Support Sisters

This morning, I’m honored to share a touching story from my sweet sister, Jennifer Hallmark. Parenting is tough. Parenting alone is even harder. There are so many days when faced with a situation I don’t know how to handle, I wait anxiously for my husband to return home so we can prayerfully determine a solution together. And when our daughter was young, I’d wait for my husband to return home so I could have a moment of respite or someone to communicate–on an adult level–with. As you read Jennifer’s story, pause to consider the men and women you know. Might any of them be lonely? In need of support, an encouraging word, or a moment of pampering?

Support Sisters by Jennifer Hallmark

Christmas presents, plates of hotdogs with all the fixings, and children playing and laughing abounded through the small cul-de-sac of a sub-division. Adults and children alike opened presents, excited at newly found treasure. Our church celebrated Christmas with this lane of two-apartment brick homes, occupied mostly with single mothers and their children, and widows. The ladies and their children found a place in our hearts after the initial visit, so our women’s ministry group brainstormed on ways to further help. How could we connect with these ladies to extend the outreach past New Years and the lifespan of the gifts?

Support Sisters. In the past, our church ladies participated in Secret Sisters, where we would draw each other’s names and secretly send cards and gifts for an extended period of time. Support Sisters was a play on this concept. This time we would reach outside the church walls. Our sisters would be the precious ladies in the sub-division.

Our first step was to garner support from the ladies in the church, then go door-to-door within the cul-de-sac and find who was interested. If a lady showed interest, she filled out an informational sheet so her Support Sister from church could send cards, pay a visit, or phone to see how she was doing. We invited all the Support Sisters to church functions and especially to all women’s events. Ten ladies from the complex signed up and we paired ladies, considering their age and common interests. An initial visit ensued where the new friends took time to meet, which led to visits, calls, and several of these special ladies attending women’s events and even regular church services. We found several women to be Christians who’d lost connection with any church and needed a friend who wouldn’t judge them.

A favorite event that many of our new friends attended was a day spa specifically for single women we offered one Saturday. The women in the women’s ministry provided haircuts, [my daughter and a fellow cosmetologist volunteered their services], manicures, and pedicures. It took the concept of “foot washing” to a new level! We offered snacks and ended the day with makeovers and pictures.

We continued the outreach for a year. Apartments like these have a large turnover as ladies married or were able to move to better housing. Still, lives were affected for the good in the short time, not only for our new friends, but ourselves. We learned to push past our comfort zone and share the love of Christ with others.

Can a year make a difference? Women’s lives were changed by a group of ladies willing to push past the limits of a normal outreach activity…

Jennifer Hallmark is a writer of southern fiction and women’s ministry consultant. She has a website, http://www.jenniferhallmark.com and shares a writer’s reference blog, http://writingpromptsthoughtsideas.blogspot.com. Her first novel in the trilogy, Journey of Grace: A New Beginning is currently searching for a good home. Jennifer resides with husband Danny in Alabama and loves her family, dog Max and coffee shops, in no particular order.

You can read her previous post on revolutionizing our world with the love of Christ here.

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Stretched to Overflowing

Once again, as I post today’s Reach Out story, tears sting my eyes. Oh, the beauty of love and grace poured out through God’s children to those in need. Obedience isn’t always easy or comfortable, but I have a feeling Julie Arduini would tell you, it is always, always so worth it.

But before you run to grab your tissue, I wanted to announce last month’s winners. Diana Brandmeyer won September’s Reach Out gift basket with her touching story, Silver Streets. And Judy Burgi won a copy of Tapestry of Trust by Mary Annslee Urban. (Ladies, I’ll be contacting you shortly to get your gift/s to you.)

Stretched to Overflowing by Julie Arduini

You’ve heard the saying, “Be careful what you ask for, because you’re going to get it?”

Well, it took God less than 48 hours after I asked Him to grow me for Him to act on it. A mentor challenged me to step out of my comfort zone where I pray and encourage people I already know. She asked me to pray and believe God would orchestrate opportunities for me to serve Him to a stranger.

As soon as I heard the woman behind me in the grocery line, I knew it was time to step up.

“I’m sorry, kids. I only have $40, and that’s for these groceries and the medicine we have to get. There isn’t money for extras.” The mom counted her single bills and glanced every few seconds at her items.

