Finding the Key: A Story of God’s Redemption

Keys are things most people don’t think about, that is until they lose them. The sudden realization that our keys are gone – lost at the bottom of a purse or somewhere on the counter, beneath the mail, can cause the most composed person brief moments of panic. But once that silver ring, loaded with a house key, car key, office key, and a variety of store cards and key fobs resurfaces, the panic ends. We’ve suffered no real harm. We go about our day and head to work, church, the grocery store, and all the other places those keys help us reach.

Keys are things most people don’t think about, that is until they lose them. The sudden realization that our keys are gone – lost at the bottom of a purse or somewhere on the counter, beneath the mail, can cause the most composed person brief moments of panic. But once that silver ring, loaded with a house key, car key, office key, and a variety of store cards and key fobs resurfaces, the panic ends. We’ve suffered no real harm. We go about our day and head to work, church, the grocery store, and all the other places those keys help us reach.

What if we didn’t have any keys? No key to unlock the front door of a home. No key to start a car. No key to open an office door. A few years ago, Darby Hiott didn’t have any keys. No house key. No car key. No office key. No hope. Homeless and often without work, Darby turned to drinking. What he didn’t know was that God was about to unlock the door to a whole new life.

The Columbia native had known success in the furniture business, but fell on hard times. After losing everything, he struggled for everything he needed. Dinner came from a Chick-Filet dumpster. He wore a hole through the only pair of shoes he had. When he had a place to sleep, it wasn’t his own and usually at the mercy of others. But it was and is the mercy of God that changed Darby and led to this grace story.

Darby decided he wanted something more for his life and that God was the key he was missing. So he turned his life over to Christ and prayed “…that if God would give me another chance, I would do His work, His will, and His way.” Darby got a job at a local furniture store, and not long after that God gave him another key to his new life.

Lori Blum decided her young daughter could handle sleeping in a big girl bed. A trip to the local furniture store proved fruitful. Lori found the perfect bed, but it took a while for the bed to arrive. Darby Hiott helped her through the process. During that time Lori and Darby began talking. As the two got to know one another Lori says something happened. “I was smitten over him,” said Lori. She eventually invited him to attend a concert hosted by WMHK, a Christian radio station serving the Midlands of South Carolina. That concert marked the couple’s first date.

At the time, Lori, a single mother, was studying nursing to provide for her daughter. Darby still didn’t have a place to call home. As their relationship grew, Darby “laid all his cards on the table” making sure Lori knew everything. He even gave her copies of his record from the State Law Enforcement Division, which includes a DUI charge.

Darby’s past didn’t keep Lori from loving him. Lori lost friends over her relationship with Darby, but she didn’t lose her mother’s support. Sandy Miller, Lori’s mother, could see God bringing Lori and Darby together. She also saw something else.

Darby and Lori decided to get married in May of 2011. On their wedding day, Darby lost his job. Lori didn’t have one and didn’t have a passion for the nursing degree she’d been pursuing. Sandy asked them to write down what
they would want if they had a business. The dream was for a furniture store. “Darby brought his business model/proposal to me. His business talents were so obvious. I believed in him,” said Sandy. That faith combined with prayer led to action, and Sandy helped Darby and Lori get started. In August of 2011, the couple opened Beds & Such in West Columbia. Eighteen months later, Beds & Such is a successful business. With a 4800 square foot showroom and a 1500 square foot warehouse, the business and its nine full-time employees are furnishing homes and faith across the Midlands.

Customers can’t help but notice the Christian influence of Beds & Such. The radio station that played such a role in the start of Darby and Lori’s relationship, WMHK, is played both outside and inside the store. Stacks of Bibles are spread throughout the store and are free for customers to take. The walls are covered in scriptures. Darby and Lori share the same life verse, Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” That verse is boldly displayed on the store’s front wall.

Their faith and reliance on God is also shown in their actions. The staff regularly prays together and the focus is on conducting business in a manner that glorifies God. Darby also tries to help others looking for a way out of the life he once lived. And to make sure he doesn’t forget God’s great deliverance, he parks by that Chick-Filet dumpster every morning when he comes to work.

For a man who once had no keys, Darby now has several, one to park his vehicle, one for a brand new home, and several for the various doors at Beds & Such. More importantly he has the key to eternal life, and it doesn’t only fit his key ring. He and Lori work each day to share the Gospel – Jesus and the salvation He freely offers. That salvation is offered to homeless men, alcoholics, single mothers, furniture store customers, you and me. •LR

--The next edition of Living Real will feature a more in-depth look at the transformation God has brought about in Darby’s life.

--Kelly Coakley is a proud preacher's wife, mother, and former news anchor desiring to communicate the love of Jesus with everyone she meets. Kelly currently works as the Public Information Director with the SC Department of Agriculture.

