What I Learned From My Pastors

written October 31, 2019

October is Pastor Appreciation Month, and I am blessed that God has provided me with two wonderful pastors, and one Pastor Emeritus who have served and labored over my local church for many years.  I have been in several different churches, but my current church has been the best so far.  I have learned more in the past three years, than I have in the previous sixteen years in the Lord. I owe all this to God and His sovereignty in placing the people in my life today, especially the pastoral leadership of my church.

One of the major things my pastors taught is how to more effectively relate to others.  About three years ago, I had a tumultuous work relationship with one of my managers at the time.  One day, things became so bad between the manager and me, that I actually went into one of the services upset and very bitter towards this person, even though I was not scheduled to work that day and hadn’t even made contact with this person in a few days.  So, I decided as a last-ditch effort to maybe quell my intense emotions and be able to concentrate on the sermon that night, that I would talk to Pastor John* about what was going on.  (You can read the whole story here.) Pastor John gave me a few poignant Bible Verses. I told Pastor John, “I tried to be nice to him [meaning my manager], but I don’t think anything is happening. “  Then, Pastor John told me something I will never forget: He said, “Patricia, you have to trust God’s timing.  Just because your manager hasn’t responded now, doesn’t mean God will not work in his heart later.”  This not only convicted me to be more patient with my manager, but also helped me to see that I hadn’t really been trying that hard at all at being kind to him.  That night, I wrote an apology note to my manager, asking him to forgive me of my bitterness towards him. The next day, I was able to see my manager as a person in need of grace and love, rather than the monster that I crafted into my mind for one and a half years. Thus, Pastor John was instrumental in helping me reconcile with my manager, whom I’m pleased to say I’m on good terms with my now-former manager and he’s happy where he is at now.  Pastor John recently helped me to think differently about my job, through one of the sermons he preached. Instead of thinking of my job as a “necessary evil,” especially when I’m stressed,  God spoke through my pastor, and they helped me realize that I am at the job I’m in for a reason—to give hope to others and to spread Christ’s love there.  Yes, my job gets very stressful at times, but as long as I’m doing what God (and those He put over me at work) commanded me, God’s sovereign will and His faithful love will cover me during those times.  Pastor Don* and Pastor Todd* also taught me how to more effectively relate to others through how they are patient with others and willing to serve wherever they are called.

Another thing that my pastors have taught me is how to be more authentic, both in my relationship with God, and others.  One of the things that I always appreciate about people in general is their willingness to admit fault and to be vulnerable, and not try to maintain this “perfect fake image” in front of others.  All my pastors model this to a good degree, but I have especially appreciated this coming from Pastor Todd. One time he admitted on the pulpit that he got pulled over for speeding! Thankfully, because the police officer liked our church, Pastor Todd got off with a warning.  I found this vulnerability and honest confession refreshing in an age where there are many church leaders who will try to hide their sins and flaws; with the appearance that they know “everything” and that they are “holier-than-thou.” There were other times too that Pastor Todd was open about his personal struggles with sin and temptation. This is refreshing to me because I feel that Pastor Todd’s honesty makes him more relatable to someone like me, who also struggles with sin and temptation on a daily basis. In other words, his vulnerability and authenticity makes him more human and trustworthy!

One of the most important things that my pastors have taught me is how to be more passionate about Jesus Christ.  All of them have emphasized, over and over again, God’s love and sovereignty over the whole world.  I learned from Pastor John that God’s sovereignty intervenes in our whole lives, down to the bosses we will have and the parents we have.  I learned from Pastor John that if we loathe our bosses and constantly complain about them, we also have a problem with God, because it is He who put them there in our midst, possibly to teach us something or for God’s sovereign and good purposes in our lives!  This has taught me in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus that I need to trust Him even in the tougher circumstances of my life, and not to complain about the people He decides to place in my life.  I learned from Pastor Todd that in order for me to be more passionate about Jesus, I need to learn that Jesus loves me very much and He always has good in mind for me, according to His purposes.  I learned from Pastor Todd’s teaching on the book, “God is More Than Enough,” that when I become discontented with my circumstances, I need to check my heart to eliminate any worldly and selfish desires on my part, especially the want for something more than what Christ has already graciously provided me.  Pastor Don, Pastor Todd, and Pastor John all have taught me the importance of spreading the Good News and to show God ‘s love to all those around us, even those we may consider our enemies.

