faith, Prayer, Purpose

What’s in Your Hand?

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” A staff,” he replied…–Exodus 4:2startamomblog.com Free Stock Image 7

“When Jeff came in here carrying his own vacuum cleaner to clean your room, that’s when I knew he was the one for you….”

This was an ongoing joke in my family for years and my dad loved to tell the story. Jeff had picked me up for a date once and got a glimpse of my catastrophic room. He graciously didn’t say a word about it, but came back the next day with his vacuum cleaner and helped me clean it! 

I like to think that I’ve gotten better over the years, and I’m pretty sure Jeff would agree, though I’d rather you just take my word for it. I’ve been listening to a podcast by Gretchen Rubin and she often talks about the fact that “outer order contributes to inner calm.” I love her suggestion that if something only takes one minute or less to do, do it now.  Because of this “rule”, my bed is made, clothes are hung and shoes are put away (mostly). I still have not found a good solution for the piles of books I insist on keeping near me rather than on the shelves, but we are working on it. Pray for us.

I probably should be ashamed to tell this, but once when Jeff was traveling for work, Savannah (then age 5) spilled something on her beloved blankie. She was crying in her room and I said, “honey, we’ll wash it.” She looked at me incredulously and said, “but d-d-do y-you know how to u-u-use the w-w-washing machine?” I called Jeff right then to tell him how much we appreciated him. 

I remember feeling guilty once when I was working at the computer in the kitchen and he started to unload the dishwasher. I said, “I can do that, honey.” He said “no, you go ahead and write. I can’t write articles and newsletters or teach, but I can unload this dishwasher. Let me do my part, so that you can do your part.” I know, right?

Now his “part” includes serving on the maintenance team at the International House of Prayer Missions Base. Recently he received a thank you card from the guy he said he thought was “the head bean-counter” at IHOP-KC (although I’m pretty sure the guy prefers the term CFO). The card read, “Jeff I want to personally say “Thank You!” for your excellent work in my office remodel. Your smile and happy heart were clearly evident as Christ shone through you and left the presence of the Holy Spirit in this office through the work of your hands and the joyful attitude of your heart… 

What is your “part” and are you walking in it? When God called Moses to lead the Israelites, he felt nervous and ill-equipped, but God said, “What is that in your hand?” In essence, he was saying, “you do your part and let Me do My part. Use what you have and trust Me with the rest.” 

We are in the process of selling our house in Coweta and are hoping to buy a motorhome so that we can still visit family and friends in Oklahoma, but also be able to travel to Native reservations to help establish night and day prayer, while training up warrior messengers. 

I was wrestling with selling the house because for me it represented a sense of security and a place to call “ours”, but God showed me in the book of Numbers how He had given each tribe a portion of land except for the Levites, who represented the priesthood. He said that for them, instead of property, HE would be their “portion.”

Then the LORD said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the Israelites. Behold, I have given to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work they do, the service of the Tent of Meeting. (Numbers 18:20-21)

I’m not saying we will never own a place or property, but for now in this season, God is teaching us that as intercessory missionaries, our “part” is to minister unto Him, serve in the House of Prayer, and make disciples of the ones He has given us and the ones He will send us to serve. 

Also, we realize we are living for another day, believing that in the age to come, there will be great reward for every “cup of cold water” given in His name. We will rule and reign over nations! In this age, though, we are in training—a sort of internship, so to speak. So don’t be discouraged if “your part” is not on a stage or in a mansion or on a media platform in this season. Ask God to show you how to use what is in your hand for His glory. And one day, we will be given authority to govern kingdoms. But first we need to—okay, I need to—learn to pick up my shoes. Sigh.

AIDS, Deafness, faith, Prayer

The Real Snow White Knows Sign Language

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed for sowing, will certainly come again with joy, carrying his sheaves.—Ps. 126:6

“I want to go see Mickey Mouse and the REAL Snow White,” Maegan signed while I interpreted for the Make A Wish representative in the summer of 1994….

They had called in a woman who knew sign language to help with the meeting, so they could be sure that it was truly Maegan’s wish and not ours. It was hard to imagine that a parent would lie or hijack their child’s dying wish, but it was pretty clear to everyone that day what Maegan’s true desires were, as she cupped both hands on top of her head to imitate Mickey’s ears. Her eyes sparkled with hope and soon we were on our way.