My Secret

It’s hard to know just where to begin talking about something that I have tried so hard to move past and forget. I feel as if every man has some sin they deal with throughout their lives; that one habitual sin which keeps you from being the whole person God has designed you to be.

The sin that is a moment by moment struggle, and if not handed completely over to God daily through prayer, asking for wisdom and the willpower to overcome it, will continue to root deeper and deeper into the secret place of the soul. This sin root becomes a stronghold in your life and a constant stumbling block in your spiritual walk. My secret sin was lust.

It started with me at a very young age (probably seven or eight) when I stumbled across magazines hidden in my father’s bedroom; something that I’m sure he never intended on me finding. As I looked at those images I felt a sense of excitement and intrigue. I knew I was not supposed to be doing this, but yet I felt compelled. That was all it took for me to spend the next 25 years enslaved to an addiction that would hold me back from a true relationship with God. I would tell myself that there was nothing uncommon about a man looking at these types of books or movies; it was just a part of being a man.

Then in 2005, on St. Patrick’s Day, my sins would be placed directly before me. I gave my life to Christ that day. I had heard God calling me, so I stood up and walked forward. It was an experience like none that I had ever felt. I genuinely knew that I had entered into a relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I also in that instant knew that there were things in my life that had to be dealt with. I felt such strong conviction, and through prayer, dealt with so many things that had plagued 
my life.

Still, there was that one thing; that one stronghold that somehow just kept creeping back in.

It wasn’t long into my newfound relationship with Jesus Christ that I would realize just how quick a stronghold could destroy everything that was important to me. I had continually prayed to God to help me overcome my addiction and to give me an escape. The problem was I wasn’t really trying to do anything about it on my end. Then one day, my wife walked out of our bedroom very upset because she had discovered pornographic images on our computer. As she was asking me how I would confront my son about them, I heard God say, “Michael, just as you had to openly confess that I was your Lord and Savior publicly to gain your salvation, you must openly confess to your wife what you have done to be freed from your enslavement to pornography.’’ After I confessed it all to my wife, I then sat back and watched her completely fall apart; the husband she watched get saved; the husband she looked to for spiritual guidance; the husband she had finally been able to trust for the first time in our relationship. In that moment, every bit of trust that was ever gained with her was stripped away.

As I sat there, I watched my wife in an instant turn cold and distant towards me. She told me to leave, and I deserved it. I was more than willing to go so that I could run and hide my shame. At that point I realized I had done more than look at vulgar pictures; I had crushed the spirit of the woman I loved by choosing sin over her and my God.

As I lay in the bed that night I wondered how this could have happened. I had been so careful to hide my addiction- to cover my tracks. Then it dawned on me that this could only be the work of God. He had given me what I had continually prayed for; freedom from my sin. He dragged my filthy, dirty sin right out into the light so that it would be exposed, and therefore, forced me to deal with it. Now I had a decision to make. I could choose to either continue my life of secrecy and lustfulness, or I could choose to fully give this sin over to God. I chose the latter and begged Him to forgive me. This was how I could escape the stronghold in my life. I also prayed for the Spirit to soften Missy’s heart enough to allow me another chance to be a godly husband.

That was about 5 years ago. I wish I could tell you that the “forgiveness and healing” process was easy, but it wasn’t. It took commitment and determination, lots of prayer, saturating our minds with Scripture, much counseling from the Wonderful Counselor (Jesus) and wise counsel and encouragement from godly mentors. It still does! For Missy, not only did it take many years to completely forgive me, but the process led her down her own path of dealing with a hurtful and unforgiving past. I will tell you this. It was worth every bit of suffering to be freed from the enslavement which kept me from having the relationship with Jesus Christ that He desires to have with me. It also freed our marriage from total destruction as it put us back on track to being a couple who deeply loves each other and a couple that allows Christ to flow freely in and through us. •LR•

Mike Barkley is a husband, father of four kids and a full-time firefighter for the City of Columbia. He has been a follower of Christ for 8 years and enjoys the occasional game of pick-up basketball.

 

Katie Eats

I was scared that I’d lose my dad, and he’d never be able to walk me down the aisle or see his future grandchildren. I knew at that moment that I never wanted to suffer from heart disease. My dad was immediately put on a heart healthy diet, so we, as a family, changed our diet. We stopped frying any foods, cut out the Crisco, added even more nutritious fruits and vegetables and ate more white meat instead of dark meat.

As a teenager, I’d made some changes to eat healthier and tried to continue those changes through college and newlywed life. It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my first child that I really started connecting nutrition to overall health. I followed the guidelines of healthy eating when I was pregnant because I wanted to give my little girl the best physical health possible. After our first precious child was born, I wanted to feed her the best foods possible. I started researching food, and we switched to eating mainly organic foods. I learned about added growth hormones in dairy foods and genetically modified foods that both create health issues-things that most people don’t even know to think about when they are grocery shopping. We started shopping for grass fed beef and really started reading ingredient lists on foods.

