GUEST POST: The Untouched Gift

*a special post from special guest Michele Lee*

Picture this:
You spend much time, thought, and your resources in getting the perfect gift. You put so much of your mind on it that “the gift” becomes a personal and real place in your heart. You go to the celebration with great expectations in watching the person open the gift with as much passion as you put into the process only to see them smile and politely say thank you and set it aside……BIG SIGH….Letdown.

Or maybe they show great appreciation but you see that they never use the gift….. disappointment!

The greatest pleasure and gift given me is to both teach and pastor. And yes, I can preach too! I have in one hand the ability to take information and clearly present it with novelty, but also depth.  And in my other hand, I have a great need to guide, love, train, and be a safe place for people to gather—gifts that were given by our Lord Himself with the sole purpose to give Him glory in order to bring others to Him. Which is really the definition to a purpose-filled life.

But sadly, I was that person, like many, who was given this beautiful box with the most elaborate decorations that obviously showed the time and attention given to it. I opened these gifts one day, only to set them aside.

I was using one gift but not to its fullest.  It was like having this piece of technology with a million cool things, and I used only one feature.  Instead of using the whole gift, I smiled with a polite thank you and set it aside.

I allowed insecurities, inadequate feelings, and fear to stop me from real and genuine fulfillment.

I cannot set back and watch others make this mistake.

If I were to guess, there are people reading this right now that your gift is just sitting there, either unopened or collecting dust.

I can say this with certainty because I have observed much of this my 25 years in ministry and in private and public education. I’ve seen students and adults have so much potential, and use none.  They find themselves aimlessly walking in circles to find purpose and success, and yet still feel so unfulfilled. I’ve watched people use the gift, but quickly set it aside because they feel “uncomfortable ” with it. I mean who gets a gift and is a master the first time with it? Not even the most technologically gifted people can say that.
I’ve heard many people tell me they showed up late to the party and did not receive a gift.

What?!

In God’s family everyone gets a gift! He’s just generous like that.

On the other end, I have watched someone so insecure, so unsure and so hesitant have courage to use the gift and become “beyond what they ever thought or imagined.”

Gifts are unlimited with our limitless God but here are a few to get your mind thinking :

The gift:

  • of hospitality
  • of encouragement
  • of compassion
  • of serving
  • of leadership
  • of prayer
  • of generosity
  • of creativity
  • of listening
  • of writing
  • of speaking
  • of organizing
  • of planning
  • of music
  • of connecting
  • of teaching
  • of preaching
  • of filling in the gap where needed

This is just to name a few, but please don’t believe that all of these can’t be in your life, because they can. A gift just means you’re really strong in that area or areas. And the gifts aren’t limited to one place. Your gifts are for every area of your world—home, work, church, leisure, and even strange, as in, not-part-of-your-normal-routine places.

Most people have allowed unfortunate circumstances or a bump in the road with people to decide whether they will use the gift. And I am here today…. writing this post…. to encourage you to use the gift(s). Trust me…. I had prepared another post and God took me here.

Three things happen when you use the gift:

1. God is glorified. Everything that good happens is from God. Matthew 5:16 tells us people will see your good works and glorify your God. If it ever becomes about you, it’s not from God and you will quickly fall short and be empty.

2. You are blessed. We were created with a void that only God can fill. When it’s filled with Him we are fulfilled. He meets emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, and tangible needs. John 10 says God has come to give you life MORE abundantly.

3. Others are blessed through your gift.  You often are the game changer in someone’s life or circumstances. We don’t have to think BIG to bless people. It often is the daily moments we say “yes” to obedience that we bless others. Why else would Proverbs close its book with this beautiful description of a woman: “her children will rise and call her blessed”? Why? Because SHE blessed them! She said “yes” to using her God gifts.

When I made a deliberate effort to use the gifts daily ….. not every once in a while …. not when I felt good…. not when it was convenient, but daily use the gift and be passionate about it, things changed. All the excuses I made, He had a reply and the solution. He was just waiting for me to say, “Yes! I’m as excited to use the gift as You were to give it to me!”

Thank you God, that You love us generously. That You give to us generously. That You equip us generously. That You see each of us as your unique gift!

