I got to know my elderly friend, Trudy, the last 8-10 years of her life. I started visiting with her to help out her son and daughter-in-law with whom she lived in a mother-in-law apartment attached to the main house; but it wasn’t long before I looked forward to my weekly visits with her just for the enjoyment I took in her friendship and wisdom.
The first couple of times I sat in her apartment with her, Trudy started spilling out the stories of her lifetime. She took me on a memory trip with her to her farm in NW Pennsylvania when she was just a teenager. I heard about how she met her husband and how three months later, they married. Through the narration of the joys and pains of her early adulthood, I got to know some of what had made her the woman she was in her late 80s and early 90s. She shared with me how she had grown in the Lord over her lifetime, the markers the Lord had left and the things He had used to change her into His Image.
In those early days of my visits, we sometimes went mall walking or shopping at a couple of her favorite stores. I learned that she had a love of fine china and still enjoyed looking for a new blouse. As the years past, Trudy became less able to take our Wednesday morning trips out, so we transitioned to me reading to her out loud, something we both looked forward to as we discovered an enjoyment for classic fiction.
Wuthering Heights, Peace Like a River were delights to both of us, but our favorite was David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, a classic neither she nor I had read. It’s a long book, but most Wednesdays when we sat down to pick up where we had left off, she would say, “well, let’s find out how our boy is doing today!” The memory of her voice still brings a smile to my face.
Trudy has been popping up on my Amazon Alexa Show lately which “randomly” scrolls through all the pictures I’ve taken on my phone over the last 12 years or so. Each time I see her face, I’m reminded that she’s one of those people I look forward to seeing again. But in this life Trudy taught me something about graciousness and contentment, laughter and delight and never being too old to make new friends.
I don’t think Trudy ever knew how the Lord used her to encourage me through her honesty, forthrightness, grace in aging and through the spilling out of all her stories. As I’ve reflected on the time she and I spent together, I’ve realized that those stories she spilled out were so much more than a narrative. They were small treasures, each one to be mined for gems, both lasting and brilliant.
Likely there will come a day when I’ll have the opportunity and desire to spill out the stories of my own life. If they hold just a fraction of the beauty and wisdom I found in Trudy’s stories, I’ll know then that the Lord has used me well.
There are some who may believe that the grace I need to live with a physical disability is greater than they would ever hope to need. Some may not be able to imagine what it might require, but that's okay. God gives an equal measure of grace, no matter what we need -- and He gives it when we need it.
I once heard that at the foot of the cross, the playing field is level. I loved that. We all have challenges in this life, and our need for His grace is a privilege because that need removes the barriers that might keep us from seeking Him otherwise.
As God has worked to grow me over the past years through disability (sometimes at a snail’s pace), I have learned through friendships with women who don’t have a lot in common with me, a disabled 54-year-old single woman with no family, that in Christ there is always a crucial connection through our need for His grace which exceeds our ability to bind us together more closely than our earthly commonalities ever could.
Our lives are filled with reminders of our need for God’s grace every day. For me, it's often the empty wheelchair parked by my bed when I wake up in the morning. For many women it is the sound of a crying baby or of older children, already up and about. For others, it may be the care of an aging parent, or the stress of a demanding job. In each of our challenges, we have in common the bond through an understanding of God’s grace that overshadows the lack of understanding in the details.
God humbles and strengthens us as we witness his grace working in each other’s lives, as well as in our own.
Chemotherapy during COVID is not just scary, it is lonely. I walked into the oncology office for my first infusion and I was flat-out terrified. I needed my husband beside me, but that was forbidden. The unknown of what was ahead loomed dark. Adding insult to injury, the waiting room was excessively decorated with the worst kind of Halloween tacky. The glittery sign on the door to the treatment area read “Come in, my pretties.” It felt confrontational, as if someone were enjoying my pain.
As I sat waiting for my name to be called, I closed my eyes and cried out to God for comfort. I needed to feel the Presence I knew in my heart and soul was there but at that moment felt distant. In my weakness, God answered quickly. The words to Psalm 23 ran through my head but stopped on “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Really, God? On that day, my table literally included Taxol and Herceptin, poisons for the cancer. God reassured me that indeed He personally had prepared that table and He was with me.
Days later, I spent some additional time in Psalm 23 with some study tools at hand. I learned that the Hebrew word used here for table was most often the king’s feast table or the table of sacrifice and worship in the tabernacle. Both were lavish and detailed in their preparation.
