When The Imperfect Becomes Perfect

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After my small country church shut its doors, I tried to make church fit my expectations. I must be a slow learner because I spent two years trying to fit in where God hadn’t placed me. It didn’t work out well for me as I felt lost for a long time.

I could list the requirements for my perfect church. It started with a smaller congregation where everyone knows each other on a Sunday morning. Worship is not too loud and includes both hymns and contemporary Christian music. The sermons are relevant to imperfect real life.

I finally found the perfect church that met all my requirements. It was time to sit down with the pastor and hear his heart and vision in his own words for my perfect church. That meeting was where I discovered that the perfect church of my mind was the not the perfect church God had in mind for me.

The pastor didn’t say anything wrong. It was just the opposite as I was engaged by his straightforward and God-honoring vision for the church’s future. Rather, it was a nugget of wisdom he inserted into our conversation that changed my focus. He talked about the “community” the church was trying to reach.

Something resonated in my heart. My “community” was serving cancer survivors along with others who are passionate about “providing hope, support, service and love to those struggling with cancer by being the hands and feet of Jesus.” (The mission statement for Cancer Hope.) That moment was the turning point where I finally recognized my perfect church. Afterwards, I thanked God for imparting His truth deep inside of me. Then, I mailed an apology and explanation to the pastor for changing my mind about his church.

In reality, God had revealed the answer to my church search two years earlier. However, at that time, this particular church did not meet my requirements. It was too big and the music was too loud. I had attended one of three weekend services and did not recognize a single smile. I didn’t stay because I was intimidated by what I saw on the surface. God wanted me to dig deeper. That process took me two years to work through and finally accept.

The second time around, I returned to the church with a different attitude. In the first few weeks back, the pastor addressed those of us uncomfortable with a big church. Paraphrasing his words to the congregation, “The early church was big. Three thousand people were added in one day. In heaven, there will be lots of people worshiping together. You might want to get used to it now.” I just knew the pastor was speaking directly to me!

As for “my community,” I am now the leader of a cancer ministry that has supported over 380 survivors in 25 states since its beginning in 2011. I thank God that He made my “perfect” church “imperfect” so I could experience His perfect plans for my life. I am finally home and it is the perfect place to rest.

Proverbs 16:9

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.

Psalm 25:4-5

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths; Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.

 

 

What Is A Christian To Do?

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Hate crimes, police shootings, terrorist attacks and injured stray cats are all recent events that have filled me with sadness. And yes, I purposely included cats in the same sentence as the lives of human beings. The reason why is because the cat incident hit the closest to my physical home.

Our backyard borders a small patch of trees and a drainage creek. We see our share of animals pass through. The stray cat was a new visitor. It looped back around to park his weary body under our front porch glider. I could see his matted fur and the swarm of flies that followed him as he oozed infection onto the concrete.

It was not a problem I expected to see in our backyard. We shooed him away, but he kept inching his way back until he found his familiar spot on the front porch again. Truth be told, I didn’t want this problem hanging around my house or present in my life.

I did the Christian thing and prayed for the cat. I prayed that the cat would simply disappear. I prayed for the cat’s suffering to end. I wrestled with Christian guilt because truth-be-told, I wished the cat hadn’t showed up here. In the end, the cat did not hear my prayers. He stayed where I could no longer ignore him.

We asked neighbors if they knew the cat’s owner. No one claimed the cat. I didn’t have to imagine their relief that this cat ended up in our yard and not in their yard. The cat was still our problem.

Eventually, we transported the cat to a local animal shelter. The employee examined the cat and used a sensor to detect a microchip. My heart lept just a little when she reported that there was a microchip. There was real hope to reunite cat and owner. Most likely, I will never know the end of this story. However, I can find some solace in the fact that we did something to potentially improve the cat’s circumstances.

Sometimes the problems in this world feel like that injured stray cat. We didn’t ask for the problem. We don’t want to deal with the problem. We don’t have the resources to fix the problem. Or worse yet, maybe we simply don’t care about the problems because it doesn’t directly affect our day-to-day lives.

