Wednesday, October 22, 2014

While You Were Sleeping



Did you know that God works on your problems while you sleep?  

I was comforted by this thought when I glanced through a book my husband recently gifted me with entitled, Blessings for the Evening. It's a coffee table book of sorts, nothing real heavy. I didn't read from the beginning, instead choosing to open to a random spot in the book. I found this gem:

May you find a moment of peace and quiet tonight to thank God for all that is right in your world.
May you have the presence of mind to release your cares and worries to Him.
May you have the gritty faith to grab a firmer grip on His promises to you.
And may you wake up in the morning knowing that you've gained ground even in your sleeping hours because God is always moving on your behalf.
As you entrust your whole self to Him today, He'll get you to where you need to go tomorrow.
He is faithful.

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."Hebrews 10:23


Sinking down into the tub a few minutes later and pondering these words, I realized that when I would go to sleep in a bit, God would still be up all night, working hard on my behalf. 

His Word says: "He holds victory in store for the upright..." ~ Proverbs 2:7

God doesn't work everything out automatically for everyone. Breakthrough is conditional.

"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

Are you living upright? Pure-hearted? With integrity?

Sleep well, my friend...sleep well.

 

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

We Are That Family

I'm writing this post today because I don't personally need more income.

Don't get me wrong, I could always find uses for money. But my point is, our family income is just fine.

But at one time, it wasn't.

And only someone who is making a decent salary can write this kind of post, otherwise it's taken as  begging for money.

Photo Credit: ccstbp, Flickr

Many years ago a woman in the church  where we were pastors at the time came to me with a box of things and said, "Pastor Deanna, I want to donate this to a family in need at the church, and I know you'll know exactly who needs it and who to give it to..."

I thanked her. Once she left the room I peeked inside the box and said to myself: "We are that family."

I took the box home and our family utilized the contents. At the time we may have been the most financially disadvantaged family in the congregation. We qualified for food stamps. Our kids qualified for free school lunches. Our income was below the poverty level for our community. Our children got used to hearing that we had to wait to buy sneakers another month, although their shoes had holes in them. My mother in law was buying their school supplies because we couldn't.

I didn't feel guilty taking the box for ourselves. We were one of the most needy families in the church, and that's who the woman said to bless -- a family in need.

I simply did as she asked me to do.

What Message Are You Sending?

A friend of mine who is also a lead pastor's wife went through a situation where her family was one of, if not the most financially disadvantaged families in their church. Every week was a struggle. The board told  her husband there was nothing available for a raise and they didn't feel it was appropriate to let the need to help their pastor be known to the church.

Imagine her shock when one Sunday there were guest missionary speakers, Sam and Sally Smyth*, who asked for the church to partner with them in getting them back to their mission field. In that one service alone, the church rallied and raised $11,000 and gave them a check that morning. My friend left the sanctuary, with hot tears rolling down her cheeks. She tried to get out of the room as inconspicuously as possible before she emotionally burst. Once she got to her husband's office she broke down sobbing, wondering how the church had come to see the Smyth's ministry as worthy of rallying behind while her own children wore hand-me-downs with holes and she struggled to buy groceries.

My husband and I went through a similar situation at the church aforementioned, when we were told there was nothing substantial available for a raise. Yet in the same month, the church mobilized to do a construction project in Ecuador and took money out of a surplus in the general fund, to send over for whatever was needed on the missionfield.

It sent us a very clear message: "We don't care about our pastors."


Why Am I Writing This Post?

Today is the beginning of "Pastor Appreciation Month." I wanted to start the month off by speaking out about this. Because I have the nerve to say these things. You're welcome.

Many of my friends in ministry read my blog, and so do a lot of friends of mine who are not vocational ministers but are church members at different places throughout the world.

Larry and I are at a place where we are well cared for. I can write this post without anyone in our church thinking, "she's writing about us," because I'm not. 

I write this on behalf of my minister friends who ARE that family. They are perhaps the most needy family in the church where they serve. And maybe you are part of their congregation.

Perhaps you currently have no idea what the situation is with your pastor's income. Only the board members of your church may know how the pastor and his or her family are being treated, financially.

