Food for the Soul

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Posted 9/12/17 at 11:45 AM | Audra Jennings

Author challenges women to pursue Biblical literacy

Choose Wisely, Live Fully points to Proverbs 1–9 for wisdom and truth

Abingdon Press
Choose Wisely, Live Fully by Donna Gaines

Fortune, fame and power mean nothing without Godly wisdom. King Solomon learned this in his day, and it is a truth that stands today. Author Donna Gaines’ new book, Choose Wisely, Live Fully: Lessons from Wisdom & Folly, the Two Women of Proverbs (Abingdon Press/August 15, 2017/ISBN: 9781501834240/$16.99), draws from the timeless wisdom of Proverbs 1–9 to help women apply the same principles in practical ways to the issues they face today.

Gaines harnesses her two passions, discipleship and literacy, to challenge women of all ages to become biblically literate. “God has not changed,” Gaines writes. “So why do we keep repeating the same behaviors even though we can see no one has been able to sidestep God’s laws or the consequences of breaking them? I am convinced the answer to that question is this: Most of us honestly don’t know what God has said in the first place. . . . Biblical illiteracy is rampant.”

The statistics support Gaines’ position. According to Lifeway Research findings, 20% of churchgoers reveal they never read the Bible (and the same percentage claim to read it daily), which leaves 80% who have, at best, a marginal understanding of its teachings. That deficiency makes us vulnerable to propaganda, political slant and other influences that do not represent biblical truth.

Choose Wisely, Live Fully responds to this need for biblical literacy by looking intently at the lives of Wisdom and Folly, the two women described in Proverbs 1–9, and their contrasting worldviews. By unpacking the topics covered in these early chapters of Proverbs — truth, wisdom, folly, courage and beauty, to name a few — Gaines seeks to awaken a perpetual hunger for firsthand biblical truth instead of relying on someone else’s interpretation of it.

Most importantly, Choose Wisely, Live Fully helps readers quickly identify that only God’s Word is the food that satisfies this hunger for truth and reminds us a daily portion is required to be nourished and equipped with a biblical worldview. Written with a built-in study guide, the book includes thought-provoking questions and exercises that may be used for personal study, small-group study or mentoring study.

Gaines examines the blessings and curses associated with the choices made by the two women in Proverbs and equips readers to:

  • discern the voice of God and follow His clear path between Wisdom and Folly.
  • experience the joy of wholehearted obedience.
  • let God help them mentor the lives of those around them in remarkable ways.
  • understand what it means to be a godly woman, wife and mother.
  • view mistakes as opportunities for growth.

A free downloadable resource on how to offer a mentoring program to help other women in their walk of faith is available at www.abingdonpress.com/donnagaines.

Donna Gaines, author of Choose Wisely, Live Fully

About the Author

Donna Gaines is a speaker and author of Choose Wisely, Live Fully, Seated: Living from Our Position in Christ and Leaving Ordinary: Encounter God Through Extraordinary Prayer.

Gaines is the founder of Arise2Read, a nonprofit organization that recruits churches to adopt and provide tutors for inner-city elementary schools. She also teaches Bible study at her home church, Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, in which her husband, Steve Gaines, Southern Baptist Convention President, pastors.

She is the mother of four and “Nonna” to ten grandchildren.

Learn more at www.donnagaines.org and follow her on Twitter (@donnadgaines).

Posted 9/12/17 at 10:53 AM | Audra Jennings

Finding freedom, purpose and joy in life’s mundane

Part 1 of an interview with Kari Patterson,

Author of Sacred Mundane

Many women feel trapped in everyday drudgery and disappointment, in dull domestic duties and jobs that don’t offer fulfillment. The mundane day-in, day-out life seems like a far cry from the abundant, purposeful life they envisioned as Christians. In Sacred Mundane: How to Find Freedom, Purpose, and Joy (Kregel Publications), author and blogger Kari Patterson helps readers find freedom, purpose and joy in the life they are living right now.

Q: The word “mundane” usually has a negative connotation. How do you define mundane?

Mundane refers to the ordinary, everyday, commonplace, unexciting stuff of life. Yes, it does usually have a negative connotation, and that’s the point! We tend to devalue and despise the mundane, but that is where our transformation takes place. When we overlook this area, we miss the greatest catalyst for effecting true change in our lives. For Naaman, the Jordan River had negative connotations, which was why God led him to dip down into those waters. It is precisely the waters we most want to avoid where our transformation is found.

Q: Explain the life-sentence exercise you ask your readers to do in the introduction of Sacred Mundane.

In 2 Kings, we read, “Naaman was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.” He had so much going for him, but his leprosy threatened to steal it all. I ask readers to consider their own lives and prayerfully simmer down their own life into a sentence. We all have so much going for us; we are made in the image of God with gifts, skills, relationships, abilities, potential . . . but there’s something that limits, hinders, robs, and binds us, and in quiet, prayerful moments it will likely come to the surface. There’s something we just can’t kick. So often we’re vaguely aware of the areas we want to change, but we don’t take the time to narrow down and identify the one thing that most hinders us. We feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Identifying the one thing helps us see more clearly how God wants to use our mundane to make us more like Him.

