God of My 20’s: Mourning Replaced with Savoring

(Post #6 in a collaborative series)

Guest Blogger: Dawn Stark

Throughout my 20’s I worked for an international airline and traveled the world for almost nothing. But all I really wanted was a baby.  I mourned continually over my empty arms.  Nothing else would appease me: Hawaii, the Greek Islands, Europe, sailing down the Nile – a decade of beautiful places and experiences that I mainly viewed through the lens of pain. I didn’t understand God’s love language to me in the waiting season.  I missed so many amazing places of worship on the way to my arms being filled to overflowing.

The way I spent my 20’s shrouded in mourning is a life regret.

Today I am traveling again, for different reasons, but still very similar to the way I did so many years ago. I know without a doubt God has once again given me this season as a gift in a beautiful way of merging mission and passion. It’s a do-over of sorts. Life is full of long, complicated, and painful journeys; infertility was only one of many that I’ve endured. In my early 50’s now, with 5 miracle children in my life, there is sufficient evidence that I cannot fret or worry or mourn my way through this life.

Recently, work led me to Puerto Rico. A traveler to my core, I was so excited about this new adventure I couldn’t fall asleep the night before my flight.  I’ve been to the island years ago on two other occasions, but only in the San Juan area.  This trip required me to rent a car and travel to Mayaguez, on the western side of PR.  I padded my travel time on each side of work events to allow for moments of spontaneity: pulling over to enjoy look-out points, taking the temperature of the Caribbean water with a quick dip, snapping photos of interesting sites, and choosing local eats over convenient chain options.

Puerto Rico did not disappoint!  I so enjoyed spending time with ministry partners, learning about the heart-breaking impact of Hurricane Maria, and discovering the resilience of the people. I intently practiced present-moment mindfulness by not letting my thoughts creep back to other weighty matters and instead choosing to focus on the “great and small” of life happening right in front of me:

  • the vibrant colors saturating the Puerto Rican culture through nature and art.
  • the proud rooster walking down the sidewalk, crowing like he totally belonged in that human space.
  • the irony of eating St. Louis (my hometown) style rib from the BBQ joint I just happened to stop at for dinner.
  • the newlywed who coaxed me to jump into the rough shore break and enjoy the sunset with her family.
  • the experience of driving in San Juan’s rush hour traffic when 12 lanes of inbound cars merged into 4 without traffic lines or signals of any sort.

While travel is all a little harder on my body these days, I am intent on not missing the moments made for worshipping along the way this time.  I cannot reverse the way I lived my 20’s, doubting the goodness of God, but I can learn from that experience.  My trip to Puerto Rico reminded me – again – to savor the gifts I’ve been given. The song, Peace, written by Michael McDonald and recorded by Russ Taff, perfectly captures my thoughts:

I have come from so far away

Down the road of my own mistakes

In the hope you could hear me pray

Oh Lord, keep me in your reach.

 

How I’ve longed through these wasted years

To outrun all my pain and fears

Turn to stone from own cried tears

And now its your grace I see

 

Love won’t compromise

It’s a gift, it’s a sacrifice

My soul renewed, and my heart released

In you I find my peace.

 

Wonderous child of whom the angels sing

Know my joy, feel my suffering

Shining star make this love you bring

So bring that I may believe

 

That my way will not be lost

From now on, ‘till that river’s crossed

My soul renewed, and my spirit free

In you I’ll find my peace

Heard

(Post #4 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Aaron Pilant (bio below)

When I was preparing to get married twenty years ago, I remember some very important advice that the marriage counselor gave us both.  He said that communication is the key to any successful relationship.  He went on to say that if we could learn to communicate well with each other, our marriage would be a success.  No problem.  I like to talk.  She likes to talk.  Done.  Twenty years later, I have learned that communicating is not just talking, but being heard as well.  I have also learned that communication is not always verbal.  Actually, most communication is non-verbal.  The communication you are reading right now…non-verbal.

