Sunday, September 25, 2011

Stories: Lost and Found

By Carol Kuykendall

A woman came up to me following my “Story Telling” workshop at a recent conference.

“I lost my story when my husband died a few years ago,” she told me, her voice wavering with emotion. “I struggled to find a new story…”

She reinforced my point about the times in our lives when we lose the story we are living. The unexpected happens. We take a risk and give up the old to try something new. We’re forced to move or find a new job. We find ourselves heading in a whole new direction and we’re faced with finding a new story.

Tucked into the bridge between lost” and found is often a faith-stretching experience where God is guiding us into a new story with new purpose. And I’m convinced that God wants us to recognize him in that place and share our experience with others, because our story makes him real.

“If you are going to be used by God,” writes Oswald Chambers, “he will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all; they are meant to make you useful in his hands.”

I told my own “new” story in that workshop. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and given a grim life expectancy. Instead of fighting that prediction, I let it shape a new story for me: to do what mattered most in the days I had and trust God to equip me every step of my journey even if that meant dying sooner than I expected.

But guess what? I didn’t die. I recently passed the five-year anniversary of my diagnosis which is a milestone in a cancer journey. And suddenly I realized that I’d lost my story about dying and needed to find a new story and purpose about living as a survivor.

My phone started ringing. People who had recently been diagnosed with cancer wanted to know, how I had survived so well.

At first I wasn’t sure how to answer. I didn’t have a nice neat list of do’s and don’ts or unique advice about diet and medications. My story was more about what God had done than what I had done. And I found myself telling the story about the many ways God prepared and equipped me in my cancer journey.

In seeking to encourage others, I discovered how life-giving and hope-bringing our stories are. Eventually, I found my new purpose in helping others find and tell their stories about the life-defining experiences in their own lives.

Discovering our stories usually begins with mining the “multitude of experiences” that have shaped us into who we are and that have revealed God’s new purposes for our lives. Here are some questions to trigger that digging:

When have you “lost” and “found” a new story in your life?

What helped you go from “lost” to “found” in that experience?

What did you learn about God and yourself in that time?

How might that experience make you “useful in God’s hands”?

When we shape our answers into a story and share it with others, especially those walking a path we’ve already travelled, we become useful in God’s hands.

Carol Kuykendall helped launch a Stories ministry in her community and is passionate about helping others find and tell their stories. She is a consulting editor for MOPS International, an author and co-author of nine books and writes devotionals for Daily Guideposts. With her husband, Lynn, she lives in Boulder, CO which (thankfully!) is within driving distance of her three adult children and their families.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Living Well

By JoHannah Reardon

I am a professional woman who loves my work and who feels fiercely competitive about the tasks set before me. More than anything, I want to make a difference, and I almost always consider that will happen through the work I do. But a few weeks ago, I attended a memorial that forced me to reflect on what it means to live our lives well.

My brother is much older than I am, and he married my sister-in-law, Donna, when I was still in the womb. So I knew her as long as I knew anyone in my family and felt her love from my earliest days. They lived nearby and included me in many family activities, even taking me on vacation.

Donna never held a job outside of her home. She raised her family and was now looking forward to having an empty nest. Tragically, her oldest child died. Donna wholeheartedly accepted the responsibility of raising her granddaughter, Kara. Fortunately Donna’s own health didn’t fail until Kara grew to adulthood with a family of her own, which brings me to her memorial.

Numerous people shared the impact that Donna had in their lives. My sisters and I composed a poem to commemorate her. One young man talked about how he’d been a hyperactive boy, but that Donna had loved and defended him when others wouldn’t tolerate him. Another woman said that Donna always began their prayer times by saying, “Good morning, Lord!” Others talked about how Donna modeled what it meant to be a faithful Christian.

But the one who tugged my heart most was Kara. Kara said that when Donna was dying, she left work and rushed to her grandma’s bedside. Donna had been extremely restless, but when Kara arrived, my brother said, “It’s okay Donna. Kara is here.” She calmed down immediately and began to breathe peacefully. Kara wondered what to do to help her grandmother, who was like a mom, face this journey into heaven, and could only think of doing what Donna had done for her when she was a small child.

So she climbed into bed with her, tickled her arm, and sang her the childhood songs Donna had sung to her when she was a lone, frightened child. With Kara’s arms tucked around her and her comforting voice in her ear, Donna was able to let go of this life and enter the next one.

I love my work and still hope to make an impact through it, but Donna’s memorial rearranged my priorities. So as I write the last line of this blog post, I’m going to push away from my computer and go see my grandkids.

JoHannah is the managing editor of and a contributing editor to, both divisions of Christianity Today International. She blogs at and has eight e-books on

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lead, Follow, Serve

By Judy Douglas

Patches, our Australian Shepherd, took her breeding

seriously. She was a shepherd dog, with no sheep or cattle to herd, so she sought to shepherd people.