Have you thought about asking questions to those who do know, to make sure your pastor's family is taken care of?

Why? Because it's the right thing to do. God's Word says it.
  
 "Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” 
 I Timothy 5:17-18


No, you do not have permission to refer to your pastor as an ox.


Yes, I'm Gonna Say It...


What does it speak to your community when a church doesn't properly financially care for it's pastor?

The way a pastor is treated is actually a witness in the community and to the pastor's children. And let me assure you...pastors' kids remember how a church treated their family! One of our  children went to the altar at PenFlorida District Youth Camp years ago, to receive healing from hurts incurred at the church I refer to in this post. Thankfully, the Lord has touched and healed those wounds. But my heart is that no PK will ever have to face those kind of things.

Set Your Pastor Free to Lead

Here is another thing you might not know about your pastor.  When he or she is properly cared for financially, it sets them free to pray about the mission and vision of the church, and plan and dream. When they are not consumed with simply praying for their family's survival, they and the church can thrive.

You May Wonder...

Why didn't Larry and I serve bi-vocationally, taking another job in addition, when living on the poverty level? Great question.

When we interviewed, the board made it clear that the position was not bi-vocational. They wanted a full time pastor and promised if we would take a step of faith, this was just a start -- the salary would increase over time in proportion to the church being blessed.   Despite the church greatly prospering, the salary didn't increase in proportion to the blessings.

There were many, many times we regretted making that agreement that we not go bi-vocational, and longed to have a second job, to relieve the struggle.

I'm glad I can speak up now, on behalf of friends who are in need.

Do the right thing. Perhaps it will bring a new beginning in the same location -- for your pastor, and for the church. Not to mention, doing the right thing brings glory to God.

*Not their real names

Friday, September 12, 2014

Why Every Leader Has to Deal with Bears and Lions



Leaders have to face various obstacles along the way to our destiny in order to prepare us for the greatest things we will do.

I Samuel 17 is about David facing Goliath and in verses 34-37 it talks about him killing the lion and bear in preparation to face his giant, Goliath.

David had a great destiny before him in not only becoming the greatest worship leader/psalmist who ever lived, but also a king and a man after God’s own heart.

David wasn’t sadistic, and he certainly wasn’t killing just to kill. The lion and bear were coming in to steal a lamb from his father’s flock. He had to protect the flock. And so he destroyed the lion and the bear.

When I went first into the ministry, I never realized how much I would deal with bears and lions. I just expected to love people. And I imagined, they would just love me back. I was quite surprised that much of my work would involve warfare. Not only did I get tired, but sometimes I thought I wouldn't survive the struggle.

In verse 37 David said, “The Lord who saved me from the claws of the lion and the bear will save me from this Philistine!”   Without God he couldn’t have done it and I’m sure he might have had a few moments of fear before the deliverance of the Lord was complete in the matter.

In retrospect I realize that the defeat of the wild animals became the opportunity that David needed to be prepared for his ultimate destiny. Had he not gained confidence, courage and faith through defeating those animals he would have never been ready to face his giant. If he quit, he would have ultimately missed the plan of God and would never have been able to become king.

As daunting as they can be, lions and bears are necessary to prepare us for the next level.

God will give us strength to defeat them.

Leader, be encouraged! The battle you are facing now is training you for a greater destiny that you can even imagine! Press on.


 

 Photo Credit: freedigitalphotos.net

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

5 Reasons to Stop Rehashing a Setback

People's failures teach us as much if not more than their successes.

One of my greatest failures happened because I refused to use one of my greatest strengths.



Resilience: My Personal Uzi

I've always been resilient.
Had to be.

It's a story bigger than one blog post.
The crux of it is, I learned pretty early in life that I could be resilient or die.

My former boss used to joke that while other employees were complaining about something that happened, I had already formulated a 10-point strategy to come back from whatever took place and was passionately trying to sell everyone on it.



Why Some Leaders Don't Move Forward

A lot of leaders stay down too long after a hit. Staying immobilized for too long impedes a comeback.

