Abide…surrender…joy…it’s amazing to experience how the Lord uses trials to draw us closer to Him and walk boldly in faith. I recently had such an experience when I experienced a health crisis. While at work in late October, I was suddenly hit with excruciating abdominal pain and nausea. My symptoms worsened and a rare, life-threatening obstruction was discovered -- I needed to have emergency surgery. As a nurse in the surgical department, I suddenly found myself a patient in our department. As I waited to speak with the surgical team, I reflected on seeing the Lord’s hand on everything that led up that point and was reminded of the His faithfulness in the past. I knew He would continue to be faithful. I went into the operating room with His courage and was reminded of Joshua 1:9 hanging in our family room: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” I woke up after surgery and was comforted by seeing my co-workers’ and Jason’s faces. I was then admitted to the hospital to recover.
As an active person recovering from major surgery being connected to lines and tubes and needing assistance to do the smallest things was difficult. I wanted to drink water, eat food, use the restroom without help, sleep soundly, and my surgical incision to heal overnight! Faced with the uncertainty of my health and separation from my family in the loneliness of my hospital room, I cried out to the Lord to be filled with His peace. I prayed to be filled with His strength to face the challenging road to recovery. The Lord heard my cry and met me in the day-time busyness and late-night stillness of my hospital room. I experienced beautiful quiet and still moments as the Lord filled me with His peace. He reminded me of the scripture I had prayed as theme verses for the upcoming year on my birthday, a week ago. My fears, loneliness, and doubts were replaced by the rest and peace found in abiding in Him.
“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 find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
and John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
He called me to surrender it all to Him and to keep my focus on Him, not on myself. I continued to trust in His goodness, love, and faithfulness. He wasn’t a distant Savior but understood what I was experiencing as He carried me through. His promises were the lifeboat I clung onto in the ocean of uncertainty I found myself. In my humility and weakness, He filled me with His strength. His grace was sufficient for me!
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in the weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV
With the Lord’s strength, I was able to eat, walk longer distances, rest, and recover. I was so grateful for the small things and able to experience joy in the midst of my trial. I knew no matter the outcome, His love and my salvation would remain. I found joy in His grace and presence!
The Lord was also working in my husband and children’s lives, and He used fellow believers, friends, and co-workers to show us His love, comfort, and support. After 4.5 days I was discharged and filled with joy to be healthy enough to go home to my family. We were also grateful to have my mom’s help, who flew immediately from California to be with us. My recovery didn’t end when I left the hospital, He continues to refine and equip me to do His will (it is a continuous story!). I am reminded that the hope and joy found in His peace, grace, and presence transcends the trials we experience. I am thankful that I can hold onto His promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us, a reason to rejoice always! I pray that His power and glory is evident when I share my experience with others, and through the continuous work He calls me to do.
“When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will be not be burned;
The flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy one of Israel, your Savior.”
Isaiah 43:2-3 NIV
“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.
These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV
Same old kinda day. Dropped of my grandson, Conner, at school for another day of middle school. The usual chatter on the way, about movies and YouTubers and music. Then all of a sudden, we’re at the school and he tumbles out with his backpack that is almost his size.
“Remember Jesus loves you today,” I call as he closes the car door. And quickly I’m on my way back home. It’s a country road to the school and back, with horses and cows and various crops that have been shaved off the earth since the harvests. Quiet.
Then, just like that, I turn left on Route 17 south and everything is fast and busy in a four-lane kind of way. At that moment the morning sun was just in that spot where I was completely blinded by its radiance. I was jolted into utter blindness. What if there is a car going slowly in front of me. Panic.
92 million miles away, there was a powerful ball of energy that was blinding me right here on 17 South. Apparently, the light left its source 8 minutes ago, and here it was! I glanced down at the line on my left, outside the driver’s side window so I could get my bearings. Rats! I had those dark blinky blotches in my eyes so could hardly make out the lines. Of course, my sunglasses were somewhere in the bottom of my purse, and I was not about to search for them with one hand, when I was already sun blinded. I did take driver’s ed.
In a reflex action I reached up and pulled down my hopeless little unused visor over the steering wheel on my tiny car, not expecting much help. Suddenly, that little postage stamp of a visor fixed everything. The light which had travelled 92 million miles was blocked out by that visor. I could see the road! I had my vision and equilibrium back. Whew.
I know you know where I’m going with this – so let’s just do it.
How many times in the course of my day, when the glory of 93 million miles of love, sacrifice and amazing grace blasts into my everyday life, do I just flip down my visor of impatience, distrust, doubt and laziness and block out the whole thing? Something goes wrong and I flip down that visor. My feelings are hurt, and I let that tiny square darken everything. I lose my sense of direction and blame the light.
It wasn’t until I got home and saw on my calendar that today is Epiphany, that I just had to chuckle. I think I just got Epiphanied! You’ll see on most calendars that Epiphany is celebrated January 6. There are many church traditions around this, but it literally means “reveal” and celebrates the arrival of the Maji, who had been following the star from afar to see Emmanuel; God with us. When light breaks through, like the star, we have an epiphany. And sometimes that light can be blinding.
So, how did you end up here?
That’s the most natural question I get after telling people I’m originally from Illinois. And, no, I’m not in the military; nor did I go to school here. The short answer is simple: the Lord – He brought me here. The long answer is the same, but the details reveal His consistent faithfulness and provision in my life.
