Romans 5:6

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Reaction vs. Response

Life is hard.  It seems at every turn there is something unexpected that occurs.  Unexpected bills, unexpected illness, unexpected deadlines, and unexpected life circumstances have the potential to paralyze us with fear concerning how to move forward.  How will we pay that bill?  How will we survive this medical treatment?  How will we have enough time to accomplish all that is asked of us?  How will we get through this?
In John 16:33, Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The Lord knows the full effects of us living in a fallen world.  He knows that trials and tribulation are part of our day to day lives.  He knows things are difficult.  We have a choice when facing adversity and tribulation.  We can choose to react out of frustration, or we can respond in trust.
Each season of life brings opportunity for growth.  When presented with a difficult report from the physician, we can become angry and frustrated, or use it as a catalyst to increase our trust in the Lord.  When we simply don’t know where all of the money is going to come from, or how to manage things at home and work, God is prodding us to seek Him more.  The weight of carrying each burden on our own causes us to become bitter, unpleasant people, not resembling Christ at all.  He offers peace in the midst of everything (Philippians 4:7).

When we choose to respond with greater trust in the Lord and His plan, we declare that we believe His ways are better than our own (Isaiah 55:8).  We proclaim that though situations are difficult, His faithfulness and His goodness are steadfast.
By choosing to trust Him in the most difficult, darkest days, we become more like Him.  We become more compassionate toward the heartaches that others endure.  We become more aware that this world just isn’t home (Hebrews 13:14).  And we desire to see the good in all things.

Today, I am certain that you, or someone close to you, are facing something that simply seems insurmountable.  Be encouraged, believer.  The Lord truly does want to use this for your good (Romans 8:28).  Trusting Him doesn’t have to make sense. 
I pray that when you receive bad news, a difficult report, or face financial trials, you will respond in trust.  A life that constantly reacts in frustration will affect your attitude concerning every aspect of day to day occurrences.  Choose to trust.  Choose His peace.  Choose His joy.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Your Classroom: Your Mission Field

The day has arrived.  Summer break has officially ended and teachers have been busy preparing for the arrival of their students for this school year.  Tomorrow students will file into schools with great expectancy for all that this year holds for them.

Students and parents may never know the countless hours that teachers (along with their spouses and closest friends) spend in preparation for tomorrow.  They may never understand all of the decisions that were made surrounding just one bulletin board.  They may never appreciate all of the personal sacrifices of your time and your own money that you have made to ensure that this year is great for your students.

You certainly didn’t choose this profession to receive recognition.  The long days and even longer evenings grading papers and updating class websites and such wouldn’t create a long line of folks choosing to become educators.  Instead, you chose to teach because you decided to make a difference.

On my side of things as a teacher’s spouse, I believe you need to know that you make more of a difference than you know.  The excitement of the first several days will wear off rather quickly, but your enthusiasm in choosing to invest in the lives of students shouldn't plateau this week.  Even through your weariness in making sure that every demand asked of you is met with excellence, your motivation isn’t going to be found in test scores or the latest curriculum.  Your motivation is found in the sweet faces in your classroom.

Your unnoticed efforts are all made well worth it when a student truly knows how much you care for them.  The Lord has entrusted you with little lives to minister to through your teaching.  I am well aware of the laws that prevent you as Christ-believing teachers from overtly explaining why you teach and serve in the manner you do.  However, students are paying attention, and they see the difference of Christ in you.

Each student that enters your room has their own story.  We’d like to believe that each child you encounter is well loved and well cared for, but sadly we know that’s just not the case.  Your kind words of encouragement may be the only positive affirmation that a student hears.  Your belief in their ability to succeed could possibly be the only support that they receive.  

This school year will certainly come with its own set of challenges, but cling to this:  the Lord has given you each student, and even the difficult parents/guardians, because He trusts you with them.  He trusts you to stand in the gap for the students who have no one else to fight for them.  He trusts you to minister to the discouraged parents who are at their wits end.  He trusts you to reassure a student who has experienced more hardship than any child should that not all adults cause harm.  He trusts you to carry out your 180 days of the school year with excellence, because that’s what He has called you to do (Colossians 3:23).

When the demands of leadership and the school district seem to be too much because you just want to teach instead of spending valuable hours on paperwork, remember the reason you chose this profession: the students. 

