Gaining Hope in Difficult Days

In our home, we have this approach to bad days: go to bed early.  Our thought is, “the earlier we go to bed the sooner the day will be over, getting us to tomorrow, a brand-new day with brand-new beginnings.”

Lynn Anderson was onto something when she sang, “I never promised you a rose garden.”  Bad days are as much a part of life as the good ones.  Thankfully, however, the good ones do overall outweigh the bad.  But sometimes the bad are more than bad.  They’re horrific.  And those are the seasons a simple turning-in-for-the-night won’t fix.  We wake up to the nightmare we long to escape.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at JaynePatton.com

Happiness Doesn’t Happen

Do you ever wonder what it takes to just be happy?  Some days it can feel like such a struggle.

My friend Jenn Baxter asked me to write a guest post for her site, and it’s a topic I felt led to cover when sharing my story with her readers.  I hope you follow the story to her site to read the article and look around to see how Jenn is touching lives through her journey and online home.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you and for being a part of our online family here!
❤ Heather

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Heather, what more could make you happy?

It was a desperate question my mom asked as we sat on my bed looking in to a closet full of clothes, shoes and accessories.  “Not stuff, Mom.  Stuff can’t bring happiness.

I was only sixteen, but I had already concluded that trips to the mall, a brand new car and hosting parties with friends couldn’t fill the emptiness inside.  The void was far too vast for material, superficial things.  Happiness was a state I was battling to attain.

The battle began nine years earlier, when my world tragically changed on a country dirt road.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at LiveAFastLife.com

Healing Words in the Emptiness of Tragedy

I’m deeply grateful for the open doors to share our story and the hope and healing I pray readers receive through it. Over the last couple of months I’ve been given the honor of being a guest on a few different sites. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

Here is one of them—a piece I wrote for Susan Greenwood’s site, Not of Myself. I met Susan attending a speaker/writer conference last year. I hope you hop on over to her site to read the article and peak around to see all the wonderful contributions Susan is making through her online home.

Thank you for allowing me to share with you and for being a part of our online family here!  ❤ Heather

“Don’t talk to Schultz like that,” my bossy three-year old self snapped at my six foot four inch three hundred pound father after he scolded our beagle dog for causing a near fall.  Granted, when tall people fall, they have a long way to go, which understandably, could have been bad.  But Dad’s response seemed completely unjust to me and I didn’t have any hesitation expressing it.

While that very early encounter of expressing myself so naturally may appear as a simple scenario in needing to correct a child, it was actually much more.  The minor incident was an indication of how well I connected with my feelings and how effective I was in being able to communicate them.  This was a critical component in the days that lie ahead.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at NotofMyself.com

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The Burns That Revealed My Beauty

A highlight for 2016 was writing a guest post called “The Burns That Revealed My Beauty” for Lightmakers, a website featuring stories to connect, heal and inspire.  

Before the year was over, I wanted to share the piece with you.

Thank you for being a part of our online family.  

All the best to you & yours in 2017- 

As a child I used to stand in front of the full-length antique mirror in my room and study myself.  After much evaluation I would ask, “Mom, am I pretty?” Deep down I wanted her to answer with a simple, “yes,” but instead I always got, “Heather, beauty comes from the inside.”

I gathered my earliest opinions of beauty as many young girls do; from Miss America pageants, beautiful women showcasing game show prizes, and grocery store checkout line exposure to the covers of numerous magazines featuring flawless bodies.

Beauty was all surface, merely skin deep. This philosophy is typical of a child who only has the capacity to think concretely, to only know what can be seen, felt or touched. But beauty, I learned, is much more obscure. Beauty must be discovered.

……….Read The Rest of The Story at Lightmakers.org

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Abandoning the Imperfections

Let’s talk about comfort zones. Or risk zones. Or danger zones. I feel like there are signs regarding all three just sitting here composing this post.

The thing is, I’m willing to stretch myself to share my experiences, feelings and thoughts to encourage others as the Lord directs me, (see that comma? It’s the contingency mark to this situation), I’m willing to stretch myself as long as it’s not too far outside the comfort zone and as long as I don’t merge over the line into any risk or danger. Let’s keep it relatively safe and dignified.

Well, I’m nearly one hundred words into this and there’s a photo attached, therefore, I’m already very much outside the comfort zone.