At this same time, my sweet dear friend, Martha Baughman, was battling breast cancer. Her friends and family had to watch the most humble, generous, loving person we’d all ever had the privilege to know fight this horrible disease for seven years. It was terrible to watch the cancer go from her breast, to her liver, to her lungs and finally take her life. Martha taught my husband and me many, many lessons for life, including how to love with no regrets. She truly was an amazing person, and my prayer is that I can pass on these wonderful qualities that she possessed to my children. After Martha’s death, I began researching the links between cancer and diet and discovered that many doctors believe that more than 90 percent of cancer can be prevented with proper nutrition.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I began having digestive problems. Since your body reacts crazy to hormones while pregnant, I just thought it was part of the process. I also developed a moderate rash across my checks and nose that would not go away. Again, I thought it would just clear up after my baby was born. Unfortunately, my digestive issues and the rash didn’t clear up. I suffered with this for three years. I went to various specialists and each one told me something different. I had a colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer since many of my symptoms were signs for colon cancer. During the colonoscopy, the doctor finally saw the problem in my small intestines. It was celiac disease. I was allergic to gluten, a protein that is found in all wheat, barley and rye and many processed foods.

During this time my husband and I went through the immense pain of suffering several miscarriages. I found out that some studies suggest that miscarrying is nine times higher for women with untreated celiac disease since it can result in nutritional deficiencies causing the body to be unable to sustain a pregnancy. I had to revamp my diet to rid myself of gluten, and I had to educate myself on proper nutrition after years of having digestive problems. After allowing time for my body to heal, God blessed our family with another sweet healthy baby girl. Through this experience, I had to put my faith in Christ more and more. Although it wasn’t easy to walk the road that God placed before me, I chose to praise Him for it, and He has used it for good.

I realized that the changes I was having to make as a result of my disease actually set me on a path of eating in a Biblical way. God’s design before the fall of man, when everything was as God intended, was for us to eat the food that He provided in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 1:29 states, Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.” I realized that I can eat this way and that I can glorify God through my eating habits. I really can eat only foods that grow naturally, the way God originally made for us. I consider it worship to God to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, with very little animal products. I know that proper eating is a way for me to honor God and for me to praise Him continuously.

I don’t want anyone in my family to ever suffer through the torment of cancer the way Martha did. I don’t want anyone in my family to be confined to a bed for 14 years because of a diabetic stroke like my Aunt Cheryl. I don’t ever want heart disease to cause my husband to suffer a heart attack like my father. And I don’t want to have to take daily medication for high blood pressure and cholesterol like almost everyone in my extended family. God has taken me on a path that has shone me that the food I choose to eat plays a major role in minimizing the chances of all of these pains that God never intended for us.

My mom cooked dinner every night when I was a kid, and we ate together as a family. I loved helping my mom in the kitchen and she taught me at a young age how to cook real food, not the stuff out of a box. Today I’m passing on this legacy of cooking to my girls and teaching them what real food is and how to eat properly. God has blessed me with a passion for creating and eating nutritious food. I now choose to eat whole clean foods and live a healthier lifestyle. What I discovered through this process has been life changing. I want to encourage others to eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits which prevents many diseases, and hope that it will help them live the full and abundant life that God designed for all of us. •LR•

Katie Bryan is a former early childhood school teacher, wife and mother of two sweet girls that look just like their daddy. She provides weekly recipes on her blog: www.KatieEats.com

#LiveLikeRick

My heart is simply shattered as I write this piece. I buried one of my very best friends on earth last month, Rick Stilwell (on Twitter, @RickCaffeinated). His sudden death on January 11, 2013 has not yet fully registered with me. It has been an incredibly surreal experience. I cannot adequately describe the void that Rick has left on this earth. Nor can I adequately describe how much of an influence he was on my life. My heart goes out to his wife and college sweetheart, Vicki, and their two wonderful children, who now have to grow up without him. My heart simply aches for them. Yet I cannot ignore the reality that my heart aches for me, too. He was my friend, brother, and my rock in so many ways. For thirty years, I was privileged to know and love this man.

It all began in 1982 in Coach Payne’s P.E. class at Airport High School. Me and my lifelong pal, Jay, were hanging out together as always, trying to be cool (I was trying, he was succeeding). The next thing I knew, this skinny kid with huge glasses started hanging around with us. I don’t even know where he came from. I was able to determine that his name was Rick. There was never a formal introduction that I can recall. One day he was just there. Wherever Jay and I went, he was there. It wasn’t long, however, before Rick and I were fast friends. At the time, I had no idea that we would be best friends for the next three decades. I also didn’t know that I had a date with destiny that Rick would unwittingly orchestrate.