I am a Christian who committed his life to Christ at the age of thirteen.  My “salvation” experience occurred when I was alone in my bedroom late at night.  I had been struggling with this decision for some time.  I was wrestling back and forth.  That night was different though.  I remember being in bed trying to sleep, but I was unable to stop thinking about God and my relationship to Him.  I was raised in church.  My parents dragged me and my siblings to church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night.  I participated in church clubs and activities, but secretly I was battling in my inner heart and mind.  I knew how to give my life to Christ by surrendering to Him, but for some reason I resisted.  That night in June, I was back wrestling within again.  This night was different, though.  This night, I felt that I could no longer put this decision off.  There was a sense of urgency within me.  This is where I first remember hearing from God.

I think it’s important to know, I have never audibly heard God’s voice.  I have never seen writing in the sky.  What I heard was within.  I was given a vision of my reality apart from God.  Then I heard within myself, “Why are you waiting, Why are resisting me?”  The vision was unpleasant.  The question burned within my mind, my heart, my soul.  I finally yielded that there was no good reason.  I then poured my heart out to God asking Him to forgive me of my sin and stubbornness.  I then committed to following Him as my Lord.

So from that day I have worked diligently and sometimes not so diligently to hear God in my life.  I will say this-there are times when I can’t hear God.  But there are many times where I hear God speaking to me in my heart.  Every time I hear from God, it is within.  Sometimes it is words.  Sometimes it is peace.  Sometimes it is just a feeling.  I am usually able to determine that it is God when the communication that I am receiving is far from what I would naturally want to do or like to do.  They are always in line with His word and often confirmed through scripture being brought to my mind.

I want to conclude by saying God doesn’t always speak to me when I want him to…or speak to me in the way I want Him to.  There have been many occasions when I have pleaded God for answers and none came.  I have spent hours, days, weeks, and months waiting.  I do get frustrated when waiting for these answers.  Funny, though, I am soon reminded of Isaiah 40:31 or a verse very similar.  I think, though, there are very good reasons for the lack of answers at times.  I know that when the answers are not readily available I spend more time talking with Him, calling out to Him, pleading with Him, crying to Him.  I wonder if the reason that answers are not always so available is because God wants to spend more time with me.  Or probably more accurate, He knows I need more time with Him.  I have often been told that life is not about the destination but the journey.  I believe that our walk with God is the same.  If you can’t or don’t hear Him, He doesn’t want you to give up.  He wants you to spend more time with Him until He knows you are ready to hear what He has for you.  God speaks to us all.  We just need to learn to listen.


Blogger Bio:  Aaron Pilant married Erin Pilant nearly 20 years ago. They have a 16-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their very favorite thing to do as a family is go to Disney World, and they do it often.

Heard

(Post #3 in a 5-part series collaboration)

By Erin Pilant (bio below)

Nearly 16 years ago, my husband and I had to make, what we would call, a major life decision. In our three short years of marriage, we had had a couple of decisions to make; but in my book, this was by far the biggest.

I was born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida. This was where I worked, where I got married, where our son was born. This was the place where we were going to raise our family and where we were going to grow old. My husband was a youth pastor of a small, country church. We had seen many students trust in Jesus and grow into leaders within the student ministry; we had formed close relationships with them. We loved this little church and it’s people; but God was changing our hearts, and we didn’t understand why. He had other plans for us, but we didn’t know it yet.

An opportunity was presented to us. A church in Independence, Missouri, where my husband was born and raised, was looking for a youth pastor. There were too many “coincidences” for us to ignore this, what we thought could be God literally moving in our lives. This was the first time I begged God to give me peace about something…about anything. This would be such a huge life shift for us. I couldn’t imagine living somewhere other than Florida. No longer being a few minutes away from my parents. Leaving my job of 7 1/2 years. My mind was on overload. So I begged God for peace, the kind of peace described in Philippians 4:7: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” I was very nervous, and I needed His help.

