Perseverance of Children from Divorced Homes

“For you have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth.” Psalm 71:5

The excitement of freshly sharpened pencils and a new backpack during the fall of first grade did not last long when my parents told my brother and I that they were getting a divorce. First grade was a rough year.

My mother created a very loving and stable home my brother and I with my grandparent’s help, which I am beyond words thankful for. But it did not cure the sadness in my heart for not having a mom and dad at home to eat dinner with each night, play with on the weekends, or go on trips. Watching my mom sacrifice for my brother and I to receive an excellent education caused anger and resentment towards my dad.

In eighth grade, I encountered Jesus in a whole new way, understanding that He loved me and wanted to be a part of every area of my life. God was not far and distance, but He became someone whom I could count on and filled my heart with joy in the midst of difficult circumstances. What I learned is that prayer works. Not to say that God answered all my prayers. He brought such love into my heart that I had new capacity to reach out to all sorts of people, to forgive, and be patient and faithful to pray and trust God to lead and guide my life-choices.

Even when one of my parents would be angry for hours or days, refusing not to talk to me, I chose to not let the way they were treating me steal my joy. I was honest and shared what I thought to be truth, so I had peace about it. Having peace did not mean that I was not sad, I certainly was but the Lord’s love for me was such an anchor in my life that it gave me strength to battle anger and the ability to choose forgiveness. I felt compassion and prayed for my parent because I knew that he did not know the voice of the Holy Spirit in his life like I did. Without the wisdom and counsel of the Holy Spirit, normal patterns of behavior routinely repeated themselves. What I learned at young age was not to expect non-Christians to act like Christians.

Since eighth grade, I have regularly prayed for my dad and our relationship. I would not accept anger as a norm in our relationship. I wanted more and believed with God’s help there was a better way. I could fill pages and pages of specific ways that God has brought healing and helped us develop a good relationship.

I wish that I was there right now to look into your eyes to tell you that there is a better way and do not settle for the lie that your loved one, your friend, or you are too messed up for God to love and to change your life. I should have been one of those statistics of a girl from a broken home who looked for love in all the wrong places, but with God’s help I chose as a young teen and continue to choose a better way of living because I know the one who is the WAY to a life of freedom, love, and beauty. I have had my share of setbacks, but because God’s voice has become my True North through all the time spent learning about Him in the Bible with small groups, my family & friends, in church, alone, and then through the stories of other people’s lives I am able to see just a little light or hear His voice even when it can be so faint due to the noise of the world or the darkness of sin in my own heart.

Expect the hard times for without them you will not get where you are going.

Life is a journey, so train hard for no athlete developed strength without adding weight. The pressure will make you stronger.

Do not forgot sprints in your training because in a moment’s notice all the hard spiritual work will be the fuel that you need to respond quickly to a situation.

Keep praying. God brought my mom a great husband and stepfather to my brother and I, and I have a good relationship with my dad.

Live to conquer your struggles with the Lord’s help and you will win the abundant life found only in Jesus. Jesus wins the war the end, so why don’t you join the winning team. Healing is hard, so you have to really want it. How much do you really want to win in the important things in life?

 -Mary Carmen

P. S. My five year-old nephew came upstairs to find out what I was doing while I was finishing this post for Sacred Story Ministries this month on writing about a theme in my life story. He said that he wanted to help me write. This is what he wrote: “God Loves Rainer. God forgives Joe, Gaga, Mommy, Daddy, Simon, Genevieve, Rainer, and Mary Carmen.” What God wants you to know is that He loves and forgives you.

One’s Loss is Another’s Gain

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)

I can’t believe our little adopted son, Yohan, has been with us for almost a month now! We love every second with him. He is such a sweet and playful boy.

Many people ask how it was when we picked up Yohan in Korea. Most people imagine balloons and big celebrations. However, that was not the case. Yohan had been lovingly cared for by a foster mother and father for almost 2 years of his life. We had several visits with them, and Yohan was deeply attached to them.

We were informed the hand-off would be quick for the sake of the foster parents and Yohan. We all played together for 30 minutes. You could feel the anxiety in the room.

