Sing, O Barren Woman

Today’s post was written by Ally Castaldo. Ally has been married to Joe for four months, has two dogs, and co-leads a Small Group of people from their apartment complex with her husband.

Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are from the times my family sat around my grandparent’s living room exchanging stories. Some were old stories from when my parents were little, such as the time my dad was lassoed off his bike as a kid by his big brother; some were stories of something that happened “just the other day,” like the time my granddad ripped his khaki pants riding my Elmo bike down the hill of his driveway. I think the reason I savor these memories is because stories are powerful; our stories are part of us, telling who we are, where we have been, and who we are becoming.

I work at Sav-A-Life Shelby as the Development Coordinator. There, I listen to others’ stories. Either in the counseling room with a client or on the phone with a ministry partner, these stories tell me a great deal about who they are. It tells me why a client is experiencing crisis with this pregnancy. It tells me why a person wants to partner with our pro-life ministry. And often while listening to these stories, I get asked about my story: why do I work at a pregnancy resource center?

It started in the Summer of 2013 as our church family was reading through 1 Corinthians; one of the passages from the Bible reading plan was Isaiah 54. It starts like this:

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I remember sitting in my room on my bed, just staring at the first verse, trying to imagine a barren woman, a woman who was not able to have children, a woman who yearned for children, who is now singing praise. Why was she singing (and how did a verse about a woman unable to have children lead me into a ministry that works with women who are already pregnant)?

Let me skip ahead, back to August 2014. When our Executive Director called to offer this position to me, I excitedly accepted (I believe my official words of acceptance were a squealed, “Hurray!”). I also naively believed that with accepting a position in a ministry, an automatic supernatural power would swoop down and overtake any doubts or times that I would stumble over how to uphold the sanctity of life in every situation. Not even ten months into the job, I can say that working in a ministry does not give you supernatural power. Let me say right now that this is hard for me to admit. I fancy myself Wonder Woman, but I fall short of that self-proclaimed title. It’s because I rely on myself to have the answers on too many occasions, and in our culture, upholding the sanctity of life of the unborn is not always easy.

We live in a culture that radically has changed the rhetoric of anything remotely pro-life to equate it to being intolerant and simplistic, where women are told that they are empowered to do what they want with their bodies, where men are told to back down if they want a say, and where we change the words to describe the life in the womb into words that describe inanimate and soulless objects.

It reminds me of the story of Harry Potter. In the fifth book of the Harry Potter series, Harry has seen in person the evil Voldemort return. Having lost his own parents to Voldemort and having already faced him on several occasions, Harry knows the threat of having Voldemort return. He warns those around him to be wary of Voldemort. However, most ignore Harry. They call him a liar; they say to him that he is just being dramatic and even blame him for the murder of Cedric, a boy that Harry witnessed Voldemort kill.

In a way, I feel like those in the pro-life ministry are like Harry. We see both the terrible effects that abortion brings, but we also see a world around us that chooses to ignore the threat. This world can point to politics of reproductive rights or say that it’s empowering to women to be able to choose, a right that should not be swayed by another’s religion. Recently, actress Jemima Kirke from the HBO series Girls opened up about her story of abortion in an interview with the Center for Reproductive Rights. She starts by saying that her life in 2007, when she found herself in an unexpected pregnancy, was “not conductive to raising a healthy, happy child. I just didn’t feel it was fair.” Jemima continues to say that she remains open about her story because there is still shame and embarrassment around getting pregnant and terminating pregnancies. These are real stories, and having worked as both a volunteer peer counselor and now as a staff member, I have witnessed women who are embarrassed and feel shame. But the answer is not aiming for abortion to thrive. The answer, the only answer, is the gospel.

Going back to Isaiah, as I sat on my bed puzzled about a singing barren woman, I read the verses that following that instructed this same woman to “enlarge the place of your tent” and “let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out.” I imagined a young couple desiring a child building onto their house, preparing for future babies. In the fourth verse, she is told that she will not be disgraced or shamed, and the “reproach of your widowhood” would no longer be remembered. And why?

“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer” (Isa. 54:5).

This culture is a fallen culture because we put certain things in front of us and tell ourselves, “Our worth depends on (fill in the blank with what you value).” It is hard and almost impossible to ignore. For the woman in Isaiah, her valued was in her ability to have children. In our society, it many times is our public reputation. But value, beauty, worth, and honor are awarded to the Isaiah woman, not because of herself, but because her Maker, the Lord, is her husband. Her issue of barrenness is not physical here; it illustrates the barrenness of our soul.

