Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Words I Would Say...

Life as I knew it changed. I could no longer do what I had always done. My eyes were opened to the fact that I found my identity in what I did, not who I was. Looking back I realize things could have been much worse, but as a 19 year old tearing my ACL was almost more than I could handle.

I blew out my knee doing what I always loved, playing a game that my world revolved around. It was the end of my freshman year in college and though nearly 21 years have passed, today I found myself back in time thinking about what I experienced back then. 

Yesterday I found out another girl from our school tore her ACL only a week after a young man from our church did the same. Three high school seniors, all basketball players, walking a road they didn't sign up for. My heart hurts for them.

This morning as I found myself thinking of them and praying for them too, I had a thought, "What would I say to them?" Friend, chances are you're not a high school athlete struggling with an injury, but maybe you're at a place in life where everything is changing, things aren't going like you expected or there's a bump in the road that leaves you defeated. If so, I pray these words will speak to your heart. 

Friend, I know this isn't what you expected. This isn't the way you thought things would turn out. It's not the plan you had for the months to come. I know I've been there. You may be angry. I was too. You may be sad. It happened to me. You're in pain and you wonder why. Let me encourage you to deal with those emotions. Talk to a teammate, coach, friend or parent. Don't walk this road alone. Others have travelled the same path...reach out to them for encouragement, help and perspective. 

Now for the part you may not want to hear. I say that because these are words that made me want to scream in the days following my injury, so scream if you want, but please hear me out. Don't just read the statement, but listen to my reasoning. OK, I'll say what I never wanted to hear - "It's just a game." 

The people who said that to me weren't athletes and didn't love a game. Friend, I did. Basketball was my life...I had a shirt that said that and my thinking would have proved it. I didn't drink because of basketball. I didn't date because of basketball. I worked out for basketball. I chose my college because of basketball. Basketball was more than a game I loved, it was the god I worshiped. 

I didn't do this intentionally. I never prayed to my ball or bowed down on the court, but the game was the most important thing in my life. I didn't realize this was a problem...well, until the game as I knew it was gone. 

I had surgery, rehabbed and tried to come back, but for me it was never the same. (If you have dreams of returning to the court, it is possible and I pray you do!!) This void, coupled with my struggle with depression, pushed me deeper into the pit. No longer part of a team, I found myself lonely. No longer doing what I loved left me discouraged. Eventually I found myself empty and without hope.

I grew up going to church and being good. I believed in God, but I didn't live for Him. I'd heard of Jesus, but never heard from him. I spent my time reading Sports Illustrated instead of God's Word. It didn't happen over night (it actually took about 5 years), but once the idol of basketball was removed from my life I was able to see God as the One who was worthy of my worship. (Rev. 4:11)

Basketball is still a game I love and I actually coach my daughter's now, but I've learned it is just a game. A game God can use for much and we can enjoy, but something we are NOT to worship or let dictate our lives. Friend, I know you love the game, have made sacrifices and been dedicated, but it won't last forever...even the best athletes hang up their sneakers eventually. 

Grieve your loss and work through it, but turn to God in your time of need. If you've never received Christ as your Lord and Savior, do that now. May what feels like your greatest loss become your biggest gain! If you have a relationship with Christ, allow this to draw you closer to Him - the friend who will never change and will always be there. Cry out to Him, share your heart and your needs. He can and will provide. He alone has the power to heal...that's not a guarantee your knee will someday be 100%, but your heart can be renewed. 

Let me close with words that brought perspective following my surgery...
"Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5

A Christian teammate shared this passage with me and I clung to this first sentence in an attempt to find a reason for my injury. Initially the athlete in me found purpose in my injury as I was getting stronger, but after coming to Christ I realize these words say so much more. Friend, our suffering does have a purpose and God works through it to do much. 

If you are struggling with a knee injury, a broken relationship or a financial issue perhaps it's an opportunity to remember who is in control - God the One who gives hope and has a plan. He is good, faithful and powerful, join me in trusting Him with all your heart. 

I don't know if these words have helped, but I pray they've made you think. I also hope they remind you, you are not alone. Others have been in your shoes and God will always be at your side!

