A Single Mom’s Greatest Asset

If you met her at a grocery store, you would never know. You would never know that she is a widow, that she has adopted children out of desperate situations, and fostered still dozens more. She is joyful, strong, and her blue eyes flash with a courage that is rare in our world. She is a single mom, not because she set out to be one, but because she became one with the loss of her husband. She is a single mom because she saw the needs of the children whose parents had cast them aside or were unable to care for them. She is a single mom because she had the courage to do for others what many will not. But when I interviewed her for the Growing Together campaign and asked this woman about her greatest personal assets in facing the struggles that single-parenting, -adopting, and -fostering brings, she said this,

“God putting the right people in our lives at the right time.”

In other words:

You.

You and I are her biggest assets, whether we (or she) knows it yet or not.

Channels of Blessings

A few days after our conversation, I spoke over the phone with another single mom. She was busy, waiting for an appointment to begin. Our conversation was a bit rushed at first, but before we’d gotten past the first question (Can you tell me a little about yourself and your story?) she was saying, “Sometimes, I just need someone to do boy things with my son.” A few minutes later, she was saying, “I need to have that older woman who can teach the younger women. You don’t realize how much you need that until you don’t have anyone.”

Sure she mentioned juggling finances and time and schedules. She even said she needed eight arms! She mentioned the struggles of homeschooling as a single mom. But more than anything, she emphasized the need for godly people in their lives. People who can encourage, be just a phone call away, even if it’s just so she can talk things through.

And so my friends, once again—YOU and I placed in her life by God are her biggest assets.

As I talked with both of these ladies, the greatest need they face is also the greatest need we face at FTN—the need for people to walk with them. People who will follow God’s command to step out of their comfort zone, out of sleeve-brushing distance, and right smack into the middle of their lives—no matter how messy.

They mentioned the need for mentors, for someone to help with yard work and house repairs and car maintenance, for men to do boy stuff with the fatherless and women to do girl stuff with the motherless. They mentioned the need for those who can give solid, Biblical financial guidance, people who would be willing to help with back to school shopping (Not the paying for it, the logistics of getting it all done!), the need for babysitters, tutors, and even for just a note of encouragement.

Often we look at the needs of the fatherless, of the millions of orphans, of the hundreds of thousands of children in foster care and we think, “What is the answer? What will make a difference?” The answer is simple.

It’s you.

It is God living His love, picturing His redemptive plan through you and through me.

Perhaps you don’t feel you have much.

God used a little boy’s lunch to feed a multitude!

Perhaps you don’t feel qualified.

If you survived childhood, you must have some wisdom to impart!

Perhaps you don’t know what talents you have to offer.

God will show you! He is the giver of talents after all.

If you have followed our blog, emails, or Facebook group for long, you know there is a need. If you have followed Scripture very long, you know we are responsible to meet it. Change is possible, and it may require sacrifice on our parts; but in considering the earthly sacrifice let us not forget the eternal reward. We have shared many things over the last two months, ways that you can minister to the fatherless and even ways that you can help us minister to the fatherless if you are unable to get involved personally. We have more to come over the next two weeks, but the question is this, you’ve seen the need, you’ve seen that it’s our responsibility, we’ve shown that change is possible, and we’ve seen that we—each one of us—are the biggest assets to this ministry…

Are you ready to step out in faith and obedience?

This week’s challenge, once again, is a simple one. But it’s a great place to start obeying God in this area of worship and ministry. In the Old Testament, God set up several feasts when the people were to gather together and celebrate what God had done for them. At those feasts, God required the people to invite the widow, the fatherless, the stranger, and the Levites that were within their gates. These guests who had little or nothing to give in return were to enjoy the feast with those who had plenty. So my challenge for you this week is this,

What can you do to bless a fatherless family, a foster family, or a family of non-parental guardians raising minor relatives?

It doesn’t have to be big. It might just be a note of encouragement or a small gift to commemorate a memory you share with them, or it might be something more. Maybe it will be a feast. Let the Lord lead you, but whatever you do, don’t be afraid. God always gives us the grace, courage, and resources to obey Him.

May the Lord make you a channel of blessings.