I usually start this story at age 22, but the story really begins at age 15, where the key question I was asking myself was “what’s the purpose of life?” The Lord started revealing pieces of that question to me on my first mission trip. After that, I wanted to know the Lord more and grow in sharing Him with others. I felt like this was my purpose in life. Eventually, I went to college and studied missions. When it came time for an internship, I stumbled upon an organization called Global Frontier Missions (GFM) – a missionary training organization based out of Clarkston, GA, a small town outside of Atlanta with about 10,000 refugees.
My time at GFM felt like a missions buffet! Monday afternoon I’d be in a Nepali home, Tuesday afternoon in an Iraqi home, Wednesday afternoon in a Burmese home, Thursday in an Afghan home, and Friday in an Ethiopian home. It was awesome! I love different cultures, and this town is filled with them! But, in the midst of this diversity, the Lord specifically broke my heart for one particular people. When I say “broke my heart,” I mean that out of all of the people I was interacting with, there was one group in particular that brought me to tears when thinking about their lack of the gospel. Therefore, as I finished the internship and entered my senior year of college, I began praying that the Lord would allow me to live among these people after college and share the gospel with them.
After graduating college, I wasn’t sure what to do, so I went back to GFM for a second summer internship. During the last week, we hosted a short-term team from a church in Virginia called Peninsula Community Chapel. Perhaps, you’ve heard of them. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about this team coming, because it was the last week of the internship, meaning it would be the last time I’d see the international friends I’d made. I knew this team was a group of high school students, so I was a little worried about getting some punk kid that would be culturally insensitive and not eat the food placed in front of them. I distinctly remember signing up for one of my ministry partners for the week, and as I was writing her name down, I said, “I don’t know who this Chelsea girl is, but she better be good!” I wonder if the Lord chuckled at that comment.
It turns out, I had a great week with that Chelsea girl, and I even tried to convince her to move to Nashville with me. She graciously declined, the week ended, and we parted ways saying, “well, I guess I’ll see you in heaven!”
College is over. Now what?
Meanwhile, I moved back home and continued to pray for the Lord to make a way for me to live among the people He placed on my heart. And, thankfully, He started putting a team together in Chicago! Two of my friends from college had a similar vision, so we started making our plans to head to Chicago. We even had a “vision” trip together. We got connected to a local ministry, found temporary housing, and started applying for jobs. In February of 2016, this Chelsea girl reached out to me somewhat out of the blue.
“You should come intern at our church this summer,” she said.
“Oh that sounds awesome, but I kind of have these other plans,” I told her, and began filling her in on how God was putting all the pieces in place for me to move to Chicago.
“That’s awesome!” Chelsea replied. “Since going to Clarkston, I’ve gotten involved with the refugee ministry at my church and now I really want to move into a refugee apartment complex.”
“Wow! I’m excited for you! I’ll be praying the Lord sends you a roommate!” I responded as we finished up our conversation. Perhaps, the Lord chuckled at that comment, as well.
A few weeks after that conversation, my plans to move to Chicago quickly unraveled. One of my potential roommates ended up not being able to move, our temporary housing fell through, and after applying to about 20 (literally) different jobs, I had no job offers. Everything was changing so quickly, but at the same time I was planning a trip with two of my friends to the Outer Banks, because we’re from the Midwest, so we don’t know that you don’t plan a trip to the Outer Banks in March.
However, it proved to be one of the best trips of my life. I told my two friends about this Chelsea girl, and that I was maybe planning to ask her if it would be okay if I just move to Virginia and we try to live together in a refugee apartment complex. This plan sounded ridiculous, even to me, so I asked them to spy on Chelsea for me to let me know if I had gone off the deep end. Shockingly, after making a quick stop in the 757 on our way to the OBX, both of my friends affirmed my plan. “It is crazy,” they said, “but I think it could work!”
The next day I sent a message to Chelsea.
“So, is your church still looking for summer interns?”
“Yes. Oh my gosh! Do you want to apply?”
“Well, what would you think about me just moving to Virginia and the two of us moving into a refugee apartment complex?”
“What?!?! Are you serious? This would be an answer to prayer! If you’re in, I’m in!”
And just like that, within a month, all of my plans to move to Chicago had crumbled, and I had a roommate, housing, and a job set for me to move to Virginia in June 2016. The Lord clearly put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, and I stood back in pure, joyful amazement at the ridiculous details that I knew I could not have dreamed up on my own.
Side Note: Parents’ Support
Throughout this whole process one of the greatest gifts from the Lord was my parents’ support. They encouraged my first mission trip, and consistently showed support, even when I began processing that I felt like the Lord was leading me to a people that aren’t known to be the most peaceful. It was a true blessing that allowed me to honestly process with my mom. She continually pointed me back to the Lord, trusted that He was the best guide for my life, and that I was seeking to follow Him. My parents never pressured me to question the path I believed He was laying out for me. This meant I got to share the joys and struggles of the process, and my parents got to mourn and rejoice alongside me.
When I got home after my trip to the Outer Banks, I shared all of the details with my mom and said, “Mom, I think I’m moving to Virginia!”
"I just knew something like this was going to fall into place, and the Lord would guide all the pieces,” she graciously replied.
She could have been fearful – that would have been reasonable – but she chose to trust the Lord with my life. And that, has been one of the biggest blessings.
Thankfully, the process of picking an apartment complex to move into was easy; actually moving in was not. But the Lord was faithful to remove obstacles and we found ourselves in Regency Square. In fact, just as we moved in, so did a whole group of people from the people group I loved. It felt like the Lord had literally just picked all of us up and moved us into this same area together at the same time!
