Have you ever gone back to a place filled with incredible memories and have all those memories come rushing back to you? It is kind of like listening to a song and suddenly being transported back to a special place and time connected to that song. A few weeks ago, I went with my family to visit Baton Rouge, and it was one of the best days I have had in a long time. Returning to a place where Father impacted my life in such a major way brought refreshment to my soul and reminded my spirit of the truths Father taught me there. When I lived there over 18 years ago, I had a complete paradigm shift in my thinking about God and what I thought He thought about me.
Yet before I got to that point, a journey had begun in another college town, Tallahassee, home of the Florida State Seminoles! I am going to be brutally honest ... I did not even pray about where I was going to attend college. I knew I would have to attend an in-state school to use a scholarship I had received. I ultimately chose Florida State because it felt like living in a different state with all of the beautiful trees and hills. Within in a short amount of time, I realized someone had prayed about this decision. My life began to radically change at FSU. I share this to say that Father hears every cry of our heart and the prayers of those who love us. Our prayers for others do not go in vain. I am living proof of that. While I was at FSU, I remember walking downstairs to the lobby of my dorm, Kellum Hall, and I saw a table set up advertising Campus Crusade for Christ. I am sure they were used to people trying to sneak by, but I marched right up and signed up for a Bible study. This was the beginning of Father placing a hunger in my life to grow in new and exciting ways. The young lady at the table was named Anita, and she spent the next few years walking beside me and leading me into a deeper understanding of God’s Word. She was the perfect person to work with me because of her gentle, kind, and nurturing nature. She was also an elementary education major which was an instant connection.
So fast forward a few years ... I am in my senior year at FSU, and I am doing my student teaching, and I am MISERABLE (mostly due to working with a rather negative supervising teacher). I knew Father had told me to “love the children,” yet I started to feel the tug on my heart to go on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. I knew this would involve really stepping out of my comfort zone through raising support and moving to a new place. I ended up going on staff and attending staff training in Fort Collins, Colorado, that summer. I met with a Crusade leader named Joe B. to discuss my campus placement. I thought about going to Georgia or maybe North Carolina. He suggested LSU because he said the staff team would be a great fit for me. At that moment my mind thought two things: 1) that is really far away, and 2) isn’t that the school that did that CRAZY skit at the staff retreat I visited in Panama City?! I trusted Joe would do what was right, and I did of course end up at LSU. My staff team was the perfect fit for me, craziness and all ;-). There were four married couples on the team and five single staff members. I was nurtured by the married couples and fell in love with all of their kids. Yet again, someone, including myself this time, had been praying about this decision. When I first arrived in Baton Rouge and entered the campus, I was surprised and relieved to realize how similar the culture was to FSU. I was enthralled by the beauty of the campus and remember being excited about this new journey in my life.
While I was living there, I began to attend Quail Ridge Bible Church (now named Grace Life Fellowship). The first Sunday I attended, I was completely shocked to see a familiar face from Florida State. One of the girls I had attended church with in Tallahassee, Amy, was sitting there in church. We both freaked out and could not believe it. I learned she was getting her masters at LSU. It was just another one of those gifts from Father allowing me to find a familiar friend in a new and unfamiliar place. The pastor at this church is named Frank Friedmann, and he taught me all about who I am in Christ, yet more importantly, who Christ is in me. Up to this point, I knew Jesus was my Savior and my Lord, but I did not know Him as my LIFE. He wanted to live His life in and through me. He wanted to express His life through my unique personality. He did not expect me to jump through certain hoops for Him to love me or accept me. He accepted me based on the facts of Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, therefore I no longer live. Jesus Christ now lives in me.”
So as I was saying in the beginning of this post, a few weeks ago Kalon and I walked down memory lane in Baton Rouge with our kiddos. We took them by the church Campus Crusade for Christ met in, we drove them by the church we were married in, we took them by our old apartment, and then walked all around the campus. This next excerpt are words my daughter Kaley wrote after I asked her to read through what I had written about my memories so far. This is her writing the story she's heard many times from memory and reflecting on the day from my perspective:
“Then, Christ led me to the love of my life: a man named Kalon Pichon. We had our first date under a tree. Our kids actually got to see the place. Then, Kalon wrote a song about me and the rest was history! And yes…Kalon is beautifully crazy just like all of the LSU kids ;). Kalon and I could not stop reminiscing as we walked around the school. We practically submerged our kids in happy memories.”
Resting in His Love,
Have you ever heard Father tell you to “Step Back”? I have heard Him say that to me quite a bit over the past few years. For those of you who know me, you know that I tend to be extremely busy and the word “no” never seems to enter my vocabulary. About two years ago, Father started telling me to step back in some areas of my life. I would love to say that I immediately stepped back and never questioned this or fought back, alas, I did not. I was very involved in a leadership role at my school through attending training meetings and being involved with various committees. It came to a point where I had to make a decision about deepening that involvement. I felt like I should take the plunge, but something within me was struggling. Then, the voice of reason from my husband gave me a reality check on the time commitment that it would involve. This was the first of many step backs. I remember at the time being disgruntled and upset about it, yet now as I look at my life, I see the wisdom in that decision.
