Why Attend Small Group

It's funny how despite reminders on my phone and a color coded calendar I occasionally overlook the date for school pictures or even the deadline for school fundraisers, but amazingly can recall what someone said over a decade ago. I suppose once something gets in my heart it sticks.

Since we got married, Brandon and I have been in some type of small group at our church. Traditionally, it's been referred to as "Sunday School," but the same gathering has been given a more modernized term, now known as "small group." Whatever we may choose to call it, it's been an instrumental part of our family's development.

Through our time in small group, people have spoke volumes into our hearts. And while the small group leaders are obviously a huge component of what has been delivered in that time, it wasn't the small group leaders alone who always seemed to give exactly what we needed in the particular season of life, our marriage, or our family.

For instance, I remember our friends, Penny and Daniel being transparent, giving our class some humble insight into what may potentially unfold on any given Sunday morning in their home when their girls were little. Daniel shared that although there were occasional mornings in which they had to run out of the house with dishes left in the sink, it seemed to irritate Penny increasingly more on Sunday mornings-- until he brought it to her attention. After which she realized it wasn't so much the dishes that bothered her as much as it was a tool being used to steal her heart and focus away from what the Lord had in store for her in service those particular days.

This awareness seriously revolutionized our Sunday mornings. When our children were little, if they happened to be screaming and crying through the process of trying to get ready, if Brandon and I were irritated with one another, if the coffee mug lid leaked on the outfit I finally decided to wear, if we were running fifteen minutes late (or possibly even more), and yes, if there was a disaster left in the kitchen, I'd think, "This is what Daniel and Penny were talking about. This isn't going to distract me from what I'm about to give and get today."

And in the instance I forgot, someone else remembered. Let's face it, sometimes we just feel like saying, and may actually go right ahead and say, "Forget it!" That's been me. Especially in the instances of running super late. But that is when Brandon would say and does say, "No, we're going." I'd argue, "What's the point? We're only going to be there for like twenty minutes before class is over." Brandon wouldn't and doesn't let up, so we load up. We may be grumbly and gripey, but we go. And we are always so glad we do. It diffuses and distracts from whatever mishap may have occurred. We grow, realizing what we would have missed out on, even if it is sheer determination that gets us there. The realization reinforces our commitment.

I'm going to share another instance in the next post of how someone contributing in small group has revolutionized the dynamic of our home. I hope you come back and receive from it. It's all in effort to pass on to you what others have passed on to us-- those thoughts which have been influential and effective for our family.

Today, let me leave with some encouragement (and maybe a little nudge) to get involved in a small group if you're not already. Here are a few things to keep close to your heart:

1. Shop around. Okay, that may not be the best term to use, but cut me a little slack. I've heard some people say that some churches are clickish. Well, yes. They are. ***WHAT?!?!?!**** Did I really just say that?! I did. (❤️ and ☺️ ). Let's change our view of it a little. "Clickish" has such a negative tone to it, but honestly, we can't take 600 people for instance and expect everyone to have the same interests and personalities. I mean, good grief, there are only 6 people in my house and I only have about three meals that please every single one of them. Every other dinner is consumed from a grateful heart and a hungry belly, not necessarily from an enthusiasm for what's on the table. We can't please everyone, every time. With that in mind, when you're at church pray and ask the Lord to direct you as to where He wants you to serve and receive in the body of believers. There is a place for you. I promise. But it can take a bit of effort in finding it.

2. Be transparent. Okay, again. I say that with caution. I'm not implying you walk into a class and air your dirty laundry (and yes, we all have dirty laundry-- from the pulpit to the pew we all need a good wash cycle). What I'm trying to encourage is for you to find a group of people who are willing to walk life with you, sharing the struggles as seamlessly as the celebrations. Brandon and I have so many times, I mean SOOO many times thought and expressed, "We're not the only ones." Daniel and Penny's dirty dish story may have not been a three point spiritual lesson, but it was profound for a young couple with a young family. I mean people-- I'm going back to a memory over thirteen years ago. You can't convince me that's not profound right there! I'm so grateful for their transparency and I hope to sharpen others by my willingness to be the same.