A Time For Praise

It’s easy to get discouraged in this life, and no less in this work that God has called us to. The constant pressures, difficult situations, uncertainties, and heartache of watching the struggles others are facing can wear a person down pretty fast. To be honest, I’ve been having a lot of those moments lately. Little discouragements here and there added to bigger discouragements or disappoints all pile up to a cloudy perspective even on our beautiful 100 degree days.

Purple Umbrella

Every Thursday morning, Marta and I meet for a special time of prayer. Of course, we pray separately for various needs across the ministry and in our respective churches throughout the week, but Thursday mornings are special. This morning, as I was rushing across town to get to the office, I was thinking about our prayer time and about the heaviness in my heart, and I realized today needed to be a little different.

Sometimes, we need to make a conscious effort to praise the Lord for what He is or has been doing in our lives and ministries. Today we decided that our prayer time would be a time of praise. Rather than making a prayer list, we made a praise list, but it didn’t quite go as we planned.

We would write down a couple of items, and then one of us would kind of groan and say, “Did I tell you about this?” And our spirits would drop as we discussed a serious situation that has come up in the past few days. We’d forge on, write down a few other things for which we are truly grateful, and a text message would come, describing a horrible situation, which seems to be heading in all the wrong directions. We’d write a few more things, which led to discussion of some of the personal struggles that stem out of the choice to follow the Lord in this ministry. Then we’d get back to our list and try once again to focus on the abundance of things God has done for us. This pattern just kept repeating itself until finally Marta said, “It’s really hard to focus on praising when we keep getting ourselves down again.”

It might sound laughable. In fact, it sounds like something I might say if I were trying to lighten up a situation, but there was nothing funny in the statement. We both sat there in tears having just heard of children who have been abused and neglected, hurt emotionally, physically, and spiritually, children whose parents chose abusive partners over the wellbeing of their little ones, and a system that moves so slowly that weeks go by without solutions. Instead of bringing joy, our time so far had just made everything raw.

But then we finished our list, began to pray—and the room changed. Oh, not physically. The furniture didn’t move or anything. No, the spirit in the room changed because stepping into God’s presence and verbalizing our praise is a mighty weapon against discouragement. By the time we were finished, our hearts were much lighter. Prayer changes things, but so does praise! What were we praising Him for? Here are just a few of things from our list:

  1. Earlier this week, the Lord allowed me to reconnect with a single mom that we have ministered to in the past!!!
  2. We found out this morning that a spot may be opening up at a live-in facility for a single mom in desperate need of a safe home and a community that will point her toward Christ!!!
  3. Yesterday, we had 16 new members added to the Faceboook group, which always excites us!
  4. One of the women we have been working with has just had the adoption of her first child reversed and now has custody of her daughter.
  5. In reflecting on what God has done over the past few months, we looked back at the Green Bean Project and how God took this little ministry and channeled over $1700 to three missionaries and their works in other countries as well as providing $500 for the local single moms ministry!
  6. We looked back at how God led and provided in the planning and carrying out of the Forum on Fatherlessness. It was amazing!!!
  7. We reflected on the fact that God has given clear direction in the weekly Bible studies, so often making the topic of discussion exactly what was needed for some situation or another!
  8. We thanked Him for the joy of the study that Marta, Yvonne, and my mom and I have been doing each week. We have all learned so much and grown in the way we approach ministry.
  9. We praised Him that we still have an office and a real presence in this building. (I no longer have to move all of the ministry stuff from my bed to my desk to my floor and back again.) All of our bills are paid! We’ve made all of our reserves but one! And in the last couple of months, God has brought in a set of shelves, an office chair, and several unexpected gifts of office supplies!
  10. I praised Him for His provision for me. It’s been eleven months since I left my job and stepped out by faith. I had one month’s worth of living expenses saved up, but God has met every need for eleven months!
  11. God has burdened the hearts of two people to partner with the ministry!
  12. We praised Him for the volunteers who have helped in the clothing exchange, in gathering resources for developing courses, and in helping us transport various items that won’t fit in my Swift from one end of town to the other!
  13. We praised Him for the opportunity to walk alongside of a family helping a girl who had been cast off by her own family and to maintain the relationship when the Lord moved her to another part of the country.

SO MANY THINGS for which to praise Him! Sometimes it feels like we are making so little progress, like things are not moving as we would like—but God is always working. When we stop to praise Him, we realize how much He has done.