So while I was attending all these leadership meetings for my school, I had people suggest that maybe I should go into administration. I began to pursue that thought and looked into various ways to get my certification. I was about to start an online program when again I heard, “Step Back,” and my husband confirmed it, along with another special friend. That next year ended up being the beginning of some crazy personal struggles going on in my life. I would not have been able to be a mom and wife, go to work, and take classes. Again, I saw the wisdom in this decision as I look back at the season my life was about to enter.
One of the benefits of stepping back was being able to spend more time on the SHINE Club at Bonne Ecole. All of the hugs and smiles I receive from all of those kids was and is one of the best gifts I receive at school. Father was intentionally removing things from my life to make room for better things. Years ago when Father called me into teaching, He whispered in my ear, “Love the children.” Through being involved with SHINE, I have been able to love many children. I am honored to be able to work with all of them. This year I was able to have an even bigger team for SHINE. There really are no words to describe how amazing all of these ladies are and what a blessing they are to me and the students at Bonne Ecole. SHINE is something that I let consume me at times as well, yet this past year, I had to step back more and allow these ladies to step in. There was a day when I could not come to school at the last minute due to a medical emergency in my family. These ladies stepped in and took over the SHINE meeting for the day. Their ideas and talents have made this year wonderful for the SHINE Club. If I had not stepped back, they would not have been able to step in and SHINE!!
The next step back was a very personal one. I tend to get really involved in the lives of others when they are hurting and struggling. I jump right in many times without thinking of what this will cost me personally (especially in the area of time with my family), spiritually, and emotionally. I got to the point of utter exhaustion. I was so busy helping others and worrying about their problems that I did not realize I was about to be overcome by an avalanche of my own issues. For me, it is easier to step in and help others and ignore my own issues. Father loves me too much to keep me from healing and growing more in my knowledge of who I am in in Christ. That was why He said to step back and take care of myself. That is a REALLY hard thing for me to do, yet it has been one of the best decisions of my life. You see when you finally stop helping everyone around you, it opens the door for others to actually step in and help you. I am so used to being in the role of helping others that it felt very weird to start asking people to help me.
I began to really need to ask for help when I had some family members go through some major health battles, and I had to ask MANY friends to help me and to help them. I have never been so overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of others until I went through all of this. I had friends from school and church bringing food to my family members, come and sit with them and pray with them in the hospital, come and sit with me and bring food to me, and I even had some who went and decorated my door at school. I needed to learn how to receive from others. Let me tell you … it was a struggle for me. I felt like I caught myself constantly apologizing to people. I remember having some friends stop me as I was apologizing and tell me what a blessing it was to give to me. I knew that I needed to receive these gifts of love from all of them. I have grown so much in this area, and I am learning to say, "I cannot do this on my own; can you help me?"
Father wants me to live in a state of dependence on him, not in a state of independence. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
Stepping back does not mean disengaging from life and becoming a hermit. It means I am in a place where I am learning to say no and knowing that it will be alright. I was not made to do everything and be in the middle of everything. My prayer for all of you is that you are able to discern areas where you need to step back and reevaluate. My pray is that Father will whisper into your ear and speak words of truth as to who you are and whose you are. Below I have included Dennis Jernigan’s interpretation of Zephaniah 3:17. As you read these words, imagine Father speaking them over you.
The Eternal, self-existent God
The God who is three in one
He who dwells in the center of your being
Is a powerful, valiant warrior
He is come to set you free
To keep you safe
And to bring you victory.
He is cheered
And He beams with exceeding joy
And takes pleasure in your presence
He has engraved a place
For Himself in you
And there He quietly rests
In His love and affection for you.
He cannot contain Himself at the thought of you
And with the greatest of joy
Spins around wildly
In anticipation over you
And has placed you above all other creations
And in the highest place in His priorities
In fact, he shouts and sings in triumph
Joyfully proclaiming the gladness of His heart
In a song of rejoicing...
All because of YOU!!
Resting in His Love,
January 10, 2014, is a day that will forever be cherished in my heart and burned into my mind. It was on this day that we had to tell the children at Bonne Ecole that Georgia Mannino, our remarkable music teacher, had passed away. Just days before, many of them had written her cards and poured out their hearts to her. On this day, even more of them would pour out their hearts and their tears. It was decided that a school wide announcement would be made via the televisions to tell the children. After the announcement was made, the students were given the opportunity to go and see the counselor at our school. All of the third grade classes were on a field trip, so I was able to remain in the counselor’s office with her to talk to the kids. What we witnessed and listened to that day brought tears to our eyes and joy to our hearts.