3. Seasons change. And so will your group. This doesn't mean we drop the relationships, it just means we get to make more. We haven't been in the same group with Daniel and Penny for I don't know how long, but they'll always be in our treasure chest of special people. A motto I share frequently is, "life is about people." We need people. We need personal connection. Allow the Lord to move you in the different seasons to make those connections He desires to work through. Now that's not saying change all the time. Let's be people who commit, but when we've grown from young married to a family with young children to raising teenagers (Lord, help us all), we need to receive from, give to and be sharpened by those who have been-there-done-that or who are doing and surviving (😉 know you're not alone).

Alrighty. Ready. Set. Go.

Find that group waiting for you! You have something to contribute and something to receive.

I'll meet ya back here next time to share another nugget deposited into us by our small group. It's a good one.

Hebrews 3:6 NLT But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ.

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It’s been about sixteen years since I walked into my Pastor’s office and visited with him about a proposal I had received. Brandon had asked me to marry him and I said yes! Was the occasion accompanied with accolades and jubilation? No, not at all. Our families were quite supportive of our dating relationship, but when it came to the discussion of marriage, we encountered many objections. Why? Because at the time of our engagement, I was seventeen, a senior in high school; and he was barely eighteen, a college freshman. What experiences in our life could give us the assurance we were making the right choice for the rest of our life? I expected to receive the same questioning from my Pastor, but I didn’t. The only words I remember was, “Heather, you’re an SWW.” I knew what that was. In today’s time, it deserves a hash tag. Before social media, it was simply an acronym he used meaning, “Strong Willed Woman.” And he asked me what date we were planning for the wedding.

It was one of the first decisions I made without the encouragement from those I loved. It was the first time I silenced the voices around me and solely listened to my Heavenly Father’s. My mom wouldn’t even discuss wedding plans with me until five months before our wedding. My friends kept asking, “How do you really know?” And realistically, there was no way to prove what I knew in my heart and my spirit. For a person who greatly appreciates the support and agreement of others, it was challenging for me to proceed with what I knew was God’s plan for my life.

But I did proceed with His plan. It hasn’t always been easy. It sure would’ve been smoother for Brandon to have completed his engineering degree or me to have completed my nursing degree before we got married, or before we built a house, or before we had children, but easy isn’t always fulfilling, because the Lord sometimes calls us to do what’s difficult. And His ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), so although we’ve had times of challenge, there’s no other way I’d have wanted to go about it.

During my quiet time several months ago I read Psalm 68. Verse 11 came off the page. It reads:

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng 

Different translations interchange “women” and “company,” but I was reading the New International Version at the time and it spoke volumes to my heart. In those times, I’m reminded of Hebrews 4:12, telling us The Word is alive. The Lord uses His Word to speak to us in anything and everything we encounter. And this scripture was so timely, emphasizing the mighty women who proclaim God’s Word.

It may seem speaking truth and love wouldn’t take a mighty woman, but on the contrary it requires even the mightier. Sometimes proclaiming God’s Word doesn’t fit with what people want to hear or what they want to happen or even what they understand, so they reject it, meaning they may reject you. Through trials, through rejection, through persecution, the message doesn’t change.

I’m prompted to think of some SWWs I see today. Silencing the voices of naysayers, a young single woman stepping out in faith, responding to the calling God placed on her heart to foster a baby. Enduring the heartache, my friend, standing strong in a long divorce process, painfully confronting dishonesty and unfaithfulness. Pressing on, a woman bravely speaks for justice in her work place, a holy determination to expel the darkness with the light of Jesus.

These memories, these women and this scripture bring encouragement to my heart. Relationships change when words spoken are spiraled and twisted like a thrilling roller coaster. Close bonds are broken when time and distance are forced between them. Life looks different. Memories are cherished. The focus becomes the future.