I cannot tell you where I was, or what I was doing, or even how long it took. But like a wave flooding over me, He gave me the peace I had been asking for. Suddenly, I had full confidence that God was going to take care of us and that He would lead us to the right decision. In every step, He guided us and gave me peace, a peace that transcended all understanding. My soul, my heart and my mind, they were all at rest.

God answering my prayers for peace was a big moment in my Christian life. No, not all life decisions end up where I thought or even where I wanted, but God showed me that He really does desire to give us what we need. My desire was to hear from Him, and He gave me exactly what I needed. Our move to Independence, Missouri, ended up not being a difficult one at all. I knew we were right where God wanted us.

It’s important to know that God speaks to me in several different ways. The Holy Spirit convicts me often. He speaks to me through others, like my pastor. And sometimes I just have a nudge in my heart or the pit of my stomach. However, peace is what I continually ask God for.

How do I hear from God? He gives me peace-His peace. My heart hears His whispers of comfort…in small decisions and in the big, life-changing decisions…in the moments when I need clarity and I’m searching for the next step. I ask God for only the peace that comes from Him through being in His Word, continually drawing closer to Him, and being in prayer. He gives me peace to see that my heart and mind are ready for the next step.


Blogger Bio:  Erin Pilant married Aaron Pilant nearly 20 years ago. They have a 16-year-old son and a 9-year-old daughter. Their very favorite thing to do as a family is go to Disney World, and they do it often.
Erin is a Marketing Director of Chick-fil-A Cortez Plaza (941-727-7313) and for 8 years has been making people fall in love with the brand, one Chicken Sandwich at a time.
When Erin isn’t at Chick-fil-A, Disney or at Church, you can find her watching a new movie or an old classic and spending time with friends and family.

🐄eat more chicken

“Stayer” or “Walker”

This is one of those books that you could read many times and grow each time. This being my first read, I’m already seeing growth.

Here’s a quote that stuck out to me today:

If you stay free from offense, you will stay in the will of God.

Offense is easy to create and to receive. Bevere declares it’s a trap, the bait of Satan. When we take the bait, we are in for some rough going. Been there, done that.

This quote makes something clear-where we stay has much to do with our freedom and peace, our relationship with God and others. Where we stay is entirely up to us. If we choose to stay close to God, we will choose to stay free from offense. If we choose to stay offended, we choose to not stay, to distance ourself, to walk away from God and what he’s working in and for us.

Simply put, here’s a new mantra based on this quote: I’d rather be a “stayer” with God than a “walker” from God. In allowing God to search my heart, it’s clear I have an offense that requires a better choice. Time to give up the bait.

You taken the bait? Ready to give it up?

“Which Way?”

I have a new favorite verse. At least for today.

“This is what the Lord says: Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths, “Which is the way to what is good?” Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protested, “We won’t!””‭‭Jeremiah‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭CSB‬‬

(Check out how these translations ask the question: ESV, NIV, NKJV “Where the good way is?” The Message paraphrases it as the “tried-and-true road.”)

The visual is so clear, yet we seem blind.

Rest doesn’t have to be that hard. Temptations draw us away convincing us rest is a myth. But according to God’s message through Jeremiah, rest has been found by all our preceding generations. In this day of great change and progress, God’s message is still the same:

“Stop hurrying about looking for a new way. Cease driving up and down the road chasing disguised lights of hope. Search out those who have heavenly peace. Humbly ask them the road to it. Join me on that road where rest awaits anyone who trusts rather than protests.”

Leadership Points

If you aspire to be a leader…If you currently have a leadership post…If you wonder how you’re doing as a leader, here are some points to consider (random and not exhaustive), especially for those serving the church world.

