Thursday, August 28, 2014

In The Hard Days—There is Hope

We milk in two groups. 
I am heavy with child. 
The new barn is almost ready. 
The summer days are warm, and I am restless. 
I have lost one child. 
I am resting each moment in grace. 
My farmer is restless. 
There is much work to be done. 


The details of the impending move to the new milking parlor fill his mind. 
Will it work? 
The success of the new depends on the swiftness of the move of the old. 
A date is set. 
The change; imminent. 
It is a stressful time. 
All my farmer has ever known, 25 years of milking in the same barn,
 is coming to an end.
The move takes over 18 hours. 
My farmer is up for more than 36 hours before he rests. 
We successfully transfer from a tie stall milking barn to a milking parlor. 
My farmer is exhausted. 
Two weeks later we pile on more change as we welcome Elijah Todd Davis 
weighing 9 lbs 1 oz at 4:17 pm. 
The days move to months and winter comes with all its Vermont fury.
 

The difficulties of a new milking system take their toll. 
The weight; unbearable.
My farmer begins the steep decline to discouragement. 
Being the dutiful wife I am, I encourage him to pray more. 
To focus on the positive. 
We dance this dance.
Me the cheerleader, teaching, cleaning,
taking care of a new baby and a step daughter. 
The cheering falls flat. 
  I receive a call at work.
 I meet my mother-in-law at the doctor’s office. 
Something is wrong with my dear farmer. 
In my heart I knew. 
But no words could explain. 
Depression enters my everyday vocabulary. 
A name. 
A disease. 
Little understood. 
The battle begins.
This pillar of a man.
Lover of God.
Student of Scriptures.
My encourager.
Is depressed.
A woman from our church who has lived with depression as her
  companion brings me a video.
It changes my life.
It explains the physiological effects of depression on the brain.
My farmer and I, together, begin the ascent out of the pit.
We seek medical attention.
We pray.
We ask hard questions.
I am scared.
I have a step daughter and a 7-month old.
I am teaching, and there is a farm to run.
Depression is not a household word.
There is a stigma attached.
I vow to educate.
I pray for wisdom.
Time marches on.
Eighteen years later we wake in the middle of the night.
We have visitors.
They are not the kind of visitors you want to have.
They didn't bring a gift.
They brought bad news and pain.
Our beloved first born son had taken his final drive.
Elijah went home to be with the LORD at about 12:30 am July 28, 2013.
He was not yet eighteen. He had just graduated.
The journey of grieving began. 
Less than two months later as the waves of pain threaten to overcome,
we receive the diagnosis that my farmer has cancer.
The world continues to spin without our son.
With cancer now part of our vocabulary.
The winter hits with a vengeance.
Radiation and chemotherapy expand our vocabulary.
Their effects leave my farmer heading toward the slippery slope.
The relentlessness of winter, the deep agony of grief,
the weight of the farm push my farmer under.
It's no wonder.
The lover of God,
Student of scriptures,
Succumbs once again to the fiery effects of the joy thief.
As the symptoms rear their ugly head, my farmer recognizes them.
We cry to the Lord for relief.
There is none in sight.
The weight of this world begins to crush.
Despair.
The tool of the enemy.
My role becomes critical.
I need to remember
Depression is masking who my farmer really is.
The joy thief knows no bounds.
I push aside my grief.
I throw my needs to the feet of Jesus.
I fight for my farmer.
I look past the discouragement.
I call the doctor and make an appointment.
He seeks help.
We manage slowly each day to find peace.
There is hope.
A glimmer.
It takes weeks of waiting for the medicine to begin to take effect.
Weeks of praying and interceding for my farmer.
Changes in doses of medicine.
This disease is not for the faint of heart.
We are spent from the process.
Yet we begin to see progress.
After three months, there are feet on solid ground.
There is a twinkle in my farmer’s eye.
He cracks a joke.
I know we have turned the corner.
For how long?  
I do not know.
We will take what we have and live in gratitude.
There is hope for the depressed.
Hope exists because of Jesus.
Hope exists because there is wisdom and understanding in this area.
The recipe is different for each person.
But there is hope.


