The Faith of a Friend

He was a good guy. We got along well, he went to church with me and stood with me through a terrible health scare. When I came through it, he asked me to marry him. I said yes.

Yet, there were flags. Things that didn’t “fit.” And as we went through premarital counseling, the flags became more and more clear. Issues started resurfacing which both of us had ignored throughout our relationship. Deep down I realized this wasn’t God’s best for him or for me.

But while there was a big red STOP sign in the road, the thought of cancelling our wedding was devastating. I did everything I could to ignore the obvious.

Then, a few weeks before the wedding, a good friend stopped by to chat. Hesitantly, my friend shared the hard truth, that he and others close to me saw this was hardly a good foundation for marriage. When my friend left, I fell to the floor in tears.

I felt so alone. All I could think was that I would never—now in my late 20s—get another chance at marriage. If I called this off, I would likely be single my entire life. Yet I knew it was the right thing to do, for both of us.

Feeling crushed and humiliated, I called off the wedding. At this point, all I knew for sure was that God would walk the path with me. It would be lonely, but He would be there.

This was one of the hardest seasons of my life, but over time, the embarrassment faded, and a new path formed.

I didn’t suddenly meet the right man, but I was thankful for a God who gave me courage to make the hard decision.

Several years later, after a lot of waiting, someone new came into my life. With him, I saw what a true “fit” looks like. Today we are on an amazing adventure. We have children, make memories every day. In every sense of the word, we are a team. I can’t imagine life without him.

My husband, and my life with him, is a direct result of a friend who had the strength and courage to be honest with me when I was about to take the wrong path. I’ll always be thankful for him, and for the faith it took for him to step forward and show me a new direction.

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The Lunch Question

“What if God’s not real, Mommy?”

It was a question wedged somewhere between chicken nuggets and several asks for ice cream after lunch. My 5-year-old had just described an obscure Old Testament story to me with great detail and spiritual insight…and this was the next thing that came barreling out of her little mouth covered in Chick-fil-A sauce. It was authentic and sincere.

“What if it’s all just made up? How can I know Jesus is real if I can’t see Him?” ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

My mind flashed through 35 years of my own, tangible experiences with God. The miracles. The tiny moments of intimacy that only my Creator could have created for me.

The times His Word pointed me on a path that I wouldn’t have chosen but was the richest, safest, most abundant, and most joyful. I wanted so badly to transfer all that heart knowledge in that moment, but I could not. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

I chose to give her the simple wind analogy. How silly would it be to say that wind isn’t real just because we can’t see it? It’s moving everywhere. It’s changing everything around us. Brushing our cheeks and lifting up dandelions. Our eyes are limited but we can know there is wind by the evidence all around.

As I reflected on her questions throughout the day, fear slowly melted into a river of peace. I thanked God for her honesty. Her authentic search. Her humility in admitting her fear. Peace slowly bubbled up into joy as I remembered that He is faithful to a thousand generations. It is spilled over to my children and their children and their children’s children. His realness and faithfulness do not stop with my story. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

We ended our conversation agreeing that she’d just start talking to God and ask Him to be as real as the wind in her life.

. . . and that makes her lunch question about the best one that anyone can ask.

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Connections

About ten years ago I was talking with my husband’s best friend, who told me of growing up in a children’s home in the Midwest. When he mentioned the name of the home, something clicked.

When I was a little girl, our little country church of 250 people would send donations to the very home where he was living. I chipped in what I could, of course. How incredible that the nickels, dimes and quarters from my childhood were supporting a little boy who would grow up to be a great  encouragement and best friend to the man I happily live life with today.

We sent those donations because of the influence of one lady, Mae, a  woman in our congregation who lived at and cared so much for the kids at the home. I had no idea of why, until I mentioned her name to my husband’s friend. He knew Mae, and knew her well. Mae was a House Mom at the home when he was living there and she had a tremendous influence on his life. She led him to Christ when he was just 10-years-old.

