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Deeply Rooted & Transformed

A quick look at the word root in an online dictionary and I found this definition: the essential core.
 
It is with this definition in mind that I considered the impact of Everbloom—Stories of Deeply Rooted and Transformed Lives, the inaugural anthology written by the members of the Redbud Writers Guild, as I read the collection of essays, poems, and stories.
 
I had no sooner lightly chuckled at the declaration of a Kindergarten girl that she would write an authoritative autobiography on walking big dogs than I found myself shedding tears for a woman being beaten under a palm tree. This varying range of emotions continued throughout the pages of this book, and I am changed, sobered, and touched for having been given a glimpse into the lives of each precious writer that has poured her heart out in this labor of love known as Everbloom.
 
The stories are divided into the structure of a tree—roots, trunk, branches, and then blossoms. Each contribution includes a prayer to apply, followed by a writing prompt to grow the writer in each reader. What an inspiring way to plant seeds and bring out what is at the essential core of every woman in this world of beautiful, human trees—her own deeply-rooted and powerful story that is reflected in her trunk, her branches, and—most definitely—her blossoms.

Whosoever

If I had been doing what I was supposed to be doing, I would have never seen it.
 
Driving home from another mundane errand and just wanting to avoid the traffic and get home, I was feeling especially anxious at the “red light enforced” stoplight I found myself at on an ordinary Wednesday. None of my favorite radio stations were playing anything good to sing along to, and I had yet to conquer the insurmountable task of getting my iTunes™ playlist to cooperate with my car stereo.
 
Of course I should’ve just been paying attention to the stoplight, with hands at 10 and 2, and keeping a steady eye on the road in front of me. But I knew there were far too many interesting things to take in and observe from the scenery around me during my brief stop at the busy intersection. And none of them had anything to do with being a diligent and law-abiding driver.
 
To the right, a stuffed suit in a Mercedes was having a very animated conversation with someone on the other end of his Bluetooth™ ear piece. I have no doubt that the recipient of his words was thankful they were not in the same room. I offered a quick prayer that they weren’t in the same zip code. Beyond that, a homeless woman was defining her turf to those walking by and questioning it. And at each corner, the paparazzi permanently installed by the state of California flashed brilliantly, ensuring that careless drivers entering the intersection after the red light would receive a souvenir photograph commemorating their traffic sin.
 
But it was when I glanced to the left at the corner gas station—figuring those filling their pumps would provide some sort of entertainment—that I saw it. Where the curb meets the street—the gutter—and drawn with a thick piece of sidewalk chalk, anyone driving by could read it.
 
JOHN 3:16
 
It wasn’t on a billboard, it wasn’t on a bumper sticker, and it wasn’t on a sign being held and tossed in the air by an enthusiastic teenager wearing earbuds.
 
Nope. It was written in the gutter. JOHN 3:16.
 
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
 
The verse doesn’t tell us that whoever drives a nice car, or whoever obeys the stoplight, or whoever keeps their gas pump filled at the corner station.
 
It says “whosoever believes in Him.” No matter where we are, the moment whosoever chooses to believe in Him, whosoever will not perish—but instead, whosoever will have everlasting life. We don’t have to get cleaned up, look good, or act normal. No matter where we are, we can be whosoever and believe in Him.
 
Whosoever means you. It means me. But it’s also for the suit in the Mercedes, for the one filling his gas tank, and for the traffic violator.
 
And it’s definitely for whosoever is in the gutter

Normal is the New Black

I received an amazing call one week ago today, and honestly...it has taken me a week to process the impact of that phone call. 

Nearly four years ago, I began a journey down an unknown road that is NEVER a journey that someone chooses. It was the cancer journey.

During this journey, I have fielded many experiences. I was told that I didn't have "real" cancer. I was told that the median life-span for this type of blood cancer is 5-7 years. I even had someone tell me that she knew how I felt because she has struggled with sinus infections all her life. I'll just leave that one right there. But in no way do I mean to undermine the sinus infection.
 
The cancer journey is really like no other. It is full of emotions and feelings that are hard to describe and so many don't understand. It's full of those, "You just had to be there," feelings and yet it's a place that I never want anyone to have to be. It is unique and scary.
 
And it's beautiful. All at the same time.