The women that come into our center may be physically pregnant, and we want to address that and help her physical needs. However, ultimately, we know that only the gospel will fulfill them. It is the only thing that fulfills any of us. The ultimate reason for the woman to rejoice is because of our Redeemer, because now she has honor, and now we have honor, because Jesus is our value.

The gospel is the power to save and to fulfill; it is also the power to propel the Church forward in the ministry of pro-life, recognizing what the world says and throwing it aside. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” So sing, for the Lord has redefined you with His value, and He sings over you and rejoices over you with gladness. As we know this love more, the more we will want our culture to also know this love.

For more on pro-life ministry or abortion recovery, visit the following sites: 

Jesus Is Better

Today’s post was written by BH member, Leandrea Stouffer, and it is being reposted with permission from her blog.

I was at a conference a few weeks ago when I felt like the speaker was speaking directly to me when he said, “In all your pleasures Jesus is better; in all your suffering Christ is enough.” I sat there for a second dumbfounded. I thought, “How could I have been so blinded by my circumstances that I had forgotten this simple truth?”

There are times in my life that light bulbs go off, and this was one of those moments. Over the past few months, I have let my joy be driven by what I was going through. I had let my job warp my attitude. I had let my relationship status drive me crazy. I had let silliness of drama between friends overpower me, and I had let school discourage me. When I looked at the temporary circumstances of my life, I had no joy.

This in itself brought me to this light bulb moment, while I was sitting in the cold auditorium hanging on every word the speaker was saying. I was chasing contentment through my circumstances and not Jesus. The truth of the matter is that our circumstances are attached to the fallen world. Therefore, we should not base our joy and contentment in life on the things going on in our life. Our joy needs to be based on Jesus, who died on the cross for our sins, rose again, and gives us eternal hope and life. Because of the power of Christ, we can face anything that comes our way. My problem had become that I had been trying to find contentment by looking for contentment. In reality, you find contentment when you seek the Lord.

We as Christ-followers have to learn to lean upon the Lord for our contentment during the good, bad, and in between. It’s amazing that I forget so easily, that not only in our sufferings Christ is enough, but also in my pleasures, Jesus is better. If all of my circumstances resolved, I would still need to base my joy not on the temporary, but the eternal. Paul tells us in Philippians to “Rejoice always.” Always means always, no matter the circumstances.

I have so many reasons to be content in Christ, so the real question is why am I not content? Or the question you might be asking yourself is why do I strive to be content, but continuously falter? The answer to is sin. Sin blinds us from the truth. It is what separates us from God. Therefore, we need to take the time to search our hearts, seek the Lord, and trust that we can be content no matter what comes our way.

So I leave you with these wise words that bore into my heart: “In all your pleasures Jesus in better; in all your sufferings, Christ is enough.” -Tony Merida

Henna and the Gospel

Today’s post was written by Molly Werk, an 8th grader who is a BH member. This summer, Molly is going on a mission trip with our Student Ministry to Atlanta.

I love art. Since I was really young, I kept a giant “art box” where I stored my random creations. My parents always thought it was funny when my siblings made worms out of Play-Doh, and I would make a hobo bear wearing a floppy hat by a campfire eating a hotdog with mustard. My point is that God truly did bless me with a love and talent for art.

As I got older, I really started to look for ways to use my talents for the glory of God. It wasn’t easy. There were times when I doubted if art would really make an impact in God’s kingdom. I knew I did not want to just paint portraits of Jesus. I wanted to actually invest in people’s lives.

Then, my sister-in-law introduced me to henna. Henna is dye that is used to make Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetbeautiful drawings on people’s hands and feet. The cool thing that my sister-in-law showed me was that henna could be used to share stories about God.

I jumped right in learning. I practiced with icing on a tracing of my hand. I also practiced telling the stories that the designs represented. God brought many opportunities through henna. The most common thing that came up was, “I like your tattoo” or “Is that a real tattoo?”

This gave me several chances to talk about what henna is and about how they represented Jesus and who He is. All types of people love henna. Henna is very popular in the East, but I have had opportunities to share Christ through henna with people from Africa and America.

My friends and I are going to Atlanta, GA, on a mission trip this summer. In preparation for our trip, we have been meeting together to practice telling the stories and making the drawings with henna. I am confident that only because of a unique and creative God am I able to share the gospel through henna. Although I doubted that God could use my talents for His glory, He did. He is doing far more than I could have imagined. Something that God has shown me is that He can use our talents to further His Kingdom in ways that we might not expect.

