by Ellen Foell, Esq.
I was preoccupied and never noticed the stop sign at the intersection when I breezed through it. My newly licensed teenager could not resist the temptation: "Uh, Mom, that was a stop sign and it applied to you."
Jamming on the brakes, I stopped a hundred feet into the intersection (as if that would have done any good). My heart was racing in spite of the fact that there were no other cars coming; it had thankfully not been a near miss. I was perplexed that, in my inattention, I had completely failed to notice the intersection or pay attention to the stop sign that applied to me.
Since then, I am twice as careful to not only stop at intersections, but to linger (to the annoyance of my children). I look up the street, down the street, behind me, before me, and beside me, determined to never again go through one without paying attention to the stop signs. One never knows what might be coming.
I tend to do the same thing -- go through the stop signs without noticing the intersection -- in my spiritual life. Thankfully, that's usually when the Holy Spirit says to me, without as much sarcasm as my children: "Um, that was a stop sign, and it applied to you."
These intersections, are as important, if not more so, than the physical intersection I cruised through. And the most significant intersections are where despair and faith meet. Sometimes, I have the wisdom to see that it is an intersection, and as I approach, I stop, looking in all four directions. At other times, I've already rolled through the intersection, and it's not until one, two or three hundred feet past the stop sign that I realize that, not only was that an intersection, but it applied to me. That is typically a holy moment... when despair and faith intersect.
Learning to Watch in the Intersection
Many years ago, my husband and I struggled with secondary infertility, unable to conceive again for four years following the birth of our daughter. We made frequent visits to the obstetrician's office, and eventually decided it was time to visit an infertility expert. There had been too many cycles of hope and despair, too many cycles of expectation and disappointment, and not one cycle that had ended in pregnancy. We would cycle through more disappointment as we waited for our appointment on Oct. 10, 1997.
The night before my appointment, my husband kindly asked if I wanted him to join me for the appointment. Being a strong, self-sufficient woman, I pooh-poohed the idea and told him he should go ahead and go to work. I could handle whatever the infertility doctor could throw my way.
As soon as I walked into the office, I sensed I was in trouble. It may have been the rapid heartbeat, or the tears forming as I walked down the hallway, eyeing the happy pictures of the success stories all along the walls. Somewhere along the 45-minute drive to this office, I had morphed from a hopeful and confident woman to a woman afraid and sad that our happy family picture would never grace the doctor's office walls.
The visit took all of 30 minutes. It just seemed wrong that, after waiting and trying and hoping and praying for four years, our future could be assessed in half an hour. The gentle, warm, and gracious smile, giving me the solution to our four years of heartache was actually a somewhat cold and matter of fact: "Well, I would recommend that you pursue adoption."
No further tests necessary. No diagnosis. No smile. No gentleness. No reassuring hand on my shoulder. No further wisdom. The expert clearly had nothing to offer to salve my heart, let alone cure the infertility, so I left.
Through tears I found my car and stood there, pounding on the hood of the car, thinking, "Where is Phil when I need him?!" I was angry with my husband, angry with myself for telling him not to come and go to work, angry with God that He was nowhere in sight -- and I had not even told Him to go to work!
I leaned against the hood of the car, knowing I had no other choice but to further lean on God. At the moment, I hated having nothing else to lean into. My trust and faith in Him at that moment was more an act of desperation than a joyful surrender. To whom else could I go?
To Faith from Despair
It was not long thereafter that we started the process of adoption, although we had a mere 53 cents to invest in the long and expensive process. We had already been told at the county that the likelihood of our being successful candidates through the county adoption process were nil. Again, no warm gentle understanding smile or explanation.
And so we began our journey of international adoption. We settled upon an adoption agency and began the home study. Our only country selection parameter was that it could not be Thailand, since I had lived in Thailand for two years and had frequently seen couples staying at the guest house, hearing their stories of waiting years for the adoption process -- rife with obstacles and delays -- to finalize.
Then came the day in January that Phil and I came to an intersection.
