Braver than I Believe

When I think about being brave, I remember a quote by A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh. I’m sure it’s familiar. It’s been made into hundreds of memes. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” I take comfort in that quote when I think that I’ve failed at being brave because my perception is that I fail a lot with this concept. I don’t feel brave at all. In fact, a lot of the time I’m scared to death when I’m trying something new.

The same thing happened to the author of the devotional I’ve begun reading. God led her to do something, and she took steps of faith. But, she didn’t feel brave at all during the entire process. In fact, she cried the entire time she was moving to her new city. Crying. The same thing I feel ashamed of doing. It’s hard for me to get involved in conflict or in expressing my opinion because I’m afraid I will cry. That doesn’t stop me from crying when I’m upset though. I do my best to hide it for as long as I can, but when my bravery shields break down, they usually do so spectacularly. I’ve been told lamenting is a brave thing to do, but my feeling is that crying and bravery are very opposite.

What complicates all this is that I suffer from depression. There are days I don’t want to leave the house, but the big thing is that my depression convinces me that I’m not worth very much and that people couldn’t possibly want my company. So, I keep to myself even when I’m in a crowd of people. Why would I want to be brave when I’ll just be kicked down by the world again?

But, even though I suffer from depression and fail at being brave, I still want friends. I still want to do things for God, and I still do my best to listen to His voice. As I think about this conundrum, a quote from the author of 100 Days to Brave pops out at me. “I never felt brave. But day after day, I just did the next thing, took the next step, said the next yes.” Sounds like feelings might not have a whole lot to do with being brave even though we depend on them for the things we do in this life. We take the next job because it feels better. We move to another city because we feel like we need a change. We go on a missions trip because it feels like God is telling us to. I’m not saying feelings are invalid though, and that is my struggle. I’m not sure what the difference is between good feelings and bad feelings. I know God gave them to me, but my illness prevents me from processing them well.

Back to being brave. The author suggested that I journal about three instances in my life which I or someone else might label as brave. The first was when I was first put on depression medication. Before I did this, I had just shouldered my way through life’s pains and disappointments. That was the only way I knew. It proved I was strong and made it so no one could hurt me. But, there was a point where it got to be too much. In the time span of a couple of years, I had a death in the family; my husband had surgery and became unemployed; we moved (more than once); and I had a miscarriage. So much pain. My doctor heard me say all this and said she was impressed I was still on my feet. She prescribed me medication that helped my feelings even out and become manageable. I guess you could call that being brave.

The second instance is fairly minor in scope, but it meant a lot to me when I was able to do it. Last year, a young couple in my church got married. The bride grew up in our youth group and is not much older than my own sons. So, we all knew them well and were invited to the wedding. There was a bridal shower a few months before the wedding which I was invited to attend. Since this couple was popular, I knew the shower would be crowded. I hemmed and hawed to myself about going because just the thought of being around a lot of people terrified me. Finally, my regard for the bride tipped the scales, and I went. I was right. There was a lot of people. More than fifty, but I managed it, and I was pretty proud of myself when I came home. That sounds like being brave too.

Finally, and this is the big one, I started sharing my writing in this blog and in my writing blog. I was giving myself a hard time the other day because I hadn’t submitted any of my stories to be considered for publication. What was I waiting for? Was I too scared to even try? But, then I realized something important. I was sharing my writing through these blogs. I was sharing the hard things, the private things with people I didn’t even know. The most personal parts of my heart. The parts where if certain people knew I had shared them, they would tell me I should be ashamed. But, I had thought about it and prayed about it and felt that God was leading me to share. People who have been through what I’ve been through shouldn’t have to feel like they’re alone. They shouldn’t feel ashamed. So, if they shouldn’t feel ashamed, I’m not going to feel ashamed either. I’m going to be the brave person God wants me to be.

Because, isn’t that the point? God promises to give us everything we need if we will only ask Him. He promises to give us strength as it says in Psalm 27:14. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” That strength may only enable me to put one step in front of the other, but it is strength from God, and I am so grateful He doesn’t leave me or forsake me. May we all be braver than we believe as we wait on the Lord!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

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Bravery is Necessary

After looking at the Day 2 devotional of my new book, I know the journey I’m embarking on will be assisted by this book. In fact, the temptation is going to be reading and writing about more than one section at a time. Or even writing and posting on Saturdays and Sundays when I usually don’t do so. I’m going to resist though. Taking these sections one at a time will be the best way for me to make this journey, and I also know reading them only five at a time will make the journey longer than 100 days. But, it will be worth it to see what God is going to do in my life.

