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Moving Forward

Posted in Adults  |  By Meghan Roper  |  Posted on Wed May 3, 2017

Moving Forward

Editor's Note: Through the loss of her daughter, Ellanie Beth, God has faithfully mended Maegan Roper's broken heart to encourage other families dealing with loss as well. Maegan facilitates infant loss retreats to help women find healing in Christ. In addition to her book, 30 Days of Hope for Restoration in Infant Loss, she's also written for digital and print publications such as Pregnancy After Loss Magazine, Engaging Motherhood, MinistryMatters, The Better Mom, Missions Mosaic and more. She resides in McCalla, AL with her husband, Jeremy and children Emmalyn and Harrison.

When moving forward seems impossible…

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait on the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB)

Infant loss is unique. It has many faces and forms, and while each of them are different, no one can prepare you for how to handle the sorrow. You can rejoice in the relief of knowing that you are fully understood by the Lord. Others will not understand what you’re going through. They’ll try to answer the unanswerable. And while they mean well, most of what they say will probably frustrate you.

And that’s okay. God gets your struggles. Your feelings of inadequacy. Your hurt. And your hesitancy to move forward with a “normal” life.

I vividly remember having a come apart in my parent’s living room one week after we lost our daughter to a rare birth defect called anencephaly. We did not find out until I was 20 weeks pregnant with her. She was born and went to heaven all in the same breath. It was the month of December, and it just didn’t feel like Christmas time. We hadn’t participated in any of the usual traditions and festivities, and I hadn’t bought a single gift. Not one. It suddenly seemed to all come crashing down on me, and I found myself loathing “normal.”

I didn’t want to get out and go shopping. I didn’t want to attend Christmas parties or send out Christmas cards. What is usually so exciting and anticipated seemed unnecessary and daunting. And it wasn’t, really. It was just my perspective at the time. And instead of approaching this grieving process one day at a time as it slowly merged with my once normal life, I felt that I was supposed to shut off what had just happened and dive back into normal life.

That’s not what God expects of you at all. The reality is that you’ll have a new normal from here on out. It’s almost as if your life becomes divided -- before loss and after loss. And after loss, you do your best to get back to what you were doing before loss, but it just isn’t the same and that’s okay.

He has promised that we will see His goodness in the land of the living and give us courage to approach our new normal if we wait on Him. I think for the longest time I feared for taking any steps into a new normal because I felt I was leaving my baby girl behind. But sometimes sorrow and hope must mingle in the present, as we take one step at a time.

Those steps forward do not mean you love less. They do not mean you stop grieving or missing. They do not mean you forget. They do not mean letting go. Moving forward is about learning, growing, and trusting. You just learn to live in a world that keeps turning, even though yours stopped for a bit.

When others would say “It’ll be okay; you’ll move on...” it didn’t feel right. I know our natural human reaction is to leave a bad situation in the past, but part of me wanted to keep it in front of me AS I moved forward, a reminder of God’s grace in my pain and the promise of future glory.

There is no rulebook for the pace at which you should move. Don’t rush, but don’t be afraid either. Moving forward means turning toward hope and believing God is greater than it all.

In my journey toward restoration, the Lord led me to write a 30 day devotional, encouraging others through infant loss. It is called 30 Days of Hope for Restoration in Infant Loss. I am truly humbled by how the Lord has chosen to use our daughter’s story to bring healing hope to others.

There are other resources that have helped me understand God’s purpose and have pointed me to Scripture that I would recommend. I pray that you find them helpful as well:

-    Safe in the Arms of God by John MacArthur

-    Mended by Angie Smith

-    Your Pain is Changing You by David Crosby

If you’re walking through infant loss right now and would like to be a part of a community encouraging one another, then please check out Engaging Motherhood. As co-editor of the infant loss section, we are offering an email series to parents who need encouraging in this area. You may sign up to receive the emails here

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Focus your soul on Jesus this Christmas

Posted in Children, Students, Adults, Worship, Caring, Community Life  |  By Jacob Simmons  |  Posted on Mon Dec 19, 2016

Focus your soul on Jesus this Christmas

You guys, Christmas is great.  

What’s not to love?! It gets a little cold, but not too cold (I see you, January.) so you have a chance to pull out your best jacket and drink warm drinks. There are lots of parties, so you get all caught up on the happenings and the goings-on. There are some great things on TV. It’s a season with it’s own music that you already know the words to. It’s a perfect opportunity to take a tree that normally goes outside, and put it inside! Seriously, what’s not to love about Christmas?