We received a call and an email from two different people. Phil was checking the email on our third floor computer while I was in the kitchen checking phone messages. The phone message was from friends who had heard of our desire to adopt and wanted to fund the adoption, start to finish. The email was from a friend in Thailand who knew of twin boys needing an adoptive home.
We were each receiving these pieces of incredible news alone and ran to tell the other, meeting at the landing. Had we not come to the intersection of that offer of funding and children needing a home, I don't know that we would have ever considered Thailand as a country from which to adopt.
This was one of those intersections with a stop sign that we knew applied to us. We had to stop, take notice, look up, look down, look ahead and behind. God was up to something. We could pursue this and ditch our original route with its parameter of avoiding Thailand, or we could take a new direction. We chose the new direction.
Again, we ran into disappointment. Tests run on the boys showed that one was HIV positive and the other twin was HIV negative. We did not want to separate the brothers. We could not fathom the heartache of our family to adopt a son and then lose him to AIDS. We brokenly said "no."
Where was God headed with this? Only a few weeks later, our friend emailed with a request that we prayerfully consider another set of twin boys. Our prayerful consideration was short but an enthusiastic, "Yes!"
Ten thousand miles past the intersection and eight months later, we flew to Thailand to pick up our sons from the orphanage. Few words can describe the intense wall of heat that greets a traveler stepping onto the tarmac in Bangkok. It didn't matter. The plane ride was an excruciating twenty-seven hours. It didn't matter. The airplane food was...well, airplane food. It didn't matter. Our body clocks were twelve hours behind. It didn't matter. The adoption review board interviewed us with our entire life story spread out before them. It didn't matter.
They approved us as an adoptive family. Two days later, we celebrated our sons' first birthday, Oct. 10, 1998. We have celebrated many thankful birthdays since then.
But I like to remember their true birth-day, the day they arrived into this world. The day that I leaned against the hood of the car, sobbing in the doctor's parking lot, feeling the pain of aloneness and hopelessness, wondering where the Lord was. How could I have known, then, at that intersection of despair and faith, that, indeed, He was present and at work? At that moment, 10,000 miles away, on Oct. 10, 1997, Thailand time, and 12 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, my God had already delivered my sons into the world.
Even now, years after I sailed through the intersection, I still slam on the brakes, my heart races and I marvel that, indeed, God is always at the intersection of despair and faith. And the stop sign applies to me. I never know what's coming.
by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
"But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13
None of us wants to be involved in sin. It's an ugly thing and as Christians we certainly want to avoid whatever it is that tempts us. Still, in the real world, avoiding sin is not easy.
What would we do if there were a "sin shot" we could take that would shield us from falling into vicious anger, gossip, hatred or any one of the sins that can so easily overtake our minds?
What if someone came up to us and said, "Here's the vaccine; take this and if you continue with regular doses and up the medication when temptation comes, you'll likely avoid doing wrong altogether!"?
Would I take that shot? Yep . . . And the writer of Hebrews gives us our "Sin Antidote" in Hebrews 3:13. The antidote is simple - encouragement.
The writer here is not giving us a nice phrase to remember, but a proven fact for the Christian: Spend your day encouraging, and sin will flee your mind and your actions. The hardened heart you fear will never be a problem for you.
Often I can see the word "encourage" as only icing on the Christian cake - a nice addition to the walk of faith, but nothing to get too excited about. Yet that's not what the writer of Hebrews is saying. To the writer, encouragement is essential.
Shifting my thinking, I need to see encouragement as an integral part of every day in my life. Who have I encouraged today? And how? Who needs encouragement?
The writer's point I believe, is this: When we make encouragement a daily focus, we no longer have time for temptation—or yielding to temptations. Encouragement builds relationships, and builds up a foundation for a stronger Body of Christ.
So take heart. Today is the day to encourage. When we do, our hearts remain soft and our ability to be mighty in the faith becomes strong.
By Jennifer Minor, Editor/Writer
For the last 42 years, October has been recognized as Respect Life Month, focusing on issues of life and the dignity of the human person, with a special emphasis each year. It's also time set aside to spread stories about the good that comes from adoption and the healing that can follow an abortion.
