Faith Life, March 2017

The Last Mile

The Last Mile

Why am I sick? Why don’t I feel fulfilled? Why am I struggling through life? Have you ever wrestled with questions like these?

Life is hard, even for Christians, and when life doesn’t seem to be going the way we want it to or thought it would, it’s natural to wonder why. Is God upset with me? Did I do something wrong?

For many of us, it is easier to see our flaws than to believe that our lives serve a purpose. It is easier for us to ask forgiveness and accept correction from God than it is to believe that He wants to (and can) bless us even in the midst of our struggles. The devil has millions of Christians believing that they aren’t worthy of the blessings of God. And when bad things happen to us, it’s like an “I told you so.” But today God wants to exchange the devil’s “I told you so” for one of His own.

In John chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples came across a man whowas blind from birth. In verse 2, his disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

It may not seem fair that part of this man’s journey in life was to be blind for a while so that God could be glorified by healing him, but the man gained much more than his eyesight that day. He became a believer and gained eternal life (John 9:38). Have you ever considered that had his trials not occurred, perhaps he would have had his eyesight, but not his salvation?

Sometimes our struggles are indeed caused by our own sins or the sins of others, but at other times, they are meant to be a part of our journey so that God can be glorified and we can be blessed.

In June of 2012, my life changed. It started with God telling me to give my truck away to a stranger in a donut star parking lot. God then had me sell my shares and resign as Chief Operating Officer of one of the fastest growing IT firms in the country and go into full-time ministry instead. It’s been an incredibly hard journey. My wife and I moved from a place of comfort to a place of not being sure how we would pay the bills. But God has taught us to trust Him with everything. God has taught us to get up every day believing that we are “in the last mile” and the blessing is on its way.

 

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The blind man in John chapter 9 had no idea when he woke up that day that a miracle would be done in his life. He had no idea that what he had longed for his entire life would actually come to pass. Jesus healed him that day and made a point to his disciples and to us — God has a plan and a blessing for each of us, but we must trust Him to receive it. It’s time to stop striving and struggling through life trying to make it what you want it to be. Your Father, the creator of the universe, wants you to trust Him and surrender control so that He can take care of you and show you the purpose and blessings He has for you.

The next time you’re in a situation where things don’t feel good, where you see no way out, and you need a miracle — dare to believe that you’re in the last mile. Live every day expecting the miracle, anticipating the breakthrough, acknowledging, trusting, and resting in the fact that God is and His promises are true. It’s time to let go and see the goodness of God.

MDP

Michael Phillips was once the owner and COO of one of the fastest growing IT firms in the country. But in June of 2012, in response to what he describes as a “calling from God,” he walked away from his business and gave his truck away to a stranger in a donut store parking lot. “I thought I was happy,” he said, “but it wasn’t until I went ‘all in’ that real life began.”
Michael’s story is climbing the best seller charts at Amazon, but he says the book isn’t about his journey. It’s about yours. Learn more and get the book at www.justchoose.org.

Baton Rouge Christian Life MAGAZINE

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Faith Life, May 2017

Hope, Help and Healing ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO ‘BE BRAVE’

Hope, Help and Healing

ENCOURAGING OTHERS TO

“BE BRAVE”

by Lisa Tramontana

photos courtesy Nikyla Trask

If anyone had asked her, Nikyla Trask would have described her life as just about perfect after the birth of her third child. She was happily married and enjoyed her job as a teacher. She also served as a worship leader in her church. But just four days after she delivered her son Kris, Trask’s health took a sudden turn for the worse.

It started with preeclampsia, a complication often

accompanied by high blood pressure and other serious symptoms. Trask was alarmed because she had not had any problems during her pregnancy. Soon, she was diagnosed with heart failure, which kept her hospitalized in the Intensive Care Unit for several days.

During her inpatient stay, she remembers being

obsessed with the heart monitor, always on edge when it beeped in response to her heart rate dropping. “It got to where I couldn’t relax and I certainly couldn’t fall asleep,” Trask said. “So I was in this fog. I developed horrible anxiety and depression. Even after I was released from the hospital and went back home, I ended up calling an ambulance almost every day for a month. The doctors diagnosed me with post-partum anxiety … so severe that I became psychotic.”

Clearly, she couldn’t return to her teaching job.

And her mental state was so fragile that her children had to go and live with relatives. Fortunately, her husband provided incredible emotional support during her darkest days. Trask became convinced that she was dying, and though her loved ones tried to convince her otherwise, their words only upset her more.

On Day 55, she connected with a psychiatrist who

helped her finally get her life back on track. The doctor prescribed a medication that induced sleep and Trask was finally able to get some much-needed rest. She began weekly counseling sessions to deal with her anxiety. Five months later, she was teaching again and her children returned home. Life was good again.

The Best FAMILY EVER

This Trask family photo includes Kristopher Trask, Sylvester glover, Cheryl glover, K’Mya Trask, Nikyla, Kyre’ Trask, Remiah Trask, and Sylvia Jackson.

“One thing I learned from my counseling is that I

probably had suffered some mild anxiety during childhood,” Trask said. “So it wasn’t as sudden as I thought. It had always been there but I had learned to deal with it. Looking back, I recall that I did experience some pressure as a child. I was very sensitive and I often feared that I wasn’t living up to what others expected of me. I strove for perfection. I never felt that I could make a wrong choice. When my physical problems surfaced after the baby, it gave the mental illness a chance to take hold.”

