20140423-Renee-SharingStories

She stood in front of the stove with her back towards me. Looking down at a glass dish filled with warm chocolate goodness, I watched Michelle slice 2×2 inch squares. Carefully, she cut them just the right size so each person could get at least one brownie.

Michelle is at our house almost every Monday night, usually at least an hour before everyone else arrives for the not-so-small small group my husband and I host. She helps me set out plates and napkins, forks and cups. She notices little things that need to be done and tasks I would never ask her to do — like putting dishes in the dishwasher, wiping crumbs off countertops, and slapping throw pillows against couch cushions to get rid of dog hair.

It feels like we’ve been friends for years, yet that night as I stood in my kitchen watching her cut brownies, I realized …

Although I’ve known Michelle for several months, I don’t {really} know her.  Yet, I want to.

I want to know where she grew up, and if she has brothers or sisters.

I want to know what she likes to do with her kids on the weekends.

I want to know why her eyes well up with tears during small group when we talk about God being our Father.

I want to know what she means when she refers to “her past” or “what she’s been through” as though I know the details … because I don’t.

Yet, I want to. I want to know her story.

I knew there was a risk in asking her. I had no idea what Michelle would say, or if she would tell me anything. I didn’t know if we had enough time, but I knew we had extra time that night since group was starting later.

I knew there was a risk in not asking her.  If I did not ask, she wouldn’t know I’m interested in all the pieces of her life that make her the woman she is today. Her past had shaped her, and I sensed in some ways it had also shattered her. Yet I wondered…

What if God has us together in this season of our lives because we need each other?

What if there is something He wants us to do together, but we can’t until we know each other?

The only way we’ll see the common themes of our lives, and the crossroads of our passions, is in the sharing of our stories.

When Michelle finished slicing brownies and turned to put them on the counter near me, I met her eyes with mine.  Tripping over my words like a kid wearing new shoes that are too big, I awkwardly told her: I’d love to know more of your story.

She took a deep breath.

I couldn’t tell if she was suspicious or surprised by my interest. Later she said she just wasn’t used to being pursued. Sought out. Listened to.

She told me there was too much to tell, and she didn’t know where to start. So I asked a few easier-to-answer questions. Little by little she let her guard down, adding details to parts of her story I knew, and other parts I was hearing for the first time.

I listened, nodded, identified and affirmed.

That day we – Michelle and I – shared our stories, and in doing so we shared our lives. We invited each other into the pages of where we had been, which helped us understand how we both got to where we are now. We discovered we had a lot more in common than we realized.

There’s something about sharing our stories that ties our heartstrings tightly together.

It’s only been a few months, yet Michelle’s friendship is becoming one of my closest. It’s impacted us so deeply, we’ve decided to host our first-ever (in)RL gathering this weekend for the other women in our small group. We’ve invited them to come, to share their stories and to share more of their hearts and their lives with us.

Are you hesitant or not sure where to start when sharing your story? Why not try it out on me? I’d love to hear your story (or part of it) today. 

Here are some optional story-prompts to help with the “Where do I start?”question:

  • If you could go back 10 years, and tell your 10-years younger self something, what wisdom or advice would you share?
  • Where did you grow up, and what is one of your funniest or favorite childhood memories?
  • When was the first time you heard about God? What did you hear and how did it impact you then, and now?
  • Who are the main characters in your life and how much one-on-one time do you get to spend with each of them each week, each year?

If you’re already comfortable sharing your story, maybe there is a “Michelle” in your life God wants you to pursue.

Hosting or attending an (in)RL meet-up this weekend? There’s still time to register! We’d love to have you join us.

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  • http://walkingwellwithgod.blogspot.com Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God

    Renee,
    Wow, what to say…mine is a story of God lifting me out of the slimy pit of OCD and depression and giving my feet a firm rock on which to stand. He put a new song in my heart and it is my prayer that others will “see and be in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.” This is just one part of my story, but like most of us who dare to share our stories, we do find that we have more in common than perhaps we first believed. The common thread, I’ve found, is that God’s faithfulness is always right there in the middle of our pain, holding us tenderly and bringing us through. We NEED to share our stories, because it is the “bringing us through” part that gives others who are struggling hope…and we all desperately need hope. Thanks so much for encouraging us to share!
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Oh Bev. I love so much about what you have shared. {{This}} gives us courage when we’re afraid of the telling: “The common thread, I’ve found, is that God’s faithfulness is always right there in the middle of our pain, holding us tenderly and bringing us through. We NEED to share our stories, because it is the “bringing us through” part that gives others who are struggling hope…and we all desperately need hope”

      thank you for being brave and letting His grace be such a beautiful part of your story!

  • http://christanperona.com Christan Perona

    A friend and I are working through Dan Allender’s To Be Told. We get together every month or so to read through our responses to that month’s writing prompt. My goodness, I wish I had time to do this with every friend because this woman and I know each other so deeply. It’s such a gift for our growing friendship… it’s such a gift to myself. To know and be known…

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Yes. To know and be known. Isn’t that what we long for?? Ahh, yes.

      I love that you and a friend are reading through “To Be Told” together. What a gift that must be. I’ve had that book for years, but haven’t read it yet. You’ve given me a great reason to get it off the shelf this week. Thank you for sharing.

      • Sabrina

        so afraid of that “to be known” part :(

  • http://robindance.me Robin Dance

    Oh, Renee…

    THIS is such a wonderful post leading into our (in)RL weekend! It demonstrates so many lovely qualities about YOU and lets us see behind your eyes just a bit. You’ve articulated beautifully why telling our stories to someone matters, but more importantly, TO ASK FOR THOSE STORIES of another!!

    Ten years ago we moved to a new city/state where we knew no one. Because I’m an outgoing person, I thought it would be easy to engage new relationships. We made some pivotal choices that really hurt us…and community was elusive. Such an odd thing, but I’m convinced God wanted us to walk the desert we had for a reason–our good and His glory. I’m still recovering from this void, from so many voids; but I trust those challenging relational times can be redeemed.

    Love this (and thanks for asking ;) :) ).

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Oh {{Robin}} that’s a bloggy hug. My heart is with yours. When we moved to Charlotte 19 years ago, I knew no one. I felt so invisible. So lonely. So unknown and un-needed. Everyone seemed to already have their friendship gap filled. I had acquaintances but it took years to develop friendships. And it was so very.very.very hard.

      Thank you so much for your encouragement this early morning. And for vulnerably sharing your story with me. Heart-strings with you already. :)

    • Kate

      Nine years ago, I remarried after a long term, (20 years), marriage, that ended in divorce. Although I did not relocate, except to my new husbands home, I suffered many, many losses. I changed churches, lost my job and all the community-related relationships associated with it; my mom died one month after the remarriage, just to name a few. There were just so many losses and here I am today, still trying to find girlfriend relationships at 59 years old. Life has been very difficult, and very lonely. Slowly, The LORD has been restoring small bits of my life, but I find it a real struggle to live joyously every day. My husband is a good man, but not like a girlfriend. Nor, do I expect him to be. Like Robin, I have always been very outgoing. That has helped me to create acquaintances, but the deep friendship you are talking about is rare and does take real investment. I do know that the LORD brought me into my marriage and all this to make me into the woman he wants me to be, but some days the pain is unbearable. This just may be one of them. So happy I opened the email from Renee. Blessings!

      • Jennifer

        Hang in there, Kate! I moved back to my childhood home nearly 4 years ago after being away 30 years to find all my friends had their lives and family and not room for something new…or renewed. I have been dating a gentleman and know it’s God sent and I started going to his church. I know no one. He has two children and I find sharing my life story with them helps them open up. Still not like having that/those deep friendships, and what I am learning is that this time is meant to develop that closer relationship with Christ. I’ll keep you in my prayers and ask that the ‘miracle’ of that one really good girlfriend is right around the corner! Blessings!

        • Kate

          Thank you so much. You have no idea how this encourages me. God is so good and faithful; I know.

      • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

        Sweet Kate. What you are feeling is very real and so understandable. You’ve been through a lot. I’m praying tonight that God will bring a friend into your life – in the same season of life – who needs a friend too. Im asking Jesus if there is a “Michelle” who might be praying for a friend and that you would be the answer to her prayer – and she to yours!

        • Kate

          Thank you, Renee. I so enjoy you and appreciate your ministry. I will pray for God’s protection on you and your family.

      • Barbara Prince

        I’ve lived in the same town all my 67years and I still don’t have a close friend. Lots of people I know, but none that I’m close to. I chose to marry a “loner” who doesn’t like people that much. He has become a little more outgoing the past few years, but years of pain have left me very unsure of myself.

        So, my advice is take that step out to find a friend. Even if you fail, keep trying. God does have someone for you to share a friendship with. Go for it while there is time!

  • http://www.crystalstine.me Crystal

    I think too many of us relate to Michelle – not used to someone asking, pursuing, listening. And I’m too often stuck thinking of all the things I’d like to know about someone but too afraid to ask. Thank you for this boost of encouragement & bravery today!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      YOU pretty lady have so much to offer in your asking and the gift of you encouraging. Im so grateful for you, and how you’ve made me feel pursued and loved at (in)courage.

  • http://www.eileenknowles.com Eileen

    Love this! I am passionate about story….both sharing my own and hearing other folks share theirs. It’s what binds us together. I share my story on my blog and have been doing so for nearly 5 years. I hope to inspire others and continue to learn and grow the way God wants me to learn and grow by opening up and letting others in. Thanks for writing this

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Eileen, I love that “story” is part of your story :). Thank you for your encouragement this morning! Feeling loved and so welcomed at (in)courage by new friends like you.

  • http://www.lisajobaker.com Lisa-Jo

    You and brownies and real talk about real friendship? Sounds like a little slice of heaven to me!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      It truly felt like a slice of heaven. I love you and your affinity for chocolate and community!

  • Kelly Evans

    I love this, Renee.

    On Monday nights I sit around a beautifully decorated table (thanks to Jillian) and share life with my 5 “Jesus friends”. That is what my 3 year old would always say to me as I was leaving the house on Monday nights, “Mommy are you going to see your Jesus friends?”. The ladies loved it so much we now refer to ourselves as “the Jesus friends”. Prior to this group of ladies I really did not have any Christian girlfriends. This community has proven so valuable in my life and I can’t imagine my life without them. I do still feel like we are peeling back the layers of really {knowing} each other and the questions listed will be great conversation starters.

    Love your thoughtful words, Renee.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Kelly, I love that you have a time each week to gather with your “Jesus Friends” and share your hearts and your lives. What a beautiful gift you must be to each other. Thank you for sharing that idea with us all. :)

  • http://narrowpathstohigherplaces.com Alia Joy

    I love this. Sometimes we just need to go first, asking the questions and sharing our stories. Sometimes we just need to give someone permission to take the floor and share their lives without feeling like they’re taking up too much time or talking about themselves too much. I think especially for those who feel their story isn’t one people have taken the time to listen to or care about. It’s so validating to be seen and heard and gathered in. And I’ve found the biggest blessings connecting to people I thought I’d have nothing in common with. God likes to surprise me. Best wishes for your meetup and for your blossoming friendships.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Oh I love what you said Alia Joy: “Sometimes we just need to go first.”

      So good, yet sometimes so hard. I want to be a woman who “goes first” when it comes to kindness, pursuing, listening, inviting. Thank you for that nugget to carry in our hearts today.

