Katie Eats: Fall is here!

Fall is definitely my favorite time of the year. I love the beauty God created in the changing of the seasons. As soon as the temperature starts to drop, I begin cooking our fall favorites. I’ve created healthier versions of these cool weather recipes with less sugar. They have become classics around my household, and I hope they will become classics for your family too. Happy fall. Enjoy!

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Healthy Pumpkin Pie

Filling
(Yields two pies.)
2 cans of pumpkin puree 1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup of pure maple syrup 1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 cup flour 2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup almond milk 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp pure vanilla extract 1 tsp baking powder

Crust
When I make pies, I usually use Wholly Wholesome Gluten Free Pie Crust. You can purchase at Whole Foods. Using a pre-made pie crust is much easier and tastes great. Just make sure you buy a pie crust that uses whole ingredients.

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Divide the filling evenly into the pie crusts. Cook for 30 minutes. Allow pumpkin pies to chill overnight in the refrigerator. If you are on a time constraint, allow at least four hours to chill.

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Apple Cider

64 oz organic apple juice
1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cinnamon sticks

Directions
Place all ingredients in a crock-pot. Cook on low for 1.5 hours. Not only does the cider taste great, it makes your whole house smell delicious!

katie-eats-fall-2016-cranberry-sauce

Cranberry Sauce

12 oz. bag of fresh cranberries
1/2 cup of maple syrup
Juice from 1 orange (or 3/4 cup of orange juice)

Directions
Rinse the cranberries first. Then combine cranberries, maple syrup, and orange juice in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium to high heat. Cover and reduce heat to low, allowing cranberries to continue to pop for about 10 minutes. Chill in the refrigerator for one hour. •LR•

Katie Bryan is a food blogger, wife and mother of two sweet girls. She also teaches classes on nutrition and faith. Get healthy recipes on her blog: KatieEats.com

The Church, Race, and Reconciliation

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On opposite ends of Columbia, South Carolina, two pastors shepherd two very different churches. The Meeting Place Church International is an African-American congregation, led by Bishop Eric Freeman. Trinity Baptist Church is a predominantly white congregation, led by Dr. Eddie Coakley. These men come from different backgrounds and experiences, but both have a relationship with Jesus Christ and a shared understanding of the ministry of reconciliation.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes that God has given Christians the ministry of reconciliation — helping others understand and receive God’s grace and forgiveness for sins. When a person is reconciled to God through Christ, he or she is a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come.

The two pastors and their congregations recently joined together along with some other churches for an evening of praise through hymn singing, followed by an ice cream fellowship. This wasn’t the first time the two churches had come together. However, it was their first combined event since a gunman shot and killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston and just two days after the removal of the Confederate flag from a monument on the South Carolina State House grounds.

We never know what a day will hold or what change 24 hours will bring. A single event can radically alter the course of life. But, can moments we’d rather not face produce something good? For the Christian, the answer is yes.

Romans 8:28 (NIV) says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

The Meeting Place and Trinity Baptist began a partnership in early 2014. How did the partnership start?

Eric: It was at the National Day of Prayer in the spring of 2014 where we finally connected and exchanged numbers. Eddie was kind enough to invite me for lunch. Literally, over lunch, breaking bread together, our friendship began.

Eddie: I felt like our spirits connected immediately. I’m an uptight, nerdy theology guy, so it was very important to me that this partnership was Christ-centered. It didn’t matter to me what his title was or mine. What mattered most was that theologically we were in the same place. What we think about Jesus is what brings the unity that is so important.

Eric: Eddie was very upfront and said, “I’m really trying to figure out a way to reach a demographic that looks like the community our church is in.”

Eddie: I remember saying, “I’m probably going to stick my foot in my mouth, and I don’t know what to say. I know that God has called me to love people of all colors. What I don’t know is how to reach black people with the Gospel.” Eric told me that was something he was trying to figure out too. In my mind that was a great response. It was a great reminder to me that there is not a formula or a way you reach black people, and there is not a way you reach white people.

What did your initial discussions about forming a partnership include?

Eric: One of the things Eddie and I discussed when we began to explore and pray about how our congregations could come together, was we accepted the fact that it wouldn’t feel natural. We knew the awkwardness would be a result of doing something that we are not accustomed to doing. It’s akin to going to the gym for the first time. I said to my people early on, “This will not feel natural, but going to the gym doesn’t feel natural. When you go to the gym for the first time and you pick up weights, you’re a little awkward. This is the same way, but you endure that process, because you know that it’s the best thing for the body to be healthy.

Eddie: The reality is that if you go to the gym with a friend, the awkwardness gets cut in half. You just need somebody to be with you to feel like you’re accepted. You know that it may not go well or be perfect every time, but that’s okay. I think that’s why this partnership has been so good. I’ve been very encouraged by how hospitable and loving Eric’s church has been.

You both made sure that your staff members spent time together before the two churches gathered for a service. That helped establish a good foundation for the congregations to meet. What was that first joint service like?

