Friday, December 4, 2015

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Empty Nest

I know that this title seems a little strange, but read on and it will make sense :)   Today was a weird and emotional day.  Has anyone ever had one of those?  You know the kind where you are happy and sad at the same time?  Excited but reflective too?    Those are the kind of days that I am glad only come around every once in awhile!    By nature, I am a positive person.   So these are not my fun days!   But I thought it was poignant to share because I know that someone is dealing with similar things and it is always nice to know that you are not alone in what you deal with right? :)

As most of you know, I went through a divorce around 4 years ago.   My life was turned upside down and I found myself in very unfamiliar territory.   My son and I moved several states, I found myself at a new job, in a new place with some family but nobody else that I really knew.   I threw myself into making sure my son was good.  He was half way through his 8th grade year at the time.   He was my priority.  Making sure he was happy was sure to make me happy.  I fought my feelings of sadness, abandonment, rejection with telling myself that I had my priorities in the right place at the time.   I was being a good mom!   At least that was my thought process.   We had been in Fort Smith for about 5 months when I was doing a devotional one day and I felt the Lord clearly speak to me.

I felt Him tell me that I needed to be very careful.  That I needed to watch and NOT allow myself to be totally absorbed in just taking care of my son, or 4 years later, I would be dealing with the same issues all over again..feelings of sadness, abandonment, rejection, etc.    In other words, God was telling me to make sure that I was having a life as well!! :)

Today I took my son to a university for a college day.  Watching him listen as they described different aspects of college life, seeing the excitement on his face as he went in the bookstore to buy a sweatshirt, hearing him dream about his life away at school next year,  I began to have so many different emotions!    How real it is becoming that my time "raising" him is quickly coming to an end I will always be his mom, but my "responsibilities" are changing.     I thought of how proud I am of him and what a great young man he has become.   But I could not help but have thoughts about how he didn't really need me that much anymore.   That soon I would be living in my house alone.

I left him at the school overnight with his cousins and I came back home.   I sat on my couch and just stared at my Christmas tree.  I felt emotionally drained for some reason.  I began to think about how quiet my house was, would he really need me anymore?  Then all of the sudden, the words that I felt the Lord speak to me all those years ago came back to me!   I began to remind myself of the blessings that the Lord had put into my life the last few years.   God had brought us to a place that was not just good for my son, but also good for me!   He has blessed me with a great church, a great job, the most fabulous friends AND so much more.    Even though God had spoken the words to me years ago, they were very relevant to the moment!

I share this story because I thought it was important to remind you that God will always prepare your way.  He will speak to you if you will listen.   Sometimes, He tells us things that maybe do not make that much sense at the time that He shares it, but always becomes real to you when you need to hear it the most.   God spoke words to me almost 4 years ago, but not until today, did I really understand how relevant they are.    He is always there for us.  Always there preparing the way for us.  We need to remember that HE sees the big picture and knows what our futures hold.

If I would have allowed myself, I could have stayed on my couch today and felt very sorry for myself.  But God in His goodness and grace, gently reminded me that He had prepared me for such a time as this.  That He had filled my life with great blessings. That not only was He watching over my son and helping him to find his purpose for his life, but that He was there ready to continue using me and bringing new purpose to mine.

Sure my son still has to finish the rest of his senior year and will be at my house for another good 7 months or so, but God is so good that He doesn't wait to comfort and guide us until we really need it, but He steps in early to prepare us for the next chapter of our lives.   He has been with me step by step in this journey of life!   Today, He reminded me that He has no plans of going anywhere.   That seasons of life come and go and things will always change, but His love and purpose for us do not :)

In this thing called life with you!
April Phipps


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Me Versus Myself

I have never been your "normal" girl :)   I love super heroes, action movies, watching football, etc.   One of my favorite cartoons when I was younger was the Justice League.  I would wake up on Saturdays and watch through other cartoons just waiting for that one to come on.   I loved the episodes where Superman would fight his evil alter ego.   They would go to an alternate universe and everything that was good about Superman in his own world was just as evil about him in the bizarro universe.

Why God uses simple things like this to speak a spiritual lesson to me always amuses me!   He knows me pretty well :)      Recently I had been going through just a little personal funk of feeling lonely.   My only child is a Senior in high school and I am single.   As great as he is, and as much as he loves me, I am not the person that he wants to spend all of his time with :)    He reminds me of myself at the age so much.  Something felt wrong if I was home!!  I had to be running around all of the time.  