If something bad happens in the course of my job, I usually blow off steam for no longer than a few hours. Then, I pray about it and work hard on quickly creating and announcing a new plan -- that day. The goal is move forward rapidly, to make whatever just happened obsolete as quickly as possible. 

I do this over, and over, and over.
Usually with success.

But one time I did not take my own advice.
At all.

In fact, it was like I lost my leadership-mind for a while.

"The Tragedy" aka, when Deanna lost her ever livin' mind

Years ago, Larry and I made a hire at the church that proved to be devastating.
We thought we had done due diligence.
But, we missed the mark.
No leader gets it right every time.


It wasn't just devastating to the church, and to our leadership team, but to us personally.


My marriage and family were strong at the time. But both were greatly impacted by an intense level of stress that we had never known to that point and haven't experienced since. I don't think I've ever seen my husband so negatively affected, by anything in our 27 year marriage. The staffer harmed him in a way that is every pastor's nightmare. It is only by the grace of God and the support of our leadership (who were also hurt), that we made it through.

I blamed the ex-employee over and over again for what happened.

But I blamed me too.

"Why, why, why did I make that hire?" I asked myself over and over again.

I called myself names over it, I was so angry.

I thought I should have known better than to trust someone so completely who ended up affecting everyone around us in such a painful way.

Of course Larry had a part in it too, as we jointly made the decision.

But my husband respects my wisdom, and with just a few words of caution from my mouth, I don't believe he would have never made that hire.

So I blamed me more than anybody.

Every day my emotions played ping pong between blaming the ex-staffer and blaming myself.

Once the former staffer was gone, devastation in her wake only slightly less than Chernobyl, I talked about it daily to Larry and those in our close circle of ministry friends.

Non-stop.

Maybe this was because the aftermath caused most everything in my world to change. My work load, our personal finances, our lifestyle and yes I know this is a first-world problem, our friendships.

Something as simple as being able to buy a cup of Starbucks was affected. I wondered if this was the first of the seven year Tribulation.

So everywhere I turned, we faced losses because of this poor business decision I made.
And that didn't go away overnight -- in fact, it got much worse before it got better.

I consider myself a generous person but quite honestly the sacrifices required of me in that season weren't made willingly but grudgingly and even angrily. Just keepin' it real. To this day, my best friend doesn't even use the ex-employee's name and simply refers to the whole thing as, "the tragedy."

Well, nothing really changed about all of this for a long time.

Because I didn't change.

I pretty much complained every time I needed to do everything from a bunch of jobs that didn't used to be on my plate to not being able to take vacation. First world problems? Yep. Nevertheless it was my world...our world, and everything that we knew.



The Day the Tide Turned...

Nothing improved until one of my best friends who also happens to be a professional coach, gave me the wake up call that I needed.

Mid-conversation as I was complaining once again, my friend said, "Deanna, you handle this situation like no other you have ever handled as a leader. And, can I just  invite you to stop it?  I don't ever want to hear her name again!! Yes, it stinks. Yes, life is different now. But what you're doing isn't working. All I want to hear out of your mouth from here on is your plan to turn this around, by the grace of God. I know God will give you a strategy. He always does. But you're not getting that strategy. Because you're so busy complaining and blaming to hear anything God is saying! Please, I implore you to stop it,  GET UP, listen to God, and move forward."

That day was a turning point.

And that day with my friend's timely word, I got back on course.

5 Things I Learned 

1) God never wastes a hurt. 

Opportunities are most often disguised as obstacles. How can your present problem catapult you into greatness? How can you take your lemons and not only make lemonade but maybe even start an entire lemon revolution?

Prayerfully think...how can you use your present circumstance as an opportunity for the biggest comeback ever? There is a God-strategy to advance beyond your wildest dreams. Tune in and hear it.

2)  It does no good to rehash the failures of the past. 

You can't change the past but you can change the present and future.

Take all your energy in doing that and don't allow any of your strength to be sapped by rehearsing what went wrong.

How can you take what's happening and make it work for you?

3) Blaming never moves anyone or anything forward. 