Then, the foster parents carried Yohan to the parking lot where there was a van waiting to bring Kevin, me and Yohan to our hotel. The social worker asked me and Kevin to enter into the van first. As the foster parents walked up to the van and handed Yohan to me, Yohan screamed for them, the door shut and the driver drove away.

I immediately gave Yohan his bottle and broke down crying as I saw the foster mother cry through the window. The foster father ran towards the van waving good-bye, a rare scene for a Korean man. I was crying feeling the deep grief for Yohan and the foster parents.

For 2 years, we prayed for the foster parents. They were older and Yohan was the 20th child they fostered. We prayed the Lord would give them His love for Yohan. We prayed the Lord would give them strength and grace as they cared for Yohan. They cried like it was their first child they ever had. God faithfully answered our prayers.

As we marvel every day at Yohan and pinch his little cheeks, we thank God He gave Yohan to us. Words can’t begin to express how much we love him and how amazing he is to us. However, as we write updates and send pictures to the foster parents about Yohan, we know they are experiencing loss. Their loss is our gain. This is also true of Yohan’s birth parents.

As I have been reflecting, ‘one’s loss is another’s gain’ is a common theme in life. A mother gives her son away in marriage to bless his new wife. A wife leaves her friends and family to move to another state to support her husband’s job. A mother gives up her job to care for her children. A friend sacrifices her time, money and sleep to be by her dying friend.

One who loves deeply often experiences loss for the gain of another. Jesus is the ultimate example of One who lost so we could gain. He gave up his life so we may gain eternal life with Him. He died so we may live. He did it with utter joy. It takes courage to love. It is tempting to withhold love for fear of loss. Will you choose to love and lose than not love at all?

Edna Lee

Change Lives this Valentine’s Day

Valentine-2017Star of Hope is a homeless shelter and transitional living center in Houston designed to help men and women find hope in Christ and get back on their feet. There are currently 86 women living in the transitional home (35 singles and 51 with families) and we have an opportunity to bless them with a Valentine’s Gift to remind these sisters of His love during a difficult chapter in their stories.

Each gift bag will be decorated and will contain a copy of Laura’s study Capture My Heart, Lord along with chocolate and a mug or flower. To cover the cost of the gifts, we are asking women in the Sacred Story community to consider giving $10 per woman to provide a gift as a reminder of God’s love for her. Our goal is to raise $860 for the funds to provide a gift for all 86 sisters. We are over two-thirds of the way there with $150 left. Praise God! A small group Bible study will kick off, led by Laura which will last from the end of February to late May.

Here are ways you can take part.

Give! Donate $10 for one gift, $30 for three, $80 for eight, etc. Follow this link to contribute.

Pray! For the women, for God’s financial provision, for God’s Word to bear fruit in the women’s lives

Help assemble and pass out bags at Star of Hope! We need 2-3 volunteers to help Laura on Wednesday evening, February 1st, at 6:30pm at Star of Hope’s monthly community meeting where the women will receive their gifts and hear about the upcoming study. Please reach out to Laura via email to let her know your interest.

Be part of the women’s lives through the study! Laura is praying for 2-4 women to attend the study once or twice a month on Monday evenings from 6:45 – 8:00pm to sow into the women’s lives and be prayer support as the study unfolds. Please reach out to Laura via email to gather more information.

It’s Time for Your Encore

One of the greatest voices of our era knocked down a stand-up and shake-it performance in Houston last night. Her stage presence and powerful voice consumed the atmosphere under the grace of that timeless, contagious smile. The polished professionals of Houston abandoned their dinner tables to get closer to the source of joy lighting up the arena. It was a 90 minute performance that pulled everyone out of their seats.

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At age 72 Diana Ross is still fully living out of her unique gifts. And most important, giving them away for the world to enjoy.

What if discouragement in life had silenced her voice? What if age had lulled her into isolation? Last night wouldn’t have happened. We would have all missed the joy. I wouldn’t have heard that familiar voice whisper in my soul, “Your story matters.”

Do you believe that your story matters? You are uniquely and wonderfully made. Your story was written before you were ever born. Whether you believe it or not, doesn’t change that truth. But it does change your impact on the world.

What if Ruth refused to follow Naomi? What if Rahab refused to hide the spies? The great grandmother of King David would’ve returned to her pagan country and his great-great would’ve been killed in the battle of Jericho. Their stories matter. So does yours.