Your attitude will shape their attitude about learning.  Your mission to love them and serve them through teaching has the ability to change their mindset.  Your investment in their lives will cause them to believe they are valuable, despite what they may be told outside of the four walls of your classroom.

It’s your classroom, and over this school year, your words and actions will determine the type of legacy it will leave in the lives of each student who enters.  I pray that you understand the difference you make stems from the difference the Christ has made in your life.

Here’s to a wonderful school year!

Monday, August 1, 2016


At a Night of Ministry with Kari Jobe & Christine Caine

Through each season of my life the Lord has been gracious enough to gift me with the presence of people who have influenced me for the better.  This is a story of one of those people.
After working as a pre-school teacher for a short time while I was living at an inner-city ministry, I did what I said I would never do: go to work for my alma mater.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy my time as a student at Belhaven University. I didn’t want to become an employee of the institution because so many graduates took that route, and ultimately I didn’t see it as part of my calling: ministry.

For those of you who know me well, you know that my journey to be in full time ministry has certainly been a winding road.  Through each job, the Lord has shown me the importance of understanding that even the simplest task can be ministry when we are willing to commit our ways fully to Him.  I could go on for a while about that lesson, but I won’t now.
I didn’t quite understand why the Lord had me go back to Belhaven to work in the admission office.  After much asking, He showed me.

Her name is Morganne.

I was in need of help from a work-study student and was in the process of interviewing new freshman students for the position.  I had no idea how to interview someone who was not that much younger than me, so of course my “interviews” simply became chats about life.  I wanted to know where they grew up, what they were interested in, and what they were passionate about.  After I spoke with a couple of students, I heard her in the lobby of the office.
When the receptionist told Morganne I that I was available right then I heard, “But I’m not dressed for an interview right now!  Are you sure?” in the best Wetumpka, Alabama drawl.

Morganne rounded the corner to come to my desk and immediately I noticed the massive arm sling and pillow like brace holding her shoulder in place.  “It’s from a tumbling accident.  I just had surgery… but I can do whatever you need me to do!”  Her enthusiasm was contagious, and we certainly needed more of it in the office.  She was a very determined freshman elementary education major and cheerleader. 
After we discussed her babysitting job experience, I just had an overwhelming peace in my spirit that the Lord sent her to me.  We talked more, and then I asked, “So, when can you start?”  After working out a schedule around her classes and cheer practice, it had been set.

Each afternoon Morganne would come help me with seemingly meaningless tasks.  But as she folded mail for me and complied supplies for admission packets, we were able to talk.  We talked a lot!  Many afternoons were simply spent with her sitting with me at my desk. 

In the beginning of her time with me as work-study, our conversations were about freshman boys (one in particular), her weekend plans with Sydney (the other one J), and how her classes were going.
As our friendship grew, the Lord continually showed me the importance in investing in Morganne’s life.  She has always been super cute, friendly, smart (gosh, don’t you hate that?), but I feared that others didn’t see what I saw in Morganne.  I wanted others to look past the cute exterior to see how much He planned to use her for the Kingdom.

After just a few short weeks of knowing her, I knew something great was going to transpire soon. But until then, I committed to chatting about cute clothes and cheer.
Then it happened.  There was a huge shift in her priorities and the Lord allowed me to witness it.  Belhaven and being in Jackson wasn’t about being popular or even well liked.  Morganne’s sole desire became simply to know God more intimately.  After we walked through her dating here and there, it always came back to the one guy she told me about when we first spoke.  Hamilton was the one.  She told me.  And let me just say, that when Morganne has something in mind, all systems are GO!  Her confidence in the Lord’s call on her life and on Hamilton’s was inspiring.  Rather than pursuing fleeting relationships, Morganne’s heart was only seeking the Lord.  When I would say, “Morganne, are you sure?  Have you asked God about this?  Y’all are such good friends.” Morganne would simply say, “Yep.  I just know I’m supposed to wait.  I’m going to be Mrs. Hamilton Harper.”  That same zeal encouraged me as Joseph and I first started dating. “Syd, this is a date!”  “Morganne, we are just going to dinner to catch up.  I want to hear about his summer in Africa.”  The next day I had to tell her she was right.

