A Standard of Grace

Editor’s Note: We have asked a few women to share their talks from our last Life Giving Saturday. I know I wanted to hear everyone, so this is a perfect opportunity to hear these women’s hearts. We know they will encourage you!

A Standard of Grace. It sounds like such an unusual phrase, and it is. Standard, simply put, means a way to measure, value, or judge something. Grace, means to honor or credit to, to show favor, goodwill, or kindness. 

So, a “Standard of Grace?” This would mean that our measuring system, for ourselves, and others, is one that is based on favor, goodwill, and kindness. 

I don’t know about you, but I want to be a woman that measures myself and those around me by a standard of grace. Unfortunately, we see so little grace in our culture today. What inhibits us? What keeps us from living this lifestyle?

Perfectionism just so happens to be the reason this phrase “Standard of Grace” was first brought to my attention. It has gained popularity as part of a longer phrase, “I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.”  Perfectionism is a wicked master, one that keeps us all working our hardest to continually prove and perform. Perfectionism doesn’t allow us to show ourselves kindness, over even the least of mistakes. It doesn’t allow us room to breathe, doesn’t offer forgiveness when we have been anything less than, well, perfect. Perfectionism keeps us quiet about our mistakes, so that the impression of perfection can remain intact. 

1. Perfectionism

IF we can’t offer ourselves a little kindness when a mistake is made, how can we ever expect that we will genuinely offer it to others?

IF we can’t break free from our own silence, and be vulnerable about our weaknesses, our fears, our doubts, how will anyone ever feel safe coming to us with theirs?

IF we don’t react to ourselves with grace, we won’t extend it to others either. 

2. Insecurity

Where as perfection says you can’t fall short in any area, ever, our insecurities whisper lies to us a little more specifically. Our insecurities are the areas where we consistently feel “not enough.” The areas where, when we look over and see the someone who is enough, or who is more than enough, it brings pain.

Insecurities are the places in our hearts where fear and pain preside, and light has a hard time finding it’s way in.

Offering grace to ourselves in one of these areas, just feels like affirming our own lack of worth. Offering it to others, often feels disingenuous, false. We can find ourselves making excuses for why we struggle, and why they don’t. It ends up being an unkind situation to anyone that finds themselves in it, and brings honor to no one. 

3. Judgement

Judgement, typically stems from one of the other two. It’s not safe to offer grace to someone if they are highlighting our imperfections and insecurities. But, for many of us, it is probably the easiest of the three to identify as well. Being critical and judging others is like the bloom on a plant. It’s the part we see first, the part of the plant we use to identify what type of plant we are looking at. For me, when I find myself being critical, and judging others, I know it’s time to take a step back, and look at what is going on underneath the surface. In doing that, I have to step back and ask myself a couple of questions:

  1. What in the world is really going on here? What am I actually feeling right now?
  2. How can I extend kindness and grace, to myself, or to someone else, in this moment? 

But here’s the good news: Grace has another meaning as well. God’s ability. Grace is God’s standard. It is His standard toward us on our best days and on our worst. And God freely gives of His grace, His ability.

This is the reason that pausing, and asking why you can’t offer grace and kindness in the moment, works. Because it invites God’s presence, his perspective, and his heart, into that moment with you. 

Choosing to let grace be the standard by which we measure ourselves and others doesn’t come naturally. But God is right there for us, saying “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Let his grace, become your standard, because we cannot extend grace on our own. 

“Grace is God acting in our lives to do what we cannot do on our own.” 
- Dallas Willard

We would like to thank Brooke Kellum for writing this post.

You Can’t Rush God’s Promises

During the month of January, we will be reposting some of the top posts from 2018. We hope these will encourage you and connect to your heart. Stay tuned for all new posts coming in February 2018!

Editor’s Note: This semester women from our three campuses have read Titus 2 and shared what God placed on their heart. May you be encouraged and challenged to connect with God and the power of His presence in this season of your life.

Ten months ago, Brent and I decided to try adoption again.  Our hearts were ready.  The timing was good.  Johnny would be 3 when Baby would arrive, so they could share a room.  The girls are the perfect age and would be so helpful.  He and Johnny would be best buds.  They’d play dinosaurs, giggle, and wrestle.  I had dreams.  After our first international adoption attempt, we said that we wanted to have the next one “handed over to us”.  This one was.  How could this not be God?  Doors kept opening, so we kept walking.

My husband was apprehensive the first three months.  We sought counsel from God, family, friends, attorneys, etc.  Over the next few months, I went to sonograms and grew a relationship with the birth mom.  After four months, Brent finally decided this baby boy was going to be our 4thchild.   Two days later, the birth mom started having complications.  We immediately texted our support system asking for prayers and wisdom.  Liam Jacob was born at 23 weeks and went to be with Jesus that same day.  I’ve never experienced pain like that before.