Q: You write we all have something that limits our freedom, confuses our purpose, and steals our joy that we try to hide from others yet it continues to grow. How do we identify what that thing is and remove it from our lives?

The good news is that God wants us free even more than we do. As we sit quietly before Him and genuinely desire to hear from Him, He will show us. We could also ask a close friend, spouse, or someone who truly loves us, “What one thing do you see keeping me from being all God created me to be?” I find it helpful to think of it not as something that’s “wrong with us,” but simply something that’s keeping us from being all God made us to be. It wasn’t Naaman’s fault he had leprosy. Some of our hang-ups are the result of our poor choices, some are a result of what others have done to us, and some are just the consequences of living in a fallen world. The point isn’t to determine whose “fault” it is or to shame us for our weakness or issue, but to find wholeness, freedom, joy.

Q: How does desperation lead to transformation?

Change is hard, but it happens when the discomfort of our problem exceeds the discomfort of changing. When we are finally sick to death of a situation, when we’ve had it with this struggle, that’s when we really seek change. In recovery circles, we would call it “rock bottom” — we each have to reach rock bottom in our situation before we are truly ready to change. My hope is readers have reached their rock bottom or find it in reading the book and become ready to do whatever it takes to let God change their lives.

Q: Why is it sometimes unsettling to let God into our lives when He is right outside, knocking on the door?

It’s unsettling because it means letting go of control. Our greatest temptation will always be to want to rule our own lives, to be our own God, and to do it our way. However, God loves us too much to let us do that because He knows we’ll do a terrible job. We aren’t God, and we were never meant to be. He’s the only One who can handle the weight of that responsibility, so He patiently knocks and waits for us to let Him in. We’re hesitant because of fear and not wanting to give up control. We forget how good He is and how He always is working for our good . . . if only we could trust Him more.

Q: When you were in college, you were on fire for God, yet miserable at the same time. Why were you so unhappy during this period of time?

Life was so very ordinary and full of disappointment. The man I loved had just broken my heart and told me we would never be together (we are now married), my job was full of mundane, tedious tasks, my relationships, especially with my roommate, included the usual conflict and awkwardness, plus I had the challenges of leading 400 college students. I hadn’t yet learned all of life — even the struggling, frustration, irritating, disappointing parts — were part of my sacred offering to God. I genuinely wanted to please God, so it was life-changing for me to realize I could please Him simply by offering up every ordinary day as a sacrifice of praise to Him. Hebrews 13:15 says through Jesus’ sacrifice of atonement we can offer our sacrifice of praise.

Q: On your blog (also named Sacred Mundane), you wrote, “Several years ago God wrecked us for ‘normal,’ and we started doing weird stuff.” What exactly did you and your husband start doing?

By nature, I am very introverted. I like my space, my stuff, and my organized, controlled, neat, and tidy life. I wanted a secure retirement account, a successful writing career, security, and other things like that. In 2010, my husband and I read The Hole in our Gospel, and God completely turned our world upside down. Even though we’d “known” these things, we’d never really known them.

We began seeing the kingdom of God is all about giving away, taking the low seat, preferring others, and storing up treasure in heaven. We sold our dream home and moved to “the other side of the tracks” into a dumpy little rental to plant a church in a lower-income area. We opened up our home and started living in community. We became involved with those coming out of alcohol addiction and even had some ladies live with us who were coming out of homelessness and addiction. For a few years we gave half our income away, and I will be giving away 100% of my proceeds from this book.

None of this is spectacular — lots of people are doing the same — but from the world’s perspective, it’s weird. In fact, our local TV news did a story on our downsize and our commitment to frugality because it seemed strange. Apparently following Jesus is weird to the world! Why would you give half your income away? Why would you downsize unless you had to? Why would you let unsavory people into your home? Because Jesus is awesome, and we finally saw the value in investing in the Kingdom more than in our own little temporal kingdom here on earth.

Q: Why is the mundane so sacred, and how can we learn to embrace it?

The mundane is sacred because that’s where we live. It’s the majority of our lives. Sure, we have some mountaintop experiences. We have vacations and high moments; we have wedding days and exhilarating experiences. But the vast majority of our lives is spent in the midst of ordinary days, so that is why it’s so sacred — because it’s where we live, it’s where God is, dwelling inside us by His Spirit. It’s where our guard is down, and we’re not performing; we’re just our raw and real selves, doing our raw and real thing, and that is where God meets us and makes us more like Him.

Learn more about Sacred Mundane and read Patterson’s Sacred Mundane blog at www.karipatterson.com. She is also active on Facebook (sacredmundane) and Twitter (@sacredmundane).

Posted 8/31/17 at 3:05 PM |

First Priority of America names new President and CEO

Dr. Rick Forbus has been selected to serve as the next President and CEO of First Priority of America, a Christian non-profit organization that presently resources over 40,000 middle and high school students in 849 clubs across America. Forbus and his team are preparing to be in 1000 schools by the fall of 2018.

For the past eleven years, Dr. Forbus was the CEO of Trove, Inc. an Atlanta-based executive coaching and professional training firm. He will remain a Senior Partner for Trove, Inc., but will direct his energy and skills to grow First Priority of America.