Trask was a gogetter before her illness. She was

rarely sick, had a lot of energy, and was used to being the caregiver for the loved ones in her life. “I wasn’t used to asking people for help, and when I had to do it, it was difficult,” she said. Once she started feeling herself again, Trask wanted to share her story with other women. She wanted to help destroy the stigma of mental illness and spread awareness about coping mechanisms and the support that is available. “I don’t want to ever see another mom on TV who drowns her children or jumps off a bridge,” she said. “At one point, I was suicidal. I had terrible thoughts going through my mind. I know in my heart that if I hadn’t gotten the proper care, I could have become a statistic.”

Due to her faith and her personal experience,

Trask developed a campaign called Be Brave, which encourages women to face their mental illness and take appropriate steps to recover. “First of all, we empower women with information,” Trask said. “Second, we offer contacts to local services and programs that can help. And third, we provide a support system.”

Three times a year, Be Brave partners with local

businesses to host special events. The next event is on Mother’s Day, Saturday May 6, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 P.M., at Love Alive Church on Jones Creek Road. The event features a special brunch, a musical performance and massage therapy. Tickets are $15 each. To order tickets, call (225) 400-5721.

Trask is also available to share her story at women’s functions, church services and social gatherings. For more information visit the website at Bebravenow.com.
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Nikyla Trask

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Faith Life, May 2017

The WEIGHT of the Wait

The Weight of the Wait

by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis

I’ve cried, tried and prayed, but my marriage is troubled. I’ve cried, tried and prayed for my addiction. I’ve cried, tried and prayed for my mother to be healed. But nothing has moved in my favor. Lord, tell me what can I do? Why aren’t you listening me? Do you even hear me? I need answers as I am ready to give up on all of it.

“Why my child? Have I ever given up on you even when you were at your lowest point? When you were avoiding me or even speaking to me? Remember when you were out drinking with your friends and became totally wasted and drove home? I drove you there. Don’t you know that I took the wheel? Remember when you were walking down the dark alleyway and you felt like you were being followed? You were — by me and a murderer. But he all of a sudden stumbled, so you could run. I was there and I pushed him. Remember when you were in rehab and your body was shutting down from the overdose and you wanted to let go? I was right there by your bedside telling you that it wasn’t time yet. You have great work to do. So now that you’re sober, you want everything at your fingertips. It doesn’t work like that. I don’t work like that. I suffered long and so will you in a different way. Patience is your struggle, so exercise it.”

The weight of the wait is phenomenal when you are trying to do it on your own. The weight of the wait causes stress, depression, and other types of emotional concerns. But the weight of the wait can disappear if you give the weight to the Lord and just patiently wait like He told you. We’ve all waited on the Lord. And because of this, we know that this is a test of endurance and patience. That’s the hard part! As believers, we often think that when something good happens, it’s God and when something bad happens, it’s the Devil. That is not always the case. During life’s struggle, God is testing for endurance and tranquility. Only the strong survive. Folks often think that the race is won by the swift, but the race is really won by the slow, steady, and patient. “Dare to dream big and trust God” is easily said, but less often courageously endured. I can hear your spirit saying that it is easy for a successful person to say that, but the road to the top has numerous speed bumps, especially for believers.

The process of making a gold ring is to melt it down, build it up to shape, form the design, then shine for purchase. So what do you think the process is for the making of a wholesome believer? Longsuffering is the thought-provoking process that shows patience in spite of troubles, especially those caused by other people. When there is trouble within your marriage, your finances or your children, you must exercise patience and the ability to forgive and overcome. I know that is easier said than done.

The same process is used when God has dwindled us down to nothing … where we feel empty. Then He builds us up to shape us into the design that He created for our lives. It is okay to have dreams and to conquer them only if it is in the will of God for your life. Don’t become discouraged when your dreams aren’t manifested. This just means that you are outside the will of God. (Ephesians 5:17) Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Just ask God: If this is your will for my life, allow me to conquer —. The truth is if He said it, then He meant it. You just don’t get to decide the timeframe in which He moves. He is just that kind of God!

TonyaHeadshotNew

Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis, affectionately known as “The Refresher,” is an american author, empowerment speaker and a life catalyst. She launched The Refresher Course to educate and empower others to dramatically shift the quality and direction of their lives by using spiritual principles as well as the Life Catalyst curriculum.

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Faith Life, March 2017

Day by Day: Life, Liberty, and Joy.

Day by Day: Life, Liberty, and Joy.

An excerpt from the 90-day devotional book by Trailon D. Johnson

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

St. Augustine of Hippo once penned, “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.” Or as Jeremiah asserts, the heart is desperately sick because it is so deceitful. The purpose of this book is to offer God’s “prescription” for healing our sick hearts—his Holy word. Only by reading and applying God’s word are we able to receive healing while striving to become more like Jesus. A closer look at this amazing organ, the heart, yields deep insights when viewed through the lens of God’s precious pearls of wisdom.

The heart is one of the most vital and essential organs of the human body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 610,000 people die every year due to heart disease. More specifically, one in every four deaths is attributed to heart disease. In fact, heart disease is recorded as the leading cause of death in both men and women. This is an epidemic, not only from a medical standpoint, but also from a spiritual perspective.

Our world is plagued with spiritual heart disease; people suffer, barely holding on to life. Many carry the title “Christian” but live in bondage to sin, unsure of how to obtain the authentic, life-altering freedom found only in Christ. Some people live with heart blockages, such as holding on to past hurts, pains, regrets, neglecting purity and living in bondage to a culture steeped in moral relativism.


As a result, our identities, marriages, relationships, and our churches are struggling to survive and are in critical condition. When living in this manner with sin as our master, we are prone to a spiritual heart attack, and this type of lifestyle will eventually become detrimental to our walk with the Lord.