  • http://aheartlikehers.com Melanie

    My story : I’ve been the prodigal daughter. I married when I was 15, had my first son at 16 and 3 years later I became a widow. 15 years later I have been through 3 more marriages, and became the mother to two other beautiful children. I’ve done things I never thought I could or would ever do. I had an affair in my 3rd marriage, which is something I have had so much guilt and shame over and questions of how I let myself do that, but the grace of God has carried me through that and forgiveness and healing have taken place. I just recently went through another break up that has devastated me, yet I had prayed that if this man wasn’t to be in my life for God to remove him. And He did, very swiftly. Throughout all my mistakes, I have known the Lord, yet I have never been intimate with Him. Mercifully, He has never given up on me. I am in the process of searching my soul, searching my past, and asking the Lord to reveal to me why I give so much of myself to others, specifically men. I am 34 years old, and just now really figuring out who I am. Months ago I turned all my focus and attention to Him, I felt a stirring in my spirit, my desire to know Him in an intimate way started burning like never before. I was living in sin, yet I was pushing through. I started a blog, I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I craved reading His Word and I prayed constantly. For the first time in my life I felt closer than I ever had, and my living situation with my boyfriend became very uncomfortable to me. I knew what I had to do, so I approached him with either we get married or you have to move out. He asked me to marry him. And over the course of a month, talked about our marriage more than I did. Yet when it came down to a week before, he couldn’t do it. Over the past month this has been my biggest battle. I don’t think I’ve hurt this much since my first husband died. I believe it is spiritual, because just when I get over things, just when I start focusing on God healing my heart in this situation, he shows up or calls. It is unhealthy and I know this. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
    So here I am, that’s my summarized story, but there is so much more. Which is why I started blogging, but lately, I can’t even write. So I ask you all to pray for me. Thanks for letting me share.

    • Shannon

      Praying for you, Melanie!

      • http://aheartlikehers.com Melanie

        Thank you Shannon!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Oh Michelle, I wish I could sit across the table and listen with my eyes, as well as my heart. Jesus is redeeming you. I hear it in your beautiful brave telling. He is pursuing you. He is crazy in love with you. And I wonder if somehow in this broken place with your fiance, He maybe somehow protecting you. My heart has been crushed by the rejection of a man. My first Christian-love, after giving my heart to Jesus when I was in my twenties, asked me to marry him twice and changed his mind both times.

      Lord, thank You that {in Christ} Michelle is chosen, holy, and dearly loved. She is a crown of splendor in your hand. Will you comfort her hurting heart with the promise that You will never leave her or forsake her. In Jesus’ name, amen.

    • Sabrina

      Melanie, our stories are different but have so so many similarities. I am facing the end of my fourth marriage and crying out to God to fill the void that has been there all of my life. I need Him to fill the void that has caused me to make so many bad choices, to fill the void that He created in me that only He can fill. My heart and my love reaches out to you and hugs you with the love of Christ. Daily I am learning to let Jesus be lover of my soul and I pray that you will find comfort in Him too.

  • Carrie Smith

    I love the encouragement to pursue someone’s story. Yes, it is always good to listen, but that doesn’t mean we have to wait until they start. Sometimes a little prompting can go a long way. Thank you for sharing and I hope you have a blessed and replenishing weekend!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Thank {you} Carrie. I’m so glad I didn’t wait for Michelle to share. I have found out {since then} that she’d been hurt and given up on friendships with women. Only Jesus knew.

  • http://tlmashburn.wordpress.com Tammy Mashburn

    April 2, 2014

    WEEDS & IDOLS

    I recently picked up a book titled “Love Idol-Letting go of your need for approval and seeing yourself through God’s eyes” by Jennifer Dukes Lee. As I was reading the book, I didn’t realize I was building my own “love idol”, or at the very least bemoaning something I had lost.

    You see, for many years I was a runner. I was a runner with a runner’s physical body that comes from dedication, consistency and endurance. I loved to run. I loved my runner’s body (that should have set off an alarm or two) and how I could push my body. I loved the camaraderie of running with my friends, long runs, the early morning alarm, and all of the challenges that came with it.

    And then the morning came on January 19, 2013 when I literally fell on my face at mile 2 in a half-marathon. Life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt and hasn’t been the same since.

    After months of tests, symptoms upon symptoms and finally near incapacitation, I was diagnosed with P.O.T.S. or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Long story short, my brain does not communicate with my heart and your body does not retain salt, which stabilizes your blood pressure. P.O.T.S. is a debilitating disease without a cure. It requires salt tablets, beta-blockers, blood pressure medication and drinking lots of Gatorade.

    Now, back to Idols and Weeds. By now you may have an idea where I am headed with this.

    It has been eighteen months since I last ran or exercised at all. Today I am blessed to bathe and dress myself, and a 10-12 minute walk is now my personal marathon. Needless to say by now my runners physique has long since disappeared, hence the “bemoaning”. Meanwhile I am reading a book titled “Love Idols”…hmmm.

    Here is where this story gets good! I sat down this morning with my Bible, Jesus Calling devotional (which I’ve been using 4+years), notebook and coffee. The first scripture I read is Psalms 115:4-8. My study Bible sums it up like this “Whatever glory and power the false gods are thought to have, they are figments of human imagination and utterly worthless.” I glance to my right and see my “Love Idol” book and began to write in my notebook confessing to God I realize I have built an idol, not of what I have but of what I don’t have, that body. I want to share with you what I wrote:

    Lord, help me to give up this “love idol”, my body, my weight, the changes in how my clothes fit, how it looks today verses a year and a half ago. Help me Father to embrace my body as it is today. Don’t let these thoughts consume me and when they come, turn my mind and heart back to You. Together, Lord we can tear down this idol!

    I open up my Jesus Calling devotional and began to read where God plants His Peace in the garden of our hearts and yet we allow the “weeds” of pride, worry, selfishness, and unbelief grow as well and I realize I need to do a little weeding, ok a lot of weeding, myself in the garden of my heart.

    Tammy L. Mashburn

    • Bonnelle

      Wow… thank you for sharing this… In reading your words I see where I too have my own “love idols” and how the “weeds” became a big distraction that stole the Peace of God from my heart & life. Now in the weeding phase He has me in there are gaps & holes that need to be filled with His love & grace so that once again the fragrance of His Peace will be more evident in the garden of my heart.

      Thank you…

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Tammy, thank you SO MUCH for taking time to share such vulnerable yet oh-so-valuable insights and sharing with us what God’s showing you. I {{{LOVE}}} Jennifer’s book Love Idol, too.

  • http://donnabostick.wordpress.com Donna B

    From fear to faith to forgiveness! Thank you for sharing your story with me through “A Confident Heart”. It is a life and heart changer for me. Love ya!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Donna, so blessed to watch the way He’s worked through your story ~ such an amazing picture of His grace and redemption!

  • http://jjdevotionscafe.com Jeaneen

    This is how I felt about knowing/getting to know Jesus. He’d been ‘around’ in my life for a while (growing up in a Christian family) and then one day it was like.. I don’t know Him, know Him. And I wanted to. So thank you for sharing this. I can’t exactly tell you how it helped & encouraged, but I can feel it did something inside. So thank you. Please if you have a moment, check out my blog’s about page to read a bit about my story. (www.jjdevotionscafe.com). Thanks again for this. :)

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Jeaneen, your note touched my heart in a deep way. For so many many years, I knew about God but I didn’t {know} Him. And I didn’t realize how deeply He knew me. I pray that stirring and sense of something happening in your heart will continue and lead you to seek Him more and more today. And if I get a chance I’ll hop over to your blog too :).

  • http://realfaithgirls.blogspot.com Miss Rachel P.

    Thanks so much, MIss Renee for your prompting encouragement, not only to brave opening up and sharing our own stories, but in stepping out and sharing in other’s stories as well! :D This is something that’s become very close to my heart in the last years, as I’ve gotten to know more young women online and through writing. But I still need work in those getting-to-know-you area’s, so this excites and encourages me to make sure I’m taking steps to overcome my shyness and make new friends so perhaps the Lord could open up some doors in encouraging other young women. :)

    Just absolutely loved this post!
    Thank you, and God bless!
    ~Rachel~

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      I love that Rachel. Love how you are feeling {and responding to} God’s nudge to take steps to overcome shyness and make new friends He can open up doors for you to encourage other young women. I can tell that your heart would be such a gift to each of them.

  • http://www.wendyblight.com Wendy Blight

    Thank you for sharing your story… and hers today. I pray it will give all of us the courage to enter gently into the life of another and listen…listen with listening ears and a loving heart. You are living out God’s call to LOVE our neighbors. You have made it come alive. That love takes time and investment. It takes being authentic and real. Words that describe you perfectly, sweet friend!! May God begin many new conversations today because of your obedience to listen to His still small voice!

    Love you,

    Wendy

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Thank you for your sweet encouragement Wendy. Your words mean so much!!

  • K. A.

    I don’t understand why people would want to hear my story, so I don’t tell it. I’m still living it, after 2 years of praying for it to change, and it doesn’t. I don’t feel like I’m anyone special, even though the bible says so. It’s easy for me to tell people what the bible says about them, but I have a hard time claiming it for myself. I don’t have a story of redemption or overcoming, it’s a story of how I fail over and over again. Thank God for loving me anyway.

    • Susan K

      “Clearly God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was based not on his obedience to God’s law, but on a right relationship with God that comes by FAITH. If God’s promise is only for those who obey the law, then faith is not necessary and the promise is pointless. So the promise is received by faith. It is given as a free gift. And we are all certain to receive it, whether or not we live according to the law of Moses, if we have faith like Abraham’s. Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping-believing that he would become the father of many nations. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his FAITH grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. And because of Abraham’s faith, God counted him as righteous. And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in Him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. Because of our FAITH, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God LOVES US, bcause He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” Romans 4:13-25, 5:1-5.

      K.A., your ‘story’ is how God loves you no matter what and that HE thinks you are someone special. And you are. You don’t need heart-warming or -saddening stories of redemption or overcoming in order to tell your story. God is with you, has been and always will be BECAUSE you are His special disciple. Even through ‘failures’ He is with you. Listen online sometime to Mandisa’s “He Is With You”… and “Your Grace Finds Me” by Matt Redman. I mean, really LISTEN to them. I have, as reminders, and they lift my heart when it is in the gutter. And it feels like it is there a LOT.
      Your ‘story’ may just be entwined with your own unique spiritual gift, and we each have them. Look, seek, keep praying. God is with you. God always loves you. God will never fail you.
      Believe it.
      Blessings and prayers for you,
      Susan K

      • K. A.

        Thanks Susan. It’s easy to hear, less easy to believe.

        • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

          K.A., I have a feeling Michelle would say that she’s felt just like you. She didn’t feel worth knowing. Worth listening to. Her story doesn’t have a happy ending or middle – even now. But you are both worthy of being known.

          I understand why that is hard to believe. You are hurting and frustrated. I hear it in your words. But I just want you to know or hear again – you are {{loved}}. You are a child of GOD. He loves you. Again and again and again.

        • Susan K

          Yes, agreed. Very easy to hear AND say, less easy to truly believe it. But it is so true, and you are SO loved by our Father in Heaven. And if He can love you no matter what, then please start with a mustard seed-sized thought that you plant in your head and heart that you ARE worthy, loved and lovable, and then water and ‘fertilize’ it a little bit at a time to let it grow and grow and grow. Give it a try. God wants you to love yourself–we will never be able to love ourselves as much as HE loves us, but you are His and that gives you worth right from the start. Then it grows from there! Let it grow!! You are loved. Oh, how you are loved, K.A.!