For us, every month is the month we witness, experience, and encounter these stories, so why even bother with Respect Life Month?
It's all about seasons. The seasons set aside in church life to celebrate such events as Easter and Christmas help fuel our appreciation and awareness about truths that should always be on our hearts and minds. We recognize the truth of Jesus rising from the dead every day, but that doesn't keep us from celebrating Easter. In the same way, we celebrate Respect Life Month to remind ourselves and others of the beauty and wonder of life from conception to natural death.
Reflect on this year's theme for a moment. "Each of us is a masterpiece of God's creation." When you go to an art museum and see a painting or sculpture worked by a master artist, what do you do?
Personally, I'm stopped in my tracks, breathlessly gazing on the beauty and wonder of the masterpiece. Between van Gogh's Starry Night, da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Rodin's The Thinker, and Rembrandt's The Return of the Prodigal Son - only a few of the recognized masterpieces of Western art - I could spend days in reflection and admiration.
And yet, these master artists are mere shadows and reflections of the Master Artist, whose masterpieces we so easily pass by without a second glance. God gives each of His masterpieces unique gifts of life, personality, and will. God's art is not stagnant or unthinking. Every person - each of us - is one of God's masterpieces.
When we take the time to gaze at His masterpieces, we can't help but notice the beauty and wonder of each man and woman, adult and child, pregnant mother and unborn baby.
This is the month to remind ourselves, our staff, our volunteers, our clients and our communities that each of us is a masterpiece. It's a time to remember that every life is worth celebrating, honoring, and cherishing as a precious and irreplaceable creation by the Designer and Maker of the universe.
Whether you have celebrated October as Respect Life Month with fundraising, awareness campaigns, or nothing at all, it's not too late to remind someone that they are a masterpiece. Those we serve certainly need this reminder, but so do our staff, volunteers, and everyone we see day by day.
Speaking of reminders, here is one for you: You are a masterpiece created by God, the Master Artist. Even if no one else does, He gazes on you with wonder, both in this season and in every season.
By Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
“One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Mark 10:21B
Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler fascinates me. You know the story; a rich young man came to Jesus, asking “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus draws the man in, telling him to obey the commandments, and the ruler replies, “I have kept all these things from my youth.” Jesus then turns to the heart, asking the man to sell his riches, give the proceeds to the poor, and to follow. Sadly, the rich young ruler chooses not to do so. This story is not about the poor, but about what we must release in order to fully follow our Lord, Jesus. In the rich young ruler’s life, he had his “fall back plan”—his wealth—that he could rely on for security and safety. He was happy to follow, as long as he could keep his stuff. That’s not how things work in the kingdom of God. We all have fall back items we must be willing to release. Wealth is one of those, but others might be reputation, pride in our own abilities, status, or something else. Yet there is a flip side. We often think of letting go of those things that are positive in our lives—such as wealth, etc.—but what about those negative moments in our past that must be set aside in order to follow with abandon? Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:1 to “lay aside everything that hinders” us from fully following Jesus, right? Paul isn’t only talking of sin, but all that hinders us. Sometimes, with the best of intentions, we define ourselves by our past. When we do this, we create our own “fall back” position, just like the rich young ruler. For us however, our hindrance is not wealth, it is the idea that we can never fully follow because of a past decision that disqualifies us from full participation in the Body of Christ. Instead of dwelling on the new person we are, we continue to look back, trying to make amends for what we did, many years ago. I think Jesus’ message to the rich young ruler, the command to “let go,” is not only for those who have to let go of a safety net, but also for all of us who struggle with a past decision that we’ve let define who we are. Take heart. Today is the day to let go. Today is the day to press on, to follow with abandon. And today is the day to define ourselves not by who we once were, but by who we are . . . Today.
Are you one of those who has a tendency to compare yourself to others? I can be. And my comparisons often show me coming up . . . short.
Others appear more engaging, more educated, more everything. They seem to have the very gifts I don’t possess.