One of the biggest challenges facing our world is narcissism. There is a constant drive and pursuit of OUR dreams, desires, and passions fueled by feelings that can deceive. This daily pursuit of “happiness,” can lead to the loss of life, liberty and joy found only in Jesus Christ. When you live with this truth, the ultimate goal is not to produce an existential reality, but to put your life in the hands of the one who created you in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). Life demands so much from us, but becoming too busy “doing” leads to a failure to “be.”

However, there is good news: when you turn your life over to Christ and submit to his word, he takes the scalpel and becomes your heart surgeon. He performs open heart surgery and begins to circumcise your heart and remove the blockages so that it can function the way God designed. Finding rest for our souls is essential, and that can happen only when we walk daily with Jesus. The prophet Jeremiah says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls’” (Jer 6:16). It is my prayer that this daily devotional will serve as a supplement to your daily intake of God’s word; moreover, may it be the springboard that propels you to hunger for God’s word and, consequently, to live a fruitful life for the glory of God.

“Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” (Deuteronomy 10:15-16)

Trey's Photo

For more information or to schedule speaking engagements visit the website at trailonjohnson.org or email info@tdjohnsonministries.org.

Faith Life, May 2017

The Last Mile

 

The Last Mile

Why am I sick? Why don’t I feel fulfilled? Why am I struggling through life? Have you ever wrestled with questions like these?

Life is hard, even for Christians, and when life doesn’t seem to be going the way we want it to or thought it would, it’s natural to wonder why. Is God upset with me? Did I do something wrong?

For many of us, it is easier to see our flaws than to believe that our lives serve a purpose. It is easier for us to ask forgiveness and accept correction from God than it is to believe that He wants to (and can) bless us even in the midst of our struggles. The devil has millions of Christians believing that they aren’t worthy of the blessings of God. And when bad things happen to us, it’s like an “I told you so.” But today God wants to exchange the devil’s “I told you so” for one of His own.

In John chapter 9, Jesus and his disciples came across a man whowas blind from birth. In verse 2, his disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

It may not seem fair that part of this man’s journey in life was to be blind for a while so that God could be glorified by healing him, but the man gained much more than his eyesight that day. He became a believer and gained eternal life (John 9:38). Have you ever considered that had his trials not occurred, perhaps he would have had his eyesight, but not his salvation?

Sometimes our struggles are indeed caused by our own sins or the sins of others, but at other times, they are meant to be a part of our journey so that God can be glorified and we can be blessed.

In June of 2012, my life changed. It started with God telling me to give my truck away to a stranger in a donut star parking lot. God then had me sell my shares and resign as Chief Operating Officer of one of the fastest growing IT firms in the country and go into full-time ministry instead. It’s been an incredibly hard journey. My wife and I moved from a place of comfort to a place of not being sure how we would pay the bills. But God has taught us to trust Him with everything. God has taught us to get up every day believing that we are “in the last mile” and the blessing is on its way.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

The blind man in John chapter 9 had no idea when he woke up that day that a miracle would be done in his life. He had no idea that what he had longed for his entire life would actually come to pass. Jesus healed him that day and made a point to his disciples and to us — God has a plan and a blessing for each of us, but we must trust Him to receive it. It’s time to stop striving and struggling through life trying to make it what you want it to be. Your Father, the creator of the universe, wants you to trust Him and surrender control so that He can take care of you and show you the purpose and blessings He has for you.

The next time you’re in a situation where things don’t feel good, where you see no way out, and you need a miracle — dare to believe that you’re in the last mile. Live every day expecting the miracle, anticipating the breakthrough, acknowledging, trusting, and resting in the fact that God is and His promises are true. It’s time to let go and see the goodness of God.

MDP

Michael Phillips was once the owner and COO of one of the fastest growing IT firms in the country. But in June of 2012, in response to what he describes as a “calling from God,” he walked away from his business and gave his truck away to a stranger in a donut store parking lot. “I thought I was happy,” he said, “but it wasn’t until I went ‘all in’ that real life began.”
Michael’s story is climbing the best seller charts at Amazon, but he says the book isn’t about his journey. It’s about yours. Learn more and get the book at www.justchoose.org.

Baton Rouge Christian Life MAGAZINE

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Faith Life, March 2017

The Cracked Door

The Cracked Door

by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis

There’s an old rusty cob-webbed door at the bottom of the staircase in the dark and gloomy basement at the old cathedral. Most people are too afraid to walk through it because they’ve heard myths and legends about it. It’s been locked for years, but today, the door is cracked with a bright light glaring from it. You’re intrigued by it, but don’t want to disturb anything, especially your soul. But God has made you curious enough to open the cracked door and to walk through it. See, a cracked door is God’s metaphorical way of petitioning your heart to walk into your dreams. The beginning of the dream is glorious. It is everything that you’ve prayed about. But the middle of the dream becomes hell. But God says to cast all of your cares onto HIM. For He is awaiting your surrender and your release of the worldly things unto him such as fear, worry, addictions and pain, so He can jump into action. He has instructed you to lay it all at his feet but you’re still holding on to it.

There’s a quote that I read once: “No one is going to be wholly satisfied even with good economic conditions until he finds his inner communion with God.”  But you may be asking yourself, “how does one do that?” The Cambridge English dictionary defines the word “meditation” as the act of giving your attention to only one thing, either as a religious activity or as a way of becoming calm and relaxed.