  • Susan K

    Finding my way back… finding my way. Raised in a Christian household, which gave me the basics but then burned out by the materialism, I walked away. Not from God, but from church for periods of time. First marriage God gave me my son, second marriage God gave me my inner strength as an abused wife, third marriage is my gift from God. Many moves later, I felt God pulling at my heart even stronger. Be still and listen, Susan…we have always talked, He and I, but this was different. He helped me find another church, then we moved again through His grace and wisdom. Now a new place and in a year, the draw is strong. I pray daily that He will make sure that I only hear HIS voice and bring Him glory. Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, This Is The Way; Walk In It… my other mantra: Let Go, Let God (I carry a prayer card with it on it to remind myself Who is really in charge now). So I am making my way through Lay Ministry, the love of the wonderful people of the congregation, the love of my husband, and most importantly, the love of my God, who is showing me His way is SO much better. And, THIS time, I am listening. Thank you for this opportunity, and blessings to all.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      I loved reading your story Susan. Thank you for sharing the process of learning to listen more and more. I love how He’s given you such a deep desire to hear Him above all the other voices. Beautiful.

  • http://www.OnAMissionFromGod.com Eve

    my story…

    I grew up without faith. We did not pray or attend church and I thought (back then) that Christianity was pretty silly. Fast-forward to 2002: I met a Christian man who loved, honored and respected me. Steve knew I was not a Christian, but he must have seen something in me that he thought was valuable. We married and had, honestly, an amazing life filled with love and laughter. He was good to me and my daughter (from my first marriage).

    He wanted us to attend church and I wanted to please him. So, we checked out many churches in our area. None of them fit and I saw little to like. Then, we were invited to attend a new-ish church. As soon as we walked through the doors, it felt like home! A really loving, spiritual home. About six months later, both my daughter and I accepted Christ as our personal savior and were baptized. Steven was so happy!

    Two years later, Steve and I felt called to move permanently to Costa Rica and mission there. This was a pretty amazing thing for me to embrace, being a newbie Christian! But that is what we felt God was calling us to do and we agreed to step out in faith and do it. We put the house on the market and started selling everything we owned.

    In February of 2011, we were having trouble selling the house (imagine THAT!). So, I convinced Steven to go down to Costa Rica ahead of me and “get our new life started.” I put him on an airplane and away he went. We just didn’t anticipate how far he was going. You see, Steve died the night that he arrived in Costa Rica. Yep – a heart attack in his sleep and died completely peacefully.

    WHAT???!!!! “But God!” I cried “How could you do this when we were so faithfully following the path that you had shown to us?” I later came to accept it all and find grace and (some) understanding of how it all worked out.

    Three years later, I lead a weekly Ladies Life Group for my church (most recently studied Renee’s book “A Confident Heart”). I also have created and lead a faith-based widow support group and am very active in widow support groups nation-wide. In addition to all my widow and church activities, I am writing a book to share my testimony of faith. I am an out-spoken witness to the love of God and the saving grace of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ!

    The one thing I want to share about my story is this: I have only been a Christian for 5 years and have completely and totally devoted my life to Christ. If I can step out in faith and do some crazy, amazing things that I never dreamed possible – then anyone can! You don’t have to have any special skills or gifts. God can use you right where you are…

    Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” NLT

    Yes, I would not choose to be widowed at 46 years old, but God has shown me how to turn a tragedy into opportunities to bring disconnected people to him and glorify His holy name. That is my story and my testimony of faith.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Wow Eve. I am just getting a chance to read your story. It left me speechless, at first. I am amazed by your courage, your faith, your trust in the heart of Your Savior. You have surrendered what most of us would have clung to – questions, doubts, fears and loss. And in that surrendering God has brought purpose to your pain and a beautiful story of hope and redemption. Thank you so much for sharing it with me – with us.

      • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

        Ps. And Im just putting the pieces together that you are the Eve I met at Lifeway Bookstore book signing. :)

        • http://www.OnAMissionFromGod.com Eve

          Yes. That’s me! My Ladies Life Group from Next Level Church has just completed studying your book “A Confident Heart” and we all loved it and got so much out of it. Thank you for writing such a God-centered, wonderfully uplifting book. I think we are all a little more God-fident now! ;-)

          Also, several of us are interested in visiting Transformation Church because we have heard what an amazing teacher your Pastor Derwin Gray is. Sometime soon, I think…

  • Chris K.

    Well, my story starts out with a father who was never there for me growing up. He was physically there at times but never emotionally or spiritually. I never could seem to please him or be enough. My parents didn’t have a very good relationship. I never saw them hug, kiss or tell each other “I love you”. When I was 16 my parents divorced and my brother, sister and I lived with my mom. I had to switch schools part way through my junior year of high school, which was devastating to me. I’ve always been very shy and had a hard time getting close to people and making friends, not to mention the school was twice the size of my old school. My mom had to work 2 sometimes 3 jobs to support all of us and I became very lonely. I soon started to try and get love and attention in anyway I could, which lead to me becoming sexually active. I became pregnant and was kind of through pressure and guilt from my mom and a counselor was forced to get an abortion. After that I felt so empty and alone. I deeply regretted that choice. I then at times was trying to get pregnant. I met another guy and right after graduation we moved in together and I got pregnant. We had two sons together and we eventually married several years later. It was a very unhealthy and controlling marriage and he was unfaithful on numerous occasions and we divorced about a 1 or so later. I lived as a single mom for 2 1/2 years and then I met my current husband. He also was a single parent of two boys. We moved in together and I got pregnant with our daughter. After giving birth we started going to church and we both were saved within the same week. We got married 16 years ago and went on to have three more children. So we have a large blended family of 8 children. Our marriage has been very rocky over the years. Having a blended family and dealing with ex spouses is never easy but when the family is as large as our it is even harder. Right now we have 4 children at home yet and our marriage is in grave danger. My husband has given up and has emotionally walked out on our marriage and also kind of walked away from God. God has been helping me these last few years and I know that I would not have been able to do any of this without Him. He is still working on me to trust Him, which I struggle with due to my past experiences. I find it hard to trust men and since we look at God as a Father, I’ve struggled with trusting Him. But I rest on the promise that He will continue the work He started in me. Thank you, I feel I really needed to share that because like I said earlier I have a hard time connecting to people and allowing people to really know we. So thank you for giving me a safe place to take this step of being transparent. God Bless!

    • Alice Redmond

      Chris,

      Hang in there! God gives us a lot so that we DO learn to trust Him – totally and completely. Although very little of our stories are the same, I do know what it is to live for years in a marriage that you never know from one day to the next is going to survive or not. But, God is GOOD! My hubby and I have been married for 32 years – and honestly, more than half of that was on the rocks! (And not THE ROCK). Finally, after both of us coming to a place of extreme pain were we able to re-build our marriage – this time on THE ROCK! No more lip service here, the only, ONLY way we are still together is because of Christ.

      I will be praying for you and your hubby – marriages CAN be rebuilt!

    • Susan C

      Chris;
      Wow part of your story sounds a little like mine. You see my husband has also spiritaully given up on our marriage. I am working every day and praying everyday that he will come around again. I for years didn’t understand what he meant that I was disrespecting him, until I read Love and Respect by Dr. Emerson. WOW my eyes were opened. I am now trying to rebuild that respect he so despertly needs, while waiting on the Love I so desperatly need and want from him. God brought us together for a reason 18 years ago, for that I am Certain without a doubt.
      But I am having to learn to respect my husband and stop trying to lead the home. God is good, I just have to remind myself that it’s on His terms, not my own, nor can I make things happen on my own, it has to be His time. Hugs and Prayers!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      thank you for letting us into those hard and hurting places with you Chris. Im praying for you tonight. For Jesus to wrap you in His arms of comfort, assurance, peace and strength. Praying for your husband’s heart to turn back towards home and towards you but most of all towards God. Praying for healing and restoration for your marriage. In Jesus name, amen.

  • Chris K.

    Eve,

    Thank you for sharing your story. My heart breaks for your loss. But I have been encouraged by your faithfulness to God and your passion to serve Him disspite the loss you sustained. Thank you for encouraging me to keep walking with God and doing what He is calling me to do disspite my circumstances. May God Bless you !

    • http://www.OnAMissionFromGod.com Eve

      Thank you, Chris. I am “On A Mission From God” to inspire Christians and non-Christians to develop and deepen their relationship with God. …And, that is actually the title of the book that I am writing and my website.

      If you are interested in more details of my story, some excerpts from the book or my Blog, please visit my website= http://www.OnAMissionFromGod.com
      There is also information about my widow support group “A Widow’s Walk.”

      In Faith-
      Eve

  • http://trendingmama.com Marisa Slusarcyk

    This was actually a good writing prompt for me today so I took it over to my blog and answered the questions about my story. I would love it if y’all would hop on over and get to know me. I love getting to know everyone over here!

    http://trendingmama.com/story/

    God bless!
    ~Marisa

  • Alice Redmond

    Thanks, Rene, for bringing up the issue of not really knowing who are friends are inside; just over a year ago we moved to a new home in a completely different state, a place where we knew no one but felt led to; my hubby has always been able to make friends easily and has always had lots of them. I am just the opposite – I have had very few friends in my life and do not make friends easily. Well, in our new home, I have more friends that I’ve ever dreamed of – real friends, people I can call in the middle of the night if I need to – and have forced myself to get real with these friends that God has placed in my life. What a difference!

    I pray that everyone would find truth in your words!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Good for you Alice!! I love hearing about ways women are connecting in authentic community and friendship. I pray we all build those kinds of friendships!!

  • pam

    Renee,

    I’m a 58yr old “child” of Christ and truly overwhelmed by his love. As a wild child of the 70’s, my life has been an adventurous one. In amongst all my adventures I lived selfishly in the fact I really have never known how to love anything or anyone, least of all myself. It has always amazed me as to how people with so little self worth, will in desperation, live their lives as if the world revolves only about them. I was most definitely one of those people. I have not been able except through the love of Christ, to love unconditionally. For me to love freely meant I had to first accept I was loved.
    I was baptized in my 40’s and that is when life began for me. I knew I was saved but for many years to follow I would frequent back to the many years of my self inflicted, self loathing and self bondage. But praise God for his mercy. My growth in him I compare to the peeling of an onion. By one slimy, stinky layer at a time he is exposing the heart and soul of my matter in his own. Today I accept totally and I hope graciously his love. I weep tears of joy in the fact the only condition now I self impose, when it comes to loving myself and others, is that with such a gift of grace comes much responsibility to continue to grow in Christ and share.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      I love how you share where you are in your story… “Today I accept totally and I hope graciously his love.” The best chapter of all. Keeping letting HIm love you and love others through you. His affections seep through your words.