"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, 
for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you." 
Deuteronomy 31:6

Friday, January 29, 2016

The One Constant

Change...something I've never enjoyed and I still avoid - just ask my daughter who wants to rearrange my room! I know some people thrive on change, but it's something I never intentionally choose. It would be great if my opinion on change was all that mattered, but as you know that's not the case. Many factors influence what happens in my life and to me.

This past week we said "Good-bye" to my aunt Marie, who lost her battle with cancer not even 3 months after my uncle lost his. Our middle child, Jaylyn, turned 9 and the little girl who used to be timid and quite compliant is becoming brave and out-going. (This is good change, I know!) Today marks 6 months since we lost our niece, Grace...our lives have changed and her family will never be the same.

As this and more was processed in my mind, I found myself thinking about change. Like I said, I don't like it. I'm a first born, creature of habit, who likes to know what to expect. I'm also a former math teacher who knows A+B=C in algebra and thinks the same should happen in life. You may be reading this and think, "She just likes control." And I'm learning that statement is more accurate than I ever realized.

So rather than freak out with the thought of change, I decided to think about it. Friend, would you agree with me in saying, change is hard, especially the change I describe above. The change that involves life never being the same. The change that involves letting go, saying "Good-bye" and doing something new.

In reality that is the change that is happening every day. My daughter didn't turn 9 and become a totally new person. It's been happening, I just slowed down long enough to think about it on her birthday. Think about relationships in your life, I'm guessing many have changed. That change was most likely a gradual process as well.

Change is part of our days and our lives. I once heard someone say, "Change is the only constant in life." As I think about these recent big, hard changes I don't appreciate this fact. Rather than leave me in that place of disappointment God interrupted my thinking when I read Psalm 103.

Verses 13-19 say,
"As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust. The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children's children - with those who keep His covenant and remember to keep His precepts. The LORD has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all." 

Friend, I have no idea what change you are walking through right now...your bank account may have went down, a friend may have moved away, a move may have you in a new town, a baby may have changed everything, a Dr.'s diagnosed may have left life different. Motherhood changes us, marriage does too. In these roles, we have seasons and they change also. Change happens, but cling to this TRUTH - God doesn't change. He is eternal. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. (Hebrews 13:8) His love is eternal. His throne is established. And His kingdom has no end.

I have been studying Elohim, God our creator, and there is much to know about this name of God, but this passage supplies an important truth. Creation will deteriorate and/or die, but the Creator is constant.

You don't have to take my word for it...

"But you (God) remain the same, and your years will never end.
Psalm 102:27

"I the Lord do not change." 
Malachi 3:6a

"Grace and peace to you from Him who is, and who was, and who is to come 
and from the seven spirits before His throne." 
Revelation 1:4b

He is our healer and helper, provider and protector, Father and friend! He is constant and will never change!!

Elohim, you created the world, people, me. You have a purpose for change. I don't always appreciate or enjoy it, but you can use it. No matter what change comes help me remember YOU are always the same. You are faithful, good, loving and gracious. Your power can sustain me when we change wants to overwhelm me. Thank you for this short lesson on what really is constant in my life...YOU. May I draw near to you and know you more. In Jesus' precious and powerful name...AMEN

To close, a BIG thank you for all who stopped by and shared the story behind your name! And now for the winner - Heidi!! I'll be in touch! And for all the others, I pray you are able to get a copy of Wendy's new book, "I Know His Name"!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What's in a name?

Growing up I was never too excited when someone brought a "Meaning of Names" book to school. As a tomboy I didn't appreciate having a name that meant "sweetheart". Jill also means youthful, so as I near 40 that becomes a bit more meaningful. :) Once I became a Mom, the meaning of names became so much more important.

James Daniel, our 1st born, is the 5th James Beran and Daniel is my dad's name, so he has all the family connections. Joy, our oldest daughter, has the middle name Leanne - a combination of mine (Ann) and my mom's (Lee) middle names, while our other little lady is Jaylyn Marie after her grandma Marie. Next came Jedidiah Jay whose story is too long to tell, but you can read it HERE. Jesse Clay is our caboose and he has his middle name because all through my pregnancy with him I was reminded that I'm but clay in the Potter's hand! More can be read HERE and HERE. Finally, the little girl we lost - our Jenae Hope has a story too, which can be found HERE.