We surely know the Enemy, but what about these enemies? The Hebrew word is used of adversaries but also of narrow places, oppression, affliction, and vexation. Those words describe situations that involve actions against us but can also include our emotional reactions to those circumstances.
Consider the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These attributes of our sanctification also involve behavior as well as emotions. Suppose we think of our daily enemies as the opposite of these qualities that God has promised to be working into our sanctification?
Whether it is as big as cancer and the fear it brings or as small as the irritability that comes at the end of a long day, these are the tactics of the Enemy who will use what is at hand for his sinful purposes. Satan wants us to doubt the sovereignty and the goodness of God when faced with illness and death. He wants us to question the validity of our redemption when we respond yet again with harshness instead of gentleness. But just as God prepared the table of our salvation at the cross, He daily prepares a table before us in the presence of these enemies of our sanctification.
Meditating, trying to grasp the fullness of what God was showing me, I realized there were many things on my table alongside the cancer poison. A caring and skilled nurse who makes it all as easy as possible. A husband who walks each step of this with me, who assures me that bald will be beautiful, and who would take the treatment for me if he could. A daughter who cares for me not just out of love for her mom but also using her many skills as an Occupational Therapist. A brother who saw the need and took my dad to live with him for 3 months. (Many of you prayed for that.) A friend who texts me almost daily with the verse she prayed for me that morning. Another friend who writes her scripture prayers for me and mails them to me. An old friend who has already walked this journey leaves a bag of her favorite chemo comforts on my front porch. Phone calls and cards from friends and family to assure me of their love and remind me of God’s truths. Even a song lyric that asserts that Jesus is “the blessing buried in the broken pieces.” Knowing me intimately and knowing all that I need, God prepared each of these things on my table for me in the presence of fear, doubt, and loneliness.
My cup overflows. Cancer is surely no picnic, but it is starting to feel like a banquet.
I was ready for college! I was such a good girl, achieved enough in high school including leadership positions usually designated for adults, and had been in church my whole life. I knew I could take on college ready to share Jesus and have a little fun.
Well into the first semester of freshman year the InterVarsity staff worker asked if he could grab coffee with me. I knew that he did this often with college students and I knew this was my opportunity to show just how good of a leader I was.
That conversation didn’t go quite as planned. Little did I know that he wasn’t there to be impressed by me, but to show me how much I needed Jesus. The first thing we talked about was my sin!
Discipleship was a key tool the Lord used to turn my heart from a works-based faith into an understanding of grace. My lifestyle was working for my salvation. Everything I did was for the purpose of earning God’s approval. Somehow, I had missed what it means to be saved by grace!
I know discipleship is quite the buzz word in the church these days. We talk about it like it’s another thing that we have to add to the list of things we should do as Christians, but looking back at where I was as an underdeveloped-fresh-out-of-the-nest child, discipleship was exactly what I needed. Perhaps God knew discipleship was the only way change could happen and what I needed to save me from bad choices as I entered into adulthood. Eventually, my works-based faith would have failed. I never would have measured up and might have given up on my faith. There were a lot of opportunities to have fun and my foundation was weak. I needed one-on-one discipleship from an older, wiser person, someone with more biblical knowledge than I.
I’ve seen discipleship work in so many different ways. Now as a 33-year-old mom of two younger children, I have been blessed with friends in my life stage, older women and the Christian community around me who contribute to my walk with Jesus.
Here are some ways I’ve seen discipleship work:
Christian Community: This is the simplest form. Just walking into the church doors and sitting down will be a piece of discipleship in your life, but 99% of the time, not significant enough to make a difference in your life. Building community with the people in your church, knowing the people around you and watching how they live their lives is important. Hearing scripture and life experience from all different generations and working with them in the community will lead to influence, and if we are in the midst of godly people, we will be under a godly influence. Simple church community is important, but it’s not enough on its own.
Community Discipleship: The best way to make Christian community happen? Join a home group! No other place provides life and scripture together in a close-knit and safe space. Participating regularly in home group life will help you connect to the other forms of discipleship as well.
Peer Discipleship: We need friendships with peers that go deep. We need those few trusted friends that we can come to and with whom we can work out our salvation. Basically, these are godly, deep relationships a Christian may have with a few people.
One of my dear friends used to watch my son a few times a week so that I could work. Before my daughter got off the bus, I would pick my son up but arrive 30 minutes early so that I could sit on her couch and talk about life. This was never planned; we didn’t define our relationship this way. We were two Christians who loved Jesus, who talked and shared our lives, and I craved it! Those conversations allowed us to work out whatever difficult situations we were in at the time. We could offer encouragement and truth, asking each other good questions. There was no “authority” but mutual respect and trust. My friend now lives in a different state, but the Lord provided another wonderful, godly friend across the street with whom I can share my coffee and have the same type of relationship on a slow afternoon. God is so good!
