Thursday, December 7, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Part IV

Kids with wings, shepherd’s robes, and animal faces were running all over the fellowship hall after the Christmas play. “Sugar high,” Caleb surmised. I was thanking Jessa for her help. “What a sweet way to start the candle lighting service.  I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.”  “We were lucky that Evelyn didn’t toss all those costumes from ten years ago. I hope you stay in shape—you know everyone is going to expect this every year now,” she said laughing. I think Jessa had a point but it was so much fun, I didn’t even mind. “Merry Christmas, God,” I whispered in my heart. 

Christmas Eve. Time had slipped by so quickly and I only had one more gift for Caleb—and I’d just finished my twelfth gift for God. My 12 Days of Christmas giving had done something amazing—amazing and totally unexpected. My heart had become more passionate about my husband. I’d focused on his gifts and desires for over a month and it had been so much fun!  I’d also learned a lot about him. He told me, “Merry, you’ve made this the best Christmas ever!”  I think it changed Caleb, too. It’s like he couldn’t help himself by doing little things for me along the way—like bringing my favorite chocolate donuts from the Donut Stop when he went to the city. But out of the socks, handkerchiefs, a gift card to A Lotta Latte, a new study Bible, tickets to the Trans-Siberian orchestra, a soldering iron, and, among other things, a trip for two to Oregon to see his sister (thanks to the pay raise and bonus from A Lotta Latte!), I think his favorite gift was the print with his names and the letter with the  prayer. I still caught him reading it often.

As for God?  I loved the way we’d laughed and talked for the past month. I know “everything is from him, through him, and to him,” and that’s kind of what I’d experienced in giving to him. I could never keep a secret from him. And I think several, and well...maybe all, of my ideas came from him. But the thing is...I know he delighted in ALL of them!  But what amazed me is that so many of the gifts I gave him involved the people in our church—things like taking several containers of soup for Miss Shirley who’d been sick and lived alone, a night of babysitting for Mark and Sandra, taking Opal to the doctor, and vacuuming the church for our janitor who had knee surgery. All of these things had developed a relationship between me and our church. I’d found my place.  

Christmas Eve night, Caleb and I sat in front of our Christmas tree relaxing and enjoying the lights. I was admiring the James Avery birthstone ring Caleb had given me for my birthday when he asked me, “Do you want to open your Christmas gift now?  I could almost sense him vibrating with excitement. “If you’ll open yours first,” I said. I handed him a shirt box and he shook it and said, “A red shirt!”  I rolled my eyes and inwardly cringed because he was half right. He tore into it and pulled out the red shirt and faded red cap. They both had a masculine logo design I’d created which said “Steadman Farms.”  He sat there holding the shirt out looking kind of stunned. I quickly interjected, “Caleb, I hope you like the logo. I created it in faith—believing that some day God is going to enlarge your territory and give you your heart’s desire.”  He didn’t say a word...and I was worried. He just picked up a large flat manila envelope with a big red bow on it and handed it to me.  I nervously began pulling the flap open and pulled out some official looking documents. I honestly had no clue what I was holding. Caleb took the papers and layed them down and took my hands in his. “Merry, the most incredible thing has happened and I hope you don’t mind that I did all of this without your knowledge. But it all happened so quickly—and I wanted to surprise you, too!  You know Mr. Troyer who fell and broke his hip?”  I nodded ‘yes’ but nothing was making sense. “His family put him in assisted living this week. And I heard they were going to put his farm—including the farmhouse, barn, everything—up for sale.  I went to them and asked if they’d consider a lease purchase of it all—including all of the farm machinery. And they said YES!  Not only was the machinery included, but Mr. Troyer had already purchased the seed to plant next spring.  The price they quoted was way undervalue—they were just happy to sell to someone they trusted who would take care of it. Plus they didn’t want to have to make more trips down here to try to sell it. Of course nothing is official until you sign the papers, too.”  Big ol’ tears were sliding down my face. How could something this wonderful be real?  And then Caleb told me, “Of course, I’ll still pastor, but I’ve  already told Jake Leathers that I’ll only continue working for him until April and then I’ll go to work on my own farm—and hopefully make money from crops next fall. Jake told me I’d done such a good job for him that he wanted to give me a bonus. We now have our first calf!”  I was sobbing by this point. This was infinitely above all I could ask or imagine!  How could I contain it all?  God had heard and answered our prayer—in an incredible way. He had definitely enlarged our territory and fulfilled Caleb’s name and dreams. 