Are you feeling discouraged? How can you praise the Lord today?

What’s In Your Hand?

“What is that in thine hand?”

When I read this phrase in Exodus 4, I always picture Moses with a strange expression on his face as he glances toward his hand. Here he stands, face to face with the all-knowing God of the universe, and He’s asking what’s in his hand? It’s a stick! A stick! Who cares that he has a stick in his hand? He’s a shepherd in the wilderness, climbing mountains and guiding sheep. The stick is nothing more than a tool of his trade. …Or is it? Why is the God of the universe so interested in that stick?

Because He plans to use it.

Whats in your hand

Two weeks ago, we sent out a challenge, which we originally intended to finish up today. We haven’t seen a lot of response, and we have struggled ourselves in getting in all the conversations we want to have. So we’re going to extend our challenge to sit down with a single parent, a foster parent, or a non-parental guardian and learn from them. But we’re also going to bring in the next Growing Together challenge so you can be thinking about it as you learn.

Often, we think of ministry to orphans or the fatherless in terms of orphanages, food programs, clothing programs, educational programs, and basically anything to which you can attach the word “program.” That perspective from my vantage point, and probably yours, is overwhelming. But nowhere in the Bible does God require this of us. Are those things unbiblical? No, but God does not require that every Christian start an orphanage in his backyard. This would be not only unrealistic but also a weight heavier than we could bear. God’s plan is much less extravagant than this, perhaps so much so that we miss it for what it really is.

There stood Moses with that rod—that stick. To him it was nothing more than a piece of wood that came in handy in his daily work. But God had a plan for that rod. He would use that rod to show His power to the people of Israel as well as to the Egyptians. He would use that rod to deliver Israel at the Red Sea. He would use that rod to provide water in the wilderness. God had big plans for that stick.

Moses had used the stick in his hand day after day for menial, mundane tasks. To him it was just a part of who he was and what he did. He probably never saw any value in it other than what he personally got out of it. He probably never saw that God could use it to guide, protect, and help others.

But God uses small things. He used the donkey’s jawbone in Samson’s hand to kill a thousand men. He used five smooth stone’s in David’s hand to deliver Israel from the oppression of their enemy. He used the widow’s handful of flour and a little bit of oil to feed a starving prophet. He used a cloud the size of a man’s hand to end a drought. He used the five small loaves and two fish in the hand of the child to feed the multitudes.

God does not ask us, “What is in that man’s hand?” He asks us, “What is in thine hand?” That is all He requires of us.

A couple of years ago, as I was looking back on the path down which God has led this ministry, I began to see a pattern. The things that were most effective were not massive programs. They were simple solutions to vital needs. Since then, that has become our mode of operation.

We cannot feed every fatherless child in Billings, nor is that our goal. But we can take what God puts in our hand and use it as He directs us. Maybe that thing in our hand is counsel. Maybe it is know-how in changing a taillight. Maybe it is a professional network that knows where to get a needed resource. Maybe it is experience in setting up a new business or in business development. Maybe it is cooking experience, cleaning experience, yard and garden experience, desktop publishing experience, or GED preparation experience. Maybe it’s parenting experience. Maybe—it’s just me. Maybe just being who I am and letting God be Himself through me in loving the fatherless and those caring for them is all that is required.

This week’s challenge is simply to take stock. What has God put in your hand? What skills do you have that could help meet the needs you have discovered or are discovering as you learn from single parents, foster parents, and non-parental guardians? Think it through. Write things down. Commit those things to God’s use. And be watching, because we’re going to be asking on Facebook. The things you discover may give us ideas that we had never thought of before!

Nobody Gets It

Do you ever get to the end of the day and think “Man, nobody gets it. Nobody understands what it’s like to be: a retail salesperson, a mom of toddlers, a pastor with no salary, a kid with no friends, a missionary far from home and friendless, an entrepreneur who hasn’t had their breakthrough moment…” Do you ever wish you could just sit down and explain it to someone, or maybe to everyone. Some days, we wish we could just explain it all to everyone. Why? Because in the midst of our struggles, we want someone to understand.
Compassion
Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen a number of memes, articles, and blog posts “explaining” to everyone what it’s like to be in a particular life situation, usually a job. I understand. I remember many moments when, as a leasing agent, I wanted to scream “I am the only person in the office today. I am answering a phone that rings every five minutes, processing twenty applications, handling all of the walk-in traffic, showings, and leasing appointments—and you want to know the exact dimensions of the bathroom counter in a particular apartment!”