Happy to receive and use the gift,
The Mrs. Pastor

A Little Thought From Heather:
If I were to list out some individuals who helped me discover and develop the gift God gave to me, Michele would be right there at the top.  She and Steve have not only ministered to my life for 23 years but they have mentored me, something I wrote about in a former a couple years ago called InspiringInfluence. Much of who God grew me to be is from their generous investment into my life.  I’m overjoyed to have Michele share with us and challenge our hearts on our online home and I invite you to take some time to visit her at her online home, The Mrs. Pastor Blog.  I’m certain you’ll be sharpened and inspired in your time reading around there.   Heather

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About Little Bit About Michele

My name is Michele and my husband Steve and I have three beautiful girls.  Morgan, my oldest is married and works hard at whatever her hands set out to do. Lauren is an Elementary Education major at Oklahoma State University (our alma mater) and Kinsey just graduated High School and will be with sister at OSU seeking to major in Sports Media.  We are a Disney family….its our happy place.  It was a childhood memory of mine and I wanted it to be for my girls as well.  I also am a second grade teacher and have the awesome opportunity to make the classroom another ministry opportunity.

I am the “Mrs. Pastor”.  A dear friend gave me that nickname, and it just stuck with me.  I never wanted to have the label as “pastor’s wife” (even though I love my husband and am proud to stand beside him!).  I have my own identity, callings, giftings, and voice.  When I finally realized this, I had purpose.

We have served in ministry for 25 years.  We started off volunteering in college and were soon called to Coweta Assembly and have been here ever since.  We served as the youth pastors for 15 years, associate pastor for 2 years, and have been the lead pastors for 7 years.

We have been blessed to have so many people we consider family.  We have been blessed to have  mentored teenagers and then watch them grow into strong adults, couples, and parents.  We have been blessed that our children have been a part of one community their entire school years.

My giftings: teaching and prayer

My greatest improvement: confident leadership

My favorite involvement: praying over the people

My biggest hangup: talking during service

My enjoyment: reading (the word and novels)

My favorite woman speaker: It’s a tie….Pricilla Shirer and Joyce Meyer

My saddest memory: When my husband, Steve, was burned

My greatest wishto leave the greatest spiritual legacy to my girls….and they do the same for their children

My vision: to see a growing, thriving, loving, prospering, spirit-led, hungry-for-the-things-of-God, joyful, positive group of people who are prayed up and excited to be in God’s house each time the door is open.

My dream: to work side by side with my husband full time

My love language: I think I have two: acts of service and time

I’d love to hear from you.

The Mrs. Pastor

If you prefer Vlogs over Blogs ☺️…..

Here’s a YouTube link for you ❤️

Just Forget It

When we built our house in 2001, we chose to complete the room over the garage. It has served several purposes over the years. At first, it was somewhat of an office, with our inherited-from-my-parents, thirty-year-old, rinky-dink desk where our computer set along with our printer. We also kept our first set of living room furniture up there; two recliners and a sofa to relax along with our treadmill and weights to exercise.

As the kids continued coming along, the area transitioned into a much-needed playroom. In such time, the playroom has been forfeited to become a bedroom, giving each child their own space. Stay in one place long enough and you’ll see the scenery change time and time again. Something similar happens to us in our walk with the Lord. We develop and change as He uses us for His effectiveness.

That’s one reason we make goals for each New Year, isn’t it? We want to be a little different than we were the year before. We want to demonstrate growth in our character and spiritual maturity. Not that we weren’t fabulous and wonderful last year, but God’s picture of fabulous and wonderful may look a little different for us this year. Remember the office turned playroom turned bedroom? Same wonderful room. Different fabulous function.

Let’s talk about those goals. In nursing, we make goals each and every shift. Those goals are specific and measurable. For instance, if our goal is improved gas exchange, we will measure the outcome based on three “as evidenced by,” like decreased work of breathing, improved blood gases, and decreased need for supplemental oxygen. This approach to setting goals can definitely be beneficial for our personal lives as well.

Stepping into the New Year, each individual person in our home set the following goals for themselves:

Educational
Physical
Spiritual
Financial- a giving goal, a saving goal and a purchasing goal

These goals, and how we measure the goal, looks different for each of us, from the six-year-old, to the nine-year-old, to the twelve-year-old, to the nearly fifteen-year-old, on up to the mom and dad. Nevertheless, we each have our goals written out with our game plan to attain them for one another to see.

Here are a couple benefits to writing them:

–keeps us on track
–keeps us accountable

Our Pastor use to say, “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” Proverbs 29:18 informs us having vision, divine guidance, and revelation keeps us disciplined, in return, bringing wisdom, joy, and happiness. *see translations: NLT, NIV, ESV, KJV

So, if we understand the benefit of setting goals and having vision, why do we have such difficulty following through with our goals?

I suppose there are more reasons than one blog post could contain, at least there are for me. But if I may share a piece of my heart with you today, as we dive into that question, and continue on with the topic again in another post (because again, that question is too deep for one post).