That’s when I heard God whisper in my heart, “Happy Birthday & Merry Christmas, Merry Noelle!”  My name had never fit better. 

The End

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Part III

“Socks and handkerchiefs!”  Caleb really seemed to look excited. Maybe it was because I’d splurged and gotten him the heavy duty socks. It was Day 7 and he seemed to be getting into my gift-giving again. Somewhere around day 3, something had happened. I don’t know if he was feeling guilty because he was the only one opening gifts or if it was embarrassing I told him I didn’t have to keep doing the 12 days. But he quickly assured me that he liked it. And then I didn’t know if he was just trying not to hurt my feelings...but I wanted to keep doing it, so I did!  And honestly...Satan did keep trying to get me to take the bait of feeling left out. But when that thought would come in, I’d just tell Satan “NO!” out loud. I sure was glad no one was around to hear me. 

The gift for the 3rd day came from my Bible study in I Chronicles 4–of all places!  Two little verses tucked in that chapter talk about Jabez whose name meant “pain.”  He prayed a prayer asking God to expand his territory and redeem his name. So...I decided to google the meaning of Caleb’s names and hand letter it on beautiful paper.  Caleb Bartholomew Steadman.  I typed “meaning of name Caleb” and up popped the meaning of his name! His middle name came from his grandfather whom he adored so he was pretty proud of that fact. I couldn’t believe it when I uncovered the meanings of his name: “Loyal Friend—Ploughman—Farmer”  No wonder he liked farming—it was in his spiritual DNA and who God created him to be!  So I used all of that information when I wrote a prayer for Caleb to go with the print. I even asked God to expand Caleb’s territory like Jabez prayed.  “God, would you give him his farm?”  I know he loved that gift because I often found him reading the note again when he was relaxing in front of the TV. 

I’d also been busy advertising for A Lotta Latte. We already had 5000 followers on Facebook and it was still growing. I told Sam, “My goal is to gain 70,000 followers.”  After his eyes almost popped out of his head, I assured him, “I know that sounds like a lot—but that’s not even half of the city you serve, much less the surrounding area.” Sam seemed to be the one with the most ideas while Lynn was his support and encouragement. And she made his ideas come to life. He’d often call me with new promotions. “Hey Merry!  Lynn and I are thinking about adding soup and sandwiches to the coffee we already serve. The coffee’s selling great but Lynn has these dynamite soup recipes from her grandmother. What do you think?”  
“I think that’s a great idea!  The timing is perfect with the cold weather we’re having,” I said. “When you get a menu figured out, let me know and I’ll post it on social media. I think your traffic from this will surprise you.  Oh!  And Sam?  You really need to think about creating a website now. I know someone who is really good and isn’t expensive.”  There was a short pause and then Sam replied, “Send me his info. If we’re going to do this, we need to do it right!”

I certainly hadn’t forgotten about the 12 Days of Christmas with God. I wanted to give him spur-of-the-moment gifts.  I know it didn’t make sense, but I felt like the less I thought about it, I could keep it secret from him longer. The first opportunity came when I stood behind a  harried young mom in the grocery check-out line. Her baby was crying and she was desperately digging through her purse for five more dollars to pay for her groceries. I handed the cashier $5 and looked at the young mom and said, “Merry Christmas!”  I thought she was going to cry. Her baby had even stopped crying as the mom settled down. “Thank you so much!  I was panicked. That’s never happened to me before and...well, thank you!”  I looked up at God as I walked to my car and said, “Merry Christmas!”  

