The Greatest Blessing

Written by Diane Forler

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22

Life got away from me.  It just did.  I didn’t mean to, but somehow I got into my late 30s before I managed to get married and have kids.  So, when I gave birth to the two little girls I had always wanted at 38 and 40 years old, I was beside myself with just about every emotion I could imagine.  Amazement, wonder, fascination, disbelief, but most of all love.  The greatest, biggest, deepest love I had ever felt.

Don’t get me wrong- I love my parents (now deceased), sister, husband, family, close friends, people, and I love God all very deeply.  Yet, the love a mother feels for her child, that moment when she first sees that baby’s face, well, there is nothing quite like it.  You know in that instant that this is someone you would lay down your life for without hesitation, and that never changes.

Like all new things, reality does eventually settle in, and raising those little precious babies has its challenges.  I remember one time when my oldest was about 4 and acting out to the point I was at a loss.  My Dad was there and I tearfully asked him how I was going to handle her.  His answer was simple:  Just love her.  Well, I knew I loved her, but I maybe didn’t know exactly HOW to love her at that point.  I never forgot him telling me that, and knowing the deeper meaning of it.  It takes every single Fruit of the Spirit to show your kids the love they need.

Loving your kids doesn’t always just mean being the sunshine and softness in their lives.  Love must also be tough (stole that from James Dobson).  It’s a hard balance to strike.   While it seems like we just want our kids to have a good, happy life, what we really want is for them to learn to think for themselves, be strong when things don’t go their way, believe in themselves, find ways they can be a blessing to others, in big ways or small, and, most of all, l trust God.  That means we have to walk the walk because kids notice EVERYTHING, and the older they get the more they let you know it.  If I want them to see Christ in me, they need to see the attributes described in Galatians showing up in the way I am living my life.

A few months ago, we were having a group meltdown (not my finest hour), me and my 2 now young adult daughters, when I was lamenting they’re not doing certain things I thought they should just know they should be doing by now.  Silly me. I just figured it would come naturally. They see me doing these things. They are plenty old enough to help. So why am I still doing it all??  Well, I found out.  My precious child looked at me and said “Mom, you haven’t really let us grow up.  You still do all this stuff for us that you want us to do for ourselves, you just don’t give us a chance to do it ourselves!”

Wow, I said.  I can help you with that!  I immediately started handing things back to them when they would tell me they needed something.  You’re out of vitamins?  Walmart carries the ones you take, or you can order them online.  You need that outfit for tomorrow?  There’s the washer!!  Hey, this is kinda fun!  We HAD taught them to do for themselves, I just didn’t trust them to DO it.  Now it’s my turn to let them. 

It was a life lesson for me. It’s funny because in pharmacy management I have always supervised a team of employees.  My goal is always to enable them to do their best, take on more responsibility, and work independently.  It makes them feel better about themselves and makes my life and my job a lot easier.  Why didn’t I apply that to my kids?  I guess it was easier to just do it for them, but it is not too late.  It’s never too late to be a part of making your kids’ lives better. 

Raising kids is a lifelong process.  The best advice I can give, aside from obviously praying and seeking God’s will, is to love them enough to meet them where they are, with all the “fruit” you can carry. The relationship changes as they get older and at this point, when my kids are 19 and 22, I am not done being their Mom. I find I need to watch them more and more, see who they are becoming, and be there when they need me.  Be patient, talk less, listen more.  Patience is not my strong suit, but it is so very important when they are at this point, on the brink of adulthood, needing me to trust them, and still looking to their parents as role models.

My daughters are the greatest blessing in my life, and I thank God every day for them, and for a husband who is a great “girl Dad” and partner in this journey.  I pray daily that they will find their way to all that He has in store for them, and I am so thankful to be able to be a part of their journeys, and for the love I have in my heart because of them.


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Lessons From My Garden

Written by Rhonda Alstott

“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the venue of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down.” Proverbs 24:30-31

 

It’s that time of year that gardeners like me love. New life in the ground with promises of bounty to enjoy later. This year has been a year of “catching up” for me. Several years of failing knees left me unable to take care of things like I always have. Two new knees have allowed me to get back to the business of caring for my perennials. This has been exciting and both heartbreaking at the same time.