Early in the journey, when I was NOT looking to Scripture to find comfort and peace in my diagnosis, God still dropped an amazing Bible verse into my heart from John 11:4. "His [her] sickness will not end in his [her] death but will bring great glory to God. As these events unfold, the Son of God will be exalted." At the time, I had no idea what that was going to look like, but this verse gave me great peace. 
 
I realized in this diagnosis that the truth is we all really only have today. But this cancer just made me more aware of that truth. It was this realization that caused me to take a posture of saying yes to however God was going to use this sickness. If He trusted me enough to use me in illness, I was going to trust Him enough to lead me. And it was through this season, that He really refined me in the fire. The Bible reminds us that in our weakness, His power is made perfect. 

There aren't enough words to fully describe what the past three years have been like. But each month, as I would get my CBC's drawn at the lab, and through bone marrow biopsies (yes, that's plural as in more than one), and doctor appointments where staff who barely knew your name just read your chart and rattled off information, God was there all the time whispering to me, "I'm here. I'm in charge. Keep your eyes on Me." And through this season, I have listened. I have kept my eyes on Him. I even became thankful for cancer

And then the call came. My oncologist called last week to let me know that for the first time in four years, all of my labs were normal. Every month, I have a five-minute conversation with Elizabeth who gives me the specifics of each blood count. After asking about what I call the "Fab 4," (white cells, red cells, platelets, and hemoglobin), she said this: "When the results are abnormal, they flash red across my screen. When they're normal, they're black. You, my dear, have levels that are all amazingly black."

Although I would never choose cancer for you, I do know that God does His best work in times of adversity. My prayer today is that if you are reading this, you will let Him do His best work in you. Chances are that it won't look like something fun, but it can be beautiful. And I can promise you that you won't be sorry. 

Searching for Significance? FREE GIFT

The devotional says it best—it’s not who we are, it’s WHOSE we are.

I was invited to share this FREE 7-day devotional from my friends at Wycliffe Bible Translators. Searching for Significance is available to you, to help you better understand that while society constantly pounds the message that we must DO something to be significant, God has already created us to BE significant.

In easy-to-read, downloadable form, Wycliffe’s authors have used uplifting images, memorable examples from Bible characters, and thought-provoking Scripture to remind us that, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, MSG)

Searching for Significance has combined Creation, the Gospel, and the Great Commission into a week’s worth of encouragement. I would encourage you to take advantage of this free gift. Download it today and be reminded that we don’t have to search for significance—we just simply need to receive it from the One who has created us in His image.

Come to the Altar

"...from the ashes a new life is born..." --from "O Come to the Altar."
 
Today, I am reminded that many of us are looking from a heap of ashes. Life has a way of burning us.
 
To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory. –Isaiah 61:3, NLT
 
Jesus sees you right where you are. He longs to give you beauty for ashes (Isaiah 61).
The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name. –Psalm 147:2-4, NKJV
 
He longs to heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds.
 
If you feel burned, let Him heal your heart. If you feel like an outcast, let Him gather you up and carry you. He's the only One who can. You just have to come to the altar...right where you're at.

*Image Used with Permission from David Bowman Art
 
 

Perspective in the Pain

“I feel like it’s all a show,” my friend told me.

We were discussing a past experience with church. For a moment, I was reminded of Ariel Moore’s remark to her preacher father in the 1984 film Footloose, “I see the stage. I see the costumes. It’s show business, isn’t it?”

My friend was disappointed and hurt by those who seemed closest to God. Wounded by “family.”
It had been a hard few months for this friend. What had started out as an exciting journey in a ministry career had ended in broke-down dreams and job termination. And with this heartbreak came lots of questions. The kids asking why they couldn’t go to their youth class. The creditors asking why bills weren’t paid. Friends asking about the family’s absence on Sundays.

And her inner voice asking, “Are all churches like this?”

My heart went out. I have had my own experience of being deeply wounded by those I thought I could count on.

When we talked, it would’ve been easy to validate my friend’s feelings. After all, the broken heart was understandable and my own heart cried for what had happened. But at the same time, having gone through my own hurtful journey, I knew that what was needed went beyond validation and commiseration. It was time to bring perspective to the pain. It was time to be the light for a friend that was sitting in a dark place of rejection.