Spiritual meditation allows the Holy Spirit to be at your side guiding and illuminating your heart and mind as you examine scripture and your inner man. It is your “gut feeling” or your intuition. There are times when the right answer is in the front of you but you allow doubt/fear of the unknown to talk you out of it. Or you may put some ridiculous saying on it that you’ve heard in church over the years to keep you from doing the very thing that God has placed in your heart. If we allow ourselves to get in sync with God we would be finding ourselves in a spiritual peace, an inner peace, an inner glow, all of which comes to us with the realization of the God within us. Adversity comes to see just what you’re made of. What kind of faith do you have? You’ve prayed for the dream and now it is here, and you’ve come too far to turn back. So you just meditate on His word until peace comes, meditate on His word until the storm passes, meditate on His word until your adversities become bees and butterflies in the big blue sky flying high and miles away. And yes, you can have that much peace if you desire it. God grants us what we ask for. Make a declaration of peace today. But don’t become so afraid of hell that you miss heaven.


TonyaHeadshotNewTonya Woodridge-Jarvis, affectionately known as “The Refresher,” is an American author, empowerment speaker and a life catalyst. she launched The Refresher Course to educate and empower others to dramatically shift the quality and direction of their lives by using spiritual principles as well as the Life Catalyst curriculum.

Faith Life, February 2017

We Love Because of Christ’s Love

We Love Because of Christ’s Love

Story by Ken Paxton

IMG_0102
While I was in the middle of my turnaround in life, I prayed for a wife.  At that time, I knew God was working on me as he was working on her. I spoke to a group of guys and was telling them how marriage is like welding two pieces of pipe together.  As God works on you, like a welder works on pipe, God prepares us by sharpening our prayer life and our faith as we wait for our bride.  God was preparing me by showing me how to love my future wife, how to listen and how to be gentle. I love what God says in Ecclesiastes 9:9, “Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.” I had to be still and wait for His timing … and so did she.

Well, God blessed me more than I could have ever imagined when He sent me my wife, Brandi.  And on September 27, 2014 – we became one forever. Finally, after six years of struggles and my own turnarounds in life, God showed me how He was shaping me to form the Godly union between me and my wife.  Brandi is my best gift besides the gift of salvation. She accepts me for who I am and doesn’t try to make me someone I’m not. She sees me as Jesus sees me, and I feel His agape love through her each and every day. Jesus said in Proverbs 18:22, “The man who finds a wife finds a treasure, and he receives favor from the Lord.” Do we argue? Of course we do, we are human. But we always come to an agreement and work things out no matter what. We never go to bed angry … this is a must. The lines of communication must be open and always have trust.  And you must be willing to ask for forgiveness, and humble yourself to forgive. We always pray together before bedtime and say something positive to each other every morning. For me, each morning when I get to work, I send my wife a text telling her how beautiful she is and how much I love her. I want to be the first one to compliment my wife in the morning and the last one to compliment her at night. We both have a past and we know that. But we respect each other enough to not care about the past and things that we’ve learned about it along the way. Besides, how can you look forward to your future if you’re always looking in the past?

We have a beautiful blended family of four boys – Nick, Kyland, Logan and Chris (who is our angel in heaven). We love our church, and I enjoy doing men’s ministry but my first ministry is to my wife and kids. I can’t be anything for anyone else if I can’t be the best husband and father I can be. My priorities in life are God, my wife, our kids, and then everything else.

My wife and I enjoy spending time together whether it’s with our boys making memories, alone going shopping or antiquing, or watching LSU football and spending time with family and friends.  We love watching our boys grow and learn, as well as them teaching us about precious moments in life. My wife is my best friend, my biggest supporter, my confidant, a wonderful mother to our boys, and the love of my life. I’m so blessed that we get to do life together because of the love of Christ.  God’s love is between us, and as it says in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love.”

Faith Life, February 2017

The Courage to Love

The Courage to Love
by Hamsa Martin, M.A., PLPC, NCC

hamsa-martinThere is a feeling that haunts all of us on occasion, it’s that feeling of doing it all on our own or feeling alone in work or decisions we make. In a sea of family and friends, we can sometimes feel like we are on an island and no one truly understands the deepest part of us, making sure not to show the “ugly” parts of our hearts with most people. We don’t want our family to know we struggle or might need help, we don’t want our neighbors to know that our lives are chaotic, and we don’t want our close friends to know that home life isn’t as peachy as we’d like them to believe.

What are all of these examples above missing? Connection. Connection, or bonding, is an integral part of any intimate relationship. It’s the linking of two people where the strength of that relationship is determined by whatever is tying/holding those two people together. The level of intimacy determines the strength of that hold. Creating intimacy means going against the preservation of our perfect image and sharing the wounds of our hearts. Opening up our wounds does not mean trashing others or telling someone the business of everyone around us. It is not focusing on the faults of others or their actions or intentions against us. It is the telling of our story. Anyone can gossip and tell someone how so and so hurt them and did the same thing to so and so — that knowledge is often obvious to others without us gossiping. Gossip bonds two people by the hate or frustration shared, but I would argue that the strength of the connection, or level of intimacy, is very weak. If it is so easy for this person to talk poorly about someone else, what makes us think that they would never speak the same way about us? Trust is not a result of this kind of connection.

To build trust, we must share something with another person that no one else can share with them. Each action against us and interaction of our past is a part of our story, yes, but to tell our story right, we must focus on the way these events settle in our hearts, change our views of our self or others, and the effect that these things have on how we approach people. When we share that part of our story, we begin to connect to the listener with a stronger hold than that of the gossip natured connection. We must let someone into our pain and allow that person to have empathy with us. We must allow that person to also understand our hearts and intentions enough to challenge our actions or views of others so that we do not get stuck in our one-sided downward spiral of judging others. This relationship should allow you to have empathy not only with each other, but to help each other begin to have empathy with others. This is where true LOVE begins.