Because of my pastors’ commitment to teaching exactly what Jesus taught, and because they strive to live authentic and blameless lives, they have helped strengthen and shape how my faith is today. Of course, none of us are even close to perfect, but I will always appreciate the good that these three men have done in our church and in my life.

*=names have been changed for privacy reasons

Keep on Fighting

The s-word.    It carries more judgment, stigma, and heartache than any other word in the English language.  Yet it affects more people than we care to realize or notice, but we dare not talk about it.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health in the U.S, in 2017, a whopping 9.8 million people have had serious thoughts about wanting to commit suicide. 

I can relate to those 9.8 million people.  Having struggled with depression for over half a century, I have had those same thoughts of suicide.  However, because of Jesus, He has pulled me through every one of those episodes and has never given up on me. Additionally, Jesus has provided me with a great support system that will listen to and help me through whenever I feel this way, without judgment or condemnation. 

Unfortunately, not everyone struggling right now has an adequate or a good support system. The good news is that, we can strive to be a support to at least some of those around us who are struggling right now. The good news is that if you are struggling right now, there are resources and people who want to encourage you and give you the hope and encouragement I got through Jesus and my support system as well.  I would also like to share some things that my support of family and friends have collectively taught and reiterated to me over the years when I feel like life is just too much:

You are a survivor!

Like me, you may have encountered people that have betrayed and abused you.  But, then, Jesus will give you strength to survive them or He will take them out of your life.  Keep on fighting!

Like me, you may feel that your efforts to succeed in life are never enough, and that you always fall short.  Don’t worry. Jesus will provide the strength you need to truly succeed—maybe not as the rest of the world sees “success,” but more importantly, how He sees success. Keep on fighting!

Like me, you may feel sometimes that no one truly cares for you, or really knows you.  But, then, Jesus brings people into your life that will prove you wrong.  So, keep on fighting!

Like me, you may feel disconnected from society or that you don’t belong anywhere.  Then, Jesus will provide His Church and/or those around you to remind you that you do impact their live and that you do share a part of their heart. Keep on fighting!

Whatever you are going through and wherever you are in life, don’t give up! I almost did, but I am glad that Jesus didn’t allow me to end it all, because I never would have known the blessing of redemption and love!

You are a survivor! Keep on fighting!

Sources:

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide.shtml#part_154973

Hope-Giver

 

written:  11/30/2018

Once I was lost and alone

Looking for hope and love

The true kind from up above

The kind that would never die

 

I was dealing with much pain

People caused me much hurt and strife

But you came into my life

And brought healing to my soul

 

You gave me true love and care

You gave me value and hope

When I was on my last rope

You are my great hope-giver

Dying Well

I have been repeatedly reminded in these past few weeks that nothing on earth is going to stay the same or remain forever. To that end, I have also been reminded that one day I will pass from life on this earth, to life in eternity with God.  I have sensed in my heart that God has been whispering to me over and over again, “Patricia, you don’t have much time left.”  The following is the message I believe God is relaying to my heart, and also, I believe, God’s message to all of us, to live life so that we will die well:

I know no one wants to ponder their death. It all seems so depressing and final—but it doesn’t have to be.  Dying well, to me, does not mean having all the toys and grandeurs of this world. One can have that, and still not die well.  Dying well does not just mean being popular and having everyone love you.  To me, dying well means to have lived knowing you have fulfilled your purpose and that God will say to you when you come before Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

So, how does one fulfill his or her purpose? Well, first one needs to find out what it is!  I believe that my overarching purpose can be surmised in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, where it says, “The [purpose] of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” If you are a follower of Christ, that should be your purpose too. 

However, I think God gives us different assignments, if you will, to help us fulfill that purpose, through both our circumstances and the people He puts in our path.  For instance, despite the stresses that my day job brings, I believe He has and continues to use that job as a calling for me to minister to broken and hurting people around me and to strengthen my character.  In this job, I am learning, not only some marketable skills in my job, but also how to be more patient, kind, caring and at peace with life.  I have learned that anxiety gets me nowhere, but trusting God does.  When I cooperate with God in these lessons, I am much better able to fulfill His purposes for me.  When it is my time to depart this world, if I persevere in this and all other assignments He gives me to fulfill His purposes, then I would die well.  

Another example is my faith hero, Rachel Joy Scott. She became a Christian a few years before her death in April 1999, and God used people in her school, her church, and her job to strengthen and build her character and to be a dynamic example for those around her that would be recounted long after she had departed this earth.  Although Rachel died what many consider a tragic death, I think she died well, not because thousands of people came to her funeral, but because of the positive impact she had and continues to have in millions of people’s lives today because of how she had lived her life and fulfilled her God-given purpose.