Over the last fourteen days my requests for the Lord to speak the next post into my heart have returned quite silent. I wanted to set this particular one on the back burner and share it another day. Okay. Possibly never. It wouldn’t be the first post I’ve written that I never published. But above my dignity is my desire for Him to use this blog to encourage and inspire others when they need it most. In order to receive the next one, I must be obedient to share this one. This post is my abandonment of self for His glory. This post is my David-moment, dancing with all my might.

2 Samuel 6:14-15, 20-22
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”
David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”

For most of my life I dreamed of the day when medical advancements would remove my scars. In nearly three decades, that day hasn’t come.

In that time I’ve given much effort to covering my body and hiding my scars. No matter how many years and how much I’ve grown I’ve never got used to people staring. For the most part, when people see me they don’t notice my scars too terribly much because of my clothing. Actually, some don’t realize the extent of my injury. Until…..

Until I wear a swimsuit.

My backyard is a safe place surrounded by people who know me and love me, and while yes, they do obviously see my scars, they see me first. A public place is just the opposite. People don’t know me, therefore, they see the scars first. The looks could be categorized as curious or puzzled, but the expression I receive is negative and uncomfortable.

I’ve even experienced a couple individuals sharing those very thoughts with me. One random lady came up to me in the grocery store asking if she could pray with me for the Lord to take my scars away. Another was a man who went to our church attributing my scars to a lack of faith. I think Taylor Swift could have also been inspired by the super-spiritually-detached when she sang Shake It Off. In those situations there’s nothing else to do. Just go your separate ways picturing Olaf in your mind when he said, “he’s crazy.” (You should totally click here and watch the short clip.)

These instances explain why a baggage of inhibition accompanies me every time I put on a swimsuit, including recent events when our beach-loving family went to Hawaii for this year’s vacation. But as if it wasn’t enough to merely go in my swim shorts and tankini, the Lord challenged me with my very own David-moment….take pictures in a TWO PIECE!!!

And that’s only one part of the story (as you know, there’s always more than one part).

The other is that it is October. It’s been a couple months since this body has seen sun, especially my torso! So there I was, out on the beach for the first four days of our vacation, for the very first time in my entire life wearing a two-piece in public! While there was never any strolling along the beach, I was jumping hurdles of insecurities just sitting there in my lounge chair.

The third part of the two-piece swimsuit challenge was the day we actually took the photos. We got to the location and snapped a few photos in my dress. Nice, peaceful, no-people-around place. No. Not a soul. God honoring my obedience, right? Well, maybe Him challenging me more. It’s the only reason I can conclude as to why the moment that I was just pulling my dress off here came a wedding party! A WEDDING PARTY!!!! You’ve got to be kidding me! Talk about a test of commitment. I nearly bailed. And nearly vomited.

So why do it?

While I was incredibly inhibited I envisioned the image as a very powerful illustration of not only survival, but of overcoming. The Lord put it in my heart to share these scars for the power they portray. His power. There is a story in them. A story not about me but all about the evidence of His faithfulness.

This location the photographer chose with the black rocks and crashing waves made me feel brave. Brave enough to stand there and share my vulnerability, the imperfections I prefer to hide believing there are others who relate to doing the same thing. Believing that God truly can place some beauty in what’s damaged.

We have so many things about ourselves that we don’t like, but that we can change. It gives us ambition, hope and joy pursuing self-improvement. But what about the things we can’t change?

I’m not happy with my body, but I’m happy with me. Growing up damaged on the outside motivated my development of who I am on the inside. My goal was for people to see me, not my scars. When we’re standing in an elevator, or the grocery line, or even at the pool, people merely see our shell. And we know, the pretty shells are the ones we search for on the beach. No, I’m not happy to have scars. I don’t love my body. But I am happy and love who God has made, and is still making, me to be. It is possible to be happy, even in what we can’t change.

This was one of the most uncomfortable and yet most meaningful things I’ve ever done. It felt serene. It felt sacred.  It felt liberating.

It’s my hope this speaks a message to your heart, like what it spoke to another girl on the beach. Brooklyn was quite aware of the unwanted attention during my time tanning. One afternoon she came to walk the short distance with me from the chair to the water. I noticed her effort in blocking my view walking into the ocean. I said, “Thanks Brook. You’re amazing.” She replied, “I think you’re amazing.” Is it because I am, and have been, amazing? No. She of all people knows that’s not true. I think it had more to do with the courage to be seen when I really wanted to hide.  That’s a message I’m honored to live out before my kids.