 

One particular tough job I’ve been working on is my largest flower bed. It’s overcome with plants that do not belong there, or in other words weeds. My flowers are trying their hardest to thrive there, but many are being choked out and overrun by invasive weeds. I’ve been working by carefully pulling those plants that don’t belong there, and it’s a hard job because I pull them up by the roots. I know this is the best way to get rid of them, taking them out root and all, and often their root is so strong and established I’m not able to get it all with a yank and have to bring in a garden tool. Other times, I unknowingly leave part of the root behind, and the weed comes back bigger, stronger, and more determined to stand. In my inability to get these weeds, my loving husband has attempted to help by using the “weed eater” or mower. This may have kept the weed out of sight, but the root is still there and has continued to grow, not to mention a few of my perennials have become some of the warfare casualties.   My largest flower bed has become overwhelming to me instead of being a source of joy and relaxation.

 

Isn’t this what happens in our personal lives as well?  Whether it’s a sin we wrestle with or an issue that plaques one of our relationships, if we don’t take care of the issue at hand and get to the root of it, it ends up overtaking us and growing to the point that our lives and relationships become the sin or issue instead of the purpose and design that God has for us. Often we try and “mow over” that which needs dealt with only to have a bigger issue continue to plague us. Anyone who has dealt with recovery from an addiction knows what it is like to try and cover up their behavior. They also understand that stopping their destructive behavior is just one step of the process. If the trauma or root cause of the addiction isn’t dealt with, that weed will continue to try and pop up through the soil. Ask any of us that have been married more than half of our lives and we can tell you that the “issues” we deal with as a married couple continue to plague us until we get to the issue at its root and get it out, making way for a healthy marriage to grow. The other thing we can all count on is that no matter how beautiful the garden appears, every garden has weeds. 

It isn’t all hopeless for those of us that want healthy gardens.  With consistent and intentional hard work, the weeds can be uprooted and replaced with the intended plants.  Those plants will need attention and feeding, but our spiritual lives and healthy relationships are worth it.  I have made it a practice to ask God to show me the weeds of my heart and to help me to get them out of my life.  I’ve made it a practice to study God’s word so I can have the right fertilizer for my soul.  There have been times my weeds were too high and I couldn’t distinguish them from the flowers and I’ve found a spiritual director or counselor to help.  I know there are those that are weed experts and know the right course of action to get them out once and for all.

 

I took my husband out to the flower bed this week.  I showed him how it was hard and overwhelming for me to take care of this alone. I accepted and confessed my responsibility in the neglect these past few years.  He acknowledged his responsibility in not getting those weeds up by the roots and just mowing them over.  More importantly, we both agreed that this garden and its future health and beauty will take the work of both of us.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2a “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witness, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”

This verse reminds me that Jesus will continue to do the work He has started in me.  My job is to lay aside every weight and sin, or in gardening terms “weed”, and finish this race I find myself in.  Others before me have done it as well.  I need only keep looking to Jesus…

 

*For any of you gardeners that may be thinking “till that bed up and start over”, let me say in the early years of neglect that was tried.  Our cable lines are underneath it. Ask me how many times we had the cable company out to restore power…


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Bait

1 Peter 5:8-9a

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.”

 

I was all out of sorts this week. It was several different issues taking place at the same time catching me off guard. It threw me back into a previous mindset I had experienced at an earlier time in our first few years at Wesley Chapel. Just like back then, I was taken off guard by hurtful, accusing words and I found myself feeling offended, defensive, and needing to share my perspective in response. I had waves of anxiety and anxiety driven dreams. I became so unsettled and emotional that I finally reached out to a wise friend and asked for a listening ear and some advice. She was able shake me out of my emotional pity party and reminded me to stay focused on the work of the kingdom and the real issues at hand. She helped me shift my priorities back to God and the ministry and purpose He has for me.

It’s been a few days of introspection for me and I’m embarrassed to say that I had forgotten how Satan works. I had forgotten the tactics he uses to take my focus off of Jesus. Satan loves to use relationships and my need to be liked and respected to get me sidetracked from the work that I’ve been called to do. Satan knows exactly how to bait me to cast the doubt that leads me to conclusions that get me off the works that God has prepared for me. You let down your guard and he gets you. Thankfully, I have wise and godly friends to steer me back onto the right path.

