One Thing that Completely Changed my Walk with God

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Eight years ago, my life changed completely.

I hint about it in my story on my “About Me” page. But let me tell you more. I lived a good life – attended church, prayed when needed and was a Christian. But I had a suspicion that I was missing something. I loved God, knew Jesus died for my sins and had accepted that He was my salvation. But still. I wondered if there was more.

My Christian life was mundane to say the least. I made a decision to accept Christ at age 10. I sang all the songs, heard all the Bible stories and attended Vacation Bible School every summer. When I joined Facebook quite a few years ago, I reconnected with some high school friends. One of them had become a Christian after high school and was very vocal about it on Facebook. After I posted a Bible verse, she private messaged me and asked, “Did you become a Christian after high school, too?” She was super excited for me.

Only one problem. I was a Christian all through high school. Why is that a problem, you ask? Because she should have known it by the way I lived. I didn’t attend parties or drink alcohol with my friends, but my Christianity was so subtle that people didn’t know for sure.

I think I lived most of my life that way. I was a checkbox Christian.

Do you attend church? Check.
Are you a Christian? Check.
Do you know Christ as your Savior? Check.

But there wasn’t the passion to back it up. Honestly, I believe this is an issue with lots of people who grow up in church. You lose the spark. You somehow lose connection to the fact that someone allowed their only child to suffer and die for you. Your relationship with God has as much passion as an old couple watching TV on the couch – her snoring, him with his hand tucked in his waistband. Blah.

Wondering if there was more to my relationship with God, I became fascinated with the idea of seeking Him. The Bible tells us if we seek Him, we will find Him.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 NIV

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So I made it my quest to find God. I decided to start with reading the Bible. I grew up in church, so I could tell you the books of the Old and New Testament in order. I could quote passages. I had completed many a Bible study. But I had never read all of it – straight through. So that’s just what I did. I had tried it before but never made it past Leviticus.

But this time I was determined. I would read a few chapters each day and then ask myself what God was trying to teach me. Then I’d pray. I tied my boots tight, pulled up my socks and began the hike through those gilded-edged pages. Determined, I even marched through Leviticus.

And somewhere in the middle of the Old Testament, I started having “A-ha” moments. Pieces of the puzzle fit together in my brain. I had a new understanding of how things happened. All those stories I had heard and studied before made sense in a brand new way.

And I found God.

He was there all along. In the pages. In my prayers. In my praises.

And friends, He changed me. My close friends will tell you how different I am. I can’t help but bring God into my conversations. I look at the world through different eyes. My sister-in-law once told me I was like Moses after the burning bush experience. When you have been in the presence of God, YOU WILL BE CHANGED.

Reading the Bible through changed my life. It took me a while to complete it. I don’t remember exactly how long, but it was more than a year. When I finished, I flipped back to Genesis and started again. When I finished that time, I bought a chronological Bible and started the third time.

This week, I finished my chronological Bible. It took me two years and a month to do it. I tell you this not to brag but to encourage you to read the Bible from beginning to end. “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (2 Cor. 10:17) I challenge you to start with Genesis and work your way through.

If you feel stuck in life, if you are struggling with your marriage or finances or family issues or health problems, if you see God working in the lives of others and want Him to do the same with you, seek Him. Look for God in the pages of His Word.

I promise He will accomplish more than you can imagine. You will be changed. You can NOT encounter God and walk away the same. It’s just not possible.

Are you ready to see God up close and personal? Then get started.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… Gen. 1:1 NIV

Carol

All Lives Matter

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I woke with the rain this morning. And I was sad. I drug myself from bed and into the morning routine of waking, feeding and preparing three kids for school. But my heart was heavy.

I can’t get certain events off of my mind. A video I watched last night of men in Nepal digging a small child out of the ruble from the earthquake sticks with me. News stories of the rioting and hatred in Baltimore won’t leave my thoughts. And the knowledge of my best friend’s lung cancer is never far.