For fellow burn survivors, those with psoriasis, vitiligo, rosacea, surgery scars, breast reconstruction, varicose veins, stretch marks, and any other imperfection, take it from my daughter, you’re amazing! And you feel nothing less in your own David-moment glorifying the God who brings you through it! This photo is for you.

*thank you to Anthony Calleja for his talent and heart in capturing this message
*thank you to Athleta for swim wear for all women, for everyday-life women
*The song I sang during these moments- You Make Me Brave

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in….
You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

Mark your calendar to join me for a Women’s Night at Coweta Assembly of God on Sunday November 6th at 6pm as we dig in to the words we need to receive, repeat and those we need to rebuke in order to walk in the label the Lord has given us. All are welcome to attend. And if you know a teenage girl, bring her along too!

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Inspiring Influence

Inspiring. It’s a big word. And so are the people I’ve introduced you to over the last several weeks. Wrapping them into a blog post seems too simplistic for the individuals they are, the lives they live, and the people they’ve touched.

This last inspirational series blog post brings home the definition of inspiring.

Dictionary.com provides the following:

  • to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence: to influence or impel

British Dictionary definitions for inspire:

  • to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon (a person); animate or invigorate

Word Origin:

  • enspiren, “to fill (the mind, heart, etc., with grace, etc.);”
  • enspirer , from Old French, “to prompt or induce (someone to do something),”
  • enspirer from Latin “inflame; blow into”,

One of the greatest, and yet deeply humbling of compliments I’ve been given over the years of sharing my story through personal conversations, public speaking and writing, is “You are so inspiring.”

I’m grateful the Lord has provided the days He has given me to continue living this life and I’m grateful for the people to share with where He has brought us on this journey. I’m humbled knowing it is not anything by my own doing, nothing I have orchestrated or accomplished, but it is completely by His mighty hand at work.

Why have others received inspiration from my journey? Because it has been written, directed, and kissed with the intentions, plans and purposes of my Heavenly Father. It’s what makes each one of our journeys inspiring. God uses His people to influence, to flame, to blow into, to prompt one another to become and to do all He desires, for us to live our lives to the fullest making the greatest impact for Him. These are the reasons I have written this series, sharing these people to inspire you and encourage you to inspire others.

It’s natural to assume I wouldn’t be who I am, nor sharing my life, eager to touch others, if it weren’t for one couple touching mine so magnificently spanning the last twenty-one years.

Steve and Michele Lee became my youth pastors in August 1994. I didn’t even know I was broken when I met them, but God knew I was to quickly find out, and He strategically put help in place before the storm began brewing.

My family had attended church all my life, but were never involved. I didn’t grow up knowing what it felt like to have a church family. Not until my parents decided to get plugged into a church closer to home. It was my first experience in a youth group, although it was quite small, only half a dozen students, and we technically didn’t have a youth pastor at the time, as Steve and Michele came a few months after we started attending.

This couple had a passion for youth. It was evident. They jumped in coordinating after-glows, which were social events after Sunday night service, ranging from pizza in someone’s home to bowling or putt-putt golf; and, weekly visitations, taking us to go visit students who were new to the youth group. Steve and Michele took us to summer youth camp, summer ski days at the lake, a back-to-school retreat where we floated the river and played during the day and had a service with worship, a message and prayer at night. Seems like a lot, but there’s more. They got involved in our schools, and we saw Steve regularly at our on-campus Bible club, he visited us at lunch, came to our sporting events, talent shows, and graduations. Steve and Michele took us to concerts, discipleship camp, mission trips, youth conferences and snow ski trips. A week didn’t go by that we didn’t have an opportunity to serve in our youth group or participate in a youth event, and this was on top of our weekly Wednesday night services!

1995.03.23_michele&me

Such an illustration of her influence on my life– how many times has she literally held up my hand, in so many ways– my 14th birthday, March 23rd 1995, Michele helping me light my candles.

1996_youth_ski_trip

My very first ski trip– everyone loading up to head home — Steve & me in 1996

It’s been said people bond through experience, and Steve and Michele definitely provided the experiences to bond with the teenagers they were called to minister to, growing the group to over two hundred students.

They were intentional.

