God and the Complete Mess

Redeemed–that’s the word that comes to mind today as I think about my life. To be honest, I have walked closely to the Lord for over a decade now, so sometimes I forget how crazy my life was before I completely let Him take over.

So many of my dear friends played a major role in the transforming work God has done. For them, I’m forever grateful. Because there is an Annie most people never knew.

At the age of 15, I sat in a courthouse, across the table from a local judge as he decided how to handle a MIP (Minor in Possession) citation I acquired while making a very poor choice, repeatedly.

Four hard truths
The truth is, I was just longing for acceptance.

In that same year, I attempted suicide. The truth is, I was longing to be heard.

After many bad choices, I found myself in relationship after relationship, and unhealthy ones at that. The truth is, I was longing to be loved.

With alcohol making its way into my life at an early age, it became very normal for it to be a part of everything I did. The truth is, I was looking to escape pain.

God writes new stories
Sometimes I seriously forget where I have grown from. But recently, I was reminded of the power of sharing our stories. My story reminds me that God can take a complete mess and turn it into something beautiful. I would love to say all of my bad habits and mindsets shifted overnight, but that would be untrue. It took time. It even took work. But, through the entire process, God was with me.

Because God can change the course of our story, if we want a better life, it’s out there. If we want fulfillment, we can obtain it. If we desperately want to be free from the lies that chain us, it’s possible.

The best advice I can give anyone is to invite the One who created us into our mess, whatever it is. This was what changed everything for me and the turning point of my entire life.

He’s not afraid of our sin, our anger or our bad choices. He truly wants to walk into it, take our hand, and lead us out of it. That’s what he did for me. And, if you need it, he will do it for you too.

Annie Moss is an entrepreneur who leads two companies. Kimono+Co, is an online apparel company designed to see women embrace their own beauty, and The Vintage Sparrow offers jewelry that awakens courage in the heart of every woman.

An Epic Bash

Recently I performed for a volunteer appreciation night for more than 200 church volunteers at a fellowship in Rochester, NY, not far from where I grew up, and make my home today.

They were a wonderful audience—perfect for a comedian. I closed with a personal story, to illustrate that what we do matters, regardless of how small we think our role might be. This was my first time at this church to perform inspirational comedy, but it wasn’t my first time there.

As a 16-year-old kid, I drove all the way into the city to sit in this church’s parking lot, waiting with anticipation for a Christian rock festival they were hosting—all day with several bands. I brought a lawn chair and a friend, and we got there early. Very early.

Ready to Rock
As we sat in the near empty parking lot, my friend wondered why I had been in such a rush to get there. Didn’t he understand? As a teenage kid with a love for Jesus and rock music, I knew this was going to be epic—the greatest event ever. I was convinced more than a thousand people would be there and we—me and my friend—had to arrive early enough to claim a prime spot for an event which would make Christian rock history.

About 17 people showed up.

I didn’t care. It was awesome. I watched every band with delight. I remember thinking how cool it would be to travel the country and stand on a stage performing and sharing the Good News of Jesus. I had no inclination at the time that I would one day do that very thing. But a dream was birthed in my heart, a quiet, small dream which grew and grew.

Years later I toured the country with my best friends, stood on many stages, performing Christian rock and sharing the hope of Jesus. And yes, sometimes for 17 people.

One Person, One Small Act
I was in that parking lot on that Saturday with a friend and a lawn chair because some volunteer hung a flier somewhere – on a light pole or at a bookstore, wherever.

That person probably had no idea that one seemingly insignificant act would create an eternal impact, not only in my life but by extension, perhaps many others.

Maybe on the big day that volunteer scoffed at the low attendance. Or wondered why they had worked so hard for so few numbers. Or, asked what it had all been for. Well, it meant something to me.

Don’t ever think your act of service is too small or insignificant. We serve a big God who uses the little things to make deep impacts. Please remember, when you are setting up chairs, tearing down tables, baking cookies, stuffing bulletins or . . . hanging fliers–You Matter.

Because, one small act of service certainly mattered . . . to me.