Another time (I think it was Day 3), I’d tried a super easy recipe I’d seen on Facebook.  In fact, it was called “No-Fail Enchiladas.” It said to buy a can of enchilada sauce, frozen taquitos, and cheddar cheese. Pour half of the sauce in the 9x12 pan, add taquitos, the rest of the sauce, and top with cheese. I’d even made rice and (canned) beans to go with the meal. It smelled heavenly. I was hoping for a culinary success. And just as we were sitting down to eat, George (a lonely widower from our church) knocked on our door. “Preacher, I’ve come to tell you our prayers have been answered!  My boy who’d gone to jail found Jesus there.”  As Caleb was celebrating with George, I poked my head around the corner and pointed at George and gave a little eating signal.  Caleb picked up on it and slapped George on the back and said, “George, how would you like to eat with us?  We’re having some of Merry’s enchiladas.”  “Don’t mind if I do. But just so you know, I didn’t mean to come at supper time,” George replied. He and Caleb were laughing as they walked into the dining room and I went to the kitchen to get an extra plate. I was so happy I had a no-fail meal to serve him.  I laughed in my heart and told God, “Merry Christmas!  And...thanks for the recipe!”

Since I was spending more time on Facebook with A Lotta Latte’s ads, I was seeing all kinds of things. One of those things was an adorable children’s Christmas play. It was so simple. I think I’d found my next gift for God. I decided to give Jessa a call. She was the young mom who did most of the organizing of our children’s ministry. “Jessa?  I think I have an idea for our kiddos for Christmas. Tell me what you think...”

12 Days of Christmas Part II

If I start feeling depressed, it’s a big red flag that I need to crawl up into my heavenly Daddy’s lap and let him talk to me. I needed to hear him in a big way this Saturday morning. “God, I don’t like this feeling of insignificance. I know it’s not from you, but I don’t know what to do about it!”  I sat there for the longest time just feeling God wrap his arms around me and then I heard him say to my heart, “Merry, just do the next thing right in front of you that delights you...and then the next thing...and the next thing...and every little thing after that.”  I sat there for a bit just rolling that thought around in my head. Finally, I got in the shower because Caleb and I were headed to the city to buy our first Christmas tree. And even though I scorned the spelling of my Christmas name, I LOVED Christmas!

Caleb and I were trying to decide on the perfect shape of our artificial tree when I heard someone shouting my name. I turned and saw Hallie. She was all smiles and her voice was eager as she said, “Merry!  I’m so glad I ran into you. Sam and Lynn were just telling me that they’re opening a new coffee shop and they don’t know the first thing about how to get the word out on social media—and I thought of you!  Would you be interested in helping them?  It pays!”  I turned to Caleb and saw a sparkle in his eyes and I thought, “This delights me and it’s the next thing in front of me!”  “YES!!  I’ll give them a call on my way home. Thank you so much for telling me about it.”  We hugged Hallie and hauled our new tree to the check-out counter. Life was looking up!

I began advertising for A Lotta Latte on Monday. We created accounts on every social media outlet and began giving things away as the opening of their coffee shop drew near. Taking a break, I ran over to the church to help Caleb bring down the Christmas decorations from the church attic. After that dusty job, I walked down the long hallway and noticed the sad looking bulletin board which obviously hadn’t been used in years. “This is such a poor representation of who we are,” I thought. And I slowed my step. I could do that!  My creative juices began to flow and I ran to the children’s storage room to find some supplies. An hour later, the old bulletin board had been given new Christmas life. It might not matter to anyone else, but I felt like I’d contributed something. And then I began laughing. “Just do the next thing right in front of you that delights you.”  This had definitely brought me pleasure. 

Caleb’s work in the field was slowing down—the harvest was almost in. So we celebrated that night by putting up our new Christmas tree. We were stringing popcorn (since we had so few decorations) when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas. He was silent for a bit and then said, “Man!  I can’t think of anything. But I could use some new sock and handkerchiefs!”  I fell in the floor laughing. Who used handkerchiefs anymore?  I guess farmers who were constantly wiping chaff off their necks and faces. 