It would be a magnificent week that we would never forget. We stayed in a lovely cottage at Give Kids the World, a non-profit resort that provides week-long, cost-free vacations to critically ill children and their families. We received the “royal treatment”, with tickets to all the theme parks and fun restaurants at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal studios and Sea World. Maegan wore a button that alerted park employees that she was a “special guest.” As soon as someone would see her button, we would be ushered through a private passageway to the front of every ride line. We would also be invited to go backstage and meet the characters at every show. I’ll never forget the look on Maegan’s face when she realized Fievel was writing her name in the autograph book. “He KNOWS MY NAME!” she signed excitedly and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he had read her button. And then there was the day I heard shrieking from across the room, as Maegan came running toward me, arms flailing. “MOM! The REAL. SNOW. WHITE. KNOWS. SIGN. LANGUAGE!”  Sure enough, the beautiful princess signed, “My name is Snow White. I live in the Magic Kingdom.” I don’t think Maegan’s feet touched the ground the whole week. And what a gift to have a break from the “real life” of IV’s, high fevers and hospital stays. I thank God she felt healthy that week, as I noticed several of the other children did not feel as well.

I spent time back then in the small chapel, praying for Maegan, for us and the other families. As amazing as the resort was, you could not help but notice the heaviness each family carried, and the weariness in their eyes. I wept for them and for us, for the uncertainty of the days ahead.

On the last day, Maegan wrote her name on a star that they would place in the castle of miracles. Maegan lived for two more years after that trip, and I always wondered if we would ever be able to return. In the past 30 years, there have been thousands of stars placed in the castle, but on a recent trip back there, the staff members helped us find Maegan’s star. We showed Savannah around, told stories, met some of the children and again went into the chapel to pray for strength, healing and hope for the brave families battling illness both there and back home.

I opened up the Bible that was near the altar, and it fell to this passage from Psalm 126… “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” When you study it out, the picture is that of the farmer, carrying “precious seed” to the earth, weeping because he is weary, and knows not what will become of the seed once he releases it. The Hebrew word for “bearing” is “nasa”, which means “endure” and to “look up”. The farmer knows not what will become of the seed, but he must “look up” and trust God will bless it and multiply it back to him.

When Maegan died, God spoke to my heart, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it cannot produce a harvest.” Since her death, millions have been touched through her faith God through articles and posts. Now I am working with an editor to have a book published! Part of the “harvest” comes from teaching young people to find their purpose as she did. You take part in “sowing” through partnership and you will reap!

What else could you “sow”? Time in service or mentoring someone? Volunteering at a place like Give Kids the World or a hospital? Maybe you feel like something has been “taken” from you, whether it is in loss of finances or friendship or health. Consider “sowing” it instead. It’s okay to weep and to be uncertain of the future, just as we were years ago. But let your tears water the soil of your heart, as you pray and lift up your eyes to the only One who can bring Growth. He KNOWS YOUR NAME!! Watch for His “Sign Language” and trust Him for a great harvest.

 

faith, Prayer, Purpose

Making Difficult Decisions

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”                     —Isaiah 30:21

“I need you to pray for me because I have a difficult decision to make….”

As an intercessory missionary, I can’t count the number of times I have received this prayer request or some version of it. The pressure is on, a deadline looms near, and you have to step to the right or to the left. Which will it be? Do I take this job in the field I am passionate about and earn less money or the one with the corner office, prestigious title and hefty yearly bonuses?  Should we sell our house and build one or take out a second mortgage and remodel? Should I go to college even though I have no idea what I want to do or should I enter the workforce? Should I start graduate school? Should we have another child? Should we change school districts? Should our kids go to public school or private school or (Lord help you) homeschool? 🙂 Do I retire or keep working? Chances are, you are facing some sort of decision right now, and if not, you will.

I’d like to share the advice I give the people who come to me for counsel and prayer. Savannah is starting to make some of her own decisions now that she is able to drive and faced a decision last week. It wasn’t life altering, but she wanted to know what to do. When I have an opinion I don’t hesitate to share it with her, mind you, but she is getting to the age that she needs to be able to stop and listen to what Holy Spirit is saying, especially in the event that I am not around. She and I have this running joke when I am about to give her my “wise counsel” for a situation. I will stop and say “Okay jot this down. Life lesson #274: When facing a decision, you need to….”  Perhaps these “life lessons” will become a book one day. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, let me share some with you here.