We want people to understand where we are because we hope that if people understand where we are, they will relate to us better. We hope for more patience, more reasonability, more achievable expectations, more grace.

This week’s challenge centers around this basic need each of us has to be understood. Being understood isn’t a right. In our “selfie” culture we can get the idea that people have an obligation both to hear and understand us. They don’t. No more than we have an obligation to hear and understand them. It is, however, a need, and one which we rarely take into account when dealing with others.

We get in a rush and run over people as our lives intersect. We dismiss concerns, judge and ridicule actions, and never take the time to learn the motivators behind these things. We say, “Well you made that choice, so now you have to live with the consequences” without ever finding out the true story behind the situation. We rush into chaos without realizing that our “simple” question, request, or expectation is overwhelming. Just like the people asking for bathroom fixture specifications at the apartment complex.

When it comes to ministry, this is detrimental. Jesus looked out on the multitudes and was moved with compassion. Why? He saw their need. He saw that they were as sheep without a shepherd. He saw (and healed) their diseases. He saw (and addressed) their lack of understanding in spiritual matters. He perceived (and met) their need to be fed. And part of this was because He did the one thing that made it possible for man to comprehend that the God of the universe understood them — He became acquainted with our infirmities. Jesus went much further in understanding others than most of us ever would or could. He left behind everything He knew in Heaven to take on the miseries of life on earth. He walked among us, as one of us, in the trenches of our sickness, brokenness, and unfathomable failure.

Does compassion move you? Do you take the time to understand others? This week’s challenge is simple, but also hard. It will most likely take you out of your comfort zone, but it is ever so important. In fact, we feel that it is so important that we’re going to make it the focus of the next TWO weeks. So here it is. Over the next two weeks, take the time to talk with a single mom, a grandparent raising their grandchildren, or a foster family and ask them:

• What is it like to be (a foster parent, a single parent, an aunt or uncle caring for your siblings children)?
• What are your biggest struggles?
• How do you wish others would help?
• What has been the most beneficial to you, i.e. what skills have you acquired that help you the most, what assistance have others offered that is truly helpful in the long run?

Take the time to learn from them. Be sincere. Learn from them what it’s like to be them. Keep a record of what you learn and pray over what the Lord would have you to do with it. Please feel free to ask us to pray for you when it’s time to step out and have these conversations. It’s okay and normal to be nervous about asking someone about something that is foreign to you. It’s okay to be nervous about asking someone about their struggles. But if we never ask, we will never learn and we will never grow, nor will our relationships deepen to the extent that God intended. God will give grace and strength. We also want to walk alongside of you in this. That’s why we’re calling this summer’s focus Growing Together—because we all have growing to do. So while this may be hard—it’s the right thing to do.

Do you have someone in mind that you could talk to? Let us know how and when you hope to talk to them so we can be praying for you.

Keeping it Simple: How to Minister to the Fatherless

This week’s challenge will be short and sweet. We all know that God wants us to visit the fatherless and the widow in their affliction. We know that He said we are to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. But HOW do we do that? Where do we start? This week, I’m going to challenge you to do one simple thing that will mark a beginning point in this area. But first, I want to share with you why I so often suggest starting here.

Several years ago, I received a letter from a young woman whom I had met while sharing about the ministry of Forbid Them Not in a church near her home. In the letter, she shared about her burden to minister to the fatherless, but she didn’t know how or where to start. I wrote back and made a simple suggestion. A couple of months later, I received another letter from this woman. It was a letter full of joy. She told about how she had committed to do one thing every day, and as a result the Lord opened up a relationship with a single mom for whom this family had been burdened for years. The young woman and her sister began tutoring this single mother’s son. A relationship, which, in the past, had been strained, became a relationship of open communication and investment. It opened doors to share with this fatherless family about Christ and His love for them.

So what was that one little thing?