I believe to truly die well, we must die to self. In fact, in Luke 9:23-24 (KJV), Jesus says, “ If any man should come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it, but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”  Jesus is saying that in order to live, and, ultimately, die well, we have to be willing to give up our selfish desires, ambitions and hopes for the benefit of others.  I can attest to this fact in my own life. When I am thinking selfishly, I often find that I don’t get what I wanted anyway, and my life unravels before me. Not only that, people often lose respect for me, and I become an angry, resentful and bitter mess. However, when I humble myself and submit my desires and ambitions to God, I find that I am more at peace, no matter what my circumstances are, and things often go a lot more smoothly.  I also find the same is true for those around me.  Those around me who complain the most are often, and not just coincidentally, the same people who have not submitted their selfish desires and ambitions to God!  What a miserable way, not only to live, but to die! Many people think that when we die to self, we will live a miserable life and never get to do what we want to do. I won’t lie; sometimes I am tempted to believe this very lie!  However, in reality, the opposite is most often true.  When we are willing to sacrifice for others, we become more fulfilled in our God-given purpose and are more likely to be content with our lives, rather if we just lived for ourselves and our desires.

Another part of dying to self is being willing to serve others. Helping others not only encourages us to keep the focus off ourselves, it also makes us more content and fulfilled with our lives, because we sense we are making a positive contribution to this world. For instance, when I work to focus on making the customers satisfied and happy with our products and service, I find I feel much more confident and willing to serve them, rather than if I am focused on just checking something off my list. Dying well, means having died knowing that you served others the best you could, and were not just out for yourself.

In order to truly die well, I believe we must strive daily to fulfill our God-given purpose for this life, deny ourselves, and be willing to live to serve God and others with a whole heart.  As God has said in my heart, repeatedly, “You don’t have much time left.”  Yes, we don’t have as much time left as we may perceive in our minds, but we can use what is left to make sure we die well, and full of purpose.  

Why I Have Hope Everyday

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I wrote on April 9, 1999, when I was still in high school: “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”  I had no hope. I was fine physically, but I was slowly dying inside. 

I’m thankful that I didn’t die or take my own life.  Though I didn’t know it on April 9, about one year later, I would find Hope. Hope that helped me through the storms, and come out on the other side being greeted with a beaming joy and confidence that I had only dreamed of years before. Hope has also given me drive to persevere, even when I thought I could never make it. Hope has redeemed relationships that I thought were forever shattered.  Hope has taken the junk in my life, and made it a treasure. 

Hope was, and always is, Jesus.

Hope has given me purpose to live.  Before I became a follower of Christ, I was living aimlessly, for myself. I had adequate material things, but I never really thought about blessing others with it.  I wanted to excel academically, but that was getting more and more difficult, and my limitations were becoming more apparent. 

With Jesus, I have realized that the world is so much bigger than me. With Jesus, I am able to partner with Him to share His great love and hope for a world that is looking for something bigger than the pain and the drudgery that life often brings.

Hope has given me a light at the end of the tunnel. I still struggle with depression occasionally, but now even in it, I have hope that God will bring good out of even that.  I have hope, because God’s strength and light will help me overcome a depressive episode.  I have hope because God has surrounded me with a group of people who love and care for me.

Hope has given me renewed confidence and joy that I had never known before.  Since I found Hope, He has provided me with several communities of believers who have had my back and who care for one another.  This support network I have had has helped me through some of the toughest times of my life, and even helped deliver me from some really bad situations.

Hope has provided me with my current job and some great managers, including several that believed in me enough to help me learn new things.  I want to give a shout out to my now-former manager Elizabeth* who believed in me enough to allow me to train to be a back-up cashier and learn some managerial tasks as well.  I want to give a shout out to my now former manager Chris* who took the chance and first hired me. 

Hope has provided me a great mentor, in J, who always believed in my abilities and was God’s message to me that He would use me to accomplish His great will in my life. 

Hope has provided me countless wonderful friends who have put up with my depressive episodes and have helped cheer me on. 

Hope has given me much hope for the future. Hope has given me freedom from the shackles that held me back in my past. 