As the students began to file into the counselor, Stacey’s, office, an open dialogue was started with them. Stacey asked them what they learned from Mrs.Mannino. One 5th grader said, “She taught us to never give up. We watched her continue to come to school and practice with us even though she had cancer. She taught us to be strong.” I was amazed that the first response was not about music or singing, but it was about a life skill of perseverance and courage in the midst of hardship. Children continued to share of Georgia’s bravery and courage as she battled cancer. We witnessed kids hugging one another and encouraging each other. It was beautiful. Georgia’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of these students. One little girl called Georgia her “Music Mom” because she felt that close to her. The students also cried out for forgiveness for the way they treated her, and we were able to share with them that they were forgiven. It was a powerful moment and one you never expect to experience at school.
During this time, my students were reading a novel called Esperanza Rising. The literal meaning of that title is “Hope Rising.” What perfect timing for these students to find hope in the middle of heartache. One of the assignments they had was to write about hope and how they saw it demonstrated around them. One of my students wrote the following about Georgia: “Mrs.Mannino was an amazing mother, wife, music teacher, and friend to everyone around her. She will always have a permanent spot in our hearts. She was a brave warrior, but in all cases, all warriors must rest in peace.” She closed her essay with these words: “Faith: have it, hold it, live it. Memories: know them, have them, hold them. Hope for the best. Love.” This young lady has learned lessons way beyond her years…WOW!
On March 20, 2014, Bonne Ecole’s Student Council and SHINE Club sponsored a mini Relay for Life at our school called “Fishing for a Cure.” The morning began with a Survivor’s Breakfast, and then the whole school circled the walking trail for a Survivor’s Lap. Surrounding the track were flags that were made by the students in honor of those we had lost and those who are still fighting cancer. As the survivors began to walk, a roar arose around the track as the students yelled and cheered them on. It was one of those moments you want to freeze in time. One of those walking was our former talented art teacher, Nolan LeFort. He did not think he would be able to walk the whole time, but he said the students cheers kept him going. My father walked the lap too as he is still struggling with the effects of cancer treatments. He had such a smile of joy when he finished the lap. Another precious walker was Mary Jolicoeur. As she walked, students yelled her name because of the stories they have heard of her courage. These students were given a memory they will never forget and the opportunity to bring hope to others. Also that morning, a beautiful sign was dedicated naming our music room, the Mannino Music Room.”
The past few months have had moments of sadness and moments of joy. The most recent for me was watching my daughter, Kaley, singing at the Teen SHE event. She sang the song, “Oceans,” and my mind immediately went to Georgia. She is the one who believed in Kaley and instilled a love for singing in her heart. The last night I saw Georgia, I thanked her for giving this gift to Kaley. Now, Kaley is able to share the gift of music with others, and Georgia’s legacy lives on. This song truly describes her journey and our journey as we continue to trust Father and hold His hand to guide and lead us through this journey.
You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep, My faith will stand
And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand, Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Georgia … my friend, sister in Christ, fellow BEE superstar, inspiration, leader, mother, wife, sister, aunt, Child of God, Who Dat fan, musician, survivor, champion …
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about how our lives impact those in our inner circle and then how that influence spreads into our outer circle. I had the unique experience recently of seeing the power of that in the life of my friend, Georgia Mannino. Georgia and I worked together at Bonne Ecole Elementary for the last 14 years. Yet, it was over the last 3-4 years that we really got to know one another better through a teacher prayer group at school. It was during this time that Georgia shared her heart with me and the others in this group. Being given the opportunity to prayer for another person is a wonderful gift, yet Georgia gave the gift right back to me through her prayers for me. Over these past few years, I prayed for her children, her family, and her battle with cancer. Boy oh boy did she fight! I remember listening to her with amazement as she shared so much about herself from a medical standpoint. She knew more than the doctors knew … I truly believe that. She took amazing care of herself, and I sent numerous people to talk to her about how nutrition can impact your health.
I remember one day, a year ago, when she came in my classroom and just cried in my arms, telling me how tired she was of fighting. All I could do was hold her and think about how tired I was of her fighting as well. Georgia was always there for me while our family prayed for Henry’s healing. She told others to pray wherever she went. I will never forget the day I emailed all Kaley’s teachers at Slidell Junior High to let them know about Henry’s passing. One of the first emails I received back was from one of her teachers who had been praying faithfully because of Georgia sharing the request with her. She also took up the battle cry for my beautiful friend, Mary, as she battled with breast cancer. Her strength always encouraged me, but I knew WHO her source of strength was. Thinking of her reminds me of these verses from Isaiah:
"Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
29 He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
30 Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
31 Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary."
She did get tired, but then a new strength would rise up in her that was directly from Christ.