“Not even for this?” A girl who looked to be about my daughter’s age at the time, about six, waved a chocolate bar.

Lord, do you want me to buy the child a candy bar? I can do that.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. We can’t get anything more, not even that.” The mom kept sizing up her items as they moved forward on the conveyor belt.

The child didn’t even pout. She put the candy back and stayed at her mom’s side.

No, my child. I want you to pay for all her groceries.

I scanned the entire conveyor belt. How much would my things plus hers cost? This was a little trip for things we didn’t find during our weekly trip. We were near the budget, and my husband kept a good handle on finances. I didn’t want to disrespect him.

But I knew by ignoring God’s offer to grow me through paying for her groceries would disrespect my Heavenly Father.

The mom thought aloud as the cashier started ringing up my order. “I know last time we got that prescription it was $15. I think with these things plus tax, I’m spending $24…”

I pivoted enough to see her items. There was nothing frivolous. She had grocery staples, the basics to keep a family fed.

“That’s $16.35.” The cashier smiled.

I slid my check card out of my wallet and started the electronic transaction. As I waited on financial approval, I closed my eyes and prayed for strength. I could speak in front of a thousand without fear. Yet trying to find the courage to pay for someone’s groceries was inciting sweat throughout my body in the dead of winter.

“Thank you. Have a great day.” The cashier handed me my slip, but I stood still.

“Wait.” I turned toward the woman next to me.  “I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I’d like to pay for your groceries.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh, no. You don’t have to. I have enough.”

“I know you do. I don’t have to, I want to. Really.”

Tears spilled over and fell on the belt. “Thank you. This is such a surprise. A gift. Bless you.”

I looked at the little girl. “If it is okay with your mom, you can get the candy bar, too.”

The mom nodded.

The cashier started ringing her out. “I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”

I smiled. “I’ve never done it before, either. It feels good. Really good.”

My fear returned on the drive home, fearful that I went over the weekly grocery budget. I confessed what happened to my husband, who broke into a grin.

“Honey, I know spontaneous things are not natural for you, and that you fear spending money. You’ve never been reckless; I probably put too much pressure on you when you shop. Of all the wonderful things you’ve done to encourage others, this is my favorite one of all.”

Julie Aduini is a writer and speaker. Her passion is to encourage audiences to find freedom through surrender. Whether you read her blog on the front page of her website, check out her writingspeakingbookshelvesinterests, or the free gifts she has for you, you will find a surrender theme. One of my surrender stories is M&M’s for breakfast so you know I also have a love for chocolate.

Visit her online. She invites you to grab a piece of chocolate, sit down with a mocha, and stay as long as you like.

And before you go, I leave you with a verse and a thought. It’s often said you can never out-give God. Our family has found this true again and again. When we give–whether of our plenty or our few, God takes care of our needs. This doesn’t mean He’ll gift us a mansion on a hill, but it does mean He’ll provide for us. This enables us to serve and obey God fully, without fear.

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38 NLT

I’d love to hear from you. Has God ever asked you to give to someone when your own finances were tight? What happened? Or maybe you are the one in need. Can you share a time when God used someone else to provide for you financially? I think the giving is easier than the receiving, but receiving God’s gifts and provisions come easier when we remember they are just that–gifts and provisions from God. He owns everything, and He can distribute His abundance as He wills. If you ever find yourself on the receiving end, before your spurn your gift consider how receiving it could bless the giver by allowing them to experience God working and loving through them.

And the next time you see someone in need, don’t let your pocket book overshadow your view of God’s power and blessings.

Silver Streets

What a beautiful, glorious way to start a Monday morning. Today’s Reach Out story by Diana Brandmeyer brought tears to my eyes and tugged at my momma’s heart. Yesterday at church our pastor asked: What’s God asking you to risk?

Following Christ won’t always be easy. It won’t always be comfortable, and at times, it might not be safe. But oh, it will be glorious! And I think Diana would agree, when we say yes to God’s call, whatever it is, our hearts expand a few notches and our eyes open to see the beautiful men, women, and children all around us. And when we encounter those precious individuals, our perspectives begin to change. I also believe each time we say yes to God, we catch a fresh glimpse of His ever-reaching love. Priceless.