In the spirit of the season, we will focus more on intimacy in partnership and marriage. We must implement the same characteristics of connection described above. When we share our hearts, motives and pain with our partner, it leads them to begin to trust us, and will motivate our significant other to want to share his or her pain with us. Vulnerability breeds more vulnerability. Love, the feeling at least, is the result of bonding like this and also through the actions of holding, hugging and kissing. All of these things cause our body to release a hormone called Oxytocin, which is said to be the bonding hormone, monogamy molecule and serves to create a sort of safety with our partners. These wonderful things build a strong bond that is severely difficult to break.

The problem is, there is a large percentage of us in the South who live under the standard of not respecting others or ourselves for even paying attention to our emotions. When we ignore our emotions and just dust our shoulders off and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, we neglect an important part of ourselves. This would be equivalent to getting kicked off of our horse, then getting right back on the horse, ignoring the sprained wrist or broken leg, and continuing to ride on. In this metaphor, these wounds do not heal properly and we end up feeling hints of pain from our ill healed wounds with every ride we take.

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10500 Sam Rushing Dr. Baton Rouge, LA 70816

Bringing this metaphor back to partnership or marriage, we bring in all of our past hurts that we have ignored and watch them effect our relationship. Our instinct is to keep the hurt inside and to not let anyone in to that sacred pain. We may not even be aware of what is causing the pain. We find it almost heroic to not let our emotions effect us – on the contrary – I would argue that it takes more courage to choose the path toward love by understanding those emotions and sharing them. We may be too afraid to enter into this uncharted territory and we sure as heck do not want someone else to enter in with us … they might be a part of unveiling the ugliness we have kept hidden for so long. The contradiction here is that the ugliness stays ugly when left deep down in the darkness of our hearts, but becomes beautiful when we unveil it to our partner. The beauty of it is that we are vocalizing that we trust them, thus creating a handsome bond between our partner and our self. The beauty is that we become known and fully known by our partner.

We sometimes find ourselves in a place where the stakes are too high to just try practicing with our partners because we are too afraid of offending or hurting them (or vice versa) because his or her actions may be contributing added hurt onto our already opened wound. This is where the counseling room comes into play. It is a safe place where we can explore our stories, mend wounds, cry, explore our emotions, discover our patterns of anger and intimacy, understand what is keeping us from intimacy, and practice communication with or without our partner present. All of this in hopes of helping us become seasoned story tellers (of our own stories) in order to strengthen the bond between us and our partner.

Veritas Counseling Center is a nonprofit counseling center made up of professionally trained counselors who want to walk with others in learning how to tell their stories. We desire to see mended relationships, healed hearts, and an understanding of why one acts, thinks, or feels the way they do. The more awareness, the better a storyteller, the better bond we create. Veritas Counseling Center wants counseling to be available to all people who are desiring to walk the journey of healing, so it provides counseling at a rate of $40 an hour (compared to $80-$150 at most counseling centers). We hope to rid the stumbling blocks that keep some from entering into the counseling room. You can visit our website, www.veritascc.org to learn more about our services, and call or email one of the counselors on our team to schedule an appointment.

Faith Life, February 2017

Passing the Test of Faith

Passing the Test of Faith

by Lisa Tramontana

sarah1
Sarah Holliday James says illness and personal tragedy have not shattered her faith.

If anyone’s faith has been tested, especially in the past year, it’s Sarah Holliday James. But her faith is stronger than ever.

A bright, friendly, sociable woman, James has enjoyed a busy professional and family life for the past 30 years. But illness, the death of her mother, and flood damage to her home this year have forced her to stop working and focus on recovering physically and emotionally.
A year ago, Sarah was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery to remove it. The tumor was benign, but the experience was frightening because Sarah was in the midst of a two-year battle with breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy at the time.
“It has been a lot to go through,” she said. “There have been so many challenges, but my faith has sustained me and kept me strong.”
Faith from the very beginning
In fact, her faith has been a part of her character for as long as she can remember. Originally from Blairstown, La., Sarah remembers sitting on the “mourning bench” at the age of 9, waiting to be baptized, praying for a sign that she was ready. “We would go to church every day after school, and the children would sit on that bench and listen to the pastor’s teachings about Christ and his love for us. One day, I just got this feeling and I knew it was time. And I gave my life to Christ.”
That solid faith foundation came from her mother, Sarah said, which is why it was so painful when her mother passed away last August. “She was 73 and died of cancer,” Sarah said. “But she was ready. She knew (and I know) that one day, we are all going to leave this world, and we just have to make sure we’re prepared when it happens.”
An advocate for worthy causes
Sarah’s education and career have provided her with the tools to accept whatever the future holds. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology from LSU, she worked as a judicial assistant in Baton Rouge’s criminal court for nine years. “I’ve seen what can happen to families,” she said. “I’ve seen how people’s choices can tear their families apart, put people in prison, take away their hope. But there are a lot of things you can do to have resolution in your life.”
That means praying for your enemies as well as your loved ones, healing broken relationships and doing things to make you happy, she said. “No one knows when their time is, so you’ve got to make sure your soul is right … and you’ve got to do it now!”
That attitude of determination comes from the fighter within Sarah. Over the years, she’s been active in community affairs at every level. In 2010, she made history as the first African American club president of Republican Women in Louisiana. She helped charter Capital City Republican Women in an effort to advocate for fairness, diversity and education in the fight against racism, crime and poverty. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, she added cancer survivor to her resume and participated in cancer events as well.
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Chemotherapy visits were tolerable when Sarah had her husband at her side.
Taking time for herself
Not long after her mother passed away, Sarah and her husband Larry had to move in with a relative when their Park Forest home was flooded. Because of the brain tumor, Sarah lost some of her short-term memory, and had to give up driving. She also had to turn over management of her promotional products company to her son and his wife. (In 1985, Sarah founded her own company, Hollico Ad Specialties).
The living arrangements have been an adjustment. “Now, I just stay at home,” she said. “I still cook occasionally and I can get around by myself. When I feel up to it, I go to church at Promised Land. I’m lucky that I have such a wonderful husband and two great children who have helped me in so many ways.”  Sarah stays busy on social media, and often shares inspirational quotes on her Facebook page. Her New Year’s message to friends was a reminder to appreciate God’s gifts:  “Each season of the changing year has blessings all its own, something special that belongs to just that time alone. Each year is a gentle reminder of God’s gift of life on this earth. He comes into our lives like a new dawn, a new day, a new hope … “  As Sarah regains her strength and makes plans for 2017, her advice to others is to practice love in everything you do. “Stay close to your family. Mend all the broken friendships and relationships in your life. Take care of personal business such as wills and debts. And then, just treat others well. Keep a positive outlook … because no matter what happens, there is so much to be grateful for.”
Faith Life, February 2017

