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.

Prayer:
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

What Happened When...I Found Beauty in the Desert by Carolyn Oakes

Deserts...We don’t choose them but if we look closely, we can see the beauty in the deserts of life. It is encouraging that the Lord our God goes before us, preparing the way for us and displaying His faithfulness and glory, even in the barrenness.

     I was unaware when I wrote the following words in my journal, early on the morning of September 3rd, that the Lord would provide an immediate opportunity to put them into practice:

·    “How interesting, Lord, that this (Psalm 63) takes place while David was in the desert of Judah.  Let me see you clearly, magnify you consistently, and love you whole-heartedly in the desert and well as on the mountaintop. You are the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You are my God!”

·   “Open my eyes that I may see the wonderful things in your law.” (Psalm 119:)

     Later that day, at Starbucks, I received a call from my husband, Scott, who was on his way downtown to a cardiologist. He had gone to his doctor for increased “heartburn.”  The next morning after more tests, we were told that my “healthy, strong” husband had five blocked valves and he would not be allowed to leave the hospital until he had open-heart surgery.  The left main artery, appropriately called the widow maker, was 90% blocked. We were stunned.  He had always been so healthy and fit.  The next several weeks began a journey in which our amazing God provided consistent evidence of His faithfulness, affirmation of His presence, and comfort in His community.

The Beauty of God’s Faithfulness:

     When meeting with our surgeon a few days later, we discovered that not only did the Lord provide an excellent surgeon, who is a believer, but Dr. Chris Komanapalli is also a fellow Valley Church member!  His reputation, his skill, and his humor quickly put us at ease.  His expert skills were needed during the surgery when Scott’s heart stopped and Dr. K had to perform CPR to resuscitate him.

     We had consistent reminders of God’s care at the hospital, everywhere we went. Several friends from our life group work at Methodist and checked on us daily, attending to our every need.  We had nurses on our floor whose family members had been on mission trips with us.  Another friend in hospital administration gave us a card to provide complementary food and drink at the hospital during our stay and yes, it did include the hospital Starbucks-Praise the Lord! We had many of our pastors visit us a few times to pray and encourage our hearts. 

     It occurred to me one morning, how many prayers the Lord had answered since we had been in the hospital.  Even things that were not related to health were being answered as we walked through this time. At times, we were not aware of our own needs, but the Lord provided for us.

      It was wonderful to see our teen and young adult children stepping up to comfort and encourage each other and us.  Our oldest son came in early the morning of surgery and read Scripture over Scott and was there for me when Scott was struggling in pain in Critical Care.  All four were there to hug each other when he was not doing well. 

The Beauty of God’s Presence:

“ God is our refuge and strength; an ever present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:10

     This verse has been precious to us in the past.  I wrote it on the large chalkboard in our kitchen, claiming the Lord’s help in our desert of unknowns. 

     Each day, the Lord was so kind and tender to provide just the comfort that I needed through His Word.  Zephaniah tells us that He delights in us and sings over us.  I was filled with gratitude each morning to wake up with a song of praise in my heart and in my mind even before I opened the Word. 

     I was deeply encouraged by Paul’s reminder in Romans 8 that Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede on our behalf before the Father.  (Romans 8:26-27, 34)  The reassuring promises of His Word were a tremendous comfort to our sometimes fearful hearts.  We knew that no matter what the outcome was, He would carry us, love us, and be with us.

The Beauty of Community:

·   Journal entry- “1 Samuel 23:16 Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.  The power of community and encouragement.  “en-courage”- to pour courage into another; to give someone hope and courage.”

     One of the most remarkable provisions of God in our journey was the beauty of community.  We saw the body of Christ work together on our behalf like I never could have imagined.  So many times, I was left speechless and overwhelmed by God’s goodness through these amazing people we get to call friends and brothers/sisters-in-Christ.

     When our kids found out about Scott’s serious and unexpected heart condition, we were strengthened by the Lord’s goodness through the body of Christ.  God provided Nathan with three godly mentors at his football game to encourage his heart and let them know they were there for him. Sara and Ashley both had several dear friends from Valley Church scoop them up in hugs and love, allowing them to cry on their shoulders, when they were alarmed and uncertain the night that they found out. Jordan, who ministered to us by reading Scripture and praying over Scott, also had godly friends pouring into and praying for him.

     Before surgery, Scott, who embraces a good time, had a constant party at the hospital, with dear friends and family, from Valley Church, Des Moines Christian School and our community bringing prayers, fellowship, laughter, sneaking in milkshakes, pizza, and joy-overflowing. 

