Connect Your Story

Did you do it? Did you come up with a story this week about how God showed Himself to be real in your life? If you need a review of telling your story, click here for last week’s post.

I love how my friend Renee Swope helps us to see our story. In her book A Confident Heartshe says, “We can trust God’s plans as we realize that His story is being written in ours. His power is perfected in the broken places we consider to be our greatest weaknesses….”

When you’re choosing the part of your story you want to share with others, remember this: God shines most brightly when our own strength is dim. (Click here to Tweet.)

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That leads us to how to connect our story.

Here’s what we don’t want to happen. We don’t want others to walk away saying, “Wow. She sure has a great story.” Although that sounds like a good result, it actually isn’t. Why? Because we want others to connect their story and their need to ours.

We want our story to make them feel their need for God acutely. We want them to walk away saying, “Wow. If God is that real in her life, He can be that real in mine too.”

In a short, conversational story-telling format, you can connect your story to theirs with just one question.

“I just didn’t know what to do next. Have you ever run into a time like that when you just didn’t know the right decision to make?”

“I was suffering beyond what I thought I could handle. Have you ever felt like that?”

“I knew I didn’t create or deserve such an incredible outcome, and I started thinking about where that blessing came from. Have you ever wondered where the good stuff in your life has come from?

When you think about your personal story, what common human thread runs through it? Suffering? Loneliness? Joy? Use that element to ask a question, and then listen carefully. This helps our story to become more of a conversation than a monologue. It shows the other person that we care about their life too. Listening to the Holy Spirit while you’re listening to your friend may give you the perfect insight to share later in the conversation.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young records a challenge she received from Jesus, “Learn to listen to me even while you are listening to other people. As they open their souls to your scrutiny, you are on holy ground. You need the help of My Spirit to respond appropriately. Ask Him to think through you, live through you, love through you.”

Listening is key. As they tell you about their similar experience, we can pray they feel their need for God too.

We build a sense of need, so we can do step 3–present God as the hero. Next week, I’ll get to the most vital and exciting part, so don’t miss it!

 

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Tell Your Story

God has filled our lives with His stories, but if you’re like me, sometimes you’re just to busy to take notice. In the next four weeks, I’m going to give you four steps for sharing your faith in your everyday conversations. Even now I’m paying more attention to God’s activity in my life so I can tell you. I hope that will be a happy side-effect for you too! The four steps I’ll cover are:

  • Tell your story
  • Connect your story
  • Make Jesus the hero
  • End your story with hope

Today, as we intentionally start to consider the stories we tell to people, I want to give you some questions for reflection.

About how God is at work in your life:

  • What problem have I struggled with where God has taught me?
  • What joys have I experienced that I clearly see as a blessing straight from God?
  • What are some of my character flaws that I know God has been addressing? How has this shown up in my every day life?

About the people around you:

  • What common problems are the people in my circle concerned with?
  • When I sit with my friends at the coffee shop, what topics always get discussed?
  • What circumstances are weighing heavily in the lives of the people I interact with daily?

Your unique God-story is at the intersection of what God is doing in your life and the need you see in others. (Click here to Tweet)

Here’s an example from my own life. I’m writing quarterly for a blog called Missional Motherhood. My friend Lindsey, who administrates the blog, just sent out an email with a list of topics moms are begging for. One of the needs–children with anxiety and fears–intersects with my own journey of helping my youngest through severe anxiety in elementary school. It’s a natural fit for me to write about how God was at work in that hard season. I can share our story in an authentic way to help other moms in a painful situation and show God’s hand at the same time.

Sharing our lives and stories in this way is a beautiful living out of II Corinthians 1: 3-7, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.”

Do you hear Paul’s evangelistic heart? Sharing our God-given comfort is the most biblical, natural, and passion-building way to become more evangelistic!

Are you a single woman who has had God meet you with His sufficient presence in lonely moments?

Are you the mom of a special needs child who has learned the beauty and value of every life?

Have you suffered through unemployment and experienced God as provider?