Silver Streets by Diana Brandmeyer

“Conner is restarting Silver Streets for his Eagle Scout Project. Want to sign up with me?”

My husband’s question jabs me with a finger of guilt and fear.

“I need to know so they’ll have a t-shirt for you.”

Bribery. Will it work? “No, I need to think about it.”

Of course I needed to think about it. Going to East St. Louis –not on my bucket list. Every newscast is broadcasting about someone murdered there, crying mothers, sisters and aunts all with the same message, “This has to stop. We can’t keep having our children killed.” My fear increased every time he asked me to go.

I came up with excuses, “I know they are providing a meal, and I won’t be able to eat there.” I’m gluten free. That should work.

“You could bring your own. The school has a fridge you could put it in or we can take a cooler.”

He’s always so logical.

“They need people to paint.”

Paint? I love to paint. “I can’t paint unless I have my ladder.”

“I’ll toss it on the truck.”

Foiled again. I’ve been asked to Silver Streets for many years and every time I find a reason not to. This time it wasn’t working. “I’ll go.”

“You will? You can have my t-shirt since you didn’t sign up on time.”

He’s a great husband.

Saturday came, as we drove through the city everywhere I looked there were houses in disrepair, people sitting on porches, and lots of trash. Everyone stared as we drove through. I was sure any minute we would get shot.

At the school I met a few other friends from church that wanted to paint. We started and as the day progressed people came and went. Funny thing, not everyone likes to paint. Others were cleaning the brush and building a front entrance garden. Ninety three people came to serve.

As I was painting one eighth grader came to help. She chose to follow behind a group of messy painters cleaning the floor. Not a glamorous job being the only one to volunteer it was a solitary chore. I asked her why she chose it.

“Because it’s my school, and I want don’t want to be embarrassed to come here.”

That’s when I knew why I was there. By putting my skills to work with others God used us to prepare the school for children living in an undeclared war zone. After five hours of outdoor clean-up, additions and hallway painting that day as God’s volunteers, we showed God’s love through our gifts.

If I hadn’t gone would it have made a difference? I’m sure God would have found a replacement but I would have missed out on giving my time. My heart is now open to going back next year.

And they had a shirt for me after all.

***

Christian author, Diana Lesire Brandmeyer, writes historical and contemporary romances. Her historical, A Bride’s Dilemma in Friendship, Tennessee is now available.

She’s also written We’re Not Blended-We’re Pureed, A Survivor’s Guide to Blended Families.

Once widowed and now remarried she writes with humor and experience on the difficulty of joining two families be it fictional or real life.

Visit her online at:

http://www.dianabrandmeyer.com

http://www.pencildancer.com (blog)

Facebook http://www.facebook.com/dianalesirebrandmeyerauthor

Twitter @dianabrandmeyer

A Bride’s Dilemma in Friendship, Tennessee:

Heaven’s Stolen His Heart

After witnessing the ravages of the Civil War, Travis Logan vowed to give up doctoring. But when fellow steamboat passenger Caleb Wharton collapses at his feet, Travis knows he must lend his aid. As the old man lies dying, he makes Travis promise to take care of his land and find Heaven. Travis can’t help but wonder what Heaven has to do with a real place, so he heads to Caleb’s farm to fulfill his promise.

Weeks of facing marauders and caring for her father’s home have finally taken their toll on Heaven Wharton. When an unknown young man charges the house, Heaven attempts to fire a warning shot but ends up shooting the man instead. Shocked, she and her sister, Angel, drag a semi-conscious Travis into the house and nurse him back to health.

As Travis and Heaven both struggle to control their destinies, will they learn that only a heart that follows God can ever find peace on earth?

After the Civil War, Travis Logan vowed to give up doctoring. But when fellow steamboat passenger Caleb Wharton collapses at his feet, Travis lends his aid. As the old man lies dying, he makes Travis promise to take care of his land and find Heaven. Travis can’t help but wonder what Heaven has to do with a real place.

When an unknown young man charges the house, Heaven Wharton attempts to fire a warning shot but ends up shooting the man. Shocked, she and her sister, Angel, drag a semi-conscious Travis into the house and nurse him back to health.

As Travis and Heaven both struggle to control their destinies, will they learn that only a heart that follows God can ever find peace on earth?

