By Heather Allen-
When I was six I was overcome. I knelt down and confessed that I sinned, regularly, I needed someone who would intervene. I became a teenager. I wrestled with staying home from the parties that would spiral into intoxication and sensuality. Not because I wanted to go, but because I didn’t want to be left out. But then five drunken lives are permanently altered as their car runs off the road and headlong into a tree. Three are dead, two shattered, and my public school turned into a funeral home. The consequences of compromise are far worse than being alone. Weeks after death and regret, the parties kick up again. The pattern repeats. God stands near to the broken, will we turn, will we bid He intervene?
I become an adult. I look for a new pattern. Surely the church is transformed. Surely believers extend their arms. Surely, we the beloved of God flood love on all that is broken. But it is not so, and the mildew starts here in my own hearth. Growing from an insecure doubt that I am not who God says.
The foundation has been laid. Years and years ago. But human insecurity never quits whispering “You are not enough, you will never be enough.” I hold hands with the enemy inclining my head in agreement. “So here is the plan, look around you…you’re better than that guy over there, but you’re a loser compared to her. She would never be your friend, so just ignore her.” And it turns out that he has substance to spare, and she is hurting for a true friend.
My daughter and I take a drive. She abruptly turns to me “When we seek God’s glory we find our empty, lonely emotions overcome by the jolting purposefulness of living in God’s plan.” Is serving God, by loving others, worth trading for the emptiness found in seeking what’s best for self?
We sojourn together you and I, traversing the dusty Earth roads. Will we trip one another, or will we grab hold and run together? Will we live the beautiful blessing of discipleship and fellowship? Will we be the Pharisee or the Good Samaritan? Will we stop to help the ones left to die alone? Will we follow the Pharisee who uttered all the right words and never put them into practice, or will we be the Samaritan who cared more for a broken man than his own reputation, wallet, or time?
A few weeks ago, I walked by a woman who needs my friendship in order to chat with the friend I want. I felt a pinch in my spirit. I appealed for God’s strength to love others better than myself. He reminded me that small deeds of kindness are weightier than I fathom. Intervention in one life affects eternity. Christ made himself of no reputation in order to save us. So when He says “follow me” He is asking us to live from the knowledge that we are loved, valuable, and worth redeeming. This is home. A grounding point from which we find the stability and support to love our fellow traveler.
By Diane Mayfield –
Clear blue ocean water, the melodious sound of the waves gently rolling onto the shoreline, the sun’s rays dancing across the water and orange and pink sunsets filled my life last week. I took a girls’ trip to North Captiva Island with my daughters and daughter-in-law. We try to make this trip every other year if possible. Between weddings and babies, that is no small task. Our destination of choice seems to always be the beach.
I treasure this time together. We read our books while sunning on the porch. We eat seafood, French Fries, and ice cream. We take walks on the beach, talking about dreams, plans, children and memories. There is plenty of teasing Mom about her Mom ways— from being a bit technically challenged to a little OCD in the kitchen. At sunset, we all gather on the porch to bid farewell to the sun and see what glorious colors God gives to us to delight our soul. For a brief moment, it truly is heaven on earth.
One of our favorite past times this trip was to watch Downton Abbey. Two of the girls had not started the Downton craze, and they were eager to join the movement. My challenge was to not give anything away, which was quite difficult since I ooh and aw through most movies anyway.
I love Downton Abbey. I could watch it continually. I guess one could say it is “play” to me. I never want it to end. I love the historical time, the romantic culture, the glamour, and the upstairs-downstairs characters-all that makes up Downton.
If you are not familiar with the story, this English aristocratic family owns Downton Abbey. It is a castle estate with much land that the villagers support by farming. Part of the story centers around saving Downton. In fact, personal choices of marriage are based on saving this gorgeous estate and the way of life that goes with it. Saving Downton seems to be the glue that keeps the family together.
