Owning Your Influence

You must visit the Peak when in Colorado Springs.

I’m thrilled to introduce you to Shirley this week. Shirley and Paul, Bill and I all attended college together. And we had a mini reunion last month at the end of their vacation. We talked, we remembered, we laughed, we cried. It was a great time.

Shirley owned her influence and my life was altered for eternity during our college days. Thank you, my friend.

Shirley and I met at Hope College as freshmen. Or did we meet because we attended the same local church? Perhaps our friendship bonded because of Hope AND Trinity Reformed. I don’t remember. Not important.

But the friendship glue dried that Sunday evening in early November at the college-aged youth group my sophomore year.

Church was part of our family culture. Dad taught Sunday school for a while. I was baptized and confirmed. We fit in with the culture of the times in the ’50’s and ’60’s. It was what we did on Sundays. And it was important to me.

During my junior and senior high years, Old Paramus Reformed Church was our church home.

I love this church. I see it every time I visit Mom in New Jersey. Bill and I were married there. It is a very special place to me. (A historical tidbit ~ George Washington quartered his horses there during the Revolutionary War.) It also is the reason I attended Hope. Hope College located in Holland, Michigan is a college of the Reformed Church. Even typing this memories flood back.

When Mom and Dad, my baby sister Penny, and I hopped in the car and headed for Hope, it was the first time I had ever been west of Philadelphia.

While attending Trinity Reformed every Sunday (probably sitting with Shirley), God was doing something in my heart. My religion was morphing into a relationship, a friendship with Jesus. The seeds that were planted by my family and at Old Paramus Reformed were being watered by my friends and at Trinity Reformed and new growth was happening.

Back to the college-aged youth group and the friendship glue that bonded Shirley and me. It was early November, 1966. The youth group was sponsoring a singing group that evening from a neighboring city. They sang and shared their stories of how Jesus became real to them. God was at work; I was intrigued.

During the refreshment time, I initiated a conversation with one of the singers. She invited me to pray and ask Jesus for that kind of relationship. I looked to Shirley to join us.

Owning your influence is about your maturity.
Your maturity is about your life focus;
a focus from being all about me to living for the benefit of others.
Bill Thrall, HTLC

Shirley owned her influence in my life that night. Not only did she pray with the other young lady and me, but when we returned to our dorm she introduced me to a Bible study she was participating in. That Bible study was published by The Navigators.

Then …
I recruited a group of friends and we started a new Navigator Bible study.
Because of the Bible study, I attended a Navigator conference the next spring.
At that conference I met Bill, my future husband.
Bill and I have served on Navigator staff since 1972.

I am so thankful that Shirley owned her influence that night.

“My influence is not about pursuing significance.
My influence is about stewardship.”
Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God
so that at the proper time he may exalt you,”
I Peter 5:6

 

 

 

 

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Stopping to Breathe When Life is Hectic

Welcome to week 5 of Echoes of Grace June Guest Posts. This week my long-time friend Carolyn shares a bit of her struggle with busyness and how God met her in those days. If you’ve ever used the word busy, you’ll want to read her words and share them with your friends.

Hectic, perhaps the best word describing 2017. It began right after the new year.  My son’s family’s move to a new home, trips to visit and help elderly family, my 36 year old son-in-law’s stroke with a subsequent trip to Germany to help my daughter, guests to host, our other daughter’s baby delivered by an emergency c-section followed by nine days in neonatal intensive care. Then our Germany family coming home for furlough, more guests, the passing of several dear friends, and the joy of weddings. HECTIC!

All of this in addition to the usual Bible class to teach and other normal family events. I found my self burned out with no time to stop.

My learning curve was high. I felt so overwhelmed. I begged to hear God’s voice in the midst of all of the chaos. So, how to keep going? Where does strength and peace come from in the middle of such a tumultuous time?

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid…”
Psalm 56:3,4

My journal tells the story of my struggle. In Jeremiah 6:16 The Lord tells his people to “Stand by the road and look, and ask for the ancient paths where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls….” The following phrase gives the response of God’s people. “We will not walk in it.” They refused God’s rest for their souls! That didn’t make sense! Unlike the people listening to Jeremiah, I so wanted rest and I was determined to walk in it.

And so, early every morning I went to my sun room seeking him in the quiet. And two verses became my guide.

“Be still and know that I am God…”
Psalm 46:10a

In the Greek the word for be still is rapa meaning to sink or fall,  to cease striving and put your hands at your sides, to let go. For me that was quite an effort.
Some days I did better than others.