“First Priority of America (FPoA) exists to share the hope of Christ with every student in America,” says Forbus. “We believe that America’s youth culture is facing a major spiritual problem that requires a great spiritual movement. All statistics today indicate that teenagers are the number one influence on the lives of their peers. Our strategy is designed to unite the body of Christ by networking churches, parents, and business/community leaders to support, train and resource Christian teenagers to influence their school peers with the Gospel. FPoA believes that the good news of the Gospel of Christ is the solution to the hopelessness facing today’s teenagers.” FULL POST

Posted 8/31/17 at 2:59 PM |

Hall of Fame vocalist named this year’s recipient of Orchestra Kentucky’s Lifetime Achievement Award

L to R: Jeff Reed, Larnelle Harris

Hall of Fame vocalist, Larnelle Harris, was named Orchestra Kentucky’s 2017 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Arts and Humanities. Harris joins a distinguished list of performers and singers such as award-winning singer/songwriter Neil Sedaka, Peter Tork of the Monkees, and Grammy, Golden Globe and Academy Award winner, Paul Williams. Orchestra Kentucky director, Jeff Reed, said Harris was the perfect choice for the honor.

“Larnelle is most deserving of our Lifetime Achievement in the Arts and Humanities award,” says Reed, who founded Orchestra Kentucky in 2000. “He has had a major impact on gospel music worldwide, which has brought great honor to Bowling Green, his adopted hometown. So far, I have had the unique opportunity of working with Larnelle, and three different orchestras, on nine different occasions. Not only is he an incredible artist, but he is a wonderful person, whom I’m proud to call my friend.” FULL POST

Posted 8/17/17 at 1:10 PM | Audra Jennings

Autism is different in every person

Part 2 of an interview with Karla Akins,

Author of A Pair of Miracles

Kregel Publications
A Pair of Miracles by Karla Akins

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although a growing number of parents face similar circumstances, many still feel isolated and alone. In A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting (Kregel Publications), author Karla Akins, the mother of twin sons with autism, offers encouragement and reassurance.

Q: Who will benefit from reading your new book, A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting?

I hope families and caregivers will be encouraged by reading about our journey and might gain a few ideas on how to work with their child. I also hope they will feel like they’re not alone in the struggle. I know I like to read books that validate what I’m feeling. It’s always good to know you’re not the only one in the trenches, fighting the good fight of day-to-day survival with autism.

I’ve included a generous section on how to work with your child. These include ideas that worked for us but also some evidence-based interventions proven to work for a lot of children with autism. Since I’m also a special-education teacher, I hope the book will help educators understand what families deal with. I’ve sat on both sides of the IEP table. I know the stress of advocating for what’s in the best interest of my child, but I also know how it feels to be an educator. Educators and parents need to work as a team, and the book gives great tips on how to do so.

Q: What misconceptions do most people have about autism? What would you most like your readers to understand about autism?

I wish more people would understand autism is different in every person. It’s a spectrum disorder, which means there’s a wide spectrum people fall on. I have friends with children who have a severe form. Their children are grown now and still can’t toilet themselves. I have friends with children who have children who are considered high-functioning because they have high IQs, but the child can’t shower independently without guidance. It’s a neurological disorder, not a behavioral or psychological problem, and it manifests in a myriad of ways. When you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism. It will look different in another child.

Q: For parents who are walking the road of raising children with autism, what advice do you offer for becoming the best advocates for them when it comes to medical care?

Trust your God-given instincts, and don’t second-guess yourself. God gave those children to you, and He will equip you to do what is right if you seek Him for answers and wisdom.

Put everything in writing when you have a concern that isn’t being answered. Do your research to make sure any treatments you desire for your child are based on evidence and not trends.

Karla Akins, author of A Pair of Miracles

Q: What are some of the other areas you discuss in the book for living life with autistic family members?

I really want parents to take their children out in public and de-sensitize their kids with autism to uncomfortable situations. Yes, it’s inconvenient, but you do your children no favors by hiding them away at home. Society needs to see them, and the child with autism needs to be exposed to the sights and sounds of the world so they can learn to cope.

I talk about how difficult mealtimes were. They were a nightmare when the twins were small. Food was thrown everywhere, and a lot of screaming went on. Looking back, now I can see the screaming was from anxiety, but I didn’t realize it then. We learned the twins ate better if they ate in the dining room while we ate in the kitchen. We all had to learn not to take it personally. It was just what it was. At that time, our kitchen had a cut out in the wall to the dining room. We’d put two vinyl table cloths on the floor under their high chairs and let them go at it. It was the only way we could eat and have a conversation. Every meal ended up with them painting themselves head to toe with food. They couldn’t eat solids because they had poor motor control, so I pureed everything for years.

I also discuss the need for a network of support because of how stressful it is to raise a child with autism. I learned I couldn’t care for the boys without help, and I needed to admit it.

Q: How were your other children impacted by their brothers’ autism? What recommendations do you have for parents to make sure their other children don’t feel overlooked?