Are you a woman who has suffered under perfectionism, but God is teaching you to surrender to His perfecting work instead? Oh! That’s me!

See, you have a story to tell too. Since I don’t have a dramatic story of recovery from abuse or being freed from drug abuse, I used to think I didn’t have a story at all. But God is at work in the broken areas of each of our lives, so we all have a story to tell.

Now think about yourself and the story of God’s work you have to tell. Here’s the hardest part. How can you tell it in under 2 minutes?

In natural conversation, you’re probably not going to have an hour to tell the full story, so what are the important details? How can you boil your story down to its most powerful essence?

I’d love to hear! What story is God showing you that you have to share?

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Sharing Your Story

When I was in third grade, one of my favorite teachers took us to a story-telling festival on the grounds surrounding the capitol building in Raleigh. I sat cross-legged and starry-eyed, enthralled as master storytellers wove tails of adventure, love and mystery. Even today I’m passionate about stories and the power they hold.

You have a story, and it’s powerful.

It’s so easy to move through our busy lives with a by-the-seat-of-our-pants mentality that makes the details blurry and the moments of wonder transitory, but if you live as a believer in Jesus, you are a piece of a much bigger story. It’s a story that has all the elements of the ancient stories that hold our hearts–adventure, love and mystery.

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Busyness is just one thing that keeps us from recognizing the beauty of our life’s story. Sometimes it’s a feeling of unworthiness or thinking nobody cares about our story. Occasionally feelings of shame or a desire to hide our past are reasons our stories get tucked away and locked up. Often, we simply don’t tell our amazing story because we’ve never done it before and wouldn’t know where to start.

Your story is worth telling, and it has the power to change lives.

Several years ago, an event coordinator asked me if I could use the communication skills I teach to speakers to teach women to share their God-story in their every day life. Shockingly, I had never even considered that possibility. As I thought through it, though, I realized what a genius idea she had! I loved teaching her receptive women, and we did a follow-up workshop that allowed them to implement and practice sharing with each other.

For the month of September, I’m going to do a series here about using the stories of God’s work in your life to share His power with others. I’ll include video of my story too, so you’ll have a visual of the principles. I hope it will be fun and help you feel more at ease sharing God with the people in your sphere of influence.

Is there anything that keeps you from sharing your story? Do you have any questions that you’d like for me to tackle in this series? I’m definitely not an expert, but I’m a resource junkie. If I don’t have an answer, I’ll hunt one down for you! 🙂

 

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An Open Circle

About six months ago, I felt worn slap out. I had a lot on my plate, and I started looking for what needed to go. One of the areas that I took a long look at was my involvement in a women’s Life Group at our church, the Connections Class.

When several of us started the class years ago, we were filled with vision and excitement. A multi-aged women’s class seemed like just what our church needed. It was an unfilled niche, and I dreamed of God using our class to build a culture of mentoring. The class has been wonderful and is a group of women I love. However, years later, I had lost steam, so I was praying through what I should do next.

Just when I thought it was time to hang up my teacher hat, God breathed fresh life into our class. We worked together on a re-launch including sending out over 100 invitations to women in our church without a Life Group and to visitors. We planned a party to open up our circle.

Over 20 women came to our Soak-In-Summer Social, and many have joined our group permanently. It has been a breath of fresh air to have new friends with us every week along with the established friendships in the group! Attendence was a little sparse because of  end-of-summer vacation time, but here’s a pic of our group last Sunday.

Connections ClassOur precious Connections Class with old friends and new

I’d love to follow up along with encouragement from today’s devotion with a “Welcome to My World” giveaway so you can open your circle too! Just leave a comment with an idea you have to invite other people into your circle, or if you’re busy, just leave the word “Welcome!”

Here’s what you could win:

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Party invites
Plates, cups and napkins
A $10 Starbucks gift card to invite a new friend to coffee

You could use your supplies for a little neighborhood dessert get together, a sandwich lunch for new friends at work or any gathering you can dream up! I’d love to challenge everyone to welcome someone new into your world this month.