When Mae passed away at the age of 102, we gathered for her funeral and I found out something else I didn’t expect. The very first Sunday school teacher my Dad ever had was—you guessed it—Mae.

It’s crazy how small the world is when God is involved in the little, intricate details.

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The Turning Point

One of our team members, Kirk Walden, tells one of his stories of faith. 

It was sometime in the 90s. I was a single dad, not by choice. But here I was, with three young children just trying to hold on.

On the outside, I faked it. I’d be the guy who would greet you at church, ask how you were doing and then tell you I was “just fine.” I was supposed to be just fine, right?

After all, I led a Christian ministry in our area. I had to maintain the façade that all was okay, that my faith was strong, that I believed “God works all things together for good”—even when your wife leaves you alone with three kids.

But inside, I was angry. At God. I’m sure my anger came out at times, but mostly, I kept it bottled up.

One night however, while trying to fall asleep, I finally let God have it. I was livid.

I slammed my fist into my pillow and yelled at God (quietly though, because my children were in the house). “I serve You and You pull the rug out from under me! This is what I get? I’m trying to help people and You let this happen. Nice job. Thanks.”

Sarcasm? Yep. And, there were bad words. Probably a lot of them. But I didn’t care. I figured, what else could He do to me?

For about ten minutes, I didn’t hold back. When I finally finished my tirade, I was exhausted.

But then, without thinking about it, I started laughing. Not hysterically or anything. Go figure, right? But I was laughing.

When I spoke again, I wasn’t mad anymore. I think I was even smiling. “But I’ve got nowhere else to turn,” I told God. “You’re it. You’ve got me.” It wasn’t a fancy prayer. But it was a turning point, a new trust I didn’t have a few minutes earlier.

While the future would still be rocky, I knew somehow, I and those three children would make it through. And God would—in some way—always be with us.

Twenty years later, I look back on that moment as the beginning of a new, stronger trust in God—even when I don’t understand what’s going on and don’t know what’s ahead.

Have I somehow “arrived” in my faith? Hardly. But one of my darkest moments got me a little closer to where I need to be.

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The Greatest Thing

She graduated from college and launched her acting career while still a single mom. Her experience was just what she needed when she received a phone call from a friend in Hollywood . . .

In the time I was back and forth between LA and the Southeast, I was blessed in making some very close friends in LA. There are so many fake people in Hollywood wanting to use you to get one step ahead. It can be a very lonely time.

These friends stood beside and walked through fire with me. One friend, I’ll call her Ann, I was extremely close to. Ann and I would many times stay together, have late night conversations, laugh together, cry together. She would be my ride from the airport and my rehearsal buddy. She is exactly what a good friend is.

Ann is an actress and the voice of a cartoon character. She has such a promising career and is killing it in everything she does. Months ago, Ann asked to go to lunch after wrapping on one of her projects. At lunch, she expressed her sorrow over finding out she was pregnant. “I can’t have a child right now. I’m booking huge projects. I can’t be pregnant or even raise a child right now. What am I going to do?”

After we cried together and I hugged her the tightest I ever had, she told me she needed to go home and be with family to sort through some things. We hugged again and I told her I was always here.

A week later, she let me know she had gone to the doctor and was nine weeks along. She told me things were getting hectic and she would call me as soon as she could. One night, after I wrapped on a project and was headed back to North Hollywood, she called.

When I answered, she was a sobbing wreck. “Tell me how great being a mother is,” she said. “Tell me.” She was at a clinic, ready to end her pregnancy. “I don’t want to do this, but I just feel like I have no choice. Change my mind. Tell me being a mother is the greatest thing in the world.”

After a few moments of silence, I finally gained the words to speak. “All women are different,” I told her. “Some dream about being a mother their whole lives. Others, it’s not in their plans. Everyone is different.”

Frantically she replied, “But it is the greatest thing, right? It is?”

I took a huge breath. “No. It’s. Not. At least not for me.” The phone was silent, and I even shocked myself at how direct I was.