1) Get alone with God. This isn’t always possible when a split second decision needs to be made. (which is why I rarely ever make split second decisions) Savannah learned at an early age never to ask me something in front of a friend or put me on the spot. “Can we have a sleepover? Can I go to the movies with _______? Will you bake enchiladas for my class party? Can you chaperone the jr high and high school lock-in? (Unless I have an angel visitation, she knows my answer will always be NO for the last one. Some things you just know 🙂 I never allowed her to put me on the spot because that leaves Holy Spirit out of the decision. Our process is that Jeff and I discuss it, we pray and wait and listen and discuss again. There have been times we did not have peace about something that any other time might have been just fine. Perhaps this time a “no” saved her from a car accident or something worse. My friends who know this about me will often ask ask “Will you pray about______?” instead of “Will you_____?

Go to your secret place where you have your “daily appointment with the King” in prayer and Bible study. Go for a walk around the neighborhood or at the local track. In Coweta one of the most popular places to walk is on the asphalt around the perimeter of the cemetery. (Talk about helping you put things in perspective!) Listen to what rises up in your spirit. Is it a verse or image or song lyric? Did God speak to you through a dream? I am grateful we have a prayer room that is open 24/7. There is always live worship and freedom to pace the floors or sit still and listen or meditate on the Word. If your city doesn’t have a prayer room, I recommend hospital chapels. God has met me in many of them. Journal or draw or play your instrument. Hannah poured out her heart at the altar without speaking anything audibly that could be understood. (1 Sam. 1:12-14)

2) Imagine or consider both scenarios in vivid detail. Think about what it would “look like” and “feel like” to step to the right and take the job or make the move. Then imagine what it would be like to step to the left and stay where you are. Consider the two choices and pay attention to what is happening in your body as you visualize in detail each scenario. Does your heart rate quicken? Is it excitement or anxiety? What is happening with your breathing? Are you holding your breath or panting? Did you get a headache or heartburn when you imagined yourself in one of the paths? Did your stomach tighten up like a rock or was it calm?

3) Follow peace. A friend was deciding between two positions and later told me, “I got in my car and felt that tightening in my gut you talked about. I had to go back into the office and ask them to tear up the contract because I realized I did not have peace about it!” A partner was considering retirement and Jeff told him, “sometimes when the cloud moves, and the grace lifts, you have to go too.” God led the Israelites with a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire at night. It was exactly what he needed to hear. Think about your situation. Has the cloud moved? Listen for His voice and follow peace.

faith, Purpose, Uncategorized

Begin With the End in Mind

“LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered—how fleeting my life is.”                                  —Psalm 39:4

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. The enemy of the “best” is often the “good”    —Stephen Covey

One of the most powerful exercises I have experienced at a conference is to imagine that I am at my 80th birthday party (another variation is to imagine you are looking in on your own funeral. I prefer the birthday thing, but do whatever works for you 🙂 You imagine thatthere is going to be someone from each area of your life who will be speaking at the party or funeral. There will be someone from your immediate family and someone from your extended family, a friend, a co-worker, someone from your community, etc. In the exercise, you are to imagine what you would want them to say when it is their turn to speak and then write it out. This exercise is a great way to determine how you want to live today and what choices and decisions will help you become the person you imagine your family and friends describing. This exercise will also help you to discover your core values, or the things that are most important to you.

What are your core values? I rarely find people that can answer this question with any real clarity. When we allow our lives to be guided by our values, we feel happy, fulfilled, and a deep sense of connection with God and others. We also know that when your behavior is out of alignment with our core values, it creates a deep disturbance in your mind and spirit that can lead to lack of passion and loss of energy in your life. If you have never taken time to ponder what values are most important to you in your life, now is a great time to do it and I can help!

Step One: Identify Your Core Values. First, review and circle or write down the values listed below that are important to you. Be sure to trust your instincts. You can always eliminate it later if you decide it isn’t a fit. Don’t add values to your list that you “think you should have” or “want to have.” This list is about what actually matters to you. 

Core Values: authenticity, achievement, adventure, authority, balance, beauty, boldness, comfort, compassion, community, creativity, contribution, courage, dependability, determination, education, equality, fairness, faith, family, freedom, friendship, fun, growth, happiness, health, honesty, humor, influence, inner harmony, integrity, joy, justice, kindness, knowledge, leadership, learning, love, loyalty, meaningful work, openness, optimism, passion, patience, peace, pleasure, poise, popularity, power, privacy, recognition, reputation, respect, responsibility, safety, security, service, spirituality, stability, strength, success, status, trustworthiness, truth, vulnerability, wealth, wisdom (circle yours)

This list is certainly not all-inclusive, so if you think of one that you do not see here, add it! Two of my main core values are not on this list—prayer and purpose. My personal mission statement is to inspire, encourage and motivate others to spend time with God (prayer) and to find and fulfill their unique God-given purpose. When I am doing this, I feel like I am doing “me”—I feel content and at peace with myself and others. When I am not doing this, I feel anxious and out of sorts. At this moment, I have five different requests being made of me that are not related to my mission or core values. They are “good things”—things I might enjoy doing or even be good at, but I know if I say yes to these “good” things, it could ultimately mean saying no to God’s “best” for me.