How does the title relate to the devotion? The devotion asks the question “Why be brave?”, and my title is the answer to that question. Does that mean I’m brave all the time? Not by a long shot. I’m sure most of us would have the same answer to that question. There have been many examples in history though where things were accomplished because someone was brave, and because they were brave, things were changed in countries, in professions, and for people of different races and genders. Have you ever imagined what might have been in the minds of Rosa Parks or Susan B. Anthony before they embarked on their history changing endeavors? What about the first female doctor or female astronaut? They changed history, and they couldn’t have done it without being brave.

Part of me wants to be brave by thinking about the actions of those individuals, and that is the point of today’s devotion. The author talks about how seeing others be brave is a “domino effect” for our own bravery. But, then, I think again about how those individuals changed history, and say to myself, ‘Those people changed history. There’s no way I can ever do that.’

Then, my thoughts travel closer to home. Yesterday, I talked to a sweet friend who usually goes on a mission trip every summer. I was thinking that maybe I might want to go on that same mission trip, but knew it would have to be when my kids were done with college. (Because, as we all know, college is expensive.) This lady has a younger family so I asked how she managed it. She told me she ended up raising her own support every year, and that once her girls were old enough, she and her husband would be raising support for all four of them to go. Wow! Raising their own support. That means asking other people for money and believing in what you’re doing strongly enough to ask. In other words, being brave. This precious friend has being brave down to a science. I also know others who ask for support for their chosen ministries. I admire all of them and wish I could support each ministry abundantly. They are all doing good work.

So, why do I think I would have a problem raising my own support for a mission trip like the one my friend is going on? There are two reasons, and only one of them involves being brave. The first is the independent philosophy most people in the United States were raised with. I was taught if you wanted to do something, you’d better darn well have the money to pay for it yourself. If you had to ask for money for any reason, there was an element of shame involved, and you’d better keep it to yourself. You can see this today in how people feel about poorer people and the government programs in place to help them.

But, this is totally opposite of all the non-profit ministries and charities that are out there as well as all the people who are asking for support for one thing or the other. Shouldn’t all of these organizations and people feel ashamed too? My guess is no because of the existence of such websites as GoFundMe.com  and YouCaring.com. Their existence tells me that the element of shame about asking for money has started to disappear.

The second reason, of course, involves being brave. I have a hard time thinking that people would think supporting me for something like a mission trip would be worth it. I believe this even though I did a Facebook fundraiser for my birthday which met its goal. I wondered why, but then thought maybe it was because I believed in the cause wholeheartedly. Whoa, maybe that’s the way to be brave in the financial realm.

There are other ways of being brave besides being brave in the financial realm. There is being brave when God is calling you to do something even if you’re the first one to do it. 2 Timothy 1:8-9 makes a point of this. “So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done, but because of his own purpose and grace.” God makes us brave when we ask Him for strength for what He wants us to do.

And finally, God can make us brave as we share things in our own lives. Things that might be a result of sin or illnesses that are not shameful though people in the church might think they are. Jesus calls us to love each other and not make each other feel ashamed. That is why it’s necessary to be brave. That is why I need to be brave so I can inspire others to do the same. If we can all be brave, God will change us for the better!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Muddling Through

Last week, I wrote in this blog about how I was upset about some things that had happened at my church. I probably shouldn’t have written it in this blog, but frustration can cause you to do things that you normally wouldn’t do.

I don’t feel frustrated anymore though. Some of it comes from a book I found while other parts come from contact with who I call “heart friends.” People who know my heart inside and out. It made me realize that I needed another course on being brave. So, that’s what I’m going to be doing for the next 100 days. The book I found is called 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. It’s a devotional, and I think it’s going to help me on my journey.

What does being brave have to do with muddling through? Part of it has to do with following God’s voice. I’m meant to be where I already am no matter how unpleasant it might be sometimes. God didn’t promise us a trouble-free existence. In fact, with all the trouble I’ve had, I should consider myself one of God’s star pupils. 😉 All kidding aside, my utmost desire should be to follow God’s voice, and that’s one of the things I want to explore during this journey.

