ONCE AND FOR ALL by Gwen Smith

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

Friend to Friend

All who pause for reflection and allow their hearts to wander in wonder down the Way of Suffering feel the darkness of this day in history. Good Friday was anything but good – yet, because of God’s unsearchable love for you and me, it was the pathway to our hope, to our forgiveness... and to eternal life.

Injustice took center stage that day as Pilate turned Jesus over to a rowdy mob though he had found no fault in him. Roman soldiers rendered Him wounded and weak as they flogged an innocent man – the perfectly innocent Son of man – with 39 excruciating lashes.

A twisted crown of thorns was placed on his head and a purple robe draped over his shoulders as the crowd struck Him in the face and mocked God’s Son. (John 19:1-3)

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53:7)

Forced, then, to carry the weight of a heavy, wooden cross through streets full of accusations and curses, Jesus, the Messiah, was led toward the hill of death to the place of the skull: Golgotha.

He was poked, prodded and provoked by angry voices that cried for his torture. For his death.

Crucify! Crucify!

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Nails to flesh.


“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4)

On that pivotal day, darkness hurled hatred at the Light of the World. The sun stopped shining and the sky grew black as night as the beloved Son of God drew His final breath and declared, “It is finished.”

It. Is. Finished.


A spear to His side. (John 19:34)

The tomb. Myrrh. Aloe. Burial. Heaven’s sorrow.

All for you. All for me. This sacred substitution.

Radical love.

To fulfill the wrath of a holy God who cannot accept imperfection into His presence, the Bible tells us that “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) and that the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf brought a new and living way of redemption to all who would call on His name. Once for all. (Hebrews 9 and 10)

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

His punishment. Our peace.

By His wounds we are healed.

Read that again: by His wounds we are healed. Made whole. Forgiven. Saved. Redeemed. Set free. Healed.

The condemnation of our failings no longer bind us to hopelessness.

It is finished because though darkness shook the earth with death that Friday long ago, the grave could not hold Jesus and death could not defeat Him! {TWEET this!}

Friday brought death, but Sunday brought life!

He is risen, friend! He is risen, indeed!

Respond with me today in worship and thanksgiving in light of the life we have in Christ alone!

Let’s Pray

Holy Father, My heart is swollen with the weight of Your love. That You would give Your only Son to make a way for me to know You – to be made right with You – to be made righteous in Jesus – is more than I could ever, ever thank You for.

All glory and honor and praise be to Your name, Jesus!


This Blog was published on April 14, 2017  at http://girlfriendsingod.com and at  http://gwensmith.net/blog/  Check out more about Girlfriends in God, Gwen Smith, Mary Southerland and Sharon Jaynes at www.girlfriendsingod.com and don't forget to register for the Girlfriends in God Conference at Valley Church on September 29 & 30.  Find out more about this amazing conference at www.valley-church.com/women .

Sadness.  Grief.  Loss.  Emptiness.  Brokenhearted. These words can be associated with a lot of different events.  But not very many people associate them with the word “abortion”.

But I do.  You see, I work directly with women who have experienced the heartbreak of abortion.  Initially after abortion, a young woman may feel relief.  It may be much later before she feels any emotion about her decision.  But then it comes – guilt, shame, sadness.  Emptiness.  She may feel grief, but then doesn’t think she can grieve, because she’s the one who made this choice, isn’t she?

The enemy likes to mess with everyone, and women who have had an abortion are no exception.  He starts spinning the lies when a young woman finds out she is pregnant. Lies like – “You’re too young to have a baby”; “You can’t have a baby and finish school”; “How will you raise a baby alone?” “What will your family think?”, and so on and so on and so on.

After a young woman has bought into the first lie, there are more to come.  Lies like – “No one will love you if they know what you’ve done”; “God won’t forgive you for having an abortion”; “You’re better off keeping this secret and forgetting about it.”; “It would be bad if so-and-so found out about it.”

The young woman hears these lies day in and day out, and soon begins to believe them.  But there is truth she needs to hear and receive.  Truth that “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).  The truth that God can turn wailing into dancing; remove sackcloth and clothe them with joy, and that their heart may sing and not be silent (Psalm 30:11-12). The truth that “(But) God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Surrendering the Secret allows God’s truth to be proclaimed to these brokenhearted women!  I’ve been a leader of the Surrendering the Secret Bible study at Valley going on four years now.  The title explains it perfectly – it’s about surrendering the secret of abortion to God, and letting Him heal you and restore your joy!  I’ve seen God turn wailing into dancing!  I’ve seen Him remove sackcloth and joy restored!  I’ve seen hearts sing!  God is so good – His mercies never end!  It’s been a privilege to be a part of the healing, restorative journeys that these brave women are taking.

A new session of Surrendering the Secret is starting soon.  If you have abortion in your past (or know someone who does), we’d love to have you join the class.  There is no cost to participants, and everything is confidential (the only person who knows you’ve signed up is me, and we don’t provide a list to the church office). 

I could give you lots of reasons to sign up for the class.  But I’ll just leave you with the words of a young woman (used with permission) from our first class- back in 2013:

“This course will take you on a journey that you maybe feel you could avoid or never needed to take. it requires courage, it will change you forever, but God loves you so deeply and he has so much in store for you and amazing grace and PEACE to offer you as a reward!”

Brenda Knollenberg has been a member of Valley Church since she and her family moved from Illinois to the Des Moines area in 2006.  She has a heart for women with unplanned pregnancy and has been involved in pregnancy center ministry for almost 17 years, currently serving as the Executive Director at Agape Pregnancy Center in Des Moines,  She is also one of the co-leaders of Surrendering the Secret, the post-abortion Bible study offered to women at Valley. A new class of Surrendering the Secret begins this Spring, contact Brenda at brendak1009@gmail.com or call her at 515-344-0682 if you would like to find out more.  All contacts are confidential.

The Wonder of You by Mary Southerland

"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10

Friend to Friend                                                                                       As a high school junior, I decided it was time to take Homemaking 101. I can still see Mrs. Johnson’s face as she naively gazed at her new students. Bless her unsuspecting heart! She had no idea the challenge I brought to that class or to her career as a teacher. For weeks, I muddled through each lesson with a respectable, but less than stellar performance, until we hit the section on sewing. It would prove to be her undoing where I was concerned.

Being the veteran teacher that she was, Mrs. Johnson took a deep breath and doggedly plunged ahead in determination, vowing she could teach anyone to sew – even me. I decided to make a blouse, and chose what I thought was a simple McCall’s pattern.   Mrs. Johnson was thrilled with my selection, competent that even I could make a blouse requiring approximately seven straight seams.

The pattern looked so simple and even pretty in the package. Then I opened it, gingerly unfolding and carefully arranging each delicate pattern piece, staring at the foreign documents before me. They were simply beyond human comprehension. I concluded that the pattern was actually a sinister trap of some accomplished but sadistic seamstress, and quickly stuffed the flimsy entrapments back into their package. After all, I was creative. I didn’t need a pattern. I knew exactly what I wanted to make. How hard could it be? Ignorance really can be bliss.

When I presented the completed blouse to Mrs. Johnson for a grade, her eyes widened as she stared in silence at my first and last attempt at sewing. “Interesting,” she muttered, obviously in shock. I made a “C” in her class, a sympathy grade if there ever was one.

And the blouse? I buried it in my back yard – literally.

Since that day, I always make sure I have at least one friend who can sew and the name of two seamstresses on hand at all times. However, in all my years of ministry, I can truthfully say that my inability to sew has never hindered God’s work in my life.

Some have even dared to suggest that since I have a daughter, I should not only sew, but that I should teach her to sew as well. Danna is a very bright and talented young woman, but sewing is not on her radar. So I buried that proposal like I buried that dreadful blouse I made.

Another line of thinking proposes that because I am a pastor’s wife, I should drag out my silver (if I had any) and host dinners and teas for the women of the church. Please know that those of you who actually enjoy these tortuous events have my undying admiration and respect. Seriously!

In our first full-time church, I actually invited the entire church to our home for a Christmas open house. Since there were several hundred church members at the time, I concluded it would take three nights to accommodate them all. Looking back, my only defense is a complete loss of sanity.

My family eventually grew to hate the month before the first open house. They had good reason. I put them all to work, cleaning and scrubbing every square inch of the house. I bought and hoarded food, and threatened to hurt anyone who even thought about infiltrating my “stash.” I even managed to destroy Thanksgiving weekend by insisting that we decorate the house, inside and out, for Christmas – not in anticipation of celebrating Christ’s birth, but in preparation for the “open houses” to be held the following weekend.

For three years, I tried to be the consummate hostess until my husband put a stop to the madness by asking one simple question, “Honey, why are you doing these open houses?” The answer that popped into my mind and out of my mouth was absurd. “Because that’s what pastor’s wives do!” I feebly responded. “Where does it say that, honey?” he asked. Dan went on to set me free. “We have done our last open house. Please don’t ever do anything else because you think it fits the man-made profile of a pastor’s wife. Do what God has gifted and called you to do – period – and never apologize to anyone for doing it.” I do not have the gift of hospitality, but in every church we have ever served, there have been women who do and delight in using that gift for Him.

What do you love to do? What energizes you? What is your heart passion? What gifts and abilities do others see in you? What did God create you to do? Ask Him to make His plan for your life clear. Trust Him with all your heart. Submit your will to His, and choose now to walk through the doors He opens.

Let’s Pray                                                                                             Father, I praise You because I am made in Your image. Please help me live my life on the basis of that truth and not on the lies of the world. Teach me how to see myself through Your eyes.                                      In Jesus’ Name,                                                                                          Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn                                                                                  Here is your assignment for the week. Read Psalm 139 at least one time every day. In your journal, write each verse in your own words. At the end of the week, set aside time to celebrate who you are in Christ. Have a praise party – just you and God – or invite a few girlfriends to join you in celebrating how special you are to Him.

This blog was posted on December 14, 2016.  To receive Girlfriends in God daily devotionals to you in box, go to: www.girlfriendsingod.com

Mary Southerland is The Stress-Buster, a leader at helping women manage stress and enjoy peace in their daily life. Mary Southerland is a dynamic communicator, delivering a powerful message that changes lives.  Mary is a ministry partner with Sharon Jaynes and Gwen Smith.  These three ladies are known as Girlfriends in God.  They write daily online devotionals at http://girlfriendsingod.com/ , author books and Bible Studies for women and do weekend conferences.  We are pleased to announce that all three Girlfriends are coming to Valley Church, October 6 & 7th!  More information coming in 2017!

Finding Strength for Your Struggle by Gwen Smith

Moses faced complicated challenges and circumstances. Born in a time when he, as a Hebrew baby, was supposed to have been killed, Moses was saved by God’s sovereign grace when Pharaoh’s daughter pulled him from the Nile and kept him as her own.A Hebrew among Egyptians, Moses was raised in a land and culture that was far removed from his heritage and from the One true God of Israel. You know this story! We saw it on the flannel graph boards in Sunday school as little girls. We watched Charlton Heston act it out in the movie The Ten Commandments.

Moses had it all in the palace, lost it all when he murdered an Egyptian soldier, then eventually, risked it all for the holy God who called out to him and commissioned him from a flame. Moses set out to free his people through the power of God.Though the Pharaoh doubted God’s strength, the Lord displayed His might, plague after plague, until finally it looked like Pharaoh got the memo. At last he let God’s people go. Moses and the Israelites left Egypt promptly and high-tailed it down the road of divine deliverance. But when Pharaoh changed his mind and gathered his army to chase them, the Israelites ran smack dab up against the Red Sea. Major problem.

Not one to be hindered by impossibility, the Lord took care of business in a huge and powerful way. He parted and held back the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites so they could escape destruction and experience deliverance. After His people crossed over safely, God again demonstrated His strength by sweeping the Pharaoh and his army into the sea, killing every last one of them (Exodus 13 and 14).

My goodness. What a story! What. A. God!If this doesn’t get you excited about the strength of God, I’m not quite sure what will!  “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Then a big ol’ party went down as Moses and the Israelites sang to the Lord a song that’s commonly referred to as the Song of Moses.“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” (Exodus 15:2)In Exodus 15, Moses calls God his Strength and celebrates the power that brought salvation to his people.The Bible reveals many names that highlight the power of our God; El Sali is a Hebrew name meaning “God of my Strength; God my Rock.”

King David also calls God his Strength, El Sali, in Psalm 59:9: “O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress.” Then again in verse 17, “O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” Elohei Ma’uzzi is another Hebrew name meaning “the God of my Strength.” As David sang, “It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” (2 Samuel 22:33).