The other verse was Isaiah 30:15.  ‘For thus said the Lord God, The Holy One of Israel, “In returning and in rest you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But again the verse says of the Lord’s people “But they were unwilling.”
Really? Please, Lord, keep me from being unwilling!

I made it! I’m now in a time when I am able to take a breath. I’m writing these words in Hawaii. I accompanied Gary on a work trip and we are also celebrating our anniversary.

I know, that I know, that I know, that the Lord was with me all the way as
he promised. Even on days I was having difficulty hearing his voice.

Where are you? Are you willing and seeking him in your tumult? He is with you. He will be your strength!

 “In the act of sinking into God, of looking up at him
from the  depths of our own inadequacy, we begin to know who he is.
In turn, we know who we are as well.”
A Million Little Ways p.79, by Emily P. Freeman

Carolyn Eden lives in Champaign, IL with her professor husband Gary. She loves traveling the world as well as living periodically in Haifa, Israel. She also enjoys teaching the Bible and hospitality, as well as keeping up with her family, including seven grandchildren. She can be found at mtcarmelmoments.blogspot.com.

 

Living Unashamed

Welcome to week 3 of June Guest Blog Posts Month for Echoes of Grace. This week I’m excited to introduce you to another Colorado Springs friend.

Blythe and I first met in a Sunday School class. She was a young wife then; now she also mothers two pre-school cuties. I liked her from the first and it was a easy pick to ask Blythe if she would share a bit of her story with you, my Echoes of Grace friends. I  bet you’ll identify with her. Perhaps not in the circumstances of her life, but in her reactions to the circumstances. This blog is a little longer than is usual for Echoes, so why don’t you make yourself a cup of tea and sit down to savor her story.

FYI, I’d love to tell you more about the conference she references. I was there too.

Blythe’s words first appeared on Mundane Faithfulness. Click here for her story.

A freelance writer and editor, Blythe Hunt is also an orphan who once could not have fathomed the love and safety she would eventually find in community. In her mid-twenties, God rescued her from a den of depression, loneliness, and isolation by restoring her heart through the love of others. Her passion is building community, which includes hosting parties and asking awkwardly personal questions; she is currently writing a book on introverted hospitality. Blythe and her husband Aaron have two children, live in a bungalow in downtown Colorado Springs, and dream of being minimalists. She can be found all over social media at Mundane Faithfulness.

 

 

 

Six Stone Jars

Welcome to week 2 of June, Guest Blogger Month. Last week Janet mentioned the wedding at Cana. This week my friend Amy digs into the significance of this narrative. I bet you’ll be challenged as I was when I read her words.

Have you ever had to plan a wedding? Make an invitation list? Decide what food to serve and if there will be music? Where will the celebration be held? What decorations should be made? Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera . . . wedding planning is a lot of work!

Some have suggested that the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11) was a festivity that included family members of Jesus, perhaps a cousin marrying a dear friend. Why else would Mary, the Mother of Jesus, be so concerned that the guests’ wine supply had run dry? She told her son all about it. And how did Jesus respond? “Woman . . . My hour has not yet come.”

The Gospel of Mark 4:34 says, “He (Jesus) did not say anything to them (his disciples) without using a parable.” With this in mind, can it be that the response Jesus gave to his mother speaks more broadly of his mission on earth—not merely that of a single event—the wedding feast at Cana? Could the term woman be a reference to the Church? (The Church is often referenced in the feminine form, such as, our Mother the Church, or the Church, She is growing worldwide).

Even so, Jesus reacted to the commonplace request made by his mother (Mary, the wedding planner!) and changed water into wine. This was the work needed at the moment. It was appropriate. It was his first miracle.

This first work of the God-Man on earth pointed to his ultimate mission: to receive upon himself the full penalty of our sin. Never before in any religion had any god devised such a self-sacrificial plan. The creation of water into wine was not just a party favor. Jesus created something entirely new.

But is it significant that there were six jars? All made of stone? Consider: it took six days to create the world and everything in it; the seventh day is Sabbath—the seventh day for rest.

Six jars stood ready at the wedding in Cana—each a living stone. Why? Because every jar was busy at work holding water—water intended for use in the rite of Jewish purification. It is this water that Jesus changed into wine. Wine comes in part from squeezing the lifeblood out of the grape. Scripture often equates the blood of grapes with wine (Revelation 14:20, Isaiah 49:26).

“Unless you eat my body and drink my blood . . .” John 6:53.

Jesus offered a foreshadow of this kind of refreshment to the woman at the well when he said, “If you knew the gift of God . . . you would have asked . . . and he would have given you living water” John 4:10.

It is work to ask.
It is work to give.