Also, congratulations to these winners of The Best Yes giveaway:

Sherri M.     10:14 am 8.13.14

Jennifer O.    10:13 pm 8.13.14

Kim G.          10.17 pm 8.13.14

Janice           10:19 am 8.14.14

Jenny            11:27 pm 8.14.14

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Parenting Teens is Not for the Weak at Heart

Are you in the midst of parenting a teen or wondering how it’s all going to look when you get there?

It  has actually been my favorite season of parenting, but it’s also driving me to my knees. I’m guest posting over at Missional Motherhood this week with a post called “How to Raise Perfect Teenagers (And Other Ways to Kill Yourself Trying)”. Click here to read the post. I hope it’s an encouragement to you!

(Teaser: If you love my boys, there’s a sweet old picture and a current one of those man cubs!)

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A Fabulous and Free Marriage Resource

I’ll officially return next week, but I wanted to let you know about a new marriage resource you can download for FREE. I was honored to play a little part (look for me at the end) and sharing this e-book is a joy! Here’s the scoop…

Marriage is an increasingly unnatural and confusing thing for most couples today. In light of this, Tyler Ward—author of Marriage Rebranded—recently asked 25 leaders for their single best marriage advice for young people. The level of insight and wisdom he received—compiled in the free eBook Marriage Hacks—is guaranteed to help many navigate this uniquely beautiful relationship called marriage.

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Marriage Hacks is a compilation of the best marriage advice for young people from 25 leaders including:

  • Gary Chapman, The 5 Love Languages
  • William Paul Young of The Shack
  • Gary Thomas of Sacred Marriage
  • Danny Silk, Keep Your Love On
  • Jeremy Cowart, Celebrity Photographer
  • Jonathan Jackson, Emmy-Award-Winning Actor
  • And many more…

The book speaks to some of the most common questions in marriage including…

  • how to keep things from never going stale
  • how to handle personality differences
  • how to cultivate emotional intimacy
  • how to spice things up in the bedroom
  • what to do when your spouse isn’t as intentional in your relationship as you are
  • and more…

Marriage Hacks is for those of us that could use a little help in navigating this unique practice.

If marriage is hard for you at the moment, this read will simply comfort you to know you’re not alone. If marriage is amazing and fruitful, it will help you sustain. If marriage is confusing, it will offer some insight on this unique union. If marriage feels pointless, it will add purpose and depth.

Hope it helps!

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Praying

For all of you who left prayer requests yesterday … I’m working through every one and praying for you. I want you to know how God is joining my heart with each one of you. Because of the number, I’m only writing one sentence prayer in response, but I’m longing to write paragraphs to you all. I can see myself in any of your shoes, and God is giving me a deep love for you as I pray much more in depth than what I can write. You are not alone, and you are loved!

For those friends who subscribe … could I ask you a favor? Would you click here on your email, read the comments, and partner with me? There is so much need for prayer in these requests. Broken hearts need healing, dying relationships need new life, sick bodies need strength, addictions need shattered… Would you pick a few and pray? Our Jesus can accomplish all of it, and prayer matters. Thank you, friends! (Also, if you want to leave an encouraging word for those you prayed for, I know they’d love it. Just click on “reply” and type away.)

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Praying for the Big and Little

If you’re visiting from Encouragement for Today, welcome! My prayer for you is in video form today, and I hope you’ll leave a request. I would love to pray for you.

If you’d like to receive my weekly blog posts, I’d be so honored! You can subscribe by entering your email on the right. If you’re receiving this via email, click here to watch the video.

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Beauty Below the Surface

Sometimes suffering obscures beauty, but because God is sovereign, there is always beauty just below the surface.

In today’s devotion, I shared about a time I experienced great beauty in the midst of terrible pain. Watching my dear friend Linda die was one of the hardest things I’ve been through. She was young, a mother of little boys and married to the love of her life, who had already experienced quite a lot of tragedy in his life. Everything in me screamed, “This is not fair!” The circumstances of her rare and aggressive cancer obscured some of the lessons I was learning at the time. I was head-down preoccupied with her illness rather than face-up aware of what God was doing.

