Hagar's Well- Resources for the Single Mom

Genesis 21:19 And God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water..

I was a single mom for about ten years. Early in that leg of my journey, I made a commitment to Christ and started attending a vibrant church. Thankfully, I received solid teaching directly from the word and I learned to look to God as my provider.

At the time, I had a high school diploma, no skills beyond food service and basic customer service, and I had no plan. I had a job, but minimum wage was never meant to provide support for a family.  I depended on public assistance to supplement my meager income.

In the early 90's, there was a prosperity message that ran rampant in Pentecostal churches. The basic premise is solid-- God doesn't intend for His people to live in lack. Unfortunately, the message was often misunderstood.  God wants you to be rich!  You can claim your new car/house or whatever your heart desires!  Some people stopped focusing on God and started focusing on the 'stuff' they expected to gain.

As a new Christian, and as a mom who was barely making enough to cover the basics in life,  I was momentarily caught up in this twisted form of doctrine. I wanted a miracle! I wanted to open my mailbox and find a check for a large sum. I wanted a rich (handsome) man to sweep me off my feet and marry me. Maybe I could win the lottery or a rich relative would pass away and leave me their fortune. (Note: I have no rich relatives.)  You get the idea, I expected God to miraculously make me prosperous and I was waiting expectantly for that to happen.

One day, I was reading in Genesis about Hagar, the first single mother mentioned in the bible. She was left in the wilderness with her child and quickly ran out of resources. She'd been completely abandoned and feared her child was dying. Not wanting to witness her son's death, she placed him under a bush and left. Imagine yourself in her place! Imagine placing your child in another room because you didn't want to watch him die. Hagar cried out to God and he took compassion upon the child. The scripture says that God opened Hagar's eyes and she saw a well. That well saved their lives!

I studied that passage for a long time. It doesn't say that God miraculously created the well, and He certainly could have done that,  instead it says that He opened her eyes and caused her to see the well. In other words, the well was already there but she needed the Lord's direction to locate it. The resources she needed were already available but without God's leading she and her child would have perished! 

That revelation changed my life. I stopped looking for the miracle and started looking to my God for direction. Through His leading I began babysitting and cleaning houses to make ends meet. The schedule worked well to balance taking care of my children and soon I started attending college classes. A few years later, I earned my undergraduate degree and was hired for a professional position that paid three times the amount that I'd previously lived on.

It was not a quick and easy journey and there were many bumps along the way, but I give every bit of glory to my God for making my path straight. He opened my eyes and showed me the well!

If you have a need in your life today, I encourage you to look to our Lord.  Ask Him to show you the well!

Fight for the Dream

Dreams are fragile. We have our hopes and goals, but all too quickly they are often thwarted by (what we perceive to be) reality. If you have the courage to voice your dreams, there's a good chance some well-meaning soul will quickly tell you all the reasons why it's not a possibility. 

We have a choice; we can allow the dreams to die or we can fight for them.  I hope you'll choose the latter.  Dreams are worth the fight!  Don't give them up! It takes patience, focus and work to realize a dream.  There will be places along the way where giving up will seem like the logical thing to do.  Defy logic and keep moving forward.  

I've had the privilege to see some of my dreams come to fruition. I'll share one with you.  I went to community college as an 'adult learner' and was the oldest student in most of my classes.  My time at this college changed my life in dramatic ways.  I credit some excellent teachers that were a part of this path.  After I graduated, I dreamed of coming back to that college as a teacher.  At the time, it seemed completely impossible, but I gently tucked the dream into the a safe corner of my heart.  

A few years later I started to ponder this dream. I was not happy in my current position and I started to investigate the possibility of teaching. I learned that I needed a Master's degree to be qualified.  I immediately researched programs in my area and within two weeks, I was enrolled in evening classes.  18 months later, I graduated.  

At the time, I was employed, making decent money and there were no teaching positions available on the college website.  I checked from time to time, but found nothing that matched my qualifications.  The dream began to fade and I started to wonder if I had wasted my time and money earning the graduate degree.  

Then, some unexpected things happened.  I had a health crisis that forced me to leave my job for a couple months. After I was cleared to return to work, I decided I couldn't handle the idea of returning to a job I hated.  My husband was patient and gave me some time to find a new position because we couldn't afford to live on a single income. 

And then, a miracle happened!  I received an email alert about an adjunct position at the college I had attended. I eagerly applied and prayed they would call me for an interview.  Two days later, they called!  I interviewed, was hired, and then taught my first class by the end of the week.  MY DREAM CAME TRUE!