Basketball for the Gospel

Story and Pictures by Bruce Kuehne

Three men were recently baptized as more than 40 others watched-then they all played basketball. It didn’t seem odd.

LBB Baptism
Istrouma Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Ginn with three he was baptizing.
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Istrouma Baptist Church Pastor Jeff Ginn baptizing a participant.
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Istrouma’s Sport Outreach Director, M. L. Woodruff.

For no spiritual reason, about five years ago Jeff Ginn, Pastor at Istrouma Baptist Church, asked M.L. Woodruff (Coach), to organize some “pick-up” basketball games for the staff. Coach is the Sports Outreach Director and directs teams for about 1,000 kids annually, so it wasn’t long before a dozen staff members played; then a few church members joined; then someone invited an outsider, and then … What started as a small group of mostly white co-workers is today the Lunch Bunch Basketball league, a mission to about 250 men, 90 percent black, which plays twice a week at noon.

Istrouma is not trying to build its own base. “Our goal is not to bring people to Istrouma,” says Coach, who has built a leadership team of 16 men, only some of whom attend Istrouma. When Lunch Bunch Basketball started expanding, he invited Clayton Hayes with Connections Ministry to join the leadership team to help develop the program and to contact other pastors to see if they wanted to start similar programs.
Rene Brown, Pastor at Mt. Zion First Baptist Church, intends to start a program. Bart Riggins, Pastor at Faith Chapel on Staring Lane, is starting a Lunch Bunch program in the Gardere neighborhood. BREC, which serves mostly school-age kids and typically doesn’t open its gyms until after school, is willing to open its gyms earlier for this program. The police and sheriff’s departments, recognizing a need to become more closely connected in communities, especially with black men, are also participating.
Forty men don’t show up twice a week just because someone blows a whistle. Below the surface is great attention to detail. Nathan Strong, Coach’s assistant, who majored in sports administration and minored in business at LSU, registers each player as they arrive, assigns them to teams, hands out (and picks up and washes) the colored jerseys that identify each player with his team for the day, puts their names on the team board, ensures the clocks work, keeps track of the time of play (they rotate every 4 minutes during each of two – 20 minute games), and assigns the “halftime” activity. The focus of these tasks isn’t just technical; it is intended to create a stable environment. All of the leaders are trained to learn and use each man’s name, make frequent eye contact, and let him know he is welcome. But they don’t force it. The objective is long term relationships, not instant response.
Although the core activity is basketball, it’s not the purpose. Pastor Jeff Ginn often plays, and speaks at halftime when the men gather for a devotional, prayer and questions. After one session, one of the leaders commented saying, “Jeff was so clear in his presentation of the Gospel,” and when he invited men to ‘call on the name of the Lord to be saved,’ about eight men prayed out loud, phrase by phrase, as Jeff prayed.” Three guys were recently baptized, and two others were baptized in the Spring. But most of the players are not believers. Nathan points out that, “Our humanness comes out in the way we play.” This program exposes them to the way Christians play basketball. They can see what men look like when they try to follow God. Over time, he says, “They are changed.”
The basketball is not about winning in the typical sense. “We strive together for God’s glory.  We don’t strive against for self-glory,” says Coach. Nathan assigns players to teams and tries to ensure there are no “stacked teams,” so players know there is no arguing about who’s on which team. There are no championships. Men know when to come, and what to expect. “We’re working on the hearts of leaders and players as they come into [our] community,” says Coach.
Clayton invited Jon Odenwald, a gifted mentor, to help work on this goal. Nathan’s gift for organization creates an opportunity for Jon to freely move among the men when they’re off-court. One of the players asked Jon what his role was. “I’m the social chairman,” Jon answered, to which the player laughingly responded, “Take my phone number.”  Jon did, and later called to follow up.
“When I started, I asked Coach whether I could interact with the men outside of the basketball games. He said, ‘Do whatever you want,’” Jon said.  Jon is excited about the opportunities presented. “They are very good players, but need someone to encourage them, to believe in them, to ask them how we can pray for what’s going on in their lives,” he said. “Most men don’t have close connections. I cheer them on, listen to their stories. I invite them to enjoy a gathering of men – not just for basketball, but for life. I get to show them how God is so important in that journey.”
All the leaders see God at work. Church-sponsored events sometimes have low rates of return.  People show up for food, music or whatever, but don’t come back because there is no core of interest. Men who play good basketball do come back, and they invite their friends. “We average four new guys” every session, Coach reports. “If the churches could do that, it would be awesome. We think it’s a movement of God. We are trying to join Him. Our objective is to transform lives through the gospel. We use basketball as a bridge.”
Faith Life, January 2017

Family is a Gift

img_3924-1Nearly four years ago, Victor and Amy Canada learned about a single father with terminal cancer looking for a couple to adopt his two children. Twelve-year-old Josh and 11-year-old Wynter’s father could think of little else but finding parents who would make sure his children continued their education, pursued music and art, and grew up in a Christian home.