If you would like to learn more about how you can share the gospel using henna, click here.

 

Called to Make the Most of Time…Update from a BH Mid-Termer

Today’s post was written by Rachel Gregory, one of our Mid-Termers who is currently serving as a teacher in Ft. Dauphin, Madagascar. If you would like to keep up with Rachel’s blog while she’s overseas, click here.

Rachel is on the right

Rachel is on the right, and A. is on the left

It started one afternoon when I spilt a bottle of water on my laptop. Seeing that the nearest credible Apple Store is a few oceans away, I went to bed that night upset and exhausted. I woke up abruptly the next morning and recorded the following…

Just had the coolest dream: In my dream, I had just returned to America from my…term. After seeing family and friends, I found myself regretting the last night I had spent in Mada-not being with A.’s family specifically [A. is her language teacher] and not saying proper good byes. I wanted to unwind the clock and get those precious moments back. I remember thinking, “I’ll send her a message on Skype.” But it was already 3am her time, and I knew she’d be asleep. I longed to be back in Mada sewing the seeds of friendship I had been given by the Lord. In my dream, I remember sitting in a room of a house I hadn’t lived in before next to a small desk in a corner.

How my heart wrecked within me with a desire to return to Madagascar. It was then that I realized how precious time is and how I probably will never get to be in Mada again with the same people and under the same circumstances. I wanted to cry out of regret and sadness.

The dream continued…I was walking down the road and saw Emily Kelley, a friend

Rachel's classroom in Mada

Rachel’s classroom in Mada

from Samford, up ahead. When I reached her, I gave her the biggest “I haven’t seen you in two years” hug and proceeded to ask her if she had received my email about doing the J-man program (in reality, she had emailed me about it, wanting more information). In my dream, I told her to do it. If you have the opportunity, go! My heart longed to return to Mada and especially to A.’s family, to the place where God had called me.

I woke up shortly after that in my Mada bed and immediately put my hands out to feel the texture of my sheets. “Where am I? MY MADA SHEETS!! I’m still here!!!!” I thought. I’ve never been more thankful to feel the little breeze from my Mada fan! Having this dream tonight is especially important. I went to sleep in despair over my computer and school prep work. Having this dream made me realize that stuff really doesn’t matter. What truly matters is people. What matters are the lives around me and how I respond to the Spirit of God in me to love them with an everlasting love that only comes from our Maker. I don’t want to get to the end of this and see I wasted time worrying over silly temporal things like computers and work. I wanna pour my life out as an offering for potential new believers who will know Christ and His power and love.

“Oh God, help me to remember this dream and to make this time count. Help me to remember that time is a blessing and each day, each breath, is a gift.”

Makes me wanna Skype A. right now and tell her about my dream! But it’s almost 3am here so I know she’s asleep.

Rachel telling the creation story in Malagasy village.

Rachel telling the creation story in Malagasy village.

Called to Community

Today’s post was written by Angie Trantham.

Overwhelming events that happen to us all: the death of a parent, the loss of a child through miscarriage, loss of jobs, finding jobs, financial crisis, hospitalization of a child, marriage crisis, extended family issues, a major car wreck, surgery, the flu, the whole family having the flu – and I have walked through them all this past fall with an amazing group of women. These women are my sisters, my prayer warriors, my encouragement, and the example that points me to Jesus.

Angie (left) with Mohana (right), her Mom Time small group leader

Angie (left) with Mohana (right), her Mom Time small group leader

Our Mom Time group started just like any other. We met, we prayed, we studied, and slowly God knit us together. As the semester progressed, we walked through difficult experiences. However instead of walking alone we had each other. One member had a car accident and had to have surgery. She has a small child and no family in Birmingham, so she texted us and let us know what happened. By the time her husband made it to the hospital, meals were planned for four days and childcare was worked out if she needed it. Someone else had the flu over Christmas and hadn’t finished Christmas shopping, but she didn’t have to worry because one of us did it for her.

Community is something we all need, and this has never been more evident to me as during this season. If you are looking for a community of women who will love you, encourage you and meet you right where you are I encourage you to join a small group!

If you would like to join a small group, visit this site, stop by the Adults Small Groups kiosk in the church lobby, or contact Monika at mtortorici@brookhills.org

Called to Love

Today’s post was written by BH member, Jeannette Mayo.