Luke 4:42-44 tells one of my favorite stories in Scripture because it portrays Jesus saying no to a “good” thing so that He could say yes to the Father’s “best”. Look it up and ask God to show you His “best” for you!

Step 2: Write positive action statements incorporating your top 5 or 10 core values. These statements should start with “I am” and when you read it, imagine what it would feel like if this were already happening. This creates a healthy tension that will ultimately spur you to take action. So, for instance, one of my core values is “influence”. A positive statement might be I am powerfully influencing others through my writing and speaking. (Hey, I’m walking this one out right now! 🙂 Another is “education”—I am passionately teaching tomorrow’s leaders and developing curriculum for students who will be world-changers and history-makers. Now it’s your turn. Two of my mom’s core values are education and literacy. She received messages last week from a parent saying how she had increased a love of reading in her son. Another student posted on FB that my mom made her more confident in reading aloud. So. . . begin with the end in mind.

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faith

A Legacy of Hope

”The worst possible thing you can do when you’re down in  the dumps, tweaking, vaporous with victimized self-righteousness, or bored, is to take a walk with dying friends. They will ruin everything for you. First of all, friends like this may not even think of themselves as dying, although they clearly are, according to recent scans and gentle doctors’ reports. But no, they see themselves as fully alive. They are living and doing as much as they can, as well as they can, for as long as they can.”—Anne Lamott, “Small Victories”

This reminded me so much of my mother in her battle with cancer. She remained extremely optimistic, almost annoyingly so, right up until the day she died. “No Mom, I do NOT think it is a wisdom for you to drive to Graceland when Aunt Cookie comes to visit . . . well, because she has back problems and can’t drive long distances and you are on so much pain medication that I’m sure she would rather have Mr. Magoo driving her than you . . . Mom, did you order anti-aging cream from a television commercial? Do you really think your crow’s feet are an issue right now? Yes that IS a beautiful semi-truck…no, I don’t think I have ever seen a turquoise semi before…I doubt he will let us ride in it…because that’s a long way up and you were barely able to get in my Camry this morning. . . well, the dr. said if you eat solid food you will be back in the hospital, but yes, I guess you could put that plate of Gary Rippy’s fried fish in the freezer until you are well….” These may or may not have been some of the conversations I had with my mom in her last months. You can’t keep a good woman down, I tell you. She had more hope than all of us I think.

I was reading some of the text messages recently and cracked up when I  read this report to my sister after her last surgery: “Well she seemed to be in a lot of pain when we helped her to the bathroom, but then we heard her singing ‘don’t it make my brown eyes blue…wait a minute, I have green eyes…..don’t it make my green eyes….then she started talking about a dog in WWII from one of her kids books at the library.” Okay, I know what you’re thinking and I guess some of the optimism could have been narcotic-induced, but over and over again I heard from nurses and staff members at the hospital and hospice home about what a positive attitude and “bright spirit” she had, always encouraging someone.

There are several traits I believe I got from my mother—a love for reading and a strange compulsion to have books (or at least A BOOK) around me at all times. Another quirk I got was carrying tons of various pens with me. Is this a teacher thing, I wonder? Jeff marveled at my mother’s collection of colored pens in the outer pocket of her purse and once and asked her, “Linda, are we about to take a test?” She looked at him puzzled and he pointed at the pens. He teased her almost as much as my father did. Lots of people tell me I look like my mother and some people could never tell our voices apart on the phone. I got my “teacher look” from her that my students believe could actually turn them to stone. Granted, my father had this “gift” too that served him well as a principal so I may have gotten it from him. Nonetheless, I am grateful.

Don’t get me wrong—there are some traits I did not inherit from her or would never admit to it if I did. Mom was a bit of a hoarder. Not the filthy kind but the kind that wanted to fold up and save the wrapping paper her gifts came in because it was just “so beautiful.” And don’t get me started on the Elvis memorabilia. She also had the tendency to need to rush to the bathroom when she laughed too hard. Or if someone startled her. Those traits I am quite happy that she didn’t pass to me.

