Sunday, May 17, 2015

Getting What You Don't Even Pray For
(How Incredible Is That?!)

We don't have some things, because we don't ask God for them. James 4 tells us that. I also believe that as we delight ourselves in the Lord, He gives us the desires of our heart. (Psalm 37:4)

Sometimes God answers when we don't even ask for the desires of our heart. Perhaps it's because we don't see how God would do it within our current structure. Translation: our current box.  We forget that His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours. (Isaiah 55) He can give us our desires even when it doesn't seem feasible at all. He is truly omniscient. I love that, and so much more about Him. 
I'm a homebody at heart. Most would never guess it, but at the core I'm an introvert who could live in my pajamas, with a dog by my side, writing books until Jesus comes back. But  I was convinced  that one day upon retirement I was going spend my days in between pj's and book writing, taking road trips. These jaunts would be for purpose of encouraging leaders. It wasn't about traveling to make a presentation. My passion is looking into a fellow leader's eyes and let them know somebody cares. I've reached out to colleagues online and over the phone for years, because perhaps nothing fires me up or fulfills me more than to help people by speaking a kind word or praying in person.

Sights on the way to Wauchula this past Saturday
Driving through the country is another passion of mine. Give me the boondocks! Let me go to the mailbox in my nightie and not be seen by a soul, please. Give me a dirt road. Since my husband does not share this passion and is a lover of all things city life, the neighborhood where we live now is a stretch for him.  And, riding through the countryside is not something I've had a lot of time for, during most of our ministry.
 When we are on vacation I often ask Larry to stop the car and I pull over so I can take a photo --- especially of churches.  Sometimes I lament, "Boy, I sure do wish this was a time the pastor was here. I'd go in and give him or her a kind word." My husband isn't into stopping to take photos or meeting a stranger. He's more interested in how fast he can get wherever he's going. 

Prior to last May, I was so engrossed in co-pastoring our church as well as part time career coaching, there was only time to travel elsewhere to minister about one weekend a month although it sometimes stretched to more. And sometimes I would feel like I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Last May when I had the honor of becoming women's ministries director for PenFlorida, I made the leap of faith of transitioning to the district office full time. Anyone who knows me well knows, this was not on my radar at all. But God knew! 

I don't work at the church office anymore (I just attend/participate in services) and resigned my job as a career coach. This was a huge risk for me, as I don't like to fail and quite honestly was afraid that I might. I've never been fired in my life.  I was aware of much of what the role of director of women's ministries entails, but I underestimated the amount of time I'd be on the road.

 People ask me if I mind it. 

 Mind it? It's my dream come true minus the staying in pj's with a dog by my side. (Although I'm still writing books.) Preaching wasn't part of this little dream of mine, but speaking is one of my gifts, so it works.

And to think, it happened waaaaaaay before retirement! (smile) I work extremely long hours, and am not complaining one bit. Hard work is my strong suit. I have never been more fulfilled. I adore all of our state and the many cultures represented on our peninsula. I do have to admit though, that when I am in the country, I stop and take more photos. I am right at home in places like Lake City or Wauchula. The only thing better than a long stretch of country road is meeting over coffee with a leader and lending an ear, a hug, or extending a word of encouragement.

God knows the desire of our heart even when we don't pray it because we don't  see it as realistic.  He does what He wants to do, when He wants.

Speaking of stopping along the I was on the way to Wauchula to minister this past Saturday, I stopped at this little church and took a picture. I was intrigued by the name.

No pastor was there at the time, but I prayed, "God, encourage the pastor of this church, today. Strengthen his or her spouse as well if they have one. Bless this church, and their pastor's family in every way, I pray…” 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Women in Ministry and Mothers Day Issues:
It's Complicated!

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

Emotionally, the pull is intense to stay home, reflect and practice self-care.

She is sad because she tried to become a mom, and still isn't one.

She's grieving over the child she lost.

Or the mother she lost. 

Or the mother who abandoned or abused her, making this day such a painful reminder of all she never had.  

Or she has a toxic mom and responded by drawing healthy boundaries that led to them hardly speaking, or maybe never speaking again.  

Whatever the case, the spirit wins out when it comes to this lady.

No matter how daunting the situation, she doesn’t give in to the overwhelming urge to hide out until Monday. 

She wakes up. She shows up. She makes a difference.

Who is she?

She's a woman in ministry for whom Mother's Day brings painful reminders or complications.

Regardless of her own circumstance, she reaches out in genuine love to minister to God’s people. Notwithstanding her personal obstacles, she is a spiritual mother to many. And that means on Mother's Day, like other Sundays, she is on the scene at the church. She may release emotions that build up during the day after service at home, or phone a trusted friend who has provided a shoulder to lean on through the years. But when she is with the church family, it will be about reaching out to others.