Maybe you identify with lack of focus; lack of self-discipline; a negative mind-set. Those are all detrimental to achieving goals. Another vision killer is feeling overwhelmed. The task seems too big, you don’t know where to begin, you feel ill-equipped for the dream. So what happens, you may be familiar with the phrase, “just forget it!

I’ve seen it. Remember the playroom? The space provided such fun and creativity, such joy and a level of carelessness….for a time. It’d all come crashing in when I’d holler, “It’s time to pick up!” I believe the kids wanted to pick up and put things away in an admirably orderly fashion, however, when every toy is on the floor, they just didn’t know where to start. It’s that whole, “how do you eat an elephant?” kind of question (which by the way, always grosses me out, I mean, who would even think about eating an elephant?).

You know how to pick up a crazy mess of a playroom, just like you know the answer to that icky elephant question. One toy at a time. (Or one bite at a time, if you choose to go that route).

I wrote down some crazy big dreams this year. And let me tell you, they scare me. I’m so afraid of failing or disappointing (my family, my Lord, and really myself too) that I almost didn’t even want to write them down. But it’s one toy at a time. And if I get close, it’ll be that much closer and I’ll be that much more of who He wants me to be than I was on 12/31/2015, because by writing them down I’m exercising obedience and trust in Him. Aim for something with me, even if you don’t hit the target, you’ll get closer than you were before.

That room over the garage is close to a studio apartment for the kiddo who calls it, “my room.” The other kids have vision for the room too though; a vision that includes a ping-pong or pool table when the room is one day vacated. That growing-closer-by-the-year event is one Dad and I don’t want to envision yet.   Nevertheless, whatever the future holds, we’ll have a room over the garage, and it’ll be used. It’ll be the same room with a potentially different use, effectively illustrating our heart’s desire for the Lord to continue doing the same with us.

Hebrews 13:21 NLT
may He equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you,through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen.

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The Good Things

This week we had the opportunity to sit in our kitchen and visit with some fine folks from a local television show. After the microphone was tucked away, the camera packed up and the vehicle pulled out of the driveway, I got to thinking about how God doesn’t just open doors, He opens them in ways we often don’t even anticipate.

The Explore Tulsa show door opened because of a thank you note. Over the summer I had written a thank you note to Video Revolution. They’re people who not only know cutting edge electronics, but they have heart too. Almost a year ago, Brandon shared with them how the Lord was calling us to share our story, and our need to video the events. They captured the vision and met the need. The least I could do was write a thank you note. Well, who would’ve known Video Revolution sponsors the Explore Tulsa show? That one note led to an email, a phone call, an interview, and soon a segment to air covering our story. God is so creative.

It’s a statement I find myself repeating over and over again. The creative plans of God are far above what we can think or imagine. I certainly would’ve never imagined how He would take such tragedy, loss and sadness and bring life, joy and abundance out of it.

One of my favorite, slightly embarrassing, but really funny stories about God’s creative plans goes back five years ago. I was in my first semester of nursing school at OU. I was in the 3pm-11pm clinical group. We had two back-to-back clinical days each week. The patient I was assigned to on day one was going into surgery the next day. As a student I desired the chance to observe the surgery. When the elderly patient asked me if I would be there, it gave me the motivation I needed to inquire of the possibility.

The next day, we’ll call surgery day, was the day the nursing students were assigned to be working a health fair for the Tulsa Run registrants. It was a late night before, and an early morning start. That may not sound like pertinent information, but it explains why I never took the time to eat. I stayed at the health fair until my clinical instructor gave me the green light to leave a little early, making it to the hospital for the patient’s surgery.

I checked in at the OR where I was escorted to change out of my nursing student scrubs and into surgical scrubs. Afterwards, a nurse accompanied me to the OR where I was encouraged to find a place out of the way, and not to draw any attention, or ask any questions, because the surgeon didn’t like students. Wow! Talk about intimidating. But I found a corner, where I assumed I’d be able to see, and I planned to be inconspicuous.

Shortly thereafter, the door swung open and a man walked right up to me and asked, “Are you the student?” I said, “Yes, I am.” Then another question, “Do you want to see something you’ll never see again in your life?” I said, “Absolutely.”

I walked with him over to view an X-Ray as he explained to me that the patient had an amyand hernia. Then this surgeon, who supposedly didn’t even like students asked, “do you want to scrub in?” WHAT?!?! No. That’s what I said on the inside, but allow me to use quotations so you’ll realize how composed I was on the outside. “What does that entail?” He said, “Come on. I’ll show ya.”