Got any complicated challenges and circumstances right now?Perhaps you find yourself lamenting to the God of Strength, El Sali, wondering why you’ve been forgotten and why you feel weak. Maybe things are good for you right now, but you know of others who have encountered shadows along their roads of deliverance. Each of us is guaranteed life challenges, but God promises to be our strength when we call on Him. He is not puffed up and powerless. He is El Sali, the God of Strength who loves you and longs to move in and through your life.

Will you trust Him more deeply and allow Him to be your strength today?               

Dear Lord, my Strength, El Sali,You are powerful and loving. Thank you for allowing me—this average, ordinary girl with complicated relationships and difficult circumstances—to have access to Your perfect Strength when I am weak. Help me to trust You when all my heart sees is fear.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Blessings and peace in Christ,                                                                                                                                            GWEN

This Blog was published on October 26, 2016 at http://gwensmith.net/blog/  Check out more about Gwen Smith, our 2016 Christmas Bash Speaker at her website: and read more devotions from Girlfriends in God at http://girlfriendsingod.com/

I am an unashamed, imperfect worshiper of Jesus Christ. I cling to His goodness to cover my mess and purpose my days to live out the hope of the Gospel. It is my joy and passion to inspire women to live fully in grace and truth. I write books, devotions and songs. I speak. I sing. I worship. I post, pin and tweet. I am intensely in love with the Word of God and believe, wholeheartedly, that the Bible is divinely inspired truth.

When Mercy Meets Messy by Gwen Smith

Ladies! The beauty of fall is blanketing my yard and the logs in our fireplace are ready to glow. This can only mean one thing: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are right around the corner!! {YAY ... and oh-my-glory-I-haven’t-even-begun-to-shop!} I love this time of year and am so excited to be heading your way in a few weeks for the Christmas Bash! We are going to CELEBRATE and have an incredible time as we connect and reflect on God’s goodness. Can’t wait. See you soon!                                                                                                                            Blessings in Christ,                                                                                                                             Gwen Smith

Taken from Gwen's Blog - November 1, 2016

A four-year-old girl was overheard reciting the Lord’s Prayer, “and forgive us our trash baskets, as we forgive those who pass trash against us.” When I first heard that story, I smiled. Then I thought of a conversation I had had recently with a girlfriend.

She is a Christian friend. But though she has “emptied her trash basket” of sin before the Lord in sincere repentance, she has not emptied it of self-condemnation. Not completely. She holds the trash basket lid on tightly.

She’s haunted by shame.

Haunted by mistakes that are no longer remembered by a holy God.

Haunted by sins that have been cast as far as the east is from the west.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (Psalm 103:11-13)

These memories haunt her regularly like a spine-chilling horror film monster. As much as she would like to move forward in forgiveness, she just can’t find the courage to scare the monster away.

In the New Testament book of John, chapter 8, we meet a woman caught in the act of adultery. The legalistic teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought her before Jesus. They publicly humiliated her in front of all the town’s people, saying to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:4-5)

Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger as they continued to question him. Finally, “He straightened up and said to them, ‘“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground” (John 8:7-8).

The crowd eventually thinned to nothing. The older, wiser men cleared first. Then the younger ones trickled away. When the adulterous woman and Jesus were the only ones remaining:

“Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:10-12).

My sister, do you see that our holy Lord delights to show us mercy? He does not condemn us as we deserve. The woman in this story was guilty when she was brought to face Jesus, but as she left His presence, her guilt was forgiven. Her trash basket was empty.

When we turn to face Jesus with repentant hearts, our guilt is forgiven as well.

This account of the adulterous woman teaches us about forgiveness and about judging and condemning others. But what does this lesson teach us about judging ourselves?

While my friend’s trash basket contained junk from other people, the lingering condemnation came from memories of decisions she’d made, things she’d done, and brokenness she has experienced because of her own choices. In her heart, she accepts the forgiveness of Jesus, but she can’t bear to forgive herself.

So many women won’t forgive themselves.

I know that self-loathing. I’ve lived it. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that forgiving yourself is easy. It’s hard—and, in a lot of ways, it should be! But I can testify that it wasn’t until I prayerfully allowed the stubborn, strong, and unconditional love of Jesus to pry my fingers off the lid of my trash basket and empty the condemning contents, that I experienced true freedom and complete forgiveness.

Is there something that you have not been able to forgive yourself for?

My friend, we need to stop beating ourselves up for sins of our past.

We need to stop allowing guilt and shame to chain us to unproductive living.

Jesus humbled Himself by becoming human, endured an excruciating death, and then defied the grave in His resurrection so that we could be restored to a place of complete healing.

Complete healing.

Second Corinthians 5:21 states that “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” If you are in Christ, the Bible says that your guilt was paid for on the cross of Calvary. Jesus carried the sins of the world on His shoulders so that you would not have to carry them on yours.

If you are holding on to un-confessed sin, the time has come for you to release your grip. God’s Word promises that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

None of us are perfect, just perfectly forgiven in Christ.

Take your hand off the lid and allow the Lord to empty your trash basket of every last condemning voice once and for all.

Embrace the freedom that Jesus intends for you to live in.

Holy Father,
Your mercy defies logic. I don’t deserve it, and I don’t understand how You could possibly forgive me for all that I have done. Please take my trash basket and empty it. Forgive me today and help me to forgive myself, and others, so I can live freely in Your amazing grace.
In Jesus’ name, amen.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION and RESPONSE Recite, write, and memorize these verse: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

Prayerfully share this with a friend who might need to read this message. If you feel like this message is for you today, post a prayer on my wall today and join the community of the broken. Don’t be afraid. Mercy meets us in the messy.

Broken and Beautiful in Grace,                                                                                                   GWEN

This Blog was published on November 1, 2016 at http://gwensmith.net/blog/  Check out more about Gwen Smith, our 2016 Christmas Bash Speaker at her website: www.gwensmith.net

I am an unashamed, imperfect worshiper of Jesus Christ. I cling to His goodness to cover my mess and purpose my days to live out the hope of the Gospel. It is my joy and passion to inspire women to live fully in grace and truth. I write books, devotions and songs. I speak. I sing. I worship. I post, pin and tweet. I am intensely in love with the Word of God and believe, wholeheartedly, that the Bible is divinely inspired truth.

Practical Proverbs: How Should I Dress Today? by Sarah McElvaney

The last four years have been so painful.  The kind of pain that leaves scars of fear that seep out at any given time. 

“What happened?”


We lost a baby in the summer of 2012.  My body was unable to miscarry on its own, and after a month of carrying that child, I had to have surgery.  I felt like my body was broken!  And I’m not sure if I ever fully recovered from that before I got pregnant again.  I chose to look at this baby as a miracle, tried to find joy when I felt the fear, and BEGGED God to just “keep knitting” that baby inside of me.  

He did, and my precious boy was born in the spring of 2013.  Even through all the first time mom struggles, I knew what a miracle he was.  I knew how much I had yearned for him and motherhood.   Jesus Christ, my promise & my hope, the anchor for my soul, had delivered this baby to our family. 

Two years later, we decided that it was time if God chose, to add another little one to the family.  While we got pregnant right away with both of our previous pregnancies, this one took a bit longer.  Those thoughts of a broken body crept up and I began to believe the lies again.  But truly, before long we were pregnant again!  I was absolutely miserable.  I was so sick, had to care for a toddler, and I wondered why I couldn’t do it when so many other women do. (seriously, was I broken?) I was afraid of losing this baby and afraid of permanently damaging my toddler with the number of movies I let him watch. 

We encountered so much adversity in this last year while I was pregnant.  I was incredibly sick with morning sickness & migraines.  The doctor was unable to find a heart beat at 14 weeks, causing me to get a bonus “peace of mind” ultrasound.  I had bleeding at the beginning, and again in the middle of the pregnancy.  I got pneumonia.  I talked with my doctor about depression mid-pregnancy.  AND one week before my scheduled c-section, my son contracted influenza A.  (yowza…!)

After a week longer than anticipated (due to the influenza), she was born.  The most beautiful baby girl I have ever laid eyes on.  We knew our family was complete.  We basked in the wholeness of our house.  My husband had two wonderful weeks off work, to spend time with us while I recovered.  It was amazing. 

Then I entered into the darkest depression I had ever experienced.  I wanted to run away.  I was always mad at my kids (yes, even the 4 week old.), and I didn’t want to be!  I was so afraid I’d never find my way out of this.  My mind wandered all the time, and one day I had the very distinct thought about what kind of woman I wanted to be.  I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who threw in the towel…or just stuck around for all the wrong reasons & made her family miserable.  That was definitely the path I was on. 

I sought help.  I knew that however “normal” this was for moms after giving birth, however common this was, this just wasn’t the normal me.  {SIDE NOTE: If you have the “baby blues,” it is OKAY to get medical help.  It is more than okay for you to need and receive this help!}  I reached out to my friends, and I reached out to my doctor.  My friends held me up.  They held me up in prayer, and texted/called/visited me so that I was full to the brim with love. 

Ultimately, the Lord gently lead me to Proverbs 31.  This is the kind of woman I have always wanted to be.  I read through Proverbs 31 quite a few times.  I found it therapeutic to create pages and pages of this passage in my creative journal, & even went out on a limb and colored in my bible for the first time(!).  I felt like I discovered encouragement and more strength each time I read it.  As I read about finding food & making clothes, working to contribute to my family, helping those less fortunate, and making sure that I am healthy and strong, one verse stuck out to me over and over.

Proverbs 31:25 “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” 

Different versions state that she is clothed in strength & splendorstrength & honor are her clothing…she laughs without fear of the future…she looks to the future with confidence…she is full of joy about the future…she laughs without fear of the future

THIS is the woman I want to be!  HOW do I do this??  HOW can I possibly laugh without any fear!?  My laughter is more ofa nervous chuckle right now… how do I get to this place of laughter without fear?!? I want this confidence about my future!!!

In verse 30, the author gives us the answer:  A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 

And THIS is my practical proverb y'all.  A little well-placed fear will change your life.  It will turn your world around to fear the one true God.  To trust in the power of His name for you & your family.  It seems easy right?  BUT as cliche as it is, you must make this choice daily. 

If I wake up in fear of the unknown, I will live in that fear all day.  I will live in that fear until my anxiety reminds me that it’s there with a pain in my chest, and I’m begging my husband to come home early.  When I wake up and find the Lord first, I can place my trust in him before my feet hit the ground, and I can live a completely different day. 

Here is how I do that:  leave the phone on the night stand until I’ve prayed.  When I do pick up that phone, I “Swipe here to read today’s First 5” (check out the First 5 app!!).  AND then when those spiritual needs are met, I get up & brush my hair and teeth.  Because no matter how you read it, you can’t “dress [yourself] in strength and make [your] arms strong” with dragon breath. ;)

ABOUT ME:  Sarah McElvaney has attended Valley MOPs for two years.  She is a wife to Justin of 8 years, and a mom to Ethan (3), Evelyn (7 months), and a baby being held in the arms of Jesus.  She wears a lot of hats, including daughter, sister, friend, & photographer, but sometimes her biggest accomplishment is getting a shower before leaving the house. 

Practical Proverbs: Hope Through Infertitlity and Miscarriage by Lindsey Norine

Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” When I was eight years old, my parents found me crying face down on my bed, because I was worried that God would give me a child with mental challenges, and that I would not be a fit mother for them. Why would I have been upset about this at such a young age—much less even thinking about it? Well, God made me a uniquely sensitive and passionate human, with a very strong desire to nurture. I have always known that being a wife and a mother is what I was built for, my true calling. I met my husband Carter when we were both counselors at Hidden Acres Christian Center. The first thing that attracted me to him was how good he was with his campers. I saw a God honoring man pouring out love to children and I was done for!

Carter was 23 and I was 21 when we got married- I still had a year left in college. We waited one year before we decided to start trying for a baby. We knew it was early, that most people waited longer after getting married, especially at our age. But we both had this deep desire for a child in our hearts, so we decided to give it a shot. I remember reading an article that said the average time it takes to conceive is six months and thinking, “There’s no WAY I would be able to wait more than six months, we better get going!”

And then a year passed.

That winter I typed, jokingly, on our Christmas card, “Despite their best efforts, Carter and Lindsey have failed to have a baby. Check back next year.” I felt that was all my year had been- a series of failed attempts to pursue a desire that had been banging around in my heart since I was small. To make matters worse, after trying and failing to conceive for a full year, a couple is officially medically labeled as “infertile.” Satan used those labels to suck me into believing that was my identity.  I thought the one thing that I should naturally be able to do had failed me. My body had betrayed me. God wasn’t listening to my prayers. I felt like I was being punished. I felt deeply, deeply alone.