If I had my kids to raise all over again, I’d have been more deliberate in scheduling one-on-one time with each of my children. I think we were too busy. I try not to second-guess myself, but it’s hard not to. What parents absolutely must not do is depend on their other children as caregivers. Yes, definitely, they can help out because that’s what families do. However, every child needs to feel they are a child and sibling, not a parent.

Q: Can you share some of the basics teachers at church and ministry volunteers should know when working with a child who is autistic or has disabilities? What tools are offered in your book?

My book has a great appendix that answers questions about working with people with autism. I give a lot of great tips on how to respond to different behaviors and how to motivate kids with autism.

Remember all children are unique, no matter what their ability or diagnosis. Also remember a diagnosis is not who they are. They are children and people first. They just happen to have a label.

Churches can embrace families living with disabilities by providing one-on-one aides in the child’s classes so the parent can attend their own classes. This also allows the child with disabilities to attend church with children their own age too.

I offer training to the teachers and those working in the children’s department. I love giving training seminars. People can contact me through my website. I also do one-on-one online consultations as well. Folks can sign up on my scheduling page.

Q: You include sections with scripture to meditate on. What verses have meant the most to you throughout the years?

Psalm 139 is my favorite scripture passage because it talks so much about how God knew us before we were born and how He is always with us.

I’ve also leaned a lot on the book of Job for inspiration, especially Job’s attitude in Job 13:15 (KJV):

“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him.”

Job is saying, “I trust God no matter what, but I’m still going to be bold in going to Him.”

There are many things that happen I don’t understand, but this verse keeps me praising instead of complaining. It also gives me permission, in a way, to wrestle with God about the hard stuff that goes on in my life. It also helps me realize I can trust God, even when things don’t make sense. He’s in control.

Learn more about A Pair of Miracles at www.KarlaAkins.com. Akins is also on Facebook (KarlaKAkins) and Twitter (@KarlaAkins).

 

Posted 8/17/17 at 1:06 PM | Audra Jennings

Mother of sons with autism offers encouragement and reassurance

Part 1 of an interview with Karla Akins,

Author of A Pair of Miracles

Karla Akins, author of A Pair of Miracles

It was not long after Karla Akins and her husband brought their adopted sons home from the hospital they realized the boys were not behaving and developing as they should. A few months later they learned the boys were on the fetal alcohol disorders spectrum, and by the time they were four, they were diagnosed with autism. Twenty years ago, autism was not as prevalent as it is today, and Akins admits she knew nothing about it. When she voiced her hopes her autistic sons could learn to read and function independently, doctors warned her those expectations would never be met. Despite those warnings, she set out to prove all things are possible through God.

Laced with humor and compassion, A Pair of Miracles is the heartwarming story of the Akins family’s journey of raising Isaac and Isaiah. However, the book is more than a moving biography from a mom on the front lines. It is a powerful tool, full of practical help for parents, educators and church members working with children who have intellectual disabilities, speech impairments and other limitations on the autism spectrum. It is also a challenge to the church to welcome and celebrate all of its members, no matter their abilities.

Q: A few months after you brought your adopted your twin sons home from the hospital, you learned they were born with Fetal Alcohol Disorder. How did they behave differently from other children, and what clued you into the fact something else might be wrong?

The twins screamed constantly and were very, very difficult to calm. They had an amazing stamina when it came to screaming and could scream for hours. They would start screaming even before they opened their eyes to wake up.

Doctors chalked this all up to the twins being premature. Because they were premature and born to a “low-functioning” mother, they didn’t really give us any other explanation. It was a given in their mind that due to their prematurity they would have unusual behaviors. At three months they were diagnosed with microcephaly (their skulls too small for their brains), and it was assumed, because of their facial features and small head circumference, it was due to fetal alcohol disorder. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) is difficult to diagnose (at least it was back then) because you need to have the mother’s admission that she drank while pregnant. We didn’t have that admission, but the twins are textbook cases of the syndrome.

When they were diagnosed with microcephaly, I was determined they wouldn’t keep that diagnosis. I laid my hands on their heads every single time I touched them and prayed their heads would grow. God answered that prayer. They have regular-sized head circumference! Truly a miracle. If they didn’t, their cognitive functioning would be much worse.

Q: How old were the boys when they were diagnosed with autism? How much did you know about autism before their diagnosis?

The twins were four years old when they were diagnosed, but I knew something was wrong years before the official diagnosis. Not only were they a textbook case of FASD, but they are of autism as well. It’s important to remember that autism can have co-morbid diagnoses. In other words, having autism doesn’t mean you can’t have other diagnoses as well. Did the FASD cause the autism? We have no way of knowing.

When the boys received their autism diagnosis, the only thing I knew about autism was from the movie Rain Man, which means I knew nothing! Plus, autism is different in every individual.

In 1997-98, the only thing I had was a rickety old IBM computer someone had given me. It barely worked and was one of those with the green screen, but I used it to hook up to AOL. (I can still hear that dial-up sound in my ears!) Once online, I connected with an amazing crew of mamas and grandmas who also had children with autism. It was those women who led me to resources. I have to tell you, we were on the cutting edge of research in those days, but as far as early intervention was concerned, it was very difficult to get anyone to listen to us regarding what our children needed to have to succeed. It was very, very hard to get people’s attention. If it weren’t for those women, I don’t know how I’d have survived those early years. They were a lifeline.