The thing I hope most, though, that I got from my mother was her ability to enjoy her life and enjoy people, and to feel enjoyed. On the evening of July 4th, Savannah and I were with her in her Tulsa hospital room on the 14th floor, and we had a spectacular view of every fireworks display within a 30 mile radius. We sat by the window holding hands for hours, oohing and aaaahhhing and laughing. The next day, doctors would sit by that same window and tell us in somber tones that there was nothing else they could do, and that we should prepare for the worst. Mom looked at me brightly, squeezed my hand and said, “Don’t cry honey. This means I get to go and be with your daddy!” Later she looked at me and said, “Vanessa can you believe they did all that for me last night?” I was perplexed. “What do you mean, Mom?” She was talking about all the fireworks….the celebration. She believed she was being celebrated…that someone knew she would be coming Home. And maybe she was right.

 

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faith, Finances, Prayer

Partnering With Jesus: Faith for Supernatural Provision

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“That money is not for you. It’s for her. . .”

It was 2006 and I had been at the altar praying with a single mother about a desperate financial need. At the time I occasionally interpreted for a deaf person who would visit our church and sometimes ministered in song using sign language. As soon as I finished praying with the woman, one of the ushers walked up to me carrying an offering envelope that said “sign language lady”. Inside was a stack of twenty dollar bills and I rejoiced as I got in the car and shared our “good fortune” with Jeff. Then I stopped in mid-sentence. I suddenly had a vision of praying for the financial need and turning to see the usher walking up to me. “That money is not for you. It’s for her. . .” the Holy Spirit nudged me. I remembered the verse in James about not simply praying for someone and saying “be warm and well fed” then walking away if you have the ability to meet their need. So we drove to the woman’s house and gave her the money. That same month I received three unexpected speaking invitations and our “seed” multiplied to over $4,000!

A few years later, God would “nudge” me again to give my car away and walk to our prayer room through the summer. One day Savannah and I were walking to the library and I exclaimed, “Hey—I just realized that I’ve been praying for us to get more exercise and look—God is answering!” Savannah, red-faced and sweating, did not see the humor OR feel the gratitude in that particular revelation. “Well MOM, stop praying that!” I laughed out loud and put my arm around her. These walks gave us lots of time to talk and I shared with her how I wanted her to have her own “history in God” concerning faith with finances. I explained that faith is like a muscle, and the only way for it to grow is if you use it and “stretch” it. She rejoiced with us when, at the end of the summer, we were given TWO cars (one of which we sold and gave the profit to another missionary and the other we are still driving), but she decided she wanted to grow her own faith muscle. She has several cool stories but one stands out to me.

One day as I was preparing to leave for an internship in Kansas City at the International House of Prayer, we were out for a walk (because we wanted to 🙂 Savannah reached into her pocket and pulled out a twenty dollar bill. She shyly handed it to me. “Mom, I already gave my tithe this month but I want to give this to you for the internship and to show you I believe in you and what God is calling you to do.” I teared up and reluctantly took the money, knowing it was probably half of what she had been saving. When we got back home, Jeff (knowing nothing about her seed offering) said, “Oh, Savannah—I almost forgot—I sold your two old bicycles and here is the money.” It was 40 dollars! She looked at me wide-eyed and said, WHOA!

A couple months into the internship, we were feeling financial pressure because of some unexpected expenses. I sat in the prayer room, trying to connect with the intercession for revival on college campuses, but my mind kept going to our financial need. I saw a missionary named Isaac walk past and recalled how I had prayed for his financial need in our small group that morning. Give him your envelope money, I heard. That can’t be God, I reasoned. It was my household and grocery money for the whole month! I received confirmation it was God, then went to the bathroom and took out all of my envelope cash, not counting it but knowing there was over $200. I put it in a card with an encouraging word and verse and gave it to Isaac, who praised God out loud in the lobby. Later that day Jeff called to tell me we had received an unexpected check for $500, exactly what we needed plus I wouldn’t have to fast the rest of the month! (wink) I share these stories to encourage you to “exercise your faith muscle” in the area of partnering with Jesus in the realm of supernatural provision in finances. My point is NOT that we give in order to get money back, but rather to partner with Him in building His Kingdom. And when we release our faith with our seed and God answers with supernatural provision, our hearts soar and we respond as Savannah did, WHOA! God is AWESOME and He loves me and hears me! And THAT will be the point.

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