I’m writing a bit tongue-in-cheek, of course, but these parts of Christmas truly are fun and something to look forward to. But without the Christ-child, they’re meaningless. They’re window dressing. They’re liquid butter without the popcorn.  They’re a parade without purpose. They’re an appetizer without a main course.  

The Christmas season is a season of anticipation and remembrance. If the object of our anticipation is wrong, our celebration will be misguided. And if our remembering is weak or fuzzy, our worship is miscalibrated.  

It’s tempting to only anticipate the “season” of Christmas instead of the event. And it’s tempting to remember the Christmases of years past and their memories instead of the original Christmas and the hope that comes with it.

But succumbing to those temptations leads us down a road of misguided praise and misplaced worship. We become the misinformed child who becomes enamored with the cardboard box and unaware of the treasure inside. 

So this Christmas season, practice ways in which the coming of Christ (and his coming again!) is more anticipated than the coming of Santa.  

Read the Christmas story together as a family. Talk about who the Biblical characters were and what they would have felt like. Name out loud how your life would be different in the Christ-child hadn’t come.  

If the Christmas season is about the presence of God with us, practice presence with your family. If the Christmas season is about God’s greatest gift, consider making a gift to someone in need.  

Find a baby, hold him, and think about him as the savior of the world. Consider putting that baby in the dog bowl and ponder the humility of Christ.  

Whatever you need to do to focus your soul on Jesus, strive hard to do that thing.  You were created by the Almighty God to worship Him and know Him. 

Let Christmas be the season for you to do what you were created to do. 

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College Students: 5 ways to avoid a restless winter break

Posted in Students, Adults, Community Life  |  By Kevin Naylor  |  Posted on Mon Dec 12, 2016

College Students: 5 ways to avoid a restless winter break

Most of us run so hard during the semester that by the time we get to winter break we don’t know what to do with "free time” – whatever that is. We think that simply having free time will mean that we will rest. But we have all had breaks where we had all the free time we could want and yet end up more restless at the end of the break than when it began. Simply having time off from homework and class does not ensure that you will be able to rest. We do not rest by simply not having anything to do. That can actually make us rest less. In order to rest we cease doing things that drain us and focus on things that refresh us. So here are some suggestions on how to have a restful and not a restless winter break.

1. Receive Grace. 

Jesus is our rest. He frees us from our constant and exhausting striving to prove ourselves to God. He says to us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) We can have rest through Christ because he bore the greatest restlessness on the cross – separation from the Father and the punishment for sin that he did not commit. This is the good news of Christ. And it is news that our souls need every day.

How do we rest in the rest Christ provides? We do this largely through what the church has called “means of grace.” These are avenues by which God assures us of his loving disposition towards us in Christ, allowing us to know him in a deep and real way – and subsequently to rest. Among other things the means of grace include: baptism, the Lord’s Supper, community, hearing Scripture read and explained, and personal Scripture reading and prayer.

The devotional acts of reading, meditating, journaling, and praying through Scripture are some of the key ways the Spirit reveals God’s true heart for us in Christ. Grab a bible, a pen, a journal, set an alarm to go off in 30 minutes so you’re not constantly checking the time, and see what God might do. There’s no wrong place to start.  

 2. Worship Corporately.

 As Western Christians we tend to focus almost exclusively on private ways of growing in love for God and others. We focus a lot on reading Scripture and praying by ourselves (“devotions” or “quiet times”) – which we should. But we often neglect corporate means of grace such as weekly worship services and community groups. 

What does is it look like to engage in corporate worship? It involves more than showing up and sitting in a pew. It is easy to get into the habit of attending church services just because that is what you do in the South on Sundays.  Even if you don’t always like the preaching or always connect with the music it means attending a worship service with a sense of expectation that God himself will speak to you as the gospel unfolds through the service. 

What if you prayed before the service that your heart would be prepared to receive? What if you prayed for the pastor preaching? What if you prayed for the people you would talk to before and after the service, that you would be able to find ways to encourage and comfort them with the good news of Jesus Christ? What if you finished the service by praying that the church as a whole would respond in repentance and belief to the Word preached?

Engaging in corporate worship can do wonders for our souls. Whether you choose to attend your home church or a different church in your hometown, don’t miss the benefit of the Sundays between the fall and the spring semesters.