Eddie: While we were at Eric’s church for our first joint service, one of the oldest men in my church came up to me. I wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but I was instantly encouraged. He said, “Pastor, we should have done this 40 years ago. This was so good.” Then, he just started crying. That’s the work of the Spirit. I think because Eric and I began a friendship first, then our staff members were together ahead of time, our people were able to come together. Next, hopefully it’s the city. That’s how God works.

Eric: I think being able to sit down and break bread together was a part of what accelerated the momentum of the fellowship. I think Eddie is right. It’s incremental. I think if we are willing to go through the awkward moment, have those tough conversations, share with one another, and risk some who won’t understand, then we get surprised sometimes. The people who we think won’t like it are the ones most impacted by the ministry of our fellowship.

The Gospel is the solution to the hatred that is all around us whether it is racial in nature or another form of hate.

Churches across South Carolina, the state and the nation spent the Sunday following the Charleston shooting praying for the victims’ families. The shooter, a white male, targeted African Americans. What was your focus when you stepped in the pulpit for the first time after the shooting?

Eric: On that Sunday, my work was to figure out how to direct the hurt. For my congregation, there was hurt, because it could have been them. Senator Clementa Pinckney (one of the nine church shooting victims) was a seminary classmate of mine. When it first happened, I was on my phone with my closest friends who are leaders in the AME church. We were trying to figure out how to deal with the hurt of racism raising its head again. The shooting was another reminder, in a very painful way, of this issue in our nation that won’t go away.

Eddie: I really tried to focus on the Gospel and the power of God’s love. The Gospel is the solution to the hatred that is all around us whether it is racial in nature or another form of hate. Like many other churches, we took time during our services to pray for the victims’ families.

In the days following the shooting, our state and the nation witnessed some of the victims’ families express forgiveness toward the shooter. When Facebook images of the suspect with a Confederate flag surfaced, many felt it was time for the flag to come down. The flag, a symbol of hate and racism to many and a symbol of heritage and history to others, eventually came down. How does a pastor respond biblically to varying views surrounding this issue?

Eric: The hearts of individuals need to change. As we’ve both already said, it is us, our staff members, our congregations, communities and the city. We are shifting a culture. In many ways, we’re shifting the atmosphere for how people are thinking about things. That’s the reason there was so much aggressive divisiveness around the symbol of the flag. I believe that the Adversary knew if the symbol that perpetuated racism was gone, then he couldn’t have a stronghold anymore.

Eddie: For me the point is that, in light of the cross, am I going to let this issue or any others keep me from loving my brother? The great thing about God’s radical love is that you can say to anyone who is living in submission to Christ, “Show me in the Bible where it says that I should put my preference for this issue ahead of my love for Eric.” You can never do that. If what I’m doing hurts my brother, then I should be willing to stop the offense.

Eric: After the flag came down, I encouraged my members to not become cynical and think that removing the flag wouldn’t change peoples’ hearts. I offered that encouragement because I kept hearing people in our community say that the flag coming down doesn’t change anything. It changes two things. First, it removes a powerful symbol. If you think something shouldn’t come down until hearts are changed, then we might as well put back up the “whites only” and the “colored” signs. Those signs came down before hearts were changed. Secondly, you give the impression that there is no hope. Every step taken to unite people should be celebrated and embraced by the community, even if people don’t fully understand.

There are communities across the state, as well as churches, wondering how to move forward. While the magnitude of what has happened in South Carolina in recent months settles in, the work toward unity and Christ-like reconciliation must continue. What does that look like?

Eric: I do believe that when we come together with our eyes on something more than just a few people ­— when we look at congregations and communities — and figure out how we can show the reconciling love of Christ, then we will see something that will change our city. That’s where I believe the real fight is.

Eddie: It’s going to take intentional leadership. We are going to have to do some things on purpose that are difficult but are also going to move this forward. I want our congregations to grow in this area. So we need to intentionally make it happen.

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What does moving forward look like for your partnership?

Eric: To use the example we started with, I think we keep going to the gym and set some goals around what healthy looks like. We will plan some activities that would be good to help reach those goals. Then we can evaluate and set new goals. Again, it’s me and Eddie, our staff members, congregations and communities. We will keep expanding the fellowship. Then all of the sudden going to the gym will seem less awkward, and we will get stronger together.

Eddie: I can’t help but think that Eric and his church didn’t need nine people to die to be shaken about racism, but there are a lot of white people who did. Sometimes we have to be shaken to realize that there is a problem. It makes a lot more sense for Trinity Baptist to be more strategic now. If I had said before that we were going to work on race, people might have wondered why the church would focus on the issue. Now the reality is obvious. God wants us to do more than just get to know Eric’s church. God wants us to be more impactful. As long as we keep having grace for each other, then we can try things that may fail. That’s OK. The point is we are trying — together. •LR•

Kelly Coakley is the wife of Trinity Baptist Church Senior Pastor Dr. Eddie Coakley in Cayce, SC, and has enjoyed watching this Christ-centered friendship with Bishop Eric Freeman develop.