Older to Younger (or One-on-One) Discipleship I believe this is the most effective form of discipleship, and it’s the most difficult, but also the most explicitly biblical (Titus 2:3-5). This form raises leaders (2 Tim 2:22), has a trickle-down effect to strengthen the church, and sends out Christians to the world able and stable to share the gospel.
Mark Dever says in his book Discipling, “part of being a Christian is recognizing that sin deceives us, and we need other believers to help us see the things we cannot see about ourselves.” All I had to do with my IV Staff to reveal my sin was to talk! The more I talked about myself, the more he was able to point out my sin. He showed me the ways I was turning from God, so that he could point me back to God, which is the whole point! As I have grown up and am now in a stage of life with kids, husband, and a job I know I need women who have gone before me to help in these ways as well to point out my sin, tell me there is good news and help me think of ways I can be a light in difficult situations. The older woman helps to guide me towards wisdom in practical ways.
Susan Hunt wisely warns in an article she wrote for 9Marks.com, “Someone is teaching women and girls what it means to be a woman. Is it the church or the world?” If the older women of our church are not pouring into the younger women, then something or someone else will.
That relationship my IV staffer developed with me was the beginning of an amazing journey., The reality is as Christians we need at least one of these forms happening always. We were created for relationships, and as Christians we were created for Christ-centered relationships.
Discipleship takes work and sacrifice. What good things in this life don’t? When you find yourself in that relationship, either as the disciple or discipler, you will find that it helps keep your mind focused that much more on Christ. You will notice a deeper sense of accountability and support as you wrestle with sin and deal with the general fatigue that living life brings.
The beautiful thing about discipleship is that it can’t be put in a box. There isn’t a program or model that has to be followed to make it work -- just relationships, just Christ, just caring about someone other than yourself! If Christ has done some good work in your life, you are most likely qualified to disciple someone!
Have I not done great and marvelous things in your past?” His voice resounded in my head, just shy of out loud. “Yes, Lord,” “Can I not do great and marvelous things again?” “Oh, yes, Lord.” “Is anything too hard for Me?” “No, Lord.”
On this cold and rainy day in April, 2008, I stood in line at the Ferguson Center ticket window. I had come to attempt to switch some tickets from a Friday to a Saturday night for a traveling Broadway play. We had good tickets for this production, but now I had a conflict. So there I stood, figuring no way would I be able to switch these tickets. And that’s when God spoke.
Now, as I approached the clerk, wide-eyed and unsure of what to make of God’s words to me, I explained my situation. “You’re not going to believe this” he said. “Try me.” “Did you see that man 2 people in front of you? He had to switch from Saturday to Friday night. In fact, his seats were even better than the ones you originally had.”
For reasons I don’t understand, God chose to use this seemingly inconsequential event to demonstrate His intimacy with all my comings and goings and remind me that there is nothing too large or too small for Him to do. “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you and bring glory to your name?” (Rev 15:3-4)
May I never forget.
One morning last week I came downstairs to my chair – you know the one, the one with just the right light, the coaster for my coffee, my bible, journal, and pens. I found my three-year-old daughter curled up with a blanket and one of her play-kitchen mugs. She sweetly said, “drinking my coffee Mama.” I took a picture because it was so sweet to see her imitation of me.
As I have dwelt upon that image, I have been reminded of who I imitate and, more importantly, whose image I bear (Gen 1:27). I could see myself made small in her body: the way she sat with her feet curled up under the blanket, sipping her “cup of coffee”, and her brown hair tousled and unkempt.
There are so many people who I also imitate in small ways – the girl from Kindergarten with the earrings, the friend from high school who taught me to straighten my hair, the co-worker who taught me to bake my Thanksgiving turkey in a bag, my college roommates who taught me to drink coffee with creamer, and I hear my mom’s words coming out of my mouth daily.
Our society also gives us no shortage of images to imitate, but we are not called to imitate the Instagram influencer or the pop stars in magazines. As Christians, we are called instead to imitate Christ. In 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He is telling the church at Corinth that they are to be different than those around them. They are to follow Paul’s lead as he imitates Christ.
We are called to imitate Christ and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to be transformed inwardly into his likeness; to be holy and set apart for his purposes. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:18) How do we imitate and image a God whom we cannot see? Similar to the church at Corinth, we must watch and learn from other believers, just as my daughter watches and imitates me.