 

In Luke 17:1, Jesus said to his disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come but woe to him through which they come”

 

Jesus warned us that stumbling blocks will come our way. He also warned that we have no excuse for being the stumbling block to others. The word used here in the text for stumbling blocks is the Greek word skandalon. It was originally the part of a trap in which bait was attached, the trap or snare itself. It also means offense or the thing that offends. When I become offended or hurt by something someone has said or done, that offense then becomes the bait Satan uses to get me. When I take this bait I become trapped in a way of thinking that gets me to focus on all the ways I have been offended, all the hurtful things they have said about me. If I let these thoughts progress, I’m full of self-pity and before you know it, I am bitter and I have taken the bait that Satan set. Just like that he has me focused on how I’ve been offended and before you know it my eyes are no longer on Jesus, but how I’ve been hurt and wronged… Just for the record, this is why many have left the church as well as the cause of many church splits… It all starts with an offense.

 

When I am offended, I start to believe someone owes me something, whether it’s an apology or an acknowledgement that I’ve been offended. When I start to believe that someone owes me anything, that’s the point where the trap snaps and I’ve been caught! I’ve taken the bait of Satan. Getting entangled in the trap has never produced any good for me. It cripples me and makes it hard to bear fruit. It’s hard to have any love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness when I’ve taken the bait Satan has left on the trap. It’s hard for faithfulness, gentleness and self-control to be present in my life when I’m hurt and offended by what someone has said or done. Bitter Fruit is all that takes root when my focus is taken off of Jesus.

 

Social media…gossip…all make it easier to say things about someone that we would never say face to face. Both are used as weapons of destruction when used to say hurtful things or put a negative spin on a situation. As an adult I’ve learned that bullying behavior isn’t always left behind on the school playground. Some carry this behavior into their adulthood. I cannot control what these people say or do. The only thing I can control is how I respond to them. What I am realizing more and more is that I need not respond at all. I don’t have to attend every debate or fight I’m invited to. To do so is taking the bait of Satan.

 

Scripture tells me to contend for the faith. It doesn’t tell me to contend for my right to have my thoughts or opinions validated. It doesn’t tell me to contend to be understood or prove a point. Jesus had a way of showing by example what a life yielded to the will of the Father looked like. As a follower of Jesus, I’m learning to yield my life to the will of the Father. In doing so, I’ve realized I have a lot of expectations of how I believe I should be treated that need to be yielded as well. Those expectations go unmet, lead me to take up an offense and let the seeds of anger and bitterness grow…seeds sown by Satan. Our world is so full of darkness right now. A world wrecked by evil and in need of the light of Jesus. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by what needs to be done for the kingdom. More recently, I’m realizing what doesn’t need to be done is as important too…especially when I yield my right to be offended.

 

When someone hurls stones at you, remember there’s a spiritual battle going on (Ephesians 6:12). Standing firm in faith is remembering this as well as knowing who you really are in Christ. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepares in advance for us to do.” I have a purpose that God has called me to. I can only fulfill that purpose when I keep my eyes on Jesus and abide in Him and His words, not the words that Satan has used to bait me.

 

Note: This concept of the “Bait of Satan” came to me through spiritual direction at a time when I was working on unforgiveness in my heart. It is outlined thoroughly in the book, “Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. While I do not agree with all of the author’s theology, this book was helpful in moving past the bitterness in my life.


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Inukshuk (n-nook-shook)

Written by Kara Reasoner

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood/offering Spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture, it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the One who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”    

—-I Peter2:5-6
 
I first became fascinated with an inukshuk (n- nook- shook) on a 2018 trip to Ireland. One of our stops was a small fishing village on the west coast of the island. While enjoying a walk on the beach, our guide pointed out to us as we faced out to the ocean, the next stop from here is America! Further down the beach, we came upon several stacks of stones. It was clear they were not a natural phenomenon but were man-made. My curiosity got the best of me and I began to inquire about these interesting pillars of stones. One of the locals told me these stacks of stones were inukshuks, left by someone communicating “someone was here” or “you are on the right path”.
 
The definition of an inukshuk is “a structure of rough stones stacked in the form of a human figure, traditionally used by Inuit people as a landmark or a commemorative sign.” Inuit are indigenous people of Northern Canada (where I saw my second inukshuk and in the form of a man) and part of Greenland and Alaska. Inukshuks were typically used by the Inuit as directional markers. Over the years inukshuks have transformed into a symbol of hope, safety, and friendship to people all over the world!
 
Last March, our lives were changed in ways that we could never have imagined. A few days after the shutdown, I decided to build an inukshuk at the end of our driveway. At first it was a physical sign for me of hope and friendship.  Then it became a sign we were headed in the right direction.  And now it stands as a testament to the human spirit. We grieve with those who have lost loved ones. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get to the other side of this pandemic.
 