It took nearly ten years for my dream to become reality.  I've been teaching for a few years now, still part-time, and I absolutely love it. I wake up on Mondays with excitement in my heart.  I love to go to work. My students are important to me and I am honored to speak into their lives.  Many stay in touch and I love to see where their paths lead.  I encourage them to keep dreaming.  

I'm still dreaming.  

Sunday Selah: Summer's Goodbye

Eccl 3:1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. 

Summer is winding to a close. The evenings are arriving with a chill that can't be ignored. The beaches will soon become a place of solitude. Families rush to take the one last getaway before their mornings become a hurried race against the arrival of the school bus. It's time to squeeze out every bit of summer fun before we reluctantly pull out the fall sweaters.

Before summer wishes us a final farewell, there are a few things we need to do. It's time to enjoy a last trip to the ice cream stand before it closes up for the winter months. Be sure to buy vegetables from a roadside stand. Use the BBQ grill a few more times. One more backyard bonfire should be in the plans.

Before summer leaves us, pause and reflect on the memories.

The Myth of The Perfect Church

We've all got a mental image of the perfect church. In our hearts, we hope to find this place and attend services. 

Here's mine; The building is white with a tall steeple and completely symmetrical. There's a choir, all wearing matching robes, an organist playing traditional hymns, a minister, also in a robe, standing in the front with a smile on his face. Families, consisting of Mom, Dad and two children, happily arrive together, a few minutes early so they can fellowship before taking their place in one of the pews. The service is exactly 58 minutes long with with two hymns, the offering, a few announcements, a 14-minute message that warms the heart, and a closing hymn. The pastor stands at the door to shake hands and say farewell to the congregation members as they head home to their perfect Sunday dinners.  

This image makes me sigh...and smile. My actual church looks nothing like I've just described.  We have a contemporary building and my pastor has never worn a robe. We have an organ, but also an electrical guitar, a drum set, and a few other instruments. Traditional hymns are a treat with contemporary music being preferred.  The families come in all different shapes and sizes.  We have single moms and dads, large families and small families, single adults, teens that come without their families and teens that arrive looking like hostages. Our services are anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the week. The message is often convicting and even a little difficult to take as it challenges us to work toward renewing our minds and changing our behaviors. If our pastor tried to stand and greet each member as they left, he'd likely be caught into hours of conversation and counseling needs.  

So, which is the perfect church? The answer is simple, it's the place where the presence of God is welcomed and celebrated. It's where people gather to take a moment to focus on the Almighty and remember that He is the reason for our everything.  As long as that is happening in your place of worship, you are indeed attending the perfect church. 

Gossip & Pettiness- Christian Women are not Immune

“I can’t believe she said that to me” I fumed as I gathered my Bible and purse and made my way to my car. The church service had been a little long and there was long list of tasks ahead of me for the afternoon. I wanted to talk with my husband and tell him how this woman had just hurt me, but our teens where within earshot and I realized that I was going to have to keep this to myself for a while. 

I thought about it all afternoon, felt self-pity wrapping her consoling arms around me and my pride was slowly restored. Before the day was over I had come to terms with how wrong this person was and how righteous I was, in fact, I did not even bother talking to my husband at all, in my mind it was settled. She was wrong, now I could forgive her and add that to my list of “good deeds”. In my mind I came out ahead. 

I saw her again the next week at church and plastered on a fake smile. I greeted her warmly while I was inwardly seething. “It’s so good to see you again Nancy, how is everything?” I asked as I gave her a halfhearted hug. My first thought was of the words she had spoken to me. Then again, they had not been far from my mind all week anyway. I had replayed the moment over and over again, even thinking of snappy comebacks that I wished I had said. 
During service I took a quick break to the restroom where I bumped into a friend. Sarah had often shared with me about women in the church that hurt her feelings. I felt she would understand better than anyone would. I eagerly relayed the story about how Nancy had hurt me. Sarah listened with rapt attention, and responded as I had hoped with a mixture of outrage and indignation. After all, she knew I was not deserving of that type of treatment. She reminded me to forgive Nancy and I assured her that I had done just that.

During the next several church events I avoided Nancy. Sarah would see me and shoot me a knowing look, and that was enough to sooth my damaged ego, I had an ally. I chose not to attend a church women’s event because Nancy was playing a key role in it. I learned later that it had been a dynamic time and I wished I had been there. In my mind, it was Nancy’s fault and added that to the things I was forgiving her for. I did not understand how they did not see her for what she was, how could they let such a nasty person be in a leadership role?