You never know when asking a young married couple when they are going to start having children might pierce like a dagger in their heart. These words sound harmless and are meant to show interest, but they can be brutal to more women than you might guess. We have a tendency in society to push each other to look towards what’s next. If you are dating, when will you get married? When are you going to upgrade your house or get that new car? If you have one child, when will you make it two? The idea behind asking these questions is good, desiring to enter in to each other’s lives in order to identify and encourage. However, constantly pushing for the next thing can cause ones you care about to feel like where they are right now isn’t good enough. Over that first year of trying, I fell into a deep trap of believing I was not worthwhile because I had not yet achieved motherhood. Those close to us knew we were trying. Well-meaning friends asked what the plan was, what we could do next, how we can push through to achieving our goal. The issue is that those questions do not leave room for what God is doing during the waiting time; how He is showing glory through our lives right now. It is easy to point to God’s goodness when we get something we want, but it means a whole lot more when we do it while we are waiting.

This lesson ended up taking me a long time to learn, because after a year and a half it was finally my time to make my big announcement. I was pregnant. We would be nine weeks pregnant at Christmas, the perfect time to tell our families our news. It was a time of pure joy, a precious pocket of weeks that I will never forget. Unfortunately, our first pregnancy was also our first loss. Our world crumpled—especially mine.

Three dark weeks of processing the pain followed. We had only begun to explore the depths of this loss when something shocking happened—I was pregnant again. It was the ultimate emotional whiplash. How could this be? I thought, Wow, first 17 failed months and now two pregnancies back to back? God must REALLY want us to have this baby! As terrified as I was of experiencing the same loss all over again, I didn’t think God would let me go through that pain again. My battered hope slowly regained confidence. The joy was still there, but this time was very different. We didn’t talk about names, didn’t plan for the due date, and didn’t think past the first two months. When the day of our first ultrasound finally arrived. I was thrilled and terrified. We prayed together fervently. I wrote letters to my sweet precious baby, telling of our love and excitement.  

At the ultrasound, two words destroyed the fragile hope we had rebuilt. “Something’s wrong.” My heart dropped, tears immediately started, and I just knew. Four excruciating days followed of waiting to hear back on tests to confirm the worst. I was miscarrying again. A week later, our second baby was gone.

The next few months were a blur of merely surviving. In a matter of three and a half quick months, I had become a mother of two precious babies in heaven. My grief was enormous. For really the first time ever, I questioned God’s promises for my life. Did he have a plan for me, for us? Why did he give us this deep desire to be parents, only to rip it away from us, not once, but twice so quickly? Did he not know how much we wanted those babies; how deeply they were loved in the short amount of time we had with them? Had I done something wrong? I sank deeper and deeper into doubt and fear. I succumbed to Satan’s lies and believed that this was all I would ever be: an invisible mother that was incapable of bringing her children safely into this world. My pain would never be understood, my babies would never be held, and I would forever bite back tears watching other parents effortlessly live out my most precious hopes and dreams.

I would still be in that darkness if it wasn’t for God’s sweet, perfect provision. As I questioned whether God had a plan for me, He was enacting a beautiful one that would lead to a sweeter and deeper relationship with Himself, my husband, and my someday babies.  Jesus had seen and counted every tear we shed over our lost children. He collected them in His hands and whispered in my ear, “I know, dear child. I have already made this right. I have gone before you and laid your path. Wait on my perfect timing.”

He called me to Psalm 130:6, which says “I am counting on the Lord; yes, I am counting on Him. I have put my hope in his word. I long for the Lord more than the watchman longs for the dawn.” As surely as the morning comes each day, God will come to me and deliver me from this broken and weary place of longing. He will make me new again, and my joy will overflow. So on the bad days—the days that I burst into tears upon hearing a pregnancy announcement or force myself to swallow bitter words of jealousy—even on those days, God’s promise for me is true. My emotions may overcome me and draw me into darkness, but the reality of Christ is that He does not leave us with our emotions being the final word. The creator of all things is in charge of my destiny. Only He can say what my future will hold: not doctors, not nosy onlookers, not my own most faithless and terrified thoughts. Proverbs 3:5 reminds me, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” When my earthly understanding has been shattered through doubt and fear, it is so comforting to know that I can lean on His truth. I don’t have to understand what God is doing, I just need to trust who He is.   

Psalm 139 says, “You go before me and you follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. . . You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!” verse 5 and 16-17. If this God--the one who built me from scratch and gave me every longing--has created me to be a woman with arms desperate for a baby, then why would he withhold this from me? He wouldn’t. Nowhere in the bible does God give one of his people a longing and does not answer it. There are, however, lots of times when God gives a desire and then allows suffering, false starts, and years upon years of waiting before satisfying the thirst. There are many women in scripture that were for lengths of time infertile, Sarah being the best example. She had to wait for 80 years before she was given a child, far beyond childbearing years. But God is BIGGER than our human limitations. Genesis 21:1-2 proclaims, “Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” It was not Abraham and Sarah’s time, it was God’s, and their very lineage would eventually produce Jesus Christ. Their family line had multiple instances of years of childlessness. It was God’s timing that these women would have their children when they did, in order to make sure that Jesus came to us at the exact right time. God’s timing allowed Christ to bridge the gap from our sin to Heaven, saving all of mankind. Uh, wow! That’s kind of an important thing, and it makes me glad that God did not answer their prayers for a child the first or thousandth time that they prayed them.

Now, I am not saying that I think we have suffered both infertility and multiple miscarriages because we are going to produce a messiah (duh.) But I am saying that God’s answers of “not yet,” and “not this child,” are ultimately for my good. Only God is sovereign, and His plans are perfect. God says to us in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Of course His plan for me is what is best. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.””

I know God hears my prayers for a child. Psalm 138:3 confirms, “As soon as I pray, You answer me; You encourage me by giving me strength.” Whether His answer is yes, no, or wait, He does not delay in answering my pleas and giving me strength to handle his answer. I may never know exactly why He allowed it to happen (until Heaven), but I do know that it was not to punish me or cause me pain. The only way we can grow is through suffering, and it was time for me to grow. He wanted to draw me closer to my husband and to Himself, to let me know that even my good and right dream of a family would not satisfy my heart. He alone can create hope and joy in my life, and I need to look only to Him.

The first time I was pregnant, I felt extremely confident that I would be having a perfectly healthy baby in my arms in nine months. Even when things got shaky, I kept insisting in the emergency room that the doctor was going to come in and tell me my baby was doing great. I felt the Holy Spirit telling me, “I’ve got you. You and your baby are both going to be safe and fine.” So when the doctor told me that my baby had died in my womb, I felt like the God had betrayed me. How could He deceive me like this? But later my dad pointed out, “Lindsey, you are safe and fine. And guess what? Your baby is safe and fine.” It is true; my baby was now in the safest and most glorious place possible. God had created and then brought our sweet, precious, perfect child back to himself. As a mother, all that I could ever want for my children is for them to be cared for, loved, and protected. No one can do this better than God, as much as I wanted the opportunity to try. I’m quite sure that Carter and I would have done a bang up job loving that baby fiercely, but we are nothing compared to our Maker and Heavenly Father.

It has been a while since our losses, and it is not true what they say. Time does not heal all wounds; God heals all wounds. Thanks to God’s loving provision of His word, caring family, understanding friends, and wise mentors, I have come to place of expansive healing. When we lost the second pregnancy, my mentor asked me, “Do you think you could heal from this without getting pregnant again?” That was a tough question for me, because I felt like the only way I got over the first loss was the promise of the second pregnancy. What if there wasn’t a third? What if motherhood for me only ever was the promise that I would hold my babies someday in Heaven? Well, if that were to be true, I would still be safe and fine. I would still have God’s love for me, Christ’s sacrifice covering my sin with holiness, an eternity to spend in perfect light and love. But God gave me this promise, and His word does not return void. Hours after our first miscarriage was confirmed, my husband and I looked into each other’s tear stained eyes and realized that we felt closer than we ever had before. Despite it being the worst day of our lives so far, God was giving us glimpses of Himself. That kind of steadfast love simply does not fail.

I believe with every fiber of my being that we are going to get to experience the joy of parenthood here on planet earth. It takes work, a sometimes-daily effort to set down my fear and pick up my faith.  But I have come to a point of believing that some day—maybe in nine months, maybe in 15 years—I will hold a living and breathing, precious child of my own. Someday you will see me with a pregnant belly, and I can GUARANTEE that no matter the pain or sleeplessness or stress you see on me, I will be the most infinitely ecstatic and joyful pregnant woman. Some day you will see me carrying my baby or holding the hand of my toddler, and I hope that it speaks of God’s faithfulness to you. The promises He has made for you is just as true as mine. Please know that you are loved, and despite your suffering you are being cared for. God’s work is always bigger than the darkness.

I thought about waiting to share this story with people until we were successfully awaiting a viable pregnancy, or until after we had had our first baby. But there are times when I hear stories of God’s enduring faithfulness after the fact and think, “Well that’s great for them, but what if my time never comes?” I want to share our story with as many people as I can so that they may see our faith and believe for themselves, too. Even if our happy ending is delayed, doesn’t come, or is totally different than we wanted, God is still good. Our faithfulness and hope will be rewarded when we meet Christ in heaven, whether or not we get to see the rewards on earth.  Our darkest times are when God puts us in the fire, reforms us, and brings us out holier, stronger, and more like himself. Rather than letting the fire destroy us, we need only to wait faithfully for God’s work to be done. Only through our weakness can His strength be shone.  

These words are my pausing to build an altar for God, to thank Him for His goodness to me and to show others what He has done. This place of healing and joy despite my circumstances is God bringing me into holy ground. If you are reading this and have suffered from miscarriage, infertility, or waiting for your baby for any amount of time--you are not alone. If you are waiting on God’s timing in any way, know that the joy that is to come will overshadow all of the pain. Until then, we wait in hope and trust in the Lord.

"Lindsey Norine has been attending Valley Church for four years and serves in creative arts, high school, and children's ministries. Her husband, Carter, is a children's ministry associate at Valley Church. Lindsey is a private music instructor and a part time choir director at Des Moines Christian School. She has a heart for discipling to young women over coffee, scripture, and prayer. She also enjoys painting, reading, biking, yoga, and traveling God's beautiful creation."


Proverbs 19:23, "The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm."

I believe the Word of God is true.  All of it.  To the best of my ability, I strive to honor God in all I do.  Yet my heart has been very heavy lately. Not always, but some of the time.  Overall our family has had a wonderful summer!  Son #1 has been working in the Cities, but took the time to make a visit home recently, which always makes this mama happy!  Son #2 was in South Carolina on the leadership team for a ministry project through Campus Outreach, which also makes this mama happy!  Daughter #1 was a camp counselor at Hidden Acres this summer and had a great experience, which brings this mama great joy!!!!!!! (She likes exclamation points so those are all for her sake.)  Daughter #2 and son #3 joined Mike and I on a great trip to South Carolina, where we visited friends along the way, saw beautiful parts of this country that we had not seen before, and had a very enjoyable vacation.  We had still another trip to Michigan before the kids all started back to school in several locations.  Mike, my husband, and I even had 5 days with no one home while the girls were at a national conference with the Valley Church youth and the youngest was at camp. Talk about a quiet house! Yes, it’s been a good summer!

At the same time, this heaviness has been there. Several years ago my Pastor-husband had an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM). An AVM can lead to a rupture that disrupts the flow of blood to the brain. Fortunately, the AVM was removed by surgery before it ruptured.  However, this condition resulted in a long time of convalescence for my husband, Mike, and our family.  This past July marked three years since Mike last preached as a pastor. Some things have changed, and some have not.   The heaviness comes because I really thought more would have changed by now.  I want to invite you into my life for a moment to help you understand some of what it feels like to go through what we have been going through.  If you are in the middle of a difficult life circumstance, I want you to know that others are too.  I want you to be encouraged that God is in the middle of it all with you, working on your behalf even if you don’t always see Him.

So what hasn’t changed?  We still live in the same city, so we drive by the church almost every day, usually a couple times a day.  Not only do we drive by, but it can be Still. So. Hard. The memories that driving by the building bring up are not all good.  I probably spent about a year not thinking that anything else but bad memories could come up, and the last two years praying that God would bring to mind the good memories, which in number FAR outweigh the bad. But it’s still hard.

But it’s not as hard as it used to be!  And this is a change.  There are times when we are driving by that I am so involved in conversation, or thought, that I don’t even realize I’ve gone by the church. God has graciously answered my prayer to bring to mind good memories from time to time.  We still have good relationships with many people we ministered to and with over the years, which brings up many good memories.

Mike is still not back in ministry.  I thought he would be.  I thought he would be after a year!  It’s been 3 and still no movement in that area. I don’t know what the future looks like, and I want to.  Three years ago I said that I never wanted to be a pastor’s wife again, but now I think I could do it again.  But that would require my husband to be a pastor, and so far that’s a no go.