Diana didn’t want to go. It scared her. It cost her something. But she went anyway, trusting the God who called her had a reason for sending her. The results? I believe she’d tell you what she gained in return by far outweighed the cost, and I imagine this experience–and the memory of that sweet girl, will remain with her for some time. Perhaps one day she will even meet that girl in heaven. A glorious thought indeed!

I am greatly enjoying each of these Reach Out posts. Reading these stories, it is easy to focus on the individual reaching out, but may we never forget, it is God who moves us to act. Each story revealed here is a retelling of God’s immense love and grace.

I want to give a shout-out to September’s Reach Out Donors:

Simple Faith by Eddie Snipesthe Road to Mercy by Kathy HarrisThe Other Side of Darkness by Linda Rondeau, and Love Turns the Tide by Gail Pallotta. Kathy Harris, is also donating Karyn Williams’ musical CD entitled Only You.

Here’s a question for you. When was the last time you paused to chat with a child from the inner city? A single mom? A lonely Alzheimer’s patient or orphaned child? A homeless man? Remember, God spent time with “the least of these,” and He wants us to do the same. Chances are, they won’t come to you. But God’s love–agape love–is an initiating love. So let’s get initiating. 🙂

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? We’d love to read about it! Shoot me an email at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail.com.

Finally, I leave you with one question–a repeat of the one my pastor asked my church family: What is God asking you to risk? Life is too short to play it safe, my friend.

Reaching Out to the Broken

We’ve all had times when the world seems to be pressing down on us. When we receive tragic news and are in desperate need of comfort. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (NLT).

God sees every tear we cry and, amidst our pain, reaches down to comfort us–most often through His children.  Today author Sandra Robbins shares a touching and courageous story of how God used her to bring comfort to a precious woman facing the unimaginable.

Reaching Out on an Airport Shuttle by Sandra Robbins

People who know me find it hard to believe that I am really a rather reserved person. I have never had trouble standing before an audience to speak or to sing. In college I received a degree in music with the piano as my major instrument, and I have never feared playing in front of large groups. The problem for me has always been the one-on-one experience when I must put myself out there to another person. I am very private and don’t share my thoughts easily even though I encourage others to do that with me.

So when it comes to reaching out to another individual I find myself out of my comfort zone. A few years ago, though, I had an experience where God urged me to respond to someone I didn’t even know but who was evidently suffering.

I was excited that day as I arrived at the airport to fly to Texas for a visit with my daughter’s family. But I wasn’t as excited as were the men on the packed shuttle bus that picked me up in parking lot. Since this was during March Madness, I knew right away from their clothing and their boisterous voices that they were on their way to a basketball game. I squeezed past the ones standing in the aisle and reached a bench that ran along the side of the bus. I sat down, my knees almost touching a woman sitting on the bench facing me.

A man sat beside her, his arm around her shoulder, and she shook with sobs as she stared at a picture in her hand. I was stunned to find someone in so much agony sitting in the midst of so much merriment. Although I tried to look away, something made me reach out and touch her knee. When she looked up, I said, “Is there something I can pray for you about?”

Fresh tears streamed down her face. “Yes, please,” she said. “My sixteen-year-old daughter was in a wreck on her way to school this morning when the car her boyfriend was driving skidded on some ice and hit a tree. She’s not expected to live, and I’m trying to get to her.” She held out her hand. “This is her picture.”

I stared down at the face of a beautiful young girl in a cheerleader uniform, and my heart broke for this mother. As I began to offer up my prayer for this young girl, we arrived at the terminal, and the mother was off the bus almost before it stopped. I caught a glimpse out the window of her running toward the terminal door.

I don’t know who she was, where she lived, or if her daughter did indeed die. The only thing I do know is that God nudged me to reach out to a stranger who needed comfort, and I obeyed. It was enough that she went with the knowledge that a stranger prayed for her in her time of need. I still think of her often and pray she has peace in her life.

My Book

            I’m really excited about my new historical romance Angel of the Cove, the first book in the Smoky Mountains Dreams Series, that released August 1. It’s 1894, and new opportunities are available for young women who want to become nurses. Anna Prentiss’s dream of becoming a student at Bellevue Hospital in New York and working in their maternity ward after graduation depends on the report concerning her abilities that her family gets from a legendary mountain midwife in the Smoky Mountains.