As we navigate appropriate doses of medicine,
we also have conversations of what the triggers of this disease may be.
We search for ways to avoid the descent into the pit again.
Winter looms.
The Northeast is dark.
Farming is challenging.
We are still grieving.
Hard days may be ahead.
We will forge through.
Keeping careful watch.
Diligence.
Trusting in Christ.
Laying it all down.

A teacher turned home-school mom, Tammy Lynne Davis is a lover of God, farm wife, and mom trying to find her way while one son resides with the King of Kings. Originally a Rhode Island native and now living in Vermont, she and her farmer own and operate one of two dairy farms left in their town. They walk by grace as they put one foot in front of the other toward the cross. Together they seek direction after their 17-year-old son was called home to Glory after a single car accident and then three months later her farmer was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Her journey through this life can be found at www.farmingoncilleyhill.blogspot.com. Connect with Tammy on twitter @DavisfarmTammy.

Thanks, Tammy, for sharing your family’s journey with grief and depression. Also, many thanks to Katy for sharing yesterday about her journey with depression and bipolar. It’s the willingness to share openly and transparently about mental illness that helps erase the stigma and educate others. If you’re reading this and suffering with depression, please don’t hesitate to seek medical and spiritual help. Suffering in silence doesn’t make it better. If you’d like prayer, please leave a comment or email me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for you!

God bless,
Laura

“Rustic Vermont” photo courtesy of EA/Freedigitalphotos.net
“Dawn” photo courtesy of dan/Freedigitalphotos.net
“Man Walking in Snow” photo courtesy of Maggie Smith/Freedigitalphotos.net

I’m excited to announce the launch of my quarterly newsletter next month entitled “So You Want To Be Encouraged!” In the inaugural edition, I’ll share my exciting publishing news, as well as give away a copy of one of master wreath maker Nancy Alexander’s books on wreath making, just in time for the holidays. To be eligible for the drawing to win her book, you simply have to be a newsletter subscriber. The subscription box is at the top right-hand side of this blog.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Depression Doesn’t Care

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Psalm 34:18 NLT

I'm lucky, fortunate, blessed, whatever you want to call it.  I'm grateful for my family, friends, comfortable home, and physical health.  But the mind is complex.  In the midst of my comfortable life, I battle mental illness: depression and bi-polar II disorder. Even though I was diagnosed at the age of 44 after a breakdown, mental illness has plagued me since childhood.  Grumpy, hard to live with, selfish, and defensive were a few labels assigned to me, along with funny, sweet, outgoing, and caring.

I coped with mental illness through spending, binge drinking, unhealthy relationships, and eating, but as a young, involved, and happy wife and mother, mostly denial.  My circumstances were too positive for depression.  Bi-polar disorder was for people who spent days or weeks in bed followed by days or weeks of mania.  However, deep inside I knew something was wrong. My inner rage, jealousy, and outward defensiveness showed up often.

Fall 2005.  With my youngest child in kindergarten, I was alone for the first time in 13 years, and life changed drastically. After 3 hours of sleep and 4 hours of racing thoughts, an AVON business, a dog, house, and yard demanded my attention.  I planted flowers then ignored them.  I folded clothes in silence like a zombie, attended PTO meetings begrudgingly, and quit going to Bible study, but faked a smile while teaching Sunday school.

Winter 2006. After a morning mood boost from exercise, I set big goals for my day.  But instead, I sat, stared, slept, and ate. With my husband away playing with his band one night, I ordered pizza with the intentions of watching a movie and playing games with my kids, but I sat in complete darkness for five hours in my living room ignoring my kids.  I did as little as possible: no yard work, no Bible study, no reading, and no housework other than laundry.  I existed with no joy.

April 2006.  I either paced the floor or cried.  At Easter lunch, after I cried throughout the worship service in the balcony instead of the choir loft, my husband told my family I wasn't feeling well and asked them to leave. The most difficult year of my life began.  One doctor prescribed an anti-depressant, told me to memorize Philippians 4:6, the worry passage (which I already knew), assured me whatever was bothering me was not important, and said his scales were broken, "It's impossible to lose 12 lbs in one week."