It’s surely not easy being an SWW, but it is a choice. Not everyone wants to be strong. But if you do, be prepared. We are strengthened through what we endure. And while the Lord’s plans for our life is for good and not harm (Jeremiah 29:11), there is an enemy on the attack. With each battle, each obstacle, each barrier and hurdle, God is making you stronger. Your heart, your spirit, your integrity, your security in Him, your identity in Him, your reliance on His hand to be at work and not your own, your confidence that He will move on your behalf, your resolve, your commitment, your assurance; it’s all becoming stronger.

SWWs are not made; they’re developed.

The next opportunity that comes your way, choose to build strength.

Remember, sometimes the Lord calls us to speak, sometimes He calls us to be silent, sometimes the Lord wants us to take action and other times be still. Yes, sometimes we have to quiet those around us to make sure we are hearing only His voice.

Let’s sharpen one another to be the SWWs God intends for us to be. Let’s train up the next generation of SWWs; mighty woman proclaiming God’s Word!

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Rising Waters

A situation that occurred recently had my husband and me sitting on our back patio in tears.  Brandon looked at me and said, “Why is the enemy attacking our family?”  We seek the Lord to have His hand upon our lives; upon our children; upon our home.  We are intentional to teach and follow His ways.  The instruction in Deuteronomy 6:5-9 has been a life application, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” In our flesh, we can’t help but ask “why?”  When the core integrity of our home is threatened, it’s difficult to not ask “why?”  Or question ourselves.  What have we not done?  What have we missed?  When we mistakenly feel that situations are within our control, we feel like failures.  But God has given us wisdom to know that that is exactly the way the enemy wants us to think and feel.

We believe I Peter 5:8, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  I know the potential our family holds for the Kingdom of God is a threat to the enemy.  I know attacks come where we least expect it and literally knock our feet out from under us, as did recently.

In these times, we rely on that solid, unwavering foundation.  We cling to what we know.  We don’t cower in defeat, resorting to staying under the enemy’s radar, so to speak.  No, we boldly stand with confidence that God is in control.  And He knows exactly what need, exactly when we need it.  I melted in God’s presence Sunday morning as our worship team led us in the song, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” by Hillsong.  Phrases like, “in oceans deep, my faith will stand;” “Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide;” “I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves.” But the one that has taken me to my knees was, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders…”

My husband and I acknowledge the deep waters.  And it is here, in this place, where there is no limit to our trust in our Almighty God.  Whether circumstances are within or outside of our control, we trust God.   We pray for healing.  We pray for forgiveness.  We pray for complete restoration.  We pray and we trust.  Where we are weak, He is strong.  In this great unknown, He is here.


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Proud Emotion

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to say that I’m a crier.  But it’s not all inclusive.  I’m not one to shed tears at Hallmark commercials.  I'm not a big fan of tear-jerker movies, and I don’t lose it at every wedding or funeral.  However, when it comes down to classifying, I have to be put in that category.  I’m just an emotional person and when something touches my heart or comes from my heart, I frequently get choked up. The assumption could be made that since I’m aware of this that I’d be prepared for it or that I’d embrace it, but I’m not and I don’t.  I seem to never have tissues in my pocket or purse, and when I begin to get that lump in my throat, when my nose starts to burn and my eyes start to water, I tend to try and contain it, to hold it back.  I can’t even imagine the faces I make in my attempts.  Why I even try?  I don’t know.

This past Thursday I had “A Mom Moment.”  I was so overcome with pride that those tears were uncontainable.  Our school system has a Student of the Month program.  Two students from the highest grade at each school, elementary through high school, are chosen for this recognition.  The two students’ names are on the marque for their particular school throughout the month, the students have a place to display items that represent them in a case at their school, are recognized in an assembly, featured in the newspaper and treated to lunch with their principal and superintendent, among others.