     We asked the Lord to use us to display His glory at the hospital. It was astounding to see how many times He did this and in many ways.  One that stands out was when friends and students from our mission trips, and small group friends showed up the night before surgery.  They circled around us and read Scripture over Scott. Then we sang “Lord I need you.” As the words of what has become one of my favorite worship songs flooded the hall of North 3 at Methodist Hospital, I realized that our prayers were being answered.  So many of the staff later commented on the constant visitors and the joy and peace that they saw on all of our faces, which is uncommon on their floor. We had many opportunities to speak with others at the hospital about the Lord.  What a mighty God we serve, that in our weaknesses, He is strong. He truly does cause all things to work together for good. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Romans 8:28)

     The day of surgery, we were flooded with God’s peace that surpasses all understanding and the confidence that He is in control over all.  Once again, we had several dear friends show up with prayers, lattes, verses of encouragement...and more prayers and lattes.  I had people come up to me in the waiting room and ask about our group. It was a true testimony of the beautiful, winsome body of Christ. 

     After several hours in surgery and a few hours in critical care, Scott had to go back into emergency surgery because of complications. At 10 O’clock at night, I was shocked to come out into the waiting room and find several dear friends from our life group and one of our pastors there.  They waited with me and prayed with me until after midnight, when Scott was once again in recovery.  John Glad closed our evening in prayer with, “Lord, we were going to praise you no matter the outcome but we thank you for answering our prayers and that Scott is okay.”  So true!  What a gift it is to have people who love us and speak truth into our lives.

     My husband is recovering well now.  As his scars begin to fade a bit, the lessons that the Lord has taught us do not.  He is faithful and we can absolutely trust Him in each and every situation.  The body of Christ is a fantastic testimony of God’s love to a dark world that is desperate for light and truth.  God’s beauty is in every desert.  Even when we are blinded by fear or pain, the beauty of God is there because He is there, walking with us, carrying us.

The Beauty of God in you:

Ladies, what desert journey are you on now? 

He is with you.

The Lord created us for relationships and community.

Are you a part of a community? 

Do you have friends who remind you of God’s goodness and faithfulness?

Take the plunge. Remove the mask.  Enjoy the authentic community that the Lord has provided for you at Valley Church. 

What steps is God asking you to take? 

Is there a Bible study He wants you to join? 

A life group He wants you to try out? 

A ministry in which He wants you to serve? 

A friend he wants you to take out for coffee and go the next level?

Don’t hesitate.  Let’s ask him together to teach us to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom and experience his beauty together.  We can walk together as sisters in Christ, through the breathtaking beauty of the mountaintops and the often-camouflaged beauty of the desert.

Psalm 90:12, 14 “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.”

Carolyn is a secondary Bible teacher at Des Moines Christian School and a Walk Thru the Bible instructor. She and her husband, Scott, are the parents of four teenagers/young adults and have been members of Valley Church for over seventeen years.  She enjoys taking mission trips, reading, spending time with family and friends, going on long walks, drinking coffee, and eating Mexican food

What Happened When...God Took Us On an RV Adventrure by Bobi Jo Friesen

Romans 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.

Jeremiah 29:11 – “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 hope and a future.”

Those words have never rung more true in my life than over the last 3 years.  My husband and I have been married for 27 years.  As any married couple, we have had our ups and downs.  But, we never wavered in our love for each other and God.  We have been through many adventures (moving, job changes, loss of grandparents, loss of parents, becoming empty-nesters, children getting married) and always knew we would come out together.  The last 3 years have been no exception.  We just didn’t know how much of an adventure God would take us on.

When God starts to move in your life and you begin to feel restless where you are, you know it’s time to start looking around and questioning what God wants you to see.  About three years ago, we became empty-nesters and realized we didn’t need such a big house for the two of us.  At the same time, my husband took on a new job which actually was a cut in pay.  So, our budget needed to change and we felt God was telling us to sell our house.  To be good stewards of our money, we had to sell our house before looking for any land to build our new house on.  We tried to sell the house on our own.  We had a lot of walk-throughs, but no offers.  So, we contacted an agent and she listed it right away.  We thought it was the right time of year, because all the houses in Des Moines were selling like hotcakes! 

We started to look for suitable land to put a house on.  No acreages in our area were in the price range we were willing to spend, or they weren’t in a good location. God really started working on my heart with our budget and expenses with housing.  What could we really afford in the interim between the sale of our home and buying land?  I started to consider what my aunt and uncle had done.  They are full-time RVers.  I posed the idea to my husband and he was not keen on it at first.  Several weeks went by and we starting talking about how we could live in the RV on the land while we were building a house and wouldn’t have to live in an apartment.  We came up with a price range of what we wanted to budget for the RV.  We knew the unit would be fairly modest without a lot of frills because of the price range we had budgeted.  So, we started looking to see if anything was available for the two of us and our dog. 