Kregel Publications
A Pair of Miracles by Karla Akins

Q: What was the doctors’ prognosis of how the boys would be able to function as they grew and matured? How did you work through the grief that followed the news?

The working title of this book was Pie in the Sky. I was told by a psychologist my hopes and dreams for them to function independently was “pie in the sky thinking” and I “better get over that right now.” I never went back to her. The boys have done much, much more than anyone thought possible.

For instance, that particular doctor told me they’d never read, be able to live independently or speak. Other doctors simply didn’t know and told me I would have to wait and see. Only one doctor I worked with was sympathetic to me, and it wasn’t anything he said, but it was how he treated me with such kindness and respect when we’d see him. I wish there were more pediatricians like that today. He never gave an opinion about the future. He just helped me get through each medical crisis and was very encouraging to me. He made me feel like I was competent.

Today the twins walk. They talk and understand everything that’s said to them. Their speech and language is a little difficult to understand at times, but they function well enough to send text messages and talk on the phone.

I worked through my grief about their diagnosis in stages. In some ways, I already knew something was wrong. Developmental pediatricians were tracking their physical development, and we could already see some things about their development weren’t right, such as the size of their heads. I also knew the way they reacted to sensory input was way off, and they weren’t meeting their developmental milestones on time, such as sitting up, walking and talking. Still, even though I knew something was wrong, I went through all the normal stages of grief — from anger to acceptance. I still do go through some of the stages. All parents with special needs kids deal with grief on a day-to-day basis. It cycles through us at various times depending on what we’re dealing with. Mostly, though, I’m so proud of my guys. They’ve worked hard to get where they are today.

Q: When the boys were young, in a meeting with your pastor, he asked, “Do you think you missed the will of God when you adopted them?” Even doctors made hurtful comments to you about your boys. How did you respond?

Well, I’d like to say the conversation doesn’t still bother me, but it does. I do realize some people just don’t “get” adoption and disability issues. I’ve forgiven the pastor and those doctors, but just thinking about those conversations makes me shake my head with incredulity. Some people don’t have filters. They just say whatever they’re thinking.

I was furious, of course, when those conversations took place. I never responded negatively or rudely to them at the time, but I did stew on what they said. I’m the type of person who when you tell me I can’t do something or can’t make something better, it fuels me to prove you wrong. I used those conversations to motivate me rather than discourage me.

Q: You talk about bargaining with God and even encourage readers to “wrestle with God” in difficult times. What were some of the questions you had for God in the early years of raising Isaac and Isaiah?

I would actually pray for forgiveness from God for wanting to adopt because I sometimes worried about what it was doing to our family. It definitely took away the tranquility in the house. I am a huge peace-lover and maker. I crave quiet spaces. I also asked my husband to forgive me for pushing for adoption, but he never once wavered or questioned our decision. That helped me a lot in the twins’ younger years when they were so, so hard to care for.

I still have a lot of questions for God where disabilities and pain in the world are concerned. However, I do know the devil hates humans and wants them to suffer because we are created in God’s image. Still, God’s ways are not our ways, and I truly believe He will use our struggles for His purpose and glory if we let Him.

Q: What have your boys taught you about God, and how has your faith grown by being their mom?

The boys have taught me more about everything in life and especially about God. I’ve never seen greater faith than theirs. I’ve never seen joy such as theirs. The twins have amazing faith. To me, they’re spiritual giants. Their faith in God inspires me every single day. Their spirits aren’t at all disabled. Their spirits are as healthy as yours and mine and probably even more so because of their childlike faith.

They are very tender-hearted toward the Lord, and they know to turn to Him for help. Just a few days ago we had a situation that made Isaac anxious. He asked if we could all pray, so we stood in a circle and prayed. He sobbed like a baby, crying out to the Lord for help. That is faith. Without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11). Their faith amazes me. I am eager to interact with them in heaven when they are completely healed and to talk to Jesus about them and how their prayers affected heaven. They are true prayer warriors. When I need prayer, I ask them to pray because of their great faith.

They’ve taught me what’s important in life. I’m not as materialistic as I might have been otherwise because autism doesn’t allow you to have breakables. Doors get kicked in. Walls get holes in them. Furniture gets mauled. They’ve taught me not to sweat the small stuff. My tolerance for imperfection is extremely broad because of them. Societal constraints don’t worry me. Our yard might not be the prettiest in the neighborhood because we’re so busy supervising the twins, but the love in our house is immeasurable. It’s far from perfect, trust me, but when I focus on the blessing these boys are to others (they love serving people), I’m deeply humbled. I wish I could be as sweet as they are.

My faith has grown as their mom because what the world said could never happen, God made happen. When doctors told me they were microcephalic, I refused to accept it. As I mentioned earlier, I constantly laid my hands on their heads and told them to grow. They have normal-sized heads now. Doctors said they’d not walk, but they walk. Doctors said they wouldn’t read or do much independently, and with God’s grace we’ve proved them wrong.

Q: Tell us about Isaac and Isaiah today. In what ways are they able to function independently in ways the doctors never expected? In what areas do they still need help?