God has given both Mike and me many new opportunities to minister to people in ways that are similar to what we did as a pastoral couple.  Mike teaches our Sunday School class regularly, where his gifts are utilized and appreciated and affirmed.  We have spoken together at a couples retreat, which is something we both love to do.  Mike continues to meet with a homebound man, and in a very real sense is his pastor even now.  I have had opportunities to counsel and encourage women, which is a passion I have always had in ministry.  

I had hoped there would be full reconciliation with all that happened that resulted in my husband's leaving the Pastorate, but that has yet to happen.  When I read the Bible, it looks to me like that is what God desires.  And it’s what I desire!  I don’t like conflict or relationships that are not right.  I like to work things out quickly and completely.  I don’t like to get that sinking feeling in my gut when I see certain people, or have my heart race and start to shake.  Yet all those things still happen.

Again, it’s not as bad as it used to be.  I learned years ago that if you pray for people…for a long time sometimes…it becomes easier.  Easier?  Yes! Easy?  NO!  My heart does not always race now.  I am often genuinely able to greet people with a smile, and sometimes even have a conversation. God has slowly but surely worked on my heart to bring healing so that I can honor Him in these situations.  Probably one of the biggest changes was that I was even able to attend a funeral at our former church this spring.  While I did experience all of the physical responses mentioned previously, I did not have to leave and I was able to calm down enough to show love to the dear sister in Christ whose husband had died.  I had an army of prayer warriors behind me that day, so I did not go into that sanctuary alone and unprepared.  And as we sang in a worship song last Sunday, I went in knowing that the God of angel armies was by my side.  (As well as my friend Misty!)  What a powerful picture, the God of angel armies there with me in the midst of a very emotionally hard situation!

So those are most of the things I can think of that haven’t changed.  There are other things that have. Mike and I have been overwhelmed many times by the friendships God has provided. Being asked to do normal things, like meet another couple for dinner to, or go to a 4th of July gathering, or hang out around a fire pit with friends for an evening. With people who like us and who we love to be around. What an encouragement this has been!

Our older kids are all doing great!  They have all had their own hard times as a result of these past few years, but the things I most feared, like them never wanting to go to church again or walking away from the faith, have not happened. It has been evident that God is working in their lives in powerful ways.  So I am able to rest satisfied in God, knowing that ultimately I will not be visited by harm.  But how can I be sure of this?

I can be sure because there is one more thing that has not changed, the most significant thing. Over the past couple months, God has repeatedly reminded me that He does not change. Specifically, His love does not change. Have you ever noticed how many times the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever,” appears in the Psalms?  I don’t know how many, but it’s a lot!  I was blown away by Psalm 136 as I read it a few weeks ago.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for His steadfast love endures forever.  Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His steadfast love endures forever; to Him who alone does great wonders, for His steadfast love endures forever;     (verses 1-4)

It goes on like this for awhile, and then starts recounting events in history, from creation to the plagues in Egypt to the parting of the Red Sea and more.  Each verse ends with, “for his steadfast love endures forever.”  In every circumstance, good or bad, the steadfast love of the Lord endured forever.  And it still does for me.  So my psalm could go something like this.

To Him who created AVMs, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who brought together Mike and Karla in marriage, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who blessed us with children, for His steadfast love endures forever  And to Him who led us to do full time ministry, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who brought us low, for His steadfast love endures forever. And raised us up anew, for His steadfast love endures forever. To Him who delivered from depression, for His steadfast love endures forever.  …for His steadfast love endures forever.

Do you see the only thing that doesn’t change?  It is the steadfast love of God for His people. For me.  And for you, if you are trusting in Him, which sometimes is hard and doesn’t feel like we are doing it very well. He is always loving us well!

Psalm 136 ends like this:

It is He who remembered us in our low estate, for His steadfast love endures forever; and rescued us from our foes, for His steadfast love endures forever; He who gives food to all flesh, for His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His steadfast love endures forever.

That’s it. It has been 3 long years for us, but God works in terms of eternity.  He has never wavered in His love and it goes on forever.  So when life gets hard, whatever that looks like, I know that I can rest in His love because it has always been and will always be the same.  Yes, I thank you, God of heaven, for Your steadfast love endures forever.


Karla Evans has been the wife of Mike for almost 30 years, and is the mother of 5 children, ages 10 to 24.  God has used the circumstances in her life to give her a heart to minister to others, especially women in hard circumstances.  You can check out her blog here: https://howlongolordblog.wordpress.com

Practical Proverbs - Walking the "RIGHT" Path by Debi Lydic

I enjoy walking in my neighborhood. At the beginning of each walk, I have a choice to make about the route I will take.  Whatever route I choose will ultimately lead me to my final destination, home. The path I take will also help me accomplish a specific objective.  One route is rather lengthy and will ensure that I get an excellent workout, another possible route has a few inclines and ensures cardio exercise, and then there is the short route that gives me an opportunity to be in the fresh air and sunshine and even though it is not the best route for exercise, it does give me some stress relief.  There is one route, however, that gets me into trouble each time I take it, because of construction along this road. I never quite know what to expect, the road is pitted and uneven and in some places water is standing and in other places it is covered with mud.  There is also a route that takes me along a highway heavily used by fast cars and trucks that often are not looking for pedestrians.  I must choose wisely each time I walk if I am going to accomplish my walking objective safely and reach my final destination of home.

In our walk with Christ, we too will have to make “route” choices.  Our daily objective on our “walk” with Him is to believe Him, please Him and bring glory to His name. When I first started taking my neighborhood walks, I had to depend on my own intuition and instinct. More than a few times I ended up going the wrong way.  In our daily walk with Christ, we can depend on His Spirit inspired Word to give us the right direction to take.  However, even though we have the right “map”, we still must make the choice to use it.  We are told in Proverbs 4, to guard our steps because our very life is at stake.  Stay clear of bad routes, don’t even go near them, make necessary detours if you must and be on your way, walking with Jesus.

“Dear Friend, take my advice; it will add years to your life.  I’m writing out clear directions to Wisdom Way, I’m drawing a map to Righteous Road.  I don’t want you to end up in blind alleys, or wasting time making wrong turns…Guard it well-your life is a stake!  Don’t take Wicked Bypass; don’t so much as set foot on that road. Stay clear of it; give it a wide berth. Make a detour and be on your way.”  Prov. 4:10-15 (The Message)

Walking Together,                                                                                            Debi


Debi Lydic serves as the Director of Women's Ministries at Valley Church.  She and her husband Gary enjoy life and ministry together.  Debi has two sons, two beautiful daughters-in-love and a furry friend named Tucker!  Debi is passionate about helping women grow to their greatest potential in Jesus Christ.  To contact Debi, email her at debil@valley-church.com.

Debi Lydic serves as the Director of Women's Ministries at Valley Church.  She and her husband Gary enjoy life and ministry together.  Debi has two sons, two beautiful daughters-in-love and a furry friend named Tucker!  Debi is passionate about helping women grow to their greatest potential in Jesus Christ.  To contact Debi, email her at debil@valley-church.com.

PRACTICAL PROVERBS: How to Know When to Go by Gwen Smith

Ants have been known to ruin a picnic or two, but recently they messed up my beach time and flustered my heart.

Yeah. I know. God made ants to live on the earth and we have to share space. But I just wasn’t prepared for my first afternoon away from home to be altered by the annoyance of their small yet mighty presence.

I’d really been looking forward to vacation and wanted to relax. To sit by the shoreline, chill out, and soak in the sun with my people. I wanted to enjoy the presence of God in the glory of His creation, not flick uninvited ants away from my towel and off my legs.

No rest was happening because it seemed that all of the ants in America had arranged a massive dance party on the East Coast and had failed to inform me ahead of time.

I had to leave. The ants didn’t want me to join their beach party and I didn’t want to be there. I walked away disappointed and threw a little tantrum in my head. Why should I have to leave? I’m the human here! Ants are supposed to hang out in the dirt, not the sand!

So I adjusted my plans and went to the pool instead.

There are times in life when things don’t work out as planned. Times when our expectations go unmet and we have to move on or make major adjustments. You might feel like you are spinning your wheels in a relationship. Maybe you haven’t moved on from something because you don’t like to quit – even though your time and energy might be more effectively spent elsewhere.

I don’t know the particulars of your unmet expectations and beach-ant frustrations, but God does. Even if you haven’t talked with Him about them yet. And you’re not alone. We all have to wade through cloudy waters at times.

The Apostle Paul continually found himself in situations that were uncomfortable and frustrating. He was re-routed many times as he was rejected, thrown out of towns, beaten, and jailed. The Lord kept him from going to certain areas and led him in his journeys. (Acts 16:6) Through it all, Paul yielded his days to God’s leading. And that’s what I want to do.

We can’t change hearts or make people do what we want them to do. Yes, God may have called you to a ministry, a person’s life, etc. for a season of time, but that doesn’t mean you will stay on that beach forever.

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”

So how can we know when to stay and when to go? How can we know whether we should say yes or no to that opportunity? How can we know when our uncomfortable situation is to refine us, to rebuke us or to re-route us?

There’s no simple answer, but there is a simple action: PRAY. Christians don’t have a crystal ball that shows us our future, but we do have access to God who delights to inform and lead His children.

Ask God for direction. Be still before Him and listen. Be faithful to go where He leads… even if it means that you need to change your plans, your attitude, your location or vocation.

Let’s Pray                                                                                                                                       Dear God, Please forgive me for the times when I am stubborn and unmovable. I want to go where You lead. Please direct my steps and help me to know what to do next about _______________ .In Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.

Now It’s Your Turn: Proverbs 11: 14 says, “Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is victory.” Are you applying this principle in your life? What godly people do you go to when you need advice and prayer?

Used with permission from Gwen Smith and Girlfriends in God (GIG) Daily Devotional.  Find our more about GIG and sign up to receive their daily email devotional at www.GirlfriendsinGod.com

Gwen Smith’s new book, I Want It ALL, gives you practical help that will connect your struggles to the solutions and strength of God found in the Bible. Order yours today from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ChristianBook.com or your favorite retailer. For a signed copy, get yours from the store on Gwen’s website!

Stay up with Gwen on her blog, and connect with her on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

Gwen is our 2016 Christmas Bash Speaker! Gwen Smith says, "My goal is to encourage you to think big thoughts about God by pointing you to His truth and grace through stories, songs and Scripture. Without hesitation: I am an unashamed, imperfect worshiper of Jesus Christ. His goodness covers my mess and purposes my days to live out the hope of the Gospel. It is my joy and passion to inspire women to live fully in Christ. How? I speak. I sing. I write books, devotions and songs. I worship. I post, pin and tweet. I am intensely in love with the Word of God and believe, wholeheartedly, that the Bible is divinely inspired truth."

What Happened When...God Created a New Picture of Love, Forgiveness and Redemption In My Life by Brenda Knollenberg

In the past month or so, there have been several graduations.  And graduates get bombarded with many questions– Are you going to college? What are you going to do afterwards? Where do you want to work?

Quite frankly, when I was graduating high school, I thought I’d be doing something totally different than I am today.  I work as the executive director at Agape Pregnancy Center, and back then I didn’t even know what a pregnancy center was, let alone that I’d be the director of one!  But God has an amazing way of weaving your life together to take you where He wants you to be.

My journey to Agape started long ago – back when I was in Jr. High.   I was beginning the 8th grade, and it was 1978. My sister was a senior in High School, a straight “A” student, and wasthe first-ever Student of the Month at Athens High School in Athens, Illinois.  She had everything going for her, and college was just on the horizon. 

Then she became pregnant. 

It was a hard time for our family.  We didn’t talk about it much (although, there was a lot of talk at school – and not all of it kind).  In 1978 abortion had been legal for 5 years, but to my knowledge my sister didn’t even think about that.  She knew it would be best for her baby to have both a mom and dad who could support her, so she decided to make an adoption plan.  Hers was a closed adoption (back then most were, quite different from some of the adoptions today).  My sister’s baby was born three days after her high school graduation.

Very difficult for our family – first grandchild, first niece, placed in the hands of someone we didn’t know.  Some people might have thought it was the end of the world – but God uses those situations to mold us and shape our lives – and one of the ways He used it was to give me a compassionate heart for girls who experience unexpected pregnancy.  Those girls are like my sister – young, scared, so much of life ahead of them, not sure what to do.

Fast forward to my senior year in college.  While I had accepted Jesus at a youth retreat some years ago, I certainly was not walking with him.  I didn’t have a close relationship at all, and really was just fine doing my own thing. One day I walked into my friend’s apartment, and there she was - standing in her kitchen with a pregnancy test in hand – and it was positive.  Looking at her I asked, “What are you going to do?” and she stated she had to have an abortion.  My only counsel was “Are you sure you want to do that?” and she told me her mom would kill her if she knew she was pregnant.  And that was that - her decision was made that quickly.