On the coldest day in December two years ago, we went looking at some RV models.  We told the dealer if we were going to live in it, we would need to have something to survive the winter.  We found a model that was laid out perfectly, with lots of storage and could withstand any winter we would get here in Iowa.  And it was in the exact price range we had discussed.  God provided above and beyond our expectations of what we thought our small budget could buy.  We purchased it (ask to see my pictures the next time you see meJ.) 

We found a storage unit to store all the items we wouldn’t need in the RV but needed to keep for future living.  Some things were handed down to our children since they were starting new lives of their own.  Our house was still on the market but our new adventure had begun in our RV. 

But, God’s timing was definitely different than ours.  Our house didn’t sell right away.  God allowed us time to move all of our items out of our house and get settled in our RV before we closed on our house (6 months later).  But, God knew exactly what we needed. 

The job my husband had started was not what he was told it was.  It required a lot more hours and way more stress than he had ever anticipated.  It was putting a strain between him and the job, and him and me.  One day he came home and it was over.  He left his job and felt a huge burden was lifted off him.  But, that left us with only one income and him searching for another job.  The blessings of the Lord were never more apparent than during those 4 months he was without a job.  If we had still been in the house, we would not have had enough income to cover all our expenses.  But, with our house sold and expenses streamlined, we never went a night without a roof over our heads and a meal on the table. We were able to consolidate debt, downsize our living expenses and pay off some other debt with a sale of some large items we had accumulated in the past.  God provided at every turn! 

So, now here we are 3 years later.  My husband is blessed with a new job where he is appreciated for his hard work.  We are able to enjoy time together because his job doesn’t require 16 hour work days six days a week.  We have a budget that is workable with our two incomes.  And we have decided to become the “small house” people because our RV is our permanent home. 

“I have plans to prosper you and not harm you”.   Is God stirring in your heart?  Have you examined the things that He is calling you to examine?  His plans are much better because He sees the big picture. 

Bobi Jo and her husband are long time attenders of Valley Church.  She has been actively involved in Valley Women's Ministry and has brought many smiles to our faces with her quick humor and love for people.   Bobi Jo teaches music to elementary students in the Des Moines area.  She is a blessing to all!

 

What Happened When...I Moved to a New Place by Elizabeth Mason

“…for He who promised is faithful.”  Hebrews 10:23

I will never forget the day we found out we were moving to Iowa for my husband’s General Surgery residency training. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I had never been to Iowa before and we knew only one couple living there. I remember thinking, “God, we have prayed and asked you to send us exactly where you want us to be…. So, I trust you. But, whoa, this is crazy!”

So, we packed, again, and made our way to Des Moines. I was pregnant with our second baby, my husband began his intern year of residency, we tried to navigate a new town and meet new people. Life was crazy. But in the midst of the crazy, I saw and felt God’s love and protection over us in the sweetest ways. I could write pages about the things God has done while we’ve been here. The past three and a half years have been life changing. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned from moving to a new place.

I have learned to look around expectantly for God’s constant provision and protection. He is always there - in the big decisions and also in the little day-to-day moments. God promises this in Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” I just have to be open and willing to see it. It’s easy to walk though the day, going through the motions but if I can change my focus off of me and onto what God might have in store for that day, I feel so much freedom. I notice an elderly woman in the grocery store who might need a smile. I see the sun shining perfectly through the trees as a whisper from God reminding me He loves me. I’ve learned that if I live intentionally looking for – and expecting – God’s little blessings throughout the day, He is excitedly waiting to show them to me. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you,” James 4:8.

Another thing I’ve learned is that God designed us to walk though life with each other. We were made to encourage one another, to cry with each other, to reach out for help or advice. As much as I wanted to hide in my loneliness inside my house, once I stepped out of my comfort zone, gave myself a pep talk and actually made an effort, I was able to see the community God had already planned for us here. I committed not to believe the lies Satan was feeding into my head; “You’ll never find a friend.” “You’re not good enough.” “You’re not like them.” “They won’t like you.” LIES. God is so much bigger than that and His truth says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” Psalm 139:14. We were made for relationships and if we step out bravely, looking for ways for God to use us, not serve us, He is just waiting to bless us with relationships. Hebrews 10:24, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

One of the biggest things I’ve learned (and am still learning) is the fact that life is hard. Trials will come. Our days will not be easy. God tells us this in the Bible over and over again, “In this world you will have troubles, but take heart! I have overcome the world!” John 16:33. I know this truth, yet I still have moments of feeling sorry for myself. As if I deserve something different or better. And the thing is, I don’t. I don’t actually deserve anything. What I do deserve is death. Hell. Sadness. But Jesus took all that upon himself when He died for my sins and now I can live in freedom. That doesn’t mean life is easy, but it means “I have been saved by grace…” Ephesians 2:8 and when things are tough, “I do not fear for I can be strong and courageous….” Joshua 1:9. It’s a choice I make daily. I can either wallow in the things I wish were different OR I can give God the glory, let Him write my story and trust He is working for my good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” Romans 8:28. I heard a speaker recently say, “If you’re looking around and everyone else’s grass seems greener… maybe God is telling you to water your own grass!” God has blessed each of us in our own way and we need to stop wishing for things to look the same as those around us. “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped…” Psalm 28:7.