  • Jessica Lee

    Renee,
    I feel so excited that I came across this post today, & found the incourage community! To think that someone would want to know my story… that’s pretty new for me, & really amazing. Like everyone else, my story is complicated; it has many layers, & plenty of starts & stops. It begins with a little girl who has known who Jesus was for as long as she could remember. She has a mother she adores, a big sister she would do anything to be, & a father whose love she would give anything to have. From that little girl, she became a teenager with no connection whatsoever to the sister she loved so dearly, & the mother she once adored … she still loved her, but she started to grow weary of the manipulation and dependence that were her mother’s constant companion. Her father’s love had become a forgotten dream, & she would have been grateful to just be ignored again, rather than deal with the continual emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse he doled out. She began dating boys at age 15, determined to find a long-term relationship with a boy who would give her a taste of what it felt like to be loved. Instead, she moved from one abusive relationship to the next, because she thought that her worth as a person was tied up in the happiness and sexual gratification of those around her.
    As I said, the story is long. But the ending is beautiful. One day, as a 35 year old woman, the little girl finally allowed herself to grow up. She believed in and trusted Jesus Christ, & ALL His promises. And He truly DID make her a new creature in Him. And she FINALLY FOUND A FATHER’S LOVE.
    No one’s ever asked me my story, & that’s the first time I’ve ever given it to someone. I only hope that my King can use the small part I’ve shared to show another woman with a hurting little girl inside that He is waiting with open arms to fill that place that only He can, in her heart.
    May God bless you richly, Renee.
    With love,
    Jess

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Oh Jess, I hope you see this – although Im reading your story hours after you left it. I love that God found you today, took your hand and brought you here to (in)courage. To share, to connect, to look into that little girls eyes and see her. To remember how she was searching and yet longing to be found.

      I remember that feeling. That longing. To be pursued. Wanted. Known. And then to realize all along, all that we longed for… He was holding it out to us in hopes that we might realize it was HIs love, His affection and attention that we really needed – we just didnt know it. I love that you found Him and in finding HIm, you found you. ;)

  • http://www.tkfloydlaw.com TK Floyd

    If I had a chance to speak to myself 10 years ago, I would encourage myself to love self and please God, rather than focusing so much time, energy, and attention on loving and pleasing others…

    I’m registered for the event this weekend – I was even blessed to win the “Your Story Matters” necklace. This necklace is significant because it reminds me to continue on my journey of becoming the writer and speaker God is calling me to be – to share my story, even the messy parts… Especially the messy parts…

  • http://www.thecalmofhispresence.com Mary Boswell

    Renee, I love seeing your beautiful face over here at (in)courage. I have loved the way you have ministered at P31 & now adding to your ministry circle by joining (in)courage is the icing on the cake :-). I am taking the time now to meet with a friend each week that I have wanted to get to know better for years. I love how God ordained this time for us. I was scheduled to lead a group of ladies from our church through A Confident Heart but God closed the door on the big group. Years ago I would have been very discouraged but this time I was not because I knew God had a bigger plan. And that plan was to give me and Jenny the time to share our stories with each other. And oh what a blessing that has been. We have both looked at the other one with awe and held each other up on a pedestal, but as we’ve shared our stories we realize we have the same struggles. We have laughed, we have cried & we have grown together as sisters in Christ. I am so very thankful for our time each week, it has been an incredible blessing.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Hi there Mary. So good to see your sweet, familiar, encouraging smile here. I love what God has done and is doing in your story, through your heart and through the gift of this time you are having each week with your friend Jenny. Sometimes His no is because He’s got a better yes – and it sounds just like that is what you have found :)

  • Jo

    When it comes to sharing my story, It’s been rather difficult because my voice has been silenced for so many years. However maybe it’s time to take that first baby step. The title would be How To Stitch Up a Shattered Life and make it whole,The Truth

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Praying for you Jo. God wants to give you back your voice. And He wants to re-structure the sentences of each chapter with His truth – where lies and hurt have rendered you hopeless. With HIs grace and redemption promises as your lens, my prayer is that you can look back and see His presence on the pages you had one wished you could burn. Sometimes looking back is the first step to helps us to move forward, as long as we look back with HIm by our side. He is there. He has come to set you free. You are in my prayers tonight.

  • http://newcomblifeandtimes.blogspot.com Leigha

    I never feel like what I have to say matters to anyone else. Nothing I go through comes close to what others might be dealing with. However, I liked the prompt about talking with my 10 years younger self. Here is what I would tell her.

    **********************************************

    Leigha, please sit down and allow me to share some things with you that are going to happen within the next 10 years. This will be hard to hear, but just keep in mind that you will make it through every bit of it; no matter how hard it may seem.

    Some time over the next 10 years, dad is going to get mad at you for helping your sister. You know how he can be. He will call you up, out of the blue and yell every hurtful thing that you can even imagine hearing. He will cuss you out, call you all kinds of names, call your sister all kinds of names, he will cut you out of the family (again) and then he will hang up on you.

    As with every other time he has cut you out of the family, you will end up feeling like you have been thrown away and like you just do not matter. You will end up dealing with depression again, as well. However, this time will be different. During this time of being an outcast from the family, God will grant you peace over things with your mom and your dad. You will finally be able to let go of your worry and stress where they are concerned. You will actually get to the point that you are “okay” and you will be able to move on with your life.

    Shortly after all of this happens, your oldest son, Phillip, will move away from home. He will pack up his car with everything he owns and will drive 2 states away to be with his girlfriend. You will stand there crying as you tell him that you feel like everybody is leaving you.

    After a few years of being outcast from the family, you will find out that your mom has cancer and that it is too late; the doctors cannot do anything to help her. Within a few short months from finding out this news, your mom will have gone home to be with Jesus. This will be very hard to handle, but you do know that with her being with Jesus, she will be safe and your dad will never be able to hurt her again. The peace that God has granted you in regards to your parents will help you through this time as well. You will suffer, but the depression does not come on as strong as it has in the past.

    Stay focused on Jesus. Lean on Him. He will be there with you every step of the way. It will be His strength that will carry you through every bit of this.

    ************************************************

    Thanks for allowing me a safe place to share this “peek” into my life.

    Thanks for all of the posts that have been shared already. I can see that there are a couple that I have some things in common with; ie. being very shy, not feeling like what I have to say matters, etc.

    I am praying for all of you.

    Leigha

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Leigha, first you are gifted writer. Has anyone told you that? It’s true. I felt like I was reading a movie script. God has given you a way with words. And I so appreciate you sharing that gift with me, with us, today. The letter you wrote made me feel like I was there with you, ten years ago, living the story, walking through the loss, the grief, the pain yet I could feel His peace and the way He held you through it all. Im so grateful for the wise words you have for yourself. For us. What you have to say matters. Don’t let the enemy convince you otherwise. God’s got a plan for your life. You have so much to offer others!! Im glad you’re here with us.

  • http://www.doriscush.com Doris

    I surround myself with encouragement because you never know who may need it. When Jesus found me at 5 years old, He simply said, “I love you.” Those words sent me soaring in my wonder years. They also sustained me in those years when others’ actions and choices scarred me. Though too much to go into here, but had not those words of encouragement permeated my heart then, I wouldn’t believe that wounds do heal even today. Looking forward to my meetup in Pittsburgh! Blessings!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      I love how clearly you heard Him say I love you and believed it with all your heart. I can sense your deep love for Jesus in your words Doris. Your story and your heart will be such a big ole blessing to the women at your (in)RL meeting up!!

  • http://remade-ministries.org Beth

    Hi Renee,

    What a beautifully written story…

    If I could go back 10 years and tell my younger self something, it would be “don’t fear… and take a breath. You can’t control everything in the world that pertains to your children, and trying to control is exhausting you, and it’s leaving you without the energy to enjoy being a mother. I know bad things happened to you growing up, but it doesn’t mean that they will happen to your children, too. So don’t make parental decisions based on the fear of your past Beth, make them on the faith of your savior. The faith that He has a delicately woven plan for your children that will come out of their successes, failures, hurts, and victories.” I would go on to tell myself “your daughter, she’s going to go through some very difficult times, but God is faithful to restore everything – don’t shutdown because you think you’ve failed her. Keep pushing forward because she’s watching you.” Lastly, I would tell myself “Watch your son, because he’s watching you. Sit longer, listen better, and wait patiently… His silence speaks louder than his words. The moments go too fast and even though you want things to speed up now, when you want them to slow down time will feel like it’s moving at lightening speed. Enjoy the slower days. Enjoy homework fights, enjoy little league, and enjoy their happiness.” Oh and one last thing I would tell myself – “when you’re 10 years older be kind to yourself. you didn’t know any of this and hindsight is always 20/20, you’re a good mom, even when you don’t feel like it.”

    Thank you for a chance to talk to myself today, Renee, I think I really needed this.

    Beth

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      And you my friend, although we’re just meeting, you just made me cry. How I relate to what you would tell yourself then… and now, Beth. We’ve got a little in common. I have had to really be careful to not parent out of fear or overprotect because of neglect. And then to be still, to listen, to stay, to wait and be more fully present with the quiet one. Ah yes.

      Thank you for letting me listen to you talk to yourself – my heart leaned in, knowing it needed to hear some of the same things.

  • http://google Starla

    This will be my first (in)RL conference. I am really looking forward to some healing and meeting new people. I am in a new area and have met some wonderful ladies, but nothing quite like what seems to be going on here in these groups. I am a guarded soul looking to open this hard shell that has kept me from living the life I know God has chosen for me. I am a spouse of a retired Marine (recently) and I met some great ladies in my journey, but I have also come across some very harsh ones that I let close me up and keep me from expanding friendships that I know could and would be great. So looking forward to some much needed tenderness in my life.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Im praying for you to feel a sweet connection with the women at your (in)RL gathering this weekend. Praying your heart will feel brave as you will walk into the room knowing you have something to offer – your smile, your heart, your words, your kindness, His love. Someone will need it all.

  • http://N/A Joyce Watson

    Well, I wrote my story years ago. What I did not include was some of my feelings of insecurity, acceptance and love. It was through your book, “A Confident Heart” that I was able to feel better and trust God for my confidence. Thank you for being a blessing!

    As I think about a mother’s love for her precious child, I can only imagine what it must have been like for my mother to have held me in her arms for the first time and what she must have been thinking. Counting those little fingers and toes to make sure I was alright and just to know the miracle that had taken place. I was in the hands of my nineteen year old mother who was amazing and it beyond my own comprehension how she could be so young, yet be so wise for her age. My dad was an enlisted man in the Air Force and I was born at the Bryan Air Force Base in Bryan, Texas on January 1, 1955. It would not be long that my travelling days would start.
    Later, my dad was stationed at the base in Greenville, Mississippi where my sister, Donna was born. Then, my family moved to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida where I started first grade. Then, in 1961 we moved to Naha, Okinawa for the next four years. We especially enjoyed shopping with my mother. Since my dad was a pilot he was gone quite often. My parents were both Christians, but they did not go to church very much. What I learned about God was from VBS at the chapel and from watching Billy Graham shows when we could get American programming on the television. My mother also spent time teaching me and my sister some of the Bible stories.
    After four years in Okinawa my family and I moved back to Florida, then we went back to Okinawa another two years.
    Finally, we moved to Oklahoma and then my dad retired from the Air Force in Warner Robbins, Georgia. During those times, God began to speak to my heart. A pastor visited our home and still we did not go to church, but I told God I wanted to become a Christian and I just did not understand everything.
    My parents were from Laurel, Mississippi and when my dad retired we returned to their home. We had no idea that our lives would be changed forever. My family started going to my mother’s home church. On March 1971, during a youth meeting at church, I decided to accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I was 16 years old. Later, my parents re-dedicated their lives to the Lord and my sister, Donna was also saved. My teen-age years were filled with mixed emotions and decisions. A visiting preacher came to our church and he spoke about making Godly decisions for your life. This had a real impact on my life and I attended a Christian college after high school.
    When my parents considered moving to Mississippi, it was with the thought of taking care of their own parents as they grew older. We had no idea my mother would need
    our tender, loving care. She had several headaches along with sickness for several months, before finally going to the doctor. We found out she had a brain tumor, so she went to the hospital to have surgery. She came home and was progressing well.
    Later, she began to have the same kind of problems over again. She had another brain tumor and another surgery. She was told both tumors were benign. As she was recovering in the hospital, her hip began to hurt and she was diagnosed with bone cancer. I cannot tell you how the mental, physical and emotional toll affected all of us. It sometimes seems unreal. Through the process you learn, you pray and you hope. My dad was very gracious and tender toward my mother. We gathered around her bed and prayed with her with tears. She passed away in July 1977. Our lives were changed, but our faith was not.
    My sister went to college and I stayed home with my dad for a while. At age 29 I joined the army and prayed for an office job. I ask God to please find me a husband and I would try my best to share Jesus with others. The Lord honored my prayer and I did share Jesus when I had a chance. I was sent to Germany where I met my Christian husband, Gordon. We married a year later. Then, we moved to Ft. Stewart, Georgia where we helped at a Servicemen Center. I finished my three years in the army there, then we returned to Germany where my twin boys Christopher and Jonathan were born. Over the years God has blessed us so very much. We have a lot to be thankful for. My boys are Christians and attending college. My husband is retired from the army, but still working at a middle school. I work a lot at church and we are truly blessed. Only God! Only God makes a difference in how we live our lives!