My Midlife Crisis: The Icing on the Cake

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Have you ever gone through a season in life that required you to take it up a notch? Maybe something completely out of your control occurred or a simple feeling of discontentment caused you to shake things up on your own. Maybe change took you by surprise or maybe you signed up for it. Maybe you didn’t even realize it was happening until you were right in the middle of it. I was recently shocked to discover myself in one of those very seasons.

Out of nowhere, it struck me that two huge parts of my life weren’t even thoughts in my head six months earlier. I had started a business and began working out more vehemently than I ever had before. I called it a “midlife crisis.” A dear friend noted that maybe it was just a “midlife event.” Either way, I figured I could be involved in much worse and began considering how God might be working to teach me some things.

Life Laboratory

My from-home business is a small turnkey operation. It is direct sales in partnership with two of the best-known dermatologists in the world. My workout group is Females in Action (FiA). Our workouts are boot camp style, peer-led, really early in the morning, and totally free. I love this group of ladies — most of whom are also sisters in Christ, but let’s move on to the crazy, “midlife crisis” part!

Somewhere along the way, one of my FiA sisters got the idea that we should participate in a GoRuck event. Basically, you wear a weighted rucksack and hike around carrying heavy stuff long distances! For some reason I agreed, and now have two events under my belt!

What in the world? How can God use a small at-home business and a bunch of crazy people doing totally unnecessary things to teach anyone anything? In my case, God took these new endeavors and created a little life laboratory to teach me some things about Him and me. All of these lessons could’ve, maybe even should’ve, been learned in “real life,” but it took a little microcosm for me to really get it.

By putting me in uncomfortable situations, my business and GoRuck events have trained me to move out of my comfort zone. In lots of ways, they have given me practice in a relatively “insignificant” realm for things that have eternal value.

The Future is Mine — Not Yours

When contemplating whether or not to start my business, I really wanted a guarantee, and fear was hindering me. After enlisting some friends to pray, one morning during my own prayers, I wrote “ROI” (Return on Investment). Immediately, “El Roi” — one of God’s own names — came to mind. It means “the God who sees” (Genesis 16).

God clearly impressed on my heart that I did not need to know the future, because He does. Not only did I have the green light on my business, it was also time to move forward in faith. No more allowing fear to dictate my decisions. I did not need a guarantee. My job is to trust.

The morning my business launched, I opened my devotional book to an entry entitled, “Eyes That See.” I read, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Eph. 1:18). God winked, reminding me again that He saw and promised that I, eventually, would too.

“Get Your Mind Right” — GYMR

“Ruckers” use the the acronym “GYMR” (Get Your Mind Right); meaning, don’t let the event get to you. Nice, but my first event was pretty scary. I was totally out of my element. Though I signed on for it, I’m embarrassed, yet thrilled to admit, I found myself looking to the Lord and meditating on Scripture more in those nine and a half hours than I sometimes do in my everyday, comfortable life.

Lesson learned! My mind was right because it stayed focused on Jesus. When I heard the words, “I can’t!” creeping into my thoughts, I battled them with, “I can do all things through Christ.” When I thought I couldn’t possibly go another step, the Holy Spirit reminded me “He is able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine according to His power that is at work within me.” (Eph. 3:20 emphasis mine). My crazy GoRuck event taught me in a very intense, uncomfortable “little laboratory” to lean hard on the Word of God, to believe it moment by moment, over and over again — until the “event” is over. The Word is living and active, and can be constantly applied, relied on, and lived.

My new business and hobby have resurrected truths I know but had somehow forgotten. Although these new things are not necessary, my heart is so grateful. To me, they are icing on the cake of my life. God has proven He cares about all details — even the unnecessary ones — working in and through them for my best, giving me new opportunities to practice applying Scripture in all things, and even showing me in new ways the strength of “team” — i.e. the Body of Christ.

I’ve flexed some faith muscles that needed strengthening, and without even realizing it, I broke free of the norm. And, unbeknownst to me, but certainly known to God, these lessons learned arrived just in time for my very first mission trip. God uses everything — even “midlife crises” — for His glory. He will teach us to see if we will trust Him until we do. •LR•

Joeli Mulligan is a Christian dramatist who loves her midlife crisis. Check out her website at SpeechlessMinistries.org. To learn more about FiA and GoRuck, check out FiANation.com and GoRuck.com.

There is No Box

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One of my favorite movies is “The Matrix,” starring Keanu Reaves. In one scene, Neo (played by Reaves) is given instructions by a child bending a spoon with his mind. The only way to bend the spoon is to realize one very important thing: there is NO spoon. For years, we have been challenged to “think outside the box.” In the spirit of The Matrix, I wish to offer you an alternate suggestion: there is NO box.

If you could build a box in which to keep God, would you build it? What would it look like? Would it make God more predictable? Would it give you the upper hand in your relationship with God? It is a ridiculous notion. No one can control God. If He can be contained, predicted, or controlled, then He cannot be God. Theologically speaking, God is omniscient. He is in charge and He is preeminent. However, our daily lives are erroneously filled with conditional beliefs and practices from which we have constructed…well, a box.

God simply cannot be contained, controlled or predicted.