God is faithful. In every way. No matter what. He is faithful and He keeps His promises just like He said He would. He always has and He always will. Hebrews 10:23 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

I can hardly believe how fast our time in Iowa is flying by. We are beginning to prayerfully consider where God is leading our family from here. As we start another new journey, I am clinging to each of these four truths once again and repeating over and over in my head: God is faithful. He always has been and always will be. Because of His great love, I can be strong and courageous, no matter where He leads. And I pray that wherever God is leading you, whether it’s a new city, new job, new relationship, new phase of life… You can trust God’s plan and His faithfulness to provide for your every need! Lean into Him. He’s got you.

Elizabeth Mason has been a part of Valley MOPs since moving to Des Moines in 2012. She is the mom of two girls, Reese (5) and Lucy (3) and the biggest cheerleader for her husband of eight years, Mark, who is a Surgery Resident at Methodist Hospital downtown. Despite the crazy cold winters, the Mason family has enjoyed their transition from Texas to Iowa. And they’re especially thankful for what God has done for them through Valley Church.

What Happened When...Our Son was Diagnosed with a Chronic Illness by Laura Erickson

The dreaded “word” problem. Usually at the end of a math test, these questions would vex me to a state of pure panic as I scrambled to decipher the logic out of it—what equation do I use, and what number goes where? Taking a known computation and applying it to a “real life” situation was never my strong suit. In many ways, the journey of this last year has felt like a word problem. Trials might be considered the word problems of spiritual growth--in which we are challenged to apply our knowledge of truth about God and who He is to our current struggle.

About a year ago we were waiting patiently on a virus to “clear out” of our son Peter’s system. He had just finished the first semester of 7th grade and had been sick on and off for a month or two. Just when we thought he was over the sickness, he would start up with symptoms again. The vomiting and diarrhea were obvious and concerning, but there were less obvious symptoms that looking back I should have noticed…the weight loss, the pale skin, the lack of energy. I remember the night my mom-alarm went off and I knew we needed help. I made the call and pushed for an immediate appointment.

Peter and I sat in stunned silence as our gastroenterologist delivered the news with unsympathetic resignation: “I’m fairly certain that Peter has Crohn’s Disease and we will need to schedule some tests to confirm that diagnosis.” And he left the room. To say we were unprepared for that announcement was an understatement—but to be ignorant of the disease was an advantage at this point. We didn’t yet know enough to be worried. Test after gruesome test was administered and while all of life that didn’t have to do with vomit and diarrhea and colons and intestines was suspended, we quickly got “up to speed” on what we were dealing with. Looking back, we are thankful for a quick and confident diagnosis.

The “wall” was formidable. Crohn’s is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that is associated with inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. It is chronic, meaning there is no cure—only management of the symptoms. A combination of genetics, environmental factors, and an abnormal immune response seems to be the cause, although no history of the disease was found in either of our families. It exists in various degrees of severity, but in some cases, it can result in significant pain, suffering, and surgical intervention.

 As I researched and learned about the treatments available, I was both overwhelmed by the unknown and comforted by the way God was revealing Himself through the kind words of our doctors, the prayers and care of our family and friends, His own words through scripture, and the growing faith of our son. We took heart in the words of Psalm 91. We began treating the disease with medicine, praying by faith that God was in control of the circumstances. We prayed for wisdom for the doctors, and for the medicine to be effective. I reached out to other moms that had navigated these same waters. We felt God’s hand of healing as Peter began to feel better through the initial treatments and we returned to a life-rhythm that felt almost normal. And then the rains came.

Peter faced some side effects of the medicine that challenged his faith. Perseverance became real to him as he realized this was going to be a life-long struggle. For the first time since the onset, he began to ask “why did this happen to me?”  That was probably the day that I cried the most—watching him struggle with the reality of a diagnosis that made him different than his peers. No 13 year old kid wants to be “special.” They want to be “normal.” There were tears and prayers and mourning for the normal that he would never be. He battled fear as we came to the end of the first phase of treatment and some of his symptoms were returning. We wrestled with the decision to take Peter out of the country on a family mission trip, against the will of his doctor. We battled discouragement when learning his condition was not as mild as we had hoped. There were fights with our insurance company over treatment and anxiety over the new medication.