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Hi Joy! Thank you for sharing your journey and the ways God has met you at each crossroad. I loved reading it. So glad we connected through the pages of “A Confident Heart” and on Facebook. :)

  • Chris K

    Susan C

    Thanks for sharing, it kind of helps a little to know that I am not the only one going through this. I will be praying for you and your husband.

    • Susan C

      And I will be praying for you and your husband as well. That’s what Sister’s in Christ do for each other. Pray Until Something Happens. (PUSH). Keep pushing my sister.

  • Sharina

    Story… I don’t really know where to start with mine. Like several of the stories above, Jesus was “around” all my life. However, I didn’t know what it meant to have a relationship with Him. I was used to church and school and that’s that when it came to Christ. When I came to college even all of that went out the window. Fortunately for me God immediately blessed me with a friend who would lead me to Christ almost two years after having met me. This friend and several others went through thick and thin with me in a short span of a few years that felt like an eternity but blessed me beyond measure. From sexual abuse to alcohol abuse, depression to suicidal thoughts, and attempts God showed me love and mercy and freedom from so much of the previously mentioned. He was gracious and used friends and now a church family to show me how He loves and all of that pales in comparison to how much HE loves me. He is jealous for me and when I get down on myself or feel consumed by depression or the happenings in my life I think of all that God has brought me through… And I know it’s going to be alright :-)

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Yours is such a beautiful story Sharina. I love the unique way God pursues us and reveals Himself to use through others. I have a similar story of coming to know Him in my twenties and how He used friends like yours to help me see His heart for me. Thank you so much for sharing and bringing back such good memories for me too. :) He’s got a plan for you as the rest of your story unfolds in the years ahead.

  • Chris K

    Alice Redmond,

    Thanks for sharing and reminding me that there is always hope with Christ.

  • Mirla

    I’ve been a christian all my life. But it has taken me a long time to get to know God and how wonderful he is. im a pastor’s daughter and if I can be honest right now Im in a place that even though I don’t want to live my life without God I just want to run away. I’ve been struggling with this feelings for a while Im not happy where I am at this point in my life. I don’t want to leave the church where my dad is the pastor but. I feel very unhappy. Im asking for God’s guidance. I know that God is with me but I feel very alone. I’m 38 years old and I keep finding my self asking me the same question is this it? Feeling guilty at the same time because I should know better.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Mirla, you are not alone. Please don’t feel guilty. Sometimes when we grow up in a Christian home or as a pastor’s child, we get to know God through our parents and end up not experiencing the fullness of a one-on-one relationship with Him. I sense that is what you’re heart is longing for: a relationship with Jesus that originates from a starting place that is yours. Just you and your Savior getting to know each other without any pre-conceived notions of what you’ve learned through others. I know of a book that might help you start that process. Let me know if you’d like to know more. You can leave a note on my website at http://www.ReneeSwope.com. Im praying for you!!

      • Karen

        Today is June 19, 2014 and I hope you see this comment from the reposting! Renee this book is exactly what I need!! “Just you and your Savior getting to know each other without any pre-conceived notions of what you’ve learned from others.” I’m still putting together my life story but these words hit a cord on what I’ve always done. Listened to all my Christian family, friends, churches, bible studies without establishing a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s left me not knowing who I am or what I believe or not. I’d love a fresh perspective, clean slate, no pre-concerned notions start and where to begin to get to know Jesus! Your replay to Mirla was to request on your website, I’ll try but don’t see where this was reposted there today.

  • Ashley

    Hi Renee, one thank you for sharing! Ten years ago today was crazy for me. I didn’t have a relationship with God, court hearings, and my childhood (I was freshman in highschool at the time) was full of negative, hurtful things. Today I am building my relationship with God more and more. I am pulling back the layers from my childhood and working through all of them finally. And I know I couldn’t do this without God by my side, the wonderful friendships I have built through my church, and all the encouragement.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      So encouraged by what you shared Ashley. Thank you for letting me in. Praying for you :).

  • Donna R

    Renee, I am so moved by how women reach out to one another. I have been gifted with the ability to listen and support; working to learn to share MY story.

    I came to know Jesus when I was 14 . . . followed my older sister to church. Now, many years later, I can see that I was a fan, not a follower of Jesus and was following people . . . boys, friends . . not Jesus.

    At 16 this older sister was killed in an automobile accident. I soon turned away from church. Not because I was mad at God, but because I couldn’t bear the compassion people showed to me. I just wanted to hide from that.

    17 years later, I returned to church, but to be honest, I was again following a man. I loved Jesus. Don’t get me wrong. But I was pursuing earthly love more than the Father’s love.

    People disappointed me and I again left the church.

    Thankfully, through pivotal people and circumstances I’ve become a follower. God has called me to leave my job, he has called me to create a coffee shop/mission in my small town. And each day I do my very best to follow where he leads me, the steps to take.

    Gratitude doesn’t begin to express what I feel . . . but I’m so very grateful that He didn’t close the door; but continued to knock. Grateful the guidance of the holy spirit; sometimes led where other don’t understand my going . . . but I do. I don’t know financially how to create this place for Christians to gather and non-believers to experience the love of Jesus, but He does.

    I continue to pray for a growing boldness to share my faith.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      Donna R, thank you for sharing your story. Im so glad you ended up in HIS arms!! :) Praying for your coffee shop and for God to show you how to live out the vision and calling you have for your community!!

  • anonymous

    hi I am 51 yet I don’t have any intimate friendships. I have been burned so many times that I guess it is really hard to trust. it always seems as if I end up doing all the work in the relationship. I know relationships take time and I am willing to put in the time but it doesn’t get reciprocated. it just seem as if people already have enough friends and they really don’t need or want anymore. I know I probably sound like a 12 year old having a pity party, but this is how I see it. I feel like I have so much to offer and yes I have prayed about it and continue to pray but to no avail. I think I’ve just gotten comfortable with doing just doing me and am afraid to slip out of my comfort zone for fear of being squashed. thanks for listening didn’t mean to whine too much.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      That’s what we’re here for anonymous. Sometimes just to listen. Im sorry for the disappointment you’ve felt. Not going to try to talk you out of it. :) Just know I hear you, I’ve been there and Im praying with you and for you tonight.

    • http://newcomblifeandtimes.blogspot.com Leigha

      Oh, I can so relate to what you shared. I have struggled with friendships my whole life. I have a post on my blog where I share about some of my struggles with friendships. I hope that you will read it and maybe leave me a response. I do not have any followers.

      Blessings to you.
      Leigha
      http://newcomblifeandtimes.blogspot.com/2014/04/a-confident-heart-update-chapter-3.html

  • Elizabeth

    Within just a few pages of your book, A Confident Heart, I felt like we shared so much in common. I found myself writing notes in the margins that expressed those similarities. Back in 2012, I began a journey of healing from my past…it has been painful but so worth the digging. God has been completely transforming my life…I am truly becoming the me He created me to be–no longer the “less than” that others said I was. As a result of all of this, I felt a nudging from God to write my story and put it into video (I have pretty much completed the writing but not the video). I never planned to speak my story publically–only to write it. On Thanksgiving Sunday, through a complete act of God, I gave a brief version of my story during our morning worship service. I have also been sharing it one-on-one with women who have sought me out because they could see the change taking place in my life. I do not know where God is taking me, but my story–which is really His story told through my life–is a part of the plan. God is the “author and finisher” of our faith and our stories reveal how our faith has grown through our trials. It is important to share our stories because they magnify God.

  • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

    Elizabeth, I love what you shared here: “God is the “author and finisher” of our faith and our stories reveal how our faith has grown through our trials. It is important to share our stories because they magnify God.” Amen.

    (So honored that He would use my book to lead your heart closer to His!)

  • Starla

    My story begins with infertility. My husband cannot have children so we decided to foster to adopt. We recieved the most precious red headed baby boy straight from the hospital 3 days after birth. He is now almost two years old and the bio mom just won custody back. We are heart broken. But my spirit has been lifted so much since this process began. I realized that I did not truly know God. This experience has brought me so much closer to him because I have had to rely on him constantly. I never knew the peace he could give. Although I have had some bad days I know it will be ok because he is with me. I keep leaving it at the foot of the cross. I sometimes pick my burden up again but I lay it back down and pray that I dont pick it up anymore. I just find a way to put one foot in front of the other and live life. I know God has amazing plans for mine and my husbands life.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Starla, sweet sister and friend in Christ. I am so sorry. I cannot imagine how hard this letting-go must me. Truly. I have a daughter we adopted, so I know that love. I am praying for you with a broken heart, aching for your loss but trusting the One who brings hope when we feel hopeless, strength when we are depleted, courage when we’re afraid to hope and trust again. He’s holding you through this. And tonight Im holding you in prayer.

  • http://thediscerningnona.blogspot.com/ Robin G-Z

    This is confirmation for me at this moment in my life!! Last year I did the “Made to Crave” study with a group of wonderful sisters in Christ. I never followed through. I have this other sister in Christ who ever since the moment we said hi for the first time, I’ve felt like God has a plan for our friendship. She was always busy, busy & I’m kinda a homebody. But God has just opened both our lives in a way that we are getting the opportunity to do “Made to Crave” together!!! I’m already inspired by her. God has us both in the same “ready to feel better frame of mind, instead of the diet frenzy frame of mind. We haven’t waited till the last minute for some special event we need to lose 100 pounds in 30 days or whatever. God has us both in the same season, at the same time, I believe because He’s got a plan for us. A lifelong plan of sisterhood. So, as I set off on this journey of getting to know my new forever friend, I pray that my words will be His & that our relationship brings Him glory & us a TRUE friend. Thank you for this amazing piece.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      I love what God’s doing and confirming so clearly for you – and then giving you a heart-sister to walk this journey together!! Praying for you both tonight. You can do all things through HIM who gives you strength!!