Nine months after Joseph and I started dating, we were married.  And my sweet Morganne and her best friend, Sydney, drove from Alabama to support us and help at the reception.  Morganne’s relentless encouragement towards us still means the world.  Sometimes “God things” don’t always make sense.  Morganne never questioned Joseph and me after we were engaged just eleven weeks after we started dating.  “When you know, you know, Syd!”
Morganne with me minutes before I walked down the aisle
As my time at Belhaven ended, I’m blessed to say that my relationship with Morganne didn’t.  We endured the effects of almost going into a GiGi’s Cupcake sugar coma together, and made time to hang out when we could.

Joseph and I have watched Morganne become a woman with purpose.  When she invited us to hear her share her testimony in front of her peers at church, I knew the mission of her life wasn’t simply to teach children and encourage others with her bubbly personality and her “everything happens for a reason” mentality.  Her life’s aim became influencing people for the purpose of showing them a better glimpse of the Kingdom of God.
Morganne has chosen joy despite difficult circumstances she has walked through.  That contagious joy overflowed to Joseph and me when we were walking through infertility, then our miscarriage.  She opened up her apartment to serve us and to love us well during those difficult days.  She’s prayed and warred in the heavenly places on our behalf.  She’s both laughed and cried with us when we needed it the most.  Through it all she has continually helped me refocus my perspective.
Celebrating at Morganne's wedding shower when I was VERY pregnant with Ada

Today as Morganne celebrates another birthday, I celebrate the gift she is to me and so many others.  I celebrate her willingness to confidently proclaim what the Lord has shown her.  I celebrate the courage she has to stand out.  And I celebrate the story the Lord has given her.
Morganne meeting Ada for the first time
Part of her story is that what she declared as a freshman student came to be.  I was honored and privileged to stand with her as she became Mrs. Hamilton Harper.  Their wedding ceremony was nothing short of glorious.  It was a true testament of my banner “at just the right time”.  Hamilton and Morganne are world-changers, a couple driven by the purpose of the Lord, and ones filled with an inspiring faith.
Oh, glorious day!
Just when we think the Lord has brought someone into our lives to minister to, He shows us that He brought them to us to change us. 
Morganne, you have taught me more about steadfast faith than you can ever know.  I never imagined that the Lord would allow our relationship to go so far beyond being a work-study student, but I am honored that it has.  You have reminded me of the importance of simply being kind to everyone.  You are a precious gift to me and my family.

Happy birthday, my dear!  You are so loved!

Celebrating the Harpers!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Celebrating the Child I Never Met

Our journey to parenthood took longer than anticipated, as many of you know, but the lessons learned pertaining to His faithfulness are too numerous to mention.  Therefore, making our journey well worth it.

This week, our first baby would have had their first birthday.  I choose to celebrate their little life because of all the Lord has taught me through them.

Celebrating someone I have never met, but whom I prayed for, hoped for, and experienced my first pregnancy symptoms from isn’t rooted in me wanting to harp on the topic of our miscarriage.  Rather, my celebration stems from my thankfulness.  Though losing our baby was the most difficult, most painful experience Joseph and I have faced, I am thankful that the Lord entrusted us with the story.

Rather than adorning our home with balloons and lighting a candle on top of a cake for our little one this week, I am celebrating by choosing to remember His goodness to us.

I celebrate by remembering the joy I felt seeing a positive pregnancy test for the first time.  After being told that my dream of becoming a mother may not come to fruition, I was elated to finally see a positive test.  The joy that washed over me was like none other I had experienced.  I let out a sigh of relief and tears of excitement as I shared the news with Joseph.

I celebrate by remembering my first pregnancy symptoms, though some weren’t so glorious.  I felt like I was living a fairytale during the first days and weeks of our first pregnancy.  Joseph and I were so thrilled by our news!  We had become weary while waiting for our prayers to be answered, and our news became the beginning of a different season for us.

I celebrate the child I never met because through them the Lord reminded me that He certainly does hear our cries. Psalm 116:2 (NLT) “Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Through our first baby, the Lord encouraged our hearts by reassuring us that He is far superior to any reports that we had received by medical personnel.  Though I heard the report that I may never have a baby, my heart never allowed me to believe it.  I knew that the Lord was near to us and heard us.

I celebrate our first baby because our marriage was strengthened and our relationships with other believers grew deeper.  The love from others that Joseph and I experienced through walking through our miscarriage is unexplainable.  Family members and friends grieved with us and loved us well.  Joseph and I learned how to seriously press in to the Lord more and how to handle tragedy together.