Socks and handkerchiefs. Bleh!  Even though my new A Lotta Latte job didn’t pay much, I knew I’d have enough Christmas money to do better than that! My mind went into full-blown creative mode. I really don’t consider myself  artististic—just highly resourceful. A smile began to crack on my face as the idea grew in my mind. “Twelve Days of Christmas!  I’ll buy or create twelve gifts and start by giving one now and give the grand finale on Christmas Day!”  I sat down and started making a list and created a giving calendar. 

That night when Caleb came to dinner, an envelope was laying on his plate with a handwritten note on the front, “On the first Day of Christmas, I gave my true love a date with me.”  He looked at me quizzically but grinned as he tore the envelope open. “Tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Christmas program in the city?  Wow!  You were really listening, babe. I’ve always wanted to do this.”  I was so excited!  And I knew in that moment that I might change some of my gift ideas to include more special time with my husband. 

And something began to shift in me. I was no longer thinking about my adjustment as a new pastor’s wife. I was having FUN! I was focused on my husband and finding gifts which would delight him. And then an extraordinary thought crossed my mind, “Why not do Twelve Days of Christmas with God?  I wonder what he’d like for Christmas?”  And then I began laughing with God as this thought floated through my mind, “I’d never be able to surprise him—he knows everything!” So I just asked him, “God, would you act surprised every time I give you a gift?”  And that made me think of the number of times my own parents had to do that very thing—acting surprised when they’d helped me shop and pay for their own gift from me. “This is going to be fun, God!”

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

12 Days of Christmas Short Story Part I

Hallie introduced us on that fateful Halloween night, “Merry Noelle Bishop, this is Caleb Steadman, your partner for the evening!”  

I would never have guessed that Caleb Steadman had a masters in theology and had hopes of being a pastor of a small Baptist Church—preferably bi-vocationally so he could still pursue his passion of farming. 

“Hi, Caleb!,” I said to my farmer-partner with a big smile. “It’s so nice to meet you!”  

I had no problem meeting new people—especially someone as good looking as Caleb. I could tell that he probably spent a good deal of time outdoors. After all, he was still in his work jeans and wearing a plaid flannel shirt and a faded baseball cap. I thought maybe he’d just dressed for the part, but as the evening wore on, I concluded he’d come straight from the field. 

Nodding and touching his cap, he smiled a crooked grin and said, “Nice to meet you, too. I hope I don’t embarrass you tonight. I’m not very good at this stuff.”  I laughed and assured him, “I don’t have to win. Let’s just try to have fun, ok?”

Caleb’s best friend, Josh McGyver, sat beside me during the dinner portion of the murder mystery game and spent more time telling me about Caleb’s aspirations than trying to help me solve the murder which had happened in the kitchen with the lamp stand. 

He told me, “Caleb knows God has called him to preach, but he can’t help but get dirt under his fingernails.  He loves the whole process of planting and harvesting.  He also hates being in crowds of people he doesn’t know—which is why I almost didn’t get him here tonight!!”  He scratched his head and said,  “I’m not sure he’s figured out how he’s going to pastor a crowd of people he doesn’t know.”  

Josh & Hallie were our mutual friends who were hosting the Halloween murder mystery party. They’d been married a year and had invited some of their single friends (mixed in with other married couples) in the hopes of making some “divine connections,” they later told us. Caleb didn’t usually go to parties like this—but Josh had twisted his arm. 

“Caleb, you’ve got to come!  We need a farmer and you’re the perfect stand-in for the part!  You won’t even have to change clothes—just come as you are!  You know there will be food.  Besides...wait until you see your partner, Nurse Betty!” 