Right away I knew that Rick was a Christian. He was not shy about it at all. I had always sort of believed in God, but I saw a passion in Rick that I had never seen before. He invited me to church many times, and I politely declined. He was very persistent, however, and offered to pick me up at home and drive me to church. I finally agreed. To make a very long story short, it was at this church that I discovered Jesus on April 11, 1983. In this same church, Trinity Baptist, in Cayce, SC, I made some close friendships that have lasted to this very day. I found a family of believers who loved and discipled me and a Pastor, Don Davis, who I adored and still do. I eventually received a call into full time ministry. I was ordained in 1997. Rick participated in the service. I sat on his ordination council. I have since pastored three churches and have witnessed hundreds of people come to the Lord, here in the U.S. and abroad.

All because of this skinny kid with glasses who just showed up one day.
Rick was so much more to me. He was a steadfast friend. In nautical terms, he was my rudder. The rudder is the part of the boat that keeps it on a steady course. Rick was that for me in many ways. I have veered off course a few times in my life. Rick was always there to offer a word of encouragement, or, if necessary, a rebuke to help me get back on course. Sometimes we would “chat” online, and one of his favorite replies to me was “::smacks Todd on the head::.” If he was really trying to make a point, he would add, “::jumps out of chair and smacks Todd on the head::.” He had his softer side, too. When it became public that my marriage was officially over, he sent me a text message that read, “It doesn’t matter to me who is or isn’t at fault. What I want you to know is that no matter what, I am on YOUR side, friend.” That meant the world to me during that very difficult time.

What I loved most about Rick was that he was real. There was nothing pretentious or fake about him. He was who he was, and that was enough for him and for those of us who loved him. He worked hard at loving and providing for his family. He was an upright man in every way. His example spoke as much about him (if not more) than anything else he said or wrote. He was a teacher and a discipler. He received so much joy in pouring himself into others. Rick Stilwell made me want to be a better husband, father, friend, teacher, and writer. I owe so much of who and what I am (online and off) to his friendship. He would reply, “Bunk,” to that statement. He never wanted attention or credit for himself.

Rick was a forward-thinker. He didn’t think “outside the box.” Rick believed there was no box. He met each challenge as an opportunity to improve the world around him. He did a lot of this as a crusader for social media. I can honestly say that Rick had definitely found his niche. He would be so proud of the #LiveLikeRick movement that has risen from the ashes of his untimely death. He touched so many lives online and in person.

Finally, Rick was a deep thinker. For years he kept journals and blogs. I have never read his private journals. I am sure his family will treasure them. His blogs and other online posts will be greatly missed. He was all about connecting with others, either face to face or online through Facebook or Twitter. He lived for the conversations. Rick believed that it was more important to listen than to simply be heard. In this day where so many are rattling their sabres and raising their angry voices, perhaps a #LiveLikeRick lesson is in order. He would say, “If you share your story with me, and I share mine with you, then together we make a bigger and better story.”

For my fortieth birthday, Rick gave me my very first moleskin journal. He always encouraged me in my writing. In one of my recent moves, I had misplaced it. I rediscovered it recently, and I plan to use it to the full, or as Rick would say, “Crush it!” May we all strive to #LiveLikeRick, for in doing so, we will live like Jesus.

Rick, my friend, saying goodbye to you was the hardest thing I have ever done. I just can’t believe you’re gone. No more coffees and chats. No more dinners at DeLucca’s or D’s Wings. It isn’t fair. No more of your infamous snark and wit. For over half my life, you have been a major part. I make this promise to you, sir. I will keep living. I will look after your family. I will finish that novel, and, like it or not, you will receive a dedication! I love you, and I can honestly say I have never had a friend like you, nor will I ever again. Thank you, sir, for a lifetime of memories. Thank you for introducing me to Jesus and to almost all of our friends. Thank you for always believing in me and for choosing to call me friend. I will not say goodbye. I cannot. Instead, I will employ one of your favorite lines of old, “It’s been real, it’s been fun, and at times it was really funny.”
I will see you later, my friend. •LR•


Todd R. Vick is a husband, dad, pastor, teacher, writer, thinker, coffee snob, and idiot-savant. He loves hearing from you. Give him a shout at:
www.about.me/ToddRVick

No Room for Stink’n Think’n

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed to the renewing of your mind.”

Those God-breathed words were penned by Paul in Romans 12:2. You may be asking yourself, “What do they mean?” Neuroplasticity, of course! (Most of my readers just dropped to the bottom of the page to look at my bio, read Christian comedienne and thought, “She doesn’t know that word.” Well, yes I do.)