The whole first year, Chelsea and I were so excited and easily just laughed off the bug problems, plumbing problems, heating problems, etc. We were just excited that the plan worked – we were really living right next door to a ton of refugees.
After about a month I came home from work one day in November, and I smelled something. I walked into the kitchen and Chelsea promptly opened the oven door and showed me the pumpkin pies she was baking.
“How do you know if they’re done?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t really like pumpkin pie”
“Yeah, neither do I.”
“Ummm…,” I started to say with a confused look, “you do know that the likelihood of us getting served whatever we take to someone is very high, right?”
Well, thankfully, we didn’t get the pies served to us, but I also don’t think we ever got invited into that house again, so maybe our new friend didn’t like the pies either. No hard feelings though; we were happy for the trial-and-error process of our relationship building to begin!
There was a lady in Regency named Nor. One day I saw her taking her trash out, and I felt like the Lord was telling me to go talk to her. I wasn’t feeling especially social that day, and just didn’t want to, so I started bargaining with God and eventually said, “Fine, I’ll go out and prayer walk one lap around our half of the complex. If I see her, I’ll talk to her. If not, I won’t.” Nor wasn’t out, but that’s when I met Diana, who became my closest, and only consistent refugee friend while at Regency.
Eventually, Diana and I started meeting weekly. I told her I’d teach her English if she taught me Arabic. That was a little bit of a joke because what developed was much sweeter than language lessons. Eventually, we would talk about real things. I remember the day we grieved together as she told me about a friend of hers back home who committed suicide, and I remember her talking about how much pain and anger her sister had because her husband was taking a second wife. “The husband loves each consecutive wife more,” she explained to me. This was a great time to talk about how Jesus tells husbands to take only one wife and to love them like they love their own bodies. Also, Jesus loves us so much that He gave His life for His followers and husbands are supposed to love their wives like that. She liked the words and character of Jesus. These conversations gave me incredible joy; they were the reason we were there.
Eventually, the first year drew to an end, and a lot of the newness wore off. Many of our friends started moving out of Regency as their contract drew to an end, including Diana. Also, I was having a pretty tough time. I had inconsistent employment for the first three years I lived here, and that resulted in me being consistently discouraged and poor. I was not doing a whole lot, because many activities cost money, and many people spend their days at work, so I ended up isolating myself. I learned quickly that isolation is a breeding ground for sin.
I dove headfirst into sin and got wrapped up in things I never imagined would be a struggle for me. After two years of this, nothing was changing for the better. Therefore, I decided circumstances needed to change. I either needed to move away and start over, or it was simply time to move out of Regency. Chelsea and I decided to try a new location and invite another person into our lives. We began praying for a third roommate.
Thankfully, a few months before we started praying, the Lord moved a physical therapist from Texas here for a 9-month work contract. Rachel was someone who we had begun spending a lot of time with, at first because she was the new girl, who lived all the way in Williamsburg, and we thought she needed more friends. But, as we spent time with her, we learned that she was trustworthy and full of grace – a good friend to have.
I distinctly remember discussing a hot issue within the global Church, and she simply said, “Our sin should never shock us. We should never be shocked by others’ sins.” As someone who was struggling with the shame of my own sin, these words were a balm to my soul, and this friend made me feel safe and reminded me of the grace of my Redeemer.
Eventually, we asked Rachel to move into a house with us, and we shared with her in detail how life had been going for the past couple of years. We wanted her to know what sort of battles she would be joining. Again, she responded with grace and shared some of her own battles, as well. With that, the house hunt began.
Moving onto Selden Road began a season of restoration for me. I am in a new living environment, with faithful, God-loving roommates who know the details of my story and will lovingly point me back to Christ. The Lord gave me steady employment. Additionally, the desire to share the gospel with internationals never left, and the Lord has recently been creating a new way to do that.
The last two years have been a season of turning back to the Lord and learning to seek Him first. One main thing the Lord has impressed upon me in this season is a new sense of relief in His grace and forgiveness that covers all of my sins – past, present, and future. He paid for everything when I accepted Him as a 10-year-old. The day I accepted Christ, I didn’t fully know what Jesus was forgiving, but He did. He took all of my sin and shame – 10-year-old Abby sin and shame, 25-year-old Abby sin and shame, 70-year-old Abby sin and shame – and He gave me His righteousness, and there is nothing I can do to lessen that. He has redeemed me and called me righteous, even though I will continue to struggle with sin in this life. Praise God for His faithful grace and mercy!
So, that is how I got here – by following the seemingly ridiculous leading of our faithful God who puts together all the details. He writes a much better story than I could ever imagine.
Last week, we discussed the first two steps of creating community. The first step mentioned was to ask yourself what needs you have, both perceived and real needs. The second step was to acknowledge what season you are in.
1. The Third Step: SO, THE NEXT THING IS, “WHAT DO YOU HAVE IN YOUR HAND???
“Seek out what you need but give what you can. The next phase of this conversation is to concentrate on what you CAN offer. There will be seasons like I mentioned above when you have extreme need. Yes, you will need to seek out assistance or friendship for yourself at times. But remember the best friend who took all my children for a few days? What if YOU can be that best friend?
There are things you CAN do in the season you are in. Even if you feel stuck at home, even if you are homebound, even if you are nursing, even if you are homeschooling, even if you are working…even if you expect others to offer you community, you can be intentional about doing your part to create community. Susan Miller, again, says, “It begins with you!”