Months later, our pastor called on Nancy during the church service. She came to the platform and began to share a testimony. I almost excused myself to go to the restroom, but I was afraid it would appear too obvious that I just did not want to hear Nancy. I sat with my legs crossed, swinging my foot with irritation. I stared straight ahead with the biggest smile I could muster. 

Nancy began “Almost no one here knows what I am going to share. Six months ago, my husband of 27 years told me he wanted to end our marriage. He said he had met someone he would rather be with. I was completely caught off guard, I had no clue that our marriage was in trouble. My heart was shattered in a million pieces, I begged him to go to counseling with me, to try to work it out. He had no interest in that.”

I was completely frozen, I had no idea that Nancy was going through this. I had met Jim a few times thought they had a completely stable marriage. Jim was not a regular church attendee, but he around enough to make a few friends. I was under the impression that his work schedule kept him from being there more often. 

Nancy continued “I went to the only place I could think to go, and that was to the Lord. I began earnestly praying and fasting several days a week, seeking his will. I did not want a divorce, but Jim was not a believer and the Bible says to let him leave if he chooses to.”

Again, I am stunned. Jim was not a believer? I had no idea. Nancy was in active in church ministry. How could she be so bold and step out without the support of her husband? I relied on my husband’s support for much smaller roles in the church. 

I listened intently now to what Nancy was saying, my heart was really breaking for her. “The Lord has been so good to me. He has brought me comfort when I needed it most, often in the form of a perfectly timed phone call or an invitation to dinner with a dear friend. I felt it was best to keep this quiet for many reasons, but most of all it was because I was so ashamed, so embarrassed. That was pride, I realize it now. However, God in all his mercy saw past that and made his presence very known to me and I never once felt alone. 

“My husband filed for divorce and it will be final in a few weeks. That is not how I had hoped it would end, but I am very much walking in that peace that passes all understanding. And I now see that God has a plan. I am very excited to share this with you. I have received an invitation to join a missions team and will soon be leaving for India where I will stay for 6 months.” 
Nancy filled us in on the ministry she would be working with and her excitement was contagious. Before the service was over, we took up a collection to support her. She also needed someone to care for her dog while she was away. My teens had been asking for a dog, I felt a little nudge inside and approached Nancy after the service to volunteer for that job. 

“Nancy, I was wondering if we might be able to take your dog in for you?” I nervously asked. I knew that I had been harboring bad feelings toward her but felt safe that she did not know. I assumed she had long forgotten what she had said to me, and in retrospect, it was not that bad anyway compared with what she was going through. I felt ashamed of my pettiness. 

Nancy looked up and had tears in her eyes. “You have no idea how many times I have wanted to talk to you. I wanted to apologize for treating you badly that day; it was the first Sunday after I learned that Jim was leaving me. I did not want to tell you what was going on and I could not think of any way to apologize without a viable explanation.”

I hugged her and we both cried for several minutes. She eagerly agreed to allow us to care for her dog and thanked me not holding things against her. If she only knew how untrue that was. I walked away feeling pretty horrible. I avoided Sarah in the foyer. She was the only one who knew about my resentment and I hated that I had a witness to it. 

I spent a lot of time talking things over with God that week. Several times, he brought to my mind the scripture where Jesus says, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I knew the concept of forgiveness in my head, and until now, I thought I had been rightly applying it. God says he won’t forgive us until we forgive others. I began to think about what it means to forgive someone. 

When God forgives us, he doesn’t have any reservations. He doesn’t require a good explanation or justification. He doesn’t tell us that he can’t forgive us until we have suffered a little. Best of all, he FORGETS the offense. He never thinks of it again. He wants us to do the same thing. 

Nancy and I had been in the same church for 12 years. We had worked on committees together, been to many of the same events, and had chatted more times that I could count. She and I were not close, but we certainly had been friendly prior to the day that she had hurt my feelings. I could easily think of dozens of good memories I had with Nancy and yet I had allowed the single negative moment to become the definition of our relationship. 

A few weeks ago, I ran into Sarah at the grocery store. She almost immediately began telling me about someone who had slighted her. For the first time, I saw the pettiness of her complaint. I tried to steer the conversation in a better direction by pointing out that the offender might be dealing with something in her personal life that we did not know about. Of course, I was thinking of my experience with Nancy and hoped Sarah might connect the lines without me drawing it out for her. She apparently had not shared the same revelation as I had because she sarcastically responded, “I am sure her personal life is a mess with the new $400,000 home her husband just built for her and that new SUV in the driveway. My heart is bleeding for her.” She then added quickly, “of course I forgave her, but can you believe she did that?”