Anna is determined to prove herself as she travels to Cades Cove, Tennessee, a remote valley in the mountains, to assist a midwife who practices under primitive conditions, but she hasn’t counted on meeting Simon Martin, a mountain preacher who grieves his own lost dreams. She has withstood her family’s objections to going to New York, but she never expected her heart would also become her adversary.

As attraction between the two grows, Anna is determined nothing will keep her from her goal, and Simon fears he is losing his new dream of having Anna stay in the Cove with him. Will they continue to dwell on their personal desires, or can they surrender their futures to God and allow Him to make them one heart that is responsive to His will?

But it here!

Sandra Robbins and her husband live in the small college town where she grew up. Until a few years ago she was working as an elementary school principal, but God opened the door for her to become a full-time writer.  Her books have been finalists in the Daphne du Maurier Contest for excellence in mystery writing, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, the Holt Medallion, and the ACFW Carol Award. Since Sandra is a Southerner by birth, she enjoys setting her historical romance and romantic suspense books in both the past and present-day South. To find out more about Sandra and her books go to http://sandrarobbins.net or send her an email at sandra@sandrarobbins.net

Thanks to August’s Reach Out Donors!

Eddie Snipes with I Called Him Dancera novel quite fitting for this campaignJoAnn Durgin with Second Time AroundEileen Rife with Second Chanceanother novel with an outreach focus; Sandra Robbins with Fatal Disclosure, and 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 have a book you’d like to donate to my Reach Out Campaign, shoot me an email at the same address.

Courageous, Initiating, Life-changing

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.

Thrust in the Spotlight

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.

Head Down

I’m a day late, and I apologize. Can I blame it on moving? (And if so, how long can I use that excuse?)

Today’s “Reach Out to Live Out” post comes from a sweet young lady I met at the 2011 CWG writers’ conference. And what a timely post! (You’ll see what I mean once you read it.)

Head Down

By Nichole Parks

                  Our community college will accept anybody. I’ve seen the druggies, heard the potty-mouths, and looked away from the risqué. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s keep your head down. Considering we’re approaching finals, I’d say the strategy has worked.

Cleaner and cigarette smoke, clinging to classmates, embalms the dim room. I tuck my arms tighter to my sides and shuffle to my seat—second row back and three seats in. My neighbor is already there.

“Hi, Nichole.”

“Rhonda.” I give her a polite smile as heave-ho my algebra book from my bag. From the get-go my plan had been get in and get out. Nobody would get hurt that way. Rhonda had other plans. While we waited for the rest of the class, she informed me of how this is the third time she’s taken the class, how she’s raising her grandson, how she’s been house hunting since she’s been foreclosed, and details on her up-coming surgery.

I told her I’d pray for her, but inside I was praying for me. Pick somebody else to witness to her, Lord.

Since midterm, I’ve felt a tug to invite her to church. And though Rhonda has no problem opening her mouth, mine remains pinched shut. Today, when I arrived, it opened. “Are you going to need help moving?”

She blinked, probably shocked that I had a voice. “Uh—yeah, my surgery is smack-dab when I need to be moving.”

“I talked to my youth minister and our youth group would like to help you move. If you can get me the date and address, we’ll be there.”

A slow smile spread on Rhonda’s face. “Yeah, yeah, that would be great.”

So, as of today, my strategy is expired because I can’t keep my head down any longer. Or somebody will get hurt. Our community college may accept anybody, but heaven won’t.

***

Nichole Parks is a Squire and Apprentice graduate of the Jerry B. Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild. She completed the 2010 NaNoWriMo challenge. In her spare time, Nichole reviews books for Multnomah Waterbrook and Baker Books Publishing, hones her manuscript, and sings along with the country radio station. Visit her online.

Thanks to all our donors for helping motivate us all to reach out in tangible ways as we share the love of Christ to a hurting world:

Margaret Daley, author of Saving Hope: Men of the Texas Rangers and Second Chance Family;  Elaine Marie Cooper who is giving away two books–The Road to Deer Run and The Promise of Deer Run;  Zeke Lam from Submission Ministries who is giving away a copy of subMISSION: Heeding His Voice Only; and for the book give-away–Deborah Raney with Remember to Forget.