A Short Memo to Church Leaders on Behalf of Singles*

Pastors, spiritual leaders, church small group organizers, etc. Just a loving tip from one of many whose house doesn’t have a spouse—because I’ve seen it more often than not over the last five years [and I truthfully, therefore, refer to no specific church in particular]:

When listing what your church has to offer, remember that in listing “Couples/College/Teens/Children” as the headings for what you offer in the way of small groups on Sundays, you are unintentionally but specifically omitting many who fit into none of those categories. You do the same by using the title “ADULTS” and then offering only courses on parenting, marital relationships, etc.

Yes, having classes and courses for couples is imperative. But I implore you to please understand that the majority of your singles* are not single because they chose it but because God chose that for them for this time, and they are choosing to rejoice in His choosing and in Him.

Please don’t make that so hard for them.

_____

*I use the term “singles” here as a generic term for those without a spouse in the house, whether never married, divorced, or widowed.

The Need for Clean Hearts and Clean Carpet

My precious friend Amy calls it carpet-smelling prayer. In Luke 5:12 (NASB), the Bible uses the idea of “falling on your face” before the Lord in prayer: “While He was in one of the cities, behold, there was a man covered with leprosy; and when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’”

I think the motivation behind a prayer with this much emotion, this much passion, this much desire comes from the action described in the four words that precede his falling on his face before the Lord: “when he saw Jesus.”

Oh sure, we read about Jesus. We talk about Jesus. Shoot, we even sing about Jesus. But when was the last time we saw Jesus?

No I’m not being mystical or speaking of physically viewing the living, breathing Son of God sitting across the room. I’m speaking of a much deeper view: a view that transcends mere vision.

For example, when I truly see Him for who He is and think of the Lord as my shepherd, I don’t merely envision a male human being tending bleating sheep. I don’t even simply picture the Lord Himself walking with me, staff in one hand, my hand in the other, as I find rest beside still waters—as awesome as that thought is. When I know Him and have a firsthand understanding of the depth of His character, I see in that title “shepherd” the overwhelming truth that because of who He is, “I shall not want.” It encompasses the entirety of His being, His power, and His love.

Therein lies the problem. We fail to see—truly see—Jesus.

No, wait. I need to speak in the first person, teaching these truths to myself first. So let me rewrite that previous statement: I fail to see—truly see—Jesus.

So then here’s the centuries-old question: Why do I continue in those things that distract me from seeing Jesus?

While there are many reasons for taking my eyes off of Jesus, perhaps the second chapter of the book of First John sums up the top three the best: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world” (verses 15–16, NASB).

It’s that pesky “boastful pride of life” that seems to be effective at taking my eyes off of Jesus. But it might not be in the way that seems most obvious. The problem comes because I know my own sinfulness. When I use the eyes of truth to view who I am, I focus on those past sins and evil desires and—come on now, I know I can’t be the only one—I think “He’s not going to hear me anyhow because I just can’t seem to ‘get all the sin out!’” So I remain quiet.

Oh the pride in the delusion that my unworthiness is greater than His grace.

But there’s that word: grace. The grace that He gives me over and over and over and over is given unconditionally, unceasingly, and undeservedly. It’s the grace that makes Him God and leaves me in need of a God of grace.

And it is in remembering that grace that I let go of that which I held so tightly, and in the letting go, my gaze turns to Jesus.

And in gazing upon Jesus, I am compelled to fall upon my face in the adoration that flows from “carpet-smelling prayer.”

 

Free Printable Calendar

Just for fun, here’s a free printable 2015 calendar for your refrigerator, notebook, or desk! You have been such an  encouragement and blessing to me that I thought it would be fun to give you a little surprise “thank-you” gift today to help you think ahead to the following: 1) things you want to ask God to help you accomplish before the end of 2014 and 2) things you want to ask God to help you accomplish in 2015! Have a great Sunday and a wonderful week!

Click on the photo of the calendar to download your free printable 2015 calendar!

The Joy of Overwhelming Tears

I can’t believe I cried. There I was: with a godly man whose character, confidence, humor, intelligence, and wisdom intrigued me. And to top it all off, he was cute.

But as I sat across the table from him on our dinner date, I cried.

Now one thing that many who are close to me know about me is that I have an excruciatingly tender heart. I am sentimental, easily touched, and have a disproportionate amount of empathy for others, and, you guessed it, when those emotions come flooding into my heart, the overflow is seen through the tears running down my cheeks. But on a date? (Perhaps that was a contributing factor as to why it was our one and only date, but that’s a whole ‘nother story that I hope won’t distract our focus from what matters in this one!)