Right after Christmas, I went by her house and she told me about her problems with breathing and feeling anxious. I began praying for peace for her at that moment and continued on with that prayer. A few days later, she sent me a text to let me know she was at the emergency room getting checked out. I was thankful that she was receiving medical attention to see what was going on inside her body. My beautiful friend, Claire, went with me to go visit Georgia in the hospital on New Year’s Eve. While we were there, we had the privilege of holding hands with her and praying. Yet, what struck me more than anything was what happened the moment Claire stopped praying. At that point, Georgia began to pray for us. It blew me away that even though her needs were great, she took the time to speak to Father about us. Just as she had done so many times, she put her own needs to the side to pray for someone else. What a blessing to go into the New Year with my beautiful friend’s prayers saturating my spirit!
When Georgia was sent back home, I went by again with my friend, April. When we got there she was about to do a breathing treatment and wanted to postpone it, but we insisted she continue on with it. As soon as she was done, I went and sat right next to her and just listened to her as she shared different stories. One story she began to tell was about coming to see Kaley and I dance together at church. God knew I needed to hear her tell this story, since I had no idea how much it had meant to her. I could have sat there all night and listened to her tell stories and joke around with everyone else.
The following week, we had a SHINE meeting and all the students made cards for her. I left the cards at school thinking I would bring them by the next day after school. As I was driving home, Claire called and said you need to take the cards tonight. I braced myself and drove over there. I did not know if the family would want me to visit with her or not, but as soon as I arrived, her sister, Genie, sent me straight to the back with the cards. I again got to sit down on the bed with her and visit. I got to read every card to her and share with her the beautiful sentiments of the students. Some of them offered apologies and asked for forgiveness for their behavior. She just smiled and told me that music was her heart. She shared that gift with my daughter, Kaley, and I got to tell her how much that meant to me. Being able to sit face to face with someone and share how much she means to you is a powerful gift. That was the last time I would get to visit with her, but it is a treasure that I will always have.
At her funeral, I saw countless people from so many different places that she had impacted. I was in awe as I sat back and realized how many lives she touched. Some people who did not attend the funeral thought it was strange when I talked about how I smiled through the whole funeral. It was all about honoring her with music, and it was a concert that she would have LOVED. Her family found a way to honor her and encourage others through their actions. I believe I know who they learned that from … her. As we had a jazz processional out to the gravesite, I thanked God for this friend who blessed my life. As I looked around, I saw all the others she had impacted as well, including her children. If you are reading this, please pray for Jon, Anna, and Wesley. To lose both of your parents at such young age is so hard, yet when you look at them you see a strength that could only have come from God and was modeled by the parents He blessed them with in this life. I pray that all of us can go about our lives and let Christ shine through us to touch and minister to those around us.
Thank you, Georgia, for sharing that Light and Love with me. I am forever grateful.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Ok, I admit it, I am an Olympics fanatic! But not in the way you may think. Every time I watch the Olympics, I am inspired and encouraged by the stories of the Olympians. This time I was struck by the stories of Emily Scott, a short-track skater; Noelle Pikus-Pace, a skeleton slider; and Jeremy Abbott, an America figure skater. Listening to their stories, watching their successes, and witnessing their setbacks touched my heart.
During an interview, Emily said, “Everyone has a story,” as a way to draw attention away from her story. She came to the Olympics through the monetary donations of others. She grew up in a single parent home with her father as her soul caretaker. She started her athletic career as an inline skater, but switched to short track in 2008 so that she could hopefully participate in the Olympics one day. As I watched her skate and finish first in her preliminary heat, she was cool and calm and showed experience beyond her years. Yet later, when she was in her semi-final race, she was taken down by a Korean skater forcing her to finish in 5th place after getting back up. As I stand back and look at her story, two points stick out to me. She grew up with the cards stacked against her, but she did not let her mother being in jail or the fact that she had to receive food stamps at one time, label her and define who she is. Also, when she fell down, she got back up and completed the race. WOW!!! Can you see the spiritual parallels? How often do we let our past define who we are and color our entire lives? We do not let who He says we are permeate our souls. Instead, we allow the past to creep back in and rob the joy of being one of God’s kids. Yes, we all make mistakes; we all seek to find our significance and purpose in other things and other people besides God, but it is recognizing that and getting back up and focused that makes the difference. The Bible says we will face difficulties and trials. My prayer is that we will see the freedom and peace He longs to give us on the other side, and even in the midst of the trials.