Could you send a real note in the mail to that new gal you met who needs a lift? Write a note, and actually sign it, post a stamp, and send it out during naptime. What if you are baking cookies, and you decide that you have 6 extra cookies to spare to offer that new neighbor next door on a paper plate? What are you already doing in your day that you could offer to another? If you are already making dinner, double the recipe and stick one in the freezer so you can give it away. The next time someone has a death in the family, or a baby is born, food will be ready. You won’t necessarily have time to bake each time you hear about something, but the freezer is wonderful.
Keep something homemade or store-bought there all the time. ALL THE TIME. It is the best and easiest gift to give when you find the right moment. And the most fun moment is when a friend drops by unannounced and all you need to do is put the plate of frozen cookies in the microwave on defrost and heat up some water for tea. And this is an easy one – when you are at the grocery store, call that new friend and ask if you can pick up something for them while you are out. Amazing!
What if you don’t bake? Do you draw? Write beautifully? Sew? Paint? One of my most precious gifts from a friend was a hand painted watercolor bookmark. I think of her every time I read the book it’s in. It cost her time, but not much money – but I love it because it connects me to her heart and our friendship.
What about the real telephone? When you are nursing, pick up the phone and actually call that old neighbor you miss a few states over. The one who cried when you said goodbye? The best friend who was really hard to leave?
Taking moments to offer friendship and connection in these simple moments doesn’t have to take long, either. It might be that you only have 5 minutes. Well, you know what? I say so! Tell them when they first pick up that you only have 5 minutes. Catch them up for 2, and then ask them to take 2 to share about their life, and make sure lastly to have a plan to connect again soon.
One important side note here:
Friends from other seasons of life can still offer you community NOW. If you are having trouble finding that deepest, heartfelt friend here in town, or now during COVID, call up one who knows your heart. Be real. Be transparent. Share the trials or the joys.
Daily community doesn’t have to be someone present in your living room. It can be a simple connection with someone across any number of miles. My dearest and best friends, two of them, are from college and from Louisiana. I never thought I would still have long conversations and encouragement and wise advice from someone I only see every couple of years. But I INVEST in those relationships, because I can TRUST them.
I make myself take time to ask how they are doing…to listen to them for a while. And they, in turn, call me once in a while and really listen.
So, consider what you have in your hand. Sometimes you have little to no energy but give what is in you. As a military wife alone in Texas, after that first miscarriage, I had a little two-year old son who loved the old couple next door – Joe and Ines. They lived about 30 feet down the sidewalk in the next rancher over. What I had in my hand was grief, but also a delightful son – and they loved him with a passion. Sometimes, I would stand at my front door, tell Alex to go down the sidewalk and to knock on their door. Then Joe would open the door, say, “COME IN THIS HOUSE,” and he would bring delight and smiles to their hearts for a few minutes.
The tips I’ve shared are simple, practical tips for offering community, creating friendships, being a friend. I’d like to highly recommend the book I referenced earlier – Susan Miller’s book called After the Boxes are Unpacked. She makes a list at the end of every chapter called “Unpack your Survival Box.” Tips that I suggest you try are in her book and include the following:
Let me tell you one final story. I was in a summer volunteer job in Dallas, Texas, at the Summer Institute of Linguistics. I was living far away from home in Virginia, but I found out my younger brother was flying through DFW airport on his way to a summer internship in Mexico. An adult student at the center offered to take me to the airport terminal to say a quick hi to my brother on his layover. I tried to pay her $10 for gas, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said, “I felt like God said I’m supposed to take you to the airport, so don’t take away my opportunity to be a blessing to you.”
Did it occur to you that in some seasons, others are just waiting to be a blessing to you? And in other seasons, maybe one just around the corner, you are going to be able to be a huge blessing to someone else? Look for ways to ask for help, and then look for ways to be a help. Look for ways to be a friend, and then also look for ways to allow someone to be a friend to you.
Lots of us at PCC have found that by being in a regular, weekly community called Home Group allows us to do life together. Once in a while, we hear of a need someone has, and another in the group has the means to meet it. Another time, we might share a need and be shocked by how the whole group steps up to serve us.
Last September I listened to a new podcast by a friend of mine, Stephanie Pletka. It was on the topic of “What is Life without Community?” Her guest said, “Don’t give up, if you are waiting for a friend. And while you are looking, create a warm and peaceful environment.” You will be ready when the opportunity comes. She also added something I mentioned earlier, “Have friends in multiple stages of life,
Be intentional about finding your tribe, love them, and be loved. The investment is worth it.
You are in a particular season of your journey through life. What you do and how you do it matters. A t-shirt I bought while hiking the Grand Canyon in college says, “The journey is the reward.” This journey is lifelong. Don’t forget that where you are right now is not where you will be forever. Each part of life, each season you are in, is temporary. The two points to remember are these:
Accept the season are you in.
Seek out what you need but give what you can.
What can you do right now to create a small bit of community in your own sphere? As Elisabeth Elliott often quoted, “Do the next thing.” Take steps today to implement some of the things you have learned today to create community and enjoy the reward – the journey itself is the reward.