For this week, our blog posts will focus on different areas of obedience that we are all called to as Christ-followers.

Jeannette Mayo Blog PostLove…our culture, especially us as women, can’t get enough of it. We listen to music about it, watch romantic movies, talk for hours about it, and celebrate it with each wedding and baby shower we attend.

I’m sure we’ve all at some point been loved…not just loved, but can we remember a time we’ve been loved well? Love is a beautiful thing when it’s done well, when it allows us to focus on the Provider of love. As children of God, as daughters of the King, we are called to love well. But love can be hard. It can be messy and, certainly, humbling as we are faced with our own selfishness and shortcomings. But love, when done well, can be an amazing display of the gospel, as our Father is always faithful to forgive those times we fall short and continues to grant us mercy as we strive to love those around us.

What does it look like to love well?

What does it mean to love well? Does our culture have it right? Is what we see in the movies and what we hear in music what it’s all about? I think most of us would be quick to say no, but until we are able to define what loving well looks like, we are going to have a hard time fulfilling our calling.

Thankfully Jesus defines love for us when He tells His disciples “a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 15:34).

“Just as I have loved you”… so often I attempt to love using my own definition of love rather then knowing and believing the Word. God is very clear on what it means to love well – we are to love those around us as Jesus loved. If we want to fulfill our calling to love well – to love as our Perfect Example loved, then we need to know God.

God has shown us how to love well through the life of His Son, through His glorious redemption plan, and through His faithfulness to pursue us in His love and mercy.

Beyond just knowing of Gods love, we need to believe it. We need to not just see it on the pages of His Word, but to believe in our hearts that His love for us is real, unchanging, and unmatched so that we may show that love to those around us.

It can be so easy to talk about the love of God – with how He demonstrated it in the life of Jesus and continues to put it on display today, in how He chooses to call us daughters and heirs, in His willing sacrifice and grace, in His desire to know us and call us friends, in His example of servanthood, in His patience and mercy, and in His desire to obey the Father’s will.

But we can’t just talk about it.

We have to believe it and trust that the same love that is demonstrated in the Scriptures is the love that He has for each of us.

Praise God His love does not change, that it is not dependent on my obedience, my job, my family. It’s not about me. God loving us well is about who He is and His glory. He is glorified in His love and pursuit of His children, especially in the times that we are least deserving of it.

How do we love as God loves us?

Now that we have a good definition of love done well – to love as God loves us – how do we do that? What does it look like to love well when it’s hard or in the midst of broken promises, in disappointment, illness, when no one is listening, when I’m tired or its too time consuming, or when I just don’t have the desire to?

What I am repeatedly having to learn and remind myself daily (sometimes multiple times a day!) is that I will not love well on my own – it is not something I can muster up the desire or strength to do. 1 John 4:7 reminds us that “love is from God”.

From God. Not us.

He is the one who increases our love for Him, the one who gives us a love for His Church, His mission, for the lost, for those we are discipling, for our co-workers, for our family, and for the numerous acquaintances we pass by each day. He is the one who puts love in us, and He is the only one who can increase it.

Praise God we don’t have to do it on our own! Praise God that He is an all knowing, generous God who gives love to His children!

A Roadblock to Loving Well

Do you love to plan, make lists, and see them fulfilled as much as I do? It seriously brings me joy. But often I can approach how I love others in this same way. I get so focused on the outcome of loving someone well that I forget the importance of the process. I have three kids ,and I so desire to love them well. I’m both expectant and excited for the fruit in their lives that will come from being loved, but I can forget the true source of me being able to love them well in the daily. I need to remember that I cannot love well if my plan and my focus is consumed with my efforts and my ability instead of knowing God and the love He has for me. I will not be able love my kids (or anyone else!) in the way that I believe God is calling me to because I am striving to do it alone.

I pray that I – that we – would not grow dull to this, that our standard of loving well would remain high by remembering the example of love God gave us in the life of His Son.

Obviously, not everyone in our life is always easy to love, and as we try to reconcile our call to love with sinful people in a fallen world, I believe we need to be purposeful and faithful in prayer, asking God to increase our love.

In choosing to believe that God is loving, we may then approach the throne of grace, boldly asking that He would increase our love. If only we were faithful as a body to seek the true source of love, if only I was more faithful! To not rely on myself, to not believe the lie that a person, a situation, or group of people is too hard or inconvenient to love, but instead to stand firm on what we know is truth. To know and believe that God is love and that, if we know Him, if we seek Him, if trust Him to continually be filling us with his love, and if faithfully receive and rest in His forgiveness when we fall short, only then will we be able to fulfill our calling as women who love well.