So over we went to scrub in. As I washed and washed, up to my elbows, Dr. Johnson inquired of my burn injury. The questions, “how were you injured?” and “where did you receive your care?” revealed that Dr. Johnson not only knew my surgeons, but remembered my case. It was a neat moment to say the least.

Do you feel all the nice warm fuzzies? Hang on to those. It gets better.

There I was all scrubbed in, donning the sterile gloves and sterile gown, we moseyed up to the surgical field. Dr. Johnson instructed me to put my hands right up there by his. The surgery started, the incision was made and the cauterizing began. Now is the time I should remind you I hadn’t eaten that day. As the fat was cauterized the smell overwhelmed me. I remember the voice of Ms. BDub (our nickname for our clinical instructor) ringing in my head, “Don’t let anyone take away your opportunity to learn.” I was telling myself to pull it together, not wanting to throw the opportunity out the window from my own doing.

I’ve never completely passed out, but I was on my way that day. My head was sooo light. I was trying so very hard to hold it together. I believe I took a step back, keeping my hands in position on the sterile field, I then leaned over about to go down. Dr. Johnson yelled, “Grab her.” Suddenly, someone’s arms were around my waste and everyone was asking, “what’s her name,” “what’s her name?” I answered in a barely-with-it slur, “Heeeaaattthhherrrr.”

Oh dear. There was a whole need to scrub back in. Not for me. No, they found me a little stool to sit on for the duration of the surgery. Nevertheless, I was shocked when Dr. Johnson invited me in for the next case. It was nothing I could’ve ever anticipated. It was a skin graft on a burn patient.

What an incredible moment seeing for the first time what I had experienced so many, many times before. It was surreal. In my spirit I prayed for the patient, anticipating his pain upon awakening for him. Bless his heart. Skin grafts are not pleasant.

Couldn’t get much more incredible than that could it? One wouldn’t think. But with God life holds incredible moments when we least expect them.

A few weeks later I got a call from the marketing team at Hillcrest, the hospital I had received my burn care and the same hospital I was then doing my clinicals at, over twenty years later.

Dr. Johnson had suggested me for a marketing campaign they were launching.

Who would’ve ever thought? The girl who got excused early from community nursing hours to attend a surgery where the surgeon had a reputation of not even liking students, to getting an invitation to scrub in and practically blowing it by nearly fainting, to getting another invitation for a very personal experience on another surgery, to topping it off with a request to be a part of a television commercial and newspaper ads? You’ve got to be kidding!

Only God. Only God.

Every door He opens I know is His equipping of every good thing to accomplish His will.

In this post I hope you’ve had a little laughter and received a lot of hope.   The Lord uses everything. His ways are higher. His plans are creative. He wants you in the middle of it all!

Hebrews 13:21 (NLV)
May God give you every good thing you need so you can do what He wants. May He do in us what pleases Him through Jesus Christ. May Christ have all the shining-greatness forever! Let it be so.

Explore Tulsa airs locally on:
Saturdays Channel 19 at 6pm
Sunday Channel 6 at Midnight
Wednesdays Channel 47 at 10pm
segments are also on their website  www.exploretulsa.com

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Thursday November 19th 2015– a pleasure meeting Stevie, Stevie and Josh from Explore Tulsa

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Hillcrest sent me a photo of the billboard when it went up. Never thought this 87% burned body would be billboard material. Only God.

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Hillcrest’s Changing Lives Banquet in February 2011– a very special memory to have my nursing class clinical group there with me. Including my instructor and now precious friend- Ms BDub!

 

video from the Hillcrest Changing Lives Campaign

Exlpore Tulsa- interviews December 5th 2015

Part 1

Part 2

The In Between

I’ve heard it my entire life…. “The older you get the faster time passes.”

Who can testify to the truth of that statement? But I have just a small stipulation to add —the older your kids get the faster time passes.

I’m just not ready to lay claim to aging. I mean I’m only thirty-four. Regardless, life is on fast forward (or that button you hit on your DVR remote to skip forward ten seconds at a time). I mean, didn’t we just have Christmas? We’ve already made it more than halfway through 2015 and our children are headed back-to-school!

Let me confess, this school year was more difficult than ones before. At the conclusion of the 2014-2015 school year, we stood in the kitchen, all six of us shuffling around one another as we unloaded the dishwasher, filled it again, and dished up our evening dinner. In an effort to digest the fact that our baby wasn’t a baby anymore, I posed a question to my husband, “Babe, can you believe we have a kindergartener in our house now?! Not a PreKer, but a kindergartner?!” Our daughter interjected, “And a high schooler.” I corrected, “No. No. We don’t have a high schooler,” incredibly serious, as there was no way we ourselves were old enough to have a child in high school. She insisted, “Yes, Mom. I’m going to be a freshman. That’s high school.” [Insert mom’s heart sinking into my lower intestine here.]