If I pray, God will answer. If I confess, God will forgive. If I need comfort, then I will ask, and God will make me feel better and more comfortable. If I need a miracle, I will claim and tenaciously hold to it as a promise from God to me. In other words, if I do the right thing, then God will act like He is supposed to act; He will act like I believe He should according to my “box.”

Two words have been the hammer and the nails I’ve most often used to build my God box – If and Then. If I do, then God will. Yet, He is reticent to be boxed and reluctant to set Himself as a celestial ATM from which I withdraw my blessings. God’s love is unconditional and so are His actions. He will not be manipulated by our piety, or boxed in according to our whims.

For instance, promising God you will return to church if He will heal you doesn’t guarantee He will heal you. Forgiving your spouse of an affair doesn’t guarantee he or she will return with a repentant heart. Begging God to turn a rebellious child around doesn’t guarantee the child will respond according to your standards. Promising to tithe doesn’t mean your bank account will increase. No matter how many verses I claim or how diligent I am to believe as I think I ought, God consistently does not do what I want Him to do when I want Him to do it. He simply cannot be contained, controlled, or predicted.

Many years ago, my father had a pet alligator named, “Wally,” named for a popular cartoon character (I’m totally dating myself here). For obvious reasons, Wally did not live with us at home. He lived at my Dad’s gas station. Each day when Dad went to work, he discovered that Wally had escaped from his cage. Each time Wally escaped, Dad and his employees would do their futile best to construct a bigger, better, stronger, and inescapable cage. Wally the Gator simply would not be caged. He escaped every time and had to be returned to his natural habitat.

I was reminded of this experience recently as I considered why the Lord had not answered one of my prayers as I thought He should. I had tagged all the right bases in my prayer, offered thoughts consistent with His Word, and expressed the perspective that I believed mirrored the Lord’s values. It seemed to me since I had prayed “by the book,” then God would be compelled to act within my parameters.

Nope.

Trusting God means we walk by faith, and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

If our relationship with Jesus and our prayers fall into a predictable “break glass in case of emergency” formula, then God is no more than some genie in a bottle. Alligators will not be boxed in or domesticated. Neither will God our Father be penned up in a box of my traditions and ideals. He is God and I am not. I am to live by faith, dispense with the contingencies, and learn to simply surrender to His will and allow Him to live His life through me. Walking with the Lord becomes so much more fulfilling as we accept this immutable fact: when it comes to our God, there is NO box. Let God be God. Keep praying, keep trusting, and keep believing. In the meantime, be His hands and feet to a world that is dying to know the unconditional love of our amazing, uncontrollable God. •LR•

Todd R. Vick is a husband, father, writer, and the pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia, SC. Email your prayer requests to: toddvick7@gmail.com

Lighthouse For Life

Lighthouse For Life

We’ve all seen the news; children are being sold for sex. It is happening in Thailand, Costa Rica, India, and other countries. “Thank God it’s not happening here.” That was Andrea Wind’s assessment of human trafficking until her pastor preached a sermon on the subject.

Andrea is a mother of two young children. The thought of children being trafficked for sex horrified her. The sermon laid a burden on her heart that would not go away. She investigated and learned sex trafficking was not only happening in the United States but was also in the Midlands of South Carolina, right in her back yard. The FBI reports the average age of women coerced into prostitution is 12-14. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports each year over 100,000 American children are trafficked in the underground sex economies of the United States. Her investigation drew her closer and closer to home. She found the Richland County Sheriff’s Department very much engaged in the fight against child prostitution and sex trafficking. She developed relationships with law enforcement and heard real life stories of abuse, depravity and exploitation of children here in the Midlands.

The child victims of sex trafficking broke her heart. They were truly victims.

As her knowledge increased, the burden laid on her heart grew heavier still. She resolved to do something — but what? The child victims of sex trafficking broke her heart. They were truly victims. What child is cognitively, emotionally or spiritually equipped with the maturity to make a decision to sell their bodies?

The path leading to prostitution is varied and complex but it is clearly not a decision made by the child. They are coerced into it. Often sexual abuse in the home or elsewhere paves the way, making children vulnerable to the deceit and lies of the trafficker. Sometimes they are family members or acquaintances. The children are traumatized and left broken and powerless, unable to break out of a prison of shame, exploitation and abuse. Andrea decided to help them.

She founded Lighthouse for Life, a residential rescue ministry for child victims (age 12-18) of sex trafficking. A management structure began with a board of directors. Over the last two years, Lighthouse for Life has progressed from concept and planning to the conversion and permitting of a residential home – a place of healing for children.

The process has definitely not been simple or straightforward and became even more daunting by the fact that there are no residential rescue facilities for children in the state of South Carolina.

Government regulatory agencies had no experience permitting a facility principally focused on rescuing and healing children broken by sex trafficking. Andrea and the state have worked together to develop reasonable covenants, which would protect the children without being so restrictive as to stand in the way of the objective of healing. This process continues. She notes, “It is a team effort. Without a wonderful staff of volunteers to help with every facet of the ministry, none of this would be possible.”