That gives me pause. The family lives for the estate. Two of the sisters don’t even like each other but they are bound by Downton, a structure. Magnificent as it is, it is just a building. They are all bound together for this cause, as if the people inside the house are second to the house itself.
To me, family is more that the house we grow up in. Family is more than a building or its land. It is the site of memories and relationships, but it’s not the family. Family is heart connection, where we are bound beyond the obvious physical link by something spiritual and intangible. Living people made in the image of the one true God make up a family. A house, even one as majestic as Downton, provides shelter for the family. It’s the connection between the inhabitants that really matter, that will really last for all eternity.
What’s funny is that I long for a house that brings my family together since we all live in different cities. I realized, though, that a house, even one as magnificent as Downton, is not what brings people together. It’s the relationships of love, caring and support that matter. It’s playing, laughing and even crying together that create bonds that bind us. I’m grateful to have a family that wants to come together even when there is no Downton to draw us.
By Diane Mayfield –
Growing up in my family, I was not allowed to express myself, especially if my views differed from the rest of the family. If I challenged the establishment’s perspective, I was properly put in my place. Disagreeing definitely upset the apple cart. For that I would feel like a bad little girl. When a child is not allowed to express himself or herself, or is shamed when he or she does, a part of his soul is damaged.
Last weekend I experienced some healing.
I was at a weekend retreat with men and women that I dearly love. Sitting around the fire, the discussion turned to a controversial subject in Christian circles. The details of the conversation do not matter. What matters is that I stirred the pot. I expressed an unpopular perspective in the group. It was uncomfortable for all.
For a woman who has worked hard most of her young life to be popular and accepted, I was committing Christian social suicide. I didn’t plan it. It just came out of my mouth. I didn’t agree. I had a different perspective. It felt wrong to go along with the group.
I know for some, what seemed like conflict was very scary. For me, it was an honest discussion of differences. The evening ended with hugs and professions of love, but my concern was the aftermath. I wondered what the morning would bring. That was the real test.
I woke aware of the “bad little girl” image knocking on my door. I chose to not let her in the room. Instead I embraced the truth of who God says I am. I am enough. I am a princess. I have a redeemed heart and I wear a robe of righteousness. There is no condemnation in Him. Those were the truths I embraced as I sent the bad little girl out of the room.
The real test was at breakfast. How would I be treated? Would it be awkward? Would the discomfort of others be evidenced by the strain on their faces? Those moments open the door again to the presence of that little girl. But, praise God, the atmosphere was one of love and acceptance. We debriefed the conversation from the night before. Some expressed what they had learned about themselves. One of the men told me he appreciated that I stayed in the conversation and did not walk away.
I stirred the pot. I expressed an unpopular perspective like I had done many times before in my family of origin. This time, my Christian family helped send the bad little girl away by responding with love and acceptance.
I would never have tasted such sweetness if I had not risked being authentic and unpopular. I put aside my fear and offered who I really am. In return, I received the blessing of unconditional love.
By Makenzie Allen –
To: My man of God
Love: Your girl, Kenzie
It has been a year since I last wrote you a published letter. I pray God would give you comfort knowing I am here waiting for you. I’m sure you are feeling pressure to date, as am I, but praying for you has helped me to focus on the long term rather than the short, and I have grown content waiting. The triangle is only getting smaller, closing the gap between God, you and I.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the three-way relationship that comes into focus when you start to pray for your future husband. As you pray that he will be a God Lover you quickly start to see that your own relationship with the Lord has room to grow too. Do you see the triangular relationship that is formed through prayer? You, your future husband, and God. God is at the top of the triangle, while you and your future husband are at the corner points at the bottom. The closer each of you becomes to God, the shorter the distance between the two of you. By praying for the man you will marry one day, you are drawing closer to the Lord. –Robin Jones Gunn
On my left ring finger still sits the purity ring that many people are curious about. I have had humorous stories revolving around my ring, from gruff cowboys asking if I was married, to my little cousin saying my ring meant I was not going to kiss anyone but my future husband. The latter being true, of course. My ring stays firmly on my hand and my heart stays solidly rooted on faithfulness toward you.