The other part of it is having the courage to confront. The courage to say this scares me, or that upsets me. People don’t like having to do that. They don’t like saying they disagree with something in Bible class, and they don’t like thinking they’re projecting something onto someone else that doesn’t need to be there. They are afraid, like me. And that’s another thing I want to explore during this time. What things I am afraid of, and what I can do for God despite my fears. How I can muddle through pain and hurt and get to the other side where there is…love. God’s love which never goes away and has no conditions on it.

I might always be the oddball at my church and not in the ‘cool kids’ club, but I’m hoping that by the end of this, people will say of me, ‘She heard the whispers of fear, but she went beyond her comfort zone anyway.’ It might not be the best way something could be done. It might just be muddling through. But, if I was faithful in serving my Lord and Savior, it will be enough!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

Inserting my Foot in my Mouth

I took a break from answering the questions from my pastor’s New Year’s Eve sermon yesterday, but I’m back to answer the third one today. It’s quiet here as we are awaiting possible bad weather in the southeastern United States. My patience has wavered in the last 24 hours as we have built up to the big state of emergency my state has declared. I don’t know why having possible bad weather has become such a big deal. When we lived in the northern part of the country in the mid-late 2000’s, it wasn’t such a big deal. We would go about what we needed to do taking the normal precautions. Life rarely stopped just because of bad weather. I can think of only one or two times that children stayed home from school during the four years we lived there, and that was only because it started snowing during the main traffic hour, and the trucks hadn’t been able to put salt on the roads yet. So, as you can imagine, I don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who get bent out of shape because of bad weather.

You might wonder what this has to do with the questions from the sermon. Let me state the one for today, and then you’ll understand. “Do I speak before considering the context?” Yes, for all of you who get “bent out of shape” or upset about the weather  forecast, I was not considerate of your feelings. No matter what my tolerance level for what the weather forecast is going to be or whether school is going to be cancelled or not, I should have kept my mouth shut or just had a chuckle at the game one of my friends on Facebook set up for the different questions people were asking. But, no, I opened my mouth and was inconsiderate.

God wants us to think before we speak. He wants us to show the character of Jesus to all the people who are a part of the world we all inhabit. From the clerk at the grocery store to the nurse at the doctor’s office to the waitress at a restaurant to our work colleagues to our friends and family, He wants us to treat everyone like Jesus would treat them. That means using the freedom we have with prudence.

I’ve been thinking a lot about freedom recently. With my younger son graduating from high school in May, my life will change drastically. No more will I be a homeschool mom. I will have the freedom to pursue interests that I’ve not had time for before now. I will have the chance to write and see where it takes me. I will be able to pursue the heart of my Lord and Savior. All of which are good things and things I am looking forward to with anticipation.

I find though that people are wanting me to fall into a role. A role of waiting for grandchildren to be born and doing things that women traditionally do. I recoil against this kind of thinking. Like I said yesterday, it puts me into a mold that I’m not certain God wants me in. For a long time, I stayed in that mold in the hopes of gaining acceptance. No more. I’m going to be the person God wants me to be no matter what anyone else thinks about it.

That doesn’t mean I need to be ugly or demeaning towards the people who are upset with me for being true to myself. It means I need to consider the context before I open my mouth and use the freedom I have with prudence. It means I can be kind in my dealings with others and move forward in the direction I believe God is wanting me to go in. It means asking God for the courage to try things for the first time to move His kingdom forward even if a woman has never been involved before. It means fully believing I am God’s daughter and believing He has my back for what He wants me to do for Him!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!

The Least of These

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time is familiar with the phrase I chose for today’s blog post title. They are words Jesus actually spoke in Scripture. The least of these. We read the words and tell ourselves we help the people rejected by society or rejected by church society, but more often than not, we really don’t. We get so busy and caught up in our own lives that we forget people who are alone or the people who are carrying burdens way too heavy for the rest of us to think about. We go to our jobs, spend time with our spouses, and parent our children–all of which are good things, but aren’t part of the business God wants us to be about.

Before I go any further, let me quote the Scripture so you can see the words. From Matthew 25:34-40: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

This Scripture goes on to say that those who did not do these things for the least of these would go on to eternal punishment while those who did would go to eternal life.