I celebrate our first baby because I learned contentment through knowing of them, even for a short while, then losing them.  Through our first pregnancy, the Lord fulfilled a promise.  I don’t take that lightly.  After our miscarriage, Joseph and I had to come to a serious place of contentment and surrender.  We had to be fine with knowing that it was a possibility that we may never become pregnant again and that the baby we would never meet may be the only one we’d ever have.  Arriving to that place wasn’t easy for me.  The days after our miscarriage were difficult, but full of the Lord’s grace.  God sweetly ushered us into a place of truly experiencing His peace.  I learned of His sufficiency like I had never known before. He was enough.

The baby clothing and cutesy things I had been storing up in hopes of one day bringing a baby home began making their way to the homes of children who were welcomed into the world by our friends.

As I relinquished those material possessions, I’d hear the Lord say, “I’ve got you.”  I cried a lot, not surprising to any of you who know me well.  I cried over mourning for the child I’ll never meet, but I also cried because of the faithfulness the Lord chose to bestow upon us.  He continually reminded us that He entrusted us with all that we had experienced.  The decision to become bitter about it or to choose to strive to glorify Him in it was completely up to us.

I celebrate the child I never met because of how I experienced the love of the Father through them.  Through anticipating their arrival for only a couple of months, I gained greater perspective pertaining to Psalm 37:4.  “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  After the miscarriage, I learned to truly desire the Lord and Him only.  I learned what it meant to only want to be in His presence, to long for Him to move, and to want to please Him.  When He became my heart’s desire, He honored His promised and daily renewed me and filled me with Himself.

I celebrate the child I never met because they are a part of our family’s story.  In His mercy and grace over us, God chose to bless us with Ada.  We found out she would be arriving just three months after our miscarriage was confirmed.  She is seven months old now, and being her mom is far better than I ever imagined.

But what if God had chosen not to bless us with another baby?  I would have still celebrated.  It’s not up to me to determine the circumstances in which I praise the Lord.  My obligation is to praise Him despite my circumstances.

Even now, with Ada here, the Lord continues to whisper over me, “I’ve got you.”  I’m constantly reminded of His presence as I speak the same over Ada when she’s fussy. “Shh, shh, shh. Sweet girl, I’ve got you.”  And He nudges me so gently, “And I’ve still got you, Sydney.”

It’s easy to become weary in our current situation and wonder if the Lord is paying attention to us at all.  Pay attention.  He’s beckoning you to hear Him say, “I’ve got you.”

Some reading this are still in their season of waiting, and have grown weary there.  Listen to Him!  He’s got you.  In the moments of wondering how you’re going to get everything done--- laundry, dishes, paying the bills, preparing meals, and your long list of to-do’s at work --- hear Him whisper, “Shh, shh, shh. I’ve got you!”  When you wonder if anyone sees your efforts at work, or if they care He says, “I care. I see.  I’ve got you.”  When your mind lingers in that place of simply wanting to know when your life’s goals will be met – marriage, kids, career, etc.--- rest knowing that His plan for you is far better than you know. 

In your seasons of waiting, wondering why you experienced tragedy, why you haven’t known joy like you’d hoped, choose to celebrate.  Lamentations 3:25 (NIV) “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him…”

Choose to celebrate Him, the giver of good gifts even when your circumstances are less than desirable.  Choose to honor Him in how you handle difficulty.

Though I have chosen to celebrate our first child, I still have moments when the memories of our miscarriage overwhelm me.  This week has been difficult.  I will probably always wonder about their personality or who they would have looked like.  But I will always be grateful, because I know that without them, without experiencing losing them, we wouldn’t have Ada.

Be encouraged knowing that the Lord loves you enough to see you through whatever difficulty or trial you find yourself in.  There will always be a reason for you to be downtrodden, but He is a greater reason to celebrate through your circumstances.  Your prayers may not be answered the way you hope, but you can know for sure that your prayers are heard.  He knows what He’s doing.  Isaiah 55:9 (NIV): “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

You are loved, Baby Charlton, and you are worth celebrating!
“I never got to hold you, or bounce you on my lap.  I never got to read to you, or watch you as you nap.  You slipped away so quickly, before I said your name.  And I want the world to know I loved you just the same.” ~A. Peterson