How grateful I am for them. When the emotional trauma from Jon and my accident eventually surfaced, Steve and Michele were equipped with faith, the Word of God, and prayer to minister to me, speaking healing, vision and inspiration into my heart, into my life, into my bones.

Steve and Michele Lee threw a cloak over me. For years, I had the opportunity to serve in music ministry, singing on the youth worship team, which provided for an array of different experiences. Then years later, after Brandon and I had married and joined the youth leadership team, Steve asked me to take one of the Wednesday night youth services. I never thought of myself speaking; that was beyond my vision. But I did it, because they believed in me. They saw what I couldn’t see in myself, and continued to give me opportunities to grow in what God was preparing. Michele asked me to come speak to her 2nd grade class, which I have done for about a decade now, and Steve plugged me in to speak through the abstinence program at several of the schools. A few years ago, when the Lord was carrying me through my nursing school studies, Steve asked if I would speak in one of our Sunday morning services. God has given me a variety of experiences to demonstrate His calling upon my life as a speaker, and He has used Steve and Michele Lee to illustrate it, as this ministry has been perpetuated through theirs.

1999.06.19_wedding_steve&micheleA

June 19th 1999 — Steve, Michele and the girls were a big part of our wedding– 3 year old Morgan was one of our flower girls, Lauren was 25 months and baby Kinsey was 9 months.

This couple has been the most influential on my life. We share a bond. A bond created when I was just a young lady and strengthened over time. Those times have brought much change.

We’ve shared some trials, as we walked through many of my surgeries and also Steve’s own burn injury. They comforted us after our miscarriage and faced all four of our high-risk pregnancies with us. And we grieved the loss of my Dad together, Steve doing the most difficult, being the one who told my Mom of my Dad’s passing.  Above all, our joys have exceedingly outweighed the sorrows. We’ve had the privilege of being a part of their lives as they started their family, watching their three little girls grow into beautiful young women, one in high school, one starting college, and one soon to get married. They celebrated life goals with us when Brandon finished his engineering degree and I, my nursing degree.  And the influence of their ministry continues on in our life, even today, as our lead pastors.

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.      Hebrews 13:7 NLT

Oh how I’ve followed their example. As a young teenager, I looked at Steve and Michele and I prayed the Lord would give me a husband like Steve and make me a wife like Michele. I desired my family to love the Lord, be passionate for His Word, and be obedient to His callings, to be real, relevant, love people, and choose happiness.

Steve and Michele Lee’s influence upon my life goes back to my parents and the decision they made over twenty years ago. When my parents chose to join the congregation, they chose to commit to a family. As we all know, families go through hard times. We’re not always going to agree with them. We’re not always going to feel important. Things may not go as we think they should. But it’s a commitment. We don’t bail in dry seasons. We don’t jump ship when waters get rough. We commit to where God has called us to be. Church is about serving. It’s an opportunity to give of ourselves. Yes, we get a lot. I’ve written about a portion of it here. But when our hearts are in the place of giving and not getting, then the measuring stick is gone, no one keeping track of who got what and who’s doing what. And then there is so much freedom and liberty for God to work creatively, beyond what we could think or imagine.

When we’re committed to a church, to serve in a body of believers, we walk away with far more than we could ever bring, one thing is a family.

The Lord uses people. He uses people to touch and influence us and He uses us to touch and influence others. Isn’t that awesome?! God who is all-powerful, holy and wise, uses those He created to create what He desires.

I pray you have been blessed by these inspiring people. I pray these normal every-day individuals illustrate that what takes each of us from being ordinary to extraordinary is the influence of the Holy Spirit working through us.

May you feel inspired to let your life be an inspiring influence to this world!

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Seasons change — Grateful after 21 ones years, we’re still sharing them.

check out Michele’s The Mrs. Pastor blog at http://themrspastor.blogspot.com

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Inspiring Joy

Have you ever heard someone laughing and, without even knowing what was being laughed about, you started laughing too? I have. The sound of laughter is downright funny. It’s a pleasant sound, an amusing emotion and is instantly contagious.

There is one whose sound of laughter tickles me more than any I’ve ever heard— it’s my mom’s laughter. My mom doesn’t let an opportunity for laughing pass her by. She will belt out a hearty laugh even if it’s not really that funny. Hearing her prompts an instinctive reaction in myself. I’m going to laugh whether I intend to or not. I’ll find myself questioning, “Why am I laughing? It wasn’t funny.”