There is so much hurting and pain in this world. Last night, Alan and I spent some time discussing race relations in light of the events of Baltimore and Ferguson, among others. Just this weekend, we watched “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson, the first African American Major League Baseball player. He joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in April of 1947. My mother was born the same year. The prejudice and injustice he experienced happened not that long ago. Those of us who are white might like to think it’s a thing of the past, but I’m afraid we must pull our sandy heads upright and think again.

I remember clearly coming home in the second or third grade one day to tell my mom what I had learned about slavery. I was shocked and outraged. Teary, I asked my mom to explain how people could be so cruel. Friends, slavery wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. And the hurt was real.

My mom once told me about a teacher friend of hers who was black. She and her family had gone out to dinner in a nice restaurant but had been treated like they didn’t belong. This was late 80’s – early 90’s. I’m ashamed to admit it but it still happens today. Just last week, the husband of a kind and sweet friend (who is also black) was pulled over on the way to CVS for driving suspiciously. What?!

It’s time we open our eyes. If you’re white, try to imagine how you would feel if you were treated with injustice just for your color. If you are black, don’t look for race in every situation – sometimes people are just mean because they are mean and color doesn’t play into it.

I’ve seen so much stuff on Facebook – everyone having an opinion.

Police Lives Matter.

Black Lives Matter.

How about this? All lives matter. Hashtag that! #alllivesmatter

God created each of us in His image, and each and every one of us matter to Him. When you say “Purple Lives Matter” (we’ll just choose a random color) – while it’s true, it’s also insinuated that you are saying purple lives matter more than others.

All lives matter. People matter. You see God is looking at each one of us, and He loves us. He loves the mean people, the innocent people, the people steeped in sin – all of us. God doesn’t look at color. He is not white, nor black, nor yellow, nor red – He is GOD. And God looks deeper than color. He looks at the heart.

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NIV

All of this meanness in the world around us – the racial issues, the dishonesty in politics, human trafficking, ISIS – all of it is a heart matter. People need Jesus. To give a Sunday school reply to the aching question: What are we going to do about this world?

Jesus.

Jesus is the answer. Jesus can right all wrongs. Jesus can mend broken hearts. Jesus can lift people from poverty and a lifetime of injustice. Jesus can open the eyes and minds of self-centered individuals.

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Jesus.

You see, world change is not really that complex. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Repeat.

It’s time we work towards reconciliation with our fellow man. Are you in?

*photo credit: screen shot, personal photo; cross

Carol

Dominican Mission Trip Day Two

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Thankfully, our Tennessee team arrived a little before dinner on Friday night. So Saturday morning, we woke early and were ready to start the women’s conference. Maria, one of our interpreters, asked me a question the night before.

“How do you get up in front of a big group and speak like that? Don’t you get scared?”

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I told her that sometimes I do get a little nervous beforehand, but usually once I get started, God takes over. When you work in the strength God gives you, good things happen. But I’ll be honest. I was a little nervous Saturday morning. It was so helpful to have Alan with me.

Sometimes when I get in bed at night and am finally still, I struggle with anxiety. I keep scripture in my nightstand at home for nights when I can’t sleep. But one thing that really helps is having Alan touch me. Just a hand on my back, letting me know he is near, can calm me immensely.

So in the apartment where we were staying, Alan and I were to share a full-size bed. It was the bottom of a bunk bed. At home we sleep on a king-size bed, so I wasn’t sure how we were going to fit. But I have to tell you what a blessing that bed was. Every night when I went to sleep, I was touching Alan – I couldn’t help it in a bed that size. But that touch brought me such peace, that I was able to sleep.

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Isn’t it just like God to work out details like that in advance?

I got showered and dressed early Saturday so I could have a little time to spend alone with God before we left. I made sure I had my notes for my talks, my water, my insulin and my Bible. We drove the fifteen minutes to the church. It wasn’t until I walked into the doors of the church that I realized the one important thing I forgot – my contacts!!