Jeremy Abbott has always struggled with nerves, and it showed right away at the Olympics. During the team competition, he did not skate as well causing his other teammates to work even harder. Then came his time in the men’s individual skating event, and all eyes were on him. Shortly after beginning, he hesitated to start his quad jump in time causing him to fall hard on his hip. Dazed and confused, he lay on the ice with a look of resignation in his eyes. Then to the surprise and amazement of all, he arose and completed his program. I was cheering him on every step of the way just as the crowd in the ice rink applauded and cheered throughout his program. When he received his score, it was even higher than what he had scored the first time he skated for the team competition. Yes, his story is similar to that of Emily’s but with a different twist to it. In his initial performance, he was competing with his team. Never did I see them berate him or say, “Thanks for nothing, bud.” When they went on to win the bronze, no one said, “You don’t get one because you did not perform well enough.” Regardless of his performance, he was still part of that team, and he deserved to share in the benefits. Ok, I am so excited as I look again at the spiritual applications! We are God’s kids, so it is like we are on His team. Even when we mess up and live in a way that is contrary to who we are, we still have all the benefits of being God’s kids. We can deny it and say, “Oh, I am not worthy.” That would be like Jeremy refusing to receive his medal because he had one bad skating day. My friends, that is where grace and forgiveness come in.
As I watched a feature story on Noelle and her return to the sport of Skeleton, I was mesmerized. In the 2010 Olympics, Noelle finished in 4th place, just short of the podium. Up to this point she spent much of her life on the road, away from her family, traveling on the Skeleton World Cup Team. After the Vancouver Olympics, she retired from Skeleton, believing she was done. She had her second child and enjoyed her life as a mom. Then tragedy struck. She found herself filled with such joy at being pregnant again, but then she had a miscarriage. This propelled her forward to re-enter the world of Skeleton, but with a totally different focus and motivation. Her husband told her that she should try Skeleton one more time. They both decided that if she were to continue that the sport would not steal her family time from her. Her husband and two kids travel everywhere with her, and she takes her kids with her when she works out at the track or into their weight room at home when she works out. She came in as a favorite to do well at this Olympics, and she ended up earning a silver medal in Skeleton. I believe that even if she had not, she would have been filled with the same amount of joy because at the end of the day, she still had her amazing family. After winning she scaled a wall to get to her husband and embrace him. It was a beautiful moment. Noelle had a moment that woke her up at the 2010 Olympics; she had an aha! moment about who and what was the most important thing in her life. Her heart no longer pursued the prize as much as enjoying the journey of life with those she loved. That is how I want to live. I want to stop when the world begins to get to busy around me and takes me away from those I love and away from His real purpose for me.
My prayer for all of you is that you will know you are deeply loved and cherished by Father. Also, that even in the mess-ups and the hard parts, He does not leave or turn His back. He wants to shower you with His love. I also hope and pray the "busyness" of this world does not take you captive and away from your first love, Christ.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Greetings to all my precious friends! My name is Suzanne, but I am also called Mrs. Pichon by many children on a daily basis. It is always a delight to hear my first name after a long day at school. I was born in the Sunshine State, Florida, and attended the amazing Florida State University where I earned a degree in Elementary Education. After graduating from Florida State, I went on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ at Louisiana State University for three years. It was while working there that I met my wonderful husband, Kalon Pichon. Some of you may know him as the keyboard player in the band at Northshore Church who always seems to be talking into a microphone. Sorry … you only get the special privilege of hearing him if you are in the band.
After getting married in 1996, we moved to Slidell, and I actually began using my degree in Elementary Education. I began my calling as a teacher at Bonne Ecole Elementary in 1997. I have mostly taught in the gifted program during my time at BEE. I have taught every grade and every subject at some point or another. In the year 2000, my life was forever changed with the birth of my beautiful daughter, Kaley Grace. She has been such a huge blessing in my life. Watching her grow into a beautiful young woman has been amazing. In the year 2007, we had another amazing addition to our lives, Camden Jacob. I love watching him and Kaley read together, wrestle together, and just love on one another.
I became a part of Total Woman U in January of 2010. I am a part of the Advisory Board, co-head of the SHINE Club, as well as one of the teachers at many of the TWU events. My heart in being a part of Total Woman U is to see women set free to be the women Christ intends for them to be. I want them to become all He wants for them to be as they allow Him to live His life in and through them. One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” The word workmanship translates to “Poiema” in the Greek which means that we are God’s poem. Wow! What an amazing thought that we are His poem, and He just wants us to walk each day as His living and breathing poem!
As a teacher, my goal is to communicate truth in any way I can. If you have ever been to a Bible Study I have led, a session I have taught, to a SHINE meeting, or in my classroom, you have probably seen a movie clip. I am such a visual learner that I tend to use that as a way to communicate truth. Stories mean so much to me because I feel as though Father speaks to me through stories. In high school, my English teacher taught us about cathartic moments in literature, where the reader actually experiences the emotions of the character without going through the experience which allows us to work through an issue in our lives. Hearing the stories of others and where Father has brought them is so powerful to me. It lets me know that I am not alone on this journey called life and encourages me to keep walking.
Last January, the SHINE Club began at Bonne Ecole Elementary. I have to say by far this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Getting the opportunity to teach kids about serving, honoring, inspiring, nurturing, and encouraging has been a joy. Since January, we have been talking about hope. I love that we are able to take what seem like such abstract concepts and make them real and tangible for the students.