Science has now exploded in the work of neuroplasticity. It is the brain’s ability to reorganize; to re-grow, compensating for disease, injury, trauma (which could be physical or emotional), and respond to the changes in the environment. Literally, the brain can sprout itself and reconnect injured neurons and form new pathways. Wow! Your brain can sprout new limbs on the “brain-tree”. (There I go, I have to leave the scientific terms and use my own … it was time. I think I could smell smoke coming off of my own brain. Being serious isn’t my gift.)

Neuroplasticity was God’s idea. Ecclesiastes 1:9 teaches there is nothing new under the sun, therefore, renewing your mind and neuroplasticity are the same thing. I’m really glad science once again proved God is right, and I’m living proof!

At age 17, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was told that by the time I was 21, I would be in chronic pain and live my life out of a wheelchair. At age 40, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and given a possible three month life-ending prognosis. I’m 51, still walking and cancer-free. My greatest victory though, has been through the renewing of my mind which has taken place over the past five years. Facing my childhood abuse was the key. Without sharing details, check off most of the childhood abuse categories and you’ll get a glimpse into mine. Even though this was my past, today, through the power of Jesus Christ, I HAVE AN ABUNDANT LIFE!

I carried into my adult years negative emotions mixed with feelings of darkness, pain, suffering and loneliness. But as a Christian, I knew this baggage was a hindrance to the Christ filled life. In John 10:10b Jesus says, “I have come to give life and give it abundantly.” My renewal journey began, and through difficult inward examination, I began to recognize there was “NO ROOM FOR STINKIN’ THINKIN’ IN AN ABUNDANT LIFE.” While learning to change my thought process, God led me to a daily three-step strategy to renew my mind.

1. Admit you have negative thoughts and emotions. In II Corinthians 10:5, God’s Word teaches we must take every thought captive. Doing this demolishes strongholds, arguments, and every pretense you imagine that is not true. Have you ever done that? When you have a negative thought, stop… admit what you are doing.

2. Whisper the Name Jesus… this is the most important step. Upon admitting your negative thought and taking it captive, whisper Jesus –God’s Word teaches in Philippians 2:5, “Therefore God exalted Him (Jesus) to the highest place and gave Him the Name that is above every Name.” The true power to renewing your mind is not scientific, but a spiritual exercise in speaking the Name Jesus. The first time I taught this process, I was asked the question, “How many times per day do you whisper the Name Jesus?” I chuckled and responded, “Well, we’ve been here about an hour, and I just said his Name for the forty-thousandth time.” They laughed out loud, but I wasn’t kidding!

3. Begin to journal every negative thought you have (not a formal journal… just on some type of record – so don‘t panic). Once you’ve written your negative thought down, rewrite it in a positive way. Remember the first word to your renewed thought is Jesus. Here’s an example:

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Thought: I know I’m going to have a bad day; I can already feel my arthritis hurting before I get out of the bed.
Renewed Thought: Jesus, I can do all things through You. 
(Philippians 4:13) Today, I put my health in Your hands.

Thirty-three years later; my disease it not gone … but my mind-set has changed. My cup is not half-empty. My cup is half-full. As the old saying goes, “I’m drinking from my saucer because my cup is overflowing.” Join me in the neuroplasticity movement. Let’s do what God told us to do … renew our minds, because there is no room for stinkin’ thinkin’ in an abundant life. •LR•

Cherie Nettles
christian humorist, Bible teacher,
motivational speaker, author

Get Out of the Boat: Abundant Living in the Storm

Sometimes life just feels like it is too much to bear – even on ordinary days. There are too many things on our to-do lists, too many obligations, too many appointments and distractions, too many people, too much noise. Add to that a horrific headline that stops us in our tracks and brings tears to our eyes, an unplanned illness or tragedy and suddenly we feel lost in a whirlwind we didn’t sign up for and don’t know how to control. When we find ourselves clamoring, looking for a pause button, wishing we could hide for a moment (or at least stop everyone else while we catch up!), what do we do?

Jesus said “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)” This life is not a cake walk for anyone. We all have our issues, hang ups, struggles, baggage, circumstances and sin. But as a follower of Christ, I know that when my “yoke” begins to feel heavy, there is a very good chance I’ve taken on more than what Christ intended for me. Maybe the same is true for you. Maybe that feeling that our walk is too burdensome, that the whirlwind is too much, is really Jesus whispering, “Come to Me.” Maybe it’s a clue to back up and take off whatever is weighing us down. Simple enough, right? I don’t typically think so either, but it occurs to me that maybe I am trying too hard. Maybe my striving is the very current energizing the whirlwind. Maybe I simply need to go to Jesus.