Not only is God able to grow and protect our faith as we fulfill our calling to love well, but Jesus reminds us “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). May God’s name be known and glorified by our love for one another! May we be encouraged in our wonderful calling to be women who love well! To know it is not a burden we shoulder on our own, but it is a call to know God deeper, to increase our trust in His provision, to rely on His Spirit, to be reminded of His grace as we receive His forgiveness in our failures, and to see Him further glorified in and through us.

Comparison Feeds Discontentment

Today’s post was written by BH member, Amanda Seibert.

February 2010

I’m afraid I’ll never find love.

I’m in no rush. Despite the fact that everyone around me seems to have already found their perfect match, that I have six bridesmaid dresses hanging in my closet, I’m honestly happy with my single life… for now.

But sometimes I wonder if it will ever be my turn. And often, I’m afraid that it won’t.

It’s a fear that comes and goes like a ferris wheel, sometimes stopping, rocking a bit, and then moving along, smoothly unnoticed, but always cycling back to the same place no matter how many times I’ve gone around.

I remember the first time my ferris wheel really “rocked”—I was a sophomore in college, and my roommate, also a sophomore, was asked to the Junior/Senior Banquet and I wasn’t. Not only was she asked, but she was asked by the campus heart-throb, a studly senior, who posted signs all over the school asking her to be his date. This of course got the attention of every girl on campus, dozens of which, I’m sure, stopped by our dorm room to squeal and gush and hear all the juicy details of this dreamy, developing relationship.

I sat at my desk, pretending to do my homework as I listened for the 800th time to the same stories about the same signs and the same dates and the same surprise flower deliveries.

Jealous? Not me. Well, maybe. Just a little.

Not necessarily about Studly Senior, but about the sudden attention my roommate was getting. I tried to be happy for her—I think I faked it pretty well—but inside I was being subtly destroyed by a terrible case of comparison.

Now I’ve learned a few things about this disease: first, it’s always fatal. Either you come out on top, and you’re proud. Or you come out on bottom, and you’re depressed. “All unhappiness is the result of comparison.” That’s what my mom says, anyway.

But I also know that comparison is highly contagious, meaning that it starts in one area and will quickly spread to the rest of your life before you even know it. For me, it started with relationships. I am boyfriendless…which must mean I am undesirable…which must mean I am not as pretty or funny or godly or thin or blond as other girls. Insert any adjective, and I’m not enough of it.

Yes, comparison is a deadly poison, and it was running rampantly through my veins.

There’s only one cure, but I didn’t recognize it as a cure until it happened and I suddenly found myself healed. It happened that summer when I worked as a camp counselor. For 8 weeks, I was so busy getting pied in the face and doing silly skits and eating s’mores and laughing and singing and praying with kids around a campfire, that I forgot all about myself and my relationship woes.

That’s when I realized that the times of greatest contentment come in times of service. Times when I stop thinking about ME. There is simply no room for self-pity (or self-elation, for that matter) when all the pieces of my mental “pie graph” are filled up with serving others. Personal concerns disappear. I heard an acronym once that JOY is when you put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. A bit cheesy, perhaps, but certainly true.

Back to college, graduation, now preparing to leave for Spain—a few more rounds on the ferris wheel, and again, I’d come to a halt, paralyzed this time not by jealousy or comparison but by the fear of a seemingly impossible love life. I’d graduated from Moody “Bridal” Institute without even so much as a boyfriend, and leaving the country certainly wouldn’t increase my chances.

Although I was genuinely happy with my current singleness, I was afraid that by choosing to go overseas—to Spain and then India, the very places that I felt God was clearly leading—I was choosing isolation. I was going to be that 82-year old single missionary lady, I knew it.

Missions had to mean singleness for me because, after all, in my prime time of “eligibility” I was taking myself off the market. If I really wanted to find a husband, I would find the church with the biggest “Singles Ministry” or sign up for E-harmony—but certainly I would not go to India.

In my mind, missions and marriage were mutually exclusive. And although I desired both, it seemed that if I pursued one, I would be denying myself of the other.

What a fool I am to limit God to my own expectations, to assume that He will not take care of His own. I could have stayed back out of fear and tried to manipulate my way into a pool of godly bachelors, but, as I learned in a Beth Moore Bible study that summer, “anything you have to manipulate to get is rarely yours to keep.”

