This morning, as I write this, happens to be payday. Yesterday, I’d planned to postpone my tithe until Sunday, after my fridge was restocked and my other bills paid. But now I know what I need to do.

Before anything else, I need to give over my firstfruits to God. And for me, that means heading to my church’s website and paying my tithe online, so it can go right away to all the ministries and mission work God is doing through His people and His church.

It’s a simple distinction in my life, but it’s important. It says “God comes first,” both literally and figuratively.

After that, I can hit the grocery store. For I know He will provide. He always does.

It’s an honor to kneel before my Lord, whether at His altar or online, and offer Him what I can.

Get to Know Jessica!

Jessica Brodie's headshotJessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism, and a member of the Wholly Loved Ministries team. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at http://jessicabrodie.com. Connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram.

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If this  post hit your insecurities, now with everything related to the C!9 virus especially, you might find my latest article on Crosswalk discussing wise financial choices we can make today to help us weather whatever comes well. Read it HERE.

And make sure to listen to my latest Faith Over Fear podcast episode on living deeper anchored in grace––especially when we feel we’ve messed up. Find it HERE.

Plus, I’d love to connect with you tonight on Zoom or Facebook for a Book discussion invitegreat discussion on Maria Furlough’s Breaking the Fear Cycle. As an added bonus, she’ll be join us via Zoom for our last week’s discussion! Find the zoom meeting join link HERE.

 

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.

 

 

God Among the Bullet Points

planner and pensEvery birthday and New Year, I’m forced to take stock. Have I lived the past year well? Am I moving forward in faith? Can I reasonably recover from all my mess ups and mishaps and perhaps behave differently the next time around? Unfortunately, I fail much more often than I’d care to admit, but despite my mess-ups, mishaps, and downright failings, one thing remains certain and unwavering, as my guest today discovered while doing a little life-check of her own.

God among the bullet-points

By Jessica Brodie

Ever try to sum up your life in a bullet-list? It’s a weird, sometimes painful, sometimes hilarious exercise in self-absorption (if I’m generous, self-healing) that I tried one lonely New Year’s Day 13 years ago.

It went something like this:

  • Born January 19, North Miami, Florida
  • Lived with parents in small house near grandparents
  • Earliest memories: books, brown shag carpet
  • Age two, moved to better house
  • Favorites: banana trees, stripy sneakers, books, spiky grass, swing set, Mom’s typewriter
  • Afraid of everyone and everything

I should mention I was a full-fledged grownup when I did this, well into my career, married…old enough to have achieved some maturity. And at the end, I had a neatly printed six-page document filled with all the dysfunctions and quirks that had comprised my life. Right there, in black and white, I could see exactly how far I’d come.

Take that, Mean Girls of the Sixth Grade. Harrumpf.

Sure, I’d had my share of embarrassing failures and broken hearts, but a few lines later there was the college scholarship, the promotion, the kiss. Life went on. Ups, downs—they littered the page without discernible pattern.

“That’s just life,” I’d concluded—random, messy, beautiful, full of chance and happenstance, with me in the starring role. I saw how time and again I’d navigated a difficult circumstance with a solid, moral decision or confronted a tough issue by standing strong, staying true. I congratulated myself on my perseverance and gumption.

Ah, younger me.

I knew nothing.

See, all that time I thought I was steering myself through the tough times. But it wasn’t. It was God. Now I see the light.

Thirteen years later, I’ve had two children and gained two stepchildren. I’ve become a daily reader of Scripture rather than a casual Bible-thumber. I’ve experienced loss, single-momhood, near-poverty, and wealth. I’ve been to Africa and walked with lions, seen miracles happen before my eyes and within my body.

I’ve lived. And in living, I’ve come to understand how little any of it has to do with me or the choices I made. I’ve also come to see how lucky I am God has allowed me to experience this grand, majestic ride.

Recently, I tried that bullet-list exercise again—but this time, instead of chance and happenstance, I was struck by the master pattern I saw: God’s hand on everything. Every. Thing.

Why had I ever thought my life was random? It was a magical, God-orchestrated symphony. In every moment, big and small, God was there—guiding, maneuvering, until whatever He’d planned had been fulfilled … then leading me onto the next step.

That infertility struggle that seemed to last forever? Now I saw it so clearly pointing me toward humility and submission to God’s will.

That tough job where I felt so utterly alone? God was helping me rely on my internal chops—and Him—to be a better leader.

Today I look at my list and don’t regret any of the mistakes and painful moments I see. My only regret is all the time I wasted from worry.

And I see what I should have been doing all along: resting securely in the knowledge that God has our roadmap already printed out for us in the form of the Holy Bible.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” He tells us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).*

Try the bullet-list for yourself and see if you, too, can tell all that God has done and is doing in your life.

*Bible verse taken from Biblehub.com

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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 continuously published newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her blog at http://jessicabrodie.com/.

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Let’s talk about this! In her book, Victim of Grace, author Robin Jones Gunn talks about taking an annual “Selah” where she hits the pause button and sort of takes stock of her previous year and what God might want to do in the year ahead. This really struck me because I have a tendency to stay so busy doing, I can miss observing all God has done or might want to do. Jessica’s post today encouraged me to hit the pause button this week, to take some time to prayerfully look over past journal entries, to meditate on Scripture, to contemplate all God has done.

What about you? Do you normally take time to remember and contemplate? If so, when and how? If not, how might doing so increase your sense of peace and awe for God? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Before you go, I wanted to invite you to join me and my Wholly Loved sisters each Wednesday for our new video devotions–short, transformative nuggets designed to help you center yourself in Christ and His truth. You can watch our first two HERE and HERE, then return to the Wholly Loved site each Wednesday for another inspirational message. And if you haven’t done so, make sure to sign up for my free quarterly newsletter to receive inspirational content, recipes, short stories, and more sent directly to your inbox. As an added bonus, subscribers cover image for study based on 1 Timothyreceive a free 36-lesson study based on 1 Timothy (sent separately). You can sign up HERE.

For those in the Omaha/LaVista/Lincoln area, join us for one of our upcoming conferences. You can find out more HERE.