What would make me cry so easily in such a setting? It was the fact that these were not tears of sorrow but tears that resulted from being overwhelmed by the goodness of God.

My date had graciously asked various questions about my life, and as I shared much of what had transpired during recent years following my “mandatory resignation,” which had led to many months with no significant income, I realized anew the amazing provisions from my almighty God!

After sharing a few of the ways that God had, in His unfailing faithfulness and because of His unconditional love, provided material things—things like groceries, clothing, gas money, and more—and had taught me invaluable lessons about His all-encompassing power, the tears of gratitude began to flow. I said to the compassionate man sitting across from me, “I’m sorry to cry, but He’s just been so amazing that I simply have to talk about Him!”

While reading from Psalm 30 this morning, I was reminded of this event and thought to myself: When was the last time my tears of thankfulness to God flowed this freely? When was the last time I could not keep silent? When was the last time my heart was overtaken by overwhelming joy?

I confess right here, right now that I have become distracted by that which is good but that even in its goodness turns my heart to the temporal rather than the eternal. And in the process, I, like the children of Israel who so often experienced—and just as often forgot—the blessings of God, have become “unaffected” by His incomparable mercy and grace.

So my public and private prayer today are one and the same: Lord, unclutter my heart that I might once again stand in awe of who You are in such a way that I cannot help but proclaim it by my words and by my life!

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The Summer Is Ended

My sweet eighty-three-year-old, visually impaired mother sat at her computer last night working diligently on what I thought was an e-mail. Instead, she came to me later and said, “I just finished a guest post for the blog, if you’d like to use it!” So today’s post, written by my mom, Lorraine, is a real-life lesson she recently learned from a few potted plants.

***

It was the end of May. My geraniums were sprouting some promising stems and leaves for another year of colorful and refreshing blooms for us to enjoy. Another pot, the clay one, containing a wandering Jew, was the one I wanted most of all to revive, but it didn’t have even a hint of anything appearing above the dirt.

I hung the geraniums from their hooks on the patio. The little clay pot with seemingly only dirt in it still showed no signs of bearing its hoped-for greenery. That wandering Jew began as part of one that my mother had hanging on her front porch. Before her, my grandmother had it hanging on a hook over her rock garden. But this past winter, instead of tending to my cherished plant, my husband’s medical needs took priority (which I wouldn’t trade for anything), and it took its toll on my plants.

As the summer progressed, I pampered that pot of dirt. One day I noticed a little green dot peeking through the soil! Believe me, that little “plant” was fertilized, watered, got the right amount of sunshine, and yes, was even talked to a bit. Soon a beautiful long, slender leaf of my long-awaited wandering Jew began to show.

I placed it outside my front door and tended it religiously. Each time a stem was long enough, I broke off the end and replanted it. The clay pot was soon filled with healthy green leaves. I rejoiced that it seemed as though each one I planted lived. Mother (and Grandma) would have been so proud to know that I still had her wandering Jew plant.

Jeremiah 8:20 states: “The harvest is past, the summer is ended” (KJV). As the month of October became the current month on the calendar, I began to look at the leaves more carefully. All too soon I realized that it was not a wandering Jew but a weed that was similar: with long, slender green leaves. I have impaired vision, so what I thought was a treasure worthy of my time was really a weed that should have been exterminated as soon as it began growing.

In my spiritual life, I wonder how many weeds—like things that bring personal gain or pleasure for a season—I have nurtured while I left the real treasures of heavenly things unattended. Daily time in God’s Word, faithful prayer, a positive testimony for Christ, a burden for the lost, and a loving and tender care for someone in need are the plants I should tend. They alone will bear eternal fruit for God’s glory.

_______________________

For those participating in Operation Optimize October, this week’s organization tip is:

Only keep complete sets unless the remaining part can serve a complete purpose on its own.

Though this tip seems like a “given” for those who are organizers, organizers are often very frugal (and wisely so). However, this quality can be a both a good thing and bad thing. The good part is obvious. The bad part is that frugal organizers tend to be “savers.” We (and please notice that I said “we”) save things “just in case” we might need them again in the future.

On the October 2014 calendar, you’ll see that this week’s list takes you into the kitchen to get started on a few basic tasks that you can do in fifteen minutes or less. But you’ll also notice that on both Thursday and Friday, the “omit” section encourages you to “match kitchen containers to lids; toss incomplete sets.” This is a two-day event because I have a sneaking suspicion that you just might hang on to a few incomplete “sets” after the first day, and you’ll need to omit those on Friday!

The overriding principle to remember is this: It served its purpose. The second principle is this: Because it can no longer completely serve that purpose (without its mate in the “set”), it is causing clutter or frustration.

It’s time, my optimizing friend; let it go.