The truth is, I couldn’t have manipulated a “2-year marriage plan” if I tried. It’s all up to God’s timetable. What I could do, however, is head toward the mission field, simply walking through the doors that God was clearly opening and believing that He always blesses our obedience. He blesses us with Himself.

My dad says there are two ways to approach a relationship. You can run, or you can fish. Fishing means putting yourself out there, like bait, and waiting for a good catch. Running means moving forward at full-speed and then looking over your shoulder to see who’s running beside you. I chose to run. To run the race marked out for me in advance, keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.

I’m still on the ferris wheel. As many times as I’ve tried to get off, tried to release my plans and my desires and my future to God’s control, I don’t think I’ll ever be done.

Sometimes (most of the time) I’m enjoying the ride so much, I wouldn’t want it any other way, and then sometimes I feel hopeless and throw big pity parties, imagining that if I keep it up long enough God will start feeling sorry for me and actually do something about it. Is that totally blasphemous?

Amanda Seibert Blog PostBut it seems every time I come back to the same prayer, opening clenched fingers and laying down my life, my heart, my singleness at the foot of the cross.

Maybe God has someone out there for me. Maybe not. But I do know, no matter what, He never gives second best. If I’m single ‘til I’m 98, it’s not because God forgot about me or was holding out on something good. No, it’s because in His all-knowing plan, He wanted me, all of me, all to Himself. And I’m okay with that.

April 2015

Five years have passed since I wrote those words—five wild and unpredictable years in which God led me to The Church at Brook Hills (a northern girl finds her Sweet Home Alabama!), surrounded me with this new faith family to love me through one of the darkest valleys of my life, and when I least expected it, brought me a godly man to be my husband. We just celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary, with a two-month old baby girl by our side. I praise God for His abundant & undeserved goodness towards me.

And yet, even in this new season as a wife and first-time mom, I am learning all over again that comparison is deadly, obedience liberates, and contentment is found in fixing our eyes on Jesus and taking them off ourselves. In singleness or marriage or any season of life—for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health—may our anthem be that Christ is our joy, and He is enough.

A Ragamuffin Musing on Mothering in the Power of the Gospel

Today’s post was written by BH member, Jill Waters. Jill is married to Phillip, has four children, and co-leads a co-ed Singles 20s/30s Small Group with her husband.

Growing up, I pretty much always knew I’d be a mom. I studied education in college (close enough to studying parenthood) and married a man who was pretty sure we’d be parents, though I remember no conversations surrounding the subject until I found myself a wee-bit pregnant in year three of our marriage. It worked. Time to start our family!

Way back when I was coming along, I had a mom. My mom wore several hats, too many actually. She raised my younger sister and me without a man. Therefore she was mom, dad, bread winner, tutor, disciplinarian, chaperone, launderer, and head chef—she rocked that role! But mostly, she was tired. She’s always been self-sufficient and cared for us well, but she was really glad when we could entertain ourselves and was (is) really proud of what we became, bumps along the way and all!

Fast forward a few sanctifying years, and Philip and I have four daughters.  I know, I know four daughters. “Wow, the weddings!”

“Just wait until the teenage years.”

“My word, you need a man cave, Dad!”

Philip loves all of his girls and wouldn’t trade them for any quiver of boys.  Philip also oozes Jesus and that is exactly what it takes to rear a family of four girls. But I digress.

I stay at home with our four lovelies all the time. Like, I prepare three meals a day for them, I school them, and I launder for them (Mom made this part look so much easier when I was a kid). Overall, I try really hard to shepherd their tiny, super impressionable hearts to draw near to the throne of Grace. GOD LIVES THERE MY TINY PEOPLE—GO THERE, STAY THERE!  Then Jesus reminds me that they don’t know their way.  They have to follow me there. Remember the whole, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ?” (1 Cor. 11:1). Yep, that is how God ordained that these little lollipops will truly see Jesus.  Through Philip and me (Deut. 6).

But because they are around me the most, it’s mostly me. Sounds sketchy.

Jill Waters Blog PostI constantly mess up at this role/calling/lifestyle/job. Constantly (just ask my kids—they are stinkin’ honest Nellies!). And to be quite frank, I have no idea of what I am doing. How do I keep DHR at arms distance you might ask? I go back to the basics: I pray and I read my Bible and I die daily. And I do all these things together in my journal, so I can remember. What I study and how I pray and live and move and have my being all relies on God. He leads me one step at a time (Gal. 5:25). I’ve learned along the way that it starts with me, Jill. So if they are following me anyway, then I need to be follow-worthy.