On one of these particular nights of being by myself and feeling lonely, I was flipping through the TV and a certain show was on and the person was fighting an evil version of themselves.  I began to feel the Lord speak to me through this.   (Yes, I knew that me paying for cable was a Godly thing!! :)  The Lord began to show me that our strengths are often our weaknesses as well.   That the very things that make us who we are tend to be the very same things that the enemy uses against us.    I have such a heart for people.  I am motivated by being around people, spending time with them, loving people who are lonely, speaking into others lives.   I have a hard time doing anything half way.  I tend to leap before I look so to speak.     So not surprisingly, I struggle with feeling alone, being lonely, feeling invisible at times, feeling like I love others more than they love me.

That got me to thinking about other people that I know.   I have a friend that was a giver!  He was the true definition of a servant.  We worked together at a church.   You could ask him to do anything and he would try to do it for you.   He was such a giver that he didn't really draw healthy boundaries now that I look back on it.   After a few years of working with him,  all of the sudden, I  started to notice subtle little changes in him.   He was never a complainer, but he started to grumble and feel used.    He started to say things like why do I have to be the one to always do this or why doesn't that other person ever have to be here.  He started to feel like he gave all of the time, but did not get back.    Before he knew it, he was fed up and stepped out of his position.  He became of a victim of his own making. 

I can name story after story of people who I know that struggle with things that are on one hand - the best thing about them and on the other hand - the biggest problem they have.   The enemy is so cunning.    He doesn't scream things in our face, he whispers them in our ears.    He takes a subtle negative thought and plants it deep and then slowly makes it grow with his innuendos and lies.    For example:   because I make it a point to check on people and spend time with people, etc.  When I a home by myself on a Friday night, I have thoughts like "wonder what my friends are doing?"  Before I know it, the devil has turned those questions into thoughts like "i never get asked to do anything" or "I have no one to talk to"  and even..."people only call me when they need something from me!" 

Is that the truth he is telling me?   For the most part, absolutely not!!  Of course there will always be people who don't give back and only think of themselves.  But I am THAT person sometimes too.    The real truth is that the devil is using me against myself.  He is trying to take the gifting and the personality that God has given me and make me feel like it is a burden not a blessing.  That I would be better off not loving because then I would not feel unloved.   BUT the Word of God tells us that greater is He that is in us than He that is in the world!!    God gave us special talents and characteristics because He needed us to be willing to be used by Him to help others!!

What is your strength/weakness?    Are you courageous so you fight feeling afraid?   Are you loyal so then the enemy fights you with feelings of distrust?   Are you like me and you love with all your heart and then you fight feeling like no one will ever love you back the same?   We all need to learn to develop "spiritual earmuffs".   When the devil tries to whisper, we need to shout God's praise.    When he tries to fool us with lies, we need to learn to preach the Truth!    When we are tired and weary in our journey, we need to learn to surround ourselves with others who can help carry us in the right direction.

We can be our own worse critics, we can be our own worse enemies.   We can be the very thing that keeps us from reaching the full potential that God has for us.  Or we can learn to shut the enemy out when he tries to pull us to our "dark side" and believe that God made us the way He made us, for a purpose bigger than ourselves. That our best is still ahead and that like the Justice League cartoons...Good always wins!!!

In this thing called life with you my friends :)

April Phipps

Friday, May 29, 2015

Did You See What I Did? :)

Luke 6:31-34The Message (MSG)

31-34 “Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that.

We have all heard the scripture do unto others as you would have them do to you.  I read this scripture in the Message Bible the other day and it began to make me think and I wanted to write a blog.  I really thought about this blog before I decided to go ahead and write it because I wanted to make sure that the thought in my heart was truly being conveyed and that I was not sounding like I was whiny or coming across as "poor me".   But I decided to go ahead with it because I just have to believe that I am not the only one who has dealt with what I am about to write!

Have you ever felt like you were giving and getting nothing in return?  Have you ever felt like you were there for everybody when they needed you but that the crickets were the only thing singing when you reached out?  I think we have all been there.   Trying to be Christian, trying to do what we think God would ask of us and feeling like we did it and no one cared or appreciated our effort. I have been a Christian most of my life and in the ministry for a majority of it.   I can tell you that the quickest way to lose your salvation is to lose focus of who you are really doing things for and who your true source is!