Since the planning for Lighthouse for Life began, another residential rescue ministry opened to receive young adult victims (age 18-24) of sex trafficking. Hopewood Haven began operations in Greenwood County late in 2014. It quickly filled to capacity. Andrea expects Lighthouse for Life to do the same. As she points out, “Lighthouse for Life’s first facility is a beginning, but the need is so great we must plan for expansion even before we open our doors.”

Operating a residential non-profit like Lighthouse for Life is a very expensive endeavor. As the ministry moves closer to becoming a reality, Andrea spends more and more time raising funds for operational expenses. Lighthouse for Life anticipates opening its doors to receive victims in the fall of 2015. Lighthouse for Life is a 501c-3 non-profit, so contributions are tax-exempt. If you would like to help, please contact Lighthouse for Life at info@lighthouseforlife.org. •LR•

Robert Healy, liaison for Lighthouse for Life with the State Legislature, is a freelance writer with a focus on Christian ministries.

You are Rivin’ Me Frazy!

CherieNettles_boy

I have the most adorable nephews in the world. No matter what thought just passed through your mind, I do, and John Grady Plott, is one of them. He is 3 years old and absolutely a gift from God. Everything about him is adorable, especially the things he says when he’s a little angry and frustrated.

In the South, we have two stages of anger. Stage 1 is the most graceful stage, like smiling when you’d rather scream. Stage 2 is much less graceful, a full-blown explosion. All right, graceful may not be the right word. Stage One though, is where we release a little steam through gritted teeth saying, “You are driving me crazy!”

Like many southern mothers and fathers, my brother, Peter, and my sister-in-law, Amy, use this phrase with their sons, ages 11, 3 and 1. John Grady, the middle of the “My Three Sons” crew, has heard this comment several times, and recently at the end of what was an exasperating day for a 3-year-old, he looked at his mother and belted out, “You are rivin’ me frazy!” After a chuckle, his mother attempted to explain to John Grady how to use that statement correctly and not use it toward others.

Do you ever feel like things are “rivin’ you frazy?” I admit I’ve been frustrated lately with the news in SC and in the US. I feel like our nation is “rivin me frazy,” but here’s what holds me back from the explosion of Stage 2. Romans 3:24-25, clearly tells us that Jesus became our propitiation, or He sat down in the mercy seat for us. Jesus took on our sin to bring us back into right relationship with God. So, the very mercy that was extended to us has also been extended to those we agree with and those we don’t. The Truth is, regardless of our opinions. Christians are instructed by Christ to love one another. (John 13:35) Some who claim to be Christians have participated in the name-calling, people-bashing and passing judgments. When we participate in this type of verbiage we are out of line with the Word of God. These are behaviors that are “rivin me frazy!” As believers we must trust that God did not call us to fix the world with our inadequate attempts, but to love people and make disciples. (Matthew 28:19-20)

Jesus talks about, in John 16:33, that in this world we will have troubles, controversies, and differing opinions, but as children of God, we are to take heart because He has overcome the world. Believers, we fight from victory, not for victory. Revelation 1:8 reminds us that Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, sees all of this and wins. Armed with Truth, we have the power to live it, and teach the world about the love of Jesus Christ with confidence, knowing Christ is the only pathway to the Father.

Of course, the world often quizzes us concerning the Bible and the “hot topics” of today. Recently, I was quizzed about one of these topics. I returned my answer with a question. I asked, “Do you believe the Bible is the Word of God without error?” Their response was that they were not certain. Now, we come down to the real question that needs to be answered today. I then replied, “I do, and the answer to your question is found in the Word of God.” I then gave them several Scriptural references. Believers stand on Truth. Truth does not stand on believers. But, we cannot share what we do not know. It’s vital that we are abiding in the Word so we can share the Word well.

My dear brothers and sisters; don’t let this world “rive you frazy.” Encourage all people, in love, to read the Word of God, test the Word of God and believe the Word of God. Because my fellow sojourners, the Truth is … WE WIN … for the Bible tells me so! •LR•

Cherie Nettles is a Christian comedienne, author and speaker. She is a mother of two and lives in West Columbia, S.C. with her husband, Mike.

A Thought Worth Pondering

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One of my all time favorite hymns is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” It’s an old hymn, written by Joachim Neander, originally in German and translated into English by Catherine Wentworth, and often sung to a tune, Stralsund Gesangbuch, which has been around since 1665. Although not sung all that frequently anymore, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” contains one of my most favorite hymn lines, a line which always stirs something within me: “Ponder anew what the Almighty can do.”

Ponder. Ponder anew. Whenever we sing that hymn, or whenever that line comes to mind, some pondering inevitably follows. Not just pondering what the Almighty can do, but pondering what He has done. This includes what He has been doing over the last several months, and what He has been teaching me about waiting.

I’ve never been particularly good at waiting, nor would I consider myself a very patient person. Patient with my grandchildren, yes. But patient otherwise? Not so much. I’m more of a want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it kind of person. Over the last year I have learned, specifically, about waiting on the Lord and trusting His timing.

We put our house on the market in spring of 2014, and the waiting began. Waiting for showings. Waiting for some interest. Waiting for an offer. Throughout that process I often became frustrated and impatient. Yet throughout the process I learned much about trust, faith, and waiting on God.