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I could not see! Thankfully, the One Vision missionary, Claudia, offered to take the driver and the bus back to the apartment and get them for me. We started the conference with worship, so she had a little time. And about three minutes before I was to go on stage, she returned with my contacts. Praise God!

I was living out Amazing Grace. “…I once was blind, but now I see.” Ha!

I spoke to the women about how prayer is personal. We each have free access to the Creator of the Universe. He is our personal armor through prayer. The women nodded and responded as I spoke.

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Afterwards, we broke into small groups for prayer. Each of members of our team had a particular topic.
•Marriage
•Finances
•Unsaved Loved Ones
•Children
•Health

Alan and I led the group on marriage. First we played an icebreaker game. The ladies really had fun with that. We had them line up in order of height and then shoe size from smallest to largest, but they only had one minute.

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Then each group leader from the team had provided verses for their particular subject, before the trip, to be translated. So we were able to pass out sheets with a list of verses in Spanish for them to use in their prayers. We had our group read the verses aloud, because we know God’s Word is powerful and active. Then we asked them to split into groups of two or three.

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We spoke a few minutes about how important prayer is in your marriage and then gave them a particular topic. First we told them to pray for communication in their marriage – that lines would be open, that they would be willing to listen to their spouses and would be able to effectively communicate their needs. The groups took a couple of minutes to share their requests with each other and then prayed. We continued with four other topics in marriage.

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Each of the other team leaders was doing the same thing with their own breakout subject. After the breakout sessions, we had lunch. After lunch, I spoke again. This time I shared how prayer is powerful. I gave examples in scripture and in my own life.

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After my talk, we had the breakout prayer groups again, giving the ladies the option to choose another subject this time. So we led the marriage breakout again with a different group of women.

This time our group was smaller, so we decided to get in one big group instead of breaking up in groups of two. The great thing about this was the interaction we were able to have with the women. When they shared prayer requests, Alan and I were able to respond first with some advice and wisdom from what we have learned in our own marriage and from the marriage classes we used to teach. I really enjoyed sharing, and the women seemed to get a lot out of it.

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We ended that afternoon with more worship. I had many hugs and lots of words of gratitude from the ladies. I’m always in awe of the way God works.

We headed back to the apartment to rest before supper. We had a team meeting and prepared for the Sunday worship service and the rest of the conference. Alan played Claudia’s guitar, and we worshipped together and sang songs of praise.

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One of the groups, Rachel and Paula, shared how in their breakout session, the women prayed at the same time instead of taking turns praying together. They got the idea to get in a big circle at the end of their breakout and all of them prayed aloud at the same time. Rachel told us how powerful it was. So she asked if we could do it as a team before bed.

As we each prayed aloud, some in English and some in Spanish, I got chills. It was amazing. Hearing all of those prayers was loud and powerful. Think of how incredible our God must be to be able to hear every prayer that is uttered at the same time all over the world. All praises and glory and honor belong to Him. Amen.

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I’ll tell you about the rest of the conference tomorrow.

Carol

Dominican Mission Trip Day 1

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This is my second international mission trip. My second time to the Dominican, and I find it just as hard to put my experience into words this time as it was the last. So, I’ll just describe our day today.

Yesterday was a travel day. We arrived around 2 p.m. and had a two-hour drive from Santo Domingo to Santiago, which is the location of the new One Vision team apartment. After dinner at a restaurant close by, we all crashed. You see, our team had some issues just getting here.

First, there was a snowstorm in Knoxville, where half of our group lives. That half was not even able to make it out to meet us in Atlanta for our Thursday morning flight. So they had to re-book their tickets to fly in on Friday instead. Meanwhile, one of the five from Tennessee was sick enough she couldn’t travel. So that brought the Knoxville group down to four.

The four of us from Atlanta were also battling weather. On Wednesday when the Governor declared a state of emergency in many counties, the four of us decided it was best for us to get a hotel next to the airport. Alan and I got a room, but Joyce and Jack, the other couple, could not find one.