We can watch other Christians by being in community with them – through discipleship relationships, home groups, serving together, etc... As they imitate Christ in their humility, grace, joy, repentance, and love and point us to knowledge of God through the Word, we will visually see Christ in them and the Holy Spirit in us will help transform our hearts as we “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col 3:10) The more we see God’s grace and love work itself out in the lives of other believers, the deeper we will love God and the more we will desire to imitate him through our own lives.
I’ve been reading Letters To a Birmingham Jail by a number of Christian leaders. It’s a current response to what is going on in our culture right now as the right and the left are polarized on everything from SCOTUS choices to whether you drive a Ford or a Chevy. I wonder if my morning choice of cereal has some sort of political implication.
One chapter that captured me was by Albert Tate entitled, “The Multicultural Church Begins in your Livingroom.” Tate, an African American, was hired to be on the Pastoral staff of Lake Avenue Church, a huge very white Californian church. At times, Tate experienced the hatred of racism, but the senior pastor always had his back.
Tate goes on to describe how Jesus went out of his way to eat with people who were different and despised. He went through Samaria, ate with sinners, tax collectors and Pharisees.
I realize how easy it is for me to have people like me around my table. It’s uncomfortable to invite people who are, well, just different. But I want to be like Jesus who said, “I need to go through Samaria.” I must also be deliberate in who I seek out to get to know, even if it takes me out of my way.
This comes home to me most powerfully in my concern for the poor. I’ve spent most of my adult life working among single and marginalized poor women in the informal settlements around Nairobi, Kenya. They can be a feisty lot – determined to see that their children get food and an education. Abject poverty does not hold them back.
I wonder if it’s possible that the real divide in our society right now is more than black and white, Republican and Democrat, left or right. Could it instead be a great economic divide between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. Can I dare to say that a person of a different color, ethnicity or religion might be easier to have around your dining room table, if they also live in your neighborhood, in a similar house to yours, and even have a better paying job?
I am grateful for our pastor, Garrett Spitz, who preached this morning (October 4) from the book of Amos, chapters 3 – 6, which was a brave thing to do in our fractured times. His attention to the balance between the gospel and social action – holding us accountable to a biblical perspective of gospel-righteousness and social justice. It was a reminder that in being gospel people, we are also called to love and include the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized.
So who should I invite to dinner?
High schoolers are intimidating! They are (much) cooler than me and speak a language that makes me feel ancient. (Speaking of feeling ancient - did y’all see American Girl released a doll from 1986?!?! When did 1986 become long enough ago for their line of historical dolls????) In any case, this year, God has placed two boisterous, fun-loving, and curious high school girls in my life. I see them twice a week for a marketing internship and was incredibly nervous at the start of this year in anticipation of how this would go. I was trying to delicately balance wanting to give them meaningful work while realizing this isn’t a graded class they’re taking so as to not overwhelm them.
Over the last five weeks, my nerves have turned into excitement. Our 90 minutes together on Monday and Wednesday have become one of the highlights of my week. While I love working with them, the best part is hearing about their lives and engaging in deep conversations peppered with humor and depth.
As we’ve been getting to know each other better I’ve been feeling the nudge to make this relationship more intentional but have been putting it off. Little voices in my head would deter me from asking because “well, we kind-of already do this” or “asking to ‘officially’ enter into a discipleship relationship would be ‘low-key’ awkward”. (They’re teaching me their slang…)
However, the feeling that I should ask persisted and I realized the doubts I had were lies Satan was using to keep me from going deeper with these young ladies. So I took the plunge. I’m excited to get to know them better and to make our times together this semester even more special. What started as an extracurricular activity for school has turned into much more. My daily interactions with these ladies range from late night texts about deep spiritual matters to sharing stories of the big and little things that have happened throughout the day. In many ways I feel ill-equipped to disciple these ladies, but God has knit us together and this friendship is driving me to pursue Him more each day.
It can seem very scary to take the first step and initiate a discipleship relationship with someone, but it is worth it! If there is someone that God has placed on your heart, I encourage you to step out in faith and explore a more intentional friendship with another sister in Christ. God will use these relationships to grow us and bring us closer to Him.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground, on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” -Psalm 146:3-5
During this highly politicized season, it becomes so easy to firmly believe that everything depends on the person who will soon occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Full disclosure – I am writing this blog to myself!