During those months of waiting, I was often asked how things were going. I was asked if I was getting impatient. To that question, I tried to maintain a positive attitude, but I often wanted to scream, “Of course I’m getting impatient!”

From the beginning, it had been our prayer that God would bring the right buyer at the right time, in such a way that He would receive the glory. And to that prayer, my husband added the caveat that this would be a cash sale. I confess I thought he was pushing things a little, but I was wrong.

As people asked about the results of our showings and how things were going and if we had any news, my response became a variation of the same theme. God has a plan. He knows what He’s doing. The house will sell in God’s time, and probably when we least expect it. To be truly honest, sometimes those were just words. Sometimes saying those things was just going through the motions. Sometimes I wasn’t so sure. I questioned. I doubted.

In the second week of March 2015, I got a call from our realtor setting a showing for Friday, March 13. I was hopeful, but not overly optimistic. After all, there had been other showings, lots of them. There were times we thought we had a deal, but it always fell through.

That Friday, I went through the motions again. The house was clean and ready to show. We turned on the lights and started the CD player. Music playing softly in the background is a good thing when showing a house, or so we had been told. We prayed for God’s will to be done. And then we went out to lunch.

His plan. His time. Always perfect. A thought worth pondering!

What I considered an ideal outcome was if the potential buyers liked the house, they would schedule a second showing. That was really all I expected. But God had a different plan.

Late that Friday afternoon, the realtor called and said “I have an offer for you.” My response was something like, “You have a what?”

We did receive an offer that day, and after a counteroffer on our part, a price and closing date were agreed upon. April 30. Just 45 days away.

And, by the way, it was a cash sale!

The weeks that followed were a whirlwind of activity. Finding our new home in Spartanburg. Inspections. Shopping for carpet, appliances, and some new furniture. Boxes stacked on more boxes, packing and more packing. And then, unpacking.

It was all a bit overwhelming. But, at the same time, it was spiritually exhilarating and uplifting.

Which brings me back to that word. Ponder. Beginning March 13, in less than two months, just six short weeks, we packed up everything we owned, uprooted from one place, and put down roots in another. Pondering those events, it seems nearly impossible that so much happened in such a short space of time. After waiting so many months, to have everything come together so quickly can only be described as a “God thing.” It wasn’t us. It wasn’t anything either of the realtors said or did. It wasn’t because we had great advertising, or because we had staged the house so perfectly. It wasn’t even because of the beautiful view from our front porch! It could only have been the mighty hand of God! I have no words to adequately describe how this absolutely blows my mind!

So, I continue to ponder. Amazed at what the Almighty can do. Amazed at what He has done.

His plan. His time. Always perfect. A thought worth pondering!

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven … He hath made everything beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 11 KJV, emphasis mine) •LR•

Susan Feaster is wife to Al, mom to Brian and Brandon, and Nana to AJ and Christopher. She lives in Spartanburg, SC, and blogs about life and faith at: SusansSittingRoom.blogspot.com

How Small Groups Impact Spiritual Growth

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Churches throughout the world are seeing greater value in small groups than ever before. People are starving for authentic relationships because we were created for relationships — with God, and with each other. Church campuses have become a center for activity on Sunday mornings with strategically planned events to reach, teach, and preach. Church services may grow larger and larger, but people attending are screaming for smaller circles of relationships. I believe this is because of the lack of close, personal, and authentic relationships in the home, workplace and community. This need for community is not met simply through corporate worship, but also through involvement in effective small groups.

How do we build authentic relationships that promote healthy spiritual growth? During my four years serving as a Small Groups Pastor, I discovered six essentials for a healthy small group environment.

1. Help.
Seriously! We all need help. Just ask my wife. Adam needed help in the garden, and God created a helpmate for him. We’re no different. The problem is, when we try to handle so much on our own, we become overwhelmed. We need each other to bear the load. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 NIV)

2. Encouragement.
Small groups provide encouragement for one another. Please understand that helping and encouraging are two different activities. Helping someone is generally something done for people who are in a critical situation. Encouraging is something done to build others up. There is something special about giving and receiving encouragement. Small groups provide an opportunity to share and receive sincere encouragement. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

3. Accountability.
One of the best ways to hold each other spiritually accountable is in a small group setting, but this only works if honesty, humility and transparency are displayed. Unlike a traditionally structured classroom experience, small groups provide a very interactive and non-sterile environment where members challenge each other to maintain a high degree of integrity. It is also essential that we give and receive criticism in love and with grace. The give and take of accountability is what makes small groups effective. As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 NIV)

4. Emotional support.
There are times when life delivers sustained hurricane force winds that tear away our emotional foundation and stability. Because small groups should provide a non-threatening and safe environment to share confidential emotional needs, others in the group can help provide much needed support through some of our most difficult times. Emotional support can help us see beyond our circumstances trusting… that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6b NIV)