Just like Ruth and Rahab didn’t know their own significance at the time, yet chose to believe in the unknown, the same call to faith is on your life. Will you answer it?

I noticed at the end of the performance Diana looked up to the sky as if to say, “Thank you for letting me live out of this great gift and keep giving it away.” Are you living out of your God-given potential or hiding in doubt, discouragement or shame? Have you walked off the stage of your life that matters more than you know?

Maybe it’s time for an encore.

Is it too dark back stage? Do you have nothing left to offer? Check out Jennifer’s encore, from a life completely destroyed and thrown away.

It’s time to encore, in His UNFAILING Love…because it is.

Brandi

Our Invitation into His Story on the Second Sunday after Epiphany

“They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” Isaiah 35:2

Sunday, January 15, 2017 commemorates the 2nd Sunday of the Epiphany season. Derived from Greek the word, epiphany means ‘manifestation’ or ‘revelation.’ Epiphany (commonly referred to as the Three Kings), or the 12th day after Christmas celebrates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist as well as the revelation of God in His Son, Jesus Christ, marked by the Magi’s visit to baby Jesus. The six Sundays following Epiphany recognize the specific manifestations of God’s glory or epiphanies through the life of Jesus.

The revelation of Jesus through the miracle of changing water to wine at a wedding in Cana is celebrated on the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany each year. As Jesus’ birth and his baptism, this event is a revelation of Jesus’ greater story through the cross. Well before the wedding feast ended, the wine ran out, so Jesus’ mother, Mary approaches him to see if he could do something about the situation. Jesus responds saying, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4) referring to the time when His blood will be poured out on the cross to save sinners.

Following Jesus’ direction, the servants filled jars used for ceremonial cleansing with water, and Jesus transformed the water into wine. The wine is a symbol of Jesus blood that will be poured out on the cross, and then the significance of the wedding at Cana occurring on the third day points to the resurrection of Jesus after three days on the cross. Just as this miracle reveals Jesus’ glory, the ultimate manifestation of God’s glory is seen in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. God is inviting us into His story through this event, so that we will see that we need a Savior and that through the shed blood of Jesus we might be an epiphany or a manifestation of His glory in the world.

Have you grown frustrated asking God for help in a particular area of your life that you have stopped asking? If so, what we learn first from this miracle is that Mary asked for Jesus help, so keep asking! Check out Rainey’s story in the Sacred Story collection as an encouragement to keep praying.

How can you focus more on listening to Jesus rather than talking in prayer or in the reading of His Word?

How can you make confession more part of your daily life?

The servants immediately did as Jesus asked though it might have seemed an unlikely solution. Are you missing God work in your life in a particular area because you continue to question Him or do not take the time to seek wisdom in the Bible? He might have already given you the answer but you have just not seen it yet.

What old patterns of your life do you need to bring to the cross?

How does your life reveal that you are a follower of Jesus Christ?

-Mary Carmen

I’m Telling the World What You Do!

You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth! When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful. Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again. But I’m in the very presence of God— oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord God my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do! (The Message) Psalm 73:25-28

I talked to dear sisters this week who all face various struggle s in the chapters of their stories parenting a teenager, a husband who needs success in his job, caring for an aging parent, finding relief from depression, hearing about a devastating diagnosis for an extended family member, a single woman trying to discern the best next steps, and the themes of difficult chapters continue.

I personally have been battling a difficult sinus condition for the past three months, causing me to feel bad and necessitate a battery of inconvenient and uncomfortable medical tests. God, why are you letting this linger? I could be serving you at full speed but instead I am feeling run down and spending time going to doctors and pharmacies. Not to mention spending money on all the involved!

I think the psalmist knew what it was like to go through a few difficult chapters. After all much of the psalms were written by David while he was on the run for his life from King Saul who was bent on putting him to death. Not having a place to live or the safety of knowing you are not being hunted – now that’s a whole new take on “uncertainty”!