Susan Miller: After the Boxes are Unpacked, Just Moved Ministry, blog, and podcast “Hope for the Uprooted Woman”
Sally Clarkson: The Mission of Motherhood, The Life-Giving Parent, and her new book, Help, I’m Drowning, Sally Clarkson has a “Home with Sally” podcast, a blog, and many other resources
Stephanie Pletka: Living Your Best Life: Letting Go of Self-Doubt, Fear, and Other’s Expectations to Live the Life You’ve Always Dreamed, “Mother Mindset” podcast
Connie Albers: Parenting Beyond the Rules, blog, “Equipped to Be” podcast, Parenting Teens, and Mom Mentoring
I know how it feels to start over, and over and over…. Having moved 19 times over the years, creating community is hard. If you are trying to maintain friendships formed years ago in another season, trying to create new friendships in this new phase of my life, trying to get rooted into a community either in my neighborhood, my church, or my social group, I have been in your shoes.
I moved to various cities for summer opportunities. I moved to start marriage. I moved to begin civilian residency training for Brad, my husband. I moved again to fulfill Air Force payback for Brad. We moved to take care of elderly loved ones. And so on…Each time I had to find the courage to create community for myself, my family, my children…I want to encourage you that it is possible, it is worth it, and by God’s grace, you can do it!
Keep in mind two things:
Covid has brought us great transition and challenge in the last 18+ months. There are losses to grieve, and it is important to accept that these have changed us and affected our story. We have lost fellowship with canceled vacations, failed to find restorative time for ourselves because children are home from school, caregivers might have resigned because of risk of illness, and job situations and income may have been lost.
Considering all this, it can be difficult to reach out again as the lockdowns are lifting. It may be terrifying for some of us to now intentionally serve others. So, accept the season you are in. Acknowledge the loss, then look at what you do have to offer or extend to someone else. This is critical to your survival, to your community, and to the journey that you get to share with others.
After the birth of my first two children and the miscarriage of a third between 1998 and 2003, I began to homeschool my oldest for kindergarten. I was relatively new in town, had new neighbors, and was trying to find fellowship with others who shared my faith.
It became a season of hunkering down to teach my kindergartener, managing a toddler, and right after beginning to homeschool, getting pregnant again. As you can imagine, I didn’t have much luxury time to visit with other moms. I was surviving…barely finishing very full days: laundry, meals for hungry littles, learning about teaching, nausea, snacks again, cleanup, playtime then nap, dinner, fall into bed…all to enjoy those SLEEPLESS NIGHTS OF JOY.
I learned how critical it was to figure out my own needs for fellowship. Just how do you find time to have lunch with a girlfriend and even finish a complete sentence without a tiny tot crying, wiping a nose, or working a cup of tea around naptime? How, with a part time job and teenagers and all their emotional needs, do you find time to pull away from the “taxicab” job to actually connect for a solid hour in person with your group of gals?
I don’t think any of us would argue the value of community, why we need each other. This last year has demonstrated how isolating the lack of community can be. But it’s hard to find sometimes, isn’t it, in various seasons of life?
TAKING STEPS TO COMMUNITY
1. The First Step: “Acknowledge where you are in life.”
Ask Yourself - What is it you need? Do you need a deeper friend? Do you need coffee away from children? Do you need a shopping trip, or even just a shower ALONE? Do you need weekly book study? Do you need to go back to school? Do you need a new job?
For myself, I think I need to stay busy, be productive, type A…Enneagram 1, you get the picture. I would rather be busy keeping house and check all the boxes than to leave things undone to go out for a few hours with someone. It might ruin the toddler’s attitude if they miss a nap, for crying out loud! Then our whole day is affected. I’d also rather keep everyone on routine than to interrupt a good night’s sleep. Sleep gets to be a commodity, right? Or now, with multiple high schoolers, it might interrupt a good homeschool day to schedule a coffee date, what with the education flowing, books being read, worksheets finished…or my volunteer work calling my name from the computer.
But what I truly need is this:
I need events and excitement AWAY from my house. Brad finally recognizes that. We have come to respect that about each other. Accepting the need I have has been important, and it is also helpful when your partner or loved ones respect it, too. Brad used to look at me with those puppy dog eyes when I’d leave for ANYTHING and say he’d miss me while I was gone. I actually felt guilty going anywhere by myself. I love a good adventure, and when spontaneity strikes, I cannot wait to jump in the car. And if I can’t go somewhere exciting once in a while, I’m going to go crazy. I learned, however, it would help me be a better mom, wife, and teacher, and they would be much happier if I could get that need met for myself.
I must be intentional about planning it just for me. Even if the housework is calling my name. Even if my family of introverts is not interested. It will be life-giving for me to get out, for me to make the effort of making a date with a friend because of the fruit it produces in my life afterward. It’s so worth it.
2. The Second Step: Ask “What part of life’s journey, what season, are you in?”
I used to be in a season of young parenting, needing some outside mom connection for the kids, maybe some adult conversation for me. I am now in a season of young adult parenting, with lots more time on my hands. My needs have changed somewhat. I now have independent learners who can manage school or work alone while I go to a meeting or get out of the house. Now I feel like connecting professionally with other women would be exciting. But I also still deeply need to have a heart connection with someone in the same season of life that I am in.
I’ll never forget December 2011. We had just moved to Virginia in March, and it was time to do Christmas shopping for family (who lived back in the South) and also for my four children, ages 4-12. I begged my brand, new neighbor if she could watch my youngest two, the girls, for just two hours so I could do a Christmas shopping blitz. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to ask for help. It turned out my neighbor had three boys. She absolutely loved that one babysitting stint, as it gave her a precious memory of having tea with two little girls that afternoon – while I GOT SHOPPING DONE! She and I have become great friends and rely on each other for a myriad of things now.