Ever so gently she would grab wrists with her mouth and seek to lead-almost anyone she encountered. Unfortunately we lived at a conference grounds, and the conferees she took hold of were first, terrified, and second, totally unwilling to go where she was leading them.

That’s a problem a lot of leaders have: getting people to follow them. What’s a leader without followers?

In the Kingdom of God, leaders must also be followers.

When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John, Matthew as his disciples, he said simply, “Follow me.”

What does it mean to follow? Here are some concepts and synonyms: to go or come after; move behind in the same direction; to accept as a guide or leader; accept the authority of or give allegiance to; to conform to, comply with; to obey; to act like; to imitate or copy.

Surely all Jesus’ disciples-then and now--are called to be leaders in the Kingdom in some way. Some are called to more prominent leadership, and there is much conversation about that today. It is good to desire to be good stewards of our giftings, but I fear too many are over focused on being leaders. Over and over I hear, “God has called me to be a leader.”

Jesus has some pretty definitive things to say about leading in His Kingdom:

When he had finished washing their feet,... he returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master,... Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:12-17)

Leaders wash feet? Perhaps. But for certain leaders are to serve.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant...”(Mark 10:42-43)

I love that: Not so with you. You are called to be a servant.

Has Jesus called you to lead? Then your higher callings are to follow and to serve.

Most have understood this. So we talk about servant leadership. In our church we are talking about shepherd leadership-Patches fits right in.

A writer I read recently suggested a great concept for how we follow Jesus in this: Lead Servant.

I think Jesus would like that.

Judy Douglass assists her husband, Steve, in giving leadership to global Campus Crusade for Christ. Her primary focus is Women's Resources. She is an author, an editor and a frequent speaker around the world, a mom and a grandmother. You can read her real and encouraging blog, Kindling, at

Monday, September 5, 2011

Two Bites

By Elisa Morgan, Publisher, FullFill™


*Consider sharing the video version of this blog as a devotional at your next staff/volunteer meeting? Click here!

As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with spaghetti.

While my mother was rather unpredictable in much of her mothering, she strictly enforced the two-bite rule in our house. The two-bite rule means you have to take two bites of everything on your plate, no matter if you like it or not.

Cept I think the last part of the rule was a true "Paige" (that was my mother's name) add-on. Her version of the two-bite rule was "You have to eat two bites of everything on your plate and then one day maybe you'll be big enough to like it." This "Paige-ism" offered a kind of magic to an otherwise boring rule. After all, you never knew, did you, if you might be "big enough" this time to like the unlikeable?

When I was a child, I didn't like spaghetti. I know, kinda weird. It might have been the tomato taste. Every "spaghetti night" I approached my dinner with a kind of wonder - Maybe this time? I'd watch my older sister wolf down her plate. I'd look at her long limbs and budding womanhood and then at my own skinny legs and flat chest and yearn for "initiation". She was so mature!

I'd fork into the pile of red stuff and slurp it into my mouth - always following it in disgust with a giant gulp of milk as I discovered once again - I did NOT like spaghetti. Still.

Two bites after two bites after two bites, the years passed. Finally one day, after dutifully shoveling in a bite, I stopped, chewed and swallowed. Eureka! I liked spaghetti! I quickly looked down at my flat chest with crestfallen hope. I was still far from mature.

Silly? Maybe to some. But to me, the two-bite rule has come to apply to many things in life with its underlying principle: keep trying something you don't like so much and one day you just may be "big enough" to like it.

I discovered the two-bite rule applied beautifully to reading the Bible. Two bites. And one day you might be big enough to like it.

What are the two bites? Two questions: "What?" And "So what?"

First: "What?" Take a section of scripture and ask "What is it saying?" Literally. For example, let's look at Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God." What is this saying?

Literally the sentence says that those who are poor in spirit - literally the word is "bankrupt" are blessed - chosen, happy, in a good state - because they have the kingdom - or presence - of God and his purposes.

Okay. Hmmm. The first bite is "What?"

Second, fork in the second bite: "So what?" What difference does the "what" make? Apply it to your life.

Well, if I'm spiritually poor - or bankrupt - rather than being disqualified or cut off from God and his world - I'm actually closer to possessing it. Wow! That's pretty huge! The "what" becomes an amazing "so what?" in the second bite.

Obviously, no one can live and thrive off of two bites a day. We need more than that - a full balanced meal - to grow fully in our relationship with God. But two bites are a good way to begin.

"What?" And "So what?" Two bites that can help us all grow up to be big enough to like studying the Bible.

*The plan for Fall 2011 is to continue to bring you excellent leadership and spiritual formation resources through your Weekly ReFill and linking readers to FullFill's rich library of themes. Click here to explore the FullFill digizine library. Click here to access FullFill™'s video library. Click here to forward to a friend and spread the wealth of this FREE resource!