The Bible has it right: Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act (Proverbs 3:27). All of us have more power than we realize. Everyone deserves our good. Jesus shows us the better way: When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36.) May we look upon others with compassion and love rather than with intolerance and hate.

The best expression of faith that I can come up with is to show kindness in the moment. It may not change the world, but it can offer hope for that given moment. Maybe that is the best any of us can do on our own. We show kindness and hope that together with the kindness of others, God uses those moments to become a movement of love that changes the world.

The Math Doesn’t Add Up

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Math is orderly and predictable in how it describes complex circumstances. I like math! Math has always been relatively easy for me. This explains why I became an engineer, married an engineer, and have two sons who chose math-related careers (engineering and actuarial science.)

Only one math class tripped me up in college: differential equations. I still managed to pull off an “A,” but I worked harder than I ever had to in a math class. Now that I am older and long since removed from my college days, I keep coming across math that causes me to stumble. The issue is not the application of differential equations as I haven’t used it since that class! The heart of my problem is that the math doesn’t add up: plus one minus one does not equal zero. Zero implies neutrality. You are not in the black or in the red as the plusses and minuses even out.

The year that my brother-in-law died at 52 years old is the same year that the first great-grandchild was born. We still had the same number of people at family get-togethers, but everything had changed. Of course, there was the surplus of joy in having a little one around again. The many pictures of four generations together are evidence of the new life in our family.  However, there is also a void that the number zero does not encompass. It is a gap in our hearts and a missing smile in pictures of the new family memories we make.

I see the same math in the cancer ministry I lead. A survivor succumbs to cancer and I enroll another survivor just starting their cancer journey. Our numbers stay the same, but the math doesn’t do justice for the emotional fall-out. Math doesn’t capture the hurt that zero brings. We acutely feel the loss through a survivor’s death and the pain that gain brings when another person is diagnosed with cancer.

Those are the times that textbook math doesn’t add up for me. I am reminded that these moments are when my education really begins. God opens my eyes to His math based on His perfection. Zero doesn’t exist when I trust in the completeness of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. God fills voids with ever-increasing gains of the Holy Spirit inside of me. The negative is turned into a positive by God’s supernatural touch.

God’s math doesn’t have to make sense on paper for God prefers to permanently write it on our hearts. As we embrace His new math, God reveals wisdom and reassures with mercy. Finally, a math education that I can actually apply to my life!

Philippians 3:8

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

 

 

 

God Moments Can Become God Stories

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I knew it was going to be a busy week. I was still learning the ropes in my new volunteer position. The ministry had finished their annual fundraiser and there was a flurry of activity to follow up on. In addition, we were headed out-of-town to visit my in-laws.

That day I was a woman on a mission with a long to-do list. If I adhered to my schedule, I would cross everything off my list and be home to make a nice dinner for my husband. I was on-time with my self-declared agenda until I dropped off information at the church’s welcome desk.

That’s when my plans abruptly changed. The person behind the desk commented, “Oh good, I was looking for those ministry forms because my friend is battling cancer.” As a cancer survivor and the administrative leader of a ministry that supports cancer survivors, I recognized the lead-in to a lengthy and emotional cancer story.

I am not proud to admit that in my mind, the flesh reaction was, “I don’t have time for this. I am on a schedule with my things to accomplish.” Immediately, I heard the Holy Spirit’s rebuttal in my soul, “This is why you are here today. Take a breath, slow down, and be present for this person.”

I recognized my God moment. The Holy Spirit only gives perfect advice. There was no doubt about what was at the top of my to-do list. I listened intently to the person’s cancer story, offered encouragement, and gave tips for enrolling her friend in the ministry.

Once I had shared the practical, I turned to the most important aspect of my God moment. I offered to pray. We prayed for her friend, for her, their friendship, and the circumstances of this particular cancer story. I walked away from that God moment encouraged by God’s blessings in my day.

God provides the opportunities to remind us that our God moments can become our God stories. In reality, it is even bigger than that in God’s kingdom. Obedience to the Holy Spirit’s nudges opens the floodgates for blessings to flow. God’s beautiful intervention insures that our God moments can become part of someone else’s God story!