A couple of weeks ago, Pastor Tony shared with us about a Hebrew mizpah from the story of Jacob and Laban. They erected a pillar of stones marking an agreement between the two of them, with God as their watching witness or watchtower. Loosely interpreted, mizpah means “may God watch over between you and me while we’re apart.”

People have been using pillars and stacks of stones to communicate for centuries.  Pillars of stones, monuments to God, buildings—-they all are built by man and can be destroyed. Wesley Chapel is a beautiful facility and we have been blessed, but the building itself is not the church. Never more than during this pandemic has it been made clearer that the church is not a building of brick, mortar, and stone. We, God’s people the – “living stones”- are the church! Throughout the last year when we could not meet in person or were limited in numbers, Wesley Chapel turned to new and different ways to reach people outside the walls of the building. Nothing is more important to God than people. Each of us are the “living stones” with Jesus as our cornerstone. May we never lose sight, no matter the circumstances, of being rooted in Christ, growing in grace, making disciples to transform the world, and always loving well!


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Rock Formations

Written by Nancy Predmore

For better or worse, my family is a collector of rocks, stones, shells, and sand.  I have jars with sand from our vacations, labeled from the beaches.  Shells were used in a 4H project.  Our computer has photos of stones and rocks that we thought were interesting.  If these things could talk, they would tell stories about my family.
 

One of my favorite sets of rocks are some that we found on a rocky beach in Maine.  There were rock formations all over the shore. One of our favorites was a set of rocks that were balancing in the shape of a cross.  People put so much thought and effort into making these freestanding structures.  We made our own, but it wasn’t easy.  We had to start with a flat rock for the foundation.  Then we had to put together the rocks in a certain way to make them balance.  Some of the rocks worked better in one place than another, but they all had to work together to stay in balance.  If we shifted one rock, the entire stack needed to be shifted to stay in balance.  It was hard work, but the results were so satisfying.

When we first started attending Wesley Chapel, we weren’t sure where we fit.  Delainey jumped right in with Sunday School, but Jim and I moved more slowly.  While D attended Sunday School, we attended worship.  We found a class on Wednesday night that was a good fit for Jim and I while D attended youth group.  That class lead to being part of a Sunday School class.  Sunday School lead to being asked to help at VBS, which lead to teaching Sunday School.  We are not sure where teaching Sunday school will lead us, but we are willing to serve.

It all goes back to the rock formations.  Every rock in those formations have a purpose, for all of us at Wesley Chapel have a purpose.  God has placed us here together to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  We need each other to stay in balance just as those rocks need to be balanced together.  When one of us needs to shift, we need to shift together.  As long as we keep the living Stone as our foundation, we will be able do the work that He has called us for.


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On Saying I’m Sorry

Written by Rhonda Alstott

One of my favorite artists, Sir Elton John, once sang the words “sorry seems to be the hardest word”. The older I get the more I would have to say I agree. A sincere and heartfelt apology seems to be a disappearing thing. Anyone in any type of relationship has experienced hurt at one time or another. We’ve all had conflict with others. We’ve been on the side of feeling hurt and we’ve been on the side of hurting others. It’s part of our human condition. Why is it so hard to apologize when we have hurt someone?

 

I once read a quote that said,

“Apologizing does not always mean you’re wrong and the other person is right. It just means you value your relationship more than your ego.”

-Mark Mathews

 

The more I age, the more I value relationships. The more I value relationships, the more I value an apology…

 

As Christians, we have come into the family of faith through repentance. Repentance can be described as having a sincere remorse or regret for our thoughts and actions. We, in turn, tell God we are sorry and real repentance follows with a changed attitude, behavior, and life. It’s transformative. I believe that’s how our Creator designed it. It is the way we can be reconciled to God. It is His gift to us, and because we are reconciled to God we have the call to a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). I believe saying I am sorry when we have hurt someone is part of reconciliation. I’ve witnessed lately that people can take responsibility for a mistake by saying “my bad” or “yep I did it, it was my fault” and never say I am sorry for what they have done. It seems like defensiveness and excuses are the standard places many resort to when it’s been brought to their attention that they have hurt someone. To have health and healing in our relationships, I believe we have to not only accept responsibility for our words and actions, but apologize for the ways we have hurt others. I believe it is part of living godly lives where we recognize we have hurt someone and do our best to make it right. The good news is that we have been given everything we need to do this with (2 Peter 1:3).