A good leader knows that even in the worst of circumstances and even when deserved, blaming just takes valuable strength away -- sapping the energy you need to pull things forward. Blaming also impedes the forgiveness process.  God doesn't require us to trust people but he does require us to forgive them. Coming to a place of forgiveness in the wake of "the tragedy" wasn't possible until I committed to stop blaming.

Why don't we want to stop blaming? Because sometimes it's deserved.

If someone abuses you, steals from you, betrays you, etc. you think, "They are guilty! They deserve the blame." Truth be told, maybe they are to blame. But until you stop blaming them, YOU can't move forward. 

4) Good leaders respond, and don't react. 

Reactions are a knee jerk reaction to whatever is happening and are usually poor quality. Rather than continually reacting to the problem, good leaders respond with strategy.

5) Good leaders know that failure is not final. 

There's always a way to move ahead.
Always.

But first we've got to stop rehashing the tragedy and get busy with God-strategy to advance.




Photo Credits: freedigitalphotos.net

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

3 Choices Happy Women Make




1) Happy women have standards and keep them. Not only does it show that they aren't desperate but they spare themselves a tragic choice by having lowered them. 

2) Happy women reject the lie that finding "the perfect man" will make them happy. Please stop with the Facebook posts about how this new man who is your soul mate has met your every need. I write this not to man bash. I love men, especially the one I'm married to. Although there are great guys on the planet, they don't exist to fulfill our every need. Only God can do that. There are so many lessons we can learn from Eve, and one is that and one is that even with the "perfect man" a woman is still not satisfied.  Men are a blessing in our lives but whenever we become dependent upon them for our happiness we are in for a fall.

3) Happy women realize that a bad mood or attitude is not going to change anything for the better. Happy women don't try to bring change through negative emotions expressed or unexpressed.  Women who are whole, healthy and successful in life don't get there by whining. Those who live fulfilling lives step up and become the catalyst for change.




Photo credit: freedigitalphotos.com

Monday, September 08, 2014

I'm Not Lonely Anymore




Have you ever been surrounded by lots of people, yet felt like the loneliest person in the world? 

Me too.

I've heard lots of people say they have, including many ministers. 

The issue isn't whether we're surrounded by people, it's about a heart-connection.
Kindred spirits. 
Understanding on a deeper level. 

We do need community -- and God has created us that way. But it's not community that I'm thinking about today. 

I used to feel an ache as a woman in ministry because although I was surrounded by  people, few if any knew the weight of that which I carried.  The issue wasn't whether I could find someone to go out for coffee with. There were those who gave invitations, but sometimes I didn't feel the level of trust or understanding to share with them. 

What God showed me was that I needed to reframe the issue of loneliness.  

I saw loneliness as a bad thing. 
A horrible thing. 
Something that needed to be fixed. 

And I thought people were the only solution. 
I discovered God would meet this need, but not always how I thought He would. 

My loneliness improved when I carved out more quiet time with God. Was that what He wanted all along? Was my lonely ache a call to a deeper walk?



Through reframing loneliness God took me on a new journey. I started reading books about developing greater intimacy with the Lord. One of those books I read at the time was Falling in Love with Jesus: Abandoning Yourself to the Greatest Romance of Your Life, by Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli. Other books that had great impact on me are Secrets of the Secret Place by Bob Sorge and Come Away My Beloved, by Frances J. Roberts. Through the years I have added books to my collection that have spoken to me in this regard. One of my most recent favorites is Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. 

Are books the key to a deeper walk with God? I'm not saying they're the key. I'm simply mentioning that the encouragement I've received from these has led me into greater revelation that helped me get closer to God and feel less lonely.

I've discovered that no matter how many times I've connected with people over coffee to bare our souls, I always come up empty unless I first share my heart with the Lord.

Now, rarely if ever do I share things with other people that I haven't first had a deep conversation with the Lord about. 

There is still a need in my life to connect with others, however I know this is not the source of my strength. It's the icing on the cake. My lonely ache is a call to come away with the One who loves me more than anyone.

If you are a person who is feeling that lonely ache, I pray today that you can find some quiet moments with Jesus and abandon yourself to what is truly the greatest connection any of us will ever have with anyone. 
 