I would like to say that my time in the ministry has been nothing but roses, and that Christians have always acted ... well... like Christians :)   But let's be realistic; that world only exists in our imaginations and according to the cool Christmas commercials, Walgreens :)   The enemy is very cunning.  He often uses the things closest to our hearts to worm his way in.  We stand alert to the outside influences and we pray and stand strong against the big sins! So he gets to us by using our insecurities, our loneliness, our self esteem.  He convinces us that we are not appreciated.  He tells us that the Pastor doesn't even know our name, that we could miss 2 months and no one would actually notice. He cons us into believing that there are "favorites" in the church and that we do not fit into that exclusive group.   We get fired up in our "righteous indignation" and we end up changing churches or walking away from God altogether.    We allow our hurt feelings and our wounded spirits to dictate our actions.  We let our judgement become clouded by what we perceive as a slight or an offense.

You may say, "April how can you even know any of this?  You serve God.  You are friendly. You seem to have so many friends and know so many people!" I can say this to you because the enemy has tried to use this con on me so many times! He keeps a very accurate record down to the little details and he loves to show me the "movie" if I am willing to watch.   Some of April's greatest hits have included: "Look at all the years you gave to the ministry of Master's Commission.  How many of the leaders or former students have reached out to you in the last few years?" Others have included, "Hey April you gave your heart and soul to that church, has your former Pastor even checked in on you and CJ or cared about what became of you?"  He evens shows me mini-clips like, "Wow you check on that friend all the time! Look they are always going out with other people and never asking you!"

This may sound funny, but the truth is we are all susceptible to the lies of the enemy.   He loves to expose and take advantage of our generous nature, of our sensitive souls.  It is so easy to fall prey to the lies of the enemy because he has learned that subtle whispers work so good on God's people.  That they fall for them and they spread his lies without even knowing they are unwittingly being used by the person that they hate the most!   We lose sight of WHO we are doing things for and WHO the Source of our need is.   When you began to do things for the sake of a person, you will always be let down.   People were never meant to carry the burden of being solely responsible for the happiness and worth of another person. We are all on a level playing field. We are all imperfect, capable of making mistakes.  Mark it down. You will let someone down and be let down by someone. That's just how life goes.   

A trick I have found that is effective for me when I am facing these moments of feeling like I am invisible, that my efforts don't matter, etc. is to pour my time and my efforts into things that I may get no praise or recognition for. For example: God put a lady into my life about 2 years ago by the name of Zoey.  She is an elderly lady with limited mental and physical capabilities. Working with her is so trying because she will push your last nerve and never be satisfied with what you try to do for her.  Zoey will call me at all hours of the day and the night.  Most of this is because she is lonely and has no one and is alone in the world. She loves the Lord and quotes His Word to anyone who will listen. Most of the time, no one knows the times I talk to her, the things that I take to her, etc. but that is exactly why I do it! No one knows except God. :)

I use Zoey as my reminder. My reminder that I do what I do because it is what God has called me to do. That I live my life to please Him and Him alone. That He alone can provide the accolades and the security that I need.  He will never let me down or forsake me. I need to give because HE first gave.  We exercise forgiveness and patience with one another because we will need to be on the receiving end of that forgiveness and patience at any moment. We all need a "Zoey" to remind us that we don't give to get, we don't do to be recognized and that everyone deserves to know that God loves them!   

Don't let the enemy trick you and confuse you by causing you to question your heart and others motives. Don't let him fill your spirit with frustration and bitterness towards others.   Know your Source and do what you do to please Him and Him alone.  Find your "Zoey" to help keep yourself in check and know that when others may not see, He keeps the most accurate record around :)  

In this thing called life with you!! :) P.S. Meet my friend Zoey :)

April Phipps

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Heart Wants What It Wants

If you have ever read any of my blogs, you know that I primarily write from a place of personal experience.  I don't feel gifted enough or qualified to just write to write. I am not the most eloquent at expressing myself so I just keep it real..   This blog will be no different. This blog will be a little hard for me to write because it is very personal.   But if it will help someone else, it will be worth the transparency.