  • Janet Daniel

    Renee,
    I want to thank you for sharing your stories and your heart with us. I have always loved writing and journaling and one day may write my own book about my life. I never thought I was capable of being able to do such a thing, but maybe that is where god is leading me. I have always thought that I was put on the earth to save my family. From the time I was very young I felt a closeness with God that others probably thought was crazy. As a young child I saw how unhappy my Mom and Dad seemed to be. Every time there was screaming or slamming of doors I would cringe and feel so sad. I begged my family as a young teen to have a family day where we sat down and talked our issues out. I can just imagine what they thought of me. Of course it didn’t happen, but as a young girl I didn’t understand. I had relatives who thought because I was so slow that I wasn’t worthy of their time. I was always sick as a child and know I know why, because I was always so stressed out. I always thought I was adopted because I didn’t feel like I fit in. I was criticized a lot by my siblings. I do believe that God was always telling me I was special and I had a special task and He loved me so much. But as a child I didn’t understand that. I understand it now! If I could go back 10 years I would tell myself to go to God and study his word more. I wasn’t raised to read or even understand the bible when I was young. I would have told myself to seek out friends like you are in Proverbs 31 ministry. Because if you have Godly friends in your life they can help lead you into understanding how much God loves me. God has always had an impact on my life but I couldn’t see it as much then as I do now He is more real to me because of all the Proverbs 31 ministry. One of the funniest memories that I remember in my life was when I dressed up as a bunny rabbit and carried a real carrot which I ate the whole time I was going to houses for Halloween. It just makes me laugh to think of me year after year dressing up as a bunny. I do get spiritual readings and messages every week from friends but its not the same as being in a small group of women sharing stories like we do on this site. I would tell myself more about how about how much I am loved by God and that its not how much we do in a day but how much we focus on God and bring everything to Him, to always put Him first in our day so that we can be a blessing to everyone and He can therefore bless us. I know now when I get angry. when I get anxious, when I get jealous, when I feel like crying; that if I just talk to God first and be by myself with His word He will wrap his arms around me and hug me, I will feel His warmth and love, His forgiveness, His care, His concern, and everything to me that I will ever need in this world. Renee, I am at a crossroads where I may have to make a big decision , make a U-turn, and change, something important in my life. Please pray for me!!!
    Thank you God for leading me the Proverb 31 Bible study. It is changing my life. Thank you everyone for sharing your story! It has given me courage to share mine. Thank-you! Renee for following God’s plan for you life.

    • http://reneeswope.com/ Renee Swope

      I love your story. I love what you would tell yourself and Im honored that you’d tell yourself to seek friends who love Jesus and who will love you – like we do here at (in)courage and at Proverbs 31 Ministries. :) Thank you for sharing Janet. Im praying for you right now to know God’s best, to discern His direction and to stay so close to Him that you can hear Him whisper – this is the way, walk in it. That you will go out in joy, and be led forth with peace.

  • Kellyann Rawson

    There was something inside me wanting to burst out. What was it? I didn’t know but, I knew it was bad. Something was wrong with me. I was jittery. I was always sweating. I was always nervous. I was always hurting myself by rubbing my skin in the same spot over and over until there was no skin left. I had sores all over me. I wanted to pull my hair out. I wanted to shave my head. All I could do was rock back and forth. Pastor Roger told me I needed to see a Christian counselor. He had one in mind. His name is Ken. There was no way I could see a man behind closed doors. Just no way. Pastor assured me over and over that it was Ken that I needed. I finally said ok. I made the appointment. Things seemed to be going just ok then, THE QUESTION! “Have you ever been molested?” For a nanosecond my answer was of course not–but then I felt like I got hit in the head with a huge New York sized phone book! Ow! My head hurt! And then…there it was…the most horrible memory…my own grandfather! I held my breath. I couldn’t let the air back out of my lungs. I didn’t dare speak. I just stared at Ken in total terror. That was it. That’s what was trying to come out of me but I had blocked it out. It seemed like an eternity but, I finally answered him with a choke and then a scream and then just sobbing. Yes. Oh how I hated that answer. And then more memories…the others that had hurt me…oh the pain and the horror. ALL my life had been wrought with abusers and violators. How can a person live with all that ugliness? I couldn’t. I had made up my mind that I was done being a burden on people with all my neediness and helplessness. I would release them and me from all the agony. June 8th, 2013, I decided to kill myself. God is so awesome. He definitely had been watching me and felt my pain. He saved me. Not 1 pill entered my mouth because the phone rang. A total and complete stranger to me. The prayer chain coordinator (who is usually in bed by 8 pm) felt as though she needed to read the messages one more time before going to bed. She read my simple prayer request I had written earlier in the day. “Please pray for me. I don’t know how much longer I can hold on”. I NEVER answer a number I don’t recognize. Just ten steps away from those pills and the phone rang and I answered the number I didn’t recognize and talked to a woman I didn’t know. She convinced me to let her call 911 for me. I was admitted into the psychiatric unit. I was there until June 24th, my birthday. I am a bullied, beaten, battered, abused, and raped woman. But I am alive. I try very hard, every day, to view myself as a victor and not a victim, but it is a challenge. Honestly, most days I feel defeated. I have lots of questions that will never get answered because two of my abusers are dead and I don’t know where the others are. Frankly I don’t want to know. I scream at God. “Why did no one protect me?” “Why did no one defend me?” “I was just a little girl! Where was my help?” Well, I am getting help now. It’s a day to day struggle but, as the days go by, I get stronger. And with stories from other women I feel like there is hope for me to be healed one day. Most days though, I struggle with this question, “How on earth can I forgive something so unforgivable?” God can do it because He is a supernatural being with more strength than I will ever understand. I am just a mere human being struggling to understand all that has happened to me from the time I was 2 years old until the time I was 30 years old. I just want to be confident and whole. I have been working with Ken for over a year. 2013 was a horrible year and he helped me through 3 major illnesses. Now it is 2014. My surgery and illnesses are behind me. And I am working very hard at trying to believe all the promises God has made. I wish I could afford your book, but right this moment I am broke. Maybe next month. Thank you for letting me tell you some of my story.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Kellyann, I read your note today on my phone in the school parking lot after carpool. And I cried. And I prayed. And I whispered Jesus, Jesus, Jesus over your wounded heart. My heart breaks for what you have been through. I am so sorry. It is so wrong. So very wrong that anyone would treat you that way. Thank you for trusting us with your story, with your heart, for letting us be a safe place to share in your healing. We are praying for you!!! And I would love to send you my book. Just slip me: aconfidentheart@gmail.com and my ministry assistant or I will put one in the mail!!

  • http://nasreenfynewever.com Nasreen Fynewever

    You. Here in this space. With these words and your heart. Beautiful, brave, ever swinging the door open for hearts to journey further into grace and lives lived well…together. Cheering for you.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Thank you so much for your kind, oh-so-encouraging note Nasreen. Really. Thank you for holding the door wide open for me today. I treasure your words and prayers!

  • http://abeautifulstart.blogspot.com Sheri

    Oh, I pray that my story becomes His glory. I grew up in a physically and emotionally violent home. When I wasn’t living in fear for my life I wished I was dead. 9 years ago I lost both my parents – which sadly was a relief as much as it hurt. (I cry more for my mom who was such a kind heart but dealt a tough card)

    If I could go back ten years I would tell myself that God is going to bring a great man into your life, turn to God and then turn to him and build a strong relationship. I love this man with all my heart but he’s now with someone else. It’s been 9 months and I still cry every day.

    I believe I had a vision with Jesus. One where in the midst of the worst panic attack in my life, hysterically crying, hyperventilating. I was with Jesus and he had his arm around me and I asked him to show me that things would get better. The next thing he showed me I cling onto with hope. Hope that seems hopeless as the months tick by.

    In that moment I was overcome with this odd sense of joy – I’ve never felt that at peace and that HAPPY before. Not ever a feeling in real life. It was surreal.

    Since I wasn’t a follower of Christ, I turned my heart to Him trusting he was going to make good from this situation.

    Oh there’s so much more I could say. I know this was so I could turn to God, I just wish i was smart enough to find him 5 years ago, so my heart wouldn’t be so shattered. At 31, single and broke hearted hardly sounds like my vision will become a reality.

    I always knew I was different from my family. But now I know I was chosen by God to be this way. I have begun blogging in hopes to encourage others. And so I can have the encouragement that I so desperately need somedays. If anyone wants to check it out it’s abeautifulstart.blogspot.com. I started the blog solely for His glory. I pray something special happens to make it worthwhile – something to bring people closer to Him.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Sheri, I am praying for you tonight as I read your story. Only He knows what will be HIS very best for you but I know that longing you describe. That regret you feel. I’ve had it but so many years later I can see that God knows so much better than I do what I really need. Oh how I pray He brings a wonderful, loving Godly man into your life – whether it’s the one you lost or the one God’s been saving just for you!!

  • http://chasingblueskies.net/ Kristen Strong

    Renee! Glory be, you’re singing my tune here, girl. Absolutely adore your prompts (filing those away!) and how you gently remind those who are comfortable with their stories to find their own Michelle to encourage. Love.

    I thank God for thinking well enough of me to have part of my story overlap with yours here. *You* are a gem. Much love, Renee. xoxo

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      I can’t even tell you how much I treasure your heart Kristen! Meeting you at Allume (when it was Relevant) a few years ago was a gift to me. God gave me a warm hug and strong nudge of encouragement through you, at a time when I really needed it. :) Can’t wait to see you this summer!

  • http://www.jacquewatkins.com Jacque Watkins

    Oh yes, how I believe in bold and brave and pursuing and going first. I have lived the richness of that. And this, just beautiful, your words and heart of encouragement in this place. I’m so very glad you’re here. With so much love to you Renee. So much.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      :) and so much love back to you!! Im so honored and happy to be here. :)

  • D

    I love time with friends, I love making them laugh & I love getting to know them…but I panic if it seems a deep conversation is about to hit. My childhood is pictures of family events I can’t remember. The movies always portray people having repressed memories of abuse but my memories are so clouded with remembrances of such severe abuse at the hands of a cousin since the age of 5 I can’t even remember my Mother’s voice. I spent every holiday & family birthday party trying to avoid him & every second trying to keep anyone from seeing who I was. If they knew, if they saw it then I’d really have to be that horrible person who allowed those disgusting things. I turned it off & pretended to be the person I wanted to be. My parents always had my brothers & I in church – I knew who God was. I used to imagine the Jesus I saw in pictures was sitting there with me whenever my parents weren’t around & I was scared. I knew Jesus loved me but I didn’t really know Him or know His peace until I was 12yrs old. I finally stopped looking for Him out of fear & found a way to trust that there was Hope in Him. Even though the abuse continued through High School my life changed when I accepted Jesus. No matter how difficult a day might have been it never left me feeling alone. After leaving college I stayed away from church for a very long time. Church was risky because it was hard to hide my thoughts from God & if I went to church I’d risk losing control. I couldn’t risk crying because others would see me. And I didn’t know if I’d be ok if I ever allowed myself to break. I started seeing a therapist 2 years ago. And 19yrs after college I finally went back to church…it’s been a year. I started prayer counseling with a wonderful Godly woman in my church & we’ve been working through every hurt & every twisted concept born out of that darkness. I never knew how to actually give anything to God. It’s a common Christian “go to” phrase when people don’t know what else to say but it seems to be a lesson seldom taught. The weight that’s been lifted this past year has been a life changer. I no longer walk around with a cloud over my head. The truth of who God says I am has transformed my life. I don’t think my story will ever be one I can openly share but the reality of God’s redeeming love is one I will share for the rest of my life. I’m so grateful for P31 and (in)courage. Thank you all for being there.