Why Cana? Interestingly, the Hebrew word for Cana has six roots, the first meaning “to create.” Another root means reed, or staff. Does an image of the budded rod of Aaron held by Moses over a rock from which water gushed come to mind? Another root of Cana is lamentation or a very sad song.

If I placed before you six jars of stone, each filled to the brim, and gave you the opportunity to ask Jesus to transform the contents so that you would finally be able to rest (there is no seventh jar), for what would you ask? Look into the jars.

Your jars.

Your wedding.

You are the Bride of Christ. Ask Him to replace what is lacking. Take your refreshment at His well. Drink his wine. Rest.

Historical Novelist Amy Nowak has lived in and researched the American West for over thirty years. Her exploration of prehistoric ruins and study of European expansion has inspired her to write candid stories that embrace bygone events, while her approachable characters arouse vitality, spiritual contemplation, and hope. She loves southwestern style food and dithers between red sauce and green, but she’ll take either with a squeeze of lime.

You can find Amy at http://www.amynowak.com

An Invitation to Enjoy a Vintage Summer

June is a special month for Echoes of Grace. Each week I’ve invited one of my friends to share their words with you. Each has a unique way of communicating; each has a special message. Janet starts off the month with a wonderful invitation that I hope you’ll accept as you journey through this summer.

I remember rolling down the window as soon as we turned into the driveway. Everyone in our family hoped to discover the aroma of my Mamaw’s shrimp gumbo as we tumbled out of the car, only a little restless from our drive from Houston to Port Arthur, TX. This was our summer ritual.  My sister and I spent two weeks every summer in Port Arthur – sharing time in the homes of both sets of our grandparents.

Life moved at a different pace for us during those two weeks. True to her generation, Mamaw  enjoyed the hours it took to slowly stir the roux for her gumbo. Gardening, painting, and golf with her friends were given the time they needed too. One of our Papaws was a carpenter – building almost anything: their house, boats of all sizes, and furniture of many styles.  Papaw’s hobby was fishing. Carpentry is a trade of patience, like the hobbies of fishing, golf, painting, gardening, cooking, canning, and sewing. During our visits, my sister and I moved at their patient pace. It was good.

We did what my grandparents did. We cooked – or at least watched – while Mamaw and Momee worked their craft.  We learned the tedious task of pulling weeds side by side with them in their gardens. In his carpenter shop, we swept sawdust, and watched Papaw build. At Mamaw’s, we played Yahtzee every night after dinner; at Momee’s we shelled peas or pecans while listening to the Astro’s game on the radio with Papaw.

As I write this story, I wonder… how old do you think I am?  Summer routines have changed.

The speed of life in summer now resembles the speed of life in the other seasons. Some families enjoy extended bedtimes and “no alarm” mornings.  But once every one is awake,  the clamor for entertainment awakens, too. That “E” word.  Entertainment.

As an occasional guest, entertainment offers the needed laughter, silliness, and the right dose of adrenaline.

But just like any guest, entertainment can make itself too much at home, out-stay its welcome, and change the speed of summer.

Summer longs to offer rest and restoration experiencing most days on “leisure” speed.  Our very souls ache to dance to summer’s slow songs.

Our bodies fight the deceleration.  We’re used to running on adrenaline – and the cortisol cocktail that third degree stress requires as we keep up with the pace of overcrowded schedules. Slowing down creates an unfamiliar tension.

Responding to this tension, we’ll either order from the menu of Entertainment, or we’ll trust and lean in and pick a lighter summer entree’ from the Leisure menu. We love entertainment, and we long to enjoy leisure. Do you recognize yourself?

It’s part of being created in the image of God. Jesus enjoyed weddings, dinner parties, and being the featured speaker of The Hillside Sermon on the Mount.

Many mornings, He lingered alone with His Father.  Many evenings, he lounged at the table with good friends, long after the meal was a memory. He was a carpenter too; a trade of patience.

I’m 54.  Maybe our generation can help re-calibrate the speed of summer.  What if our homes offer the aroma of leisure, simmering like gumbo in a family-size pot on very low heat; or what if restless babies are comforted in the arms of caregivers whose pulse invites them to a calm and quiet rhythm.

I’m comforted in the lap of my Father who invites me to a calm and quiet rhythm.

May it be well with your soul, this summer.

“He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still and quiet waters.”
Psalm 23:2, Amplified

A self-proclaimed graceologist, Janet Newberry and her husband Doug are dedicated to a marriage that is a relationship of trust and an intimate community of grace.  Their deepest desire is to see other families delight in the real life, love, and freedom grace offers.

Janet writes regularly at www.janetnewberry.com

 

California Pizza Kitchen, God, and Me

California Pizza Kitchen creation

You see a crust; we see a canvas advertises California Pizza Kitchen. I love it. They desire to create pizza that not only pleases the palate but also the eyes. Their everyday work is their art.