This is a huge point I want you to remember. It’s uncomfortable to ask for help, but so very worth it. I heard a quote last month by Dr. Joseph Lee on a recent virtual conference. He said it’s “…okay to recognize that we will have a lifelong need of help.” What do you need from community? God created us to need and serve one another. Galatians 6:2 says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."
I had a very practical need years ago. Freshly grieving my first miscarriage, an elder’s wife in my church called and asked if I needed anything. I didn’t know what to say that week. I had no idea what anyone could do to help me. But I took a huge risk and answered her honestly. I needed food. I needed dinner made for me. So, I ASKED.
She was grateful to have something tangible to do for me, and I was humbled to ask, yet grateful she said yes. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have told that story – a young, grieving mom, unable to cook dinner. It makes me cry just writing this down. But we have to ask for help. This creates opportunities for friendships to blossom!
BORROW AN EGG
Susan Miller, in her book, After the Boxes are Unpacked, says to “Borrow an Egg.” If you are trying to create community and you don’t know your neighbor, find something you DON’T have, and go next door and ask for it! Be intentional and ask their name, how they are doing, but can I borrow an egg, or a stick of butter, or a cup of sugar? It is the best advice I ever got. It helps you get over the fear of reaching out with embarrassment and instead puts the power into your hand of offering friendship.
Asking for an egg is so practical, but guess what you can do with it? You can plant seeds for a relationship. You can begin a friendship! And once you are done baking, share some of it with that neighbor!
(Nan Harrington originally shared this testimony at the Women’s Ministry Tea & Testimony event in November or 2021)
Ephesians 2:10 tells us: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (NKJV)
My husband and I have been at the chapel for about 21 years. We are empty nesters and raised four children, three who still walk this earth and one who’s with Jesus in His mansion (John 14:2-3). I enjoy serving and like to help people. I think this is the way God made me.
Psalm 139:16 says “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book, they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (NKJV)
God has brought events into my life that have shaped me and given me the desire to serve others. Last year, a week before Christmas, my husband had surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. We would be in Baltimore about a week and knew no one. A couple here at the chapel had friends in Baltimore and put us in touch with each other. Our new Baltimore friends were a Godsend to us. They volunteered to pick up groceries for us (so I sent them a list), they brought us meals, brought Christmas decorations for our hotel room, magazines to read, a card of encouragement, transported us to and from the hospital, prayed with us when they dropped the groceries and meals, prayed with me over the phone on Johnnie’s surgery day and while he was in the hospital.
On December 23rd we checked out of our hotel and our Baltimore friend insisted on taking us to the train station and wait till we boarded. I told her she could just drop us and we’d be fine but she kindly, but firmly said “no I’ll wait”. AND I am glad she did because Johnnie began not feeling well while we were waiting. We decided to take him to the Emergency Room so I canceled our train tickets, our friend got her car, we loaded back up and headed to the ER and got him checked in and then left because COVID policy wouldn’t allow me to stay. About 9pm our Baltimore friend and I went to the ER to pick Johnnie up, it ended up he was okay and was able to travel. Because it was late, we spent the night with our Baltimore friends and because they strongly desired that she drive us back to NN, we made a plan for her to drive us halfway to Kings Dominion where my sister and daughter would meet us.
So, Christmas Eve we left Baltimore at 10am with our new, generous, kind Baltimore friend who was hosting a family dinner that night and helping international friends celebrate Christmas the next day, sacrificed a good part of her day for us. This was all in the midst of COVID. They associated with strangers, even inviting us to spend the night in their home and fed us. And if that wasn’t enough, her husband had outpatient surgery the day after Johnnie’s surgery so she was caring for her husband also. All this was God’s doing!
In 2011 my youngest daughter Kerry, who battled Cystic Fibrosis, died at Duke University Medical Center NC from complications of transplant surgery. We spent a year at Duke, my husband and I taking turns two to three months at a time as her caregiver. While in Durham we were served by so many people—some we knew and some we did not know. It began with our neighbor who had a niece in Durham who had a friend who had a mother-in-law suite that she let Duke patients and/or their family use at no charge. These ladies went to church together and others from their church joined in ministering to us---praying for us, bringing meals, visiting to see how we were doing. Even people we knew years’ prior from our previous church who relocated to NC got wind of what was going on with Kerry and came to visit or called and their churches prayed for us. Friends from PCC came to visit also---twenty-somethings, friends of Kerry and her husband went out of their way to visit, friends from my and Johnnie’s homegroup came to visit; plus, cards & notes from Summit Christian Academy, PCC-ers, family and friends were received in addition to prayers.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble (tribulation) with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (NKJV)”.
Two weeks ago, Garrett asked Johnnie and me to speak about the miracle God did in our troubled marriage in the years before and immediately after Kerry’s death. We were glad to share! During our struggle, close friends in the Body of Christ ministered to us. A small group of guys kept Johnnie close without condemnation. I had a couple of close girlfriends who listened and encouraged me. As a result, we are always glad to share our story of the miracle God did in us and our marriage AND we are always glad to meet with someone who needs a listening ear.
In 2017 after working 24 years in customer service, I got to retire! So now God has given me plenty of time to serve Him! And I do so joyfully!!!
