Trust: Writing with Ink

shutterstock_163379354Maybe it’s the writer in me, maybe it’s the perfectionist, but I don’t like pencils. They’re too “if-y.” They come with erasers for a reason. On the rare occasion that I write anything other than a hastily numbered shopping list with a pencil, I feel as if I know the plans will probably change, so I’m making provision for that from the start. But I want security. I want certainty. I want to know what will happen.

I want the schedule, the plans, the list written in ink.

This morning I read the oft-quoted reminder: “Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light.” As I pondered the depth of its simplicity, I was encouraged and comforted by the fact that God’s schedules, plans, and lists are written in ink. He never changes. And because of that, He can be trusted to keep His word, His plans, and His promises.

God uses the words will and shall hundreds of times in Scripture. Because of those secure promises, we can know—truly know—that He will:

…and the list goes on and on and on and on!

When I seek Him with all my heart and claim a promise He gives me in His Word, I need to throw away the pencil eraser that wants to appear on those “dark days” when my trust falters.

I doubted; He delivered.

I pondered; He provided.

I mentally wrote in “pencil” what I learned; He permanently wrote His promises in ink!

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
Proverbs 3:5–6, KJV, emphasis mine)

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock, Minerva Studio

But I’m Not a Mom….

Lorraine and Brenda StrohbehnThere is only one way for single women to view Mother’s Day—the right way. There is no other option. So what is the right way?

Before I answer that question or write one more paragraph, I will include my standard disclaimer for a post like this. I’m a single woman in her fifties, and I have never been married. The only thing that makes this “my choice” is that I choose, daily, to let God make those choices for me, and He has chosen for me to be without a spouse today. Since He knows best, I sincerely rejoice in His plan. Now—on with today’s post!

On my sister Marcia’s birthday, it would be foolish for me to be upset, stay home from her birthday celebration to watch a sad movie, and eat ginormous amounts of Hot Tamales (my comfort food of choice) just because the celebration isn’t about me.

On my sister Karen’s wedding anniversary, it would literally be obnoxious for me to write a blog post, asking the world to stop celebrating wedding anniversaries just because I don’t have one to celebrate and telling them to be sensitive to my lack in their time of celebration.

Therefore, my fellow single women, this coming Sunday, let’s celebrate our own mothers as well as mothers everywhere for the amazing work that they do. Do you seriously think that when the pastor of the church has mothers stand up to recognize them for their all-too-often thankless role in shaping the generation of the future that your spiritual leader is, in actuality, saying, “What I really want you to do is turn around and take note of all the women not standing and inwardly laugh hysterically that there must be something horribly wrong with them since they are either childless or, worse yet, without a spouse altogether?”

As harsh as it may sound, get over yourself. This is not about you.

Too often, as singles, we turn situation after situation into what we think is a time of “permissible whining” because we are spouseless. Well, stop it! Right now! Because whining is not permissible, and it is not attractive!

We say that we trust God’s leading, but then we fail to trust Him enough to obey His commands:

“Do everything [yes, everything!] without grumbling….” —Philippians 2:14, NIV

“Give thanks in all [yes, all] circumstances….” —I Thessalonians 5:18, NIV

“Rejoice [yes, rejoice] with those who rejoice….” —Romans 12:15, NIV

WAIT! Don’t say it yet! Because I know what some of you are thinking: “But, Brenda, the second half of that last verse you posted reminds believers to ‘mourn with those who mourn.’ So, I expect the street to go both ways!”

And you would be right. It should go both ways. But what if it doesn’t? Does that excuse you from rejoicing on their behalf, particularly, in this setting, as they rejoice in the role of motherhood? You know the answer.

So, is it wrong to be sad that you are without a spouse or that you still don’t have children after many years of trying and praying for a child? Of course not. Just remember to keep it a desire and not a demand!

And more importantly, remember to rejoice with those who have been given what you long for. Focus on others this weekend. Applaud those amazing females when they stand in church during their far-too-brief moment of recognition! Look beyond your own garden and see the beautiful array of flowers that we all get the opportunity to celebrate this weekend!

I’m throwing in this final paragraph, even though it might seem to slightly contradict all of the above…well…because I can! My niece Jillian calls me or texts me every year on Mother’s Day and thanks me for being “a woman of influence” in her life, knowing that my desire for motherhood is not one that will ever be fulfilled at this point and choosing to lift me up on a day when the evil ick whispers in my ear more often than he should be allowed to do! So let me encourage you—both married women and single women—to think of a single woman you could encourage this weekend by thanking her for her influence in your life. No, you’re not trying to make it a “substitute Mother’s Day” celebration for her—she’s not a mom. You are simply using this widely celebrated weekend that honors mothers as an impetus to celebrate women who have impacted your life! (In the process, it just might help to remind you that you’re not the only one who is not a mom.)