Still, we prayed, others prayed, and we waited. I learned that waiting is harder for me than fighting. I learned that the kind of waiting that grows our faith is active and purposeful in its design, and that there is no “fast-tracking” the process. As I read about the apostle Paul’s thorn in 2 Cor. Chapter 12, I was challenged by his gracious acceptance of it. Was our son ready or able to take on this attitude? Did Peter’s “word problem” even look like mine? Or anyone elses?  I’m not sure I know the answer to this question, and yet we felt God encouraging us with the truth of Romans 8:28, knowing that He would work through both the good and difficult circumstances for His glory and for His purposes. I took courage in the knowledge that God was and is perfecting Peter’s faith through this trial.

Lately, there have been more good days than bad. The medication he has been taking over the last 3 months has been effective in keeping his symptoms at bay and has even allowed his body to grow—a recent development that has been a long awaited answer to prayer. Praise God!! The application of my knowledge of Jehovah God, His character and His promises into this equation of a complicated health issue is a faith-work in progress. I don’t have it figured out yet--but I do know this: God is always greater than the sum total of our feelings, our resources, and our circumstances. We are laying our stones of remembrance of what God has accomplished so that we do not forget that His power is made perfect in weakness, His grace is sufficient even in the waiting, and that He works in all things—especially trials—for His good.

 

Laura and her family have attended Valley Church for many years.  She has actively been involved in the Creative Arts Ministry using her many musical talents to bless all of us.

What Happend When...Our Home was Robbed

Each Christmas we pack up our family of five and head south for three weeks. Our families are sprinkled across Texas and New Mexico and we use those weeks to pop in and see everyone. The trip down is full of excitement, the promise of Christmas, joy, expectation. The trip home, however, isn't always met with the same attitude. The kids don't want to leave Gammie's house (truthfully neither do mom and dad!) and the drive home is, in a word, exhausting. Driving into our driveway is such a relief. Every year. Every year except January of 2013.

When we pulled into the driveway that snowy January night, my husband ran up to unlock the front door while I started to unpack our 1 and 3 year old. He came back to the car quicker than I expected and whispered "Someone broke into our house." I didn't think I heard him correctly so I said "Wait, what?" He repeated himself and in disbelief I handed him the baby and went to see for myself. I walked inside and all I remember saying is "No. No, no, no." We quickly came to our senses for the sake of our children and packed them back in the car. It would be impossible to stay in our home that night. I called 911 and then a dear friend who welcomed our family into her basement for the next 4 days.

I didn't want the kids back in the house until it had been put back together and an alarm system installed. Dear friends from Valley and my MOPS group offered to watch the kids while we set to cleaning up our home. As I cleaned, I prayed. Actually, it may have been more like yelling at God. I was so angry. I felt like our life had been violated and I cried in disgust when I saw all the stuff they'd rifled through.

I distinctly remember putting items back on a shelf in my living room and saying to God, "You were supposed to protect us!" And clear as a bell I heard, "I did." I stopped what I was doing and let the fact that He had protected us pour over me. We hadn't been home. We had a place to stay while we cleaned up. We were safe.

It took me several weeks to feel comfortable going to bed at night. I was convinced they would return and I prayed for comfort and peace. In the moment it was so hard to see how any good could come from what had happened, but when I look back,  so many lovely things took place because of this experience.

One of the items taken was my three year-old daughter's piggy bank. Her AWANA teacher that year was a sweet friend from my MOPS group and one night at AWANA she gave her a gift. When we got home and opened it, it was a new piggy bank. It was such a simple act, but our family felt so much love in that gift.

A friend of ours came over no questions asked to help my husband clean up and talk with the police that first night. Other friends brought meals, supplies and gift cards - we were overwhelmed by the support and love we felt.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of this incident was a friendship we found with a family who helped us replace our back door. We were friends before, but this experience brought us closer together and they quickly became our best friends.

When I look back at the break-in, I now see the good that came out of it before I dwell on the negative parts. I see the love we wouldn't have experienced otherwise. While I wouldn't wish the experience on anyone, I know that God works for the good in ALL things.

Adrienne Weeks is a homeschooling mom of three and married to her husband of eight years, Heath. She has been involved with Valley Church since 2011 and her family enjoys serving with FCA's Training Table each week. Besides spending time with her family, her other interests include reading, crafting, baking & running.