I’m reminded of when Jesus invited Peter to walk on the water with Him. Matthew 14:29-30 says that at Jesus’ beckoning, “Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. BUT WHEN HE SAW THE WIND he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’” And, of course, Jesus did – “immediately”, according to verse 31. More than anything else, when I am overwhelmed, I find myself thinking, praying and saying those three words: “Lord, save me!” The hard part is consistently having faith to believe that He really will.

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t know how to fix all the problems. And I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Nobody does. But I don’t want to just stop it all. I don’t want to completely give up. I don’t want to avoid the fight or hide away from the world. I know God is faithful. I want to make the world better – even if I only impact my little corner of it. I want to fight the good fight and press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me (Philippians 3:13).

I think the key to abundant living in the whirlwind is to let go of my need to control everything and simply go to Jesus while it’s still raining. Jesus is perfect and unchanging. He lived His life to show us how we’re supposed to live ours. The Bible says that He faced every temptation we face, stood up under all of them, and now stands at the right hand of the Father, interceding on our behalf. In other words, Jesus “gets us” and He’s talking to His Father about how hard it sometimes is to be human. He knows what it’s like to live in this world, and He has provided a way for us to do it well – even when it’s hard. In the storm, we don’t need all the answers. We need a Savior. And, in Jesus, we have one.

So when life seems out of control, when you’re scared, when you’re tempted to worry, when you just want to go down into the hull of the ship and wait for it all to pass, don’t. Get out of the boat with me. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Feel the rain on your face and the wind whipping around you, but don’t even glance down at the waves or peek at the lightening. Don’t listen to the thunder. Instead, let His words echo in your ears: “I will give you rest… I am gentle… My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Keep your gaze on Christ. Press on toward Him. Believe that He has made a way. Let His strength overcome your weakness. Know that if you begin to sink, you can cry out, and He will immediately reach out His hand to catch you. And rest assured that tomorrow, He will still be calm in the middle of the storm, offering you another chance to walk on the water with Him. •LR•

Joeli Mulligan is a Christian dramatist, speaker, singer and sometimes blogger. Check out her website at: SpeechlessMinistries.org

Shattered

My daughter Reagan cracked her iPod touch yesterday.

She was roller-blading and decided to sit for a rest. The only problem was that her rear end was not enough cushioning between the pavement and the force of her weight, so the iPod in her back pocket looks like a bull’s-eye that took a direct hit. Her first thought was, “Dad’s gonna kill me!” Her anxiety rising, she yelled at her friend Autumn, whose only offense was being present. She then rushed home and tearfully sought my comfort. She had shattered her iPod, a friendship, and her Daddy’s trust. This girl was in trouble, and she knew it. But she also knew where to turn to confess and find comfort.

Israel came to mind because there are some things about being in trouble that are universal and timeless. Israel had fled Egypt as fast as Moses could lead them, and they ran right into a dead end. Israel’s dream of freedom and rescue got squeezed between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s approaching army. Their faith was a bull’s-eye that took a direct hit, and, like Reagan’s iPod, it shattered.

As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:10-14 NAS).

It’s interesting that they cried out to the Lord and then said to Moses. They took their fear, frustration, and failure out on their friend because he was there. He also seemed a safer target than God for their verbal backlash. Their words reveal their hearts. They regretted having left at all. They wanted to go back. Israel feared and wanted to run home.

Moses advised them, “Fear not. Stand by and see the salvation of the Lord.” Moses, too, was pressed between two opposing forces: God’s will and Israel’s will. But he did not crack under pressure—he bent to both a bit. He reassured Israel with, “…[the Lord] will accomplish [salvation] for you today.” The next verse, verse 15, tells us he was crying out to God the whole time. Moses is a wise and inspiring leader. When the people are in distress, he comforts them, but all the while, pleads their case silently before the Lord.

And just when you think you might have done the heroic thing that’s full of faith by standing silent before the Lord at your dead end, God says, “Go forward.” You might be able to muster the strength to stand in the face of your fear, failure, regret, or whatever dead end it is you face, but going forward always takes faith.

Israel took a step into the sea that was sure to be their ruin. That’s when God changed their geography. He cushioned their footfall with a firm foundation that miraculously rose up out of the sea to meet their timid faith.

Even when they regretted their choice, feared their circumstances, and wished to go back, God’s grace rose up anyway, to support the weight of their every faith-filled step into the Red Sea until they were safely on the other side—intact and unshattered.

It may not have happened that way for Reagan’s iPod, but it always will when God’s people fall on his grace.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8 NLT). •LR•

Dawn Gonzalez is a veteran stay-at-home mom, reader, writer, pastor’s wife,
and blogger. Follow her blog at:EverydayOrdinaryDawnings.blogspot.com

Dr. Jeffrey Travis, LMC heart surgeon

Editorial: The Heart of Prayer

Inside a Pre-Op room in Lexington Medical Center’s Surgery Department, a team of cardiac clinicians prepares a patient for what is undoubtedly one of the most overwhelming experiences of their life: open heart surgery. There are IVs, machines and anxious family members.