Dancing has always been a huge part of my life, and I never ever thought that Father would allow me to still have the opportunity to dance. Being able to dance with my daughter three times at church has been such an amazing experience. I am thankful that I have been able to share Father’s heart through such a beautiful art form. Music also speaks to me in powerful ways as well. It never ceases to amaze me when I listen to a song that perfectly expresses how I feel. It is like a gift from Father.
As I look at our TWU team, it is so wonderful to see all the different ways we connect to Father and connect to one another. Our differences are what draw us together. I hope and pray that as you get to know all of us that you will see our hearts for all of you. We love you, and we are journeying with you.
Becoming Who My Father Sees in Me,
Hello wonderful ladies! I know - it's been TOO long since our last post!
We had an absolutely AMAZING event this past September for the women and an equally AMAZING event (in slightly different ways) for the Teenage girls this past August. I'm so super excited about all that God seems to be doing with and thru TWU. I have experienced a whole new level of being wow'd by God over the last few months.
I can't wait to share it all with you! Thank you so much for your patience. I'm posting a great message from Suzanne. She wrote it a few months ago, but I think you will enjoy starting your year with it. (Sorry I didn't post it sooner.)
Thank you for your patience as we are growing and focusing our efforts with TWU. Looking forward to our year together!
From Suzanne Pichon:
It is hard to believe that it has been a month since we spent time together at the Dare to Believe conference. Since that time, my life has been a whirlwind. As usual, everything I spoke about has been road-tested in my life. That seems to be the usual routine after a SHE Event for me. I know the struggles and battles I have faced have been for my good because it has allowed me to clear away the cobwebs of untruth and lies and replace them with HIS truth.
When Claire and I began speaking, we posed the following questions to you.
1. Who do you think you are?
2. What do you think God thinks about when He thinks of you?
We then asked: Is Scripture your basis or is the world your basis?? I spent a very miserable, LONG week basing my answers on what the world thinks. I worried about my performance and gaining the approval of others. It was not a pretty picture. I am so thankful for friends who got my perspective back on track. Looking back on that time a few weeks ago, it reminded me of a few quotes:
“Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.” Neurotic Notebook
I heard this quote this summer while listening to a sermon from 1 Peter. Wow, that is what Father wants us to know when we are in the midst of a struggle…..HE WILL HAVE THE VICTORY. We still have HOPE!!
“Challenges can define you, destroy you, or strengthen you.” Tricia Edmundson (Senior Executive Director with Thirty One Gifts)
Wow, this is so true too. In the midst of my challenges, I believed they would destroy me. I can tell you that they did not, and I am now strengthened in a way I was not before. You see I was leaning on my own strength and not His; therefore my perspective was skewed.
At the end of the conference, I asked you to consider your spheres of influence . To the right is the diagram for you to think about and possibly draw or print out yourself.
In the inner circle, write Jesus and your name. (You are not in this alone….He is living through you.)In the next circle write the names of your immediate family members and people you are in contact with on a pretty consistent basis (people at work, neighbors….etc.) Then, in the outer circle think about people who could be impacted by those in the second circle.
I will give you an example from my life. AS YOU READ THIS DO NOT MAKE COMPARISIONS……REMEMBER, Jesus is the one doing ALL of this in and through those in this example.
One of my main goals as a parent is to make sure that my two precious children know that they are children of God who are deeply loved by their parents and their God. I want them to know that even when they mess up or make a mistake that they are not bad kids….they are children of God who made a mistake. Ok….now that you know that…..here is the example. I hope and pray that people will see Jesus in my kiddos. I want them to SHINE His light to those around them. I am a public school teacher, and my children attend public schools. It can be EXTREMELY difficult to SHINE in that environment. Well, last week I had other school employees coming up and telling me stories about my son and his special friend in class. Camden had been interacting with a little girl at school who has some challenges with communication. He had been her buddy out at recess and in the classroom. Other people saw it and were blown away. I had no idea this way going on because I do not encourage my son to do that, it is just a natural overflow of Christ’s love flowing out of him onto others. Then, I received an email from an administrator at my daughter’s school telling me that, “She was beautiful inside and out.” My daughter struggles constantly at school dealing with people who treat her poorly, but she still SHINES His light to all those around her. Are my kids perfect….of course not….they struggle just like all of us. On the days they remember whose they are and are grounded in that truth, it overflows to all they interact with as they walk through life. My hope and prayer is that I will do the same thing. The people who were impacted by my kids are in that outer circle. I pray those people will go out and impact the lives of this around them.
When you think about the lives you impact around you, do not use this as an exercise to condemn yourself. Use it as an opportunity for Father to show you the lives HE wants to influence and impact all around you. WOW….what a blessing to be used in that way!
Next time, I will share more about the SHE Reads Truth devotional and Jeff Henderson.
I love you my sisters and I DARE to BELIEVE that He can make a difference through us in the lives He allows us to touch around us!!