What Happened When...I Miscarried, Twice by Valerie Ridings

Over the next several months, the Women of Valley Blog will feature stories written by Valley Women who have experienced sudden life events. Our Bloggers will be sharing about these events, their feelings, the changes that came as a result of the event, how people reacted to them and most importantly how their faith was impacted. We are referring to these Blogs as “What Happened When…”

Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” will be the thread verse that is woven into each Blog.  I pray that as you read these accounts over the coming weeks, you will be challenged to look for this thread in your own life stories and be encouraged in knowing that God always works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.                                                                                                 

Debi Lydic                                                                                                                                                                                                          

The silver cross-ribbon necklace I wear around my neck is a tangible reminder to me how God’s love flows through everything.  It reminds me of His love when I feel like my world is falling apart. In 2015, I suffered the loss of two babies. You’ve read it right…two. I’m a mother of two precious children now living in heaven. My first child died in March at almost 10 weeks. My other child went to heaven in September after a rare ectopic pregnancy. Today I’ve been given a chance to tell you what happened when…I miscarried, twice in less than a year.  I believe God placed this chapter in my life and now, I want to tell you my story to let His love be reflected in the midst of my sorrow.

Seeing a positive pregnancy test is a feeling I can’t describe. It seemed like all those times of playing house as a kid and taking care of my baby dolls was about pay off. The most emotional feeling I had in that moment was the fact that my wonderful husband was going to be a dad, our parents were going to be “grand” and our family was going to grow in His glory.  At our first doctor's appointment we heard and saw our precious baby’s heartbeat fluttering on the screen. Tears fell from my eyes as it was the most beautiful sight and sound I had ever experienced. I touched the cross around my neck and was reminded of God's love and I gave thanks to the One who was molding my child. My heart was full. I couldn’t think of anything else God could give. If there was anything else, my heart would have burst. All I could think of was Jeremiah 29:11...There is hope and a future growing inside me. God was going to have me be a mother.

It was the beginning of March when I realized something was not right. It was like the gates opened and the floods of worry hit me like hard stones on my chest. I called the doctor immediately and was told I couldn’t see the doctor until the following morning.   In the meantime, I was to remain “calm” and keep my feet up. I followed the orders as my mind wanted to grasp on to anything that would calm my fears. I called my mom and called my mother in-law. Both of them echoed the same words “this can be normal.” I hung up and did my best to focus on the T.V. As my husband held my hand he kept telling me, “it will be okay.” I had such anxiety that it was very hard to pray or read my Bible. I only remember repeating over and over again, “God, please be with me.”

The next morning as I walked into my doctor’s office, I had great hope that everything would be fine.  However, the sonogram screen proved otherwise.  My baby, my little Sweet Pea’s heart had stopped beating. Our baby was gone. My husband being a father…gone. Our parents being “grand”…gone. The image of our baby in our arms…gone. It seemed all hope was gone. My world seemed to go silent.

When my husband and I walked through the door of our home that day, we both fell to the floor crying tears of great pain. We shared our grief with each other and then we called our families. As we shared this news with family and friends it was all so very hard for both of us to believe. It seemed unreal. And…it seemed unfair. Why would God allow this? Why did my baby have to die? Why did our hope and a future have to be pulled from our hands? I don’t remember how many times I spoke to God, but I said to Him, “I’m not mad at You, Lord, but why did this pain have to come into my life?”

In the coming days, I felt God was with me through it all. He was there holding my right hand along with my husband as each wave of physical and emotional pain kept hitting me. During the days that followed I learned that not only was it going to take time for my body to heal, but it was also going to take time for me and my husband's broken hearts to heal. For the next few months, my husband and I drew together, seeking God for His comfort and mercy.

In the summer of 2015, our “whys” turned into “what now” as we decided to try again. We thought what a blessing it would be for us to be pregnant before our Sweet Pea’s due date in October. It would give us something to look forward to. In August, I found out I was pregnant. I still remember explaining to my husband what a rainbow baby was. It was God’s way of giving us hope again. I remember saying, “God wouldn’t put us through that pain again, would He? He knows the desires of my heart and this is His plan, right?” The mountain of questions took up space in my mind as I prepared for our first appointment. I prayed for this to be a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy.

The morning of the appointment, I remember standing in the middle of our backyard looking up at our tall evergreen trees watching the birds fly by. I closed my eyes and listened. I wanted to be with God. I wanted to be with Him and be in that moment. Looking back, I treasure that moment because it was God, myself and my baby. I believe God silenced all of the “what ifs” I had been thinking for that moment because He knew of what was to come. I held my cross necklace with a smile on my face sensing God's presence and love as I released the last breath of serenity I would feel that day.

At that appointment, my doctor discovered that I had a rare ectopic pregnancy. The doctor looked at me with worry in her eyes as she told me my life was at risk and we needed to act now. I was rushed immediately into surgery. The last thing I remember was holding the hand of my doctor. I held her hand and asked for Jesus to be with me as I went under.