Emotions are running high because this is major surgery. Then, the surgeon walks in the room and offers a word of prayer. Many of Lexington Medical Center’s heart patients say that’s when they knew everything was going to be OK.

Dr. Jeffrey Travis of Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery is a heart surgeon at Lexington Medical Center. He prays with his patients before surgery, whenever possible.

“I ask for the Lord to watch them during their surgery. I ask Him to guide me – my hands, my heart and my mind, to help them. I ask for it to be in His glory and not my own. And I ask for it to be in His Son’s name,” Dr. Travis said.

Dr. Travis’s faith is important to him not only in church on Sunday, but in surgery every day – especially big surgery like open heart surgery.

“It helps me be sure that I’m grounded during a patient’s care; that I’m connected to the right source and I don’t do these things in and of my own strength, because sometimes the thought becomes overwhelming,” he said.

Each patient you meet will tell you about Dr. Travis’s prayer.

Sergeant Major Jim Miller had coronary artery bypass and valve 
replacement surgery at Lexington Medical Center last year. He’s tough -the retired Army drill sergeant from Columbia is an ROTC instructor, weightlifter and two-time Purple Heart recipient. But just talking about the prayer Dr. Travis said before his surgery chokes him up and brings tears to his eyes.

“Dr. Travis came in and talked to us for awhile. Then he said, OK, 
let’s pray. He grabbed my and my wife’s hand and we prayed. And he said, ‘I’m ready,’” Miller said, pausing to hold back the tears. “I get emotional on this one-it was a feeling that not only man was involved, but God was involved, too. I guess you might say it set you at ease. It was wonderful.”

Susan Hurt had heart surgery at the hospital in June to repair her aorta. Her husband Tim recalled the prayer Dr. Travis said just before surgery.

“Dr. Travis went to the bed, caught Susan’s hand and said ‘Ms. Hurt, if it’s ok with you, will you join me in prayer?’ And he dropped down honest to goodness on one knee and held her hand and asked the Lord for strength and guidance. There was not a dry eye in there. It was as reassuring as it could possibly be.”

Dr. Travis shared the Bible verse he thinks of most often before performing heart surgery.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” 
-John 15:5

For more information about Dr. Jeffrey Travis, Lexington Cardiovascular Surgery and Lexington Medical Center’s comprehensive cardiovascular care program, visit www.lexmed.com •LR•

Heidi and Ellie

Lesson from Ellie

Heidi Shumpert has an 11-month old lamb named “Ellie” that has given her much insight to her own relationship with God.

FEAR

Ellie is timid. If we’re near the road and a car goes by, she shudders. If she hears a loud noise, she flinches. But I’ve never seen her more afraid than when we were taking care of a one year old puppy and we let it go into the backyard. When the puppy saw her, he barked out of fear. Ellie was even more afraid. She began to run and he barked away. Ellie’s ears were jumping, her body was trembling and her tail was going up and down. Ellie ran behind me for cover. Every time I brought the puppy into the yard she would take off running and then come and stand behind me terrified. It was upsetting to see her so scared. It made me think about what I do when I’m afraid. Do I run away or do I run to Jesus? We must run to Him because Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10:16, “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” The Bible says in Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”

HIS VOICE

Ellie was about a week old when my parents first came to see her. Mom and Dad were laughing when they saw Ellie following and running after me around the yard. I said, “Go ahead. You try, Mom.” Mom clapped her hands and took a few small steps away from her and said, “Ellie! Ellie! Come on.” Ellie hesitantly took a couple of slow steps towards Mom and then stopped. Mom tried again but got the same reaction from Ellie. She hollered to me across the yard, “You call her!” So I did. “Ellie!” She immediately snapped her head in my direction and she ran to me. As she stopped in front of me I got emotional as this Scripture flowed through my mind, “…and His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
(John 10:4-5)

WAYWARD

Ellie loves to escape from our fenced-in backyard and into the front yard just for the plethora of foliage. She’s fine for a little while but then she wanders into the neighbor’s yard. I try my best to corral her back to our yard but it usually doesn’t work. I have to pick her up and carry her back home; all the while she’s kicking and bleating. Last week, Ellie and I were in the front yard. I was working and she was grazing. Once again she sneaked into the next yard; she was eating frantically knowing she wasn’t supposed to be there. As I chased her, I wondered if the neighbor thought I was losing in this horrible game of tag. I finally caught her, picked her up, and she rewarded me with a head butt and a subsequent nose bleed! Isn’t that just like us? Despising our boundaries we wander away, resisting the One who provides, protects and loves us. As it says in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

Heidi Shumpert is a wife and mother to two pups and Ellie the lamb. She loves interior design and can often be found giving hair cuts at HIS House Ministries.