 

But God: Question Mark or Exclamation Point?

When we say “but God,” it is all too often followed by a question mark. No, asking God “why” is not wrong, but complaining with a stomped foot, a whiny voice, and an exasperated sigh as we reply “but God,” followed by yet another question mark of doubt, is not what Scripture tells us to do when we seek His face for answers.

Instead, our response in the midst of life’s daily routine, life’s struggles, and life’s inevitable trials should be to look at the contrast between our God and those circumstances and reply, with a giant exclamation point, “but God!”

My mom and I recently coauthored a Bible study book for women, titled But God: Question Mark or Exclamation Point?and I haven’t said a great deal about it. We’ve been thrilled, overwhelmed, and sincerely humbled by the response of those who have ordered it, studied it, or used it in their Ladies’ Bible Study groups this fall.

This nine-lesson Bible study for women looks at some of the “But God” verses in the Bible. Designed for individuals or groups, each lesson includes blanks to help readers “search for answers” and also includes a page at the end of the lesson (appropriately titled “Petals from the Basket”) where readers can journal personal applications from their study time or record thoughts to discuss in group studies.

With Christmas coming and with churches choosing their Spring 2015 Ladies’ Bible Study materials, I wanted to take this opportunity to share the link to the purchase information for this study. You may click here to find out how to order your copies from Amazon, CreateSpace, or directly through Petals from the Basket if you are interested in quantity discounts.

It is our prayer that as you study these verses and apply these truths, your life will reflect the exclamation point of God’s love as you interact with others and glorify Him with your life!

“My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever” (Psalm 73:26, KJV).

 

More Than Enough

My “ideal Saturday” turned into a reality: HGTV magazine arrived in the mail; lifetime friend sent me a box of fall-fragrance candles; rain fell gently, creating an overcast softness outside; and God let me know that He was more than enough.

It’s that last thought that I want you to remember today.

Whatever your circumstances…

Whatever your marital status…

Whatever your longings…

Whatever your physical needs…

Whatever your spiritual needs…

Whatever your emotional needs…

Whatever your financial needs…

Whatever it is that leaves you feeling incomplete…

Whatever your future holds…

…2 Corinthians 9:8 is true!

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times,

having all that you need, you will abound in every good work” (NIV).

Yes, precious faith-friend, God is more than enough!

 

 

Does What I Do Really Matter?

Sitting at the big round table at Cracker Barrel today, I had a breakthrough moment where something I’ve been struggling with suddenly vanished into insignificance. (I also had a ginormous serving of food that probably could have and should have fed an entire third-world country, but that’s a whole ‘nother story!)

I’m sharing this struggle because I’m certain that I can’t be the only one.

I want to matter. I don’t give a frip about money or position or recognition or accumulated hoo-ha. I simply want to matter. For many years I have said that “when my time comes,” I want a simple grave marker the size of a 4 x 6 card for a tombstone, but I want it to say my name, my dates of birth and death, and then, in order to show that what I did mattered and mattered for the right reasons, I want the words of John 17:4 included: “I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave me to do” (NIV).

Yet lately, from the confines of a three-story home filled with beautiful globally acquired treasures and people that I love, I’ve realized that…I pretty much don’t matter. Now before you send me counseling materials and dial the help-a-friend hotline for advice, let me explain.

In my current situation, serving as a caregiver for my aging parents in their home, it’s hard to believe that crushing pills, applying lotions, providing physical support for someone else’s frail and weakened body, turning the TV on precisely one minute before the evening news, reading a one-page devotional each evening, or helping with numerous other seemingly menial tasks actually matters anywhere outside these walls. And yet, I realize that it doesn’t have to. It has to matter to my parents and to God. And I believe that it does.

But I shamefacedly and openly confess that this leaves me feeling lonely, insignificant in the big picture, and wondering if I’ll ever really “matter” beyond this street address.

And then, in a God-directed moment, a former student/now friend who once worked in my office at a small college in the north woods of Wisconsin and now serves as a missionary in Puerto Rico with her dear family sent me a message the other day to see how far my “new” town was from the toll road. To make a long story, well, not as long, I’ll just say that I ended up getting to meet my friends at Cracker Barrel for lunch today. I had never met their three awesome kids, so that was an “Auntie Brenda” blessing just thrown in as a bonus!

As I talked with the husband about some editing work my freelance business has done and will be doing for him, it hit me: You, Brenda Strohbehn, get to have a part in something that matters. From inside the walls of your home, your work, your words, your life get to intertwine with unknown numbers of people as you pray for, edit, and encourage the publication of this printed material—material that matters.

And that matters.