Psalm 42:10

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Isaiah 66:14

When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass; the hand of the LORD will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.

 

Chance Connections

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It caught me off-guard. I was in a paper store attending a free “Make It, Take It” card-making session. One of the employees was helping the teacher at the table where I was seated. As the employee’s hands moved, her ring finger caught my attention.

I asked to see her wedding ring up-close. Sure enough, her ring brought back memories. My fiancé (now husband) included me when it was time to go jewelry-shopping. I was instantly drawn to an engagement ring with a single diamond and a matching wedding band with a chip diamond. The uniqueness of the rings’ finish hooked me. The rings have a split design with contrasting brushed and polished finishes. I had not seen another ring like it in twenty-eight years until that day at the paper store.

I just had to know more about her wedding ring story. We compared notes like giddy high school girls showing off their boyfriends’ class rings that they had received. We were married a year apart in neighboring states. She had a different style of wedding band while mine was bought as part of a set. It was a fun connection in an otherwise typical day. I walked out of the store smiling at this chance connection that God wove together.

For a moment, I thought that maybe God had given me a glimpse of heaven. We won’t meet a stranger in heaven because we will discover connections we were unaware of while in our physical bodies. We will be amazed with connections that God used to encourage, to mature, and to love on His people in preparation for heaven. We will learn how every little act of obedience and service to God resulted in a connection that will be celebrated in heaven.

On earth, our most basic connection is our shared sin against God. God’s heart is to connect us to Himself through His Son Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit uses our faith to bind us to God and Jesus. This special connection that begins on earth will take us into heaven’s glory with many more stories of God-ordained connections.

 

Revelation 7:9

After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. Thy were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

1 Corinthians 2:9

However, it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”

Connections That Entangle The Heart

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Note: Donna Cronk recently shared her guest blog, Friendship is One of Life’s Sweet Places.  This was my guest post on Donna’s blog to share my perspective on our unique connections. Thank you Donna for a friendship that continues to grow and entangle our lives and hearts!  

Connections are our sense of belonging. We have connections from our tight-knit circles to ever-expanding circles that eventually connect us with people throughout the world.  A week ago, I was invited to spend time with one of my Indiana connections: Donna Cronk.

Donna was launching the “book tour” for her sequel, That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland. The venue was the aftercare group at the local funeral home in New Castle, Indiana. Witnessing her connections prompted me to reflect on our connection through the years.

I trace our connection back to our boys growing up together in the same school district, playing on the same sports teams, and living on the same street. We were friendly neighbors busy with life. Donna likes to remind me that Carriage Lane was not the place where we first met. Over 26 years ago, we were in the same Sunday school class at the same local church.

In a way, our connection has also been a journey of faith where God kept putting us together for a reason. God eventually revealed the reason a couple of years ago, when we shared our mutual desire to self-publish a book. In practice, the enduring connection has been our shared love of writing.

Writing was natural for Donna as she went to college for journalism and has been a community journalist for over 27 years in one Indiana town and county. Writing was never on my radar given my engineering background with its focus on numbers and logic. I was the stereotypical engineer. I never aspired to be a writer and I did not care about writing, other than what was necessary to complete an assignment.

Hence the surprise when shortly after I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1994, God prompted me to write. God was very specific. I was to write devotions for our church’s monthly newsletter. When I approached my pastor, Dick said “Yes” and allowed God to use me. Pastor Dick’s encouragement enabled me to “blossom where I was planted!”

Donna’s recently published book was the day’s connection for the crowd that attended her new presentation. As I was introduced to people, I asked, “So how do you know Donna?” Some connections were common to all of us: work-related circles with both current and former co-workers. Other connections were more specific to the book: editors, reviewers, fellow self-published authors, and readers who wanted to know what happened next in the Sweetland story. It was a friendly crowd with people Donna knew and friends of friends that became part of Donna’s new connections.