You see, I longed for and desired my children since I was a child. I vividly remember lying in my intensive care unit bed thinking about my future. Before our accident I frequented my Grandma’s dining room and draped her lace curtains over my face pretending to get married. An eighty-seven percent burn injury makes marriage seem like even more of a fantasy to a small child. So when this story started trending toward the fairytale I had abandoned so many years before, my desire for the children I thought I’d never have escalated.

I was more than ready to become a mom when my little Brooklyn Nicole arrived on the scene three weeks before my twentieth birthday. I felt like I had waited for her my entire life, and the first true breath that had ever fully filled my lungs was the one I took in of her and her precious life. I breathed even deeper with the arrival of my baby boys, Jaron Michael, Caden Robert and Gavin Lee.

Being their mom is and has been the most meaningful moments of my life.

And that’s where we want to put things in slow motion, but rather than having the amenity of slowing things down, it only passes all the more quickly when they arrive. Most of the time, we’re juggling the day’s duties, and before we know it we’re into the next. Rarely do we experience a full night’s rest after the birth of our children, and I’m not just referring to the season that they’re little. No, they grow as we tackle everything with them in the daylight hours. Then in the night, in the quiet stillness while they sleep, we continue on. But we acclimate, don’t we? We adjust to late nights and early mornings until it becomes normal. It is there I ask myself, “Man. If it went this fast, how fast would it have gone if I would have slept?” [We’re making inserts into this post—so insert a winky face here].

Well, I assume it would have passed all the more quickly. So here we are, in a brand new season. For the first time in fourteen and a half years, all of my children are in school all day. That’s enough to bring a tear, isn’t it? I hope so, because I’m telling you, I didn’t think I’d really cry on the outside, maybe feel it a little in my heart, but no, I totally did. I barely got out the door. I mall-walked it to my car after dropping off the last child. I’m not talking a little teary-eyed either. No, I’m talking lip-quivering kind of crying. Who would have thought?! Not me. There are times I even surprise myself.

The last fourteen and a half years of having at least one child home with me for at least some part, if not all of the day has been my normal. Now, the season has changed and I’m settling into a new normal. Kissing all four of their faces as they exit the car in the morning, picking them up in the chaos of car rider line in the afternoon; and in the in-between, being brave, pursuing what God has called me to do with those hours He’s purposed for this time now.

There is so much in store; so much ahead that I can hardly stand to allow myself to shed a tear for what has been. But those were amazing chapters. My tears were more of a “thank you, God for letting me experience that,” than an “I’m so sad it’s over.”

We have many great things to come in our family. It will nevertheless, continue to change. It’s constantly going to be looking a little different. Most likely, I’ll cry again. I’m emotional like that. I’ll cry for what has been, for what will be and for the fact that God walks with me in the in-betweens.

Psalm 90:14 NLT  

Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.

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First Day of School~~~ Brooklyn- 9th ~ Jaron- 6th ~ Caden- 3rd ~ Gavin- Kindgergarten

Inspiring Strength

President Reagan declared fifteen major disasters in 1981. It was the same year the Hyatt Regency hotel’s walkway collapsed killing over one hundred people, leaving over two hundred injured. And it was in 1981 that the mysterious death of Natalie Wood occurred.

It was a tragic year for many, my family being one.

“You were the only good part of 1981,” so I’ve been told. It was the year I was born. It was also the year my Grandma fell, breaking her hip, the year my Grandma Cochrane underwent a mastectomy and the year my uncle passed from leukemia, only a week after my birth.

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Aunt Donna holding me — one of my favorite places to be.

What a time to come into a family; when loved ones are recovering, facing unknowns and grieving. There was too much sadness to celebrate.

Or was there?

One of the things I’ve learned from my family is that times of struggle are opportunities for increasing strength. The very time surrounding my birth was consistent with that truth; and the thirty-three-year-old woman who was burying her husband at that time has demonstrated inspiring strength to me, literally since the day I was born.

How much can one person take?

It’s a question I’ve asked many times when looking at the trials others walk through. Thirty-four years into this life has given me an unshakeable confidence. Confident in the truth: walk with Jesus; walk victoriously. He handles our unbearable circumstances, our trying seasons, our overwhelming moments.