In Psalm 73 above, the prayer poured out gives us insight and wisdom on how to walk through the chapters of our stories. Here is what I see the psalmist saying to each of us if he could sit down for coffee and talk:

  • Ask God to give you an increased desire for His presence and a greater trust in His ways through what you encounter. Ask Him to bring your heart to the place where you can say, “I want more what You want more than I want what I want in this situation because You know best and are able to work this toward my good.”
  • Affirm God is working behind the scenes and ask Him to show you His activity in small and big ways. Turn to a promise from His Word, put it in a place where you can see it, and remind God of what He promised to do. For instance, I am reminding God right now about His promise to give wisdom when we ask in faith (James 1:5-6) I am telling Him that I expect His wisdom as I pursue physical healing and other decisions related to the ministry.
  • Pray for protection from the enemy and the ability to discern traps and lies which the spiritual forces of darkness place in the believer’s circumstances and minds to wreak havoc. I am battling the lie, “God doesn’t care about your health. He’s going to let you suffer and never find an answer.” I may suffer but it’s not because God doesn’t care. The Scripture tells me He knows the hairs on my head and is an attentive Father. (Luke 12;7) He also uses affliction in my life for His glory. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
  • The reason why the enemy wants to keep you from desiring God, affirming His presence, calling out to Him with His promises, and standing against lies, is because he doesn’t want you to tell the world what God does for you. Satan hates when God receives the credit for being all-sufficient and near during difficulty. He will do whatever it takes to keep you from sharing the wonderful ways we come to know our Heavenly Father’s heart in every situation.

I love how The Message version of Psalm 73:28 ends, “But I’m in the very presence of God— oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord God my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do!” I love Renee’s story My Island Life which she recently submitted to give us a glimpse of our Father as a rescuer. Sister, YOUR STORY MATTERS. Keeping living it in the power of His strength. AND KEEP SHARING what God does through the chapters of your life!

~Laura

Your Story Matters: Retreat Schedule

2017-retreat

Friday, January 27th*

5-7pm Arrival and Registration

7-8pm Dessert Reception

8-9pm Welcome and Introduction

Saturday the 28th*

7:45-8:15am Optional Prayer Time (for early birds! Starbucks coffee served)

8:00-8:45 Breakfast

9:00-10:00 Worship and Session with Guest Speaker Nancy Taylor

10:15-11:00 Personal Reflection

11:00-Noon  Panel: Your Story Matters

Noon Break for lunch

Afternoon on your own

Optional: 30 minutes individual coaching and prayer sessions offered

6:00-7:00pm Dinner

7:15-8:30 Imparting Hope and Comfort to A Woman’s Story

Sunday the 29th*

8:00-8:30am Optional Prayer Time

8:30-9:15 Breakfast

9:30-10:30 Worship and Session with Guest Speaker Lincee Ray

10:30-11:00 Commissioning and Final Fun Stuff

11:00 Pack Up and Head Out

*Subject to slight changes

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Christmas Songs we Need to Sing All Year Long

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

-“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”

I think we all agree that we are relieved to NOT hear “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “All I want for Christmas is You” one more time on the radio this year. Now that Christmas is over, I won’t miss the loop of Christmas favorites played over and over in my car.

This doesn’t hold true for me with some of the oldest and most treasured Christmas carols that are not played nearly as much as the pop-Christmas tunes. These old hymns aren’t snappy tunes but songs that speak deep to my heart as I dwell on the reason our precious Baby King was born. Each year I’m more in awe of the plan He had to save the world through such an unlikely situation. When I sing some of these songs, I’m often in tears.

Sin is a weighty issue and one that doesn’t conjure up warm feelings of Christmas cheer. But as we embrace that a Savior to come into the world to save us, this provides the deepest joy we can ever know. Our salvation is cause for true Christmas cheer.

These lyrics capture this hope and I can sing these words all year long without ever growing weary.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel.

- “O Little town of Bethlehem”

Hark the herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled”
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
“Christ is born in Bethlehem”
Hark! The herald angels sing
“Glory to the newborn King!”

- “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

-“Joy to the World”

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O holy night, O night divine!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

-“O Come all Ye Faithful”

 

May these words dwell in our hearts all through the next year as we find everlasting hope in Jesus.