Dan Kulp is an inspirational comedian, actor, keynote speaker,  and author of the book, Confounding the Wise: A Celebration of Life, Love, Laughter, Adoption and the Joy of Children. He can be found online at KulpOnline.Com.

 

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No Conditions

Becoming a mom changed my life in ways I never expected. It’s completely changed my outlook on God and His love for us. I finally understand the intensity and unconditional nature of a parent’s love.

Recently, I had to discipline my daughter for something that, at the time, I was extremely frustrated with. She cried. She apologized. She wanted to be held and reassured I wasn’t upset with her.

After she fell asleep, I cried because it broke my heart to see her upset, even when I knew correction was necessary. I woke up the next morning thinking about the number of times God had to correct me for something.

I’ve been stubborn. I’ve chosen to make decisions knowing they were wrong. I think about how it must’ve broken His heart because He loves me so much. When you think about someone loving you to that degree, it makes you want to live a life that makes them proud and avoid doing anything that would bring them pain or disappointment.

And the amazing thing about God is that He loves us ALL that way . . . unconditionally. Today I’m thankful for the things He continues to teach me, and for His overwhelming, never-ending, unconditional love!

In addition to her life as a mom, Rachael can be found online at  Arabella’s Closet, an eclectic online boutique. 

 

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On My Way

Once upon a time I was in the fourth grade.

Mrs. Drachman had been renamed Mrs. Dracula by those of us in her fourth grade at the Mary Lyon School in Boston. Of course, we were brave enough to call her that only on the playground; we were so clever! Mrs. Dracula probably had a little bit of the terrifying in her from a fourth grader’s perspective. However, in hindsight, she did get some things right.

One day, she gave us a typical elementary school assignment, meant to challenge our growing minds to think beyond the spatial bounds of the playground and the time bounds of recess. The assignment was to write an essay about what we wanted to be when we grew up.  Although I remember nothing about the why or the wherefore, I remember distinctly articulating for the first time in my ten years of life that I wanted to be an author. I finished the essay in a timely fashion and let my parents read it. Their reaction, perhaps birthed out of their immigrant intense desire for financial security or perhaps born out of their desire that their children have letters after their names, was “You will never make a living that way. Choose something else.”

Like any good ten-year old, I heard their words and sensed the gross error of my thinking and the stupidity of choosing a career that would most certainly never yield “a living.” I could feel the gravitas of their stern words. I could feel it, but I could not understand why making a living was so important, how it was supposed to happen, and why on earth it should matter to me. Nonetheless, the message was clear: my choice was a mistake. Being an author would never gain my parents’ approval. I was defeated before my first rejection letter.

My career choice got shoved underground, and I never spoke of it again to my parents. I silently found pleasure playing with words, wrote smarmy poetry that mercifully has not been kept, faithfully kept a journal most of my adult life, and loved articulating ideas with words that made other people light up with understanding. However, that ten-year-old’s conviction that words matter and ideas are important, was true. Words are important, not only to myself as self-expression, but as expression to others. Words are part of my life, to the expression of God in me, to me and through me.

That evening, when my parents disapproved my desire to write, it was too late to obey their command to pick something else and write about it. I reluctantly turned the essay in, certain that I would fail the assignment. After all, Mrs. Dracula was an adult. She, too, would see the obvious stupidity of my choice. I lived in terror: my house was not one into which I could bring an assignment with a low grade.

Mrs. Dracula returned my paper with only one comment accompanying the A−: “Nicely written. You are on your way.”

Now, 45 years later, I wish I could say two things to Mrs. Drachman:

I am very sorry I called you Mrs. Dracula. I am finally on my way.

Excerpt from Notes in the Margin by Ellen L. Foell. Ellen is a speaker, teacher and lifelong writer living in a lawyer’s body. She and her husband Phil live in Columbus, Ohio. They have four wonderful adult children, a dog, and a cat, who have all, wittingly or unwittingly, contributed to her first collection of published essays.