The bottom line? To my friends and family who are moms, I wish you the most joyful of all Mother’s Days! To my friends who, like myself, are not moms, I wish you a day of joy as you look outward and celebrate those who are!

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This post first appeared on this blog on May 9, 2014.
My prayer is that it will once again serve as a reminder to all of us this Mother’s Day weekend.

The Value of the Spouseless

Brenda Strohbehn - Petals from the BasketIt’s an old expression: “I can talk till I’m purple in the face, but it won’t change anything.” This is often how I’ve felt about there being no spouse in my house. I could whine, wish, hope, and dream for a spouse until I was purple in the face, but at the end of the day, I’d simply be standing there with no spouse in my house and be walking around with a purple face. And that’s just not attractive when the color is needlessly placed there by me! So it seems more than obvious that to avoid this unattractive facial-color issue, I need to put forth an effort to change the major element in the scenario above that I can control: my reaction to the fact that my relationship status remains singular. And the same holds true for you—or someone you care about.

You may be divorced, widowed, or someone who has never been married, but the principles in this post apply to anyone with no spouse in the house—for whatever reason. While I often share thoughts, ideas, and resources in these posts, I also use many verses from the Bible, because the Bible doesn’t change! Its principles remain true, even when my thoughts and ideas change with my mood or my season of life or due to the filter through which I’m viewing life at that particular moment. But when the thoughts that God recorded for us are what we use to form the foundation for our thought process, we can’t go wrong! The Bible is filled with timeless truths.

One such truth is the fact that God created us. Psalm 139 states that He formed us for a reason and with a purpose:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:13–17, NIV

Now I don’t know about you, but those verses give me a sense of value. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that I’ve done something to earn God’s care or his love. I’m saying that I am to value what is valuable to Him, and that includes His created beings, which includes each of us!

Here’s a glimpse at one way in which He placed value on something He created: God had such an amazing, unconditional, uncommon love for what He created that He provided a way that would bridge the gap between His absolute perfection and our imperfection. The only Son God had, Christ, paid the requirement that gave us access to the One Who created us! Everything you need in order to have value is already taken care of! Okay, I simply have to say that again: everything you need in order to have value is already taken care of!

Trust me, I often struggle with finding my worth rather than in recognizing my value. I rely on my “stuff,” my intelligence, my friends, my relationships, my finances, my expertise, my…whatever…to create a feeling of worthiness. Yet when I gather my sense of being from those sources, I never seem able to settle that worth once and for all. It’s an ever-changing standard of achievement.

Think about it: when I base my life (who I am) on stuff, I need more stuff, or the stuff that I have becomes outdated, insufficient, or inappropriate for the occasion or location. In other words, even the value of what I’m basing my worth on is in a constant state of change. No wonder we walk around restless and unsettled—and feeling undervalued as individuals.

Maybe you’re rolling your eyes right now, because you think the idea of establishing your value based on “things” is silly. You’re already aware that stuff is nothing more than…well…stuff. You recognize that it’s temporary at best. But let’s take a look at the area we as individuals with no spouse in our house might struggle with the most when it comes to our humanly formed measurement of worth—relationships.

Just because someone does not value you
does not mean that you have no value.
Your value was demonstrated when Christ,
the Son of God, died in your place,
and that makes it permanent!

My friend’s husband of seventeen years came to the dinner table two years ago and said, “It’s time for me to be honest with you. I’m just bored with being married. There is so much more to life than this. There are women who are so much more beautiful than you are, and I can have fun with them, be carefree, and move on to the next one—with no commitments. I’m moving out tonight, and my lawyer will contact you about the divorce arrangements.” This is a true story, and I have my friend’s permission to share it with you (with no names, as I promised her). It happened. And sadly it’s happened to some of you. I have not had this happen to me, so for me to say, “I understand” would be foolish. But I do know this: just because my friend’s (now former) husband did not find her worthy did not make her unworthy. It did not decrease her value even one iota from the value God placed on her when the very lifeblood of His Son was given for her—for us. That, my friends, is a value that cannot be given or taken away.

But what about my wonderful friends who had a spouse who is no longer living? Sadly, many women have erroneously linked their thoughts of personal worth to the position, career, or name of their husband. (And I’m sure that some men have done the same.) What I mean by this can be seen through another real-life situation I just learned of this past month. A woman’s husband was a well-respected community leader, and this dear woman had wrapped her own view of her worth as a person around her husband’s position and titles. Basically, she thought her only worth came from the fact that she was “Mr. So-and-So’s wife.” So naturally, when Mr. So-and-So suddenly passed away, she began to say, “I’m nothing without him.” She was wrong. Her value had not only not increased when she had married him; it also had not diminished now that he was deceased.