Visit Wendy's Site
Clearly names and their meanings are important to me, but lately I've been reminded of another name that is critical. The name that is above all names - the name that carries power and changes lives. I'm grateful to be part of Wendy Blight's launch team for "I Know His Name", her soon to be released book/Bible study. This study centers on the names of God and the prayer is readers will move beyond simply knowing about God to really knowing God in a very personal way.

Wendy wrote this study, but she is more than an author...she is one who knows God in a personal way. Through trials and pain she came to know Him in a deep way and He has healed, restored and remained faithful. As you read Wendy's writing and work through her study, you realize she is a friend you can laugh and cry with and a teacher you respect and learn from.

I Know His Name is a study with the potential to deepen your faith and strengthen your relationship with Elohim (your Creator), El Roi (the God who sees you) and Abba (our Father). How will this happen you may wonder? Friend, when we learn the names of God, we learn about His character and His nature. His names reveal His heart, mission and power. As we learn more about Him, we also come to understand Him better and trust Him more.

Wendy did a condensed version of this study on her blog a few years back and I remember it being a time of real learning, healing and growing for me. All my growing up years, I struggled with insecurity and feeling unworthy. Even since coming to Christ, this was a battle. I'd made some progress and He even led me to do things I never expected, but one day I found myself calling out to God, "Who am I? I don't deserve this, I can't do it." I'm not sure how long my little rant and pity party lasted, but eventually God whispered to my heart, "No Jill, who am I?"

Friend, that statement stopped me in my tracks and had my focus was on me and it needed to be on God. From then on, rather than trying to discover who I was or relive the junior high identity crisis, I searched the Scriptures to find out who God really was. Doing this on my own was good, but then Wendy's study came along and it was just what I needed...she led me to verses and made connections that opened my eyes and helped me understand God better and know Him more. In the process, I started to see myself rightly as well. I've made progress, but this will be a life-long journey, so I'm looking forward to what God has to teach me through Wendy's new book and my time in His Word.

I don't know if insecurity or worth is a struggle for you, but if it is this book and the Truth it points you to are sure to make a difference. And if you're blessed and don't struggle with this, the book/study will still speak to you!! God's Word is alive and He promises it will not return void!

My husband and I gave our kids their names and we learn more about them daily, which helps us understand and relate to them. Friend, God knew our name before we were born...if we want to know Him better we can learn His names!! Doing so will change our relationship with Him, our prayers, and our lives!!

To celebrate Wendy's new book and the healing work God will do as women study His Word, I'm giving away a copy today!! To enter let me know 1) the meaning of your name or the story behind your child's name, 2) a name of God you want to learn or if time is short 3) simply leave your name! I'll announce the winner on Friday and if you want to pre-order a copy yourself, click HERE.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What did you bring me?

My husband and I don't go on many trips and when we do we've tried to avoid starting the tradition of always bringing something back for the kids. For the most part the kids don't expect it, which is good. Joy and I just returned from a trip to Myrtle Beach and she did bring back some shells and lots of chocolate. This pleased the J Crew!

Honestly, none of my kids asked this question, but today I found myself thinking about it. Today was our 3rd morning back home and I think the adrenaline was wearing off and reality set in...I was no longer at the resort, people needed me, laundry demanded my attention and my people were hungry. We gathered around the breakfast table and I was in a bit of a daze.

I said to Job, "I'm coming down from the spiritual high." He repeats words that were spoken at the retreat I had attended - "Just do the next thing." I gave him a little smile that said, "Thanks, I know, but..." He spoke up again with a grin of his own and said, "I'm just trying to encourage you."

To add an important detail, the reason for my leave was the Encouragement Cafe - an amazing ministry, I'm blessed to be a part of. I believe in what they stand for and am grateful to be encouraged by them and encourage others with them.

My husband's words had me as I glanced around our table - 2 girls, 3 boys and my hubby. Then I had a response for him, "Guess we should have our own little "encouragement cafe" right here.