 

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The Next Question

By KIRK WALDEN–Opening my suitcase after checking into a hotel for a speaking engagement, I realized I forgot to pack a dress shirt. I had a couple of casual button-downs, but nothing for the event. Yikes.

My family was with me, so off we went to a men’s store. This would be quick, because all I needed was a shirt. Just. A. Shirt.

Upon entering the store however, I met Christian, a college student working his way through school. He greeted me and asked what I needed. I was clear: “A shirt.” I told him my size, adding that white was perfect.

He started by measuring my neck (I was wrong about my size after all), then asked the color of my suit (blue). Within a couple of minutes, he placed three options in front of me, none of them white. No big deal. My lovely wife Jenn picked her favorite, and I thought we were done. Christian was not done.

As our casual conversation with Christian went on, he laid out several ties. Jenn said, “Oooh, I like that one.” Now, I had a shirt. And a tie.

The Next Question
Was Christian finished? No. He asked, “What color are your shoes?”

Let’s keep in mind, I came in for a shirt, probably a white shirt, and nothing but a shirt.

“My Shoes? Black,” I responded confidently.

Instantly, Christian’s demeanor changed. He shook his head, staring at the floor. “No, no, no,” he mumbled, in obvious emotional turmoil. I wondered if he was holding back tears. He was wounded. All his work to get me the right shirt and tie, and I was crushing his dream, whatever it was.

To help ease Christian’s pain, I asked for a suggestion. He perked up. Thank God. “Brown. You’ve got to have brown,” he told me. There was hope for him after all.

We searched for brown shoes. Oh, did we search. By the grace of God, we finally found a pair which suited Christian. Sold. I was relieved. He was smiling again. Jenn and I were grateful not to have ruined his day.

As we left, I felt as if I had bought a small foreign country. But we were happy and more important, so was Christian. We exchanged information, he now had my cell number and an open invitation to drop by our home if he came to Nashville.

That evening at the event, I received three—count ‘em—three compliments on my shoes. I can’t tell you whether my words were life-changing for anyone, but my shoes were the bomb. I was the man.

Checking In
Heading back to Nashville the next day, I got a call. From Christian. “How did it go?” he asked. We chatted and laughed. I let him know the shoes made the look.

A few months later Christian called again. He wasn’t selling a thing. He did however, let me know that I had a $50 credit at the store. “Will it work up here in Nashville?” I asked. Oh yes, it would. He would gain nothing from my using the credit, but he wanted me to know. A good man.

My experience with Christian got me thinking about life and faith. It’s easy to think we need to “sell” our faith by telling another what we know, instead of simply asking The Next Question.

Christian, selling men’s wear, was engaged enough to keep asking The Next Question. No doubt, it paid off for him. But it also paid off for me, because I love those shoes.

Lesson Learned
As we talk to friends about faith, it’s rarely the first question which opens doors. It’s the next one. Because the next question takes us below the surface. And if we listen—carefully—to the answer, it may lead to more questions, more conversation, more connection.

Everyone, at some point, wants to share their story. We need to ask enough questions to get to that story. When we do, we’ll unlock the door to finding the “why” of their faith, or perhaps the “why” for their struggles.

But Christian did something else. After I walked out of the store, Christian had his commission. He knew he would probably never see me again. But his phone call the following day showed that to him, this was more than about money—it was about building a relationship.

Because until we know the why of another, we can’t encourage our friend to take their next step of faith. Until we know the why, we’re just another person with an agenda, another person with a “plan” for their lives.

If I visit that store again, I’ll look for Christian. Because a young man working his way through school taught me a lesson I’ll never forget: Ask the Next Question, then listen for the answer. And as we talk with others about matters of faith, seize every opportunity to build a relationship.

Oh, and one more lesson: No more black shoes with a blue suit.

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The Memory Box

I accepted a new job offer to teach at a high school near where I live–a bittersweet decision because I loved the school where I was and loved my students. Yet I knew God was leading me to make this move, though it meant teaching two totally new subjects, AP Psychology, and statistics.