That’s a pretty specific wish list, but the Canadas fit the bill. “We said yes to other children who needed a home over the years, but it had not been the right match,” said Amy. “We believe it’s because these were our children all along. God was bringing about his plan.”

Amy remembers first meeting the children, who were friendly and had a lot to talk about. They also brought some of their artwork to share with Amy and Victor. In the months that followed as their father became more ill, the children formed a bond with their new adoptive parents.

Victor remembers sitting at the dinner table one night and marveling at how quickly and completely they had formed a loving family. “We would sit together for hours talking and laughing. They both have such personalities! Such a sense of humor! And over time, they’ve even picked up some of our mannerisms and ways of doing things. We were comfortable together from early on.”

Amy home schools Josh and Wynter, now 16 and 15, and they are both involved in a number of activities. Josh loves to fish. Wynter loves to sing and act. They both play soccer, guitar, and enjoy sketching and painting. They are also skilled at making jewelry, something their father taught them, but it holds bittersweet memories, Amy said.

“There have been struggles,” said Amy, “but when I need an answer from God, it always comes to me. I also lost my father when I was very young, so I know what that feels like. I understand what they’ve been through. I have that special connection with Josh and Wynter.”

“God sometimes calls us to do things that are bigger than we are,” said Victor, “and I think being a parent is one of them. I’ve learned that it’s one of the most important endeavors anyone can embark on.”

Creating a family brings the Canadas great joy, but it has also stirred a longing to do even more. Their adoption was handled by Todd Gaudin of On Point Legal, who is also an adoptive parent himself, and has a passion for helping families through the process. A year ago, the Canadas joined Gaudin and his wife Hope to form Uplift Adoption Network, which encourages adoptions, helps to remove obstacles and offers a network of ongoing support.

In November, the group hosted the Adoption Perspectives Conference, which drew an audience of adoptive parents, adoptees, birth mothers, and professionals who work with the adoption process. A resounding success, the event included presentations and panel discussions from a wide variety of organizations and ministries. It was held in conjunction with World Adoption Day.

One of the goals of Uplift Adoption is to combat the myths that surround adoption, including fears about the expense, legal rights and the approval process. “We want to educate couples about all of the resources and support that are available to them,” said Victor. “And most of all, we want couples to realize that adoption is a true calling, not a last resort.”

Amy says Uplift also works to improve understanding and attitudes toward birth mothers. “It’s hard enough to place your child for adoption,” she said. “But imagine how much harder it is when people judge you or treat you badly because of it. We think it’s an honorable decision to do what’s best for your child, and birth mothers should be treated with dignity.”

If you would like to know more about the adoption process, call (225) 270-9022 or send an email to info@upliftadoption.com.

Faith Life, January 2017

Healing Hearts is Her Mission

but first, she had to heal her own
by Lisa Tramontana

15665944_1592785210736967_8376407394890518020_nCarolyn Williams will never forget that knock at the door. It was a police officer telling her that her 21-year-old son Chad had been killed. Concerned that she was alone, the officer said he would stay with her until a friend or family member could come and stay with her. “I was in a daze,” Williams said.

She picked up the phone to call her sister, and only when the words left her lips … “Chad has been killed …” did the realization hit her that she’d lost her only son.

“I fell apart then,” she said. “No one can imagine what it’s like to lose a child … it’s so painful. There is just no way to describe it. It feels like a part of your heart and soul … your whole being … has been taken away.”

For four years, Williams continued to go to her job every day and raise her daughter Andrea. But deep in her heart, she admits she was grief-stricken, depressed, guilty and overwhelmingly sad. She had always had a strong faith, so she prayed and talked with God constantly, she said. “But I was mostly angry during those conversations. I wanted to know why this had happened.”

And then one day, she came across Deuteronomy 1:6-8 (The Lord God spoke, saying, you have dwelt long enough on this mountain. Turn and set your journey and go to the hill country and to all your neighbors …”)

Williams believes this was a message from God, telling her that she had dwelt in her pain long enough. It was time to move on. There was work to do and other parents were out there suffering the same pain she had endured. She was in a unique position to help them. It was then that Williams decided to start a grief support group.

Healing Hearts Grief Support Ministries offers individuals and families compassion and support as they work through their grief from the death of a loved one lost to violence. As a nurse, Williams has a compassionate heart, and as a grieving mother, she can identify with the parents who seek help and understanding. She reminds them that they are at the beginning of a new journey that can bring them wisdom and spiritual growth (if they allow it). She encourages them to embrace it and be open to what God might have in store for them.

Williams’ journey led her to a new life’s mission … something that changed her life, gave it purpose, and ensured that Chad’s life and death was not in vain. “It’s been almost 10 years, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him and cry about him every day. Because I do.”

Chad’s death was especially tragic because he was looking for a fresh start in his life, Williams said. In fact, he had just moved back in with his mother and was looking for a new job. His grandmother had recently died and he had a hard time dealing with the loss. “Looking back, I see that Chad had some depression,” she said, “and could have used some help. But being a mother doesn’t come with a manual. You can’t keep looking back and feeling guilty. We all do the best we can with what we know at the time.”

Williams says helping other parents has been a blessing, and she feels a new calling to become a minister. “I could never have gotten through this without my faith,” she said. “God put all of this on my heart, and I have to believe there is a reason. Every day that I wake up – every morning that I open my eyes – to me, that means that God has a job for me to do that day. So I ask him, “What do you want from me this day, Lord? What can I do?”