So I shared my own story and the lesson I had learned.

“Don’t let this experience ruin worship for you. Yes, it seemed like a show there. But it is not like that everywhere. The thing that got me through my own experience was remembering that instead of wondering if a new church is fake, now I’m actually better able to detect lack of authenticity.”

Although my friend was encouraged by this perspective, even more important was her realization that God hadn’t been the one to hurt, disappoint, and reject. Knowing this truth would give her the courage to try again. The courage to know she has been called to shepherd God’s people. The courage to address lack of integrity when she encounters it, even with God’s people. And, ultimately, the courage to know that even when church feels fake, God is the real deal.
 
“…God assured us, “I’ll never let you down,
never walk off and leave you,…”
Hebrews 13:5, MSG

A Meal, a Manager...and a Message

Because sometimes when you just can’t seem to go on…God sends a message to remind you that you can.
 
And because sometimes He knows you’ve cried enough tears.
 
Recently, a friend shared with me her experience of juggling a demanding career, parenting, her troubled marriage…LIFE. The past year has brought incredible pain, questions, doubt, and more. It resulted in lots of tears on the commute home and fists banging the steering wheel, with my friend declaring on a Thursday evening, “Okay, God – I’m giving it ALL to you. Everything that is going on, I’m letting go, and letting You take it. I know I’ve said this before, and I’ve taken all the worry and stress back, but this time I’m serious. I need You to show up and handle business. I need You to figure out what I can’t. Please…HELP ME.”
 
These raw words were spoken just before she picked up her boys to take them to dinner. Tense words with the husband she’s been separated from are exchanged, and she’s simply trying to hold it together…to have a nice dinner out with the sons that are caught in the middle and staying with dad because it’s his week. Driving to the popular sushi restaurant that has just opened, they are all a little disappointed that the wait to get in will be close to an hour, but they choose to make the best of the short weeknight time they have together.
 
There are jokes, there are refills of lemonade, and the cell phones are put away for now. Text messages and Instagram can wait. Right now, there is good food, laughter, and love. All the while, in the middle of this restaurant that is filled to capacity with upwards to 400 diners, a well-dressed stranger is watching them. He is especially observant of the young boys’ courteous manners, and how engaged they are in conversation with their mom.
 
Approaching their table, he appears to be interested in their satisfaction from a managerial perspective. He attends to making sure drinks are refilled, and that this party of three has everything they need for an amazing dining experience. They thank him politely and return to their meal and conversation.
 
A short while later, the stranger returns and makes a few remarks. “I’ve been watching all of you for a while, and I noticed especially that that you all seemed to really enjoy each other’s company. I saw that these boys don’t have their heads stuck into their phones, they’re actually talking with their mom and it has really impressed me. I lost my mom not very long ago, and watching you all tonight brought back some really great memories I have of my time with her. It was a nice feeling. And I just wanted to let you know that you’re doing a great job, Mom. Keep up the good work! By the way, your dinner is on the house.”
 
Because sometimes when you just can’t seem to go on…God sends a message to remind you that you can…with Him.
 
And because sometimes He knows you’ve cried enough tears. He lets you know that He’s seen every one of them roll down your cheek.
 
Through all of the pain, exhaustion, and heartache, my friend was reminded that God is working it out. And of all places…in the middle of a sushi bar. In the middle of chaos, clanging dishes, and everything else that accompanies opening night. In the middle of 400 people. After months of screaming and wailing at heaven, trying to do the right thing, trying to remember to pray, and then trying to remember to pray some more…God used a kindhearted bystander as His way of putting His hand on my friend’s shoulder, and saying, “Dear girl, I’ve got this. Trust Me.”
 
And in the process, she blessed the stranger simply by being…herself. She was able to give him a sweet reminder of precious memories that he can hold in his heart long after a night at the new sushi restaurant is gone.
 
Dear ones…He’s got this. Trust Him.
 

Remember the Old

Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me.  Isaiah 46:9
 
It blesses my heart to be needed by my kids, even my grown ones. My son called me today, hoping against hope that I might still have his passport from a trip to Europe he took when he was twelve. That was almost 18 years ago, but of course I had it. I had to do some digging, but I came out of that storage shed victorious with passport in hand!