After two more weeks of crying, pacing, and losing another 6 lbs, I saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  She changed my medication and prescribed sedatives for my anxiety and sleeping pills. I stared at that medicine every morning and night in disbelief. I didn't want to be one of "those people," yet I took them.  I used sedatives during the day and a sleeping pill at night for a year.  My body became rested and relaxed, and with the anti-depressant, I slowly returned to my life.  My brain is ill, so the anti-depressant, which I take now, keeps my serotonin level from lowering into major depressive disorder.   

Close friends insisted I go out for dinner. I didn't want to go or open up and share, but I did, and it helped.  One friend assured me, "You'll cry every day, then every other day, then once a week, once a month, and one day you'll wake up and not cry." 

My living room, with no television, became my retreat where I cried to God and read Psalms continually, focusing on the verses of David crying out to God day and night.  I highlighted each "I cried" and "He hears." 

July 2006.  I cried less but felt worthless and lonely.  My husband asked me to speak to a minister, Jeff, in Greenville. I went with all the answers to my problems. 

After listening to me, he said, "That's great, now, tell me everything about Katy." I spoke freely, sharing what I had never shared with anyone. He didn't preach, laugh, or criticize.  He listened.  I mentioned ADD, mood swings, rage, feelings of rejection, and racing thoughts.  He suggested psychological testing.

The ADD was obvious, but after opening up to someone about my life and answering questions honestly, bi-polar II disorder was not a surprise.  Bi-polar II is sporadic highs and lows but not as extreme as bi-polar I.  I left the office crying, then laughing.  My illness had been identified and could be treated.

My battle with mental illness continues.  I'm not ashamed.  Do I love or choose depression?  Of course not. I'd rather spend my day gardening, hiking, reading, or laughing instead of sleeping.  No matter how fortunate my life appears, my mind is unpredictable:  I'm happy, then I want to drive alone with no destination.  I accomplish much then make terrible decisions.  I laugh often but wake up with intense feelings of dread.  I'm touched by the smallest kindness then cry when I'm angry.

Depression doesn't mean I'm not aware or grateful for my husband, three beautiful children, comfortable home, family, and friends; in fact, depression doesn't care.  Mental illness means my brain refuses to see this life. 

Jeff shared an interesting example.  There are days when you look out a window where massive trees block a spectacular view. The view from other windows is clear, but you're unable to move, so you stay here unable to see beauty or experience joy.  Eventually, you'll move to a different window but may move back to the blocked window from time to time and eventually move again.

Mental illness is difficult to understand.  If I share with others who don't understand or think I'm selfish for being depressed because "you have it made," I move on and never share with them again. Their opinions are irrelevant to my illness. We all have traumatic experiences and fears that cause sleepless nights.  If others dismiss these traumas, it doesn't mean they're not real or important.  I share my illness with a few friends, my doctor, a few family members, and a ladies Bible study group, and it's healing.

Seeking qualified medical professionals and friends who understand our feelings of worthlessness and treat our illness seriously is important, but it takes time.  Most mental illness is left untreated for years, so we can't expect to be well in a few days. 

While seeking professional help and learning who to trust, I experienced God, the most loving counselor, like never before. He treats mental illness seriously.  Cry to Him.  He listens, understands, and assures often, through His word and His people, that on days my view is blocked, I'll be looking through a different window soon.



Katy Glymph is an adjunct writing instructor for Anderson University, a part-time associate at Belk, a wife and mother of three in Anderson, S.C.  She earned a management degree from Erskine College in Due West, S.C. and a secondary English education degree from Clemson University. Katy is the author of Recorded for Reality - the relevance of the Bible to our realities @ www.katybrownglymph.blogspot.com. When she isn't teaching, writing, or working, she enjoys reading, gardening, hiking, and talking about writing. She's currently working on her first novel.  