Psalm 37:4 says “Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (NKJV)
We have examples of service from Jesus’ life. At the last supper (John 13:12-17) He washed the disciples’ feet. Recall from Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45 the question posed by James and John requesting to sit on the right hand and left hand of Jesus in glory and His reply to them: “whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.” Jesus goes on to say that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
I’m also blessed to have an example of service in my parents. After they retired, they ministered to the homebound in their church by visiting in nursing homes and praying with people they knew and people they didn’t know. My mom, now a widow, says she has a “card and note ministry” and writes notes of encouragement to friends, fellow residents and staff in her retirement community.
We also have examples of servanthood ministry here in our own church.
Well, as I said, I enjoy serving. I’m a “behind the scenes” kind of person. Sign Up Geniuses are my kryptonite! I gladly sign up to provide food, a meal, to help set up and help clean up. Sometimes it’s easy for me to overcommit when those Sign-Up Geniuses or emails for rides and visits come. I just want to sign up without thinking through what the commitment entails. In doing so I might slight my husband or my time with the Lord. So, I make a conscious effort now to look at the Sign-Up Genius or email, look at my calendar, and talk with my husband before signing up. It’s okay if the request doesn’t mesh with my schedule, God will see that the need is met.
I enjoy driving someone to an appointment, visiting someone at home or in the hospital, praying for and with people, dropping a card or note to someone, attending PCC WM Bible study, doing discipleship with other women. Some of these activities take me out of my comfort zone like discipling a younger woman, or driving someone I may not know or know well to an appointment or visiting someone I may not know or know well. But afterward I’m glad I ventured out of my comfort zone! I want to say it’s not dependent on me but on God---He has given the words, the conversation; He has made the friendships.
From Fall 2017 till June 2019, I was in a discipleship relationship with a young mom until the USAF moved she and her family out of the area. We met weekly on Friday mornings for about an hour. She and I along with her two toddlers walked, quizzed each other on our scripture memory verse, talked about our week and prayed. This was a sweet time in which I made a new friend and grew spiritually too. I had never done this before; it was out of my comfort zone but I’m glad I said yes when approached about discipling a young mom. Even though she’s far away now, we still keep in touch, we pray for each other, and I send cards and stickers to the children on birthdays and holidays. She tells me the children, now 6, 5, and 3-year-old twins, still talk about the times we had together.
Writing cards and notes has its rewards too---recipients have thanked me and told me how much they appreciated the thoughtful gesture or that the card came at a time they needed encouragement. Two who have been homebound have written me back which just thrilled my heart and another told me receiving my cards was like getting a hug! Also delivering the Sign-Up Genius meals to those having short term difficulty is always a blessing to my husband and me---to meet someone we may not know or know well, hearing them express how grateful they are and how this helps them during the difficult time and is an opportunity for my husband and me to pray for them.
In closing, Psalm 105:1-2 (NKJV) tells us “Oh give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! Talk of all His wondrous works!”
When I was a new Christian, I used to clear off the passenger seat of my car and imagine Jesus was riding next to me. Sometimes I’d even reach out my right hand and imagine that He was there holding it in His.
Holy Imagination. I’m not using the word “imagination” in the make-believe sense. 2 Corinthians 4:18 says the Lord is preparing for us “an eternal weight of glory as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” Our use of holy imagination doesn’t make things up but looks for ways to bring spiritual realities into view; it looks for the symbols of this world that the Word spoke into being to remind us of what truly is.
I love birds. And living here in the Tidewater area of Virginia provides ample opportunities to see them in all their variety and majesty. Thinking about the Lord’s delight in creating everything from the hummingbird to the bald eagle, from the common duck to the great blue heron amazes me to think of the endlessness of His creativity in just one kind of animal type. (I happen to know a biology professor who finds himself constantly awestruck about the variety of bugs crawling around on this earth. I don’t really understand his fascination, but I do appreciate it!)
My morning walk takes me down near a dammed-off area of the James River. It’s a haven for all kinds of birds. My favorite, though, is the great blue heron. Years ago, as I watched them glide across the water, or swoop low overhead on their way into a landing, I started associating these beautiful birds with a reminder that the Lord is near. After all, I’m slow to remember and quick to forget that He promises to “never leave us nor forsake us” and making this mental association reminds me not only to praise Him for the beauty of His creation, but also to talk with him about the day ahead, the concerns of my heart and pray for those who are in need.
There are other ways that holy imagination points me to Truth. In the spring as the trees start to bloom, I’m reminded of rebirth. In the summers, when it’s 100 degrees, the crepe myrtles in their array of colors remind me that even in the scorching heat of trial, there is beauty. In the fall, as the trees turn glorious shades of gold and red, the Lord reminds me that though this life comes to an end, there’s still joy to be had. Finally even in winter, as the bare trees stretch their arms up toward the heavens, I can almost hear them groaning in eager longing to be set free from their bondage to corruption. (Romans 8:19-22), encouraging me to look forward to That Day as well.
Scripture uses metaphor – word pictures – in many ways: lions, harvesting, roiling waters and rocky soil to name but a few. The same Word who breathed all Scripture, also spoke all things into existence. May we – may I – not miss the pointers to Himself that He’s put in front of us.
Fall tends to make me think about endings. As the leaves start to turn and the weather cools down, it’s a reminder to me that winter is coming. And in my fall melancholy, the change of seasons from fall to winter remind me that all things come to an end.
There are many different kinds of endings that we face in this life. Children go off to college and the time of being parents in the day-to-day ends. A job to another part of the country or world brings a season to a close. Parents decline, age and pass on. A season of health changes when illness strikes; the loss of a job brings an end to a season of prosperity; a friendship fades and ends, leaving only bittersweet memories.