5. Spiritual growth.
What is true physically is also true spiritually. When we stop growing physically, our bodies quickly begin to fail. In the same way, when we stop growing spiritually, we begin to spiritually fail. Small groups offer spiritual nourishment for growing alongside other like-minded people seeking biblical answers to life’s difficult questions. As I’ve observed small groups work over the past four years, I’ve noticed an interesting shift. Spiritual growth does not happen unless it is an intentional priority. As Paul prayed for the Colossians, we must pray for one another, asking God to fill us with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding that we may live a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit and being strengthened with all power to endure all things with patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father. (Colossians 1:9-12 paraphrased)

6. Missional opportunities.
This is really where I’ve observed small groups excel. People want to hang out and do stuff together. In my current church setting we are creating small groups for the purpose of missional activity in the community. There will be the spiritual growth component through a holistic approach to ministry by also going out together to make a difference for Christ in the community. Missional opportunities should always be Christ-focused, pointing others to Him. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 NIV)

Effective small groups take time. Relationships are built on trust. Be patient. People cannot fix your life issues or complete you, only Christ can. But, small groups of Christ-loving, committed and honest people can help meet a basic human need of being loved. I encourage you to be involved in a biblically sound small group. The Christ-centered friendships you make doing life together will remain with you forever. •LR•

Dr. Tommy Spotts has been happily married for 24 years and has two children currently attending college. He is the Lead Pastor at Crossroads Church in Florence, S.C.

A Leap FOUR Joy

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“I bet your house is loud.”

“What is your grocery bill like?”

“How are you upright and dressed?”

“How do you do it?”

“Are they natural?”

These are just a few of the statements and questions I repeatedly heard when out in the community with young children in our early days. I have five children, all boys, including a set of quadruplets. Here are some of my responses:

My house is loud.

The boys eat anything that does not eat them, which means my grocery bill is a bit more than the average household.

I am upright and dressed because, let’s face it, what are my options? I do have to work in order to pay that grocery bill.

I can only do this with the help of family, friends, and my Jesus.

As for the last question, my favorite of all, I never knew quite how to respond, so I just smiled and pressed on.

Our God is a loving God, and I also feel He has a sense of humor. Why else would He bless me, a woman who believes everything has its place and should always be in that place, with quadruplets? All boys.

When my husband, Kelly, and I married 21 years ago we knew we wanted to have children. We did not know that there would be complications and we would have to take part in fertility treatments in order to have them. Our first born, Jarrett, now 17 and driving, will graduate in the blink of an eye next year (Yikes!). He was a happy, calm baby. He was 18 months old when we returned to our fertility specialist. Let me stop here and clarify: most couples never go into fertility treatments hoping for multiples. As a 32 year old with a husband and young son, I went into treatment hoping for one more, healthy child.

God had different plans. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV) He knew all along.

Fast forward a few months, including seven weeks of hospitalization, to February 29, 2000.

Leap Day, the only day I did not want my babies to enter this world. Did I mention God’s sense of humor?

Our babies, Sawyer, Nicholas, Cordell, and Dalton, entered this world weighing between 3.07 pounds and 3.12 pounds. God gave us four blessings with no health issues beyond a few minutes of oxygen for one, and four months on a heart monitor for another.

Our hearts leaped for joy!

What is living real with multiples plus one? It’s loud, crazy, endless eating and laundry, laughter, wrestling, praying, and counting blessings.

I have to admit the next few months are somewhat of a blur. The church we were attending, organized a diaper pounding, a house cleaning and meal schedule. Our family and friends were with us around the clock for the first eight months. I made charts and attached them to clipboards, which hung outside each crib. We followed a rigorous feeding schedule. Other activities were planned around feedings and naps, theirs and mine.

By their first birthday, we had gone through approximately 6000 diapers and 1000 cans of formula. I lost count of the baby food jars and was elated when table food was introduced.

I did not use a separate fork and bowl for each child. There were many days when snack time consisted of a wagon of animal crackers and Sippy cups placed in front of the TV.

Bath time was an assembly line, involving my parents each night. I drove a 15-passenger van because that was the one vehicle that would hold five car seats.

Skip to the beginning of school. Jarrett was in first grade when his brothers started four-year-old kindergarten. All four were in one class at my request. In 5K, we separated them two by two like the animals on Noah’s ark. First grade brought complete separation to the dismay of one who was dependent on his brothers and thought he needed them nearby. They remained separated until middle school where it was a little harder to keep them apart. It has proven interesting for them to share a class here or there.

From the time they started school, until their 12th birthday, we ate at buffets with children’s prices. Now, we eat at home.

Today, all five boys are in high school. Once again the quads share some teachers, but not many classes. In the past 15 years, we have had three broken bones, one case of appendicitis, one sports related injury that required surgery and physical therapy, and four hospitalizations due to illness — once with two children in side-by-side rooms. They play soccer, baseball, football, and run track. Our family is involved in church and youth activities, and yes, girlfriends have entered the picture.