But then I said, “But. The greatest thing is not motherhood. The greatest thing is watching your child be a product of your sacrifice and determination. The greatest thing is watching your own transformation as a mother and a new selflessness you find within yourself.”

I kept going. “The greatest thing is watching yourself not only wanting others to be an example for your kid but being an example yourself. The greatest thing is knowing how much you have stacked against you but gaining a new strength to knock down mountains for one, tiny little human. It’s loving someone who doesn’t always give it back. The greatest thing is unconditional love. Loving someone that you just don’t think you can love any more but finding out, it’s so very possible.”

“It’s a growing love,” I said. “A bleeding, beautiful love to a little person who exhausts you, makes you cry tears of sorrow, who makes you want to rip your hair out, a little person who makes you call your own mom crying and asking her for guidance. The greatest thing is still chasing every, single one of your dreams to show your small human that you never, ever give up.”

“It’s walking a path and holding light to his or her own dreams. That is the greatest thing. And the greatest thing, it’s worth it. Please listen to me and know that it is so worth it. Even on the hard days when you feel like you can’t give anymore.

“Oh, you will find it in you. You will learn exactly who you are. And you will know. You will know the greatest thing. You have to trust me because I know exactly what it feels like to think you have no other choice. I am here to tell you, it is so worth it.” By this time, we were both sobbing.

We met at our favorite froyo place, where we ate, cried, laughed, cried some more, and ate again.

I share all of that to say, Ann’s little baby will know life and Ann will know the greatest things we talked about months ago. I am so elated for Ann and this sweet baby girl. I just can’t contain myself.

Don’t ever think a baby is a hindrance to your dreams. They are a motive. They are the fuel that keeps you moving. They are a reason. You, ladies, can do anything you want to. I promise you, you’ll find a way.

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The Nudge

Sometimes when God gives us a nudge, we’re bumped out of our comfort zone. But then He sends along the right person, at the right time . . .

It was two summers ago and I sensed God leading me to make a decision that honestly didn’t make any sense.

I had only been in Chicago for six months when I visited Nashville and sensed a strong nudge from God about moving there. From that visit until the summer I couldn’t shake it. So as I was getting ready for bed one night I thought to myself, “How amazing would it be if someone in my world gave me a personal word about Nashville?”

It wasn’t a conscious or fervent prayer, just a thought between me and God as I crawled into bed. I woke up the next morning and saw a message from a friend, sent at 2 a.m.

The message read, “I know this is so out of the blue, but God woke me up with you on my heart. I felt I was supposed to tell you to just enjoy this transition to Nashville. God is so excited for what He has for you there. He’s laid out every step. Just like the yellow brick road it’s going to be so bright, so clear and so true.”

I was shocked and overwhelmed by how in-tune God was with what was rolling around in my head the night before. He heard my need and kindly provided the confirmation He knew would enable me to take this big step of faith.

I’m not sure what you’re facing but what I am sure of is that I’ve always found God’s goodness on the other side of my seeking. He knows you, and knows what you need to make that big decision in your life. Put Him to the test, He’s waiting to show up for you and in ways that remind you how personally He loves you.

A couple of questions to think about (for you, or a group):

Was there a time when God confirmed or spoke to your situation through someone else? 

And a second question: How formal must a prayer be for God to act?

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Cody Parkey Chooses Faith

BY DAVID HOUSEL*

Saw something recently that I thought I would never see.

Cody Parkey of the Chicago Bears lifted his index finger toward the heavens after missing what would have been the game-winning field goal with seconds left in the Bears’ NFL playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

It is rather common, perhaps a bit too common, to see quarterbacks, receivers, runners, kickers and home run hitters lift their finger toward the heavens as if to thank God for their moment of success.

It is easy to lift that finger toward heaven in moments of triumph and joy. Not so easy in times of misery and defeat as Cody Parkey did at the end of the Bears game.

It is easy to thank God for our many blessings in good times, times of joy and plenty. Not so easy to thank God for those same blessings in times of disappointment, anguish and defeat.