I was “Nurse Betty” in the game—but I didn’t find out until much later that Josh & Hallie were actually trying to set us up that night. Caleb & I were thrown together throughout the hilarious evening of trying to solve the who-done-it—and I guess it worked. Fourteen months later, Caleb and I were married on Christmas Eve—which is also my birthday. (This explains my parents’  “unique creativity” in giving me a Christmas name—which has only caused me to have to spell my name over and over all my life!)

Merry Noelle Bishop Steadman.  I loved being married! And I knew when I married Caleb that he loved four things:  God, me, preaching, and farming—and in that order—with his cow dog, Max, and a few other animals thrown in there somewhere at the end.  Caleb had found his dream jobs in Sunrise, TX. He’d become the bi-vocational pastor of the 100-member First Baptist Church and he hired out to Jake Leathers as a farmhand. 

“Merry, the two go together,” he said. “Sowing and reaping can be preached in the pulpit as I do it in the field.”  I believed him. 

And as painful as it was for Caleb, he seemed to be overcoming his adversity to crowds as he got to know his church at a time. Of course, I helped where I could by being my extroverted self. Caleb wasn’t just content to know his flocks’ names, he wanted to be involved in their lives—and he told them that. And they seemed happy to have him out and about in the community instead of sitting at a church desk. 

So when widow Katy Brown’s heifer was calving, she called frantically, “Preacher!  I need you over here NOW!”  And he was. He helped pull that new baby calf and stayed until it was nursing. 

And, yes, everyone called him Preacher. 

Or when Pete White’s farmhand broke his leg, Caleb didn’t even think twice—he jumped on that John Deere cotton harvester and helped until the cotton was tarped in the fields. 

Caleb told me often, “I love you, Merry!  You’re everything I’m not—and that God knew I needed.”  He was the kind of guy that when dinner was inedible, he’d say, “I was kind of hungry for a DQ Dude, how about you?”  But really...who ever gets hungry for DQ?  I knew he loved me by the way he cared for me. 

Of course, his first job commitment was to preaching—Sunday mornings to the church and Wednesday nights to the youth. His next obligation was to Jake Leathers. But Caleb would dream as we’d lay in bed at night, “I want to earn enough money working with Jake to save up for our own farm some day.”  It wasn’t going to happen anytime soon at the rate our savings account was growing—even if we did live in the church parsonage. 

Which is why I wanted a job. Plus my husband’s dreams were all being fulfilled. But somehow, I was having a hard time in Sunrise, TX, population 650, to find my dream job. I’d studied business and advertising. The grocery store, hardware store, The Grill, Sunset to Sunrise Motel, the Dairy Queen, nor the gas station needed help with advertising. They were the only game in town and everyone already did their business with them. 

I was also bored. Caleb was working way too many hours—and I didn’t know where I fit in the church. I didn’t know how to play the piano. I was too insecure to teach Women’s Bible Studies to women older than me. And I just couldn’t work in the nursery—it might stir up some premature desires.  The kitchen?  That was out, too. I could barely boil water. I didn’t want to be a complainer—but I was beginning to wonder why God had made me a pastor’s—uh, preacher’s—wife and why He’d set me in Sunrise, TX. My mom had always told me, “Merry Noelle, we expect you to always live up to your name!  God has given you a delightful laugh and a beautiful smile. Use it!”  I was afraid I was about to lose my “merry”—even though Christmas was right around the corner.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Has your soul “entered the iron” of your circumstances?

When I read Psalm 105:18 in the Amplified version years ago, it haunted me. “ His feet they hurt with fetters; he was laid in chains of iron and his soul entered into the iron...”. It implies the same message in many versions. Joseph’s soul entered into the iron which chained him. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers. And he was chained. I can’t even imagine his circumstances...or can I?

What horrible circumstances have you gone through?  What kind of abandonment have you experienced?  Have you been attacked by those who should love you?  Have you been wounded, oppressed, violated, or shamed?