A few days later, she came to me.  You see, it isn’t recommended that you drive after a surgical abortion.  And the abortion clinic was 45 minutes away.  As luck would have it, I was the only one (who knew about the situation) with a car on campus.  She asked if I would take a day off school and drive her to the abortion clinic.  I told her yes.

I wrestled with this decision.  I really can’t tell you why I thought abortion was wrong – I don’t think I’d ever heard it in a sermon at that point – but I felt it was.  I was also worried something would happen to her during the procedure – and I’d be the one to tell her family she’d had an abortion. I don’t like admitting that I was more worried about myself than her, but it’s the truth.  I was more concerned about how her abortion might affect me, then about my friend, any risks to her, or her baby.

We arrived at the clinic after having rise-and-shine biscuits from the Hardee’s drive thru for breakfast.  She checked in, and I sat down.  I realized no one was really looking at anyone, and no one was talking.

The receptionist called the girls back, and those of us who were drivers simply waited.  My friend came out some time later.  I asked how things went, and she said OK.  We drove to a Chinese restaurant and had lunch, acting as though nothing had happened, and then went back to campus.  There was huge elephant in the room that neither of us wanted to touch. We didn’t speak about the abortion the entire drive home.

When we got back to her apartment, my friend’s ex was sitting on the couch.  He asked her “How do you feel?”  I don’t think I will ever forget her answer, or how she said it, for the rest of my life.  She said “I just killed our baby.  How do you think I feel?!”

I was numb.  I felt a sharp pain, like I had been stabbed in the stomach. I got physically sick – for three days.  I believe it was a reaction to the realization of the sin in which I had participated.   A terrible thing - something that hurt my friend.  Something that not only hurt her, but also ended her baby’s life.  Something that went so against God, who is the author of life and creates us in His image.

Again, a very difficult situation.  I felt a terrible sadness–this time not really for myself, but for my friend and her baby.  But again, God uses these situations to mold us and shape our lives – and one of the ways He used this was to give me a compassionate heart for women who have experienced the heartbreak of abortion.  When I look into their eyes, I see my friend – a scared, young kid, perhaps with no one to talk to and no family support.  Trying to do what they think is best, and then experiencing heart-wrenching grief and guilt when they find out they were wrong.

Several years later, I rededicated my life to Christ and really started living for Him.  I started attending a Bible-believing church where the truth of God was preached.  I learned about pregnancy centers, the way they help those struggling with unplanned pregnancy, and started volunteering at one. I realized that while God didn’t want me to choose sin in the past, He could use those events and weave them together to create a picture of love, forgiveness and redemption – all to His glory! What an amazing God we serve to give us this gift!

And now, on to today.  I have been involved in pregnancy center ministry for the last 17 years in some way, shape or form. I am privileged to serve God at Agape Pregnancy Center, where our mission is to demonstrate His truth and love to girls and young women experiencing unexpected pregnancy.  Our services include free pregnancy tests, STD tests, ultrasounds, parenting classes, adoption referrals and post abortion support.  We speak God’s truth about their baby – how God is the author of life and is knitting their child together – and show them this through ultrasound. We get to share the Gospel - that God loves them so much He sent His one and only son to die for them so they can have eternal life!  We get to walk along side of these young women, cry with them, celebrate with them.  We get to love on them.

I am also privileged to serve here at Valley by leading the Surrendering the Secret Bible study.  Surrendering the Secret is a study created by someone who’s experienced the heartbreak of an abortion for someone who’s experienced the heartbreak of abortion.  With the help of very compassionate co-leaders, we have led four groups now! The women from these groups – many who bought the lies of the enemy for years – are experiencing the joy that comes because they are set free from the guilt and shame of their past!  I am so grateful to be a part of a church where we want to restore joy to women who have had abortions – rather than consider their pain and hurt as the elephant in our rooms that we don’t want to talk about.

God is still teaching me many things – I think I still have a long way to go on my journey. Just like I didn’t know what God was preparing me for 38 years ago, I don’t always know what He is using today to prepare me for the next 38 years (if I have that many left).  I just hope I will be obedient and hold true to the words of the old hymn - “Where He leads me, I will follow.  I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way”!

Brenda Knollenberg has been a member of Valley Church since she and her family moved from Illinois to the Des Moines area in 2006.  She has a heart for women with unplanned pregnancy and has been involved in pregnancy center ministry for almost 17 years, currently serving as the Executive Director at Agape Pregnancy Center in Des Moines,  She is also one of the co-leaders of Surrendering the Secret, the post-abortion Bible study offered to women at Valley. Brenda lives in Grimes with her husband, Jeff and two (almost) adult children, Henry and Audrey.

Join with other Valley Women on Tuesday, July 26th from 9am-2pm to serve at Agape. We will be cleaning, putting layettes together and various other tasks around the center that day. Contact Diana White at dwhite@valley-church.com for more information and to sign up.

What Happened When...God Rocked Our Prayer Group

You know that verse in Ephesians 3:20?  The one about how God can do more than all we ask or imagine.“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20

This verse came to life for us as a group of praying friends this year.

It was around 12 years ago when we started praying together, lifting up the needs of our young families.  We were in the throes of childrearing with preschoolers and early elementary aged kids.  We had busy husbands building careers.  We shared the joys and challenges of raising our young families. . .to spank or not to spank?  Would our faith EVER become theirs?  Marriage is Hard.  Health issues, both real and imagined.  Those are just a few of the myriad of topics we talked and prayed over. Our delightful, yet challenging children kept us all hopping and on our knees!

Matthew 18:20 says “Where two or three are gathered, there I am in the midst of them.”  Our prayer times were some of the sweetest memories of our friendship.  We met monthly to share our joys, our sorrows, our parenting disasters, our concerns for our kids, our marriage struggles.  Jesus always joined us. We would talk, laugh, cry, exchange requests and pray over one another.  It was always a powerful and uplifting time. We experienced true community and the blessings of many answered prayers. We were doing life together!

Looking back, we had each other, all in the same age and stage of life. One of us had family in town.  The rest of us did not.  We see that we lacked deep, meaningful relationships with older women of the faith; those a few years down the road ahead of us.  The opportunities were no doubt there. . .we just didn’t know to seek them out!

Over the years ideas would pop into our heads. . .how could we invest and make a difference in those women just a little ways behind us in their life’s journey?  Ideas would come and go.  The path forward was unclear.

Fast forward to August, 2015, when the concept of MENTORING and a rush of Holy Spirit wind blew into our tidy little prayer group and tilted it off its axis! By now, one of us is empty-nesting with weddings to plan and the rest of us just a couple steps behind.  Some kids in college and some still at home. Little did we know that Jesus was about to make a move and all we needed to do was keep up!  (remember the “ask or imagine verse”?)

In a short span of time, God set in motion a series of events that will be called Holy Spirit “WHOOSHES!”

WHOOSH #1! Two of us were tasked by Debi Lydic to consider how we might add mentoring to the list of wonderful ways Valley Church women are encouraged and served.

WHOOSH #2!  One of us just “graduated” from a leadership role in Student Ministries leading and mentoring high school girls on Wednesday nights.  She was pondering her next ministry role and was wide open to God’s leading.  She has a passion for PRAYER. Mentoring was never far from her mind.

WHOOSH #3!  One of us has a strong connection in Valley children’s ministry and knows many young women and families.  God had already been working on her heart and giving her a long list of names of women who might be open to a mentoring relationship.

As we sat at Qdoba, crafting an email to send out to these 15 or so women, we were cautiously optimistic, hoping that maybe 4-6 might respond with interest, knowing that each of us had capacity for one or two Mentees.  Little did we know that Jesus was about to ask us to take a leap of faith and stretch us beyond our so-called “capacity”. 

WHOOSH #4!  13 women responded with interest.  Gulp! God, how are we going to accomodate 13 women? Do you have more in mind than all we were asking or imagining? It felt like the feeding of the 5,000 and we were the fish and the loaves! Well, we all know how that story turned out. . . .God came through! 

We could go on and on with the “WHOOSHES”, but you get the idea.  The next few weeks were spent praying and asking God to guide our next steps and provide exactly what we needed to accomplish His work.

What did we need that God so abundantly provided? More Mentors and Training, for starters!  God prepared hearts to be asked and we obeyed and did the asking!  Within a few weeks time, we were up to 18 Mentors!  And a few more mentees trickled in as well.  Our mentor leadership team plus most of our recruited Mentors lacked mentoring experience or training. We trusted God to equip us for this role.  It “just so happened” (WHOOSH #47) that the sister-in-law of one of our leadership team members was called to start a mentoring ministry that included resources and training calls. She was such an ongoing gift of support and encouragement for us mentors!  She helped us with a plan for how to match up Mentors and Mentees.  She even wrote a jump start guide we could use in our initial sessions with Mentees!

God gets all the glory for the 19 Mentoring Relationships that were formed last Fall and building over the last 9 months. Many of these women had never met before and were taking the plunge to start a new multi-generational friendship.  These mentoring pairs are all unique. Some meet for coffee. Some walk. All talk! But a common theme among them are the elements of Prayer and Encouragement.  We just had a celebration of all God did to put us together and how He worked to bring encouragement and blessing to both the Mentors and the Mentees.  It was a sweet time of intergenerational fellowship and mutual encouragement.

No doubt God is not done with this story.  We’d love for more women to join this Mentoring Movement at Valley and we are praying that God will come through far beyond our asking and imagining.  In fact, we are sure HE WILL!




Val is 100% Swede and 100% Husker fan. She loves being a wife to an amazing man named Joe, and mom to four lovely young ladies. She also gets to play "host mom" to two students and hopefully others God brings to their doorstep in the future! She strives to be a good friend with a listening ear, and has fun connecting women to each other. Seeing women thrive in their homes and family life and in their areas of giftedness brings her great joy. Val loves road trips, a good cup of coffee, walks, and deep conversations.

What Happened When...I Took Seriously the Command to Pray by Sherri Anfinson

About 20 years ago, at a Woman of Faith Conference, the Holy Spirit sparked in me the importance and strong conviction to pray.  Some of you ladies from my generation may remember Becky Tirabassi.  She was known for her series called “Let Prayer Change Your Life.” Although her testimony of faithfulness to committed prayer far exceeds my obedience to the same, her sharing has and continues to call me to regular quiet times with the Lord that always produce fruit, in His perfect timing.

As I reflect back on how God has shown His love and faithfulness  through my prayer times, I am realizing that although I often see Him as saying yes, no, or wait to my prayers, more often it is the Holy Spirit’s work in me during my quiet time that results in ME responding “Yes” to God’s leading.  

He has called me to say YES to: obedience to service, submission to my husband, transparency with praying friends, admitting when I fail and accepting His grace, giving Him the glory for successes, regular confession and turning from sin, praying for others, sharing the gospel, sending a note, making a call/meal, inviting people to church/Bible study, loving when it’s hard, dying to self, being more humble/gracious, being flexible with my schedule/time, forgiving others, seeking forgiveness , releasing my children to His plan not mine, trusting Him when He shakes up my world to look different than I had envisioned and to stay the course, instead of losing faith.

Disclaimer.  It is a continual process.  It is not a one time and always YES on my part, as those close to me will unfortunately attest.  Prayer and responding “yes” to Jesus, is a lifelong, daily, minute by minute journey.

His plans are so GOOD, but not always easy.  You remember the saying “Be careful what you ask for!”   Often there were sacrifices and unforeseen spiritual battles that followed my “yes” responses to God.  Knowing that each “yes” had been prayed over and seeing His hand of detail in them has enlarged my faith and my ability to relate and encourage others in their trials. Despite the negatives, seeing God use all He asks us to do for our good and His glory has been the sweetest part of making prayer a priority for my family and for others.  Prayer makes a huge difference! I love to encourage others with the gospel truth-the #1 prayer- receiving Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. This is naturally followed by the need for continual prayer for the Holy Spirit’s power to submit to His Lordship.  The beautiful result is getting to experience His transforming powers in our personal lives and the world around us.

More recently, after serving 4 years as a high school small group leader, and a mother of 4 teens, the utter awareness of the spiritual battles this generation faces became VERY REAL.  In January, God prompted me  to gather people to pray for our church, family, and children/youth on Wednesday nights to fight the battle in the spiritual realm.  Truth be told, He called me in August, and I finally obeyed in January.  The sweetest part is that He wasn’t just working on my heart, but He was working on another mom’s heart as well, who along with several other women and a dad have  come to pray for YOU and your family, church, schools, and country on Wednesday nights, over the past several months. The battle is real and our victory is found in calling on the name and power of Jesus Christ.