The funny thing is, I may be exactly right. Not all of us are alike. God gives different gifts and talents to each of us and for His reasons only, some appear to have more than others.
The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 tells us of a master giving talents (a measure of money) to three servants. One received five talents, another two, and another, one. We know the story well.
The servant who received five talents made five more, and the servant who received just one talent hid his away and made nothing. The first servant was rewarded with greater authority. The third was cast aside for not using what he was given.
But what about the servant in the middle ... the one who received two talents? We see no record of him complaining about receiving just two talents, and there is nothing in the text about any grumbling over the difficulty in making more money with only two—while another was given five.
Instead, we see a servant who took no time to compare to another and instead went to work with what he had. In the end, he gained two more talents. Do you know what fascinates me about the master’s response? For both the servant who received two talents and the one who received five, the reward is the same.
Both servants are told, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” (Mt. 25:21, 23)
I suspect many of us feel we are a little short of talents at times. And yet, the Lord is only asking us to take what we have and give our best. If we build on what we have, He receives joy--which He then invites us into.
So today, let’s all take heart. The joy of our master is not dependent on the number of talents we receive, but on how we use the ones we have.
by Mary E. Peterson, Heartbeat Housing Specialist
When we enter this world as an infant, we are completely receptive. We receive our being from God via our parents. We receive love, nourishment, and comfort at the hands of others.
With wonder and awe, we slowly receive the whole of creation into our understanding—starting with our hands and feet and gradually extending outward to include all of our surroundings.
I think of my young niece repeatedly and gleefully acclaiming with amazement in her voice, “It’s raining! It’s raining!“ She delights in the very existence of rain! It’s this receptive-state that Michael Naughton is pointing out when he says “As creatures, we are first receivers before we are givers.”
As adult Christians, particularly as those involved in a sacrificial kind of ministry, we think a lot about the holiness of and need for the giving part of love. Whether it’s attentive listening, providing for material needs, upholding a woman’s dignity, or providing a safe place to cry, we give deeply of ourselves to another, pouring ourselves out in love.
Sacrificing. Emptying ourselves for the sake of another.
Because it is so evident that the giving part of love is beautifully holy, it is easy to fall into the error of thinking of the receiving part of love as selfish or as a mere strategy that allows us to keep giving.
What a subtle and dangerous error! Scripture teaches us otherwise. Consider Mary’s fiat “be it done onto me according to your Word” and Jesus’ invitation to become like children. Utter receptivity is holy!
As you think through your ministry, be sure to remember that loving includes both giving AND receiving. Just as you are called to give of your whole being, you are invited to receive with your whole being.
From the God of all creation as well as the people in your life, receive deeply!
 Naughton, Michael. The Logic of Gift: Rethinking Business as a Community of Persons. Marquette University Press. Milwaukee, WI. 2012.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...Hebrews 12:1
It seems not too long ago, I was constantly running kids or my elderly parents to their appointments. Trips to the dentist, orthodontist, physical therapist, orthopedic specialist, and dermatologist kept me constantly moving.
My children are now adults and my parents have since passed away. Yet, here I am with the same amount of appointments.
Funny thing is, now all the appointments are for me.
Lately, I have noticed the "maturing" process more and more. Sometimes, it bothers me. The books I've read about how exercise can help slow down the aging process have convinced me to learn the sometimes-joyful discipline of exercise, especially over the past four years.
While I was doing my thing in the lap pool the other day, I noticed a younger, very fit woman in the next lane.
Now, I rarely try to pace myself with other swimmers, but that day, I decided to go for it. I can assure you that, whatever semblance of a race I pretended we were in, I came in second place. The harder I tried the further behind I fell.
Feeling a little distraught, about to give up, and just plain old, well old in general, I suddenly heard a still small voice. "Run your own race, the race marked out for you."
Was this a Holy Spirit-inspired moment? I think so. As I splashed down the lane, I began to heed the advice. I began to zero in on my own technique and took my eyes off my unaware competitor.
Funny thing is, the more I focused on my own race, the more satisfied I became with my efforts. And, the more I improved.