  • The only person to fear is the Holy Spirit.
  • Weigh carefully every “yes” and every “no.”
  • Be ready to say at any time, “I messed up.”
  • Expect disappointment, but don’t let it root bitterness.
  • Going to bed angry is always a bad choice.
  • You will never regret praying.
  • Professional Counselors are your friends.
  • Your weaknesses aren’t meant to bring you shame. They are reminders that you shouldn’t go it alone.
  • Horizontal affirmation will never be enough.
  • When you think you’ve communicated something well, ask yourself, “Did Grandma get that?”
  • God determines when you’re done.
  • The broader your reading the deeper your growth.
  • Your awe of God level produces your peace and contentment level.
  • Arrive prepared. Confess if you aren’t.
  • Assume you can always build more trust.
  • Thank the person or group who discovered the solution.
  • Believe someone else is the smartest person in the room.
  • You must meet people where they in order to lead them where they need to go.

Keeping Sane

Possibilities. Endless they are.

If you allowed yourself, you could drive yourself nuts thinking about them. All the “what could/should have beens,” “if onlys,” or “just supposes” are quite mind blowing. For instance:

  • What if Cain hadn’t killed his brother?
  • If only Moses hadn’t struck the rock.
  • What could have been Samson’s legacy?
  • What if Ruth didn’t follow Naomi?
  • Just suppose Israel never selected king #1.
  • If only David hadn’t stayed home.
  • Just suppose Esther wasn’t successful.

Those are just a few before Jesus decided to make his earthly appearance-before he showed us that overthinking the possibilities is unnecessary when he’s in the picture.

As we consider the past, live out the present, and look into the future, in order to keep our sanity we must keep Jesus in the picture. He helps us make sense of it all. For those wanting perfect peace, keep your mind stayed on Jesus.

You will keep the mind that is dependent on you in perfect peace, for it is trusting in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Live How You Want to Die

Since Saturday I’ve had quite a few interactions with people giving me reason to ponder this question: How is it some people die happy and others don’t?

I say since Saturday because that’s the day some of our church family gathered to remember the life of Buna Brannon. She lived a full life. And I’m not just referring to her age of 84. Buna lived a full life because she chose to live it to its fullest.

By the time I met Mrs. Buna, she was already retired, 76 years of age. Nothing kept her down. Not illness. Not emotions. Not people. She made a choice to live life how she wanted, not how others wanted. And the foundation of that choice was her faith, how she understood God wanted her to live. And because of that faith, she lived happily, joyfully, actively, and extremely generously. And that’s also how she died. Until days before her living was done, she gave to others and thought of others which brought her joy, peace, and purpose. She had lived life in such a way that she was more than ready to leave it as she lived it.

However you live is probably how you’re going to die. It’s sad to watch people live unlike how they probably want to die. Angry. Depressed. Judging. Discontent. Proud. Buna made the choice to live with joy, with hard work, with purpose, and with love. And that’s what everyone will remember about her. She died how she lived.

If you want to die happily, live happily.

If you want to die sacrificially, live sacrificially.

If you want to die peacefully, live peacefully.

If you want to die regretless, live regretless.

The choice is clearly all yours.

31 Proverbs Highlights: #28-5 Hearts

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

The wicked flee when no one is pursuing them, but the righteous are as bold as a lion…Happy is the one who is always reverent, but one who hardens his heart falls into trouble. (‭Proverbs‬ ‭28‬:‭1‬,14 HCSB)

The guilty heart breeds loneliness.

The bold heart stands in the right.

The reverent heart knows who’s king. 

The heart open to God finds security and peace.

The humble heart is strong.

31 Proverbs Highlights: #16-Character Pleases God

(A simple series highlighting verses from each chapter of the book of Proverbs)

When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him…Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city.  Proverbs 16:7,32 HCSB

God is more concerned about your character than your position. These two verses reveal a few things about character that pleases God:

  • God is pleased with those who pursue peace rather than picking fights or insisting on their position.
  • God is pleased with those who aren’t ruined by the pursuit of power but rather patiently surrender to his power.
  • God is pleased with those who discipline themselves even when capable of achieving rank or position.