Photo Credits: Larry & Deanna Shrodes

Friday, September 05, 2014

Are You Getting Rough Around the Edges?


Jordan took this photo when I was a little rough around the edges
A few weeks ago I woke up and was so irritable I was banging stuff around on the counter top in the bathroom while I was getting ready for the day. Even the dogs were steering clear.

Yep, I have days like that. Just keepin' it real.
I am not a Pentecostal Mother Teresa.

My husband asked me what was wrong and I confessed that I was angry at the lack of solitude to recharge. I couldn't remember the last time aside from reading my Bible or praying that I had  any quiet time to refresh.

The previous day we had a few hours off and instead of standing up for my need for solitude, I followed Larry's suggestion to spend some time with friends. This wasn't his fault. I never spoke up and just went along with his suggestion without ever bringing up how I was feeling.

He couldn't fix what was wrong because he didn't even know what was wrong. 

 Extroverts vs. Introverts

A lot has been circulating the internet recently about the differences between introverts and extroverts. It's been long overdue. Most people don't have an understanding of what it really means to be one or the other.

Larry is an extrovert, and I'm an introvert.

Most people assume I'm an extrovert and even go so far as to correct me when I tell them I'm an introvert. It's kind of exasperating. I had no idea so many people were an expert on my life. I've not only taken countless assessments that confirm this but my Dad who raised me will tell anyone who asks that this is the case. And, my husband and kids will attest to the same.

People often mistakenly believe I'm an extrovert because I'm a networker. Always have been. I incessantly  reach out to people in the course of my work. A born leader, I also emerge as the natural leader of most teams I serve on, and speak in front of groups of people with ease.  A lot of people think only extroverts have these capabilities but the truth is the difference between in introvert/extrovert isn't whether you are shy or outgoing -- it's all about how you recharge.

I've always known the importance of reaching out to others, to be effective in my work.
But -- it takes every ounce of energy I have to do it.

Even though I'm a wordsmith, I can't even describe how depleted I feel after I've been with people for a few hours. After church, I have a kind of emotional sensor that goes off on the inside of me, pleading with me to get to solitude before a crash. And I love church, and I love people!

After some time alone, I am good to go again.

My husband, on the other hand, is energized by being with people.
The more alone-time he has, the more depleted he feels.
He has to get around people and interact to feel refreshed.

The day I broke two cardinal healthy relationship rules...

Without even discussing the matter weeks ago of what we would do with a few hours off, I just said yes to his request to spend some time with others.  The next morning, I woke up so rough around the edges. Larry started hiding the knives.

He asked me why I was so irritable for once he assumed it was not 'female problems' and when I told him he said, "Why didn't you speak up? We didn't have to spend time with anyone. We could have just stayed home."

The two rules I broke:

1) I assumed instead of asking.  (I assumed he would be mad if we didn't go out with friends. I was wrong.)
2) I stuffed instead of expressing.  (Rather than speak up on my behalf, I had stuffed my feelings down.)

What did I learn?

I discovered how unproductive and even harmful assuming and stuffing can be to a relationship. So, when Labor Day weekend rolled around, I handled things differently. I told my family that despite the fact that all five of us had off from work on Monday, I wasn't doing a thing. There would be no barbecue with friends or even going to the movies. The plan was to be in my pajamas all day long and not see the outside of the house.  They could do what they wanted to do without me but I would not be participating in a group activity.

It was amazing.
Nobody got angry. 
There was no push back.

This announcement was respected, and I was able to recharge.

What's the point here? 

Speak up.
Let people close to you know what you need.
Don't assume.
Don't stuff.

If you're rough around the edges, examine what needs to change so you don't have to be, anymore.



Photo Credit: Jordan Shrodes

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Guess What Day It Is?


Yep, it's Wednesday. Hump day. Mid-week. Comes every week, and for me it's a church day.

Contrary to what a lot of church members may believe, their pastor or pastor's wife doesn't usually feel like coming to church on a Wednesday night. We are not super human. We are just like anyone else in that we have worked all day, and we are absolutely exhausted. In addition to work we have family needs to meet and so much else going on in our personal world. Our flesh says, "Go home, take a bath, get your PJ's on, and put your feet up..."