Thanks, Katy, for sharing so honestly and transparently. Join me tomorrow for the second in this series on mental illness when Tammy Davis shares her story. Meanwhile, if you have a prayer need, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. I'd love to pray for you! J

God bless,
Laura
“Woman at Home” photo courtesy of Marin/Freedigitalphotos.net
“Sad Woman” photo courtesy of Frame Angel/Freedigitalphotos.net
“Tree in Bubble” photo courtesy of njaj/Freedigitalphotos.net
“Colorado Mountains” photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Riddle of Depression

I’ve written many times about mental illness based on my family experiences, which have mirrored others I’ve met in numerous state and local NAMI functions and even strangers who’ve shared with me. I’ve read numerous medical journals, scientific studies, and first-person accounts. One of the things that alarms me after a suicide are folks who speak with great authority on the subject, yet their opinions prove they have little actual experience with the disease. 

My sister suffered with major depressive disorder and schizophrenia, the former being the most intractable to treatment. At times, she shared my excitement for the latest news and scientific studies in medical journals. She’d say, “Laura, don’t ever quit looking for an answer. I wouldn’t wish depression on my worst enemy.”

But then, once, in a dark moment, she wrote: "There are so many people who love me and they just do not know what to do. Nothing is the answer. I have to do this on my own."

It’s in those dark, impenetrable moments that one takes their life. For those of us on the outside, we cope in two ways. Some of us have the answers: the person was selfish, only thinking of themselves; if only they’d gotten right with God, he would’ve fixed it. Then there are others who honestly seek the truth of the matter. I wrote about the selfish angle on my blog last February after country singer Mindy McCready’s suicide. (Click here to read.) I certainly know the validity of spiritual wholeness with God in order to maintain one’s sanity because I’ve experienced that myself.

But major depression goes deeper, much deeper than either of these. It’s a riddle those of us who find ourselves in suicide’s aftermath struggle to unlock. After Robin Williams’ death two weeks ago, I asked two friends, Katy and Tammy, if they’d share their personal journeys with mental illness with my blog readers. Join me tomorrow and Thursday for a two-part series where these two ladies give a transparent and honest look into the heart of depression and bipolar. Even if you think you know about this disease, their stories will give you a fresh perspective.  


© Laura Hodges Poole

"Why?" photo courtesy of Stuart Miles/Freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Press On To Perfection

I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 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 3:12-14 NLT 

Have you ever wanted something so much that you were willing to do just about anything to achieve that goal? You learned your craft or attended school or saved up for that once-in-a-lifetime trip or maybe even relocated to a new town or state to make it happen.

You’re passionate. You’ve pressed on—no matter what. Reaching the pinnacle is all that matters.

Are we as passionate about being Biblical Christians? You might scratch your head and ask: Are there any other kind?

The Apostle Paul acknowledged in the verses above that reaching perfection in Christianity is near to impossible while on the earth, yet we must continue to press on toward that goal. In the verses preceding, he admonished Christians not to get hung up on their past accomplishments or get rooted in the present day Christianity morph that so many in our culture are getting trapped by.

In other words, safeguard our faith (Philippians 3:1).

I’ve noticed a trend among some Christians—winking at sin because, after all, we’re all sinners. Who are we to judge?

While we’re not called to pass judgment on those around us, we are to make judgments about right and wrong based on Biblical truths. Forget what social media or the latest cultural trend tells you. Simply vet the lifestyle or choice by the Bible. I often hear people say, “Well, not everything is spelled out in the Bible,” or “that was then, this is now.” While some of the Bible is meant to give us an historic perspective on creation, Mosaic Law, and mankind, the principles of everything in the Bible are applicable to our lives. Think of it like this: “We are citizens of heaven.” (Philippians 3:20).

In other words: If the choice wouldn’t be permissible in heaven, it’s not permissible in our lives.

Makes our decision-making pretty simple, huh?