They do so many things on their own! They have a golf cart they use for transportation to their part-time jobs and other places in town. Fortunately, we live in a community that allows it. They use their smartphones and iPads to communicate and read things. They attend church and help with various duties there. Isaac helps with the sound system, and Isaiah loves helping in children’s church. They are amazing helpers. They love helping people.

The twins will probably always need to live with someone who can protect them from being taken advantage of. They have a difficult time counting money, so it’s easy to cheat them. They can also be talked into doing things, as they are quite naïve and gullible. They have dual-diagnoses of fetal alcohol disorder and intellectual disabilities, so that makes dealing with them a bit more involved. They still need to have reminders for daily self-care and function at about the level of an 8- to 11-year-old. They still need to be prompted to do their daily chores (don’t we all?) and so forth.

Learn more about A Pair of Miracles at www.KarlaAkins.com. Akins is also on Facebook (KarlaKAkins) and Twitter (@KarlaAkins).

Posted 8/8/17 at 3:03 PM | Audra Jennings

God is at work in the mundane

Kari Patterson helps readers find freedom, purpose and joy in daily life

Kregel Pulblications
Sacred Mundane by Kari Patterson

Many women feel trapped in everyday drudgery and disappointment, in dull domestic duties and jobs that don’t offer fulfillment. The mundane day-in, day-out life seems like a far cry from the abundant, purposeful life they envisioned as Christians. In Sacred Mundane: How to Find Freedom, Purpose, and Joy (Kregel Publications/July 25, 2017/ISBN: 9780825444470/$15.99), author and blogger Kari Patterson helps readers find freedom, purpose and joy in the life they are living right now.

When life seems ordinary and unexciting, it is easy to slip into the mindset of being stuck and in need of a change. Patterson shows the reader the key to change is already in her hand once she realizes what is holding her back. “In 2 Kings, we read, ‘Naaman was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.’ He had so much going for him, but his leprosy threatened to steal it all,” explains Patterson. “I ask readers to consider their own lives and prayerfully simmer down their own life into a sentence. So often we’re vaguely aware of the areas we want to change, but we don’t take the time to narrow down and identify the one thing hindering us most. We feel overwhelmed or discouraged. Identifying the one thing helps us see more clearly how God wants to use our mundane to make us more like Him.”

Patterson points readers to the truth: In each unremarkable life lies an opportunity to see, know, love and be transformed by God, who meets everyone right where they are. Instead of stepping away from real life to find God, Patterson equips women with a six-step practice to move forward and meet Him in the humdrum moments of everyday existence. When inner change is achieved by the sacred, everything on the outside changes too. Once a decision is made to let Him in, it is time to:

  1. Look: see the world through the word
  2. Listen: discern His voice in daily life
  3. Engage: enter in
  4. Embrace: love the One
  5. Trust: live the blank
  6. Thank: find fulfillment

“The secret to true transformation, to a life of freedom, purpose and joy, is found in the ordinary life we already live,” Patterson explains. “Our mundane, the daily frustrations and the tedious tasks are working for us, producing supernatural strength in us, if we will let them. As we learn to go through each of the steps, we will find our ordinary transformed to extraordinary and our lives forever changed for the better.”

Through entertaining narrative, candid real-life stories, Bible study and practical instruction, Sacred Mundane leads readers to discover the beautiful sacredness in the lives they already lead. Women can learn to grow in God and make a real difference — big or small — in the world. The book also includes an outline for a nine-week study for individuals or groups.

At the author’s request, all royalties from the sales of the book will be donated to World Vision’s work with women and children in need.

Learn more about Sacred Mundane at www.karipatterson.com.

Kari Patterson, author of Sacred Mundane

About the Author

Kari Patterson (Kari rhymes with sorry, not scary) is a beloved daughter of God, and her life’s aim is to please her Father. She holds a master’s degree in pastoral studies from Multnomah Seminary and reaches thousands of women worldwide through speaking events and her popular blog, Sacred Mundane.

Patterson is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, Bible teacher, mentor and passionate seeker of truth. She and her husband, Jeff, have two children and lead a Christ-centered community called Renew Church in Beavercreek, OR.

Read Patterson’s Sacred Mundane blog at www.karipatterson.com. She is also active on Facebook (sacredmundane) and Twitter (@sacredmundane).


Posted 7/25/17 at 7:05 PM | Audra Jennings

A story of autism, faith and determined parenting

Karla Akins’ sons, her pair of miracles, are proof of what is possible through God

Kregel Publications
A Pair of Miracles by Karla Akins

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in 68 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Although a growing number of parents face similar circumstances, many still feel isolated and alone. In A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting (Kregel Publications/July 25, 2017/ISBN: 9780825444845/$14.99), author Karla Akins, the mother of twin sons with autism, offers encouragement and reassurance.

It was not long after Akins and her husband brought their adopted sons home from the hospital they realized the boys were not behaving and developing as they should. A few months later they learned the boys were on the fetal alcohol disorders spectrum, and by the time they were four, they were diagnosed with autism. Twenty years ago, autism was not as prevalent as it is today, and Akins admits she knew nothing about it.

When she voiced her hopes her autistic sons could learn to read and function independently, doctors warned her those expectations would never be met. Despite those warnings, she set out to prove all things are possible through God.