I look forward to what God will do at and through Valley Church, as we meet and pray.  Acts 12:6 “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”  Do you have a son, daughter, parent, situation, marriage, or other relationship that needs to be released from “prison” like Peter?  If we are honest with each other, we all do!  You are not alone.  Come and let us earnestly pray to God and see many people and situations set free.  May it be said of Valley Church women, Acts 12:24 “He (She) was a good man (woman), full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”

What does your prayer time look like?  Do you have a desire to pray, but aren’t sure how it “should” look?  Do you see God answering your prayers?  Do you fear praying with others? Do you need to be encouraged to pray more regularly?

God is still prompting; this time it is to share a DVD series similar to what shaped my prayer life 20 years ago, and has impacted sweet praying friends from my Life Group.  We are offering  an opportunity to all women of Valley Church to participate in something very special on Wednesday mornings this summer.

PRAYER TIME: June 15-July 27th (7 weeks) from 11 a.m.-noon in Room C-2, we will be praying for our church, families, marriages, country, etc.  Please come even if you are not comfortable praying out loud.  I’ve been there. Public prayer time is now some of the sweetest and most powerful fellowship I experience.  It will be a safe place to listen, learn, and talk to God with others.  

PRAYER BIBLE STUDY PLUS PRAYER TIME: June 22-July 20th (5 weeks) from 10—12pm, in addition to the time of prayer a Bible Study on Prayer is being offered.  We will meet in room C-2.  This study is written by author Becky Tirabassi.  We will watch her DVD series called “Let Prayer Change Your Life.”  Come and be blessed and encouraged in your prayer life and...experience the power of prayer. There will be no workbook or homework, but hopefully you will be impassioned to pray more.  We will watch the video from 10-11am and then have the time of prayer from 11am-12pm.  Child Care will be available in Room C-3 for these 5 weeks from 10-noon for the study.  Let me know if you are in need of childcare and the child’s age/s. Email me at sherrianfinson@juno.com.

Peace in life comes from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and is solidified as we submit ourselves to Him through prayer, confession, and being in His Word. Come and be spurred on to seek, listen, and obey.  Don’t miss out.

Matthew 7:7-8 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks the door will be opened.”  

 Ephesians 3:20-21 “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.”                                                                                                                                                    
Come and we will ask to together!  He will answer abundantly!  And we will give HIM all the Glory! to together!  He will answer abundantly!  And we will give HIM all the Glory!

Please note that the study and prayer time meets during the same time as the Valley Summer Youth program, Wednesday, 11am-12pm.  This is a great time for you moms to connect with other Valley women – consider joining us after your drop your son or daughter off.




Sherri and her family have attended Valley Church since 1999.  Whether Sherri is working with adults, youth or children she always has a great passion for serving others and for prayer.

What Happened When...God Nudged Me by Diane Sexton

When I think about my life and all that has happened, I get a bit teary because it’s not exactly what I had thought, planned or hoped for.  Anxiety, fear, doubts……and eventual survival has marked my journey with many mistakes and missteps along the way.   A good reminder for me has been Roman’s 8:28. “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.”  When life gets hard you really have to hang on tight to the ONE who will get you through to the other side and the ONE who can cause everything to work together for my good.   Over the past 9 years or so I’ve asked why this happened and why that happened...and I always came back to this promise in Romans 8:28.  I may not  know all the answers/reasons this side of heaven,  but I do know that I’m here for a reason, there is life to be lived and because of God’s GRACE and FORGIVENESS, ALL things will work out and be OK.  God took my mistakes and missteps and helped me see how He could work good in my life in a way that would help me make a difference in the lives of others. I hope someone reading this will be encouraged and maybe even inspired…

Fast forward to the summer of 2015 and my search for “what’s next?”  My two daughters are in their late 20”s (how did that happen!), so I’m not busy doing the parent thing.  I work full-time at a good job, I enjoy health and fitness activities, I love my church and the opportunities available to serve, and I have a wonderful network of friends.  But I was hungry for something new, something more. I just didn’t know the specifics yet. I stumbled across a book called “Anything” written by one of my favorite writers – Jennie Allen. Thankfully two friends and I decided to meet and read through her book together and follow along with her weekly video. What a sweet time of fellowship and learning!  (thank you Jody and Leigh!) Through Jennie Allen’s own very personal search for more, she shared her family’s journey about what their “anything for God” looked like. This book was so inspiring, and yet it was still so difficult to see where I could make a difference.  

In addition to reading Jennie’s book, I also found myself reading blogs and articles about family life and marriage.  I wasn’t sure why I, a single again mom of adult children, was drawn to them, however there seemed to be a constant theme in what I was reading. Yet, nothing became clear right away, so I kept on reading, asking and searching.  During this time, I also took a really neat question/answer inventory from Jennie Allen that I found helpful.   She suggests asking questions like, “What are your unique strengths and natural abilities?  What things/events make up your story that could help someone else, and what are the things that get you fired up.” The next step in this process is to ask family and friends who know you well, how your gifts and natural abilities might fill some gaps.  Is there anyone in your life (family, close friends, co-workers) with needs?  How about needs in your church or community?  In this broken world we live in, needs are everywhere.  We just have to find where we fit.

SO, I had this idea one evening in September 2015 that brought me to tears. Was this idea from God?  Ever hear of DATE NIGHT?  I was pretty sure a “passion and a burden” had just collided.  But this idea had to be thought out and made practical in my life, so I followed my own advice and sought the counsel of a couple close friends   I didn’t know any of the specifics of how this was all going to work out (but felt fairly confident God did) – the who, what, when and where - but I decided to find a young couple who needed time away from their kids on a regular basis to nurture each other and their marriage. I could watch their children so they could have a date night. It took a few more months of waiting on God to work out all the details …BUT GOD IS GOOD and in His perfect timing He showed me the family. 

Fast forward to February 2016.  It was as if someone (God) screamed in my ear……….”HERE IS YOUR FAMILY.”  You know who you are if you are reading this.  I am so grateful we found each other! When I shared what I wanted to do, I was blown away how God had been working behind the scenes long before the idea was birthed.  You see, our lives had already touched several months earlier because of my daughter and her husband’s international adoption journey that is still in the works.  I love how God works out all the details. He only asks for our availability and a little creative thinking.

It is now May and two date nights are in the books.  And the bonus for me is I adore their kids!  It is really cool when God’s plan works out.

Diane Sexton lives in Grimes, Iowa and has attended Valley Church since 1993. She works at Aetna Life Insurance Co in Urbandale as a licensed benefit advisor working with small employers in over 30 states. Her two daughters are grown and 1 is married, living in Iowa City. Diane is looking forward, along with Erin & Brian, to welcoming home 2 adopted little boys from Ethiopia later this year. Diane also stays active looking after her 94 year old mom, keeping fit and eating healthy, participating in Women's Bible Studies, and loving/serving others during this season of life.

What Happened When...I Worked in MOPPETS by Julia Hunter

Baring and Consuming Fruits (of the Spirit)

Snip, snip, snip, around Abram’s head … and paste. Snip, snip, snip … careful around Lot’s foot … and paste.  Snip, snip, snip, around an apple … and paste.  Finally, done with the last one!

I step back to admire the template I’ve created for my toddler/preschool bunch.  Now for the verse, and I bite my tongue to the corner of my mouth as I print, So Abram let Lot choose first ~ Genesis 8:13.  Then on the apple I write, #2: Joy.  A huge sigh escapes as I finish.  I look over at my child care director,

“Should I be concerned that I’m learning these lessons about ‘The Fruits of the Spirit” as I’m teaching the kids?   Smiling she shrugs and says,

“I think it’s a good sign.  You’re being stretched.”  Stretched, huh?  One could say that. 

Before I started working in the nursery during Women’s Ministry programs, like Moppets, I wondered if I needed a sanity check.  I had only ever taught high school English. I adored the spring semester and the opportunity to discuss Iambic Pentameter along with my Shakespearian Unit on Romeo and Juliet.  I was used to explaining MLA style and the proper placement of a thesis statement in a research paper. But what did I know or possibly ever hope to impart to a group of 2-5 year olds? 

I go on the “offensive,” in my preparation.  I secretly abscond with (borrow) the church nursery’s music CDs so that I can memorize the lyrics and tunes to “Father Abraham,” and dozens more.  I beg a former preschool teacher friend of mine to give me “classroom management” tips.  My favorite is: “Tell each child to imagine she has a little bird sitting on her shoulder.  If she can’t sit still, tell her that the birdie has flown away, and will only return if she sits quietly.”  Panicking, and contemplating flying the coop myself, I retort,

“What if they still won’t stay seated on the mat while I’m teaching?”   Her response is to try a “sit down song,” which is, ironically, at the end of “Father Abraham.”  I become a student of this song.  I realize that my efforts to honor God with excellence have turned into fear, which I have foolishly tried to conquer by resorting to over-planning, and attempting to control the unknown.  I kick myself.  I try the new mindset that God is in control.  I pray. …  I pray more.  … I pray not nearly enough, but then remember that “His grace is sufficient.”  I take a deep breath as I greet a nervous mom, take the first diaper bag, and smack the first name tag on my student’s back. 

It goes … poorly.  In particular, the reaction that I get as I act out “Father Abraham” is hilarious, but I’m too self-conscious to notice.  One kid is picking his nose, another is free form karate chop dancing, a little girl takes my seat in the “teacher rocker,” my own daughter wanders off to the play kitchen, one little boy actually looks disgusted, and stands with his hands on his hips, and his mouth agape.  Later, the bird thing works for seconds. They can smell my fear! I think. Calm down! That’s only bees and dogs!

I’m literally startled one day when my daughter recites a lesson back to me as I scold her for the mess she’s made at the kitchen table, “Mommy are you being patient, kind and gentle?”

A mom dropping off her three children in the next weeks asks, “Can you show me the hand gestures you taught the kids for “Jesus Loves Me?” But I thought your son was offended by song time, and especially my dancing!?!?!

“Me too,” another mom chimes in. “You know my son has been sharing his toys with his siblings all week, so that he can show ‘joy’… something about letting Lot choose first.” I am astonished by the sweet side of my karate kid.

“My daughter just loved the lesson on the ‘Good Samaritan.” Are you kidding lady!?!  I accidentally skipped half the story that week because the pages got stuck together.

Well, I decide, that tears it! ... This “semester” has been a success despite me, and it can only be a ‘God thing.’  I am humbled that He has chosen me, an imperfect vessel, to teach these sweet children about Him.  I pray that the little seeds that He has used me to sew will continue to grow and flourish for the rest of their lives.

John 15 says, 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. … 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

That first experience was so rich and blessed me in such a way that I could never have imagined.  I continue to be surprised each year as I have worked or volunteered with different children’s age groups during Women’s Bible Studies, Moppets, Cubbies, Sparkies, or even Sunday School.  Currently, I work in the infant-one year old room during Moppets.  I regularly think, What possible impact could I really be having on these young ones? They can’t listen to a lesson, or even wipe their own noses. Yet, I know someday that I will see the fruits of the investment He has made in me and them.  For two Fridays a month, these infants know that Moppets is a safe, loving place for them to come and first experience the body of Christ.  Plus, their moms are being refreshed by His teachings, and encouraged by the fellowship of other Godly women.  In turn, they will be ready to pour back into their little ones, and watch them grow in His ways.

Julia Hunter lives in West Des Moines, teaches part-time Composition courses at DMACC West Campus and is a member of Valley Church.  She has been married to Caleb, an amazing man of God, for eleven years, and has three children: Lydia, Micah and Natalia (Natalie).  Julia loves serving in Moppets and other children’s ministries.  In addition to interacting with sweet little kiddos, she has the opportunity to meet and be surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as she partners with other moms running their races with perseverance. 

We are currently looking for women who love young moms, children and serving Jesus to join our MOPPETS team for Valley MOPS!  This twice monthly commitment is a paid position and meets September through the first part of May on Friday mornings, 9-11am.  If you are interested in joining our 2016/17 MOPPETS team contact dwhite@valley-church.com or mops@valley-church.com.   We NEED your helping hands...we have 20 women currently on our MOPS wait list due to lack of MOPPETS workers!  Won't you consider joining our team today?

What Happened When...God Rewrote My Story by Anne Summers

I see the world in language.

Sounds dramatic, I know, but hear me out. I’ve been a reader since I can remember—so many nights of turning on my lamp after bedtime, so many mornings waking up with my face on a still-open page. I majored in words, am making a career out of words, fill my free time with words. Our Jesus is The Author, our Scripture is The Story. And for a long time my life was exactly what I would’ve written. Until it wasn’t.