Thousands of women who have a complicated relationship with Mother’s Day will not only go to church today – they will lead the church.

I know, because I’m one of them.

Today I will stand up in front of our church and celebrate mothers, as I’ve done for all of our 28 years in full time ministry. I'll be in the pulpit, undeterred by the battle in my mind that tries to convince me to stay home underneath my fluffy down comforter, drinking dark roast coffee and watching movies. Being mindful of the struggle many women face on this day, I usually make note of that in some way in the service and offer up a prayer for those affected who may or may not be present.

Scores of women in ministry who face painful realities will be with their congregations today. They are called and dedicated to ministry and as such, are accustomed to pressing beyond hardships to fulfill the call of God on their lives. Putting one foot in front of the other, they keep showing up and changing lives, even on their most difficult days.

The purpose of this post isn’t to fix the emotional tug of war that goes on inside a woman leader who faces these challenges, for that's not possible in a blog post. What I can offer to any woman reading this who relates is the assurance that you don't walk alone. I find comfort in knowing, we do not walk this journey by ourselves.

What a blessing to be part of a sisterhood of women all around the world who serve faithfully despite trials, arising to take our place in house of God and in His divine plan. To stand and deliver today is not a denial of our problems, – it’s called LEADERSHIP.   

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Do Things Happily Or Don't Do Them
(And other lessons learned in therapy...)

Larry and me, on one of our trips to Savannah, GA. I do this, happily.
In 2013, my therapist Melissa suggested something radical: stop doing anything you can't agree to do happily. 

"Okaaaaaaay..." I retorted," to her suggestion, not even mildly shocked. "Who can afford to exclusively do things that make them happy? Probably not even Donald Trump. I mean, there's just stuff you have to do in life. You gotta do these things to survive. Or you have to do them so the house won't be condemned. Who gets all happy clappy when cleaning the bathroom... except maybe my friend Joanne? What about the things that beg be done? The things that, without my doing them, may literally cause everything to fall apart?”

“Only agree to it if you can do it happily,” she maintained.

I seriously thought my therapist was whack for a moment. 

My world was about to fall apart...I just knew it! I envisioned myself running back to Melissa to fix other problems than the ones that brought me to her in the first place...

 But, I took a deep breath, and also took her advice.

Photo: Deanna Doss Shrodes
The result of this change was very interesting. Some things I let go of. Other things, having made the sacrificial choice to continue with - I determined to do happy while doing. Since I made the choice to do them rather than feel they were thrust upon me, I stopped allowing myself the choice to be unhappy while doing them.

Not only was I a lot happier, but some major improvement happened with my health.  There were changes that occurred that that up to that time, I had been unable to get under control with anything else I tried.

What are you doing that you are not doing, happily?

If you cannot let it go for some reason -- perhaps your very survival or your family or church or organization’s survival – can you make an agreement within yourself to choose to do the sacrificial thing and do it happily?

Some people may say that they could never apply this at work or they wouldn't have a job. I agree. You have a responsibility to produce what your job description demands. In some instances, it may be wise to pray about a job change.

My prayer is that whatever change you may be led to make, it will bring the same result it did for you as it did me.  The connection with this decision and my health improvement was totally eye-opening.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Larry's Cruise Tips
(For Those Who Have Never Cruised Or Think They Can't Afford It)

Today I'm interviewing someone who loves cruising more than anyone I know -- and knows how to get fantastic deals! Today my guest is my husband, Larry Shrodes. Enjoy.

Deanna: Why do most people think cruises are so expensive? 

Larry: Many of us in our generation grew up seeing The Love Boat. I think it may have been thought of by some as more a dream than a reality. Perhaps people think, “Surely this has to be more than I can afford -- not realistic for me…” The reality is, many times you can cruise much cheaper than taking a traditional vacation. However note that there is a difference between a vacation and a trip. For instance, a trip is when you go visit relatives and stay with them. I don’t consider that a vacation. 

Deanna: So then, what is a true vacation, to you? 

Larry: Vacation is getting away from it all. A true vacation for me means people taking care of me rather than the other way around. It’s a break from my normal routine and responsibilities and having a true rest. 

On a cruise all of your food is cooked for you, and it's included in the price of your cruise. You can dine formally or informally each day/night. The dishes are cleaned up by someone else. Additionally, you can order room service at no charge. Your room is cleaned several times a day.  You have nothing to do but “be”. No one in the family is cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, or driving.  And if you have children, quality child care is available for free if you’d like to spend time alone as a couple. Basically, someone waits on you hand and foot and you do whatever you want to do or not do. What’s not to like? 

The first time we went on a cruise a few years ago, we realized we had just experienced our first real vacation. 