It’s so easy to go there—letting your soul (your mind, will, and emotions) go into the iron (captivity) of your circumstances. It’s easy to keep your eyes on others, on what is happening TO you. It’s just easier to give in to all of it. It’s hard to fight it. The Bible insinuates Joseph lived there for years—his heart locked (and strengthened) in the foul play of his brothers. 

How do you break free of those chains?  Better do you keep your soul from entering the iron in the first place? must see your circumstances from God’s perspective. He’s allowed this to touch your life. And “what Satan intends for evil, God means for good.”  We have already been seated in heavenly places—a good place from which to gain God’s perspective. Talk to Him. Ask Him what you need to see and learn through this adverse season. 

Bless. Don’t curse. This is so important to keep your soul from the iron. Pray immediately for those who’ve hurt you. Ask God to bless them. And give God praise. And forgive. 

I’ve had several dark hours where my soul did—or wanted to—enter the iron. And I believe blessing and praising were two key elements which kept my soul out of the iron those times. And most of the time, I’ve only gained God’s perspective and purpose in hindsight. So...give God time to work!  He only wants good for you!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hitting the Target

Andy loves to tell the story of when he ran sound for George W. Bush when the Texas governor spoke in Borger, TX.  Zach excitedly told us that he got to write some songs with some well-known song writers recently. I’ve been to both The Pioneer Woman’s Mercantile & Magnolia Markets.  Why do we get excited to be around famous people?  I️ didn’t even have to see Ree Drummond or Chip & Joanna Gaines—I️ was just happy to be around what they’d created!

There’s something in us that causes us to admire celebrities and draws us to their greatness. I️’ve thought on this a lot. We love to see someone who’s “made it!”  This can be good...but it can also be harmful if that person has no moral character. And any celebrity will tell you that they miss the anonymity they once enjoyed. 

I️ believe the greatness we must be drawn to is the Spirit of God in others. I’ve known so many people in my lifetime who weren’t famous—but I️ was drawn to them because of the beautiful display of spiritual fruit in their lives. The Spirit of God is preeminent. HE’s the one who has power. HE’s the one who can do more than we imagine. HE’s the one who teaches, guides, and counsels us. He must increase and we must decrease.  We humbly submit who we are to God so He can fulfill the good purpose He has for us.  

I️ think it’s a beautiful thing when we finally “get” our reason for being created—when we understand our purpose. It brings us into alignment with God. We agree for His good plan which He prearranged before time began. . It may or may not make us famous. But...we can certainly allow the Spirit of God to shine through us to a world who needs HIM. THAT’S when we hit the target of His will. 

“For we are God’s [own] handiwork (His workmanship), recreated in Christ Jesus, [born anew] that we may do those good works which God predestined (planned beforehand) for us [taking paths which He prepared ahead of time], that we should walk in them [living the good life which He prearranged and made ready for us to live].  Ephesians 2:10 (Amp)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Pastor Appreciation Week

Pastor Appreciation Week
Andy Dietz & I have been leading Pastors & Wives’ Retreats (and Pastors’ Wives’ Retreats) for the past couple of years through Double Honor Ministries. I can’t begin to tell you how needed these Retreats have been. We’ve ministered to some very hurt people. 1500 ministers are leaving the ministry each month. They’re facing challenges ministers never faced 50 years ago. Satan has upped his game and his attacks. His desire is to leave no minister standing. 
Because of this brutal attack, it’s more important than ever to let pastors and their wives know they’re not alone and there are still people who consider them “worthy of Double Honor!”  It’s especially important for older pastors to encourage the younger ones—and to show them that it’s possible to finish the course. 
I don’t know of any other ministry doing as much for pastors and their wives. I highly commend this ministry. If you want to honor your pastor, consider donating to this ministry in a big way (They spend a considerable amount getting the pastor to the retreat, funding meals & entertainment, and creating an environment for REST!!) Give generously.  And if you can, please consider making it a monthly donation. And THEN...give us your pastor’s name so we can invite him and his wife to a retreat!!!  They will be BLESSED...and honored. You can find the “DONATE” button at the bottom of the page.  Please consider sharing this post.