What I Learned From Rachel Scott’s Life

On April 9, 1999, I wrote in my journal that I was dying inside. Nine days later, on April 20, one of my now-beloved faith heroes, Rachel Joy Scott, was shot and killed by one of her classmates. Her legacy and impact, however, will live on for many, many years. One of the lives that she has touched is mine. I have been so inspired by what I learned about how she lived her life! The three major things I learned about life from how she lived is 1) how to appreciate people and things in one’s life more. 2.) how to be amazing— and strive for more than “average” or the status quo. 3.) how to be authentic.

First of all, Rachel was known by others as being appreciative of what she had. In fact, according to the book, Rachel’s Tears by Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott, she always stopped on her walks to look at the flowers and to engage with babies and small children when she went to the mall in her area ( Nimmo and Scott, 69). She also had the reputation of really engaging with the people she encountered on a regular basis and helping them when needed. Because of what I learned about how Rachel lived her life, I also aim to be an encouraging presence in others’ lives, instead of being a whiner or Debby downer. In order to do this, like Rachel, I must be willing to sacrifice my time in order to really be able to engage and invest in others.  In fact, in his book, “Chain Reaction,” Darrell Scott reiterates this fact. He says, “Many people are too busy, but if we want to be helpful, we will need to take the time.(Scott, 115).

Secondly, Rachel once wrote, according to multiple sources, that she wouldn’t “ be labeled as average.” In all the books and articles I had ever read about her, I sensed that Rachel Scott wasn’t one of those people who just lived to “get by”. She wanted to try her best in order to impact as many people as she could, for positive. She constantly strived to improve herself after she sensed that she fell short, both in her relationships with others and things like her job and work at school. She didn’t care if the people she encountered were outcasts or in any way different from her or perceived societal norms. She interacted with the people that needed her encouragement and love the most, even if it cost her reputation. I also aim to be so much more than “average” or the “status quo”. Like Rachel, I aim to upset the apple cart when necessary. I also aim to impact as many people as possible with the love Jesus Christ and countless others have graciously shown me. How much more satisfying life is when we strive to do our best everyday and not just do something halfheartedly.

Finally, another lesson I learned from how Rachel lived her life is how to be authentic. From all that I have read and heard about Rachel, I gathered that she was honest about her feelings and struggles, and therefore was able to be more relatable to others. It bothers me, however, when people act like they are perfect and don’t have any struggles, because I know they are hiding something from me and probably aren’t trustworthy either.  Rachel, in what I have gathered about her, was almost never, if ever, like this! I learned from her life to be open about my personal struggles, not so others will pity me, but to be more trustworthy and honest about who I really am, and to comfort and encourage those going through similar issues. I also learned that if one is honest about their struggles, it opens up the opportunity for others to open up as well, with less fear of being judged or condemned for their problems. This is where healing begins!

I have never personally met Rachel Scott, but am very excited to be able to meet her in paradise someday. To me, she is almost everything I would love to be–appreciative of others, amazing (or at least more than average), and most of all, authentic. This is why she remains one of my “faith heroes” today.


Sources:

Nimmo, Beth and Darrell Scott. (2000). Rachel’s Tears. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Scott, Darrell, with Steve Rabey. (2001). Chain Reaction. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

How Jesus Has Saved and Redeemed Me

written April 16, 2019

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Sunday night, after a snowstorm had ended for the day, I realized how much pain and anguish Jesus had gone through for us—for me, during the last hours of His life, 2,000 years ago, as my pastor relayed the excruciating details of what Jesus had suffered.  Over the past few weeks, I confess there had been so much stress going on in my life that I had lost sight of God’s presence and even love for me.   However, as I look back over my entire life, I realize that Jesus had not only saved and redeemed me through His sacrifice 2,000 years ago, but also through various people and events in my life.  As I look forward to celebrating Easter, I want to remind you—and myself—of God’s saving grace, not only for my sake, but also for yours, so that you will remember how God has been good to you and how blessings have poured into your life. 

This is my story, but more importantly, it is His!

On April 9, 1999, I wrote these despairing words in a journal, “I wish I could be more […] effervescent (lively). I feel dead without being physically killed. I hope I don’t die emotionally, but I am dying. If I could only find that zest, that greatness life is supposed to hold. But where is it, at least in me?”  At that time, I was feeling very restless and felt like something was missing from my life. Tired of all the pretense around me in my life and feeling like I couldn’t relate to the lyrics of most popular songs, I began searching for deeper music.  That is when I was led by God to a Christian radio station that played songs in the popular style I liked, but also had deeper lyrical meaning for me.  Through that, God used this longing for something “more” in my life to lead me into a Christian bible study group at a public school I attended.  Some months later, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.