Moms with little kids at home and whose days are spent “confined” by going only the distance between the kitchen, the bathroom, and the living room certainly feel this way at times. But don’t you see, my amazing faith-friends? That matters! The work you do there matters in perhaps a globally impacting way down the road as your child travels for business when he or she becomes an adult and shares the wonderful truths that you taught him or her in that confined space at a time when thought you didn’t matter. It matters when your child, as my friends now are doing, becomes vocationally committed to sharing the Good News with others in lands that God says matter.

Every person, doing the work that he or she is called to do, matters. What you’re doing today? It matters. Because what Christ did matters, doing the work He has given you to do in this moment matters.

The only time it can’t matter is when you’re unfocused and distracted into thinking that it doesn’t matter.

 

 

“Auntie Brenda’s” Ideas for Sweetest Day 2014

Wikipedia states that “Sweetest Day is a holiday celebrated in the Midwestern United States, and parts of the Northeastern United States, on the third Saturday in October. Sweetest Day has also been referred to as a ‘concocted promotion’ created by the candy industry solely to increase sales of sweets. It is also a day to bestow romantic deeds or expressions. Eleven states and parts of two states observe Sweetest Day: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and areas of both New York and Pennsylvania west of the spine of the Appalachian Mountains.”

The article goes on to share that Sweetest Day was, in fact, started by candy makers in Cleveland, Ohio, as a commercial holiday. However, the point for “Auntie Brenda” is that some of “my boys” will have women in their lives who are eagerly anticipating your participation in this day unofficially set aside to acknowledge those you care about. By the way, Detroit (where many in my readership are from) and Cleveland are the two primary cities where Sweetest Day is observed!

Three rules first—for both the ladies and the men:

  1. It’s not about how much you spend. It’s about graciously acknowledging that the holiday exists to provide an opportunity for you to outwardly express your love, care, or kind thoughts for someone.
  2. It’s not about dedicating the whole day to celebrating this “event.” A quality moment or a portion of time set aside and dedicated to that individual says “You matter.”
  3. In this case, it really is the thought that counts.
Since it’s already Wednesday, and Sweetest Day 2014 is this Saturday, October 18, let’s get started on those gift ideas, shall we? Here are five “idea starters.” Add your own personal touch. Minimize them or expand on them. The majority can apply to either ladies or men.
  1. The gift of time. Give the gift of cleaning out the car, washing dishes, raking the leaves, or something else that will help the one you care about and perhaps be something you could even do together! The best part is that it’s technically free!
  2. Under the category of free comes a gift that women, in particular, love! Guys, put your thoughts in writing: it can be anything from a simple sheet of paper with the words, “Happy Sweetest Day! I appreciate you!” written on it to a poem telling her a few of the things that you find extra amazing about her. Remember: ladies don’t want to just be with a man who is amazing; they want (and deserve, I might add) a man who realizes and lets them know that they’re amazing too!
  3. Candy. That’s sort of a “duh,” but just remember that it doesn’t have to be elegant, expensive chocolate flown in from the Czech Republic (which my friend Rosemary declares is the best chocolate in the world!) or created at the local confectioner’s shop. It can be his or her favorite candy bar or bag of candy (you do know his or her favorite candy, don’t you?) wrapped with a simple bow or placed in a purposeful way in a location where it will say, “I was thinking of you!” So in other words, you could actually celebrate this day and your special recipient for under $1.00!
  4. Go to Kohls, Target, or some other local department store and pick up two coffee (or tea) mugs. Tie the handles together with a bow and add a note that says, “Let’s use these when we enjoy a cup of coffee together in the mornings” (or whenever you’d likely drink coffee, tea, or hot chocolate together). You can even grab two decent mugs at the Dollar Tree for $1.00 each, making this affordable for nearly anyone! So, depending on the mugs you choose to purchase, you could gift this for under $3.00!
  5. Aldi has some of the best flowers around. I’m serious. Six roses or a bouquet of fresh, seasonal flowers are generally…are you ready for this?…under $5.00! And yes, ladies, many men I know also love getting flowers for their desk or dresser!

Obviously, there are multiple other options and multiple other price ranges—from dinner out…to jewelry…to a weekend getaway!

So, friends, the point is this. Enjoy expressing appreciation for the one you care about—on any level! It’s not a lifetime commitment; it’s an act of caring. Enjoy the day!

__________________________________

This week’s organization tip for those participating in Operation Optimize October is:

Put a label on it.

You might think you’ll remember what’s in the box or storage bin, but it certainly makes it easier if there’s a label there to identify the contents. And here’s a bonus tip: If the storage box, food containers, etc. will be stacked, make sure that the label is on the side! This prevents you from having to lift every box in order to see what is in the box beneath it!