I have dear Christian friends on both sides of the political aisle. Rather than do a poor job of explaining what believers see in the Democratic or Republican party platforms, I am going to insert two links that are well-written defenses by long-time theologians. You may not agree with these men but remember that many of our brothers and sisters in Christ do. Please take the time to read both of them rather than just the one you naturally lean towards!
For a defense of Democrats: https://ronsiderblog.substack.com/p/does-abortion-trump-everything-else
For Republicans: https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2020/08/08/letter-to-an-antitrump-christian-friend-n2573909
Four years ago, I chose to vote third party for a number of reasons. I have never regretted that choice but am also not sure that it will be my default for all time. I still have eight weeks to pray and seek a word from the Lord! For more information from someone who firmly believes that Christians will soon be driven out of both parties because of Godless extremism (progressives vs. reactionaries), just read anything written by Rod Dreher (The Benedict Option).
As someone who participates in the fascinating world of Facebook, I am struck by the ease with which we Christians judge and speak harshly to one another – the gift of rebuking is strong among us! My prayer is that we can all embrace the truth of Psalm 146:3-5. Our trust MUST not be in earthly princes but in God alone.
As Romans 13:1 reminds us, “…there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” We do not know what God's sovereign purposes are for our next president. Regardless, Christians should love each other through the chaos of election season, realizing that we can all be equally convicted and earnestly following what we believe to be true. Let’s keep our hearts focused on living like Jesus, and let’s extend grace to one another as we trust in the Author and Perfecter of our faith.
The year was 1999 and I had just transferred from one North Carolina University to another. I transferred in part because I decided to change my major to one not offered where I was studying, but it was largely because I was searching...for what I didn’t really know but I was confident I had not found it. I was lost and lonely. Sure, I had some friends, but our relationships were mostly shallow, and I craved more. I grew up in a small town and had never needed to make new friendships, so the concept was new to me. I was used to the kind of friendships that just happened by years of proximity and shared memories on the playground that evolved to memories at middle school dances giving way to memories built at high school football games. They were not deep in the spiritual sense but long on shared experiences. The transition to college was difficult and I felt an aloneness that was new and crushing.
Now, as I sat in a new dorm room, hoping for a different experience, I sensed that I might just have the same problem with different people. Not being one to go down without a fight I decided to join a sorority and while that did add significantly to my social calendar it was like drinking salt water. Immediate gratification that only added to my thirst for something truly satisfying. As I look back, I am grateful for that thirsty season because it led me to The Living Water.
One of my sorority sisters had gotten involved with a ministry on campus and she invited me to go with her to a conference that they were hosting. I went, thirsty but largely unaware of what I committed to attend. It was there that he began to satisfy my thirst...primarily in Himself as he showed me my sin and his grace in tandem. I was overwhelmed by a love that was unlike anything I had known. God knew me and yet loved me. He redeemed me and would never leave me. I was undone in the best way imaginable. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts he gave me was the immediate understanding of how the community of believers would be a well of grace to me as I began this new journey in Christ. I knew I needed them. I knew it because I was lonely and I wanted friends but I also knew that I had no idea how to walk with God and that these people around me, many only a few months or few years ahead of me in their journey, could show me how to drink deeply of God’s Word, live in a way honoring to him and commit my life to His purposes.
One of these “just ahead of me” friends was Kristin. As I look back on our relationship, I see how those early days must have been hard for her. She gave me so much of her time. She walked beside me, modeled the Christian life before me, took me to church and put up with my ignorance and immaturity. She loved me with her prayers, her time, her words and her actions. She did it because she was pouring out what had been poured into her. Just a year earlier she had been the thirsty one, newly satisfied by the gospel of grace, and another woman sacrificially invested in her. That was my first experience with discipleship. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul says this to Timothy, “and the things that you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will teach others also.” He did just that and a couple thousand years later the church is still doing that. There are many ways that the church grows their people into Christian maturity but one of the most foundational ways is through discipleship. The commitment of one believer to lead another to the Living Waters of God’s presence through bible study, prayer, accountability, encouragement and instruction. These relationships are not always easy but they are built on far more than shallow interactions and shared experiences. They are built on Christ, his Word and his Spirit working in and through us to bring drink to the thirsty one friendship at a time.
Now, some twenty years later I still get thirsty and I still find myself drinking salt water instead of going to The Living Water. Thanks be to God that he has given me people to lead me back to Him. I have not outgrown my need for discipleship. And I have not completed my task of making disciples. Life has not gotten easier, but I now know where to go to be satisfied and I know I need people to help me on that path. Let’s pray that God always gives us teachers and makes us willing to be one, for His glory and for our everlasting satisfaction in His presence.