And while it’s hip to quote “judge not, lest ye be judged,” remember, the most loving thing any of us can do is keep our fellow man out of hell. Yet our complicit approval often does the opposite. Instead of trying to ride the edge of the envelope on what’s permissible while living in a secular progressive society, maybe we’d do well to focus on what Paul discovered—“everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Jesus often hung out with the social outcasts and sinners, but his message was clear on these encounters—“go and sin no more.” Let us press on toward that goal in our lives as we seek to become more like Christ and bring his promise of salvation and hope to a lost and dying world. 

***************

If you would like prayer for a particular need, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for you. J

I’m excited to announce the launch of my quarterly newsletter next month entitled “So You Want To Be Encouraged!” In the inaugural edition, I’ll share my exciting publishing news, as well as give away a copy of one of master wreath maker Nancy Alexander’s books on wreath making, just in time for the holidays. To be eligible for the drawing to win her book, you simply have to be a newsletter subscriber. The subscription box is at the top right-hand side of this blog.

Join me next week for a two-part series on battling depression and mental illness, written by two women on the front lines. Whether you have a lot of knowledge or no experience with mental illness, you’ll learn something from their stories.

God bless,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Athlete Jumping photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/Freedigitalphotos.net
Future photo courtesy of graur razvan ionut/Freedigitalphotos.net

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Breaking Free of Fear

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7 NLT 

My neighbor was murdered. By a hit man. At eight o‘clock on a weekday morning. The victim lived two doors down from us in a townhouse apartment complex in Charlotte, North Carolina.

At least a couple of times a week, usually on my lunch break from work, my neighbor and I would cross paths and nod or smile to each other. Actually, I smiled. He just nodded. Other than that, our part of the complex was quiet. Not a soul around during the day.

That particular day, I didn’t come home for lunch. When I arrived home that evening to my parking lot cordoned off by yellow police tape, I was horrified. How could this happen? A man with mob ties living two doors down? What would have happened if I’d left later that morning? It wouldn’t have been unusual. As a temp employee, I had a flex schedule, and at times, I left late. Would I have seen the gunman? I searched my mind. Had I ever seen him? More importantly, had he seen me?

Too many questions with no answers. The bottom line—I was afraid. The incident slammed me back into the past I’d left in Gainesville, Florida, where only a few years before we’d dealt with one of the most heinous serial killers in the country. Terrorized for weeks in the University town after six students were butchered, no one felt safe. (I wrote previously about the experience here.)  

We all have fears—some have a reasonable basis, others not so much. Even when we fear, or maybe especially when we fear, that’s when our total trust in God’s ability to be present in the midst of that fear is imperative. Furthermore, as Timothy stated above, God doesn’t give us the spirit of fear. That comes from someone else.

I grew up in an environment where fear was used to keep us safe, so I’ve always had issues with any kind of risk taking. One of my biggest fears is making a wrong decision. I have to weigh out all angles and ramifications of the decision before I proceed. Then I ruminate on it some more. And some more.  Then maybe I’ll act on it. 

Last fall, I found myself at a fork in the road. Which path should I take? I wrestled and prayed and, at the beginning of the year, God made it clear he wanted me to act. Still, I dragged my feet and prayed. He gave me a specific Bible passage (Matthew 25:14-29) to make his point.

Then I attended a writers’ conference in February at The Cove in North Carolina. The opening night’s keynote speaker, Steven James, shared the same Bible verse, and his message parroted what God had been telling me. I almost fell out of my chair. I half expected God to send a blustering wind to blow me off the mountain and make me do what he wanted. Thankfully, that’s not the God we serve.

Do you know what I discovered in the six months that followed? God really is the most patient person in the world. J

Although I began taking steps down the path I needed to be on, I finally followed through with that tough decision this week. And the fallout was exactly what I anticipated.

My feelings now? Relief. Maybe a tinge of regret, mainly because I didn’t obey immediately, not because of the outcome. Even so, God used that transition time to delineate my future path more clearly. And it was a time of growth for me. 

God was present in my struggle. He was there when I made the decision. He was most certainly there when I finally acted. God doesn’t lead us down a path and then desert us. Never, ever doubt that He is present. Always.

I experience great peace when I completely rest in the knowledge that God is greater than any fear I have. No matter how difficult the path, we mustn’t lose sight of that.