Our second child, our oldest son, has always been what I would describe as very intuitive.  We’ve been told countless times from his teachers that he is very bright and quite intelligent.  He’s always felt comfortable mingling with adults and expressing his thoughts.  He wants to know the “why” and “how” of things.  He is diligent, competitive, and confident.  We’ve had several discussions with him about showing respect, because when he thinks he is right, he has been known to try and correct his teachers during lessons.

With this strong personality also comes a very sensitive and compassionate nature.  Our son never has a problem speaking his mind or expressing his deep emotion.  He gives and receives love with a kiss, a hug, a pat on the back.  Finding his balance between his intellectual ability and acceptable behavior has been the challenge.  Therefore, when we received the letter that said our child was chosen for Central Elementary Student of The Month, we were ecstatic.  And he was honored with the award this past Thursday.

During the luncheon, our son’s principal read a little bit about him.  His favorite subject, his favorite book, his favorite activity were among the topics, but what gripped my heart was what he wanted to be when he grew up.  Mrs. Dotson said, “Jaron says he wants to be an engineer when he grows up because his Dad is an engineer.”

I should have just let the tears fall, but I tried to contain myself.  So many times we tuck our kiddos into bed and feel like we just got through another day.  They got to school in clean clothes, hopefully with their teeth brushed, we got the homework finished, dinner on the table, practice or games completed, showers, laundry, dishes, shoes collected, school notes signed, and kisses goodnight.  We don’t always stop to think that our children might just want to be like us when they grow up.

The pride I had over my son was immense.  He had achieved not only the academic acknowledgement but the recognition of his character.  And in his moment, I was reminded of Titus 2:7, “And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.”

In our everyday in and out lives, we are preaching the greatest message to the greatest generation- our children.


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Goodbye Bailey

There was no coincidence that it was raining this morning.  Although it was a steady light shower, it felt like more of a downpour. I bathed my 13 year old lab this past Monday and could feel, not only the tumors she had had on her side over the last three years, but that now she felt emaciated; able to feel her skeletal structure as I lathered her coat with shampoo.  My mom made a statement that struck a chord.  She said, “I can’t believe you’re letting her live like that, Heather.  My goodness, you should know.  You’re a nurse for heaven’s sake.”

I don’t know that being a nurse had anything to do with it, but it was evident that my husband and I were in denial as to the current state of our dog’s health.  We couldn’t bring ourselves to discuss the issue.  Even though we consistently had to clean up accidents, which she didn’t even know she was having, we just didn’t speak of the end.  Even though our dog declined food, scratched the door to come in and out and in and out from confusion, and was challenged with mobility from arthritis, we simply did not communicate letting her go.    That is, until this past Monday when I called to make an appointment with our vet for today, Saturday April 13, 2013, to discuss these issues regarding our beloved pet.

A flood of emotion accompanied the words as we begin to give an account of our dog’s condition.  And that emotion only continued as we proceeded with what we knew was inevitable…. saying goodbye to our Bailey Ann.

We took her into a big room and spread out our big blanket that she loved to lay on when we have movie night.  I gave her treats as she relaxed on the blanket with us.  The vet delicately and lovingly gave her a shot to make her sleep, and then came back to administer that last shot.  I snuggled her and repeatedly told her, “I love you, Bailey.”

We carried her to our car and brought her back home where she belongs; with us.  On that drive I reminisced of the beautiful spring day that my husband and I went to get her.  Our sweet dog never completely lost that playful puppy spirit.  Her body deteriorated but her spirit never did; which is what made it so hard to let go.

In the thirteen years we had to enjoy Bailey, she welcomed home all four of our children and guarded them as if they were her own, she survived being run over four times, she graced the photo of every Christmas card and she greeted us each time we pulled in the driveway or walked in the door.  She was a part of our family before we became a family.

We close a chapter as we bid farewell to our precious pet.  I should only be filled with joy to have had the blessing of such an amazing dog for so many years. I imagine there will never be another like her, our Bailey Ann.

















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