What is living real with multiples plus one? It’s loud, crazy, endless eating and laundry, laughter, wrestling, praying, and counting blessings. It’s relying on family and friends to conquer and divide with church, sports, and school activities. It’s letting go of the small stuff. While everything may have its place, it does not mean it will be put there each night. Living real with multiples plus one means having faith in Jesus Christ. “I will strengthen them in the Lord, and in His name they will live securely.” (Zechariah 10:12 NIV with added capitalization of “His”)

God is my strength. I turn to Him daily to seek guidance and direction. Through Him all things are possible even bringing up young men who seek Him. We look forward to what God has in store in the coming years, and we continue to count our blessings day by day. •LR•

Julie Brown is a native of West Columbia. She enjoys teaching, reading, singing, and spending time with her family.

Two Hearts, Both at Peace

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On February 2, 2015, at the tender age of 20, Jesus called her home — my daughter, and very best friend in the world. Since that day, I have experienced every emotion imaginable. Anger, sadness, joy for her, regrets and guilt for me, but at the end of each day, I focus on my heartfelt gratitude to Jesus and all who helped prepare her to meet Him face to face.

McKinsey and I had a unique, very close mother/daughter relationship. She was special. I raised her to be strong, confident, loving, kind and generous. But, when she mentioned her desire to go to Africa on a mission trip, I gave her every reason why it wasn’t going to work. She was prepared with an answer for all of my excuses. The traits I raised her with, God helped her use to win this battle with me. In the end, I told her if she could raise the money, I would support her. She did, and her life changed forever.

With her feet on the ground in Kampala, Uganda, I received this message, “I have found my forever home, mama!” She spoke of the love and acceptance she discovered in this land so far away. I couldn’t fathom what she found to be so beautiful. Her stories frightened me.

After returning home, she expressed deep love for her new friends, Desire and George, Anitta, Rhiter, Edith, Ingrid and a special friend named Samie. My heart broke knowing I was losing my daughter to something I didn’t understand. I had so many plans for her. She was smart and funny. I begged her to reconsider her life plans. She had so much potential, and with her love for the Lord, she could have a powerful impact right here. But, that was not what God had planted in her heart. He was calling her back to Uganda, and she would rather die than disobey her Lord.

During the week of McKinsey’s death, the outpouring of love and affection received from so many in Uganda was overwhelming. They all had McKinsey stories to share with me because they loved her and were grieving for her too. I still didn’t truly understand this connection. In my mind, her Ugandan family could not be hurting as much I was, or feel the depth of loss I felt. She had been mine for 20 years, and they had only known her a very short time. I did not want to share her anymore. But, one thing I learned about Africans, they are a persistent bunch. Not one of them allowed me to grieve alone. If I didn’t respond to a message, they would send another, even if only to say things like, Good morning. I love you. I miss McKinsey. I hope you are doing well. God loves you. I am praying for you. Now, looking back, I get it. I understand the love, support, compassion, and pure grace they extended to me from the other side of the world. They loved my daughter just as much as I did.

During that same week, others began softly suggesting that I travel to Uganda to meet the people and see what captured her heart. That also frightened me, but as the quiet suggestions grew louder, I knew I was going to Africa. I even believed I knew why. I’m a very confident woman, used to being in charge, in my professional life and my home life. Wow! Did God wreck that for me! I also tried building a wall around my heart to protect me from feeling any more loss or pain. My plan was to see Uganda, check it off my list and say, “I went, I saw, had a great time”, and move on. But, that was not God’s plan.

Stepping outside of the airport, my wall came crashing down as Freedom Church Campus Pastor Desire Barugahare, McKinsey’s African Mum, took me into her arms. I have never been so humbled in my life. Meeting the Freedom Church leaders, McKinsey’s friends, the volunteers, the kids, aunties and uncles, was simply more than I could have ever imagined.

Describing that week to people here in the states is difficult. It was very emotional. I felt my daughter’s presence with me. It was as if I was seeing what she saw through her eyes. I felt the love she had for the street boys, and experienced the love given to her from her African family. I laughed and cried, hugged and played. I soaked in every moment of healing, peace and comfort that God made available to me. Since her passing, I have not felt her presence anywhere as strongly as I did in Africa. She was everywhere there: in the McKinsey House, on the Nile River, in Jinja, at Street School, the Heroes Program, at Freedom Church. It was as if she was my tour guide for the place she so dearly loved.

Since returning home, I’ve had time to reflect on the craziness of this world I live in. I’ve tried to find my “new normal” since February only to discover there is no normal in life. The impact of this trip on me was profound. My heart was set free in Uganda. Though I will forever miss McKinsey, I also know, because of her faith, Jesus led me to Africa for healing, comfort and peace. Now I can let her go be with our Lord, Jesus Christ. I know she has left this earth, but her legacy of faith still lives on. I found all of that plus so much more in Uganda.

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This story however, is not over. I plan to return to Uganda, not with a mission team, but to work alongside Freedom Church, to understand more about the ministry and the raising up of future leaders of Uganda. My desire is to help further God’s vision for these beautiful people, who once seemed so foreign, but now, like with McKinsey, have stolen my heart. •LR•

Amy Cook is the Phone Bank Manager for Wells Fargo customer Connections. She is a wife, the mother of a US Marine, and a daughter, McKinsey, who now resides in heaven.