I spoke those words early this morning and the thought has been with me all day. Friend, our kids need things from us...things that are more important than a shell from the beach or souvenir from the airport. The same is true for our husbands and all those we love.

It was a joy and pleasure to spend time with 30 of my new friends this past weekend. We shared, we laughed, we cried, and we prayed. We encouraged one another and took time for each other. It's an honor to point others to Christ with the devotionals I share on the Encouragement Cafe website. Lifting others up and using my words is something I have a passion to do, but today has served as an important reminder.

My kids didn't ask me what I brought them, but God has shown me what I need to give them and all who enter my home. The "Encouragement Cafe" doesn't simply need to be a ministry that hosts a radio show, coordinates women's events and has a can happen in my house. It needs to happen in my house.

Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near."

Friend, life is hard and we need encouragement. We need people who will speak truth, share love and point us to Christ. It can be easier to do this outside the walls of our home, but this is where it matters most.

Chances are you are not involved with "Encouragement Cafe" ministries, but friend I want to encourage you to make your home a place of encouragement. Speak words of life, support one another and share your confidence with them. Be the wife, mom, daughter, sister and friend who builds others up.

Some day I hope my kids realize the treasure we brought home from the beach and I pray our home is never the same. I no longer just write for "Encouragement Cafe", I live in it too!!

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Diving in the deep water...

Diving in...something I wrote about in my last post and as always God asked me to practice what I preach. On Thursday, I - the farmer's wife and homeschooling Mom, who rarely leaves the state, boarded a plane for Myrtle Beach. Most people think this scenario is great - time away from the frozen tundra (actual air temperature dropped to -16 when I was gone) and an opportunity to go where I've never been. I'm one who will say I need to get away, but when the opportunity comes it's often something I dread.

Honestly, Thursday morning it felt like it'd be much easier to stay home and do what I've always done, but my husband wouldn't allow it. We headed to the airport for our 2:30 flight and as we made the hour drive, fog set in. Five minutes prior to boarding, we were delayed. We waited for a few hours, made some calls, changed a flight and said some prayers. Eventually, we boarded the plane, headed to the runaway and then the plane stopped - mechanical issues.

We all exited the plane and I was ready to change my plans. I pulled out my journal and wrote a prayer asking for direction. Then I texted Job, "Maybe I'm not suppose to go, what do you think?" He didn't even respond and minutes later, we boarded again. We arrived in Chicago with 35 minutes to catch our flight and God showed up...we did what the flight attendant didn't think we could and fell into our seats tired from our sprint.

As the plane flew through the air, thoughts raced through my mind. Instantly, I remembered the blog post and devotional I had shared the day before. God had clearly led me to dive in and go to the Encouragement Cafe ministry retreat, but I had been scared to jump and worried about what would happen. Jesus had set an example of following God and commanded me to do the same, but I was fearful and felt inadequate.

But just like the child who stands shaking at the edge of the pool, I eventually took the leap and God did what He always does. He catches and He equips, He protects and He provides. He fills us with His Spirit and offers us His peace.

After a heart to heart with God, we landed in Charlotte at midnight and there was more to come. The weekend was full of stories of God's goodness and faithfulness. I met women who love and serve Him and love me too. Evidence of God's work and peeks at what is to come were obvious. Conversations took place that deepened my faith and touched my heart. Friendships were made that will last for eternity. Laughs brought joy, smiles shared love and tears united hearts. Humble hearts and powerful prayers will be remembered forever.

Clearly, I was where I needed to be, which is exactly where I was afraid to go. Diving in the deep end is scary, but friend it's where God works. One passage we pulled apart and God brought me to again in my quiet time was Matthew 14:22-33, the story of Peter walking on water. Friend, there are many insights we can gave from this account, but what I'll highlight today - they were probably in deep water. Verse 24 tells us they were a distance from land and we all know you don't catch fish in shallow water.

Peter's question, actions and faith are worthy of our attention and an example we can learn from. First, before we jump in the deep end or try to do the impossible, let's make sure it's Jesus. Is He the One calling you to get out of the boat and take a step of faith? If so, do what Peter did - take action! Get on the plane, make the hard phone call, forgive, do what's right, go where you don't want to go, do what you're afraid to do.