But that’s what Cody Parkey did. It was the single most powerful testimony of faith I have ever seen from an athlete.

There is a powerful lesson there for those who claim to share that same faith.

*Today’s Guest Writer is David Housel, Auburn University’s Athletic Director from 1994-2005. He is now Athletics Director Emeritus at Auburn. He can often be found with friends in a backbooth at Chappy’s Deli in Auburn, Ala., where he wrote this piece.

Image: Yahoo Sports

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The Girl in the Store

I was at a store and overheard a young girl talking on her cellphone. She told the person on the phone she didn’t think that “this time,” she could hide the bruises her boyfriend gave her from her parents.

She told her friend the bruises were on her wrists and looked pretty bad. She went on to say she was buying different shades of makeup to see if it would help.

When the call ended, I hesitantly walked over to her. I apologized for overhearing her phone call, then asked her if there was anything I could do to help. At that moment, I felt very guilty about eavesdropping. She looked down as if she was embarrassed, and politely said, “No.”

I’m sure part of me wanted to walk away, but I couldn’t. I told her I knew this was none of my business, but I knew how she felt–because I too was in an abusive relationship over 30 years earlier.

It was as if a burden was suddenly lifted off her shoulders. She touched me, and with tears rolling down her cheeks, she asked, “How did you get out of it?” We decided to walk to a more isolated part of the store, so we could talk more privately. She has been dealing with this for three years (she’s 19), and her parents had NO IDEA!

It sent chills down my spine–it was as if I was listening to my own story.

If she told anyone, he would “kill” everyone in her family, including her. Then, he would cry and apologize after every incident, making her feel bad.

I told her she needed to tell her parents. Well, it turns out her mother was in the store and she wanted me to go with her to tell her. I immediately told her that this was a private matter and that she should do this by herself. But somehow, I ended up going with her to meet her mom.

By this time, I knew both of their names without asking. The daughter asked her mom if she would walk outside with “us” because she needed to tell her something. Her mother agreed. Of course, I’m as nervous as I can be.

She proceeds to tell her mother everything and then shows us the bruises on her wrists and what led to it. Her mother pulled her close and hugged her so tight. While crying, her mother said they were going straight to the police station.

The mother and I exchanged phone numbers and she hugged me as she cried and thanked me! I began to cry as well. Then, the three of us held hands and prayed together.

I felt God’s presence all around us. As we were saying our goodbyes, a police officer pulled into the parking lot literally right behind us and the mother stopped him. That was a God-send—an answered prayer!

To anyone living in an abusive relationship, please get help. You are not alone. And please, don’t tell yourself you can change them, because you can’t. This young lady told me she “loved” him—it’s the same thing I used to say. I told her there is someone out there who will show her what true love really is. I told her I’ve been with mine for 28 years and counting.

I am not telling this story to get credit for something I did. I tell this to give GOD ALL THE GLORY FOR WHAT HE DID! It’s never been easy to talk about my past, but on that day, it was. If this story can help just one person, it’s all worth it.

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The Breakthrough

In July of 2010, I was playing soccer with a group of kids in the baseball stadium of Ocotal, Nicaragua. My heart was beating out of my chest. This was not because I was running around too much, but because God was telling me to do something down deep in my soul.

After a few minutes, I waved the kids in and allowed them to huddle around me, with a translator to my left. I don’t know why it was so hard, but I mustered out the phrase, “God loves you,” then began to add more simple truths as I wiped the sweat from my forehead.

When I was done talking, they smiled and nodded. Then it hit me. For the first time, I was telling strangers about my relationship with God. During that time, I began to sense a new freedom. I could do this!

In the years since that moment, God took me on a journey I never envisioned. I quit my job and now, my wife and I are raising funds, so I can go full-time with a baseball ministry here in Tennessee.

It’s scary, but God continues to provide for all our needs. God’s word says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” I guess I’m learning to live this out, every day.

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At the Cliffs