I remember attending a tea with my friend Ginny. The setting was lovely; the food served artfully; and we knew the speaker loved what she was doing. Her topic was the many forms of beauty.

Often I look out windows to see beauty, God’s handiwork, his beauty. At home the evergreens and the Aspens capture my attention. Recently I visited Mom in NJ. The mature deciduous trees that surround her home in their early spring splendor are beautiful. The wide open spaces of the western deserts or the mid-west farmlands offer their definition of beauty. God uses his created beauty to speak his love to me.

Colorado beauty

New Jersey beauty

My friend Gary and my cousin Andrew use their paintbrushes to add beauty to our world.  I’m in awe of their art.

Artist, Gary Bradley

 

Artist, Andrew Weatherly

Driving home I ask Ginny, What did you hear? Without hesitating she responds, I need to get back to my home. Ginny’s home is her canvas, her work of art. Her response spurs my thinking. For Ginny, homemaking is a pleasure; it energizes her, satisfies her; it’s her desire, her gift to others; it’s the artist in her, the reflection of God in her life.

Creating a beautiful home, using a paintbrush or serving a pizza are a few of the ways we reflect God. It is our gift to others.

Later I receive an email from her … I was blessed (by the tea) and continue to think about how I can make our surroundings beautiful…whether with flowers, a nicely set table, music, candles, or just an attitude adjustment! Beauty takes on many forms, eh? My friend is right.

“For we are his workmanship,”***
Ephesians 2:10a

The Greek word for workmanship is poema. Paul could have said, we are his poem, his work of art.

Although I too enjoy offering a beautiful home, housecleaning will never energize me. My canvas is different.

I love how personal and creative God is! His beauty and creativity are displayed in so many ways.

“Love of Beauty is taste. The creation of Beauty is Art.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Uncovering desire is the practice of learning how to look farther beneath the surface …
It may require time, space, and solitude to allow our souls to become quiet enough
to settle into what is most true … an important step to uncovering the art
we were born to make.”
Emily Freeman, A Million Little Ways

“For we are his worksmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works,
which God prepared beforehand,
that we should walk in them.”
Ephesians 2:10

What is your art, your offering of beauty to our world?

***Click here to read some words I wrote in 2010 on Ephesians 2:10.
***I consider writing is one of my works of art.

Lies, Vows, Grace

My vow—not the good kind—was painfully clear to me. Even after the speaker finished I was rooted to my seat. I got it; and I didn’t like what I was getting. I was aware of lies I believed; but not the vows those lies led to.

The paralyzing truth, the clarity of my understanding that morning, was God’s grace toward me even though it didn’t feel like it. My friend sat with me; the rest filed out into their day, unaware. My tears flowed; I hoped they weren’t noticed.

Like everyone, I grew up believing certain things—lies—about myself. I’ve heard it said, “Children are great observers and horrible interpreters”. That was me. The twisted, warped interpretations of my life story led to a personal belief system that affected me negatively into adulthood. For several years I had been on the offensive; battling back with truth from Scripture.

But that wasn’t enough. Those lies—besides being untrue personal statements—created additional subconscious havoc for me. I  was clue-less. I made a vow (I didn’t know I made a vow); the vow was powerful. The vow, what I said to myself because of the lies I believed, controlled my behavior.

The lie I believed, I’m not good enough naturally led to the vow. I’ll prove to you I’m good enough. I’ll climb all the ladders in all my God-given contexts. And I tried. I was somewhat successful; it only led to more frustration doing nothing to combat the lie.

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death … For the mind
that is set on the flesh … cannot please God.”
Romans 8:7, 8

For the first time, I saw it; and it was very discouraging. I was trying to kill the lie by my own efforts, climbing ladders and setting my mind on my flesh. Not trusting God.

In desperation, I asked my friend, “What do I do; where do I go”? Her wisdom didn’t seem to help. She gently responded, “Awareness is huge”.

She didn’t tell me to stop living from the vow; she didn’t tell to go and ask forgiveness; she didn’t tell me to beware of future pitfalls; she just said, “Awareness is huge”. She trusted the Holy Spirit in me to lead me and to guide me.

Awareness is huge! My friend was right. It was the gentle encouragement I needed.

My awareness is leading to some ah-ha understandings.
My awareness is helping me answer some of the whys in my life.
My awareness is paralyzing some days as I ask myself, is this because of the vow?                                 My awareness is opening some very encouraging conversations.
My awareness is spinning new angles on the circumstances of my life.
My awareness is changing me.
My awareness continues to peel back more layers of my behavior and lead me to trust.