 

~Courtney

Force Field of Mercy

“But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner to be unfurled against the bow.” Psalm 60:4

Without its protective force field, the earth would be destroyed by killer electrons from space. This force field was discovered by scientists just 2 years ago.  The images of this force field deflecting deadly darts away from our planet strike in me a chord of fear and wonder.  It reminds me of God’s mercy over my life.

I am sinful man and God is Holy God.  Like oil and water, the two cannot mix.  The law of sin is death.  I am human.  I sin. I die.  I get what I deserve.  But God’s mercy is a holding back of the natural consequences of sin.

Just like the God of mercy created the heavens and the earth, stretched out the stars and called them each by name, He raised a protective banner over each of us who call Him by name.  He wrapped His Son in the womb of a young girl, born to live a perfect life and die as the sacrificial unblemished lamb to atone for the sin of the world and reconcile sinful man to Holy God.  The banner of Jesus Christ is raised over my life and I live “unfurled against the bow.”

Sound like too much science fiction? Ask NASA.

“NASA recently discovered what appears to be a ‘force field’ over Earth, fueling the fire over whether our planet has been under spiritual and physical quarantine as many have suggested.”

The earth’s magnetic field was discovered only 2 years ago, but about 2,000 years ago a man named Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica about a holding back of destruction.  He articulated the protective covering of the presence of God that would be lifted in the end times.

Whether you believe in the Author of all science or not, where will you be when this protective covering is lifted?

Is your life under spiritual or physical quarantine?  By whom? By what?

Even those who chose not to believe there is one supreme God, believe the earth will come to the end of its days.  We all agree there is an undeniable destructive end.

Will you choose the banner of Jesus Christ?

In His Unfailing Love.

brandi

Childhood Christmas Tradition

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7

The station wagon was filled with dolls, Transformers, building blocks, stuffed animals, and an Atari game or two for the boys on Santa’s Christmas list. We wrapped up in coats, hats, and fuzzy mittens on a cold winter morning. The gold station wagon was Santa’s sleigh today. Since the presents almost topped the ceiling of the station wagon, mom slowly backed out of our driveway. It was the second Saturday of December, Nashville General Hospital’s Annual Children’s Christmas party sponsored by Nashville Chi Omega Alumnae. Every year from my third grade school year and for the next fourteen years, my mom bought the presents for the party. Some years the presents were donated from stores, then her bosses donated the gifts, and later she and my stepfather took over the gift buying.

Stepping off the elevator the stark white halls stirred a little fear in me. I had not spent much time in hospitals. Once inside the children’s wing, I felt much more at easy seeing the murals on the walls, a Christmas tree, and smiling faces and hearing Christmas music. While helping put the presents around the tree, I noticed a few open doors. Stopping in front of one, a little baby in a tall white crib captured my attention across the room. I felt sad that the baby could not be home for Christmas and had to stay in this white room without toys or animals. I could not understand why someone had not painted the rooms a color.

Then as Santa arrived excitement erupted as everyone gathered around the tree singing Christmas carols before each child picked a gift. There were smiles on faces all around with girls holding their dolls and boys playing with their trucks and cars. I hung by my mom, so afterwards, I heard families and the nurses tell my mom how much this party means to the children because many of the parents did not have money to buy presents and for some children this might be there only present.

On the way home in the car I asked my mom: “Why did the hospital not understand that having your room painted was really important to kids?” She explained that it is expensive to paint rooms and that this hospital did not have a lot of money. I told her, “One day I want to be a pediatrician and paint murals all over the walls.”

I did not become a pediatrician, but I did teach elementary school for a few years and made sure that artwork decorated every wall. Currently, I hope that through my writing I share the beauty of Jesus and how His beauty transforms lives. I have many dreams of things that I would like to do, and one relates specifically to this experience at the Nashville General Hospital.

Some years as children do, my brother and I wanted to play with friends instead of going to the Christmas party, but my mother always insisted. I am so thankful that she did not concede to my wishes but made me go. Because she loved me, she wanted what was best for me- learning to show compassion, mercy, and love to those less fortunate.

These are four things that have impacted me the most from this Christmas tradition.

– Love gives of their time and does not just give money to those in need.

– Love gives good gifts not leftovers to those in need.

– Love is not afraid of people who are different but understands we are far more similar than we are different.

– Love seeks a way to make difference in the lives of people.

-Mary Carmen