Now, I’m not trying to say we have a work-based faith. Far from it. The verses that are featured in this blog are just as true today as they were yesterday and as they will be tomorrow. God prepared us through grace to do these good works–not before we are saved, but after as it says in Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

These words of Jesus did get me to thinking though. How tolerant are we of the least of these in our churches? Oh, we’ll go out and help them. We’ll feed the homeless, volunteer in a pregnancy crisis center, give someone a place to stay, or visit the hospital. But, how tolerant are we of the people who think differently or who are the least of these in our churches? Are we tolerant of the person who appears poorer than us? How about the person who walks in alone? How about the person who is a different race or gender than us? There can be an element of shame involved among those of us who are different. Don’t believe me? Let me go through some examples.

How about the statistic that the Sunday morning worship hour is the most segregated hour in America? This statistic was first quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we celebrate today in the United States. Ashamedly, so many years later, a poll finds that 86 percent of church congregations are composed of mainly one racial group. (LifeWay Research). We want to worship with people who look like us and have no interest in changing it. Reading those statistics brought me to tears.

What about differences that can’t be seen? I have a friend who runs a ministry to people whose career is not desirous in our churches. She invited some of these people to come to a particular church. At first, it was all right, but then their career became known, and she was asked not to bring them back. It’s not like they had dressed for their career to come to church. They were wearing clothes like the rest of us wear. But, people were still uncomfortable enough to not want them there. I’m pretty sure Jesus cried when that happened, and I did too. Another lost opportunity to bring people to Jesus.

Now, to bring the differences a little bit closer to home. I had a relative in the 1960’s who became a widow with the early death of her husband. She became different from the other people in her church. Different enough that people didn’t know what to do or say, and her family was left by the wayside. That abandonment traveled across the generations, made it so I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, and still affects me today. Yes, things have changed for women in a lot of ways, but if a woman wants to serve in a church and is not married, she is relegated to serving with other women or with children. What happens when a woman is called to more than that like I think I am? I believe Jesus expects a woman to fulfill her calling whether she is called to something in the church that is traditional for women or something that is not so traditional.

There are also differences in thought, differences in how we think things should be done in our churches, and differences in sins committed as well as many different ways we can be the least of these. In other words, we are all different people who don’t fit the mold some churches say we should fit in. It’s almost a relief to type these words. God made us all differently, and we need to reflect that in our churches as we minister to the least of these. I pray that God gives us the courage to break out of the molds we have set for ourselves and bring more people to a saving relationship with Him.

God’s blessings on you all today!

 

Safe Place

Last week, I started a series related to the questions my pastor asked in his New Year’s Eve sermon, and I thought I would continue it today. Last week’s question was “What does this trial expose in my heart?” (https://alisarussell.wordpress.com/2018/01/02/refined-like-gold-and-silver/) It brought out a lot of good words and uncovered some things that needed to be exposed in my heart. Just like I’m sure this week’s question will.

So, without any further adieu, here is this week’s question. “Am I a safe place for hurting people?” I would like to think so. I’ve experienced many hurts within the church over the course of my life, and I would like to think that people could talk to me without worrying what would happen to their words.

But, then the question spurs more thoughts. Thoughts I’m not comfortable dealing with. Thoughts I’m not sure how to deal with. They begin with an offhand comment someone gave me after service last week. A friend of mine had gone up after service wanting prayer. I knew she had been struggling so it was a no-brainer. I went up and laid my hand on her shoulder as our pastor prayed as did a few other people. I hugged her when he was done and went back to my seat. After the service was over, another friend said she had noticed I had gone up and that I was a real prayer warrior. I wasn’t so sure about that. I’m not as comfortable when I don’t know the person wanting prayer, and sometimes, I feel like they wouldn’t want my support because, well, they have the support of the staff or the elders.

These thoughts brought me back to a few years ago when someone didn’t want me to pray with them; they wanted me to help them find an elder. I wondered why. Wasn’t I just as capable of praying? I know I am now, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with my own prayer life over the past few years. People still have their opinions though. If they’re at the church and want prayer, they would rather have someone on the staff or an elder pray for them. It’s like people who are lay members and want to serve don’t even exist. I don’t understand.