I apologize to you as I can’t type the end of my story in words. My emotions are still raw, but what I want to share with you this - God’s love flows through the cracks of our hurt and pain. His love is continuous as He has reminded me through the cross-ribbon necklace around my neck. His love has no end. And...His love is real even when we don't feel it or understand the pain in our lives. Sharing this story with you is a part of my mending.  If you have gone through a pain like this, I pray you won't feel alone anymore. God loves you, He loves me, and He doesn’t want us to ever suffer alone.

He offers hope and peace in knowing that He works all things in our lives for our good. (Romans 8:28)  He also offers comfort and rest.  Matthew 11:8 says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."  He understands.  He knows what it is to hurt as He watched His Son, Jesus die on the cross.  My husband, Andrew, and I still feel the hurt, yet we know we can trust God with all of our pain.

As I end this, the greatest comfort God is giving me now from all this sorrow is to seek and help others who are going through or have gone through a pregnancy loss. I have had several friends who are going through this experience even as I write this Blog. I am finding that we can heal from these trials and as we seek God’s grace, His love flows.

Words from Debi Lydic, Director of Women’s Ministry:                                                                                            If you are currently going through or have gone through a similar experience involving a pregnancy loss and would like to talk with me or our Care and Counseling Pastor about your experience or if you would like to connect with others who have had a pregnancy loss, please contact me at debil@valley-church.com

 

Valerie Ridings lives in West Des Moines, IA with her husband, Andrew. They have a sweet dog named Charlie. They have no children of their own but they plan to open their hearts & home to adoption within the year.  They have attended Valley Church for about two years.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING by Elizabeth Mason

Don’t you just love Thanksgiving? I mean besides setting aside a special day to be with family and friends and all the amazing food, even all the weeks leading up to this day fill me with gratitude. I know I should be filled with this same thanksgiving spirit every day of the year, but I’m thankful for this, not-so-subtle reminder that we have so much to be thankful for, so much to praise God for.

Let’s be honest. There are many seasons of life that are just hard. So many days that feel exhausting. Overwhelming. In those times I too quickly disregard thankfulness. During this thanksgiving season I’ve been reminded over and over that God is the same no matter our circumstances. He deserves my praise and my thanks not just for the “things” he blesses me with or for the things he teaches me through hardship but he deserves my thanksgiving just because He is God! That’s it. He is good! He is faithful. Always. It’s a promise. And because of that I should shout His praise forever.

One of my favorite devotional books is Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. In it she writes a daily note as if it’s written from Jesus right to you. I wanted to share some of it with you. Read it as if Jesus is talking to you.

            “Dear _____ (fill in your name), Thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity. That is why I have instructed you to give thanks for everything. There is an element of mystery in this transaction: You give me thanks (regardless of your feelings), and I give you Joy (regardless of your circumstances). This is a spiritual act of obedience—at times, blind obedience. To people who don’t know Me intimately, it can seem irrational and even impossible to thank Me for heartrending hardships. Nonetheless, those who obey Me in this way are invariably blessed, even though difficulties may remain.

            Thankfulness opens your heart to My Presence and your mind to My thoughts. You may still be in the same place, with the same set of circumstances, but it is as if a light has been switched on, enabling you to see from My perspective. It is this Light of My Presence that removes the sting from adversity.”

Psalm 7:17, “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness….”

Psalm 107:8, “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.”

1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

As we read through these verses notice the thread flowing through all of them about why we give thanks to God:

            Because of His righteousness.

            Because He’s good.

            For His unfailing love.

            Because of the victory we have through Jesus!

The bottom line: it’s not about the exact things on our ‘thankful list’ but it’s about the attitude of our heart as we give those things back to the Lord. As we tell Him how grateful we are for HIM. For His goodness to us. For His Victory. For His grace. For His unfailing love. In any and every circumstance, He is the same. Even if we’re not.

Then, through those prayers of thanksgiving come a change in our heart.

Through that heart change and a spirit of thanksgiving, we’re able to see all the other “things” as such huge blessings from God.

Then, there’s almost nothing else to do except shout praises to God for all the “things” He’s given us! We’ll be able to notice more of those little blessings throughout the day. And realize He doesn’t give them as a reward or because we did anything to deserve them, but just simply because He loves us. 

So, as we go around the table and say what we’re thankful for today, I pray we would truly be able to see the good of our great God. That we could give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18) regardless of our feelings but because of the promise of His righteousness.

Ephesians 5:20, “…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

Happy Thanksgiving from Valley Women’s Ministry!