While all these scenarios are realities over the course of a life, I was struck this morning by Psalm 71 which addresses some of the fears we face in the aging process. “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” (v 9) The author of the accompanying commentary noted the wisdom of the psalmist’s honest cry. To dwell on these fears, on the one hand is to admit one’s fright; alternately, to suppress thoughts of the possibility of loneliness and infirmity in aging is an even more unhealthy way of dealing with the fear.
The Psalmist, however, gives us a third way to deal with the endings we’ll face in this life – whether it be physical death or a change in circumstance. “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.” (v20) Notice first that there’s an acknowledgement of the pain, hardship and trauma he has faced AND the Lord’s sovereign Hand over what he has experienced, “You who have made me see….”
Notice, though, that there’s no bitterness in the Psalmist’s words. Instead, his difficulties birth hope – and it’s not some nebulous hope for a better day tomorrow. It’s resurrection hope! There’s the certainty that he will be revived, but even more, brought up from the “depths of the earth.” It might be easy to read that last phrase as a metaphor, but I have a feeling that the Spirit who inspired these words meant much more: a physical, bodily resurrection.
And that’s where I end on these late fall days when winter is just around the corner, when it looks like good things are ending and my infirmities are growing. It’s in these moments that I fight for the light and momentary perspective on a melancholy mood or an achy joint, or, more significantly, the loss of a friend. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor 4:17-18)
In all these endings, there is the certain promise of a new beginning, in a place where endings shall be no more.
I have four grandsons and they are all my favorites. The youngest, who just turned nine is a fiery little redhead who lives life at 200 percent and is uncannily wise.
Often Will will ask me to come and watch him building his latest architectural creation in Minecraft. He's rather good at design and creativity -- or in Grandmother speak: "Amazing!" He asks me for input and rolls his eyes when I want to add window boxes and shutters. But we do agree on the vegetable gardens and ponds. He's actually quite good.
The other day he had been working hard on his latest creation for quite a while and took a break to play his mouth organ (harmonica). He's just beginning, but has -- well, "flourish."
"So, how do you like my playing?" he asked.
"Well, in what way?" I responded.
"If one is terrible and ten is great, what number would you give me?"
I thought about this for a while, because clearly, he has a long way to go. "Five," I said!
He looked at me- at first surprised and then with a big smile.
"Thank you for being honest, Shosho." (Shosho is what my grandsons call me). "I'm glad you said five because that is about right. And it's the truth."
"And is that a surprise?" I asked.
"Well, you're my Shosho and I know you love me, but sometimes I think it's not the best that you always say I'm wonderful and what I do is amazing --because that's not really true. When I go to school and think I'm totally amazing but I see that my friends and other kids don't think so, I could be really confused and upset. I'm not great at everything, but sometimes you make me think I am. So it's better that you tell me the truth."
Yikes! I thought to myself. I'm 72 and he's nine, and he just nailed it. One important component of love is respect that thinks enough of the other to tell the truth. I must admit, I pondered this for a bit. He was right.
"You, know, Will," I said, "You are right, and I will try better to respect you enough to tell you the hard truth, even when it's hard. But I do have one caveat -- I can always play the Grandmother card when the situation calls for it. Because you are an amazing grandson."
"Shosho!!!" he said and rolled his eyes and hugged me.
I was recently asked to share some thoughts at a baby shower for a new mom who is unexpectedly beginning motherhood in the NICU. I love a good alliteration and so these 3 G’s came to mind as I reflected on motherhood as a fellow, former NICU mom:
GRIEF, GROAN, and GLORY.
No one anticipates motherhood beginning in the NICU. No woman dreams of being wheeled onto a unit, meeting a tiny child covered in tubes and lines, living inside a box. A mother dreams of holding her baby. Bonding. Feeding her baby. Lying her child in a crib. Having a baby shower BEFORE the birth of her baby.
Expectations and dreams of motherhood are often not realized until they are not met, and the sting of this is felt profoundly as you sit at a NICU bedside, holding back tears, trying to cope with the trauma you’re experiencing. Grief is real and wields its accompanying emotions at unexpected times and in unexpected ways.
Which leads me to a second G, GROAN.
Not only do we groan, but all of creation groans in this fallen world. Pregnancy complications and premature births are evidence that this world is not as it should be – evidence that we are eagerly awaiting a Savior to return and establish His Kingdom, ushering in the new order. The former things will pass away – sin, suffering, pain, and grief. No more tears. No more hospitals. No more IVs or ventilators. No more loneliness or mom guilt. And as you await that day, our coming King invites you to pour your tears out before Him. To know that in Christ you have access to groan before your Heavenly Father.
In your GRIEF and in your GROANING, there is the GLORY, my third G.
GLORY belongs to God, and one of the great mysteries of motherhood (and really all of life) is that God is glorified in and through the grief and groans of His people. God is glorified when we find our hope in Him as we suffer. And God is glorified when His people reflect His love for one another in community, coming alongside one another in joy and in sorrow.
May you know the Father’s love in the lonely, joyful, sad, uncertain, exciting, bittersweet moments to come in motherhood. Rejoice in the godly women who surround you and want to love you well. Invite them to come alongside you in motherhood… when you have much to celebrate, when you need tangible help, when you feel misunderstood and lonely, when a new milestone surprises you with joy and laughter, when an unexpected diagnosis is given…
Fellow NICU mom, our Father is sufficient for your grief and your groaning. To Him be the glory.
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.