That sounds like an easy statement from someone who appears to have a bed of roses life. However, I gained that insight, not from watching everything go “right” in life, but from watching one mountain climb after another.

There are things difficult to imagine; like losing a spouse, multiple miscarriages, unfaithfulness, burying a baby, breast cancer, brain tumor. Any one of them would be enough to do someone in. But all were had in one life. My Aunt Donna’s life.

I always knew my Aunt Donna was strong. After all, she gave me the “Tough Cookies Don’t Crumble” t-shirt when I was in the hospital. There was a strength I had to live up to. Asking, “Am I strong enough?” was merely rhetorical. Strong women are what I come from.

Those times in life when I’ve questioned my ability to withstand difficulty, I’ve revisited the image I took in at ten years old, reminding myself God is our strength when we have none. Perhaps the weakest one could ever feel, standing at a grave, a tiny casket lowered into the ground, picking up a piece of the earth and as it’s released to fall below, letting go of the little life, only fifteen months lived. She had no strength of her own that day, but God did. I stood by her and felt Him there.

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Aunt Donna with her girls– Austin Renae and Samantha Rae — Celebrating Samantha’s 1st Birthday in January 1991

It should have been enough loss for a lifetime. Unfortunately, in this imperfect world we live, this world we were never created for, there was much sadness to endure. Personal observations were avoided due to her move over six hundred miles away, nevertheless my awareness of her strength only grew.

Phone calls not only informed me of her breast cancer and then brain tumor, those phone calls also provided encouragement to hold on to our faith, unwavering in hope and assurance that He would provide. Yes, you read that correctly. She encouraged me! Even when we were prepared to hold her up, she remained solid and stood strong.

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Aunt Donna’s girls– Taylor and Maddy– leaving a legacy to the next generation, her grand babies!

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Aunt Donna and her daughter, Austin, thankful for moments together

I look at my Aunt Donna today. I’m a bit taller. She’s a bit older. But I still see that woman I nearly idolized growing up.

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One of my proudest moments was getting to share this accomplishment with her! Aunt Donna and me– May 2012 — OU College of Nursing Graduation

It isn’t hard to see why I adored her so. It’s not surprising I bought her perfume after she moved just to have a scent of her near, or that I loved jewelry and fashion and fine dining because of her influence. It’s easy to understand my desire to grow up and become a woman like her…pretty, smart and classy.

A master’s degree in education; over thirty years teaching in some of the most high-performing school districts; numerous awards and recognitions. The proof is in the pudding. She’s not held in high opinion by her niece alone. No, she is a game changer, recognized by all who have the privilege of knowing her. And it is for those who don’t that I write this post, that you may be encouraged by her inspiring strength, as I have been since those days back in 1981.

Isaiah 40:29 ESV

He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might He increases strength.

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Inspiring Perseverance

Persistence. Tenacity. Determination. Staying power. All are synonyms for perseverance. Perseverance defined as, “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”

When Gavin was three, in his first year of preschool, he received the character award for perseverance. The definition he learned? Never ever give up!

I wasn’t surprised at all that this last child of mine would get the perseverance award. Some may call it stubbornness. I actually have thought it numerous times. But it’s a character quality that pushes us through in life’s difficult circumstances. Perseverance. Never give up. Yes, maybe some naturally born hard-headedness, but something we all need in order to do and become what God has called us.

Oh, it can be difficult raising a child with such strong will power. However, stick around and you can see how the Lord can use it for His glory. It’s inspiring. Inspiring, as is the story of my friend Heather and her husband Sam.

I met Heather shortly after my little Gavin was born. When he was six weeks old I started one of my last two prerequisites for nursing school. I sat down beside a girl who would become one of my dearest friends. That girl from Massachusetts who called the water fountain “a bubbler,” and who could test over anatomy, but couldn’t stomach dissecting a cat.

In those beginnings, we never realized we were on the same track, both planning to attend nursing school at OU. Our friendship blossomed in those years together. We juggled schedules, laundry, clinicals, grocery shopping, studying, cooking, and only the necessary spot cleaning. Heather introduced me to her great love of Starbucks. She spoke wisdom into the simplest of moments. She shared her heart, her history and her faith. Through it all, I also got to know the love of her life, Sam.

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Heather lights up when she speaks of her husband. Her admiration is as deep as her love. And it’s not hard to see why. Sam was that stubborn little boy. Although a bit difficult to raise, his strong will was and is an attribute that brings glory to God.

Sam was born and raised in Nigeria. Like Paul writes in Philippians 4:12, Sam knows what it is to be in need and what it is to have plenty. Life was good when he was young. His family did pretty well, being the only ones in the neighborhood with the latest technological gadget, a video cassette recorder. But Sam watched those items go to the wayside when his dad lost his job and sold that VCR, along with other things, in order for his children to continue on in their education.