So, have you ever walked into your house after a long day, looked around, and thought, “How in the world did this BIG mess get in MY house??” I had this thought just the other day, and it made me began to think of the connections to my spiritual life. Have you ever gotten to a point in your own life and thought “How did MY life become such a BIG mess??”
In my house, the messes come when one person leaves something out instead of putting it in its place. Then, someone else does, and then someone else. You get the idea. After a while, these little compromises become an avalanche of clutter that needs to absolutely be cleaned. I think to myself, “You know if you just cleaned it up as you go, this would not happen…..”
Messes in our lives are exactly the same way. Some challenges that come into our lives are completely out of our control and catch us completely by surprise. We feel like we have been blindsided, spun around, flipped over upside down and inside out. Yet, other times, these challenges come from the little messes that become medium messes, that become large messes, that then become an out of control mega mess. How do I stop this pattern and learn to clean as I go in MY life?
The scripture that keeps running through my mind is from Psalm 139. The key verbs are search, know, try, know (again), see, and lead. It starts with searching and ends with leading. Isn’t that what we want Father to do….search us, know us, and ultimately lead us??
Psalm 139:23-24 (NAS)
23Search me, O God, and know my heart ; Try me and know my anxious thoughts ; 24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.
When translated in Hebrew, “hurtful” means: pain, sorrow, idol, and “way” means road, path, journey, course of life, or direction.” I want Father to look and see if there is pain or sorrow that may come from a choice I am making, or an idol that I am worshipping and putting before Him that will bring sorrow or pain. When choices I make lead me in a direction or on a journey that will take me to a place I never intended to be, I want Father to show me. Yes, it may be painful. Yes, it may require that I make changes in MY plans for MY life, but oh the pain and sorrow that I will not experience makes it all worthwhile.
My prayer for each and every one of you reading this is that when these challenges or messes enter into our lives that they will never turn into a MEGA mess. I pray each day that your mind is showered with truth and full of His grace. Ask Him each day to search you and to know you. When that anxiety begins to rise, ask Him to show you why it is there. Let Him lead you and guide you. Letting go of our plans can be hard, but in the end it will bring joy and peace we could have never imagined of dreamed of.
During our Unglued Bible Study, Lysa Terkeurst had us reflect on others who are affected by our decisions. That made me think about how my decisions not only affect my children and husband but my children’s children will be impacted as well. It is amazing that when I am asking Father to search me that ultimately it will impact my children and their children. I want them to walk in truth and to lean on Him. I know you want that too.
Remember dear sisters that you are loved!!
Over the past few years, I have been drawn to the music of Matthew West. His lyrics speak to my heart, and he touches on issues that many people will not even get near. Many of his songs are based on stories that he hears from his listeners. He just released a new album titled “Into the Light.” On our way to get Kaley from ballet last week, I plugged my phone into Kalon’s truck to be able to listen to all the songs on the album. As soon as “Hello, My Name Is” came on, I knew it was going to be my new favorite song. It speaks so much truth and connects to everything that has been on my heart to communicate to all of you beautiful ladies over the last three years. This song was based on the story of a young man named Jordan who was caught up in a web of addiction. When he wrote to Matthew West, he said he used to identify himself as a drug addict. He had been a star athlete in high school and college, but then he got injured. He got hooked on prescription pain medication. His life spiraled downward quickly to the point that he was kicked out of college and lost his scholarships for sports. He got involved with the Teen Challenge Recovery Program where he met Christ. He went back to school and earned his master’s degree from the same college that kicked him out. He is a teacher and a coach now. He finished telling Matthew West his story by saying “My name is Jordan, and I am a child of the one true king.”
This story could be told by many of us based on the individual web of circumstances we found ourselves tangled in during the course of our lives. I pray that we would all end by stating who we really are “Daughters of the One True King.” Below are the lyrics Matthew wrote based on Jordan’s story.
Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
That won’t let you forget
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief
These are the voices, these are the lies
And I have believed them, for the very last time
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I’ve been saved, I’ve been changed, and I have been set free
“Amazing Grace” is the song I sing
Hello, my name is child of the one true King
I am no longer defined
By all the wreckage behind
The one who makes all things new
Has proven it’s true
Just take a look at my life
What love the Father has lavished upon us
That we should be called His children
I am a child of the one true King
Those of you who know me well know why this song speaks so much to me. We have all felt the burden of REGRET and DEFEAT. Matthew personified those words in the song in a way that shows what we give them the power to do. It’s the whisper that tries to tell us that we will never rise above our past that we will never ever amount to anything. It is a battle that we each fight, just as I relayed the battle that Kelley family is facing in last week’s blog. Those are lies….they are not TRUTH…..HIS TRUTH. We all have a choice. We can continue to get our identity from our past and our struggles or we can get our identity from Him. Do we still mess up??? Yes, but that is where grace and mercy comes in. Do we extend it to ourselves and keep walking or do we wallow back in the muck and mire of our past??? Admit to Father that you were wrong and then walk in freedom. Claim that you are a Saint who made a mistake. A saint is a holy one….one who is set apart. That is who you are.