My flesh never tells me to go to church. Never.

Thankfully I tell my flesh who's boss most of the time.

It never fails, I am so blessed for gathering with my church family for this mid-week boost.

My body may be bone-tired when I walk in those doors, but soon my spirit is so lifted!



I crave the worship, the prayer, the Word, the fellowship.

I always leave uplifted and glad I made the effort to be there with my church family.

Even leaders have to make a determination to say no to the flesh and yes to the spirit!

It's that day again, and I'm so glad it is...

 

Photo credit: Deanna Doss Shrodes

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

5 Ways to Increase the Joy in Your Life




1) Choose joy.

Yes, this is something you determine!  Choosing joy doesn't mean you ignore tragedy, trauma or challenges. It's about making a decision to choose joy despite obstacles.

Choosing joy even in the midst of struggle is important because the Bible says, "the joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10) Especially in the throes of problems, we need strength more than ever. Making a decision to choose joy even in trials brings us greater strength which in turn helps us with issues we face.

That's easier said than done..." you think.

I agree.

And I'm not naive.

I say this from the perspective of one who has overcome what therapists term, "complex trauma, significant loss and complicated grief."

Yes, choosing joy is possible, even when going through all that.

2) Be thankful.


 1 Thessalonians 16-18 says,  "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

We aren't expected to give thanks for a bad circumstance or tragedy but we continue to choose joy and be thankful in the midst of it. There's a big difference between giving thanks for something and giving thanks in the midst of it.

I don't have to be happy that a tragedy occurs but I can choose joy knowing that God is not the author of evil, and He is with me through any difficulty in life I might encounter. 



3) Find joy in everyday things.

What we find joy, besides in God Himself, varies from person to person. Some of the items on my joy list are a quiet day at home, taking a bath, a bicycle ride, or reading. Discover every day low cost or no-cost things to do that bring you joy.  Then do them!

4) Be Generous.

Giving brings so much joy. I am honestly hard pressed to think of even one stingy person I know who is happy or joyful. On the contrary I can instantly think of many happy generous people.

5) Ask for help.

There are seasons it is more difficult to choose joy than others. We are not without help and hope! Ask God and trust Him to help you. Psalm 28:7 says, "The LORD is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy."




 Photo Credits: Deanna Doss Shrodes

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

How An Agnostic Helps Me Be a Better Minister


Laura Dennis

Laura Dennis and I first met in the blogging community.  Both of us are writers, with her blog being a popular adoption and parenting blog, the subtitle of which is: The Adaptable (Adopted) Expat Mommy.

Laura and I probably would have never been matched by others as, “Most Likely to Be Friends.” Thankfully we went ahead and matched ourselves. Although our lives couldn’t be more different in many ways – our friendship couldn’t be more perfect.  We both love guacamole. 

I’ve been a Christian pastor for the last 27 years, and now serve as the Women’s Director for the Pen-Florida District of the Assemblies of God. I’m a conservative if you have to pin me down to a label. (Which I really dislike…the whole idea of labels. Or being pinned down, for that matter.) 

 Laura is an agnostic, an unbeliever, who would probably politically align mostly as liberal…and I don’t think she likes labels any more than I do.

Oh, and did I mention…we both grew up in Maryland, but Laura now lives in Serbia?

I live in America, in the Tampa Bay area, to be exact.

Though thousands of miles away, we are in constant touch.

At any given moment I could probably tell you exactly where Laura is. Whether she’s taking her kids to school, or bringing them home…spending a quiet evening with her husband, going to the market for food for dinner or caring for a sick child.  And likewise if someone asked, Laura could probably let you know what I’m in the midst of, whether it be my work at the district office, a prayer meeting or a bike ride. We mostly communicate online however we also schedule regular phone calls. (She has this thing called Magicjak that enables us to have conversations, without even worrying about how long we talk.)

Laura is so brilliant. She was accepted to Stanford but turned down an education there in favor of pursuing a career in dance. A talented dancer, she once directed at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. Then she got injured. Now she has traded her dancing shoes and become a Serbian supermom.