The High Call to Purity

“It seems like only yesterday our daughter was carrying her Barbie dolls around the house. Now, when she leaves for school each morning, she looks like a doll! What does she think about herself?”

“Was it that long ago that we had to call our son in at night? He loved to shoot the baskets in the driveway and pretend he was on the big-league courts. Now, when he is at home he stays in his room – alone! What in the world is on his mind?”

“We told each other that we would not cross the line on our dates. But now the pressure is building to go farther and farther each time we meet. I don’t know if we can keep our promise!”

“For ten years our marriage was wonderful. Now my mate has turned away from me and has no concern for me. I never thought I would want to be unfaithful… But what am I supposed to do with my needs?”

No one has to remind us that we live in a society that is hostile towards anything that concerns purity and holiness, and nowhere is this more evident than in the area of sexuality. So how is a Christian boy or girl, man or woman, husband or wife expected to maintain sexual purity in a culture that not only tolerates promiscuity, but even promotes sexual indulgence by bombarding our minds with erotic images every way we turn – music, TV programs and commercials, movies, and of course, magazines.

A true believer in Christ has a higher calling than to just conform to a culture based on a barnyard morality. While acceptable sexual standards may have changed as far as society, God’s standards have not. Sex is sacred, holy, set apart – “sanctified” – God never intended it to be cheapened by vulgarity or to be used selfishly.

God designed the sexes and the act of sex for the purpose of building “oneness” in the marriage. When God made Adam from the dust of the earth, he was only one! When God took the rib from Adam’s side and made Eve, then they were two! In the sexual union, the two would become united into “one flesh”! That “oneness” was intended to unite them spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically in a bond of love and a level of intimacy that would surpass all other relationships. That is why God said, “For this reason” – for the reason of marital oneness – “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh!” (Genesis 2:24)

The world is finding out, apart from marriage, the sexual experience only produces regret, mistrust, loss of honor, a guilty conscience, painful memories, loss of testimony, and physical and emotional consequences that will continue to affect any and all future relationships, even including the unborn children. Sexually transmitted diseases may also cause physical death.

Sexual purity is not just a good idea that will bring joy, honor, contentment and intimacy to those who pursue it; sexual purity is the will of God for each one of us. The Apostle Paul made that clear when he wrote: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God! For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification!” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8)

As Christians, our body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. It is His holiness that purifies us. It is His presence that sanctifies us. That’s why Paul added this warning: “Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God who has also given us His Holy Spirit!” (1 Thess. 4:8)

I urge parents and married couples to use the following statements as communication starters regarding this most significant issue in our society today:

Accept your sexuality as God’s gift and dedicate your body to Him for His glory. Others may choose to waste that gift to get attention or acceptance. But if you want God’s best, give your sexuality to God and allow Him the privilege of directing you to the right life-partner to share it with.

Accept your sexual desires as a normal, healthy part of the growth process. The world says “satisfy them”–they are only natural. The Word says “sanctify them”–they are super-natural. When sex is used for the purpose God intended, under the commitment bonds of marriage, it can also bring another bundle of joy into the world: a baby–the ultimate evidence of the oneness between a husband and a wife. Sex outside of marriage isn’t wrong because it is bad, but because it hinders us from what is good.

Don’t allow yourself to be used for sexual play. “Making love” does not make it love. Save your sexuality so that you can invest it in the relationship that will matter forever! Climb up on the top of the ladder of sexual purity – set apart for God’s use in marriage. Then let that special someone earn the right to sit up there with you by walking up the steps of honesty, respect, honor, genuine love, and the commitment of marriage.

Avoid preoccupation with sexual material. All the immorality and sexual activity today is just man’s futile attempt to find fulfillment outside of God’s will and God’s ways. But the very activity itself rejects God, and therefore prevents the ultimate “goal” of sex to be achieved. You can reject God’s commandments, but you cannot reject the consequences of rejecting God’s commandments.

Establish accountability with someone who will challenge you to remain pure. Their encouragement and support may be the “way of escape” in your time of temptation.

If you have already fallen victim to the devil’s lie, at any level or form of sexual expression, genuinely repent. Seek God’s forgiveness, cleansing and restoration. No, you cannot replace your virginity, but you can restore your integrity. Perhaps God can use your testimony to help others make the right choices.

As Christians, we may not be able to change the morality 
of society through legislation or education. But God has called us to “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you.” (1 Thessalonians 2:12) In the area of sexual behavior, the call is to “excel even more”–it is the “high call to purity.” •LR•

Dr. Wayne J. Edwards
pastor & author