Around the same time that I heard this song, I also read a post from Tim Chalas, the youth pastor at Grace Life Fellowship in Baton Rouge. The senior pastor, Frank Friedmann, posted this on his Facebook page. Tim zeroed in on the problem we have with getting truth to come into our minds.
It is often said, "I know it in my mind, but I have got to get it to my heart."
According to that great modern day theologian Tim Chalas, that is not true. It is the wrong battle and that is why so few people win that battle. The truth is that God has already placed life, joy, peace, righteousness, goodness, love, mercy etc... IN MY HEART (Cf. Ezek 36, Jer 31)... The real issue is getting it from my heart to my mind. The battleground in the New Covenant economy is the mind. That is where the enemy seeks to defeat us, by placing thoughts in our minds that are contrary to truth. That is why the exhortations of the New Testament are ALWAYS to set the mind, fix the mind, renew the mind... NEVER to fix the heart, or set the heart. The key to victorious living in a New Covenant economy is NOT getting truth from our mind to our heart, but getting truth from our heart to our mind. Phil. 4 says to think on the things that are good, lovely, true, etc... and the God of peace shall be with you. The only way to win a battle is to fight the right battle...
What more can I say after that??? We need to fight the right battle. On those days when you feel too weak to fight, call on your sisters in Christ who love all of you so much!!
Fighting along with you,
Mercy and Grace in the Midst of the Storm
I have been pondering for weeks now what to write about for a follow-up to the session Claire and I lead on Mercy and Grace. Shortly after that SHE event, our family was delivered some life changing news. Henry, the four year old nephew of my brother in law, Joe, and my sister, Michelle, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent surgery almost immediately, and surgeons were able to remove 50% of the tumor. No more treatment will be done at this time, and Henry is currently under hospice care. When you hear news like this your mind begins to buzz with millions of questions and emotions. Whatever emotions or questions you may be asking as you read this; I have already felt or asked over the last month. On Halloween, the local news station in Georgia did a story on Henry. I will link it for you to watch, but be prepared, you WILL need tissues.
As I watched the video, I was overcome once again with a deluge of emotions. Yet, as I reflected back on it today, I see lessons that Father can teach all of us. When Claire and I lead our session, we never said that extending grace and mercy to yourself and others would ever be easy. It is a struggle and a battle. He wants us to lean on Him and His strength for EVERY NEED. The Kelley family is doing that right now. They are in the midst of leaning on Father to meet their every need right now. They are not only doing that, but they are proclaiming the HOPE that can only be found in Jesus during this time. The fact that the news station did not edit Jessie’s words about her faith shows that Henry does have a story to tell. Is this the story Ian and Jessie dreamed their son would tell?? Of course not, but they are just following Father’s hand as He leads them through their story. "We believe that Jesus's heart is for us, and for Henry, and for healing and restoration," Jessica said. "We may not see that on this side of glory. We'll still be with him in a short amount of time, forever."
In one of the most poignant parts of the video, Jessie described a recent experience with Henry.
"We were throwing pennies in the pond and I said 'You're supposed to make a wish before you throw the penny in the pond. What do you wish for? If you could do anything in the world right now, what would it be?' And he said, 'This.' And it was the most amazing lesson to me to just enjoy the moment with him, that there is joy and peace because right now, my little boy is throwing pennies in the pond and we can smile and we can cherish that to a new level."
Children can teach us so much. They see the world in such a different way than we do. Sometimes, we just need to sit back and take a look around us and be thankful for the situation we are in right at that moment. I did that recently as I sat with some friends and thought back to when I first got involved with Total Woman U. It was amazing to sit back and see how Father’s hand had guided me and lead me to where He has me today. That road was not smooth and straight…it was bumpy and rough and lead me through some tough times, but without them, I would not be where I am today.
Henry’s situation is not fun nor is it something any of us would want our children to go through. I just know that when these kinds of tragedies rock our world, there is someone who can keep us from falling. Father holds us up in such an amazing way and makes Himself known to all those around us. Jessie, Ian, Henry, and Miri Kelley are allowing Jesus to shine through them wherever they go. Do they have rough days?? YOU BET THEY DO!! Please pray for them over these next few months. Continue to pray for a miracle. Our Father can do amazing things. Pray for peace in the midst of this storm and for comfort.
I am praying for all of you that Father can give you His perspective in the midst of your circumstances. Know that ALL of the ladies on the TWU team love you and pray for you. Next time, I will be reflecting on a song by Matthew West on our perspective.
I love you!
http://www.11alive.com/news/article/262491/3/Henrys-Last-Holidays Story Link
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