  • Jennifer

    Renee, this story is great! Thanks for sharing! And the best part is, it’s not just ‘a story’, it’s REAL LIFE!! I only have time right now to read part of the comments by others, I see so many different situations , yet same conclusions…. we ALL need! God created that need in us not only to bring us closer to each other but also closer to Him! And the desire to be pursued…… We are women! Absolutely, we want to be pursued! But I never gave it a thought we would want to be pursued by other females, but it’s true! We need them to help us find ourselves! Who we were! Who we are! and…Who we will become! I have a mentor/close friend now and I never before now looked at it as pursuing each other, but as I think about the times, situations, etc. that we have helped/prayed each other through, I can definately see pursuance (is there such a word!?). I didn’t know what I was going to write when I started this comment, but that’s what usually happens, I sit down to write and the words just come, Yes, I have a story to tell too, but for now, I think maybe someone else needed to hear more on being pursued! God bless this day and your inspirational messages, Renee!!

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Jennifer. I love what you wrote. Glad you just kept typing. :) Thank you for sharing your heart and encouragement!

  • Kristin Bailey

    My story… I first started feeling like God was pursuing me in my early 20s, but it took until I was 28 for me to be ready to receive it. I was in a bad relationship and we were living together. As things progressively got worse I kept getting a stronger and stronger feeling that I needed to go to church. It was actually through friends of this man that I wound up visiting the church that I have now been attending for 5 years. They could see how bad things had gotten and finally two of them had the courage to confront me about it. I will forever be grateful for that. They let me know that the living situation had to change and that if I didn’t see myself married to this guy then I needed to cut him loose. Having their support gave me the courage to end that relationship and my life has been so blessed since then. I have a church group that feels like family and I can’t wait to spend time with them each week. One couple has even become like a set of adoptive parents to me. I always think of them as a picture of how God adopts is into His family.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Wow, what an amazing story. Thank you for sharing!

  • Christi Pampino

    Hi Renee,

    Wow, this post really made me reflect on all the paths that have brought me to where I am today.

    I’ll give you a glimpse into a recent situation that has caused great reflection and yes, great pain.

    On April 5th I received a call saying my Dad, who had gone through a great deal of health related trouble, was not expected to make it through the night. As soon as my husband came home and through the help of my Church family, I was on the road to Michigan from Pennsylvania. I needed to see my Dad before he took his final breath. I was travelling alone because my husband would not be able to join me on the trip. I drove through the night and arrived at the hospital in Grand Rapids at 3:30 in the morning. My step mom, who I refer to as Mother, was sleeping in a chair next to my Dad. When she saw me she immediately got up and went into Mom mode. Never thinking of herself but only thinking of my Dad’s and my comfort. God Bless her, the grace she showed during this difficult time was an example of how I want to be.

    Family came to the hospital and, although I was tired, I listened intently to the stories that were told. Then Hospice came to speak with us and a new journey began. They asked about Dad’s personality, his likes, dislikes and other mannerisms. When my sisters and I spoke, it sounded like we knew a totally different person than my Mother and step sister. It was like we were speaking of two different people.

    My Dad passed on April 7th. The following days were filled with planning. The funeral home, the Pastor who would officiate Dad’s funeral, the picture boards. It was and enlightening and exhausting process that I had never experienced before.

    This all left my head reeling but one moment stood out firmly asking me to re-evaluate how my and my sisters actions had brought us to this very moment. My step brother had two daughters who knew my Dad as their Grandpa, as it should be. However, when at the funeral home, we were making a list of how many grand children and great grand children he had. My step brothers daughter, leaned over and saidI di

  • Christi Pampino

    Hi Renee,

    Wow, this post really made me reflect on all the paths that have brought me to where I am today.

    I’ll give you a glimpse into a recent situation that has caused great reflection and yes, great pain.

    On April 5th I received a call saying my Dad, who had gone through a great deal of health related trouble, was not expected to make it through the night. As soon as my husband came home and through the help of my Church family, I was on the road to Michigan from Pennsylvania. I needed to see my Dad before he took his final breath. I was travelling alone because my husband would not be able to join me on the trip. I drove through the night and arrived at the hospital in Grand Rapids at 3:30 in the morning. My step mom, who I refer to as Mother, was sleeping in a chair next to my Dad. When she saw me she immediately got up and went into Mom mode. Never thinking of herself but only thinking of my Dad’s and my comfort. God Bless her, the grace she showed during this difficult time was an example of how I want to be.

    Family came to the hospital and, although I was tired, I listened intently to the stories that were told. Then Hospice came to speak with us and a new journey began. They asked about Dad’s personality, his likes, dislikes and other mannerisms. When my sisters and I spoke, it sounded like we knew a totally different person than my Mother and step sister. It was like we were speaking of two different people.

    My Dad passed on April 7th. The following days were filled with planning. The funeral home, the Pastor who would officiate Dad’s funeral, the picture boards. It was and enlightening and exhausting process that I had never experienced before.

    This all left my head reeling but one moment stood out firmly asking me to re-evaluate how my and my sisters actions had brought us to this very moment. My step brother had two daughters who knew my Dad as their Grandpa, as it should be. However, when at the funeral home, we were making a list of how many grand children and great grand children he had. My step brothers daughter, leaned over and said, “I didn’t know he had that many grand children!”. Questions immediately swirled in my head. Didn’t he tell the girls about us? Didn’t he show them pictures? Were we really so awful that he didn’t want them to know us? My heart was a mixture of pain and confusion.

    As the week unfolded, I promised the girls I would add them as friends on facebook and I did. I look forward to knowing them.

    I wrote to my Mother and expressed my questions to her. I did not do this in an accusatory tone but one of love and sorrow. My Mother told me that my Father had a lot of love for his children and grand children however, since the blended family hadn’t gelled well, this was the unfortunate out come. It was the sad truth.

    I can’t change what has happened in the past but, I can try to change what happens going forward. My last promise to my Dad was we would look out for Mother and Pamela (my step sister). I will keep that promise going forward. I will also try to look out for my two nieces who I now have the privilege of knowing.

    Although this new season in life started with a great deal of loss and pain has brought forth a new level of understanding and a new opportunity to show grace and love. God has laid his hand on my heart and prevented it from being hard with resentment. It’s a bittersweet situation. Something that my Dad prayed for while he was alive, came to fruition with his death. I can only pray that my sisters will all react in the same graceful manner. I can only pray that they will listen to Gods urging the way I am hearing him.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      I just read your story Christi. Thank you for taking time to share it. I am praying tonight for you and your sisters, for the work HE has begun in you to be completed in your whole family. God can do it. You go first. Im proud of you for listening so closely and hearing His heart above the whispers of pain through what you’ve experienced.

  • Abby

    Renee, Mine is a story filled with heartache and much sorrow. I was abused as a child and have always felt out of place everywhere I go. However, I know God has a plan for me. Through the sorrow and pain I have learned to trust in God in a way that I never thought possible. I am learning that He loves me unconditionally and I don’t have to do anything. I am learning to rest in Him even in the midst of the storm.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      So much grace and truth. Praying that what you are learning will sink deep into your heart and soul. YOU are loved. YOU are valued. YOU are precious. And I am so sorry anyone treated you otherwise. I pray that Jesus will replace the loss, hurt and sorrow with His comfort, peace, healing assurance and love!!!

  • Loretta Pearson

    I loved the blog post, than you so very much. I would love to share some of my story of God’s love and healing grace, but I’m at work, so will just say a big thankyou for now.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      :)

  • http://titus24u.blogspot.com Jill Beran

    Renee,
    So good to hear from you…I don’t know why but the other day God had me reflecting on our initial conversation that led to sharing our stories. I’m so grateful He crossed our paths for such a time as that and I am AMAZED how God used that to do much in me and even through me. Our stories are important and sometimes it just takes someone who is willing to listen to help us understand that. Nearly 5 years I tried my story out on you and look where that has led! Thanks for encouraging me back then and challenging me now to reach out to another “Michelle” or “Jill” today! Blessings to you my friend!!

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      You make my heart smile Jill. I’ve loved watching your story unfold as you’ve handed Jesus your brokenness and fear – with such courageous surrender. You are a beautiful offering to HIM as a mom, wife, writer and more… waiting, seeking, serving and trusting Him so faithfully.

  • Kelli

    To my 10 years younger self, I would say…the next 10 years you are going to be in the valley way more than on top of the mountain. Your journey is going to be ugly & messy & your going to want to give up. But you won’t. You will get on your knees & you will hold on through all the twists & turns because one day God will take your story, your scars and he will put women in Your life who are in that valley, praying on their knees for someone to shed some hope. Be brave..share the ugly.
    p.s. Invest in good yoga pants even though you will never actually take yoga, your gonna need them :)
    Kelli

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      {{Kelli}} I love the letter you wrote to yourself. So much kindness and hope. I pray your words of encouragement sink deep into your heart. They are filled with God’s grace and truth.

  • Debbie W

    I would tell myself to do whatever it takes to be a stay at home mom because I would only have one opportunity to be one and I should make the best of it. I would also tell myself to call my dad more often and visit more often and cultivate a closer relationship. He died suddenly last May and I am still grieving the loss. So many missed opportunities – if I could only have another chance.

  • Lydia

    I am the one no one sees, or really knows. I keep in front of me the face of a good mom and wife, and fellow Christian. That face is slowly killing me, putting me farther and farther from those who have been so fooled to feel that they love me, when all they really love is an empty shell. The pain of discouragement and self doubt fill me, pushing out every good thing that could be felt by me. Fear of trusting anyone to understand is small compared to the deep seeded fear that even God does not understand me, and the horrible feeling of not being worthy of His love. Where did I go that has taken me away from this life, and how can I find my way back? Can God’s grace reach far enough to pull me in, to help save me from the despair my heart feels. Please pray for me. Please pray for my heart and mind to accept even the smallest amount of hope in order to bring some hope into my mind.

  • http://abeautifulstart.blogspot.com Sheri

    Lydia, I am praying for you! Sweet friend, know God will always be able to reach you because he is omniscient. If you ask him in he will help grow your trust in him. I say these things because I’ve been in a similar situation and when I stay in communication with him and open his word, I find answers to my questions. It could be coincidence or we can begin to believe it’s God. It won’t be quick but it’ll be worth it. I believe the sense of joy you’ll feel will be true. I pray you find the encouragement you need. That you can open up to god so he can show you who in your life you can turn too. I have found connecting with other women has helped. Maybe a bible study women’s group? There’s always such raw honesty there. You’ll find you are not the only one hurting and the support can be amazing. Don’t give up. Praying for you.