God has also saved my literal, physical life several times as well.  When I was struggling most severely with depression and suicidal thoughts, each time He reached out to me and prevented me from doing the unthinkable. 

Also, on June 14, 2014, after having been hospitalized already a month before for food poisoning, I had to be hospitalized again. (For the whole story on how and why, please visit this page. ) I had been throwing up blood earlier that morning, and I knew something was wrong, so I went to the ER.  I found out later that I had to have gallbladder surgery because my gallbladder was twice the size it should have been, was inflamed, and I had several gall stones!  Thankfully, I had gone to the ER in time because if I had waited longer, I may not have been here on earth today. God was definitely a part of the timing in this and in guiding the successful surgery by my surgeon.

Then, about four years later, there was a severe blizzard ensuing outside.  Many associates had called in sick at my current job, and because I was feeling bad for one of the managers that worked overnight, I wanted to help him.  He had so much work to do, with not enough people to do it. I had worked from 2 pm, and my shift was supposed to end at 10 pm. However, I planned to work another shift to help him out.  However, when this manager, let’s call him *Chris,  realized that I lived more than a few minutes away from work, he told me, “I care about my associates.” and told me in so many words that he would rather have me safely home than me worrying about him getting the work done and possibly have an accident by going home later, when the storm was more severe.  I sensed that God was telling me to listen to Chris, and I did. I not only was able to get home at a decent time, I had to call off the next day because the weather was so bad! Thankfully, God moved in Chris to care about my safety, and thus He used Chris to save my life!

Another way, Jesus has redeemed me is by providing me hope and purpose in serving Him.  When I was struggling to find lasting work, He provided me activities at my now-former church, like the food pantry and the clinic, to be able to serve the needs of others.  By serving at the food pantry and the clinic at my now-former church, my eyes were opened to the pain and the needs of others.  I saw people find hope and purpose, as they were being served by my fellow volunteers and me. I saw Jesus work through both ministries in powerful ways, as many people felt loved and cared for by the volunteers there. It was there that I also met some of the most genuine, loving, and caring people, including one of my friends, Laura,* that now attends the church which I am now a member. 

After that, through my mentor J, and others, I was able to get my first stable job about six years ago.  There, I learned much about customer service, which I strive to apply to my current job.  God also led me to see every day as an opportunity to minister to those around me—both customers and co-workers alike.

Then,  about three years ago, on a cold, wintry February day, I got my current job, being hired by one of my now-former managers, Chris*(Yes, he is the same one that helped save my physical life in February 2018!) , and several months later, Hope,* one of my managers, promoted me to full-time.  God has used this job, not only to help me serve Him better, but also to continually mold and shape me, and so He could tear away the layers of my selfishness and pain of having been bullied by peers and others growing up.  I am also constantly able to learn new things about how to serve customers better and to be a better person, personality-wise. 

A few months before I got my current job, on December 2015, I started the blog, “God’s Whisperings.” From there, God led me to engage with other like-minded individuals in a blogging group. He also gave me a vision to start this blog as a way to teach others what I have learned from Him, so that they would know His love and goodness in their own lives as well.   About a few months ago, I was led by God to join a local writing group, as a way to, not only have a concentrated time to continue to write, but also to learn from others.

Finally, Jesus has saved and redeemed me through various trials, because without them, I would not be the person I am today.  Before I got my current job, I applied and got interviewed for a job at a local bookstore that just opened.  This was what I had considered one of my “dream jobs.” However, I quickly learned during the interview that I was not a good fit for that job.  I felt very disappointed, and slightly despairing, until I interviewed for my current job in February of 2016!  Had I had gotten that job at the bookstore, I don’t know how long I would have lasted, or if I would have learned as much as I have at my current job.

Jesus also saved and redeemed me through failed friendships and relationships.  He saved me from several people who did not have my (or His) best interests in mind, and who betrayed my trust.  Jesus saved me from those who would have hurt me if they had been in my lives much longer.  Finally, Jesus continues to redeem my life, through the changes I am currently experiencing, including the redemption of several friendships and relationships that I thought were doomed forever.  You can read about one of them here.

As we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection this Sunday (for those that are Christians),  let’s remember what God has done in our lives to bring us to where we are today, and for the blessing it is that He is alive and working in us today!  Thank God for not only His salvation, but also for the plenty of times He has redeemed us in our lives!

Image by Dawn Sinclair from Pixabay