This is a blog about relationships.  Relationship is defined as the relation connecting or binding participants; a romantic or passionate attachment.   We all have different kinds of relationships in our lives.  There is the friendship kind, the family kind, the romantic kind.   Each of us are built to thrive on the relationships in our lives.  We need to feel connected.   Relationships can make or break us.  When they are good, they challenge us, accept us, love us unconditionally.   When they are bad, they compromise us, reject us and love us based upon what we can do for someone else.     We have all experienced both kinds.  You would think we would learn from one bad relationship, but often that is not the case.  Something in us craves the attention and affection from those who would withhold it from us or dangle it in front of us,  just out of our reach.

The enemy is very cunning.  He knows our weak spots.  He knows what our heart is crying out for and he often disguises bad in the form of something that we want.   I am reminded of the words of Proverbs 4:23 "Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." NIV.   Notice it does not say mind it says heart.   God knows that our heart is a powerful thing.   Most of us have big hearts, unless your the Grinch, and even his grew three sizes in a day! :)    I like the way the New Living Translation puts it "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life."   How many of us have been thrown off course in our life because of a relationship?

Relationships can speak healing to the hurting parts of us or they can take advantage of the same.    I have struggled with feelings of worth and rejection since my divorce.  I have felt loneliness in degrees that I have never known before.  I have wrestled with the reality that I could be alone the rest of my life and never know the feeling of being "wanted" again.  I know that God experiences this all with me and walks every step of this out with me.   But the enemy is also keenly aware of this weakness in me and he seeks to exploit it.  I am a confident person in most arenas of my life, except in this one.    Do you know that he is a master of camouflage?  That is an expert at the counterfeit.  He can throw something in front of you that seems to be so real, but it is at best a cheap knock off of what God would desire to give to you?

Recently I found temptation in front of me in the form of a relationship with someone that was not close to me.   This person would text me things that I so desperately wanted to hear.   The words would make me have the warm fuzzies!  Someone does think I am pretty! Someone could actually be attracted to me!!    How nice it was to be wanted…to hear those words about me!!   Things begin to be said that seemed to come straight out of a romance novel.  And I won't lie.   It felt good.   My bruised and hurting heart and ego were drinking it up like a person who had been stranded in the desert without water.  But there are lines that I have drawn for myself, lines I would not and will not cross.    Conversations began to turn more graphic in nature and I was being asked to participate in these conversations.   It was so tempting!!  I mean who would know?   Text messages could be erased.  Who would it hurt?    I deserved to be loved and desired don't I?   And I feel it is important to point out here, it takes TWO to have a relationship.    You have to engage to call it a relationship.    That is where your ability to choose is put to the test!!   But that is how the Devil does it, isn't it?    He creeps in and begins to make you start to justify things.   To compromise who you are..  To give a little to get something that you want.   That is not how God works.   True Love from God will never ask you to be something other than who you are.  It will never require you to give something to get something.  His love is given freely and without cost.  He paid the cost so we wouldn't have to!!  His love will not leave an empty gnawing feeling in your Spirit.  It will fill you up, not deplete you.  

And this is not just about romantic relationships.  Some of us have allowed ourselves to align ourselves with friends that we know are not good for us.     Friends who do not challenge us spiritually and who do not say anything when we compromise.   They are glad to allow us to "turn off" our conscious and just have fun!     Some of us have family members that are not good for us.   They are family and we love them but being around them does not edify us or pour anything of value into our lives.   Relationships can be building or they can be toxic!!    The thing about toxic relationships is the "poison" is usually "odorless and tasteless" and we have indulged so much that it hurts us before we even realize what is happening.

What are you doing today to guard your heart?   What relationships are you allowing to dictate the course of your life?  Further more, what kind of friend, family member or spouse are you?   Do you love unconditionally like Christ?  Are people better off for knowing you?   God desires that we all have great relationships in our lives.  The first and most important one that we can ever have is the one we have with HIM.  If we work on that one and we pour our hearts into knowing Him, we will be better equipped to have other relationships.  His love will guide our hearts, will give us the words to speak, will give us wisdom in our choices.    Having healthy relationships will heal the hurts, speak to the emptiness and loneliness and give us the courage to believe that God has even better for us!