1953.04.10_Mom_on_the_front_porch

My Mom in April 1953 ~ 16 months old ~ enjoying a different view very early in life, making others laugh straight from the start!

It’s more than laughter. It’s inspiration.

It’s a trait I’ve hoped to express in my own life. A couple weeks ago I received a great compliment when we were at the soccer fields for a tournament with our oldest son Jaron. Getting our tails whipped on a muddy field, my cheers were laden with positive reinforcement. As with previous posts, I’m not a sports guru, but I don’t believe we “kick ‘em while they’re down.” That was when Brooklyn leaned over to me and said, “Mom, you know that character ‘Joy’ on the new Disney movie ‘Inside Out’?” I answered,“Yes,” because I’ve watched some trailers and we can’t wait to see it on its June 19th release date, which so happens to be Brandon and my 16th Anniversary; what a perfect way to celebrate. Brooklyn continues, “Well, while everyone has a ‘Joy’ in their head, I think your ‘Joy’ character is REALLY, REALLY BIG!”

It was one of the greatest compliments I could have received from one who has observed me, studied me, and sometimes imitated me since she entered this world; my daughter. And it was a compliment that complimented the one who I have observed, studied and even imitated since I entered this world; my Mom.

My Mom’s laughter is a battle cry, an anthem to her God and a signal to the enemy that she is victorious, she is an overcomer, and not only has she won, but she still has what many people lose in a battle, her joy. My Mom’s joy is a reflection of her relationship with God.

Philippians 4:4  Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!

I Thessalonians 5:16-18  Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

Always? It couldn’t really mean “always,” right?

תמיד, tamid, prounounced taw-meed, the Hebrew word for always, meaning constantly, ever, continually.

Could it happen? Is it true? How can it be?

My mom’s anthem goes something like this:

Susan Cochrane arrived to the scene of a tragic motorcycle accident. Her nine year-old son’s lifeless body covered on that nearby country road. When shock would overwhelm the mind to function, she surrendered to the power of the Holy Spirit Who gave her the strength to crawl into a helicopter with the burned and injured body of her daughter.

Susan Cochrane endured the unknowns of her seven year-old daughter’s injuries sustained from that accident; would she live; would she walk; would she have quality of life?

Susan Cochrane spent her life visiting doctors and therapists for her daughter’s rehabilitation, followed by visits for the care of her husband’s ailing body, as affected by diabetes and heart failure.

Susan Cochrane stood at yet another grave near her son’s, seventeen years later, burying her husband.

A widow at fifty-three, she experienced what it was, for the very first time in her life, to live alone. Even with the death of my brother, my Mom had had my Dad to crawl in bed and grieve together. Losing Dad provided solitude she was not accustomed to, nor desired.

Heartache. Grief. Emptiness. Desperation. Loneliness.

However, joy not sacrificed.

My Mom is one of the most optimistic, upbeat, enthusiastic, look-for-the-good, and hopeful people I know. And she’s my Mom! How incredibly awesome is that?! Not only do I know her, but I’m related to her, and I’m an heir to the greatest asset she could impart—her joy.

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Summer 2011 ~ One of my favorite pictures of my Mom with the kids ~ everyone has a good time when they’re with Grandma!

You may be reading this and thinking, “That is so special. I am so happy for you. God knew you needed that influence in your life for what life held for you, but I came from a bunch of negative nellies and I’m just inclined to think pessimistically.”

I’ve heard it said, “You can’t give what you don’t possess.” The Word tells us we all can live a life of joy! It’s a choice to tap into the abundant resources the Lord provides to us. Even better, it’s not contingent upon our circumstances. Being glad, having joy, living in peace are by-products of following the Lord and trusting in Him.

What a blessing I count it that I have had the privilege of seeing such joy lived before me, but if you haven’t, I pray my Mom’s Inspiring Joy, inspires you to live an inspiring life for all whom your life touches.

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Romans 15:13  I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Proverbs 8:32  “And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful.

Proverbs 16:20  Those who listen to instruction will prosper; those who trust the Lord will be joyful.

2 Corinthians 6:10  Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

2 Corinthians 13:11  Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you.

Galatians 5:22  But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Zephaniah 3:17  For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Colossians 1:11  We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy,

1 Peter 1:6  So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.

Philemon 1:7  Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

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