“My mother was a school teacher, so education was always very important to us,” Sam recalls. His father eventually moved to Italy to work crops, sending money to Nigeria for the family. That hardheaded kid gained an opportunity when he moved in with his uncle to attend a better school. Despite being eight hours away from his family, he improved his English and sharpened his intellect.

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Sam and his family — (one brother not pictured) Sam third child from the left

The family moved to Italy to be with their father for a time, but when they went back to Nigeria, Sam stayed with a brother, working, learning Italian, and allowing God to use him in ministry. His next step was to come to Tulsa, Oklahoma to attend Rhema Bible College. But first he had to have $16,000 saved to live on while he attended school. How in the world could he get that money?

Having the goal before him, he went to work. Riding a bike one hour each way, working twelve hour shifts in a factory, five days a week, Sam saved that money. And when it came time to get his Visa to come to America, he didn’t allow a denial to deter him from the plan God placed in his heart. God granted him favor when his call to the Embassy resulted in another appointment. Regardless that he got the slim chance of meeting with the same agent, the conversation went a little differently, Sam telling him, “I just want an opportunity.”

Sam’s desire for an opportunity got him to America with a brown paper sack containing $16,032.78 cash in tote. God provided for Sam. He provided for someone to get him to a bus after his flight from Italy to Oklahoma City. And He’s provided for every need since, as Sam has been obedient to Him.

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Sam made it to America wearing his Jesus tie. (Heather wants such a fan of the tie and they don’t have it anymore) 😉

When I met Heather and Sam, they were Bible College graduates, Sam was in pharmacy school at OU and they had two beautiful children, Ryan and Olivia. It was a challenging season for them to tackle those lofty goals. I watched completely impressed. Then along came 2011. I became even more impressed. Not because of what they did, but because of their confidence in what God could do.

After Sam graduated with his doctorate in pharmacy in the spring of 2011, he and Heather welcomed their third baby, Toby. She was in her last year of nursing school. Meanwhile, Sam studied for boards while awaiting that needed promotion from intern to pharmacist. Sam did not pass. He rescheduled, took the test again. Unfortunately, he did not pass the second time. Because of the results, he not only missed his promotion, but he was let go.

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Sam and Heather’s Kids in 2012 Ryan, Toby and Olivia

I’m not merely painting a picture of discouragement. I’m hoping you see where the opportunity lies for fear to creep in. Let’s talk about the house payment, the car payment, the utilities, or the school loans. This family was under pressure.

In their faith, they anointed their lawn, their house, and their vehicles, laying claim in Jesus name.

Not wanting to keep doing the same thing expecting different results, Sam desired to take a prep course. But where would the money come from? While some of us may question and ask, Sam believed. And God provided. One of his instructors from OU paid for him to take the course!

Third time to test, Sam passed!!!!

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Graduation!!! A Doctor of Pharmacy

There is so much more to Sam and Heather Falana than a blog post could contain. But what I hope you receive from these words here today is NEVER EVER GIVE UP!

This family is an illustration of perseverance.

They motivate me to press on in those times of unanswered questions. They inspire me to believe beyond what I can see.

I pray their real life journey helps you to redefine those challenges on your journey as opportunities for God to move.

“Steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.”

James 1:2-4 NIV

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

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Sam and Heather Falana

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New Year, Same Life

We’re a week into the new year. A week ago today many people had packed up their Christmas décor, along with their reflections of the previous year, embracing the annual “ready, set, go” as our new starting line when the clock strikes midnight.

As far as decorations, there wasn’t much packing for me to participate in this year. The kids and my Mom tackled the task. I picked out non-physically demanding packaging, like the nativity scene. While trying to delicately fit each piece back into the Styrofoam containers, I thought about my goal for 2014. Of course, I’ll share it. But brace yourself. You may think I set the bar as low as possible.

2014 New Year’s Resolution: Be Less Productive.

We quote Ecclesiastes 3:1 “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” But are we sensitive to the seasons the Lord is moving us into and out of? Certainly many of us would choose to return to a warmer season, perhaps a beautiful summer day over the bitter cold ones we are encountering at the moment. This is literal and figurative.

Our temperatures here in the grand state of Oklahoma aren’t the coldest in the nation; but are definitely low enough to qualify for mention. How many of us would love to hop on a plane to the Caribbean? But that’s not going to change the reality of the conditions where we live. And sometimes we have to endure where we are until the season changes. It is in the different seasons that we grow and mature. The season shakes things up. No monotony. No apathy. No complacency. Sometimes the bitter cold makes us more aware and more appreciative for the warmth of brighter days.