In accepting a new purpose in life, Williams found many ways to serve. She has become a motivational speaker and often speaks at workshops, seminars and churches. She also wrote a book titled “It Was Me.”

“Years ago, when my kids were young, I used to sit on the edge of my bed at night and think about all the violence going on in the world and the number of young people dying. And I remember thinking, ‘Somewhere out there is a mother who is hurting tonight.’ A few years ago, it occurred to me that I had become one of those mothers. It was me.”

Healing Hearts offers many resources and services, including child counseling, individual counseling, family counseling, coping and adjustment skills, and group therapy. The group also provides education on the signs and symptoms of depression, the stages of grief, finding life after death, and forming a network of support. Williams has also helped raise funds for families with no means to bury their loved ones.

Williams is looking forward to 2017, as the organization will be moving to a new office in January, and she will be able to host weekly meetings and expand her services. For more information on Healing Hearts, call (225) 505-0015 or send an email to zenocwz@yahoo.com. You can also visit the group’s page on Facebook, or the website at healinghearts24.net.

Donations of any kind are greatly appreciated, she said, especially office supplies or furniture for Healing Hearts’ new offices.

 

Healing Hearts Grief Support Ministries is a nonprofit organization, and is actively seeking sponsors. Call (225) 505 0015.

December 2016, Faith Life

The Jesus Film

Seeing is Believing

by Lisa Tramontana

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When Warner Brothers released the film “JESUS” in 1979, it wasn’t well received. In fact, it lost about $2 million. Although Christian audiences praised its attention to detail (closely following the Gospel of Luke), critics panned it as dull and unimaginative.

Who would have guessed that it would one day be translated into 1,466 languages and be associated with the establishment of 750,000 churches worldwide? Who could have imagined its power … that people from villages in the farthest corners of the world would walk for miles to watch the story of Jesus unfold, then give their lives to Christ?

Sherri poses with a group of young girls in Southeast Asia.
Sherri poses with a group of young girls in Southeast Asia.

Sherri M. does not have to imagine it. She has seen it firsthand. She is one of many Christians whose career has been dedicated to (the) Jesus Film Project®, a ministry based on the film. For 15 years, Sherri has worked in communications, marketing and recruitment for the group’s short-term mission trips, which are open to anyone. Sherri herself has gone on 12 trips to four continents.

One of her earliest trips was to Tanzania to show the film in the Hehe language, and she recalls that nearly 1,000 people dedicated their lives to Christ after watching the film. It is an extraordinary memory. “One of the locals thanked us for not forgetting them. It was humbling to be a part of it, and I remember feeling that it was worth all the effort and resources to get the film translated into their language.”

The story of Jesus is overwhelming to people who have never heard it before, Sherri says. Audiences are swept up in the experience as they focus on the film — touched by Jesus’ goodness, awed by his miracles, devastated by his suffering and death, and joyful in his resurrection. The fact that they are able to hear Jesus speak to them in their native language makes the experience even more meaningful. When people see Jesus’ life unfold before them, they understand the gospel. They get it.

Sherri’s career began at a publishing company where she worked as a graphic designer. “Although I was doing work that fit in with my gifts, I felt that God was calling me to do more to help others come to know him,” she said. Then her parents, devout Christians themselves, took her to a conference for donors of JFP, where she heard amazing stories about how the film was changing lives around the world. Something clicked, and Sherri knew she wanted to join in the work God was doing.

Tim M., Sherri’s husband of two years, is also involved with JFP. When the couple began dating, Tim says he was searching for a higher purpose in his own life. Sherri was working at the JFP headquarters in Orlando, and Tim worked at an engineering firm in Baton Rouge.

“When I met Sherri, a door opened,” he said. “I was really intrigued by the work she did, and I visited the JFP headquarters several times. I prayed about how God could best use me. Every time I went, another door opened and another question was answered. Things just started to fall into place.”

Married for two years, Tim and Sherri M. are committed to ‘reaching the unreached’ through Jesus Film Project.
Married for two years, Tim and Sherri M. are committed to ‘reaching the unreached’ through Jesus Film Project.

As part of Tim’s future role in JFP, he will travel overseas as a photographer and writer, capturing the stories of people touched by the JESUS film. He is excited about the challenge of learning new skills and the experiences that await him. “I’m willing now to go wherever I’m needed,” Tim said. “This has become a calling for me.”

For now, the couple are based in Baton Rouge, but only temporarily. They are developing a team of partners who will support their ministry through prayer and finances. After they are fully funded, they will move to Orlando and begin working in their roles at JFP.

“I really believe God has chosen to use this film to spread the gospel,” Sherri said. “Several people have claimed that a few days before watching the film, a man spoke to them in a dream. When they see Jesus first come onscreen in the film, they recognize him as the man in their dream.”

Every day, throughout the world, JFP spreads God’s message. It continues to translate the film into new languages and develop new tools for evangelism and discipleship, which are also used by many partner organizations. The free Jesus Film app makes all these tools accessible on any device, anywhere in the world. And every day, more hearts are touched and more lives are changed.

Tim and Sherri’s mission is to share Jesus with everyone, everywhere, in their own language. Their ministry is made possible by the prayer and financial support of individuals and churches who have a heart for reaching the lost around the world. To learn more about how you can partner with them, go to give.cru.org/0673356. You may also contact them directly at (225) 806-1433. If you are interested in the organization’s mission trips, go to jesusfilmmissiontrips.org.

*(Sherri and Tim’s last names have been omitted for security purposes.)