I entered my senior year of college with a storybook script. I had a loving, supportive, close-knit family, the best of friends, and a brand-new fiancee. But as I moved closer to putting on that ring and saying “I do,” my parents moved closer to removing their rings and saying “I can’t.”

The thing about becoming an adult child of divorce is the ‘adult’ part of the label is just for show. I am a child. I am their child. And with childlike faith, I begged and pleaded the Jesus I thought I understood for the outcome I knew would bring God the most glory, for the story I wanted to tell my future children, for the chapter that would heal my blindsided heart.

But that’s not what God had in mind.

I offered my thoughts, my desires. Gave Him talking points. Put a strategic plan right into His hands...just needed Him to implement. Would you believe my plan and His didn’t match? I mean really…

And though the joking tone comes easily some days, I’m guessing many of you, dear readers, know the deep layers of hurt that come from years of confusing answers to prayer, disappointing answers to prayer.

I believe you are present, Lord. Why can’t I see you?
It’s in your power, Lord. Why don’t you fix this?
It’s been so long, Lord. Why is it still fresh hurt?

I’m still in the middle of this season, but over the last six years a brief passage from Genesis 32 has drawn me in again and again. Here Jacob has made some poor relationship decisions regarding his brother, Esau, and now Jacob must face him again after 20 years.

Jacob sends wave after wave of gifts to meet his brother in hopes of gaining favor before they actually meet. When he has sent everyone ahead of him, when he is finally alone, Jacob wrestles God who is on earth as a man. This scuffle lasts through the night and ends with the Lord dislocating Jacob's hip after Jacob refuses to let Him go without a blessing.

Refuses to let Him go. Can you imagine the audacity of this action? the courage? the seeming stupidity? And yet the Lord blesses Jacob.

It appears so black and white, so straightforward when read on the page of scripture. This event is recorded without any hint of strangeness, but when you let your mind invade the page, there is nothing normal about it. The God of the Universe walking on this earth, entangled with one He created, rolling in the dust, sweating while locked in an enduring struggle. Upon seeing the sun rise, He ends their match by blessing Jacob with a new name: Israel—he strives with God. The blessing that comes with a limp.

That definition of blessing—a life change by a life-altering injury—smacks in my mind. I don’t like it, don’t want to accept it, but does it make it any less true?

Like Jacob, I am a marked woman. My family bears the wounds. My marriage. My work. It’s not a limp of the leg, but a limp all the same. Though today I can’t say that I am ready to call my mark my blessing, I trust I one day will. It’s not the story I wanted. It’s not what I prayed for. I’m still in the middle of the night. The sun is coming, but it’s not yet here.

It’s in this season I’m incredibly grateful for God’s inclusion of Jacob’s story, the one that tells me it’s ok to wrestle with my God, that it’s worth it. In that struggle, I can’t hold on to anything besides my God, the One I don’t understand. And eventually my resistant hands will give into His everlasting arms, my tense face will rest in His chest, and in that embrace I will stay, refusing to let go.

Anne Summers is a communications associate at Valley Church. She has a deep love of sharing good conversation and good food, spending time with her two main men, Nate and Joel, and laughing at the antics of her high school small group.

What Happened When...I Said "Yes" to God's Calling by Lauren Gaskill

Growing up, I was the kid who couldn’t stop writing. Most 10-year-olds dream about becoming a lawyer, doctor, nurse, firefighter, teacher, etc., but me? All I wanted to do was tell stories. When I wasn’t outside playing with my sister, I spent most of my time reading books, watching movies and writing my own stories. I loved everything about the communication process and enjoyed being able to convey a message through my words.

By the time my senior year of high school rolled around, I knew exactly where I wanted to go to school and what I wanted to major in. Without hesitation I enrolled at Ball State University to study magazine journalism with the intention of one day becoming the editor-in-chief of a magazine. This was my dream and my plan for my life, and so, I devoted my college years to preparing myself for a career in the magazine industry. As a freshman I became a contributor for the campus magazine and spent the rest of my college career working my way up the editorial ladder. Eventually my hard work paid off and after two internships and countless hours working for the campus magazine, I was chosen to be editor-in-chief.

Simultaneously during this time, I had started a blog called Making Life Sweet. I originally created the blog because I wanted to have a place outside of my journalism writing where I could share personal stories, life lessons and faith encouragement. After keeping the blog up for a year, my now husband and I had a conversation about the purpose of the blog over dinner one night.

He took a few bites of the Bruschetta Chicken Pasta I’d made and looked up at me and smiled. “You know what, Lauren, you’re a really good cook,” he said. “I mean, seriously — the recipes you come up with … they are so creative and inspiring! You should really start sharing these on your blog. Actually … you know what you could do? You could make the site about both food and faith inspiration and see where that takes you.”

At the time food blogging was becoming increasingly popular and I felt good about my husband’s suggestion, so that’s exactly what I did. Making the change was easy because I didn’t have many readers, and I also didn’t post very often because I was too busy studying or working at the magazine.

Little did I know the plans God had for the future of my blog and my writing career were about to take a major turn.

Life changed after graduation. Suddenly all the dreams I once had for myself came face-to-face with reality (paying bills, saving for a wedding, saving for a house) and I had a very hard decision to make in regards to my career. I had two options: work a part-time paid internship at the metro publication of my dreams, Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, or work a steady full-time job as a communication specialist for a school district.

The plans I had for my life told me take the paid internship, but there was no guarantee that it would lead to a full-time position and for some reason, no matter how much I wanted to feel good about the decision, when I prayed I didn’t have a peace about it.

But God, I thought I was supposed to be the editor-in-chief of a magazine? That’s all I’ve ever wanted. What am I supposed to do now? I prayed.

He answered clear as day: “My dearest Lauren, I have blessed you with the gift of writing. I know you wanted a magazine career but I’m asking you to lay that at my feet and be faithful with the opportunities I’ve already placed in front of you.”

You mean like my blog?

“Yes! And the book you started writing, too. I know you see these things as a hobby, but I want you to use them to bring glory and honor to my name and to bless others.”

It was a bold calling from the Lord — to lay my dreams, plans and desires at His feet in exchange for an unknown, undefined career path. Part of me felt sad when I thought about giving up the magazine dream. I’d spent the last four years of my life devoted to becoming the best writer and editor I could be, and I grieved the thought of not pursuing that career path, no matter how risky it seemed.

That same day, “Shepherd” by Bethel Music came on my Pandora station. As I listened to the lyrics, I knew God was using the song to speak to me and urge me to trust Him:

“In the process

In the waiting

You're making melodies over me

And your presence is the promise

For I am a pilgrim on a journey

You will lift my head above the mighty wave

You are able to keep me from stumbling

And in my weaknessyou are the strength that comes from within

Good shepherd of my soul

You make my footsteps and my path secure

So walking on water is just the beginning

 Cause my faith to arise, stand at attention

For You are calling me to greater things”

In that moment I realized though I started my blog as a hobby, God had used Making Life Sweet to do a work in my heart while strengthening and empowering the faith of others, too. Looking back on how the blog had evolved, I could clearly see that He was leading me on a journey of faith and calling me to pursue ministry in a greater capacity. Suddenly I knew exactly what I needed to do. I would be faithful to the Lord and take the steady job while pursuing a career in women’s ministry on the side.

Since I graduated college in 2013, the Lord has continued to lead me on this journey of ministry, teaching me many things along the way. With His guidance I have stepped out in faith and written a Christian women’s inspirational book, which I am currently working on getting published. More recently, after feeling a nudge from the Lord to start speaking, I launched an inspirational podcast called “Finding Joy.” Balancing these things on top of a full-time job hasn’t been easy, but God has given me the passion and joy I need to stick the course. More importantly He has grown my faith to a place I never thought it could be while allowing me to touch the lives of many through my writing. There are people who come to my site for recipes and then stumble across my faith posts, where they learn about Jesus. For these things, I am forever thankful.

When I started blogging, it was mostly about me and what I could get out of it. I wanted to have a place where I could share my thoughts with the world and write about whatever I wanted to write about. But over the years, as God has called me deeper into ministry, I now see that it has been and never will be about me. It has always been and will always be about Him and the GREATER story He is authoring.

My book may never be published, I may never get to do ministry full time, my podcast might not go on forever, or the very opposite could happen. Either way I know in my heart that whatever happens I am grateful for the opportunity to be, as Mother Teresa once said, a pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is sending a love letter to the world.

Have your plans for your life been interrupted by God? What has He called you to and how can you learn along the journey?  We would love to hear from you! Comment below...


Lauren Gaskill is an author, blogger and speaker who is passionate about inspiring others to lead joyful, healthy, redeemed lives. She believes life should be sweet — rich in stories, and full of good food, love, encouragement and inspiration. Lauren is the creator of www.makinglifesweet.com  and the Finding Joy podcast, and she is in the process of publishing her first inspirational book. When she’s not writing,Lauren is creating new recipes in the kitchen or spending time outdoors with her husband and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

What Happened When...The Power of a Whisper FROM MY HEAVENLY FATHER Grabbed My Heart by Coy Herr

On Tues. July 28th as I left Des Moines, God began whispering new ideas to me. These were totally new ideas. Ideas I had not ever considered. I don’t think I have ever in my 70 years experienced God having a conversation with me on and off for nearly 4 hours.  I was totally at peace over His new ideas.  They excited me.  They encouraged me in a way that only He could have orchestrated.  I would have resented and resisted these thoughts if they had come from anyone other than my Heavenly Father. 

He said things like; it would be beneficial for everyone involved for you to move to Des Moines, you’re young enough to make new friends, you would be with family when you do get sick as you age, it could be fun to find a new home, there are wonderful people in Des Moines who can influence your life and others who need your influence,  you could be with your grandchildren more, you wouldn’t be on the road so much.  Honestly, I very calmly reminded the Lord, I didn’t want a new home.  I told Him I have plenty of people in Winona who still need my love.  What about my support system that I have built up over the last 45 years???  They have been there for me for so long.  Shouldn’t I be there for them?  Am I ready to give them up?  “Lord is this really you?”

The last thing the Lord said was that I was to pour my life into my grandchildren.  Surprisingly, I was peaceful about the whole situation.  I am reminded of Isaiah 30 that says, “This is the way, walk in it.”

Bill Hybels, in his Bible Study on The Power of a Whisper has 5 questions to help us discern whether a whisper truly is heaven sent: 

1.) God is this prompting truly from You?

2.) Is the whisper scriptural?     

3.) Is it wise?     

4.) Is it in tune with my own character or wiring patterns?      

5.) What do the people I most trust think about it?

This truly did seem to be God.  The peace I had was supernatural.  It seems scriptural to give of myself to my family.  It seemed consistent with His character.  Somehow it seemed wiser not to hold onto my home and friends as long as I could.  Letting go seemed like something Jesus would do.  It was in tune with my character to spend more time with my family.  My family seemed pleased and supported me.  My friends totally confirmed they too felt it was of the Lord to move close to family.  It was the thing to do. 

It was exciting to watch God unfold His plan.  I knew things wouldn’t necessarily all go smoothly.  God doesn’t owe my anything.  I only owe Him my trust and total faith.  Ever since Jack, my husband died nearly 2 years ago, I have reminded the Lord that I want His input to navigate my life.  Just like Eli told Samuel to say, ‘Speak Lord, I’m listening’.  I’m so thankful that I serve a communicating God and greater still that He wants to communicate with me!!  When I think back to times I have followed God’s whispers in my life-time, they were life changing!!  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss the joy that resulted from obeying!!  I don’t want to miss that joy now later in life either. 

I have chosen to put on a ‘spiritual bluetooth’.  I will seek to have one ear to heaven in all of life.     

I want to close my thoughts with the reminder that God will never ask us to do or go someplace without first preparing us.  We don’t need to live in fear of what He might ask.  He will not only prepare us but it will be the best for us.  In my case just 4 weeks earlier, He allowed me to have more significant closure over losing my husband.  He put a bow on my life of 70 years by blessing me to overflowing as I went back to my home town in South Dakota.  I put precious memories to rest and delighted in what I had learned from them.  He prepared my heart for something new.  None of these things is an accident.  They were planned by an almighty God who has my best interests in His heart.  If He had not prepared me, I would not have accepted His new idea so easily.  Winona was where we raised our sons, where we grew spiritually for 45 years and where we had built the home we planned to grow old in.  It was where I took care of my physically hurting husband for a long time with precious friends loving us, helping us and praying for us for years.

I don’t have the timeline for my future but I know He does.  It’s all taken care of.  Isaiah 58:11 says, ”I will always show you where to go.  I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places, firm muscles, strong bones.  You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry”.