The week I made the announcement to my school was particularly rough–I sensed their disappointment as I went throughout the week. I never questioned whether I was making the right decision, but the stress of what coming next with prepping and planning two new subjects and adjusting to a new school was overwhelming.

By coincidence though, that same week I decided to help my parents clear a portion of their attic of some belongings from my childhood room. They had been asking me to help for quite some time and I decided, why not tackle a box or two while I had a moment?

A Forgotten Dream
I pulled out a box began rummaging through. Inside was an assortment of mementos, papers, toys, and trinkets. But then, jammed in with the random stuff was an AP Psychology guidebook. I never took AP psychology in high school, so I wondered, what is this book doing with my old belongings?  Then, it hit me.

When I was in high school almost a decade ago, I told my dad that one day I would teach AP psychology and would need this book. Holding it in my hands after all this time was such an incredible moment of fulfillment. I had forgotten all about that small wish, but here I was, preparing to teach this exact subject—nearly ten years later.

Making a Memory
This was a surprising reminder that God cares about our small dreams and our small stresses. He saw my hope to one day teach this course that even I forgot about. He also saw I felt overwhelmed by a decision I knew He initiated.

Then, He gifted me this moment of confirmation. Sometimes, even when we know God is leading, our decisions make us feel anxious and uncertain. But while helping clear my parent’s attic, I experienced a moment of His grace, and I pray I’ll always remember.

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A Very Familiar Voice

A very familiar voice called me forward one night – I reasoned with God that he was calling the wrong person because I was entangled in promiscuity, alcoholism, being experimental, partying, and hatred. There was no way that God could call me and use me for His glory, let alone be a child of His. I slipped away from my mom’s pastoral teaching and protection and looked to the world as my home. I was tired of living in a bubble so I chose hell.

I gave my life to the devil, and I actually said one day I wanted to go to hell because I was having so much fun sinning. The voice drew me in close and I fought God that I wasn’t good enough, and that if He could see my lumps and bruises then He would know I wasn’t qualified.

That’s when He spoke and said He would restart my whole life; that who I was and the person the world saw me as would be wiped away. That is when my life truly began – and I just want to encourage someone who was like myself that God will restart your life. Don’t think the person you used to be will still be there when you choose Him. God renews us and restarts our whole life and blows away our sins. I am no longer that person and God wants to use you if you allow him to.  Jesus loves you!

This story is from @faithforwardstories and @aundra.williams (make sure to check them out on Instagram and give them a follow!)

 

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The Miracle of Friends

The value of friendships means so much to me, and the heartache of a divorce reinforced how important friends can be.

After 30 years of what I thought was a strong marriage, my husband left me. I was devastated. My children, family, and friends were as shocked and hurt as I was. And it was their love that sustained me.

At the time, I was the secretary at my church, and the concern and love the staff bestowed on me went far beyond friendship. In addition, many friends reached out to me. I had seven close friends in town who let me know I could call, and they always came to be with me. I knew my friends were sincere, and this meant so much. They didn’t just pay lip service to my needs, they followed up and contacted me every few days.

One friend carpooled with me to work, and every day I cried. She cried too. I felt so sorry for her because she heard me drone on about the same disbelief and hurt day after day. But, she kept listening until I had no more tears to cry.  It took months before the tears were traded for any sort of true contentment.

Divorce is a painful and often isolating experience, but God provided support through so many friends.

Each phone call, hug, dinner, and trip shared with my friends brought healing to my broken heart.

If I did anything right, it was to embrace the love of others. When friends connected with me, I learned to say “Yes,” instead of “No,” or, “I don’t feel like it right now.” Looking back, I said “Yes” each time someone reached out.

When the phone rang, I answered. When friends invited me to dinner or a movie, I always went. I never turned anyone down.

Thinking about those days more than 30 years ago, I see much of my recovery came from those who surrounded me. And when others ask me for advice on how to handle a situation like mine, I encourage anyone not to isolate themselves.

When we are at the bottom, we need a miracle. I found my miracle in friends, God’s gift to bring me through the darkest time of my life.