Relationships are a part of life.  We will all experience some good and some bad.   But we have the power to choose the ones that we feed.   We decide which ones we allow access to our hearts.   Keep your eyes up and your guards on duty!   Your heart is worth protecting. After all it belongs to the King of Kings.  And He has great plans for it!! :)

In this thing called life with you my friends-

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Some "Rules" to Live By

I have been reflecting a lot lately on my life and ministry.  I think as you get older, you go through more of these times of self evaluation.    Sometimes it is hard for me to believe that I am 47 and that I have been in active full time ministry for over 25 years.    I remember when I was young and just getting started, I would hear people talk and say "back when I started in ministry,   this is how we did things."   Somehow I have now become "that person".    You know that one that can look back and feel justified in giving unsolicited advise because I have time and experience on my side :)

A saying I have often heard is the "more things change, the more they stay the same".     I often thought to myself what in the world does that even mean?  Well to me it is this.   Methods, fads and the culture of things will change, but the basic principles of life do not.   People will always be people.  They will do things that will shock you, disappoint you, surprise you and bless you.    We will all have our good days and our bad.    When the going gets tough, you will always see what people are really made of.   What matters most is that you find out what works for you and you stick with it.    You and you alone can decide what kind of person you are going to be.    I had the privilege to be raised by awesome parents who instilled great faith and values in me.   They spoke into my life often and were always encouraging me to go for what God had for me.    There are 4 basic life principles that I was taught that I have held onto and used for my personal and ministry life.  They have served me well, so I felt led to share them with you!

Rule #1 - Don't Seek Your Own Revenge.  Vengeance is God's.    
Romans 12:19 NLT says "Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the LORD."    He is way better at it and He will always be just where we will not.   Our human nature is prone to want to see people "get what they deserve!"   The only problem with this thinking is if God truly gave those who wronged us what they deserved, then He would have no option but to give us what we deserve when we wrong another.   God doesn't act impulsively, He acts righteously.   He knows how to deliver judgment with grace and mercy to correct a person instead of destroying them.

Rule #2 - Judge NOT lest YE be judged.
Matthew 7:1 NIV says ""Do not judge, or you too will be judged."    One thing that my dad used to always say when I would point my finger is "be careful about pointing your finger at someone.  One is pointing to them, but three is pointing back to you."   I used to get so aggravated because I thought that isn't fair!  I am pointing because the attention should be on them.  Look what they did!  But as I have gotten older, I realize that when I want to point out the flaw or problem with another I need to look into myself and make sure that I am not guilty of the same thing or worse.    Shining the spotlight on someone elses mistake never excuses your own.

Rule #3 - Touch NOT God's Anointed
I Chronicles 16:22 NASB says ""Do not touch My anointed ones, And do My prophets no harm."
How easy it is to sit from our spectator's seat and rate how we feel a pastor or a preacher is doing.  How easy it is for us to exercise grace and mercy in our own lives, but fail to extend the same to the man or woman of God.   We made the mistake a long time ago of putting God's Anointed on pedestals that they never asked to be put on.    It's easy to sit in an audience and criticize the way a Pastor handles the church or the way a Preacher delivers a Word.   Until we have walked even a half of a mile in their shoes, we have no right.   And the more you criticize and less you become involved, the stronger the negativity builds in your heart and spirit.    My parents emphasized this to me growing up.  We don't have to like a style or a method, we just have to agree on the message!   As a person in the ministry, I know that I will be held to a higher standard for what I say and do.    God chose to put them where they are.   He and He alone will deal with their words and actions.

Rule #4 -  Bless Those Who Curse You
Luke 6:28 NLT "Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you."  
Now this one is a tough one because it is so contrary to our human nature.  Who wants to bless someone who is a cursing them?? :)  I mean come on!   God blessed me with a quick wit.  Wasn't it so I could use it? hahahaha    It is so hard to keep your mouth closed when ill is being spoken of you or those you love.   But another valuable thing that I was taught was how to kill people with kindness.  Yes arguing and having a quick retort makes you feel better temporarily, but you have to live with the words that you have spoken.  When you let God fight your battles, chose to respond with a Christ like attitude, you can go to bed at night with peace in your heart and soul.    Words can be thrown out, but they are so very hard to take back!    And often by not responding to the "bait" that someone is throwing out to catch you and trip you up, they lose interest and move on.

These are just 4 of the many valuable lessons I have learned but they are the basics ones that have taken me through every phase of my journey so far.  They have served me well and never steered me in the wrong direction.   It is easy to write these down but not so easy to always practice them!  But then again…another lesson my parents taught me was….anything worth having is worth "paying for"  and if it was easy everyone would be doing it! :)

Now I am off to practice what I have just preached.  Help me Jesus! :)  Your friend in life…
April Phipps