Elizabeth Mason.jpg

Elizabeth Mason has been a part of Valley MOPs since moving to Des Moines in 2012. She is the mom of two girls, Reese (6) and Lucy (almost 3) and the biggest cheerleader for her husband of eight years, Mark, who is a Surgery Resident at Methodist Hospital downtown. Despite the crazy cold winters, the Mason family has enjoyed their transition from Texas to Iowa. And they’re especially thankful for what God has done for them through Valley Church.

God Was At Work-Even When I Was As Bad As I Was..by Brenda Knollenberg

Recently I was visiting family and friends in Illinois, and the subject about “black sheep” came up.  One of my dad’s friends looked at my brother and said, “I’ll bet you were the black sheep of your family."  My brother kind of smiled and looked at me.  I had to ‘fess up – “No, that would be me,” I stated. 

Many people who know me now find that hard to believe – I work as the director of a Christ-centered ministry! But the story of my life is much like the prodigal son, or the “black sheep of the family."  I have told many friends who have wayward kids that my story will give them hope.  Because I was that wayward kid!

I actually accepted Christ as my Savior when I was in Jr. High, but there was no follow-up, no follow-through, no discipleship.  I knew Jesus was my Savior, but wasn’t submitting to Him.  Quite honestly, I really didn’t know that came next!  So for years, I knew Jesus loved me, that He died and rose for me, that He forgave my sins - but I kept right on living the way I wanted to live – not the way He wanted me to live.

I won’t go through the laundry list of things I’ve done, but I’ll name a few just so you get the picture of what kind of a kid I was.  I started drinking regularly when I was a freshman in high school, I smoked, I disrespected my parents, I skipped school on a regular basis, I hung out with a drug-addicted crowd (for some strange reason I never got into drugs – something I am VERY grateful for.) I dated drug-dealers.  When I was in college, I took a friend of mine to have an abortion.  Wouldn’t you have liked your daughter to have hung out with me?!

I was blessed to have parents that provided unconditional love – I knew that there were consequences to my choices, but one thing I never had to wonder about was if my parents loved me – I knew the answer was yes, no matter what!  I was also blessed to have a mother that prayed (and prayed and prayed and prayed) for me. 

I didn’t know then, but I believe that God was at work – even when I was as bad as I was!  The New Living Translation of Philippians 1:6 says: “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

You know, when I look back at some of the things I’ve done, it is amazing that I am still alive – let alone was able to graduate from high school and college.  But I know now that God had begun a good work within me, and while I wasn’t being obedient to Him, He was still at work in me!

When I was in my mid to late twenties, I actually started reading the Bible at the encouragement of some friends who were Christians.  When I was 29, after the birth of my son, I knew I needed to really start following Christ and living for Him.  So I rededicated my life to Him.  And my life has never been the same!

You know, one of the most amazing things about God is that, while He NEVER wants us to sin, He can take our sins and past failures and ultimately use them for His glory!  It is one of those mysteries that really has shaped my life.  He took my sin of taking my friend to an abortion clinic, and has used it to give me a passion for women who have abortions in their past.  Now I am the director of a pregnancy center and am the co-leader of the Surrendering the Secret Post-Abortion group at Valley, offering these women hope and healing through Jesus! 

Because I used to hang out with people who abused drugs and alcohol, I think God allows me to see the good in them that is often overshadowed by their addictions.  I believe I relate well to people struggling with addictions, as I have had some very good friends who have suffered from the same issues.

As I mentioned above, I used to smoke, and that opened the door to a great spiritual conversation with a girl who had never wanted to talk about God.  She was one of my clients in IL (I’ll call her Jody).  One day Jody was having a really rough day.  She had come in for her parenting appointment, but was so anxious and frustrated.  “I just need to go outside and have a cigarette!” she exclaimed to me.  “That’s ok,” I told her.  “I used to smoke too, so I know how it is.”  Jody went outside and had her smoke break.  When she came back in to the center, she asked me “What was your life like before you were a Christian?”  You see, I think Jody just thought Christians were all born sin-free and led sin-free lives.  She didn’t know that we are simply sinners saved by grace, and the only important difference between us was that Christians know and trust Jesus!  Jody and I had many, many more conversations about God, His love, His Word!  The last contact I had with Jody, she was seriously reading the Bible!  While I’m not sure she had accepted Jesus as her Savior at that point, she was well on her way.  God used my cigarette smoking in my younger days to open the door to Jody about His love.  He is truly amazing!

The verse in Philippians says that God will continue His work in us until Jesus returns.  That means He isn’t finished with us yet! We just need to be humble and submissive to His will, and live for Him rather than for us.  That is way easier said than done – at least for me!  However, He offers us grace when we fail, and uses our failures to bring Him glory. And all the while He is refining us to become more like Him.  For all of us “black sheep”, there could be no better Shepherd!

 

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.