Laced with humor and compassion, A Pair of Miracles is the heartwarming story of the Akins family’s journey of raising Isaac and Isaiah. However, the book is more than a moving biography from a mom on the front lines. It is a powerful tool, full of practical help for parents, educators and church members working with children who have intellectual disabilities, speech impairments and other limitations on the autism spectrum. It is also a challenge to the church to welcome and celebrate all of its members, no matter their abilities.

“I hope families and caregivers will be encouraged by reading about our journey and might gain a few ideas on how to work with their child,” shares Akins. “I also hope they will feel like they’re not alone in the struggle. I know I like to read books that validate what I’m feeling. It’s always good to know you’re not the only one in the trenches, fighting the good fight of day-to-day survival with autism.”

For parents seeking hope, answers and peace, Akins leads the way to all three down a path she’s already been. In addition to the inspiration, lessons learned and advice for becoming your child’s best advocate in all aspects of life given throughout the book, she includes appendices, offering: therapy and teaching strategies, listings of autism organizations and websites, skills checklists and suggestions for additional reading resources and online apps.

Thanks in large part to Akins’ determination, faith and unconditional love, her adult twins are now able to function independently in many ways, contrary to doctors’ predictions. They help their dad install pools, do carpentry work and serve in the church as ushers, sound engineers and children’s ministry workers. However, she warns, “Autism is different in every person. It’s a spectrum disorder, which means people fall on a wide spectrum. Remember all children are unique, no matter what their ability or diagnosis, and a diagnosis is not who they are. They are children and people first. They just happen to have a label.”


Karla Akins, author of A Pair of Miracles

About the Author

Karla Akins is the mother of five, including twin sons with autism. She has a bachelor’s in special education from Western Governors University and a doctorate in Christian education from Kingsway Theological Seminary. She has nearly four decades of teaching experience in homeschooling, private school and public education.

Akins has also served in ministry for more than 30 years and is co-minister at Christian Fellowship Church in North Manchester, Indiana, with her husband, Eddie. She is also a popular speaker at conferences and retreats.

In addition to A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Autism, Faith, and Determined Parenting, Akins is the author of four other books. Her first novel, The Pastor’s Wife Wears Biker Boots, featured a homeschool mom and a child with autism.

Akins enjoys riding her motorcycle, sipping chai lattes and snuggling with her three dogs and two cats.

Akins loves hearing from her readers. Her online home is www.KarlaAkins.com, and she is also on Facebook (KarlaKAkins) and Twitter (@KarlaAkins).


Posted 6/30/17 at 9:36 AM |

Popular speaker and bible teacher to keynote at major international conference

For the first time in over six years, a woman will be the keynote speaker for the Faith Community Churches International (FCCI) annual conference to be held in Malawi, July 10-13. Dr. Deb Waterbury has been chosen to address delegates representing 45 nations in seven different world regions including Africa, Europe, South America, South Pacific and Middle East. Dr. Waterbury has been a long-time member of FCCI, as well as a frequent speaker at churches in Africa for the past seven years. Less than a year ago, Dr. Waterbury’s ministry, Love Everlasting Ministries, formed the “Reap What You Sew” project which offers tailoring and business training to widows and destitute women in Malawi, the second poorest country in the world.

“Malawi was largely decimated by the AIDS epidemic,” says Dr. Waterbury. “Hunger and poverty has left them not only with thousands of orphans to feed, but thousands of women left to take care of the children. These women have no skills and no way to provide for themselves and their children. This school has allowed women to learn a trade to feed their families. We already have a waiting list of nearly 100 women who want to enroll.” FULL POST

Posted 6/23/17 at 6:06 PM | Audra Jennings

Congregational transformation is fueled by personal renewal

Part 2 of an interview with Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor,

Authors of Learning Change

Kregel
Learning Change by Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor

In Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal (Kregel Ministry), authors Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor share stories from a community of pastors who tell of their journey to discover whether real change in their congregations was possible. Many felt trapped in unhealthy, even toxic, church situations and were desperate for hope. Yet their journey eventually led them beyond all their expectations. Learning Change chronicles these transformations lived out in practice, in community, and over time in a wide variety of congregational contexts.

Q: How did you find and collect the stories of churches who were able to institute lasting change in their congregations for this book?

We were invited by leaders from Western Theological Seminary, Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church to develop a collaborative process focused on personal and congregational transformation. Based on our previous work in a variety of settings and using content from our previous books, Leading Congregation Change and The Leaders Journey, we designed what has become Ridder Church Renewal (named after Bud and Lenora Ridder, donors who funded the pilot project). We did a 30-month pilot project with 16 congregations. All of the writers who contributed to the book were in that pilot project. As they applied what they were learning and because we worked together more than five years, we were able to see the unfolding stories of transformation in their individual lives and in the lives of their congregations.

As a result of the process we have been through with more than 100 congregations now, the stories pour in. People love to share the ways they are seeing meaningful change in their personal lives and forward movement in their congregations. The book includes just a few of the stories connected to this group of contributors. The stories in real life are a lot messier than they sound in this book, even though we tried to tell them as honestly as possible. We would encourage the reader to remember that learning is gradual and there’s lots of messiness along the way.