PRAYER

Maybe that seems too simple, but sometimes simple is the best thing we can do! Here is the challenge I gave her:

  1. Make a list of all the children you know who, for whatever reason, are living without one or both of their parents. This includes children in single-parent homes, children living with non-parental guardians such as grandparents or an aunt or uncle, children in foster care, or children in state or privately run institutions.

  2. Commit to pray for those children and their caregivers every day.

That’s it! Just start there. You may be surprised where this one simple step will lead.

I recently read a new book by an author that I have been following for a couple of years. I usually find his books practical and helpful. This new book, however, left me feeling like he was giving me ideas, painting a picture of the ideal situation, but not giving truly practical help. I had to read the book twice before I started seeing the practicality of it. I don’t want to do that to you. So I think we should also look at the question, How should we pray?

Here are a few ways to get started:

Praying for the Fatherles Card

This simple step can lead to amazing things, so I want to make it simple. Click here for a printable version of the above card. Feel free to share it with others.

If you are willing to take this step, to make a list of the fatherless children in your sphere of influence and pray for them each day, do me a favor. Let me know by commenting below. We will pray with you as you step out in faith and worship.

Prayer changes things. It changes lives. It changes us.

 

 

Stepping Out Of The Audience

The text came in at 9:58 p.m. “Rachel, I just wanted you to know…”

I had been thinking about this woman just a half hour earlier. “It’s late,” I’d thought, “I will text her in the morning. It’s been too long since I’ve heard from her. I need to let her know we’re still here, and we haven’t forgotten her.”

The message was long—very long—and heartbreaking. Lives in shambles because a man saw an opportunity to use the weaknesses of others to afflict the fatherless in the truest, most revolting sense of the word.

Our texts went back and forth, but not for long because of the hour. My heart was breaking, and yet there was hope. As horrible as the situation has become, it is at a place where restoration can begin, and the Lord may allow us the opportunity to be a part of that restoration. It won’t be easy. In fact, it is overwhelming to consider the depth of the need as well as the time and the attention that this situation will require in the coming months. But God knew all of that when He brought our paths together, and this…this is where being a doer of the Word comes into play (See Wednesday’s blog to read more.)

 

James 1-27 work

God got very specific when he told us to be a doer of the Word. (James 1:22-26) He told us the dangers of walking away as merely a hearer: that in doing so we are deceiving (cheating) ourselves. He told us the marks of a man or woman whose religion is vain (without purpose or power) can be seen in the way they bridle their tongue.

But in James 1:27, He defines the religion that is pure and undefiled—free of the things that impair the force and vigor of our worship. Pure worship has two simple parts:

  1. Visit the Fatherless and the Widow in their affliction
  2. Keep oneself unspotted from the world

While the ideas are simple, neither is easy to perform. But both are right. Both are pleasing to God. And, as we saw in this earlier post, both are part of what God is talking about when He tells us He wants us to be doers of the word and not hearers only.

The second of these two is a very personal area, an area that is transformed through the renewing of our minds as we apply God’s word to our life and grow in our relationship with Him. We tend to focus on this part of God’s definition of religion far more than the first part.

The first, however, is where our faith and worship take on life not only before God but also before others. This is where we “step onto the stage,” as we mentioned earlier this week, and into the “arena of risk” as we mentioned last week. It is not the easy path. Nor is it the “soft” path. This God-ordained path requires the courage, chivalry, and humility to “defend the poor and fatherless” which only He can provide. (Psalm 82:3)

So this week, our challenge is simple, but not easy. This week our challenge is to participate: A challenge to step out of the audience and become a performer. And, as we set this challenge out, we’re also going to give you an opportunity to take the first step.

Beginning next week, on June 1st, we will be holding a prayer meeting on the first Thursday morning of each month. We would like to invite you to participate in it.

I know many of you reading this are not in Billings. That’s okay. You can still be a part!

For those of you who would like to attend in person, it will be held at FTN in the community conference room on the main floor from 10:30 to 11:30. (711 Central Ave, Billings, MT. Parking in rear. Come up the steps, and the conference room will be just inside the door across from the elevator.)

For those of you who are not able to attend in person, please feel free to join us by praying where you are during this time. In fact, why not bring together a group of people in your area with a heart for the fatherless, and pray together wherever you are! Let us know that you will be joining us in prayer, and we will send you the prayer list that we will be using for our meeting.