Isn’t it funny how we keep so much from our children’s childhoods, especially our first child? I have every sports uniform, every newspaper clipping, every report card, every lovingly drawn picture, and every photograph. I have his little farm animal backpack that was permanently attached to him from the ages of 2-5. It actually still has 3 of his toy cars tucked safely inside. I have all the scrapbooks I painstakingly made for his 18th birthday. Favorite ball caps and wrestling trophies take up some space, along with mementos from a childhood that was filled with adventure.

What fun it was to take a little trip through all those things, reflecting back to that little boy with the curls that fell over his eyes and the smile that melted, and still does, my heart. It’s part of our mama journey...those time of recollection…those times of remembering the old.

God wants us to remember the old. He wants us to spend time taking that walk down memory lane with Him. Do you remember when you first discovered the Holy Spirit? Do you recall the feeling of being free from your sin and shame? Is there a recollection of the sense of wonder that such an awesome God could love YOU? How precious it is to sit and dwell on all God has done for you, on all He has provided, on all the goodness He has so freely and lovingly given you.

Yes, it is nice to take a walk with our memories. It is sweet to reflect back on special thoughts and people. It is even sweeter to remind ourselves of God’s love. At the same time, it is crucial that we focus on what God has for us in our future. We can only imagine the blessings He has in store. I think of my son, and I anticipate what God has for him. I pray for him daily and I ask God to pour out his provision and protection upon my sweet boy. I ask the same for all my children. I trust my God to maneuver them through this life, creating more memories along the way. I trust that I will have many more opportunities to dig through boxes of treasure, looking for that specific something that has a special place in the hearts of my kids. I hope to many more times in this life have the opportunity to remember the old, while looking towards the future with a confidence that only comes from knowing I am loved by my sweet Savior!

School Starts This Week! Already?

“You must be so ready for school to start!”
 
This is a question I always get at the end of summer break.
 
My response? “Actually, no. Summer went by way too quickly.”
 
You see, I am the mother of five beautiful, rambunctious children. Two girls, 13 and 11; a boy who is 8, another girl—she’s 4; and the baby—a boy—who is 2.
 
They are my greatest earthly joy. And my greatest source of frustration.
 
There is hardly a quiet moment in my house. I love many moments of it. And I’ll be very honest, there are many, many moments that I don’t love.
 
I don’t do well with chaos. Let’s face it, when you have five children, chaos abounds. In fact, just today, as I was thinking about writing this, my children were screaming at each other—one antagonizing another. You know those times when every muscle hurts with tension and if one more young voice yells or tattles, you may just explode.
 
I exploded.
 
And what this means is that now my son will be getting a lesson in how to ask forgiveness, from my example.
 
Perhaps that is why it was important to me to write my thoughts out tonight. You see, that earlier statement, “ You must be so ready for school to start,” hurts my heart and makes me so sad. These are MY children. God gave them to ME! They are my gifts, every single one of them.  They bring me joy and pain. They are one of God’s favorite instruments to show my heart and teach me His. Why should I want to send them away?

I think on the verse in Titus 2:  Likewise, tell the older women to behave the way people leading a holy life should. They shouldn’t be slanderers or slaves to excessive drinking. They should teach what is good, 4thus training the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5to be self-controlled and pure, to take good care of their homes and submit to their husbands. In this way, God’s message will not be brought into disgrace.(CJB)
 
If you are a mother anything like me...you don’t need anybody to teach you how to love your children. From the moment they were born, they captured my heart and I knew that I would give my life for them.  
 
So what does Paul mean here? Could it be that we need to be trained in how to interact with our children? To learn how to control ourselves when they become unruly, or when we have dealt with the same disobedient behavior for the 12th time that day? Or, when they have more energy than the energizer bunny and you are worn down? At some point, we can start to see them as a nuisance.
 
The world’s answer? Surely you must send them somewhere else so you can have some peace! Now, PLEASE don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, this mama needs a timeout—whether it be a bath without a knock on the door, or a night out with my girlfriends, or a weekend with my man (that doesn’t happen very often, let me tell you!).  Most importantly I NEED that one on one time with my Creator and sustainer of my soul. But the answer to the day-to-day weariness should never be to ship them somewhere else for hours every day, just to get some peace and quiet.
 