Would you say most people think a cruise is too expensive because they never truly investigated the possibilities?

Yes.  A part of taking an inexpensive cruise is being flexible with when you go. Being flexible with dates, you can find very good bargains. Plus if you live close to a port you don’t have the expense of airfare to get to a cruise. This is the case with our family. We’ve taken cruises out of Tampa, Miami, Port Canaveral, and Jacksonville – all of which are driving distance.

: In addition to the price of the actual cruise, what fees do cruisers incur?

Port fees, taxes and gratuities.

With port fees it depends on how many ports you go to. Gratuities are typically $12 per person, per day.

What drives up the price of a cruise? (In addition to the actual cruise cost)

Alcohol, gambling and excursions. It’s the three biggest ways cruise lines make their money.  Our family cruises very inexpensively because we don’t drink alcohol nor gamble. On some ports we do an excursion but on many of them we just get off the boat and sight see a bit. The cost of that is usually bus fare or a taxi. We usually try to do at least one excursion as a family.  This past time we went cave tubing in Belize. The time before that we went zip lining in Cozumel.

What advice would you have about excursions?

Larry: I recommend only going on excursions that are endorsed, announced, etc. by the cruise line you are traveling with -- for a lot of reasons.  There was one time the passengers could not get off the ship at one of our ports, due to weather and needing to use tender boats in that particular place . However, with the purchase of our excursion through the cruise line, we did not lose money on it. This might not have been the case if we purchased an excursion through someone other than the cruise line. Also, if your excursion group would get delayed on a cruise line sponsored excursion, the ship would wait for you. However on an excursion not sponsored by the cruise line, that is not the case.


Deanna: What are the benefits of an interior room?

Larry: They are the most inexpensive, so if price is a person’s most important issue this may be their best choice.

If you like taking naps during the day, there is absolutely no light in an interior room when the lights are turned out.  I like that about it.

People with interior rooms could lose track of what time it is because the room is so dark.  It’s very easy to sleep the whole day away, and some people may actually want to do that.

Some people have an issue with an enclosed space with no window, although you and I are okay with it if we get a really phenomenal deal.

What kind of room you get really is a personal preference. There are benefits in each type of room.

Deanna: An oceanview room? 

Larry: You like this room best. That’s why I typically upgrade as deals become available, although it’s nonessential to me.

We like seeing the sunset from our room. 
You like to keep the curtains open most times aside from when we're sleeping, so we do.

Our balcony room

Deanna: A balcony room?

Larry: A balcony room is typically a bit smaller inside due to having the balcony, but I do like it if I can get it for a great price. I enjoy ordering room service for breakfast and having it on the balcony, or being out on our private balcony for sunset.

On our private balcony during one of our cruises.

Deanna: How do you personally find the best deals on a cruise?

Larry: The time of year is really important. There are usually really good deals the two weeks after Thanksgiving and also in late February.

I search through Cruises Only. I believe they have the best search engine. I also look on the Carnival and Royal Caribbean websites and I sign up to get their email alerts. Also on Facebook there’s a group  I'm a part of that often shares specials and sales. They are called, "Carnival Cruisers Past, Present and Future." 

I also recommend what is known as the “Early Saver.” This is where you book a cruise 3 months on a 5 day cruise and 6 months out on a 7 day or longer cruise. You pay the deposit and watch the cruise the entire time until you go and if the price goes down, they credit you. However, it's important to note -- you do have to notice that the price went down and tell them. They do not contact you -- you contact them. With one cruise, I got back almost $300 because the price went down.

If you don’t care about going on cruises with spring breakers you can get some great deals. Everyone isn’t comfortable with doing that, but it’s an option.

The bottom line is that if you make it a priority to research deals,  you'll find one.  

Costa Maya

Deanna: What do you look for in a cruise now that you have been on many of them? 

Larry: Price. I’m always watching the internet for bargains.  And, itinerary. What’s most important to me is to go to ports we haven’t visited yet. So for me, I look for deals to new places.

Deanna: Do you have to eat at the table with strangers on a cruise, or can you request to exclusively dine with whoever you are cruising with? 

Larry: On Royal Caribbean and Carnival you can sign up for "My Time Dining" which means you will be able to have dinner at whatever time you like, with the people you are traveling with. However, you may have a short wait for a table. Otherwise, you select to be seated nightly with early seating or late seating -- immediately get your table when you come in -- but will also dine with those not in your group. Our family always does My Time Dining and has our own table, and the maximum we have waited is 15 minutes. You have to declare ahead of time when you book the cruise whether you will do My Time Dining or otherwise.  We really like the flexibility of My Time Dining and the ability to have our own table.

Deanna: What are some practical tips you have received to have the best time on a cruise? 