Valley Church has been a blessing in many ways.  I’m blessed by the strong Women’s Ministry, the messages, the heart for community and new friends.  I love being with my family, my home, my new neighbors and the many things God has thought of to put before me.  I can easily see how He has worked all things together for my good just as He said he would in Romans 8:28.  How I enjoy turning each day over to Him and expectantly wait to see what He is up to next.  It’s freeing to trust God completely, turn everything over to Him and then leave the results up Him. 

I would appreciate hearing your comments to this blog of how God blessed you as you followed His still voice. I’d love to hear how God provided peace as you chose to totally trust Him.  I’m choosing to trust Him.  I’m claiming my peace, the peace that He offers each of us.



Coy has been at Valley since the end of November 2015.  Her son Matt along with his wife Alison and Coy’s 4 grandchildren all go to Valley.  He son Jeff and His wife Nicole attend the Evangelical Free Church in St. Cloud, Mn.  Coy and her late husband have always had a heart for leading people into an exciting relationship with Jesus.  She feels very much at home in Des Moines and at Valley Church.

Who Will Roll Away the Stone? by Barbara Korell

Who? What? Where? When?  Why?  How?…..are fabulous questions to ask when reading a good mystery, or when taking notes on a History chapter, or when investigating a passage of scripture.  As you may remember from English class, they are called interrogative words or question words. They are function words used to ask a question. There is much to be learned when we use these interrogative words in the right context.

However, when it comes to matters of the heart, unless we are investigating our own sinful behavior, interrogative words often display a lack of trust in our Lord Jesus. All women deal with difficult issues in our lives related to our family, job, health, finances, relationships, the past, present, or future. As I was reading Mark 16 in my One Year Bible last week, God’s word caused me to ponder some of my own past, present, and future issues.

Mark 16:1-6
“Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body.  Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb.  On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.” 

The women were conversing about who they were going to secure to roll away the stone for them so that they could anoint Jesus’ body.  From the sounds of it, worry monopolized their conversation for the duration of their trip. Rather than spend precious time remembering Jesus, and focusing on The One they were about to anoint, they were fretting. He already had it taken care of! They didn’t realize that the God of the universe had raised Jesus from the dead! He was risen, He was risen indeed, and  He knew their desire to anoint the body that was no longer in the grave! 

I literally wept when I read this! I praised God right then and there for how thankful I am for the truth that Jesus is risen, and for the many times I have experienced His care and help through difficult obstacles in my life. I also confessed, once again, my sin of fear and fretting, and surrendered those present and future issues to my Savior, praising Him that I need not worry about the “large stones” in my life.Praise God that He raised Jesus from the dead, and rolled away the stone – all the challenges in our lives don’t begin to touch the power behind this one act of God!  The same God that raised Jesus from the dead has everything else under His control.

Lord, help us to focus on You, our Savior, instead of the “large stones” in our lives. You want our trust, worship, and obedience.  You have the rest covered. This is not an excuse from praying often about those challenges in life, but rather, it is a reminder that as we pray, whether or not we like the outcome, YOU already know our needs, and YOU have it covered, because Jesus is Risen, He is risen indeed, and the stone was rolled away!!!

Psalm 55:16
But I will call on God, and the Lord will rescue me. Morning, noon, and night, I cry out in my distress, and the Lord hears my voice. He ransoms me and keeps me safe from the battle waged against me.

Proverbs 3:5-6
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”

Psalm 56:3-4
“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. I praise God for what He has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?”

Barbara and husband, Jordon, have lived in India, Arkansas, and Chicago area, but have lived the longest in Des Moines. They moved to Des Moines to be a part of Valley Church in 1997. Jordon became campus pastor at Valley Southview in February of 2015. They have three daughters: Brittany (Erik) Heard (28), Aleena (23), Janine (17). Barbara says:,  "I love Jesus, His Word, and am thankful for His Unfailing love. I enjoy baking, visiting over a cappuccino, prayer walks with friends. I teach piano at Des Moines Christian School part-time. Jordon and I are passionate about helping couples find Christ-centered oneness in marriage."

What Happened When...You're Chosen for "Beyond" by Brenda Long

My 3 year old grandson has a favorite toy with a memorable catchphrase. From Toy Story, a charming 1995 Pixar movie, Buzz Lightyear is always on a mission, encircled by friends, proclaiming “To infinity and beyond!”

Where is Beyond? It’s simply farther than Normal. Outside of Regular.  A stretch away from Ordinary.  Eight admirable ambassadors locked arms, sang “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, and set out for Beyond on January 31, 2016.  The commitment to our Beyond was unquestionable despite the mystery for each of us.  Over 8,000 miles away in Nairobi, Kenya we landed knowing we would soon join voices with yet another Disney tune, Aladdin’s “Whole New World.”  None of us had ever been to Africa.

Honestly, a mix of excitement and anxiety ensued.  I suppose anytime we pack for Beyond there are reasonable apprehensions of health and safety brushing up against the fear of the unknowns. 

Some distance from Familiar I was relieved, however, to be reminded that God, My Commander in Chief, had already been to Africa. That sounds dumb for me to admit that even as I’m writing.  What basic theology to know without doubt that God is a world traveler, He has been to every Beyond there is!  He is Omnipresent.  He is Sovereign, Ruler of ALL people and ALL nations. The One who calls us to Beyond is Immanuel, God with us - our Guide, Advocate, Helper, Teacher, Resident Expert.  

Day One in our Beyond we walked through Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world; approximately 1 thousand acres and 1 million people.  Rocky and deeply rutted paths with open, running sewage routes lead us to chai time with Pastor Levi, Jane and family. In the moment I’m not sure I can walk the slippery 45 degree slope which at places is really a 12 inch sludge path between worn, tin-roofed shacks. I feel terribly uncoordinated. I have an advanced degree in clumsiness on flat turf.  I cannot afford to fall so I keep maneuvering, praying as I find the next stone or dry tuft for footing. It is surreal. I thank my Keeper (Psalm 121:5) as I reach the top.

My Guide (Psalm 31:3) already knew the climb would be worth it!  There are 10 adults huddled closely in a hospitable home of 10 square feet. Crisp white cloths cover our seats as tea and jelly sandwiches are served.  We hear the story of hope and healing after a street beating left this pastor-brother in Christ brain-damaged, deaf and blind.  We rejoice in the multiple miracle details of being discovered in a local hospital having been left for dead.  We offer thanksgiving to Our God of Beyond who has restored Pastor Levi completely over the last 3 years.  I write later that night in my journal “Hard to believe but harder to forget”

 As we rise to prepare to leave these new friends we are coaxed back in our chairs for lunch.  The meal of great sacrifice has been prepared by Rachel and Mary, two sisters in the Lord, who have taken a day off work to serve this delicious meal to their pastor’s guests.   From the small adjacent hut/kitchen, consisting of two 10 inch high charcoal grills on the dirt floor, we are served like honored dignitaries.

We savor the tasty beef stew, matoke (plantains) and peas, squash, and chapatti (flatbread), talk about recipes and relax enough for most to enjoy second helpings.  The God of Beyond serves heaping helpings of humility as we also taste heaven…people from different nations, united around the throne of Jesus  Christ, worshiping (Revelation 7:9) .  Pastor Levi preaches a good word, “Let us never grumble. Work with God in your wilderness.  Don’t look at your Moses.  Look to God.”      

In the days to come we pray for divine appointments. Beyond is still not Familiar but we find the familiar in the divine appointments – a shared Christ. In our lodging places: Mayfield Guest House (Nairobi), Moffat House (Kijabe), and Brackenhurst Conference Center (Limuru), we meet faces full of real-life stories.  We are dedicated to eyes wide open knowing the Spirit among us will point out the engagements marked for us.  (Isaiah 42:16)

(1) Janette, persevering, resting from difficult service in an isolated, undisclosed area. She shares our breakfast table and her story.  Her joy and pain are real.  Her determination to her God of Beyond is unswerving as she moves in the gear of struggle.  We share encouragement, an invitation to our team devotions and prayer.  She later replies “I thank Father for our recent connection.  I am sensing the oppression has lifted.”

 (2) Pastor Martin, man of courage, has brought his wife nearly 700 miles by bus to Kijabe Hospital from South Sudan.  Detrimental care in another facility has caused further infection and skin damage.  No hint of complaint as the God of Beyond, has arranged a connection around our team’s morning worship time. Pastor Marvin exhorts us to pray for our upcoming US elections. “Your President affects the world, like us.”   Many of our team have never considered such a global perspective.  The blessing of going Beyond comes in being able to give to his welfare and to receive his encouraging words.

 (3) We are delighted to hear of this couple’s faith story.  We are thrilled later to find dear, frail Jane in the Salome Unit on our tour of Kijabe Hospital. We pray over her bed hoping these strangers’ visit will give her renewed hope and trusting for God’s quick healing.  We laugh together at the chocolate therapy we share with her!   

(4)  I see Rosina, Sandra, Lucy, and Katherine – dedicated, unpretentious staff at St. Anthony’s Children’s Home, Limuru.  My God of Beyond nudges me to introduce myself and uncover their story.  With a bare bones staff they tell me of serving the needs of 65 girls - orphans, poor, abused, alone.  Mothers to the motherless they have a tailoring school to help young women have a respectable means of self-support.  Given a few hours one afternoon a week to refuel, The Spirit prompts me that I must validate their faithful souls, I get them drinks, candy and lotion we’ve brought along. Their delight is priceless.  Mine too. I’m on assignment for the God of Beyond, an ambassador to Beyond among women who simply needed a thank-you for their service and a listener for their story.

(5) Dr. Mark and Sue have been at Kijabe Hospital for 17 years.  They are committed to “touching the least of these”.  (Matthew 25:40)  They are people with strong purpose and vision, embracing Beyond. Sue has often gone to the hospital in the middle of the night to give blood that someone might live.  Dr. Mark came as an anesthesiologist and has developed a school for nurse anesthetists.  Every day up to 500 patients wait 4-6 hours to be seen in the outpatient clinic.  There are as many as 13,000 surgeries performed annually.  We see parents obligated to room in with their sick child in the new Pediatric Unit.  Units are clean, furnishings are sparse, policies and procedures more different than Familiar, yet staff and patients are interacting with unique compassion.  Dr. Mark shares frankly of the secrets to their longevity in Beyond. “You must have Christ, period. You must have long term perspective and you can’t worry about the ‘piddly’. I reflect deeply on ‘piddly’... the non-essentials, misguided priorities, distracting ‘stuff’ that may keep us from the call to Beyond.   

About 70 missionary women trek to Brackenhurst Conference Center to rest, relax, refuel, and reconnect.   Women who have traveled to Beyond, whose hearts have already trudged over ‘piddly’. What a privilege to serve those who tirelessly serve others!  Women like Krista, Tiffany, Emily, Minalyn, Lorna, Eunice, Kim and Nillah who are joyfully building caring bridges to students at Rift Valley Academy as teachers and houseparents, to street boys and girls in hopeless conditions, to widows in Kibera slums, those infected with HIV, Somali Muslims and tribes entrenched in folk beliefs and witch doctors.  Young women like Esther and Becky living far from Familiar, raising small ones, who mustered the courage to simply knock, ask for friendship and prayer, deeply troubled by family crisis back ‘home’. 

Beyond is beyond words.  I’m not sure that Buzz Lightyear’s “To Infinity and Beyond is quite the same as mine. But I do know I have a stellar set of friends that have shared the calling as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) of the God of limitless compassion and priceless good news. I love how the Message version of the Bible puts Ephesians 2:10.   “He created each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work He does, the good work He has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” 

Won’t you consider Beyond with God?  Prepare to be changed to ‘infinity and beyond’!

Team Zebra 2016. with Emily and PJ Holmertz and their children, Aiden and Sarah. This team traveled to Kenya in February, 2016 to help withthe AIM (African Inland Mission) MissionaryWomen's Retreat!  Brenda and her husband, Don gave leadership to this year's team.  Don serves on staff at Valley Church as Global Outreach Pastor.  Brenda supports and serves along side of Don and also teaches nursing at a local college.  She is a gifted musician and has a heart of pure gold!  If you think you might be interested in finding out more about Team Zebra 2017, please contact Debi Lydic at debil@valley-church.com

Team Zebra 2016. with Emily and PJ Holmertz and their children, Aiden and Sarah. This team traveled to Kenya in February, 2016 to help withthe AIM (African Inland Mission) MissionaryWomen's Retreat!  Brenda and her husband, Don gave leadership to this year's team.  Don serves on staff at Valley Church as Global Outreach Pastor.  Brenda supports and serves along side of Don and also teaches nursing at a local college.  She is a gifted musician and has a heart of pure gold!  If you think you might be interested in finding out more about Team Zebra 2017, please contact Debi Lydic at debil@valley-church.com