I began to share some of things the Lord had showed me about forgiveness and she quickly cut me off and claimed to have an appointment she had forgotten about. As she briskly walked away I prayed that the Lord would help her to find the freedom of forgiveness. I picked up the dog food for Nancy’s dog and went home to play with him. 

My heart is so heavy

All authors will receive some low-scoring reviews. It comes with the territory and you have to accept that not everyone will enjoy everything you write.  It still stings a little when it happens, but we accept the good and the bad and hope to learn from each.

My recent release of "Unplanned" has cause some surprising reactions. The book is about an unmarried woman who gets pregnant after a one-night stand. She is employed by her church and risks losing her job because of her mistake. The book chronicles her fears about how people will react and the surprising support she receives. Of course, there is a love interest, because that how these stories are written  Does someone really want to read about a woman that is pregnant, losing her job and friends, and is left alone? That wouldn't leave me with a smile or much hope. How about you?

The reactions I have received from a few Christians has really surprised me. One reviewer was extremely angry at the entire book.  She didn't believe a church would respond that way, she said it was judgmental, and it seemed to me, she had somehow been hurt in a church setting.  Another reviewer said it was a fairy tale, not just fiction.  One reviewer titled her response with "In Your Dreams" and she also is certain that no church would ever respond the way the people in the story responded.  After reading her reply, I understand where she's coming from.

Here's an interesting twist-- the story is loosely based on a true situation that really happened. A 29-year-old single mom who was active in her church got pregnant after a one-night stand with her ex-boyfriend.  She went to her pastor right away and he went to the board to figure out how the church would respond. The church rose to her support and were beside her through the entire pregnancy. They provided prayer support as well as real-life support with things like helping her move, caring for her children while she was in the hospital, and throwing her a baby shower to make sure she had everything she needed. She also had the help of a male 'friend' who was beside her throughout the pregnancy and a few years later, they married! That baby is now 13, she still attends the same church, and that person is ME.

My heart is sad and heavy because the negative reviews were not reflective of my writing.  Those reviews were reflective of the church-- the body of CHRIST.  People cannot believe that the body can respond in the manner they ought to. That brings me to tears.

Christian Women- Five Steps toward Fitting in at Church

For many of us, church can feel like an extension of high school.
Do you ever feel like everyone around you is:

      • Popular
      • Thinner
      • Holier
      • Smarter
      • Prettier
      • Etc....
Can you relate? It's hard not to compare ourselves to the people around us. As much as we hate to admit it, we often long to be something more.  How do we get past that feeling?  

Step One
Admit your feelings to yourself.  Don't dwell on it, but be real!  Pay attention to the straggling thoughts that slip in when another woman walks by. Ignoring our thoughts is not the same as taking them captive and dealing with them.  

Step Two
Sit down and make two lists:
  1. Your Strengths
  2. Your Weaknesses
Are there more weaknesses than strengths?  If the answer is yes, then you need to go back to the list and keep working. I promise you that your strengths outnumber your weaknesses. If you need to, ask a close friend to help you identify more good points. I bet she'll be glad to help. 

Step Three
Study the list of strengths. Repeat each one out loud in a sentence that includes your name, in the third person.  Heather is a good listener. Heather is great at organizing her home. Heather is a good cook. Keep your list and read it again.  Do that often.  

Step Four
Look at the list of weaknesses.  Determine if any of them are harmful to you or your family. This would include a substance abuse habit or abusing your credit cards. If there is anything like this is on your list, please seek counsel immediately.  Don't wait. 

Next- determine if any of these items are affecting your relationship with God. Often, weaknesses bring shame and that can keep us from feeling free to talk with our Heavenly father.  If you realize this has been the case, IMMEDIATELY talk to Him about it. Just be honest and share your heart.  He already knows!

Assuming that your other weaknesses are simply personality traits-- I talk too much.  I don't like to exercise. --CROSS THEM OFF and forget about them.  None of us are perfect!  We've got faults, we do our best, being perfect is not an option. Go easy on yourself! 

Step Five
Consider the women you've most felt intimidated by. Make a list if you need to. Challenge yourself to personally greet each of these women over the coming weeks. It doesn't need to be any big deal, simply approach them before or after service and say hello. You will be surprised to learn that these women are usually approachable, friendly, and soon you will wonder why you ever felt apprehensive. Once you get your confidence up, you'll want to get involved and spend more time with them.  

The biggest obstacle to feeling accepted is learning to accept yourself.