Donna shared her presentation, “Bloom Before You Are Planted!” Her message reminded us that God has good plans for each one of us. The deeper take-away involved self-reflection. Am I paying attention to God’s nudges? Will I act on the seeds that God plants in my heart? Do I embrace God’s joy for my growth? Will I praise God for His beauty inside of me, waiting to bloom in the perfect season?

After Donna’s program, she and I enjoyed our unique connection by simply sitting and chatting for hours. We covered much territory, revisiting old connections and discovering new connections. Finally, it was time to walk out to our cars and say goodbye for the day.

That’s when I remembered my family cookbook that made the trip with me. Over the previous six-and-a-half hours, I had completely forgotten about the cookbook I wanted to share with Donna. Conversations about family, recipes, memories, and traditions are some of our favorite connections.

I was struck once again by the nature of genuine connections. The time goes by too quickly and we are left with a longing for the next visit. The best connections always explore the nuances of life and entangle hearts!

 

2 John 12

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

 

 

 

Friendship Is One Of Life’s Sweet Places by Guest Blogger Donna Cronk

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Although I am the taller of the two of us, I look up to my friend Donna Cronk. She repeatedly has said, “Yes!” to God and stepped out in bold faith. God has given me the special gift to be a small part of those adventures and to experience the excitement of God doing something new in Donna’s life. Donna slows down enough to write this guest post. 

Friendship Is One Of Life’s Sweet Places By Donna Cronk

Are you ever amazed at how God works? I sure am.

For years, Debbie McCray was a friendly neighbor down my street. She was Andy and Ben’s mom, and their home was one of those lovely “safe places” where I knew my son was safe and happy when there to play with her sons. When life moved the family from Indiana, I never expected to hear from, let alone see them again.

This is apparently where God chuckled.

Many years later, ten perhaps, and I’m not even sure quite how (hear Him laugh?) Debbie and I started emailing each other. It wasn’t so much, or even at all, about rehashing life on our familiar lane, or detailing about what our sons were now up to. No, our cyber chats were about writing.

Debbie listened and commented with helpful prompts and good sense when I shared that I was writing my first women’s Christian fiction novel, “Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast.” And when Amazon put it up on its website, she even saw it –and bought a copy – before I knew it had gone “live.”

But a year or so ago, our friendship took an advanced turn. Debbie allowed me the privilege of editing a project of hers. As a writer of newspaper and magazine articles, and now two novels, I know firsthand that it is a big deal to entrust my labored-over words with an editor. It’s also a risk because an editor’s job is to question, find flaws, attempt sharpening and tightening copy. It can be a painful process for both writer and editor. Usually it’s not something friends should probably tackle together.

Yet I knew that I would treasure Debbie returning the favor and editing my new book’s manuscript. My book, the newly published “That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland,” went through three editors, each assigned with specific tasks in the project. Debbie’s was to react and provide general suggestions, point out any problem areas, but most specifically, to look at it with spiritual eyes and recommend scriptures that might inform each of the chapters.

She did a beautiful job. There was one area of the story, a turning point, really, where the lead character, Samantha, experienced a meeting of the minds with her boarder after they started out with a tense relationship. Debbie gently pointed out that she wasn’t quite feeling the specifics of that turning point.

Her nudge sent me back to the manuscript where I added a more direct change in their relationship. It greatly helped move the story forward. In fact, it was an essential edit.

As readers of Debbie’s blog, you might enjoy seeing this other side of your friend: that of editor. I asked Debbie if I could write this piece. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit this up front: I’m hoping you might consider having a look at my book. You can read all about it on Amazon … as well as Debbie’s comments about it in the book description there.

But I also wanted to thank Debbie publicly for her role in this book. Thank you, Debbie.

And Lord, I am amazed. Even when Debbie and her family lived on the same lane and then moved away, You were not done with our overlapping stories. You even knew that mine would be called “That Sweet Place: At Home in the Heartland.”

Donna Cronk still lives in Pendleton, Indiana. She blogs at www.donnacronk.com. Contact her on her Facebook author page at Donna Cronk. And if you read her new book, please share with her what you think.