And to you who as of today have never married, I do understand—firsthand—your struggles with the concepts of worth and value. If you’re like me, you’ve said (usually internally), oh, maybe a gazillion times, “What’s wrong with me?” as you’ve wondered why you were not worthy of a loving marriage relationship. You (we) mistakenly equivocate marriage with value. Unfortunately, our current culture often feeds into that thought process by indoctrinating us with the belief that beauty, wealth, intelligence, etc. are what make us worthy of marriage.

In fact, allow me to insert here that maybe this is also why so many marriages are ending before the “till death do us part” promises with which they began are fulfilled—because the standards used to determine who was “worthy” of love were constantly changing. Looking for someone better/prettier/smarter/wealthier became a way to increase one’s own sense of worth. So it is no surprise—though it is horribly sad and horrifically wrong—when spouses begin seeking for worth from whomever or wherever they can find it.

But back to you, my never-been-married friend. Your current marital status does not determine your value—ever! Today, in this moment, you have no spouse in your house. If tomorrow you were to marry the man of your dreams, would your value as an individual have increased? No! Of course not! So why are you wasting precious energy and irretrievable hours pining over your assumed lack of value because you’re not married? By determining that marriage does not give you value, it is conversely true that lack of marriage does not mitigate your value!

Since it’s clear that whining, pining, wishing, and dreaming “till you’re purple in the face” won’t change your value (or your marital status) even a smidgen in this present moment, here’s another reminder from God’s Word to help you remember that you are greatly valued by the incredible God of the universe:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

Jeremiah 31:3, NIV

We (Yes, We) Have Exciting News to Share

Joe and BrendaMy posts have been a little scarce lately. It’s time to confess that I’ve been a little preoccupied!

Early in December of this past year, 2015, God began to do a real work in my heart. I unclenched my hands from MY will and asked Him to fill them with HIS! When it came to my word for the year for 2016, abundance, God began to fill my hands with the blessings of His choosing and with His ability to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20, KJV).

It is with sincere joy and deep gratitude that it is time to introduce you to Captain Joe Henderson, a godly, caring, and compassionate man God introduced me to forty-five years ago and reintroduced to me in a new role this year. Joe is a widower whose wife passed away in 2015. Their love for each other and for God were qualities I long admired. Little did I know or imagine….

We have no major announcements to make at this time—nothing other than gratitude for this day and its opportunities for a greater knowledge of God and each other. But you are among my favorite people, and I wanted you meet him!

So for now, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it. Amazing man. Amazing grace (which we have both seen in full force throughout these initial months). Amazing God. To Him be the glory!

“This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes” (Psalm 118:23, KJV)!

Truly Amazing

I use the word amazing entirely too often. But it’s a great word, isn’t it? Your hair looks amazing! She’s an amazing musician! He is an amazing teacher! She is an amazing friend! We had an amazing time! It just…works!

But words work much in the same way as the principle of supply and demand: overuse them (increase the supply on hand) and you decrease their value (there is no longer a demand for the word to be used).

We have dumbed-down the depth of meaning in the power of amazing. It’s why we don’t weep in gratitude when we sing, “Amazing Love.” It’s why we no longer “Stand Amazed” in His presence. It’s why we don’t get goosebumps when we sing, “Amazing Grace.” But we should.

Amazing grace. Grace that causes me to stand in wonder at its magnitude. Grace that, in its very scope, tells me it is undeserved. Grace that keeps me safe and that leads me home. Now that…that is amazing!

Easter’s Answers

Each year when Easter rolls around, I am awestruck at the wonder of Who my God is. And each year, I find myself faced with the same questions and, thankfully, the same answers:

Why? Why would a holy God love such an unholy me?

Love. Unconditional love.

But why? Why would a God of love shower that gift down upon such an ungrateful me?

Mercy. Incomparable mercy.

So why? Why would a God of mercy offer a full pardon for my unholiness and ingratitude?

Grace. Amazing grace.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves,
it is the gift of God—
not by works, so that no one can boast
” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV).

Accomplishment and Rest

There is no extra credit for arriving in heaven exhausted. Do the work God has asked you to do, not what you perceive that others think you should do. When your choices are based on His purpose for your life, you’ll find that you will also have the time (and desire) to fulfill His commands, which include taking time to simply “be still” (Psalm 46:10) and to “fear not; stand still; and see the salvation of the Lord” (Exodus 14:13). His plan doesn’t create an either/or. It is the greatest possible combination of accomplishment and rest.