This is a very simple form of participation, very simple, but it is a beginning. And, lest we forget its true value—it is also worship.

Be brave! Be obedient! Step out of the audience by faith—God will not fail you!

Are You Cheating Yourself?

It was the perfect evening—warm and sunny, but not hot. Not a hint of an evening thunderstorm, only a faint breeze that whispered across the school’s lawn. The actors moved across the stage, their brightly colored costumes catching the evening sun. One of the actors cracked a joke and the audience laughed. The other responded and the audience laughed again. A few moments later, everyone was fighting tears and stifling giggles all at once. They were a superb group of actors.

I had never been to a play in the park before, and I found that I enjoyed it immensely. As a writer, it was inspiring to see another’s work come to life, to see the product of their labor continue to cheer others for years after they were gone. Night fell, and the performance was soon over. The final curtain came down, the cast took their bow, my friends, and I gathered our lawn chairs and went on our way, discussing our impressions, laughing over certain scenes, and even growing philosophical over the meaning of the play. We left feeling as though we’d been a part of something special.

Theater Are you Cheating

There is something almost magical about theater. It takes you to places you have never been before, portrays things you may have never considered before or perhaps could never experience. An effective actor makes you laugh, cry, and even think about life in a new way. But the artist has something the audience will never have—they have lived the work while the audience has only observed it.

In James 1:22, a similar scenario is drawn out for us. It says, “But be ye doers of the word…” That word “doers” seems pretty basic, but the Greek word has the idea of performing something, of “poeting” something. You see the word is:

Ποιητησ (Poietes) – Which literally means: a maker, producer, author, doer, performer, poet. In fact, this is where we get our English word “poet.”

The verse goes on to say, “and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” Here the word for “hearer” is:

Ακροατης (Akroates) – Which means: a hearer (merely).

That’s right: merely a hearer.

So on the one hand, we have the performers, and, on the other hand, we have the audience. On the one hand, we have those who have picked up the Author’s work, ingested it, analyzed it, applied it, and brought it to life through their actions. On the other hand, we have those who have observed. They have heard the Author’s work, perhaps even been moved to tears or inspired by the performers of the work. Then they gather up their lawn chairs and go home. Perhaps they discuss it as they go. They talk about how beautiful the thoughts of the Work are, how brave and talented are the performers, how inspiring. They feel they have been a part of something special. But in reality, they have only observed it. They are deceiving themselves and don’t even realize it. Here the picture in the Greek just gets stronger.

Παραλογιζομαι (Paralogizomi) – Which means: To reckon wrong, miscount; to cheat by false reckoning; to deceive, delude, circumvent.

The audience has looked in the mirror (James 1:23,24), seen who they are, walked away, and have convinced themselves that they’re okay. They are cheating themselves. While they feel blessed to have observed something inspiring, they have missed the greater blessing of living it.

Of course, this passage isn’t talking about a play. It isn’t talking about an evening in the park, watching actors perform a masterpiece. It’s talking about life and the living out of God’s Word.

Up to this point, this blog has been fairly easy to write, but this is where it gets difficult because this is where we have to ask the hard questions:

• Am I a performer, living out the work of the Author and Creator of my faith, or am I merely a hearer?

• Do I watch as others do the work, or do I ingest God’s Word, apply it, and live it out?

• Do I allow myself to be inspired by others and their walk of faith, to be entertained, and then pick up my lawn chair and walk away, carrying my impressions, inspiration, and false sense of camaraderie and participation with me?

• Have I cheated myself, reckoning that I am blessed for having heard, missing the fact that the blessing is in the doing?

We know and understand that our salvation is not by works, but that does not mean that our doing does not affect our blessing. The New Testament addresses this over and over, both before Christ’s death and resurrection and afterward. We were created in Christ Jesus unto good works, and God has ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10) So the question is: Do we?

You may be wondering what this has to do with the fatherless. It has everything to do with the fatherless, as we will see later this week in another blog. But for now, take a look around you, look at your responses to other Christians and their ministries, look at your involvement at church, in missions, and in your own neighborhood. Look at the Word:

Are you a performer, an actor, a doer—or merely part of the audience?