This brings me to more thoughts, and they are more of the selfish kind. I’ve watched people go up wanting prayer, and they were surrounded by a sea of people. It’s almost like I was seeing a popularity contest come alive right before me. And I wonder why I don’t get that kind of support when I ask for prayer. Before anyone says anything, yes, I know that’s a selfish thought. I’m just wanting to explore it and put it back in the place it needs to be. There are a couple of reasons, I think, that this happens. One, yes, there are people in the church who are more popular than me, people who have a better handle on their faith than I do. They are held up as an example to the rest of us, and I can understand why people flock to them. Two, people have a tendency to flock to trauma. If they know something bad has happened to someone, they want the person to know they are praying for them. Three, there is a request for people to pray over someone who is leaving the church for whatever reason, and many people tend to go up for those kind of prayers.

Now that I’ve explored why many people go up to pray for certain people, I want to state why I think some people are prayed for alone. One, no one knows what is going on. How do you support someone when you don’t know what’s going on? Two, some people have an innate sense of privacy that keeps them from wanting other people to know what is going on. Three, some people just have a need for someone to pray with them, and they don’t care if anyone is with them or not. I’m not sure what category I fall into. Sometimes, it’s two, and sometimes, it’s three. Sometimes, it’s a combination of all three.

I’ve gone far afield of the question I first presented, but it was necessary to explain my thoughts to get to the conclusion I’ve come to. I think my best service to God is not going to be in the church. It’s going to be in the relationships I form and the writing I do. God wants me to put my words about Him and about my faith out there so people will know I’m not perfect. So people will know that I am a safe place. I shared a quote from an article on my Facebook page last week that I want to share here. “My desire now is to be the woman that God calls me to be. No more. And no less.” http://yellowhammernews.com/faithandculture/called-childlessness-surprising-ways-god/  I wrote this in response to the quote. “Though I did have the opportunity to be a mother, this spoke to me greatly especially now that my children are grown. The church expects women and men to fit a mold that they were often not made to fit. Thank you, Jesus, for being a mold breaker!”

Praying God’s blessings on all of you today!

Refined Like Gold and Silver

This past Sunday, on New Year’s Eve, I heard a sermon that brought up questions we should ask ourselves as we go into the new year. They were good questions, and I typed them into the notes section on my phone. Yesterday, I looked at my Facebook memories, and those exact same questions were used in my pastor’s New Year’s Day sermon from last year! This is not a pastor bashing post though. 🙂 I think too much of him to do that. But, it did get me thinking this morning. I was considering what my first set of blog topics was going to be, and the questions were the first thing that came to mind. So, today’s post will be my answer to the first question.

It is a given that all of us who are Christians will go through trials, some of them being more difficult than others, but still…trials. No one is immune. Jesus even says in John 16:33 that we will have trouble in this world. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

With that being said, it makes sense for the first question to be, “What does this trial expose in my heart?” Wow! I almost don’t want to answer it because of the shame involved, but I promised to always be honest in this space, so honest, I will be. Many of the trials I have endured over the last few years have exposed a lack of trust in my Lord and Savior. This one is tricky for me though because I have experienced hearing evangelists on television and pastors of large churches say that, if I would only give them money, I would be wealthy beyond my wildest dreams. I know that’s not true now, but the wounds of being devalued in the church and having my faith shaken because of my financial status still remain. I also know that God is not going to give me money just because I ask for it.

Where does that leave me in trusting God? I know someone who does well with this. Her family was stuck on the interstate the other day in cold temperatures, and she and her son managed to walk to a gas station. She posted that they needed help, and someone came to help them shortly thereafter. This same person has also talked about being behind on bills and trusting God to get them paid. She is a real straight-shooter about her faith and probably has no idea what an example she is to me.

I want to have that kind of trust in God. I want to know that He will be there for me no matter what happens in my life. I do have trust, but I don’t think it’s the kind of trust God wants me to have. It is a process asking more and more of me each day. That is why, I think, He is putting these trials in my path. He wants to refine me like it says in Zechariah 13:9 and grow my trust in Him. “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.'”

He wants to make me into the best version of myself that is already loved and adored by Him. I am God’s daughter, and His Son, Jesus, died on the cross for me! It can’t get any better than that.

So, this year I will work on trusting God in each and every circumstance. I will trust the people He puts on my path. And I will work on having a heart like His!

 

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!