I know there are many opinions on the public school system. For some of us it is the only option for classic education. But that is the only reason why I send my children to school. Not so that I can have quiet. If you really think about it...the public school system makes my job as a parent that much harder. When they get home from school each day, I find myself spending a good deal of time re-teaching the Fruits of the Spirit, why it’s inappropriate to use certain words, and explaining why we don’t watch those shows and movies, or listen to that music.
 
No, the answer is not to send them off to be cared for by the world. Instead, the answer to the overwhelming is to draw them closer and give them some focused attention. This is the time to teach them how to listen, obey, love and cherish other family members, and to serve one another.
 
And—especially—to teach them the heart of the Father.
 
IT. IS. HARD. WORK!!!!!!!
 
I do not make light of this fact. But here’s the thing...this is where God teaches US! Paul talks about his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12. While Paul admits that it is from the adversary (and our children are NOT!), what he says about it applies just as strongly to our lives as mothers:He said to me ‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness.’  Therefore, I am very happy to boast about my weaknesses, in order that the Messiah’s power will rest upon me. 10Yes, I am well pleased with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties endured on behalf of the Messiah; for it is when I am weak that I am strong.” (CJB)
 
Being consistent with my children can be a hardship, and man….they make me weak. But this is where God gets to shine the brightest. He takes my tired, weak, worn down spirit and creates beauty. I see it in my children’s laughter. In their hugs and kisses. In their “I love you’s.” I see it when a lesson that I have been teaching over and over again finally sinks in. I see it when my children close their eyes and pray, or when I catch them singing a worship song.
 
Going back to that verse in Titus. That one. The one we all know but don’t quite know what to do with. Let’s rephrase it….”teach the younger women how to...enjoy their children.”  Can we please stop inadvertently teaching young mothers that the only way to find peace is to be without our children? The quiet will come soon enough, in its own time. But now, at this time, my place is with my children. God will teach me how to have peace in the midst of the chaos. He will teach me how to allow Him to turn my weakness into strength. He will use them to perfect His character in me.
 
Am I ready for school to start tomorrow? No. I want more time to learn how to enjoy my children!
 

We Have a WINNER!

Our 2016 Ruth Scholarship Recipient

Stephani Rodness


 

It has been an exciting year for Ladybug Women’s Ministries! We have completed the first half of 2016 with awarding our 1st Ruth Scholarship to a delightful young woman.

Stephani Rodness is pursuing a degree in Liberal Studies at California Baptist University, and applied for our scholarship this past spring. Her impressive application included a personal essay that touched the heart of our ministry and embodies the story of Ruth’s life in a fresh and modern way. As the decision team learned about Stephani’s life, it was easy to see that she was born with a heart to serve others. This heart of service included a particularly bittersweet season of serving at her sister’s side while Chrissy struggled with cancer and ultimately went home to be with the Lord.

“Looking back on everything that has happened in my life I can confidently say that I would not be who I am today without experiencing the loss of my best friend, and the ever-present hand that the Lord has placed on my life. Time will never truly heal the pain that encompasses my heart, but I am grateful for God’s love and the grace He instills in us in so many ways. Tragedies can become our greatest and most precious life lessons, we just have to take the time to realize it,” Stephani says of the experience of losing her dear sister, Chrissy.

Chrissy’s encouragement and inspiration prompted Stephani to step out of her comfort zone as an introvert and begin living up to her full potential by doing the things God called her to do and not allow herself to be paralyzed by fear. After a life-changing experience at a Christian conference which she credits as a catalyst in her faith walk, Stephani found the courage to begin a Bible study at her high school and continually grow an authentic relationship with God.

Although she is still healing from the incredible loss, Stephani credits hers sister for teaching her how to love God whole-heartedly and grieves with hope because she knows the day will come when they are reunited. Until that glorious day, Stephani has committed herself to not only love people, but to appreciate the small things in life and remains blessed by her sister’s journey of faith through such a difficult season. Stephani refuses to say that Chrissy lost the battle to her illness, because she now has the greatest gift of all—healing and salvation found through Jesus.

Stephani, as you continue to serve others and make lasting contributions to the world around you, we pray that the Lord will richly bless you in all that you do. Congratulations!

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