The joy I had was sucked right out of me.  How could this be God?  I felt angry at Him.  “We’ve been faithful.  We’ve done everything right.  Why are you taking this away from us?” I just didn’t understand.  I felt alone.

The devil knows when we are vulnerable, and his subtle deceiving whispers walked me into a season of fear, anxiety, and stress.  I didn’t notice it at first.  I just felt disappointed, confused, and embarrassed by another unsuccessful adoption.  “God, why do we feel called to adopt when it’s not working?”  When our birth mom was in the hospital contracting the night before Liam was born, I went up at ministry time during Core to receive prayer.  I tried to be strong, but I was disappointed.  That night God brought some healing and comfort through the prayers of my friends.

But after Liam passed away, unhealed emotional wounds became a stronghold in my life.  Ladies, we need to expose the devil when his lies feel true.  Find a few ladies that you trust, be honest and let His light shine into your situation. I couldn’t have done this alone. God has given us the gift of community. Throughout this process I received advice, wisdom, and guidance from friends.  I’ve been a recipient of what Titus 2 is supposed to look like because the ladies in my life have taken Titus 2 seriously.  What did that look like?

  • The book a friend gave me on miscarriages.
  • The hug another gave me.
  • The text to check on how I was doing.
  • The encouragement from another friend, “God wants you to know He hasn’t given up on this dream, so you don’t either.”
  • The prayer from another, “Allow disappointment to happen.  You don’t have to guard your heart.”
  • The spoken words of my Father to me, “I am faithful. Your plans pale in comparison to what I have for you.  Keep trusting deeper.”

Does it hurt? Yes.  Is it sad? Yes.  Did it bring Brent and me closer? Yes.  Is my relationship with my Father any different because my trust in His plan didn’t work out? Yes.  It’s actually stronger, because I’m certain He has a better plan for us.  

When we guard our heart and mind in truth, we won’t be shaken.  When we call upon the name of the Lord, we won’t be shaken.  Titus 2:13-14 reminds me that we can have hope.  We find peace, worth, and infinite value in our Lord.  You will endure hardships and the Lord WILL be with you.  Don’t lose hope, Friend. He’s got this!

We would like to thank JuLea Bouma for this post.

One Word

With the new year coming, most of us already have things we want to change… to do differently… to start over on… we want a fresh clean slate and a new focus. I want to share with you an idea that has helped me so much the last few years, hoping it might help you too.

It’s the simple practice of choosing ONE WORD for the upcoming year. Not a phrase, not a statement, just a single word. In reality, it’s not choosing a word, but asking the Lord to reveal what one word HE wants to be your focus for 2019. Unlike New Year’s Resolutions, which are easy to fail at, a one-word focus can simplify your life, illuminate your path and bring direction and boundaries in all areas of your life.  

The first year I did this, I immediately knew what my word would be. 

BOLDNESS.  

This word was both exciting and terrifying to me, because I was timid to speak up, afraid to be in front of people, and more comfortable hiding in the background than leading out front. But God had put a desire for boldness inside of me, and I knew without it, I could never become who God meant for me to be. I just needed my Father to open my heart to where he was moving, and I needed to agree to walk hand in hand with him as he strategically put opportunities and challenges in front of me.  

Challenges that would draw boldness out of me.  

He gave me courage to say YES to speaking up with my thoughts and opinions, speaking in public (even in front of hundreds!), taking risks, praying big prayers, leading out front, and so much more. He showed me over and over what BOLDNESS looks like in me, and he did not let me fail at what I was fearful of.   

When you start asking the Lord for a word for 2019, the Holy Spirit will begin revealing a word that agrees with what your heart longs for. It could be a character trait, a discipline, a fruit of the Spirit, an attribute of God, a spiritual gift.  But it will take a relationship with the Lord to stay focused and listen and follow where he is leading. There will be highs and lows as God uses this word to light up your path, and also reveal things that need to change. But remember, the Lord is giving you this focus not to see you fail, but to help you succeed in the plans He has for you and His Kingdom. 

If you’re serious about this, you’ll come up against tough decisions and opposition. I suggest sharing your word with a few trusted friends so that when discouragement comes, or when you get distracted, they can help you re-focus. An important way to keep this word front and center in your life is to post it in places where you will see it often, like your car, your desk, or your bathroom mirror. I have a cute little 2×3 frame that sits on my desk and reminds me often of my word. I also love making these for my friends and encouraging them to stay the course throughout the year. See the attached photo above of the frames I made for my friends. Super simple.