We have the best conversations. When I hear her voice on the phone it turns what may have been a mediocre day into something special.

At the heart of our friendship is a deep respect for the other, and this leads to listening with the intent to understand.  Neither of us are easy to offend, so our relationship is devoid of any eggshells to walk on, which is wonderful.  I’m never afraid to say anything and it’s the same for her. Neither of us got the memo on PC language.  Our conversations are hilarious. At least, to us.


Here’s a key ingredient of mine and Laura’s friendship: although we don’t share the same view at all on spiritual matters, we always support one another.   For instance: Laura doesn’t believe in God or salvation.  But, after services at our church – whether it be a Sunday, Wednesday or special event, she will ask me if anyone responded for salvation.  And if I say yes, she gets totally excited.  Why? Why does she get excited about something she doesn’t even believe in? Because she cares about me.  And she knows there’s nothing more important to me than people coming to Jesus.

At this point in our friendship, it’s not uncommon for Laura to ask me questions like:

“Do you think this is spiritual warfare you’re dealing with?”

Laura doesn’t believe in spiritual warfare. So why would she even use that terminology?

Because she knows I believe in it and talk about it a lot, and she meets me where I’m at.  

That’s so much a part of what friendship is about – meeting the other person where they’re at.

I meet her where she’s at too, in various ways.  We have discussed our beliefs and feelings many times about spiritual things and the Bible. One night we had a several hour conversation on the Supernatural Gifts of the Spirit. She heard me out totally on what I believe and then gave me what she believes is the explanation, for all of it. We both listened, and learned a lot about where the other person is coming from and why we each hold the beliefs that we do.

I think it’s safe to say that she would tell you she never feels as if I am pressuring her or speaking in any condescending way.  Although I very much want Laura to know God and experience Him, she’s my friend, not my project. [By the way, I asked her to read this post before I published it, to be sure I was portraying our relationship accurately as far as she is concerned, as well as taking nothing out of context that we’ve talked about.]     


There are so many things I could say right now, but have settled on just leaving it at this – I would absolutely take a bullet for Laura. No question. I would lay down my life for her if it came to it.

So, how does my friendship with this woman, who happens to be agnostic, help me be a better Christian, minister, and leader? 

She helps me get a better picture of what many people who don’t know God, really think and feel. 

I’m trying to reach people who don’t know God.

Laura knows that. (I don’t have a hidden agenda. )

And so I often ask her opinion about how I’m going about trying to reach people for God. I ask, “How do you think I could do this, and be more effective?” She’s happy to tell me what she thinks and give me fresh ideas to try to reach more people. I’m grateful for her input.  

She tells me if I came and started a church in Serbia, she’d totally come there…even though she doesn’t believe.   

When I get really upset about something, I sometimes say, “Pray, Laura, pray!”I do this because prayer is always my first instinct. When I ask her to pray, she says “okay.” I know she’s not really going to pray. She just says “okay” to soothe me at the time. In reality, she’s going to send me “warm thoughts, “ and “lots of energy”.  Assuring me that she'll connect to something called the collective unconscious.  I don’t blast her with platitudes about prayer, in response.  That wouldn’t be helpful, at all.

She’s a great strategist. 

I realize not every unbeliever has this gift. Nor does every believer, for that matter.

What I am saying is this…  

Laura has leadership gifts (I believe they are God given, although she would beg to differ that they originate otherwise) that are useful for the Kingdom of God even though she’s not in our ranks. And I gladly receive them.  

I’m thankful for the agnostic that God sent into my life.

Laura doesn’t just help me be a better minister. She helps me be a better person.

One of my goals is to go visit Laura in Serbia. I’m thinking if I raise money for this, it can qualify as a missions trip, being that she is an unbeliever.  :)

In all seriousness, we have plans to meet up stateside and hopefully in Serbia too. Until then we are joined at the heart and in conversation any time we can break away from our busy lives and connect. I thank God for this blessing, while Laura probably thanks fate. I’ve never asked her who or what in the grand scheme of things she thanks for us coming together as friends…maybe that will be our next conversation.