Q: In what ways did the churches participating in the study most need to change? Did they all share a common goal?

They all needed deep change in the mental models guiding the decisions they made about how to impact their communities effectively with the Gospel. This included confronting and changing mental models about things that are dear to us as Christians: discipleship, mission and the role of the church. They all also needed support and encouragement as they worked to change those mental models. The common goal was renewed hope they and their congregations could thrive in the 21st century.

Q: Tell us about your observations and research that led to the pilot programs you started in Houston to reconnect pastors and congregations to their calling.

In 1990, Jim was serving as the executive director of Union Baptist Association. They conducted a 40-year longitudinal study of the success and impact of their 400 congregations. They combined that with a series of 25 listening sessions with pastors of different-size churches from different parts of the city and from different language and culture groups. The research showed two overwhelming realities. The first was 80% of their congregations were plateaued or declining despite being in a massive mission field. The second was pastors were largely demoralized. As one pastor said, “I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked for less results than I’ve ever gotten. My health is failing. My family is struggling. All my denominational leaders can tell me to do is work harder at what I’ve been doing.” We became convinced we needed to find systemic, innovative solutions to the challenges facing pastors and congregations.

During that same period, Trisha was working one-on-one with pastors and ministers and their families in counseling and in a local pilot leadership development process for pastors called LeadersEdge. Her experience lined up with what several national studies were showing; many pastors were emotionally, relationally and spiritually weak and unhealthy, and they were ineffective leaders because their seminary programs had not trained or equipped them to lead. Many had trouble spiritually forming a congregation because they didn’t understand the process of spiritual formation. These pastors felt the pain of their ineffectiveness but were turning to programs to grow their churches rather than engaging a deep process of personal transformation. As pastors engaged in counseling, peer groups and LeadersEdge, they enthusiastically reported their experience of deep change. However, in most cases, the changes the pastors were experiencing didn’t translate to congregational change. We then began wondering how to set up a process for transformation and learning that would lead to change in pastors, lay leaders and congregants.

Q: Who is the intended audience for Learning Change, and how should the book be used?

The intended audience is pastors and congregational leaders who are faced with the challenge of congregational revitalization. Many pastors — particularly those who have recently finished seminary and are in their first call — have a good background in theology and church history but lack the relational skills to pastor a congregation. While they can’t learn these skills from reading our book, the book will alert them to some of the skills and values that are necessary and will invite them into a community of learners.

We’re particularly enthusiastic about the potential of this book to provide an introduction and reference guide for lay leaders to engage some of the best information out there about congregational leadership, spiritual formation and missional living and to hear the stories of others who are also putting these things into practice in their congregations.

This book will be most effective when it is used in community — small groups of people who are committed to learning together. We’ve already heard about church staffs, denominational teams, study groups and gatherings of friends beginning to work through this book together. We would say this to the reader: If you read to gain information, this book will be helpful; it has lots of good information and can serve as a resource for that. If you read to increase your own self-awareness and think through your own leadership, it will be even more helpful. If you do the exercises, think through the questions, practice being different, learn to use the tools in real life, share your learning with others and receive their feedback, it will be life-changing.

Q: In the second section of Learning Change, you write about the four core values that drive our process of learning and effect change. What are those values, and why are they imperative?

The values are authenticity, integrity, courage and love.

We believe the core values are essential for two reasons. One, we hold a deep conviction (taught by Jesus and the prophets) that when it comes to transformation, the how is even more important than the what. Two, deep change has to come from deep places; surface-level behavior change isn’t what we’re after. These values help us start from a different place and guide us as we learn to live a different way.

Q: Part three of the book delves into mental models and shifting the way we think about ministry and the church. What are some of the old ways of thinking that need to be reexamined in order to move forward as more missional congregations?

The fundamental shift is one that disrupts the separation of the secular from the sacred. Until congregational leaders recognize the mission of the church is in the world — the workplace, the schools, the neighborhood — they will continue to languish. This will include disrupting the assumption the professional minister is doing ministry and everyone else is working in the “real” world. This must shift to the ministry team empowering, coaching and celebrating those people in the congregation who are on mission in the world.

A second shift is challenging the assumption that knowledge of the Bible translates into effective leadership. While knowledge of the Bible is essential, knowing how to collaborate, listen and create are also essential skills.

Another important shift is from the goal of preserving and extending the church system as it currently exists, in exchange for joining God in God’s redemptive, restorative work in the world. This means letting go of some of my own preferences and moving out of my own comfort zone.

Q: What are some of the additional tools offered in the last section of the book for more effective leadership?

The tools we offer in the last section of the book are designed to help leaders understand their own part in the corporate change process and manage themselves. We start with helping leaders understand their autopilot — how they show up the way they do — so they can choose differently, starting with healing the wounds involved in creating that autopilot. We then move to helping leaders develop their skills with dialogue, learning to listen deeply and to talk in ways that facilitate change. Finally, we offer life-giving accountability as an essential part of the change process — a lifelong process of coaching and being coached.

Learn more about Learning Change at https://ridder.westernsem.edu/learning-change/.

 

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