Once Jesus gives you His command, obey. With Him do what you could never do alone. But friend, let's learn an important lesson from Peter - we MUST keep our eyes on Jesus. In verse 30 we read, "But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!'" When we take our eyes off Christ, bad things start to happen. Granted it's probably not the wind that's going to make us sink, but fear, doubt and pride can easily take us under. We mustn't look at our troubles and worries or focus on the praise and applause, but concentrate on the One who holds us in His hand.

When we do this, others will respond like the disciples who stayed in the boat. People will see us dive in and worship the One who called us to jump!!

Friend, if you're standing on the edge and contemplating taking a leap of faith, may I encourage you? I know it's not easy to step out of our comfort zone, face confrontation or walk away from a job we love, but I've experienced God's goodness in the deep waters. As you prepare to take the plunge may these words encourage you to persevere - "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” (Psalm 34:4-5)

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.” (Psalm 105:4)

Friend, whether you have to do what you've never done or walk away from something you've always what God calls you to do, follow Jesus where He leads and dive in the deep water where He will work!!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Diving In

Welcome to those of you joining me from the Encouragement Cafe today! I pray my devotional, "Did Jesus make a resolution?" spoke to your heart. I've been thinking about this and want to share a bit of what God has on my heart in regards to 2016. Perhaps He has something to whisper to you as well.

Nearly 6 weeks ago I heard Priscilla Shirer say, "You are better off in the deep water with Jesus than in the shallow water without Him." These words and her teaching really caught my attention, which is interesting because I'm one who prefers to have nothing to do with water. Ok, I appreciate it when I shower and need a refreshing drink, but when it comes to swimming, boating or water sports count me out!

Thoughts of deep water actually freak me out a bit and bring back bad memories. You see as a child I jumped off the diving board, into the deep water and needed a life-guard to save me. Ever since that day, I've done all I could to avoid the pool, especially the deep end.

Now Priscilla wasn't saying I needed to visit our local fitness center and jump in the pool, but the deep water she was referring to can be scary. It's that place we go when we leave our comfort zone, are unable to stand on our own and sometimes are in over our heads. Have you ever been there with God? Me too...feel like I'm there now as I prepare to head to a ministry meeting in South Carolina. Kind of ironic that it's at the beach!!

Friend, whether we are diving into the deep end because of our calling, health, a relationship or finances these truths remain the same. Reality is we could drown. Just like my childhood story, things can get scary. We could also drift. Jumping in with God often involves waves from Satan and if we're not careful his lies can push us away from the ONE we need.

When we dive in with God and go in the deep water with Jesus, we must remember God will care for us and protect us, but there are some things we need to do - SWIM. Diving in is a great idea and one that sounds good, but it's not the only step - it's the first one. Once we make the jump, we must be ready to work. I watch my kids at swimming lessons and once they hit the water, their arms and legs are moving. We have to move in the deep water with God too. We must continually be in His Word and prayer. We must set our eyes on Him and be willing to obey.

And friend in that deep water there may be times when swimming isn't enough and we need to be SAVED. I've been wrestling with leaving my family, flying and doing what I've never done all while dealing with sickness in our house for the last 10 days. I've felt a bit like I was drowning and in this process I've been reminded that God is good and He is powerful. He can, will and does save us. But as I think about the deep water illustration, I realize even I play a role in this. When a child is drowning in the pool they must listen to the life guard and obey the instructions. Friend, if you're drowning today, I encourage you to do the same. It helped me and I trust it will do the same for you!!

There's much more to say, but I'll stop with this in Luke 5, Jesus spoke these words to Peter, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch." Simon Peter answers, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." (Verses 4 and 5) Going into the deep water didn't make sense to Peter, but He obeyed Jesus...friend, the same may be true for you and me, but if we choose to obey and dive in, I believe our results will be similar as well! Peter was blessed and we will be too!

This year we'll you join me and resolve to "DIVE IN" with Jesus and for Him?!? And if God leads to you pray for me and my upcoming trip, I'd appreciate that greatly!! Thank you friend!!

Diving in can be exciting!!