They decided to spend the night IN the airport instead. Around 10 p.m. as Alan and I were relaxing in our bed at the hotel watching television, Alan found a bedbug crawling right next to me on the bed! Needless to say, we dressed quickly and hightailed it out of there. We drove around for an hour in the freezing rain looking for another place. After calling more than twenty hotels near the airport, we finally found one. Long story short, it wasn’t much better than the bed bugs.

So, we obviously slept good our first night here. We were utterly exhausted! I just kept telling myself, “Greater is He that is in me than he that is in this world.” I knew we were under attack, and I was determined not to let satan win. (But I’ll be honest. In the hour drive through the freezing rain, I was ready to thrown in the white flag. But thankfully, I did not.)

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Friday morning, we headed to the children’s center and were greeted with a show! It was the Dominican Independence Day and the kids had prepared a cute dance with batons and a drum beat. Afterwards, we walked to the center where I prepared to take pictures of the kids who needed sponsors. Alan and Jack took a group of kids into the field behind the center (which by the way is actually the home of a sweet Christian lady named Matilde. Can you imagine sharing your home with 150 of the community children? That’s exactly what she does!)

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Many of the kids had made kites out of trash bags and sticks for Independence Day. I was shocked at how high those kites could fly! Alan and Jack let them fly the kites and directed them in some fun games. The little boys loved Alan and fought to hold his hand. Where ever he walked, there was a band of boys following. Joyce worked with some of the older girls. She talked about emotions and showed them how to go to God’s Word to help deal with those emotions.

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While I was waiting on Claudia to interview a few parents, I mingled with the kids. Maria, one of our interpreters, introduced me to a little girl. “She’s sick,” she told me. “Well, kind of. She has diabetes.”

My eyes widened. “Me, too!” I told Maria.

“She has Type 1,” Maria told me.

“Me, too!” I got excited.

Maria continued, “She doesn’t want to take her medicine.”

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Maria pulled the little girl aside with me and interpreted as I asked her questions about her diabetes and her insulin regimen. She told me she takes two shots a day. I asked her how often she tested her blood sugar, and she said she did it only when she went to the hospital ever so often. I shared with her that I tested ten times a day. And what I often consider a pain in the rear, suddenly became a blessing. Because I realized, I have great health insurance that affords me the ability to test ten times a day.

Maria helped me tell her that I have three children and a wonderful husband and life. “She is happy with her life,” Maria told her in Spanish.

I gave the girl a giant hug and told her to take care of herself. For the rest of the day, she continued to come to me and hug me.

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After taking pictures, Claudia asked me to share with some of the women who were there with their kids because they wouldn’t be able to come to the conference. She told me there would be five. At first I thought she wanted me to tell them about the conference in hopes that they would come, but she wanted me to give them a condensed version! No notes. No Bible in hand. Just what God had put in my heart.

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As I began to share with what turned out to be six women, a few more wandered up and what started as four, became six, then ten. Then a couple of men scooted in closer to listen to what I had to say. And noticing the adults had all congregating in one spot, some boys on bicycles rode over to hear.

I talked to them about prayer. Our conference is called A Woman of Prayer. I shared how God is available to all who call on Him. I gave them evidence of how God listens when we pray and how we can walk boldly into His throne room. I shared how God is powerful. I told my personal story of the doctors telling Alan they thought he had a tumor in his head, filling his sinus cavity and touching his brain. And I told of how God was faithful and pointed out that Alan was healthy and playing with their children as I spoke.

I told them to pray with purpose. That God listens when we pray. Then I gave the plan of salvation. I walked them through the steps in case anyone there had not accepted the gift of grace that Christ brings – all of this with the help of an interpreter.

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After we left the center, we stopped by the home of a sweet boy who needs a sponsor but wasn’t able to come to the community center to have his photo taken. Claudia, the One Vision missionary, explained how he has partial paralysis of the brain. His name is Gregory. At the Lord’s prompting, I asked if I could pray for Gregory with the family. They pulled up his mosquito net so I could sit on his bed and touch him as I prayed.