Walking through the Valley

After one of my deepest disappointments, a friend from California said these simple words: “Brenda, where I live, the mountains are beautiful. But the fruit grows in the valleys.” Friend, you may be in the valley, wondering if you’ll ever even reach the base of the mountain to start climbing upward again. But look around you. Ask God to show you the fruit of the Spirit that He is producing in you and through you, right there in your valley. Use that growth to propel you forward in your walk with Him. He hasn’t forgotten you. He’s beside you. With you. Loving you. Caring about your valley moments. And He’s leading you to the place He has chosen for you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

An Army of Prayer Soldiers

Praying for friends and family is something I count as a privilege and a responsibility. But I’ll be honest with you (um…for the record, I’m always honest with you) and tell you that it’s really hard for me to ask for prayer. In fact, when I do, it’s maybe to one or two people I think I can count on to actually pray about the request with me and for me, and I rarely give all the details. So yes, I do it. But it’s rare.

However, I’m not trying to sound mystical or pious or eerie, but last night I found myself heavily burdened in the early part of the evening. I couldn’t pinpoint why. Nothing had happened. I hadn’t seen anything that would upset me. I hadn’t heard any news that would rock my world. I was just literally so whooped by this odd combination of fear over the uncertainties of the future and a sorrow that seemed to accompany it that I just I couldn’t shake it. It wasn’t depression or anything that I felt needed outside professional assistance; it was just that I knew I couldn’t do it alone—that I needed the support that only prayer could provide. It was an impending sense of need.

So from the quietness of my home office, I went on Facebook, posted on my personal page that I was taking a “Facebook fast for most of Tuesday,” and then went to the Petals from the Basket Facebook Page (which I’d love for you to follow, if you don’t already!) and posted the following note:

So, friends, you know I’m pretty open with you. And thank you for that, by the way! I couldn’t have any better people to call “my people!” That’s very cool of you! But tonight and tomorrow I could just use a little prayer squad please. God’s aware of the details, desires, and dilemmas, and He’s got a plan, so I won’t discuss anything further about it. I’m just currently unaware of that plan and a little overwhelmed by…well…let’s just say that I prefer knowing the end of the story before having to live through all the chapters! You know this is rare for me to ask, but I’d sincerely appreciate your prayers. (Seriously…so thankful for you!)

Well, my people not only began sending me notes and e-mails and comments and private messages, but they began to transform themselves into this amazing army of prayer soldiers, encircling me in a display of protection, encouragement, and strength as they called out to the Lord on my behalf. Right then. Right there. And they not only continued to pray all through the day today, but the number of soldiers in the army also grew as, unbeknownst to any of us, the time of need began to approach.

I didn’t know why I needed that prayer support. It wasn’t about me. It was about a need without a name. And here’s what happened:

I received a simple little text midafternoon that would have blown me out of the water three months ago. It would have floored me, upset my spirit, and caused me to foolishly cling to what I thought I desired. It would have rocked my world. But here’s the thing. It didn’t phase me for more than a little bump of a moment. I read the note again, talked to my friend over the phone about some more details regarding the news she had sent, and after I hung up, I thought, “Wow, God. You were smack dab in the middle of that. You knew. You protected me from my own small ambitions. You valued me enough to walk me through it those many months ago, and now You’re still walking with me…right on past it!”

At that moment, not literally but figuratively, it was as if I heard the army shout a victory cry! And unstoppable tears literally began to flow as I realized that my people…my wonderful family and friends…this wonderful army of prayer soldiers…had rallied God’s power against the enemy, even before I had known how the enemy would attempt to strike.

I don’t flatter myself that you need Petals from the Basket. But I will tell you honestly that more than ever I have realized that the writer of Petals from the Basket needs you! Thank you for being all kinds of wonderful.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV).

“Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere” (Ephesians 6:18, NLT).

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 24–25).

Nothing!

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jeremiah 32:17, NIV).

Think about the magnitude of that word: nothing! NOTHING! Nothing is too hard for our amazing God! Not the struggles that are facing us as we begin a new week. Not the uncertainty of the test results we’re waiting to hear. Not the provision for the need that we feel is humanly impossible to meet. Not the loneliness. Not the question marks that encircle our thoughts like a picket fence of punctuation. NOTHING! He is able. And He is able to do “immeasurably more” than we could even ask for or expect Him to do!

So as you start the new week, just remember: If He could make the heavens and the earth by His power and an outstretched arm, He can most certainly take care of you! He’s got this!