3. Expect Temptation.

 If Jesus is the source of our rest, then sin is the key cause of our restlessness. Breaks provide unique opportunities for the enemy to whisper his subtle lies in our ears. Be aware that being back home with a lot of free time will remind your heart of old temptations and stir up new ones. Sin tempts us with the promise of satisfaction, fulfillment, and deliverance. But take hope because we have a better satisfaction, lasting fulfilment, and truer deliverance that are ours perfectly in Christ. 

The beautiful thing about the gospel is that it provides us safety to be honest with ourselves (and others) about the true state of our souls without feeling condemned. The reality is that we are all five minutes away from destroying our lives. So let’s look to Jesus in the moment of temptation, thank him in the moment of victory, and cling to him in the moment of failure.  

4. Stop Scrolling.

 Nothing gives the illusion of rest like scrolling through social media.  We think we are resting because we are on the couch, free from work with phone in hand.  But the constant scrolling keeps our minds hyper-stimulated with a stream of disconnected tweets, blogs, statuses, and images. Our attention is diverted every two seconds with a new post. This constant stimulation makes us restless even as we image it to be restful.  

When we look to social media to give us rest we fail to realize that rest takes work. I’ll say that again: rest takes work. We don’t accidently rest. Rest necessitates focused attention to that which energizes us. Social media scrolling acts as a pacifier for the restless. It distracts for a little while but it doesn’t solve the problem. Always scrolling; never resting.

Often our phones are the main hindrance to our rest. So what if you shut down your phone for an hour each day of the break to put energy towards something that actually refreshed you? Or what if you took a fast from social media for a week? What kind of rest would be available to us if we disconnected for even a little while?

5. Engage Family.

While you’re disconnected from your phone, connect with your family. Ask them questions. Tell them you love them. Share with them what you are learning. Consider their needs and serve them. We can easily slip back into “kid mode” when going home for breaks during college. Kid mode is characterized by taking, not giving. Don’t be alarmed by this, but: you’re an adult. You have the privilege and responsibility to serve your family by giving and not simply taking.

What does this have to do with not being restless? As our Lord said, “It is better to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) By taking initiative to be more present and engaged with your family you will be blessed and find rest.

I recognize that this is easier for some than others. Some of you have a wonderful family that you can’t wait to see and spend time with. But some of you might have a painful relationship with your family and you are dreading going home.  If you find yourself with a difficult family, I encourage you to focus on prayerfully taking small steps in this direction. We can do this because our Lord Jesus made us his family members when we were his enemies.

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Community Engagement at Shades

Posted in Adults  |  By Steve Browning  |  Posted on Mon Dec 5, 2016

Community Engagement at Shades

“We don’t go anywhere.”

These were the words of the young man buying our old air hockey/pool table combo. He saw the table for sale on Facebook and had come by to haul it off. As we prepped the table to be moved, I asked him for his story. He grew up “Over The Mountain,” graduated from a local high school, and served in the military. Afterward, he returned to the area to raise his family. 

When we lifted the table onto the trailer, he asked what I did for a living. I told him that I was one of the pastors at Shades Mountain Baptist Church.

“Oh, yeah. I’ve driven by there many times before," he said. "On Columbiana right?” 

“That’s the one,” I told him. 

“Where do you go to church?” The question was in the natural flow of conversation. It didn’t catch him off guard or offend him that I asked.

He matter-of-factly responded, “We don’t go anywhere.”

Here is someone that has driven past our church many times. He knows the location, has seen banners advertising our events, and has never stepped in the door. The days of people coming to church simply because there is a church to go to are long gone. In fact, statistics tell us that nearly half of people who live Over The Mountain “don’t go anywhere.”

This breaks the heart of God. He has created people for a thriving, meaningful relationship with Himself. Jesus gave His life so that people would enter into a relationship with God and become part of the movement known as His Church. We cannot sit on the sidelines and watch our community trickle away from God. So what do we do?

It is time for us to engage our community. Shades Mountain Baptist Church is launching a new initiative aimed at making a difference Over The Mountain for the Gospel. Community Engagement is about three things:

  • Serving our Institutions
  • Sharing with Individuals
  • Starting New Endeavors

Serving Our Institutions: Our schools and first responders need our support. In the coming months we will make a significant investment to bless our community institutions Over The Mountain. We will adopt schools in our own neighborhoods. We will tangibly bless our first responders through building relationships, bringing meals, and training chaplains from our own congregation. We will expand our partnerships so that our community institutions know that Shades cares.

Sharing with Individuals: God has uniquely positioned our church membership through the community. In many neighborhoods and businesses, there are people from Shades who can share the Gospel with people who are in desperate need of it. In the days ahead, we will equip hundreds of Shades members with effective ways to share their faith and help others begin a relationship with Jesus.