And here is what I have to share about that moment and that prayer: first – I am a mom. And because I’m a mom, my heart broke for this family. They had a very meager home with holes in the roof. But their love for their son was so evident. And second, I am an emotional person. I tell you that to say, if I was working in my own power, I could. Not. Have. Prayed.

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But God. God took over and the Holy Spirit certainly guided my words for this family. I was honored to be allowed to be a part of such a sweet moment. But you must know, I walked out the door swallowing back a sob.

Claudia and I returned to the bus, and we headed to lunch. My heart is full. I am overwhelmed at the ways God would allow me to be used today.

Please continue to pray for the team as we start the actual women’s conference tomorrow morning. Praise be to God! And if you would like to sponsor a child through One Vision International, please contact emily@onevisionintl.org

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Carol

Learning to Have Patience

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“Mama, will you play my new game I got for Christmas with me?” Grace asked. It was a floor game; not one you can play neatly at the kitchen table. I imagined crawling around on the floor to play and my back hurt just thinking about it. Exhausted but determined to spend time with my five-year-old, I agreed.

Then the phone rang with an important call from the body shop where my car was being fixed. “Just give Mama a few minutes to handle this call, and then we will play your game. Okay?”

I took the call while Grace paced around me in circles. After twenty laps or so, she wandered into the den and played with matchbox cars. When she heard me end the call, she came running. “Now Mommy? Can we play now?”

“Almost,” I told her. “Now I need to make a quick call to Daddy to explain to him what I found out.”

“Okay,” she shrugged her shoulders and walked off to the playroom. But minutes later, she returned holding her brand new game with the entire lid ripped in two.

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Shocked, I exclaimed, “Grace!! Why did you do that?!” She just looked at me with tears teetering.

I quickly ended my call with Alan to talk to Grace. Less than ten minutes had passed from start to finish for both calls. I didn’t ask her to wait that long. Sitting down at the table to assess the damage to her new game, I looked my daughter in the eyes.

“Grace, why would you tear into your game like this?” I knew the answer. She wasn’t patient enough to wait on me to help. But what I couldn’t understand was when it first began to rip, why didn’t she stop immediately? Why continue to rip off pieces of the box and tear the entire lid in half?

I walked to the garage for clear packing tape and returned to repair the box while Grace and I had a chat.

“Honey, did I tell you I would play this game with you as soon as I got off the phone?” Her curly head nodded, her eyes on the floor. “Did you believe me when I said it?” She nodded again. “Don’t I always keep my promises?” She looked up with fat tears in her big brown eyes.

“Yes,” she said, lip quivering.

And as I said the next words, the hairs stood up on my arms, and I listened as I spoke, as if I wasn’t the one speaking them. “Grace, when I make a promise, you have to trust I will keep it. You cannot rush ahead and do things on your own. You knew you couldn’t open that box without my help. Since you didn’t have patience, you made a big mess.”

I knew God was speaking the words directly to me.

I’ve been working on writing a book proposal for “Sheep to the Right: Becoming the Everyday Misssionary” for almost seven years. I wrote. I stopped. I had a baby. I stopped for a long time. I wrote again. I stopped again. But on the day Grace ripped her game open, I was close to finishing. I wondered if I was crazy for thinking God told me to write it all those years ago. He promised me He had a great plan for it. I questioned that, too.

God can speak through anyone and anything – and that includes yourself. He can place words in your mouth you didn’t know you had and use your everyday situations to tell you exactly what He wants you to hear. And He did. He reminded me of His promise and warned me not to push ahead.

So, I actually finished the book proposal last week and sent it to some of my trusted people to critique. I’ve already got some changes I need to make, but I will complete them and try to be patient during this part of the process. You see, after I repaired Grace’s game, we played together – just like I promised.

And I know God will keep His promise, too. He just told me so – last week.

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**Mission trip update! Thank you for those of you who bought t-shirts. The fundraiser was a great success and we raised almost $600 for our mission trip. Please continue to pray for the team as we prepare. Thank you!

*phone pic credit

Carol