This year my word has been TRUST. From a car wreck in February that could have ended my life, to unexpected challenges in health, leadership and relationships, the Lord has so much more deeply established my trust in Him. I’m pretty sure I already know what my word is for 2019, and as usual, it’s both exciting and scary!  

I wonder what your word will be?! If you ask God, I know he will show you and walk with you step by step to places you thought you could never go. Your word will be greater than yourself, but not greater than our powerful and loving Father GOD. 

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 109:105

“No dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Philippians 3:13-14.

We would like to thank Jill Moudy for writing this post!

Worship is a Choice

I grew up in a traditional church with traditional worship. I love the theology of hymns and the memories that they stir up in my heart. Hymns like: “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, “The Old Rugged Cross”, “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “How Firm a Foundation”, just to name a few.

The words of these songs were written on my heart from a very young age. But to be honest, I really didn’t know what they were talking about, other than Jesus and God and the Cross. It wasn’t until I went to church camp in the 7thgrade that I experienced what we call “modern worship”. The worship team was cool and had long hair and played loud guitars and drums. I had never seen anything like this before. We rocked out to Dennis Jernigan and Vineyard worship songs. We sang lyrics like, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.”

I wasn’t just singing lyrics that I didn’t understand. I was entering into a relationship with a Loving Father, Who knew me, was pursuing me, and longed for me to surrender my heart and life to Him. So I did. I entered into this holy place of worship. From the depths of my soul, God became alive to me.

That was 30 years ago. I’ve learned so much since Jr. High. Worship is a choice. There have been times in my life where I’ve chosen not to worship. There have been other times that worshiping was all I longed to do. Being a worship leader has pushed me to go beyond what I can naturally do, see, and experience. Spending time in worship has made the Scriptures come alive.Worship has heightened my senses to Who God is what His plan is for me. It brings peace when everything else is falling apart.

Psalm 62:5-8 says, “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

This is the kind of truth that comes from a heart of a worshiper.

After all these years of worshiping and going deeper in my relationship with God, I can go back to those precious hymns and hear the wisdom from worshipers of long ago.

“O for a thousand tongues to sing

My great Redeemer’s praise

The glories of my God and King

The triumphs of His grace.”

Yes! Let us be worshipers whose souls sing out from obedient hearts. Let us bring praise to God, Whose grace has triumphed over sin and death. Let us worship our great Redeemers, Whose love invites us into freedom and victory!

We would like to thank Allison House for writing this post!

It’s the Little Things

Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s the little things?”  These little things are unique to each one of us.  They refresh my soul day to day.  Unfortunately, I get stuck thinking about the BIG things.  When my focus is on the bigger, harder things of life, I get overwhelmed and the “little things” that keep me going, slip by.

Last week my husband and I bought our first home together.  I found myself focused on the BIG and forgetting to appreciate the little.  With it being summertime, there is an abundance of weddings, family gatherings, and traveling.  These things normally feel refreshing, but I quickly became overwhelmed trying to move and yet still do things that give me life.

The big picture said I’m not doing enough, I’m lacking in certain areas.  I was physically present, but emotionally I was stressed out and not living my best life. The enemy wants to rob us of our joy and make us victims of our circumstances.  Once I got my focus back on the little things, I was quickly reminded by God that He supplies everything we need according to His plans, His riches.

During these last few months, if I had focused on the little instead of the big, I might have noticed that…

  • The mountains displayed God’s Glory.
  • The graduate needed encouragement.
  • My husband is feeling blue.
  • God speaking to me, “Child, get up and pray.”
  • A song on the radio that could have healed a hurting place in me.
  •  Sometimes I need to cry.
  • Sometimes I need a hug.

God also has a way of refreshing my soul by speaking to me at unexpected times.  Like when I am on my way to work or home and the perfect worship song comes on.  One that will bring me to tears, exposing my heart, my fears, my thoughts, and bringing attention to my vulnerabilities and the power of God.

God is a God of details.  The instructions God gave the Israelites were very small and intricate.  David used five stones to take down Goliath.  Jesus used mud, five barley loaves. and two fish.  His disciples were deemed small in this world.  The small things of life seem so insignificant, unless we look at them with God’s perspective.

It just takes slowing down and intentionally recognizing and appreciating the moments that refresh your soul.  I can easily slip into negative thinking and allow my circumstances to dictate my feelings.  In those moments, I should be intentional in my thinking and ask God, “Where are you in this moment?”  When I focus on Him and what He is doing, my soul is refreshed.

Finally, brothers (and sisters), whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  Philippians 4:8-9

We would like to thank Vanessa Talmadge for writing this blog!

Slacken

Editor’s note: This semester we’ve asked different women from our three campuses to share something God showed them through the scriptures of Titus 2. We believe God’s Word has the power to impact our lives no matter our circumstance or season. May you be encouraged and empowered to respond to God’s voice as you read through the wisdom these women are sharing with each of us.