“So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid…For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT

If you would like me to join you in prayer for a particular need, please leave a comment or e-mail me confidential requests. I’d love to pray for you. J

We’ve been praying for a young mother diagnosed with brain cancer three years ago. After brain surgery and intensive treatment, she had two years of clean MRIs and a complete weaning of her chemo. On a follow-up visit last week, she had a disturbing report from the doctor. (An update from Courtney’s FB page is below.)

Dr. Peter's pointed out a spot that looks different from 8 weeks ago on the MRI. It could be that Avastin may have been hiding this spot and since I'm no longer on Avastin, it may now be visible. Dr. Peter's said it could still be scar tissue. We will return for another MRI in 4 weeks instead of the normal 8 weeks. We are to call back in 2 weeks to let them know how I'm doing. Unfortunately, we have to wait to see if there's growth because it is too small to biopsy to determine if it's tumor or scar tissue. It needs to be at least 1 cm and she said that it's close to be at that size. I would appreciate it if you would pray with me that this is just scar tissue. This has hit me really hard today. It's definitely not what we wanted to see. Thanks for the prayers.
God has been so merciful and faithful in answering prayers on Courtney’s behalf over the past three years. Please join me in praying for continued recovery and peace for her while she awaits further testing. While you’re at it, please pray for her little girl and husband. Thank you.

If you sign up for an e-mail subscription to my blog, please remember to check for the verification link in your e-mail inbox or spam. You won’t receive my posts until you verify by clicking on the link. If you don't get one, please let me know. Thanks! J

May God bless you all,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole

Police Line photo courtesy of Simon Howden/Freedigitalphotos.com
Bending Road photo courtesy of digitalart/Freedigitalphotos.com
Sunrise and Misty At Mountain photo courtesy of Photokanok/Freedigitalphotos.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Guest Post - Author Joyce Glass

We have so many expectations in life, but do any of them pertain to our relationship with God? Christian Author Joyce Glass shares a devotion today on that topic. Welcome, Joyce! 

Come Expecting

gI_TwoStoneTablets.JPG

Do you get excited going to see a new movie? Why? What are you expecting? I love to go see new movies, and love when they are really good!

As Moses was leading the Israelites through the wilderness, he was in constant communication with God. He is one of the few people in the Bible to meet with God face to glory. Moses was not allowed to see His face, but He experienced His glory and heard His voice.

Take Two

In Exodus 34 Moses is returning to Mount Sinai for God to write out the Ten Commandments again. Remember Moses broke them when he came down the first time, because the people had created an idol to worship while he was gone. In his anger he threw down the original tablets of stone.
“So Moses chiseled out two tablets of stone like the first ones. Early in the morning he climbed Mount Sinai as the LORD had commanded him, and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands.” ~ Exodus 34:4 NLT ~
Moses came expecting. He brought the tablets as the Lord had commanded him. He came early in the morning. We can learn so much from this little verse.

God desires us to come expecting to hear from Him, to listen to His word and obey Him. When you spend time with Him, and seek him daily through His word and in time of prayer He will reveal His plans for you. He will comfort and guide your steps each day. Be prepared with an open heart and mind.

Be Prepared


Come expecting, because God has so much to share with us each day! Moses came prepared to hear from God. God did not just hand him the stones with the commandments.

Do you want to know what is on God’s heart for you and your family? Come expecting!

What has God shared with you

when you came expecting to hear from Him?

Please share in the comments below.

iNeed God Final Book Cover


Come Expecting in your time with God. iNeed God ~ daily downloads for your heart Bible Study by Joyce Glass now available on Amazon. This 90-Day study offers you fresh ways to spend time with God while you grow more intimate in your relationship with Him.

Learn more about the study at www.iNeedGodBook.com.


Joyce Glass - Feb 2014.JPG

Meet Joyce Glass:
Joyce Glass is a writer, speaker, and lover of God's word even more than chocolate! Her desire is to encourage you to walk closer to God. Dig deeper in your faith. Pray in earnest daily for God to teach you His ways, and serve Him right where you live and work now. You can connect with Joyce online.