As this year begins, I am excited and nervous to see where the Lord will take me as graduation is nearing. Whether you are out there or not, I have been blessed by the experience of praying for someone else and promising my purity to God. It’s as if the love I am saving for you magnifies how much love God has stored up for me.
One of my biggest prayers for you this past year has been that you would find joy in the Lord and not search for happiness in the world. The pleasure found in our world is bound by time; the joy found in our God is ever flowing. I hope that you have been blessed by this abundant joy and that it causes you to be at peace. Can you imagine the testimony? A couple satisfied with God’s love and content watching for His plan to unfold. This is how relationships are meant to be. God did not give us rules on purity just for the sake of having rules; He gave them in order to bless us with untainted love.
This triangle relationship we have illustrates God’s kindness. Not only did He make you and me, He made a plan for us that, when followed, produces blessing. God did not leave us to stumble through life, but rather, extended love and guidance.
Time has passed, and even more will sweep by. I will be here, praying that we yearn for God’s plan and fulfill it. He will bless you and I with untainted love, and we shall bless Him with lives that display His glory.
By Mary Sefzik –
I was a college student thrilled to have landed a part-time job as a braille textbook proofreader at Visual Aide Volunteers in Garland, Texas. I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to do something I enjoyed—reading.
My fingers skimmed across the page. “They forgot the period again,” I said.
“Good catch,” my boss complimented. A long-forgotten name flashed through my mind—Eileen, my first braille teacher.
Wouldn’t she be proud if she could see me now. I wanted to find my soft-spoken silver-haired teacher and thank her for giving me the tools I needed to excel at my first job.
I e-mailed another teacher to see if he knew anything about Eileen. He told me he had recently seen her at a local restaurant. He included a phone number and urged me to contact her.
My heart raced, and my hand shook as I dialed the number. What am I doing? I wondered. This lady must be in her nineties, and I haven’t talked to her in years. Will she even remember me?
“What do I have to lose?” I argued with myself. The worst thing that can happen is I dial a wrong number or get hung up on. I’ll never know unless I try.
“Hello?” a soft voice answered after the third ring.
“Hello, my name is Mary Sefzik, and I am trying to reach Eileen Burke.”
“This is Eileen. Who are you, and where are you calling from?”
I tried again. “My name is Mary Ann Sefzik. I was one of your pre-school students at Dallas Services for Visually Impaired Children.”
“Oh, honey, I retired from there in 1991—many years ago.”
“I graduated from Dallas Services in 1989 when I was six years old,” I said, hoping to fill in her mental blanks.
“Oh my, Mary Ann. I can’t believe this. How are you? Where are you? What are you doing now?”
I told her about attending college, learning Braille music, and working as a proofreader—all things her teaching had helped bring about.
“I plan to graduate from college soon and wonder what God has in store for me. I wish I could see the future,” I said.
“God has something out there for you,” Eileen assured me, “and it will come one day, out of the blue, when you least expect it.”
Eileen attended my graduation party several months later and I was thankful to find she was exactly the way I remembered her. As she held my hand, I remembered those same gentle hands teaching me how to dial a telephone. I loved to hear her lilting northeastern accent. She could always make me laugh.
“I can’t believe you’re really here,” I said as we clung together in a tight embrace.
“You little rascal,” she said in her sweet, familiar way. “Do you remember the first sentence you wrote for me?”
Once again I was a shy six-year-old basking in the praise of a teacher I adored. “I can go,” I answered.
“You’re right. You said ‘I can go,’ and you went!”
I was amazed at how God chose to use a boss’s compliment and a simple phone call to bring about this special reunion. This experience reminded me that God’s blessings often come out of the blue, when we least expect them.