Awareness is HUGE. Awareness is a gift of God’s grace.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you (make you aware) into all truth,”
John 16:13, parentheses mine

When you think about the lies you believe, do you see them leading to vows to protect yourself?
How are you experiencing God’s grace in the midst of your lies and vows?
My friend often said, “Go on a treasure hunt for grace.” The speaker that morning was a grace treasure for me. So was my friend.

Five Lessons the Pediatric-ICU Taught Me

Ezra today, 2 1/2 years old

Two years ago this month, the text came. Ezra suffered a seizure and is in the ER. Twelve weeks in pediatric-ICU, five ambulance rides, and four hospitals later Ezra came home. Many of you continue to ask about our precious GRAND. Thank you so much. Your care and your prayers mean so much. He is doing well.

Ezra is a delightful 2 1/2 year old. His Hyperinsulinism is controlled by two injections daily. He takes them and his numerous pricks to check his blood sugar levels in stride. He has a g-tube permanently affixed to his belly allowing him to be fed during the night and keep his sugar levels steady. There were no visits to the hospital PICU this past year.

 

Naomi checking Ezra’s sugar level

I’m thinking I might be seeing the future for Doctor Naomi (4 year old big sister). She has learned how to help Mom and Dad with Ezra’s numerous blood sugar checks. She takes her job seriously often donning her white coat to carry out this important task.

As I look back at those long 12 PICU weeks, I hear God’s loving whispers. Five lessons surfaced  offering perspective and comfort.

  1. Often God’s perfect doesn’t match my perfect. Ezra was prayed for. He is fearfully and wonderfully made, perfectly knit together in his mother’s womb. I’m choosing to trust God’s perfect. The 6 weeks I spent in California with our kids I slept in Ezra’s nursery as he was sleeping in the PICU. The words on the picture on the left greeted me and reminded me each morning that Ezra is God’s answer to our prayers.
  2.  The Lord is our help in uncomfortable places. Los Angeles is surrounded by hills. As I drove those crazy LA freeways to the hospital, I gazed on the hills in the distance. As I sat in Ezra’s hospital room the view from the window was hills. Playing with big brother Judah and big sister Naomi … especially when we went to the park, the hills in the distance caught my attention. God was reminding me, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From

    Psalm 121:1, 2

    where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1, 2). As the Psalmist looked up to those hills, he knew the dangers hidden there. The wild animals and the thieves lurking there reminded him his help was from the Lord. During Aubrey’s (Ezra’s mom) long days in the hospital PICU, she cross-stitched this for me. It hangs above my desk, a reminder.

  3. There is a difference between fulfilling a role and dispensing love. It was the middle of the night in the hospital and Ezra’s cries woke me. The nurses were trying unsuccessfully to give him a bottle. I turned out of the roll-away bed, gathered Ezra in my arms, and settled with him in the rocking chair. He contentedly snuggled in eagerly draining his bottle. Ezra knew me. He trusted my gramma love. He relaxed in my arms. The nurses were trying to do their duty, fulfilling their responsibility; I loved Ezra and he knew it.
  4. Healing happens in a quiet place proclaimed the tall sign standing outside the PICU. I knew the message was requesting physical quiet, but I also recognize the spiritual implications. God asks us to be still (quiet) and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). He tells us that our strength often resides in quietness (Isaiah 30:15). Many times my best conversations with God happen in  the quietness of the wooded paths

    The sign by the entrance of the PICU

    surrounding our home. And so one of my spiritual disciplines is to start my day in quietness, sitting and readying myself to hear.

  5. Jesus’ yoke fits well. Matthew 11:29 offers an invitation, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” As I listen to those words I hear, Sue will you respond with humility and trust accepting my will? Will you believe that this yoke is Sue sized and gentle? Will you believe that I’m carrying the heaviest part of this yoke?  I’m learning that God’s ways are always higher than mine (Isaiah 55:8, 9). And as my husband reminded me in his current blog, God gives us permission to not understand. For more of Bill’s Ezra story click here.

Next week in Echoes of Grace, I share lessons that I’m learning about returning.

Use Me or Love Me

Bill and I are doing something this week we’ve never done before. We put our home on our calendar every day and are using part of our vacation time for all those projects that kind of just get put off. You know.

So, this week I’m sharing with you a blog from another one of my on line friends. Another who I hope to meet in person some day.

May you be as blessed from her words as I have been.

Good news: God will not use you

Coming next Thursday ~ Meeting God through Ezra’s Story & an Ezra Update.

Ezra, 4 weeks old, December 2014

Till next Thursday …