Sometimes it takes a little time to see the beauty in our painful circumstances, but it wasn’t long before God started revealing the beauty that had been just beneath the surface the whole time. Here are just a few beautiful things about Linda’s life:

  • She lived to the end with an open heart.–After Linda’s death, her husband brought me a book that helped me tremendously as I struggled to find God in the hard circumstances. The author cited a fact that made me pause and give thanks. In most cases, people who are suffering “circle the wagons.” They close their circle of family and friends and draw them near. That’s the norm, but it’s not how Linda and her husband lived. Although I didn’t meet Linda until after her diagnosis, I was welcomed into their loving circle with open arms as were many, many others. Linda and Don were so open that they became known and loved by a huge number of people during her illness. It seemed like our whole town was praying for her by the end. I watched as they taught us how to live in community even in painful times, and we could all see the blessing of their choice through the love and support they received in return.

 

  • She lived every minute fully.–One day toward the end of her life, Linda said to me, “Amy, everyone should be told when they have six months to live. It’s a gift.” Her unique and beautiful perspective came from her determination to live every minute intentionally. Linda was famous for her parties. On her oldest son’s birthday, she went all out. The yard was filled with people, the grill sizzled and the cutest caterpillar cake ever made by a mom wiggled across the table. I watched my friend closely as her energy faded and followed her into the kitchen. “Why don’t you take a few minutes and sit down,” I suggested. “You look so tired.” She turned to me with tears in her eyes and responded, “This may be the last birthday party I get to throw. I’m not going to miss a minute.” Her love for life shone brightly and was a testimony to all around her.

 

  • She always pointed to God’s goodness.–Linda presented me with a huge problem. I could never out encourage her! I would call thinking I was going to help cheer up her day after chemo or during side effects, and inevitably I would hang up the phone feeling blessed. She was well-known for saying to her friends, “No matter what happens to me, God is still good.” On her last Christmas, she had a special gift made for her close friends. It was a beautiful angel pendant crafted from gold, silver and pearls. The gift shouted what none of us could whisper. Linda’s life was drawing to a close, but she wanted to remind us that her eternal life was just beginning. At Christmas each year, I finger my precious pendant worn proudly on my jacket, remembering I have a joyful reunion with a special friend when it’s my turn to head to my eternal home and great reward.

If you’re suffering today, I want you to know you’re not alone and there is hope. I will pray for each prayer request if you’ll just leave it as a comment.

Also, I’m a resource junkie, so I want to offer you the names of a couple of books that ministered to me deeply as I grieved the loss of my friend. Where Is God When It Hurts by Philip Yancey was the book Linda’s sweet husband shared with me. This book helped me wrestle through all the questions about God’s sovereignty and His goodness.  Another friend who had suffered the loss of her baby gave me A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser. It’s a very raw, real but hopeful look at grief written by a man who suffered a horrific loss. I highly recommend both of these if you’re suffering.

Thank you for visiting today, friends. My heart is full and my mind is overflowing with prayers as I finish this post. You are loved.

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At the Cafe

On Friday, my friend Tara Furman and I headed off to spend time with Luann Prater at Encouragement Cafe. Talk about a treat!

Despite the fact that Luann likes temperatures Arctic-like (can you see the blankets, hats, etc on Tara and Beth Ann, the producer of the show?), she made us feel warm (inside) and at home.

Luann has been doing a series on the names of God, and you can read the devotions here or listen to the podcast of the show with Tara and me here.

I got the pleasure of writing about the name of Jehovah Nissi. This name first appears in Exodus 17 and shows how God is our protector in life’s battle. He’s also the unifier of His army and as our banner gives us something on which to fix our eyes and hopes.

I love spending time with Jesus’ girls, and I have been angling to get Tara and Luann together for quite a while. They are two women who stoke my passion for Him and challenge me to walk uncompromisingly. I’d love to hear about your friend who does that for you! Also, I’m going to piggy-back on a question that Luann asked…why do you think that God gave Himself so many names?

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