My 2014 New Year’s Resolution, or what I would consider to be my New Year’s CHALLENGE, had to do with a season the Lord was speaking to my heart…rest.

After years and years of setting lofty goals, I felt challenged to rest.

My husband and I married in 1999. We started building our home at the end of 2000. We welcomed our first child, Brooklyn in 2001. Brandon went back to school in 2002 after a hiatus for the house and new baby. Jaron made his debut in 2003 with our first, yet brief, NICU stay. All the while Brandon and I were working and he was going to school.  2005, I had six surgeries in five months, and then my Dad passed away.  My Mom and I kept the wheel rolling until we sold the business. Caden arrived in 2006. Brandon received his congratulatory letter from OSU on the completion of his mechanical engineering degree and walked in the spring 2007 ceremony; only to find out he had been misadvised on a class and wouldn’t get his diploma until after taking the required class, which he did that summer. I started my pre-requisites for nursing school as soon as Brandon finished. We found out we were expecting again in 2008 and Gavin arrived in 2009 with our unwanted, but second short stay in NICU.  In 2010 I started nursing school at OU, had a couple year whirlwind, graduated in 2012 and started working in the NICU. 2013 felt like our year of transitioning.

When I was evaluating my personal, spiritual, and intellectual growth for the new year, I felt the Lord speak to my heart…REST.

Matthew 11:28, Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Why do we discredit it? Why do we neglect it? Why do we not prioritize it? We feel we can’t turn down someone’s request for the mere fact we need rest. We think we have to be the ones to step up to head the project, because rest isn’t a real reason to decline it. We assume if we’re pursuing good things and meeting goals then we’re fine and don’t need to simply sit. We conclude if we’re home resting, then we’re doing nothing.  When in all reality, it is something, and it’s something quite important. Even Jesus gave us an example to rest in Mark 6:31, “Then Jesus said, ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.’ He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.”

We’ve all heard that sometimes we have to disconnect to reconnect. Over the year, each time I began to allow feelings of guilt to seep in, I’d remind myself that I was meeting a goal, rising to the challenge to be less productive. And was it ironic at all that while I was intending to have a year of rest, the Lord already knew I would? I had no idea at the time that I’d be working three surgeries into 2014. While it takes a lot of energy to heal, I had what He desired of me…to be still, to be in the quiet, and to rest.

When reflecting on the year, I see how my loving God orchestrated my season of rest. For 2015, I hear Him speaking to my heart, “It is time.” Over and over, I hear His precious, gentle, inaudible voice speak, “It is time.”  2015 is the time to start the beginnings of what He has prepared, for what He has set before, for what He has planned. And the only way I could have ever known this is by those quiet moments.

Taking a year of intentional rest helps me to realize how productive being unproductive can be. We don’t always have to have measurable outcomes. We don’t always have to have evidence of completed tasks. Sometimes the biggest benefit, the grandest gift, the priceless pieces cannot be seen with our eyes, scheduled on our calendars, or fabricated with our hands. They have to be received in our hearts, nurtured and grown without our meddling and without rush.

The time we take at New Year’s to self-examine is an opportunity to adjust, to tweak, to elevate who we are and who the Lord has called us to be. We get this one life to live. It’s not about what we do. It’s about what we need to be our best. Yes, it’s a New Year, but it’s the same life, the same life we had back in those warm summer months. It’s what we decide to do with this life that makes the resolution worth making.

Bless you as you set out to conquer the goals set before you. Bless you as you pursue the one who placed them there. Bless you as you use your life in this New Year for His glory.

 

*In case you’re being called to a season of rest and quietness, I pray these scriptures encourage your heart.

Psalm 91:1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 46:10Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.

1 Samuel 12:7 Now stand here quietly before the Lord as I remind you of all the great things the Lord has done for you and your ancestors.

Psalm 62:1 I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him.

Psalm 62:5 Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.

1 Timothy 2:2 Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.

Joshua 1:13 “Remember what Moses, the servant of the Lord, commanded you: ‘The Lord your God is giving you a place of rest. He has given you this land.’

1 Kings 8:56 “Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses.

Psalm 127:2 It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Isaiah 28:12 God has told his people, “Here is a place of rest; let the weary rest here. This is a place of quiet rest.” But they would not listen.

Isaiah 32:18 My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest.

Jeremiah 31:25 For I have given rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing.”

Matthew 11:29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

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