What does this look like?

I say to the Lord, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Ps. 51:10-12).

Check this out—it keeps going! “Then I will teach transgressors (my kids!)  your ways and sinners (umm, again, my kids!) will return to you…. Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise (all day long in observations from creation, songs, games, cookies for lunch, etc) ….. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God you will not despise” (Ps 51).

Yes. Just YES! I pour myself out as a sacrifice before Him and confess that I am powerless, clueless, and helpless for this task. And the Lord takes pleasure in this, in ME! I have honored my Redeemer King and found footing on the seemingly insurmountable Mount de Parenting! Praise the LORD! Let’s have a party or change a diaper—either with complete joy!

David finishes out Psalm 51 by begging God to build His kingdom unto His own good pleasure. And that is all I, too, know to doThis is not a “name it claim it, turn your children into Christians in 10 easy steps” kind of deal. It’s an “I’m begging You, God, because I am empty and have nothing” approach. It’s a confessional.

Sweet and tender Father, will you build your kingdom in these little lives?  I am desperate.  

Chris Tomlin wrote a song for moms everywhere (okay, probably for Christ worshipers everywhere) that I often play at the start of my day that sums up this process of dying well. Just hear the chorus:

“Hear am I, all of me, take my life, it’s all for Thee.” The End. And really, that’s the beginning, too!

So, did my mom know parenting? Maybe it’s not what she knew but what she demonstrated: sacrifice. Good place to start, Mom. And the rest of my parenting story is God’s to write “because I have died, and my life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Isn’t this the gospel? Laying myself aside and enabling the Spirit to usher in life? I’ll wager that it’s a good place to start…at least for this ragamuffin mom!

Overlooking the Overlooked

Today’s post was written by BH member, Jenny Clark. Jenny is a single mom to four little people (two tummy babies, one via adoption, and one via foster care). She is passionate about overlooked children, foster care, adoption, and the gospel. This article is being re-posted from her blog with permission.

Jenny Clark - GraphicQuestion: How many foster families through DHR in Shelby County, AL, are available and willing to take children with special needs? Just take a guess……

Answer: One. And it is me.

Church, that is a problem. A BIG BIG problem.

I know what you are already thinking: “Foster care is hard enough. I just don’t think I could handle a child with special needs”

“This is just not what I am called to do.”

“I have enough on my plate already.”

“These kids should go to someone with a medical background.”

And on and on it goes.

Let me give you the facts. When a child with special needs comes in to foster care, their county DHR office searches their database, and typically, they find nowhere to place the child, especially in the smaller counties. No one who has said, “I desire to care for this type of child.”

The county will then contact private agencies like Lifeline and Alabama Baptist, but they rarely have families that will take kids with special needs. Side note: if you are a private agency foster family you would have to specifically request to be contacted about children with special needs, otherwise you will never hear about them.

At this point, DHR will send out a statewide email to all the counties in the state. This is the last ditch effort, so to speak, before the child ends up elsewhere. And by elsewhere, I mean living in a hospital for their whole lives. Or a group home. Or a nursing home.

Child Desired Form

This is page one of four pages, and the form has since been updated.

Zee was a statewide email baby. I won’t even let myself imagine where he would be right now if I had said no.

So my challenge to the church is simple. We need more people to step up and care for these kids. They are right here under our noses, and we can’t ignore them.

We can’t simply sign up to be foster parents to the cute, cuddly, shiny new babies and toddlers and feel like we are doing all we can. Shouldn’t we let God tell us which children He wants us to care for?

Just take a look at this “Child Desired” form. I imagine when most people fill this out, they are simply overwhelmed by the idea of bringing a child in to their home who will someday leave. And I imagine because of that reason alone, many families think they just couldn’t handle a child with special needs. I get it. Trust me.

But my mind says, what if I had to measure up to a form to have God DESIRE ME. 

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in Him.
Psalm 40:1-3

If you are in process to become a foster parent, please consider opening your heart to the least of these! If you are a seasoned foster parent, consider updating your child desired form!

I know. This is not for everyone. But it is for me, and I will continue to advocate for these kids because THEY will bless YOU more than you can ever imagine.