Connect with Joyce:
Twitter: @joyce_glass

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Be The Gospel

"The Plaza"
Gainesville, Florida
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. Romans 12:3

Regardless of our vocation or circumstances, as Christians, we all have a spiritual purpose. At the center of this is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more important than sharing His grace and love.

As you read through the New Testament, the road to salvation is clear (John 14:6), as is the purpose of a Christian’s life (Matthew 28:18-20). This can manifest itself in many ways depending on your spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12 & Romans 12:4-8). We can participate in a variety of Christian missions because they often utilize many spiritual gifts while sharing the love and grace of Christ. 

Recently, I was in Gainesville, Florida, for a family vacation and then traveled on to Hilliard, Florida, for an extended family reunion. (I’ll share more about that in a future post.)

While in Gainesville, I got to see firsthand one of the homeless missions my sister Teresa is involved in. Homeless are a huge challenge in Florida, particularly in the University town of Gainesville. This is too short of a forum to get into all the angles, but on one side you have fear, unease, mistrust, and on the other…well, basically the same. A large segment of the homeless population lives in or utilizes “The Plaza” downtown, designed for recreation and concerts. Many citizens don’t feel safe using The Plaza for its original purpose.

The city has attempted various solutions, some palatable and others not so much. In an effort to move the homeless from the downtown area, the city recently remodeled an old prison on the outskirts of town and renamed it “The Grace Center,” a one-stop facility to meet the homeless’ needs. (As of this writing, housing has been delayed 90 days due to lack of funding).

Convincing the homeless to make the trek from downtown has been a challenge. In the meantime, Christian organizations continue to go to The Plaza to feed the homeless on various nights while some have started serving meals at The Grace Center.

On a hot, humid Monday night, I accompanied one such group—“Be The Gospel”—to serve dinner at The Plaza.  

Pastor Lem sharing a short
message and blessing
before the meal
The leader of the group, Pastor Lemuel Simmons, gave instructions and prayed beforehand, reminding everyone that feeding the homeless wasn’t for our glory. It wouldn’t make us more holy or more acceptable to God. Our salvation is intact. Ultimately, our deed wasn’t to make us feel good. Our purpose was to love the people we were about to encounter. We’d love them with food, with eye contact, with smiles, with conversation, and our availability. In other words—Be the Gospel.
 
How often in our lives do we think about being the gospel? Sure, we can recite the Great Commission and the role we’re supposed to have out in the world to reach the unsaved. But what about the less desirable? The ones that make us uncomfortable? The ones that might even threaten our physical safety while we’re trying to help them?

What I discovered that muggy evening, as I have the other times I’ve participated in homeless ministries, is that you often walk away with more than you give. Being amongst these folks shines a spotlight into your own life, the things you take for granted, the things you waste every day, the fast track to nowhere everyone seems to be on. Jesus walked among the “least of these” in society with often little more than the garments on his back. His focus was on reaching the folks—not what was in it for him. 

I enjoyed the evening. I’m glad Teresa invited me. All of the folks served were grateful, some talkative, a few were angry and occasionally loud, while some quietly took their food and faded back into the scenery surrounding The Plaza. By the time the last spaghetti had been scraped out of the pot and the last glass of tea served, more than food had been shared. Jesus had been shown to the folks who live in The Plaza.

Me, Pastor Lem, & Teresa
Pastor Lem’s speech about not making the evening about us had been taken seriously. Yet, fellowship among society’s downtrodden had lightened everyone’s heart and step just a little—even if just for the night. And maybe—just maybe—that’s a little of what Jesus felt when he did the same. Because, you see, blessings are often a two-way street.

Sharing a laugh
If you’re not doing so already, look for an opportunity to Be The Gospel to someone. It might be the only encounter they have with the grace and love of Christ this week.

Do you already participate in a ministry? I’d love to hear about it. Share in the comments, along with any prayer requests you may have. Feel free to e-mail me confidential prayer requests.

God bless,
Laura

©Laura Hodges Poole