In that exercise session, I did my personal best in time and, more importantly, in distance, all while losing track of the young athlete in the next lane over.
There are times and seasons in our lives when we are called to hone in and build our endurance as we run our own race. It is so easy to get caught up in comparing our own giftedness, resources, and ministries with those around us, which can either result in us feeling really good or really bad—neither of which translate to joy or are of much use in the lifelong journey of endurance.
Believe me, this "maturing" woman has been there and knows.
Is today the day you lay aside the things that hold you back and push forward in faith?
No matter your age, as long as you are alive, you are called to run with perseverance the race marked out for you.
What are you waiting for? Get moving!
By Betty McDowell, LSW, LAS, Director of Ministry Services
"Then I said to them, "You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace."Nehemiah 2:17
Nehemiah is an amazing book that depicts the pathway to personal restoration. The story opens with Israel having rebuilt their Temple in Jerusalem, yet living within the ruins of the rest of the city for over 100 years.
The broken down walls and burned gates around the temple represented a structure without any external defense against oppression. We may identify with a restored Temple (rebirth), but also acknowledge our vulnerabilities, some of those broken places in our soul that have been around for a long time.
The Lord wants to "secure our borders" so that we can carry His presence and walk in the Spirit unhindered!
The Lord is the Glory and Lifter of our heads. He does not want us to live in a place of disgrace, rather He desires to bring us into a place of restoration. Nehemiah was chosen by God to do just that for Israel.
Interestingly, Nehemiah's name means, "Comforted by Yahweh". The Lord knows how painful the restoration process can be, so He provides comfort through His Spirit to assist us in our journey to wholeness.
When Nehemiah first heard of the condition of Jerusalem, we are told that he sat down, wept, fasted and prayed for days. His grief is a picture of the Spirit's concern and tender mercies over the broken places in our lives.
His prayer begins with worship. When we view the Lord as greater than anything that stands like a mountain before us, we will gain security in His ability to deliver us. Not by might or by power, but by His Spirit! (Zechariah 4:6)
Nehemiah faced intense opposition from the moment he began the restoration process until the last stone was in place, and we can expect the same; but here is what he declared to the enemy from the very start; "The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it." (Nehemiah 2:20)
Nehemiah declares success to the rebuilding process and puts a stake in the ground for future dealings with his opponents. He uses legal terminology to inform the enemy that he had no share, claim, or historic right or remembrance in Jerusalem. Satan, the accuser is legalistic, so Nehemiah let the enemy know that he knew his rights to claim full restoration!
Be encouraged if circumstances have brought to light a breech in your wall. Redemption includes not only rebirth, but the restoration of our souls (our full identity as God intended).
Whenever we take a step in the direction of our promised land, opposition will arise and attempt to turn our attention to the hopelessness of the situation. That is when we must see what God sees, and say what God says about us.
The God of all hope intends to see us fully restored!
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
This scripture is a beautiful expression of the nurturing heart of God. The Lord gathers us in His arms, He carries us close to His heart, and He gently leads us.
When God created us, He gave us amazing revelation into His nature. He first made man in His image, and then caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and took one of the man’s ribs to make woman. (Genesis 2:21-22).
Both male and female were created in God’s image and likeness; Eve’s female identity contained attributes that reflected the female/mothering image of God. We often emphasize the heart of the Father, but do not always perceive the Lord as one who expresses Himself through the nurturing heart of a woman.
We all need the love of a mother and a father. But in a fallen world, that need is not always satisfied. The scripture above is a precious word picture of the tender and gentle love the Lord wants us to experience in intimacy with Him. It is a healing love that brings us to life in our inner most being!
Jesus used a nurturing image of Himself when He compared His deep concern for His people with that of a mother hen for her chicks. He said, in reference to Jerusalem: “How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks together…” Luke 13:34
The Lord celebrates and cherishes women. He carefully crafts each one to reveal His mothering heart, a heart that fills all the voids, that nourishes, satisfies, delights in, comforts, and provides peace.
In this season may you experience His arms around you, carrying you close to His heart.
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