To learn more about what the Bible teaches regarding orphan care, listen to this sermon by David Platt entitled “Father to the Fatherless.”

Led & Laying Down: Called to Orphan Care

Today’s post was written by BH member, Christy Bishop.

“Calling and Contentment”…hmm…what does that even mean? According to my husband, it means “Make sure you are called, and say good-bye to contentment!” Ha ha! But not so far off the mark! After the road I’ve walked the past five years, I might just change that phrase to “Led and Laying Down.” I know…weird phrase. Let me explain….

It was the summer of 2009. My husband, Mark, had shared with me that he felt like the Lord was leading us to become foster parents. I remember thinking, ”What in the world?” We already had three boys who were 18, 15, and 12 at the time. Our plates were full enough!

Then in the fall of that same year (2009), Pastor David was preaching through the book of James. He got to James 1:27, which says: ”Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”

The Lord used this verse to confirm what He had been leading Mark to explore in the area of foster care. Pastor David issued a challenge for families who were willing to at least commit to the training classes to become foster parents. So, even though I wasn’t completely on board with the idea, we accepted the challenge and committed to take the classes.

Round 1

In September 2009, we were a part of the first GPS classes that were conducted at Brook Hills, and we finished up in December 2009. So there we were – training certificates in-hand and home-study completed. Now all we needed were some kids! Well, actually just ONE school-age boy. I mean, that IS what we put down on our paperwork, right? That was our PLAN, was it not? This is the part where God laughs and begins to orchestrate our circumstances in a way that only He could!

Two months go by and we are in March 2010. I get a call at school one day (did I mention that I teach high school Zoology?) from a social worker at Alabama Baptist Children’s Home. “We have 2 little boys if you can take them,” she said. And with those words, life as we knew it was forever changed!

This was to be our first step into the world of actually being foster parents, and we didn’t have the first clue as to what we were doing! Two days later, two precious little boys were brought to our house with nothing but one garbage bag. Tristan was seven, and Preston was three. Fast-forward to February 2013, and we are in Jefferson County court finalizing the adoption of Tristan and Preston BISHOP! After 2 ½ years in foster care, we knew beyond any doubt that God had brought these boys into our lives permanently.

Round 2

In October 2013, I get a call at school (again!). It’s the Children’s Home, ”We have a little boy, 6 years old, named Sam.” By the time all is said and done, it wasn’t just one little boy, it was three! Three brothers, Thomas, Sam, and Joe  (ages 8, 6, and 5) all coming to my house!

So that means, at that time, I would have seven boys in my house! Two of my biological sons, Jack (16 at the time), Travis (19 at the time and about to head into the military), Tristan (11), Preston (7), Thomas (8), Sam (6), and Joe (5). These three boys would be with us a year and three months. This past January, they transitioned to a foster home in Mobile to be with a family that will be adopting them in May! (That is another work of God for another time!)

James 1-27I could fill page after page with stories of our two experiences with foster care – one ending with us adopting, the other ending with another family adopting. I can tell you that it has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life! There were times when I could do nothing but sit down and cry and tell the Lord (and my husband), “I don’t think I can do this anymore!” Yet, here I am in a season of somewhat less chaos, hopefully able to encourage someone else with what the Lord has shown me and is still showing me whether it is in the area of foster care/adoption or in a completely different area of life.

You see, we were LED to become foster parents. Even though James 1:27 makes it clear that we are all CALLED to take care of orphans and widows, we might be LED in different ways to flesh that out. But what God has shown me is that it is not in the calling or the leading that we find contentment, but in the OBEDIENCE.

I don’t recall Him ever saying that things would be easy and that I would thoroughly enjoy every day of being a foster parent…and I, in fact, didn’t! I’m convinced that the ONLY way I was able to endure and persevere through these past five years is by God’s amazing grace and knowing that, no matter how difficult and uncomfortable it was, I was being obedient to what God had led me to do. But it required me to LAY DOWN my own agenda on a daily basis. Trust me, this was not pretty!

One thing the Lord taught me through having foster kids is this: I am the most selfish, self-centered person I know! And it is brutal having to face that day after day! But I go back to the obedience – being led, laying down my own plans, obedience – ah, yes…there it is…calm in the midst of complete chaos…peace in the midst of being totally overwhelmed. Sounds a lot like contentment.

To learn more about you can be involved in orphan care in our church and in our city, click here. And if you would like to learn more about our church’s WRAP ministry to foster families, read this blog post on “The Story of a WRAPer.”