Starting New Endeavors: Across our community, there are pockets of people in neighborhoods without a strong, gospel-preaching local church. Perhaps it is because some of the churches in that area are in decline and getting ready to close their doors. Perhaps it is because there is no church at all to be a witness in that part of the community. Shades will begin new endeavors in church planting, church revitalization, and/or starting campuses Over The Mountain to meet the need.

Our hope in Community Engagement is not to get everyone in the community in the doors of our church, but to get our church into the community. We see a day coming when Shades is more than a church that someone drives by on Columbiana Road. We imagine a day when Shades will bring life and light to every road in the community Over The Mountain. 

I hope that you will join us in this new and exciting vision. May God use every effort of Shades in Community Engagement to bring people into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ!

If you are interesting in joining and leading within this effort, please email Steve Browning at sbrowning@shades.org

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Why it's important to be thankful as a family

Posted in Adults  |  By Stephanie Hartsell  |  Posted on Mon Nov 21, 2016

Why it's important to be thankful as a family

As we look forward to Thanksgiving this week, we are all more aware of the need to be thankful. As parents we desire for our children to say thank you and to be grateful for the many blessings they have such as nice homes, more than enough clothes to wear, food on the table, and so on. In our give me, give me world, helping our children (and ourselves for that matter) have an attitude of gratitude can be a challenge. 

So what does the Bible say about being thankful?

1 Thessalonians 5:18-  “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Having an attitude of gratitude is God’s will for us. 
Ephesians 5:20- “ giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” We are to give thanks always and for everything.
Colossians 3:15- “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.”  We are to let peace rule in our hearts and be thankful. 

What does a thankful heart look like? It is a heart that counts blessings, is happy with simple pleasures of life, and expresses gratitude for everything given, both to God and to man. 

A scientific experiment done at the University of California showed that those who spent ten weeks journaling things they were grateful for had higher levels of well-being, had more optimistic expectations, felt they had more connectedness to others, and were more willing to help others compared to the other groups who either journaled about things that annoyed or irritated them or journaled about things that had a major impact on them. 

How can you practice thankful more in your home?

  • Model being thankful.
  • Pray asking God to help your family have an attitude of gratitude.
  • Initiate conversation around the dinner table by having everyone name one thing they were thankful for that day.
  • Once a month, have family members go around and say, “I am thankful for ________ because _________.” Everyone must say one thing they are thankful for about each person.
  • Volunteer with Urban Purpose or Jimmie Hale Mission and serve those less fortunate.
  •  Have a “no complaining” day.

It is God’s will for us to be thankful in all things, all the time. When we teach and model an attitude of gratitude to our children, it helps strengthen our families as well as our relationship with God.

Reference:

Emmons, R. A. & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 377-389

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Marriage Conference | What Did You Expect?

Posted in Adults  |  By Jordan Cox  |  Posted on Wed Aug 24, 2016

Marriage Conference | What Did You Expect?

Expectations can be burdensome. We face expectations of ourselves and others at work, in our free time, and even at home.

Perhaps where expectations project the most burden and stress is in our marriages. Viewing ourselves and marriage through the incorrect lens can create crippling circumstances, but even when all is right within our marriages and life can't seem to get any better, it's beneficial to be reminded that our marriages are not for our personal satisfaction. Marriage is an act of worship of a holy God.

We were honored to host pastor and author Paul David Tripp in August for Marriage Conference: What Did You Expect? During our four sessions together, Paul cemented the Gospel in our hearts and minds. He didn't preach marriage; he preached the Cross of Christ.

If you missed one of the sessions, or were unable to be with us, associate pastor Chad Cossiboom sat down with Paul for a conversation. Parts one, two, and three are below.

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Adopted Women's Conference

Posted in Adults, Caring  |  By Jordan Cox  |  Posted on Tue Apr 19, 2016

Adopted Women's Conference

“What I say won’t get you through the next week, but the stories of the ladies around you can get you through seasons.”

That’s a profoundly humble, startlingly self-aware statement from a guest speaker.

It’s what Lisa Harper told a room of 300-plus women last weekend during Adopted, Women’s Conference 2016.

One of those stories is Holli Parker.

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Gifted | Finding renewed purpose in selling art

Posted in Adults  |  By Rachael Milner  |  Posted on Tue Oct 13, 2015

Gifted | Finding renewed purpose in selling art

When you take yourself out of the race that the world of retail has created and instead rest in the reward of Christ with a selfless perspective, you'll be shocked at the difference it makes. Creating becomes an overflow of the heart and an act of worship.