 

I remember so well one of the first and hardest apologies I ever had to make as an adult. It was 1990 and I had just finished working on a team that did a weekend retreat in the Kentucky Women’s Prison. God opened my eyes to some of the ways I was living in a different kind of prison that weekend because I harbored deep resentment towards my father for all the hurt I had as a child and teen. I called him as soon as I returned home. I told him I was sorry because I had resentment and bitterness in my heart. He came back with an apology for the childhood I lived and took responsibility for some hurt he had inflicted. We both needed to say we were sorry. We both needed forgiveness. That moment forever changed my relationship with my dad. I was able to love and accept who he was. It was also my first big adult lesson in what humility looks like…it took humility for both of us to say I am sorry. It was also one of the most spiritually rewarding things I have ever done. Chains fell from my heart that day and I was set free to love my dad and work on healing from my past.

 

When I’ve taken the risk to apologize to those I love in a sincere way, my relationship with them has always been restored to a better place than before the apology. It has paved the way for better relationships in the future. I remember a few years back when I felt the weight of the hurt that I had inflicted on one of my children. I swallowed the lump of pride I had rising in my throat and told them how sorry I was. I was specific. I told them exactly what I had done that was wrong. I fought the urge to make excuses for my poor behavior. We were sitting outside in a downtown restaurant. I cried so hard I had to put on my sunglasses to keep from being a spectacle in the crowded cafe, but what really mattered is that I was sorry and told my child so. I was assured I was forgiven and our relationship was restored and set on the path of healing and wholeness. I am blessed to consider my adult children some of my best friends today because of our collective willingness to say I am sorry. They have apologized to me as well for things that they have done and said. Saying I am sorry to one another has made our lives richer.

 

I was alone with my mother when she went to be with Jesus in the early hours on a Monday morning. The nurse gave me a few moments to be with her. I wept and told her how very sorry I was. I had taken care of my mother for most of my life. I was deliberate and intentional about the decisions I made for and with her, but I still felt the need to tell her I was sorry for all the ways I failed her. I told her I was so sorry for how much suffering and heartache she had to go through. I knew that it wasn’t my fault, but it still helped me to verbalize how sorry I was. I knew that my mother didn’t hold those things against me, but I held those things against me. I was the one that needed to hear I was sorry. It’s funny how saying I am sorry can free you from all the “what ifs” and “maybe I should haves”.

 

As I’ve gotten older I’ve also recognized when I’m hurt and need an apology. I tend to respond like a wounded dog when I am hurting. I get under a bush and try to bite anyone that tries to help. I’ve gotten better at recognizing that my bitterness will grow unless I have told the person they have hurt me. Being honest and vulnerable about the wound gives them an opportunity to make peace before more hurt is done. Wisdom has taught me that it’s ok to know what you need and ask for it. If we don’t address these hurts as they happen, they accumulate and can make the bitterness grow. As I become increasingly aware of my own mortality these days, I want to love better in all my relationships. I don’t want hurt and bitterness to fester and grow.

 

I also want to say what a heartfelt apology isn’t. It isn’t a flippant “I am sorry you are upset.” This takes no responsibility for the wound. It just acknowledges that you are upset.

 

In my life I have had to forgive those who have apologized to me. I have also had to forgive those who haven’t apologized to me. Both have been out of obedience to Jesus. I cannot read God’s word without seeing how important forgiveness is in God’s grand scheme of redemption and reconciliation. Receiving an apology has been a catalyst in my work of forgiveness. Like I said, I have had to forgive without one, but I liken it to getting over an infection without the right medicine. Sure, I can get better, but it usually takes a lot longer to fight through it.

 

This past year has been a trying time for all of us. We have all lost people we love. We have watched relationships struggle. We have witnessed pride and destructive decisions that tear families apart. We have so much suffering we cannot control right now, but we have a lot we can control. That’s what I try to focus on. Is there suffering or hurt that I can bring some peace and healing to? Is there someone I need to offer a sincere apology to?

 

Romans 12:18 tells us, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men”. Maybe learning how to apologize will help us do so. Saying I am sorry may feel strange and awkward at first, but as most things go, practice does make it easier. The more we practice this important step, the more we help foster relationships based on forgiveness. The more we foster relationships built on forgiveness the more we experience peace.

 

Shalom-

Rhonda

 


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