 

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Faith? Or Common Sense?

My wife and I had just moved to Atlanta so I could begin my first job out of college as an Engineer. She found a job teaching high school math. Life was good. It was time for us to start our life together. A new city to explore. New friends to make.

However, a few months in, we sensed God leading us back to Nashville. At first we pushed the feeling down attributing it to home sickness, since we are both from the Nashville area. Why would God bless us with these terrific jobs only to call us to leave a few months in? However, the feeling wouldn’t go away and we started to get more confirmations.

Finally, things came to a boiling point. Out of the blue, my wife received a job offer in Nashville. What do we do? Do we throw away common sense that says before we move I need a job as the main bread winner of the family?

After a lot of prayer, we decided it was time for a leap of faith. My wife would accept the job. Since we needed my income, I would stay in Atlanta until I could find a job in Nashville. We knew this would be tough but we felt peace. It would be okay.

The peace lasted until I said goodbye to my wife and dog, and was sitting in the apartment alone. I have never felt so alone in my life. What insane decision had we just committed to? I was 23 and had only been in my first post-college job for 3 months. Who would hire a recent graduate who left a job that quickly? As one month turned to two, my fears worsened. Is this what taking a leap of faith is supposed to feel like? Having faith was increasingly harder, especially because His time schedule was clearly different than ours. We started saying that maybe I should quit and move even though I hadn’t found anything.

Finally, after three months, I got an interview. A few weeks later, the job–finally–came through. Better than that, we made it through.

Looking back, I see the waiting put us in a better situation than we could have imagined. And we learned that the leaps God calls us to don’t always come with a pretty bow on top.

Leaps, when they ask us to toss aside common sense, require patience and trust in the uncertain. However, if a leap is truly what God calls us to, we just put one foot in front of the other. Though His timing tests us, He opens doors, only requiring us to walk.

Without that leap a little over three years ago, we might not have been a position to take another leap, which we call 1st Faith.

Meet Matt here.

 

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The 10-Year Diagnosis

In 2007, during my first year of marriage, I became incredibly ill. My body unleashed attacks upon itself as an autoimmune disease viciously assailed my pancreas, intestines and finally, my entire colon. In weeks, I went from years of barely experiencing more than a cold, to knowing medical specialists by first name.

I found myself making repeated visits to the ICU during the second trimester of my first pregnancy. An extended hospital stay followed the birth of this baby boy. All of this while my husband was on deployment in Afghanistan.

Eventually the Red Cross got involved, bringing my husband back to the States, quick and in a hurry, mid-deployment. I didn’t find out until later that my doctors weren’t sure I was going to make it.

At twenty-five, I was taking 46 pills a day to trick my body and stop it from rejecting my vital organs. I was told this was my new normal. There would be no cures, but only extensive management of the overwhelming symptoms. In fact, the only “cure” for the inflammatory bowel disease—only a portion of the many physical challenges—would be a complete removal of my lower GI. An increased risk of cancer would require labs and screenings every six months, and if that wasn’t enough, I was told, “No more children.”

Doctors educated me on my 10-year outlook. “You might get flare ups down to a manageable level, but you’ll never see 2017 without colostomy bags and hip replacement, because of the extensive steroids.”

I was scared, pissed off, exhausted, worried. And so very sad.

More than 10 years have now passed since that chapter in my life. Many of my friends are surprised to hear this is part of my story, because life is so amazingly different now.

I’ve watched as God turned my fear into trust. In these 10 years He restored my health, healed my body, gave me two more healthy children, and strengthened my marriage through tremendous stress and financial burdens. And, God took my pity and showed me a life of thankfulness.

These 10 years have been calendars full of miracles. And friends, I mean legit, medical professional head-scratching miracles.

In 2007, the thought of 2017 was one of dread. Instead, it was a year of celebration. Now, I know how quickly life can change.

Today, I look forward to the lessons and blessings each day brings.

No matter where this moment or any other moment has taken you, whether low or scary or sad, hang in. Your story is still being written.

 

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