For as long as I can remember, I've loved creating little pieces of something special to give to other people.

I made my mom countless "works of art" as a "birthday gift" every year for about ten years straight. I painted all of my closest friends canvases with Bible verses on them for graduation presents, and I even glued rocks on a piece of paper for my dad with the phrase "You Rock" one Father's Day.

That process of creating for a purpose - giving something you've created to someone you care for - it's a pretty great feeling.

Two years ago, I was able to sell some of my artwork at Gifted for the first time, and something just seemed to click. This was one of the first opportunities I had to sell for a purpose that was bigger than an individual.

A portion of the proceeds would go to benefit the Orphan Care Ministry at Shades. I began to see that I could take the gifts and abilities that God had given me a passion for and use them in a way to minister to and bless others. The thrill of each sale became less and less about the money I might make and more and more about contributing to a ministry.

There was a little bit of an anxious excitement in my process as I started to think about the products I could offer. I felt like in some small way, I was getting to use my work to live out James ‪1:27; and what a blessing to combine art, which I'm passionate about, with service, which I feel called to as a believer.


Let me just say, it changes your perspective. Each sale is no longer about the money you might make or the profit you get to see, it becomes about the blessing you might be able to pour out on some children who need homes and a loving family. Selling with a purpose really changed the way I work and brought to life Colossians 3:23-24 which says, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."

This verse became my prayer as I created products to sell.

Those hours I spent creating were intended to serve God and bless others, not boost my own pride or make my name known. When you take yourself out of the race that the world of retail has created and instead rest in the reward of Christ with a selfless perspective, you'll be shocked at the difference it makes. Creating becomes an overflow of the heart and an act of worship.

I found that I could sell a product without the pressure of approval or the need to compare. I wanted my products to bring joy to the buyer and glory to God.

Selling with a purpose changed the way I defined success.

One thing I never saw coming was the relief of comparison when you begin to create and sell to the glory of God. We can look to the right or the left and see half a dozen people doing the same craft we do and think, "Wow, they are so much more talented than I am..." or, "Man, if I could just create like she does..." But those thoughts do nothing to inspire creativity or encourage your work. Those are thoughts that the enemy tells us to discourage our process and put the focus on ourselves.

When we look to God, the ultimate Creator, and find inspiration and purpose from Him, our work becomes so much greater.

Our efforts become a direct reflection of the gifts He's given us. When you start to put those products out there for others to see, you don't have to feel insecure or worried about what others have to offer. You can trust that God will use your efforts and that your work can bring glory to Him.

Selling a product becomes less about you and more about obedience to Him. That is one of the greatest gifts I've experienced in this process over the past few years.

I would encourage anyone who has the gift of creating to consider selling with the purpose of blessing others and serving God. I have found such joy in combining my passion with a greater purpose, and I pray that God would receive glory for as long as I'm able to create.

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A Heart Restored | Laura Difatta

Posted in Adults  |  By Laura DiFatta  |  Posted on Wed Feb 18, 2015

A Heart Restored | Laura Difatta

"We've just gotten him stable, but he still may die."

Those were the only words the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit head physician spoke to us before she turned around and left the room. She and several other cardiologists and residents had worked on our nine-week-old son, Trent all night long to save his life. Twenty-four hours before, we had been living a normal life. Suddenly our normal had turned into a nightmare.

In May of 2010, we welcomed a healthy, nine pound and 11 ounce Trent— the youngest of three boys— into our family. We took him home and we all began acclimating to life with a newborn. We were exhausted, but happy

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Sandee Mogle Testimony

Posted in Adults  |  By Sandra Mogle  |  Posted on Tue Feb 17, 2015

Sandee Mogle Testimony

Sandee (Stephanson) Mogle grew up on the beaches of San Diego, CA. Her parents offered little moral guidance or love which led to a long string of boyfriends with no direction. Leaving college after a year, and the need to support her cute red convertible, Sandee set out in search of a job.

After graduating 'stewardess' school for the Pacific Southwest Airline, Sandee became an official stewardess. The standard uniform for PSA at that time was hot pants and boots! Life was basically carefree as she flew from one location to another. However her totally self absorbed life was leaving a wake of destruction and feelings of utter emptiness. During one particular flight lay-over, Sandee cried out to God "God, will I ever be happy? Will I ever have a husband who loves me and the family I crave?"

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