  • Pam

    Hi renee,
    I lost my husband to cancer in 07…It has been rough.We have 3 wonderful kids, Sarah ,Joshua and Jacob. We were married 23 yes when he died.I lost a part of myself that day. Out of fear I started dating right away trying to fill the void that was so present in my life, which lead to many failed relationships that just ended up taking more and more of myself away. My last failed relationship was the final straw for me when I realized how out if control I had allowed things to get in my life. On Jan 28, 2012 I prayed and ask God to give me the courage to do what he was asking which was to be obedient to his calling…I knew the man I was with I was settling for, he had no respect for my relationship with God and wanting to being sexual pure, as I so desperately did. The more time that I allowed myself to be in the relationship the more I felt myself slipping further and further into a pit of despair..Finally on that day I prayed and ask God to help me end it…and he did…He opened my mind and heart to see this was no what he intended for me. I have been single since not looking and for the first time I am truly content with being only God’s. I tried for so long to take matters into my own hands and fill the emptiness with men because I didn’t know how to be by myself…I met my husband when I was 17 and married him when I was 18, I never knew anyone but him…He was my first everything, so losing him was the hardest thing I have ever had to face. After ending the relationship I was in God brought me to your book Renee, confident heart. I can’t tell you enough how that book helped in my healing to realize after all the brokenness of my bad choices that I was still worthy in God’s eyes. I now have started a Christian singles group on facebook…called Christian singles in waiting ..and I am able to now help other woman who are struggling in relationships that God did not intend for them…it amazes me the things God as shown me in my singleness….things I am sure he has longed to share with me but I was to busy letting the fear of not having someone to love take priority in my life. I am still in the potters hands being refined as we speak. I have a sell my house, I can’t afford it anymore with only one income..I still have 2 of my 3 children living at home, so I truly am at the mercy of my Lord and savior….He is my provider now! It is scary at times not knowing where I will go….Not sure what I can afford…and I am still supporting 2 kids….but I am trusting that God knows and he will care for me and my children..Please pray for me as I move on to a different chapter of my life…I do desire to one day marry again, I am 46….and hope that God is preparing someone just for me…but until that time I pray for patience to endure the loneliness….and the strength to sell and pack up a life of 30 yrs. …and move on to whatever God as next for me…Thank you Renee for your passion for God and woman….God Bless you!

  • Pinay

    Hi Renee :)
    I don’t know how to start my story. But your article and the stories of the women I’ve read on this site encouraged me to share my story and my dark secret that my family is unaware of. I was scrolling down on facebook when your article captured my interest.
    I grew up in a broken home. My dad left us for some reasons that until now has been still a big question mark to me. My mom raised 5 children alone. However, my grandparents did not take us for granted. They were there for us but then, my mom had to do everything to support us.
    My family is all christian. We always go to church every Sunday. And as a child, I was involved in church children activities. I know that Jesus loves me as my sunday school teacher often tells us when I was a kid. But, I grew up stubborn. I liked to fight. I always said bad words to my playmates. I stole money from my mom and from grandparents’ store. I was envied of my cousins sitting on their dads’ laps. I wished I was one of them too. My mom always beat me for being so naughty. I wanted to be the center of attraction. I had no real friends when I was a kid because I always pushed them away.
    One day while my mom was far away working at the other’s farm for money, my elder sister got very sick. She became epilyptic. I felt like embarrased of her. I wanted to have a real sister. I was been difficult to her. Punished her for something she didn’t pray happened to her. But I loved her. I knew that in my heart. After a few years of struggling with her illness, my sister died. My heart broke really bad. I blamed myself many times. I was the bad one. God should have had picked me instead of her. But after my sister died, my attitude had starting changing. I became even more friendly. And helped my mother taking care of my youngest brother.
    My story didn’t end up there.
    You see, I always wanted attention from men. And still hadn’t forgiven my dad. But after I finished my college and on the night before my board examination for teacher, I prayed real hard to God to take away all tge burdens in me and that big burden was to forgive my father. I have already forgiven my dad.
    My journey as a christian has been always challenging to me. I thought I really had a great relationship with God because I was a Sunday school teacher for young people in our church. But I was totally wrong. Provably, I was right but my real relationship with God has been tested when I worked overseas. I met a guy in my workplace. I was lonely and needy during those times of my life. I became very close to him without really knowing his background. He was been so attracted to me that I easily fell inlove with him. I gave up everything in the name of love including my virginity. Only to find out that he was already engaged with someone else back home. I was hurt but didn’t stop myself though. I continued my relationship with him until I got pregnant. I was confused and thinking about my obligations for my family. My mom trusted me to help her. I talked to him. He wanted me to abort the baby. He told me that if I chose the baby he would be gone. And I would lose contact of him. And I would lose friends and worst would lose my job. My family would disown me. I was totally scared that I didn’t know who to run to and did the most regretful thing in my whole life. I aborted my baby. After that abortion, I had so much hatred in my heart. I could not forgive myself and him. I cried each night for killing my baby. I asked forgiveness from God many times. And I know that God had already forgiven me. And when my day comes that I shall meet my baby in heaven, I pray that my baby will forgive me too for not giving him/her a chance to live with me.
    I am still on the healing process even though it happened about 6 years ago already. I am 33years old and still single. I pray that when I meet the one whom God has prepared for me, he would forgive me and still love me despite of my ugly past.
    I always thank God for not giving up on me. And above all, for always loving me. And I pray that I could completely forget my past and forgive myself.
    Thank you so much for letting me share my story. May God continually bless you and your entire family and May God continue to use you to reach out women who really needs good friends they can really rely on.

    Blessings,
    Not my real name

  • Patty

    Thanks for asking us to share, I really have never thought of that God has put you together with people to help share and encourage each other, but it is true, I have read some of these shares and I have walked in the same shoes..and the hardest person to forgive is yourself, God is helping me through this..He has already forgiven me.

  • Beth WIlliams

    My story has many twists and turns. Born to older parents and had a hearing defect. No one recognized at the time. It took years for me to speak. It took years of speech therapy to learn to speak properly. During that time I was shy and had few if any friends. Fast forward many years and I slowly grew out of my shyness. Actually I got a hearing aid and could hear decently for a change. That helped me some, but I was still a bit shy.

    Many years later I have outgrown my shyness for the most part and hear well without any aid. I learned some sign language to Contemporary Christian music. Now I get in front of my little church and do sign language to music. God is using my hearing problem to enhance the worship at our church.

    In my 49 years I have truly grown in the Lord, learned to pray earnestly and understand that God wants a relationship with me–He loves me unconditionally on my good and bad days. I am forever grateful for that.

    I know that if you want something bad enough just pray long and hard and God will eventually give it to you. The trick is learning patience. You must wait on God’s perfect timing. At 39 God sent me a most wonderful, loving, caring hubby a gal could want. Some one who is there for me when my parents get ill. He is the best man for me!

    Blessings :)

  • TaraH

    I really enjoy the weekend.I have never

  • Tara

    I really enjoy the weekend.I have never been able to tell my story and really I didn’t know how to be gin. But l want to. When I was in eighth grade of school and at home and around other people my mom would tell me to be quiet that I didn’t have anything to say that people want to hear. So every since then I have only talk when people ask me questions. But now since I been saved and baptism I have being really starting opening up and talking more to people. I am also doing alot of writing. Reading and studying the word and praying.l have friends at church. I really do want to share my story or stories so that it might help people. But I am still afraid if I tell my story that people will hate me and not want to have any thing to do with me and turn away from me. I really d want to tell my story but I don’t know how to begin.

  • Leigh

    I share my story from time to time …. But get the feeling people don’t want to know , like TMI. People tend to not want to have that intimacy. I get tired of having what feels like superficial relationships or what I mean is aquantance only type friends. Seems everyone already has enough friends . .

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      I’ve been there Leigh. It’s hard when you want deeper conversations and others don’t seem interested. It takes time, and sometimes lots and lots of patience and prayer. We were in Charlotte for years before I developed what I call “heart friends.” During that time, Jesus became my closest heart friend. I told Him everything and would often sit and listen and write down in my journal what I sensed in my heart He wanted to say back to me. It was hard but good especially now that I can looks back and see what God was doing. Praying for a deeper-heart-friend to share your story and your life with soon.

  • Melanie Boling

    Hi, Renee,
    This story of you and Michelle is so beautiful. At 48, I’m still trying to be more than an acquaintance with people, but that’s all most people want. I am trying to learn the secret of being content, since God hasn’t seen fit to allow me to have that one close sister in Christ to share life with together.
    I recently thought that prayer had been answered, but the person told me she didnt think God wanted us to be friends because I needed counseling.
    While God is more than my Heavenly Father, He’s closer than a brother, I still long for that give and take friendship. For now, I have been sent a friend who lives in another state to chat with on fb. I’m thankful for her. But I still await the face to face relationship.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Praying for you too Melanie. For a face-to-face, heart-to-heart friend that is a good balance of both giving and receiving, growing and sharing Christ through your lives and friendship. :)

  • http://www.patstanton.org Patti Chriestenson

    Such a blessing to read your article! You did such a great job of sharing and communicating your thoughts and heart. What you said made so much sense and certainly gave me some things to consider. Blessings to you!

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      You are so sweet Patti!! I don’t know what happened this week to make my blog post from April go out again to my email list but from some comments I see today, it looks like God knew there were some who may have missed it when it posted earlier in the Spring and it was just what He wanted for them today. :) Grateful to be a pen in His hand.

  • Sunny faith

    I am not a good story teller, so this will sound a little stilted. In 2001, my world fell apart. All in one single week. It started with 9/11. That shook up my job. That same week, my mother suddenly died. It was on the same day my husband of 20 years told me that he wanted a different life, and wanted a divorce so that he could bring over to the USA a Russian bride 15 years younger than I. Every thing I had known to be stable in my life – family, marriage, friends and employment was ripped asunder, the very fabric of my life torn wide open, ugly threads dangling. I didn’t know God very well, so I it took me seven full years to recover enough to move forward. Looking back upon that time, I can see God’s plan for me. It wasn’t until late 2013 that I awakened to God’s great love for me, and I know, had I not had to walk my broken road, I would never have come to know my redeemer. He has given me peace and grace to walk anew. That ripped fabric I wore previously? My Father has wrapped my heart in his best cloth, so that I may bring him glory.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Wow, Sunny faith. You have been through so much more than I can imagine one heart being able to endure. But God. Only Jesus could take the rubble, the ripped fabric, the loss of so many things and people you held dear and bring redemption. Your story gives me hope. Thank you so much for sharing it!!

  • Angela

    Renee thank you for sharing and giving us the opportunity to speak our hearts. I have issues with TRUST and trusting people in general to tell them ny story. I have done that in the past and I have painful scars ftom telling. I am ashamed of some of my life stories so sharing is harder now than ever. I am sceptical and afraid of small groups too. I don’t know what its like to be in a small group. I am afraid people question me about my story and I have to tell the truth so I avoid this by nit joining a small group in church so no one knows how to pray for me. God bkess you. I just moved to another state too and I am alone. My husband is in prison.

    • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

      Praying for you Angela. Im so sorry for the hurts you’ve endured in community and yet I understand. There is discernment and wisdom in the waiting before sharing everything. I see the hard place you are in with not risking small groups bc you feel like if you’re going to share some of your story you need to share it all. Im praying right now that God would be your safe place to process, to talk, to listen and share with Him first. That He would eventually also bring an older, wiser, worthy-of-trust Godly woman into your life who you can share with, and one who will love you through the hards parts and help you get to the best part He has for you in the days ahead. Praying for your husband and your marriage too. There is nothing Jesus can’t redeem and repair. You are loved by an almighty God!!

  • Karen

    I replied to Mirla’s post which is # 85. I’m very interested in the book Renee spoke about “Just you and your Savior getting to know each other without any pre-conceived notions of what you’ve learned through others”! Help I need the title!

  • http://www.reneeswope.com Renee Swope

    HI Karen,

    Thank you for your sweet patience waiting for my response. My blog sent out my post from April this week, unbeknownst to me so I hadn’t scheduled time to hop over here and our family has been traveling. ;)

    The name of the book is “A Confident Heart.” :)

  • Angela

    Thank you so much Renee for your prayers and for understanding! I too see Gods hand in sending out this email again. I am loved by an Almighty God. Hallelujah. I thank God for blessing us with you.

  • Karen

    Thank you Renee! I love “A Confidant Heart”. It has brought such an inner peace and I hunger for more absolute, unshakeable confidence. I’m going to do the Confident Heart devotional now. It’s the right path. Thank you again