Busyness is such a norm in our lives. Everywhere we look, people are frantically trying to balance their professional lives, personal lives, health, finances, etc. Do you ever feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day?  If I’m being honest, I have felt that way frequently. What would our lives look like if we valued the importance of pursuing God’s presence first and let everything else fall into place? Recently, I felt the Lord speak specifically to this in my own life through one word:

Slacken

Let me explain….

What does it mean to “be still and know that He is God” (Ps. 46:10)? Rarely do we make it to the “be still” part to find out! We go until we can’t go anymore and then collapse and call that being still before Him…but really, we just fell over in exhaustion. Stillness is intentional and purposeful. A holy (set apart) moment where you stop and say THIS is of value and worthy of my time. My favorite illustration of this came from a recent conference. The speaker compared our lives to a rubber band and demonstrated that we pull and pull until life snaps us down, stretched thin and exhausted. We are actually meant to gradually release the tension and quiet our hearts before the Lord like a rubber band that is eased until it completely slackens.

Slacken:  Slow down, ease up, to make something less tight.

Slacken almost sounds like a bad word, as if it represents laziness, but actually it only occurs in intentionality.

Quiet yourself before the Lord. Let Him speak to your heart and establish you in His loving kindness. Let your soul be watered by Holy Spirit drawing you ever nearer. He’s speaking to you, even now!

“Beloved, I’m still here. I’m reminding you of your name and true nature. Dear one, you are safe in my arms.” 

Let your roots go deep in His faithfulness and your life will flow out of this established heart. From this place, you are empowered to correct those under your leadership without shaming them because you no longer believe that their imperfections undermine your value as a leader. You can forgive yourself and others because you realize Jesus died so you could make mistakes without the mistakes making you. You can honor people when they speak hurtful things which demean your character, because you recognize that God is your defender and you’ve spoken wrongfully before, too. Your health is a natural priority because you understand your worth and that real comfort only comes from Him, not an emotional satisfaction from one more piece of chocolate. You can trust Him to provide even if your bank account disagrees, because He is the provider who has abundant resources for your needs AND your dreams.

You are free to love well. The love poured so generously over your life can’t help but overflow onto others. He is always speaking; we need only slow down to listen. Slacken. Make time. Let’s worry less about “doing enough” and allow ourselves to just BE with Him. He is worthy, and He never disappoints.

Shonda McCay contributed this post. To learn more about her, please follow this link.

Connecting with God in the Midst of Every Day

Hi Ladies,

Contrary to popular belief, not all pastors’ wives rise before dawn and roll out of bed into the Holy of Holies when they give the first of their day to the Lord. Frankly, I’m in a stupor when I get up and I quite agree with the Folger’s commercial, “The best part of waking up, is [coffee] in your cup.” Many times I leave my morning “quiet time” feeling like that time wasn’t what it was meant to be, which is time actually spent with the Lord. I may have read the Word, but did it penetrate my heart? Did I actually have heart to heart conversation with the Lord? Thankfully, our time with Jesus doesn’t have to look like the pastor’s or a serious Bible scholar’s.

I have a few favorite ways to connect with God. The first is playing a worship song and turning it into a prayer. Holy Spirit by Brian and Katie Torwalt is fantastic. “Holy Spirit you are welcome here. .. I’ve tasted and seen of the sweetest of loves, where my heart becomes free and my shame is undone….” Another favorite is David Crowder’s, Here’s My Heart. I concentrate on His presence and the meaning of the worship/prayer. Often I try to extend my quiet time into my “exercise” time by walking in front of the house while the kids sleep, worship music blaring from my phone. This wakes up my mind, and works great for praying over personal concerns and for others.

A simple thing that I sometimes do in a brief moment is to just stop and say, “Thank you, Holy Spirit.” I acknowledge His presence and it is powerful.

I hesitate to share this next thing because it is very personal and precious to me. However, I’m probably not the only one who struggles with a wandering mind and this helps me to just be with God. I have a picture in my mind as I rest in Him. In my mind’s eye, I am perched on a rock on a high place. God is a huge bird: warm, comforting, protective, strong. His wing is around me and I lean against his chest. We are looking out over a valley together. I think about this image and stay in His presence. In His presence is peace. Psalm 91 (KJV) says,

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty….He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.

The Scriptures are full of imagery revealing God’s nature. I’m not a very visual person, so if God can give me this image, I know that He will give you a picture of your own if you ask Him.

Finally, sometimes I just spend time meditating on a scripture God has highlighted for the season I’m in. Doing that gives me confidence in Him and peace.

May your times spent with Jesus be precious,

Erin Smart

This post was written by Erin Smart. To read more about her, click here