  • Have a good packing list. Know what to take for where you’re going.
  • Research everything you possibly can about the cruise, online.
  • Ask people who have been on a lot of cruises for advice. I get a lot of tips from the Facebook group I'm a part of.
  • If you’re going with a group, go with like-minded people who enjoy doing the same things. We've had a lot of people say to us, "Hey, we should go on a cruise together!" Some of those individuals might not enjoy what we personally enjoy doing on cruises, which would cause tension -- so we haven't pursued it. 
  • Establish the expectations beforehand with the people you go with. Will you just have dinner together at day’s end? Or will more be expected of those you go with? It’s important to establish this up front so it’s a positive experience for all.  
  • Go with people who are comfortable with going at the same pace, or respecting the pace of others. Some people want to go and relax with little or no plans made in advance for the day or week. Others want to schedule out every moment in advance and participate in every activity possible. There's going to be tension if you don't make this clear. I highly recommend talking about this even if it's just you and your spouse going. For instance, you and I are different in this regard. I enjoy more activities, and you want to rest more. It's important to understand and respect the other person's needs.
  •  Take a medicine kit with you so you don’t have to buy the items at a much greater expense on board if you need them. We take a homemade kit with everything from Tylenol to aloe vera to Pepto to bandaids. Although it’s never excessive, we usually have to get into the kit at least one time during the cruise and it saves us from having to buy anything first aid related. 
Deanna: Thanks for all of your advice today, babe. I encourage anyone who may have other questions for Larry to put them in the comment thread and he’ll answer them.

 All photos: Deanna Shrodes

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If You Haven't Taken a Day Off In Forever...
(3 Ways to REALLY Do It!)

An informal poll I took recently among friends in ministry revealed that most don’t take a day off. Or if they do it’s not a true day off.

I’ve known the importance of a Sabbath for a long time. After all it’s in the Bible. And I’m a minister, so I’ve done plenty of reading of the Bible. But for some reason those of us in ministry, myself included, seem to need more of a kick in the pants about taking a Sabbath, even more than our non-clergy counterparts. 

Several weeks ago, I was spending time with some women's ministry leaders and brought this up. I was encouraging them about getting proper rest and practicing self-care. I discovered that even on their day off, 99.9% of them check work emails and texts, and “take a moment to answer back real quick.” I suggested to the group that all of those moments taken to “answer back real quick” add up.  I know because I’ve been so guilty of it myself. I also suspect that by answering back, most of us have entire Sabbaths derailed by having to respond to something we wouldn’t have even known about had we not opened up our  texts or checked mail.

I’m not perfect with this issue, but I have improved and am committed to keep doing so. Today I’m going to share three things that help me take a Sabbath, when I do end up following through.  Everybody won’t admit to these Sabbath tricks-of-the-trade but that’s one reason I exist, to give information that other people won’t admit to.  

First, be careful about opening work related texts or private messages on a day off.

Reason being: if you open texts or PM’s, unless you have the program/app installed where the sender can’t see that you read it – they know you saw it.  And some of them will definitely think you’re a jerk for not answering. And they’ll probably tell other people, “Pastor saw my text and he/she’s not answering it”.  They will now be leaving First  Assembly and going to Calvary, with their panties in a wad because you waited a day to answer their text about them not being able to pay their rent...or their wife making them sleep on the couch, or something like that.

Yep, too late. You saw the text, so now you feel kinda responsible for the information.  Have you ever heard of “compassion fatigue”? I’m here to tell you, it’s real. And it’s not good. Listen, you can’t be the Savior of the world. One man came to earth to do that. It’s not you. But I know how it is. You get a text that somebody is hanging on the edge of a cliff emotionally– you feel the weight of that, unless you are completely devoid of compassion. It’s never good when people are hanging from cliffs. Unless they are James Bond. 

My belief is this – what I don’t see on my day off, I am not responsible for.  We need at least one day a week where we have a respite from the merry-go-round that is ministry. You say, “There is nobody else, I’m the only one on staff.” Most of the time, it can wait at least a day. (It's important to train people as to the definition of a true emergency.) It's also important to train other believers in the church to step up to the plate and help. The role of the pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry, not do all the work of the ministry. (Ephesians 4)

On a Sabbath, I try to leave texts unread until the next day.  Then on the next day, I answer back, “I am just reading your text”.  And, that is the truth. 

Second, on a Sabbath, take care with what you respond to on social media. 

It’s very relaxing for me to be on the computer for non-work related purposes. I can let down and relax by surfing Pinterest or reading articles. But I try to be careful about “liking” or posting in response to other people’s posts. When someone sees that I have clicked “like” or posted to something even so benign as laughing about a cartoon together, they might comment in the thread with, “Hey I’ve been texting you trying to get ahold of you. Could you take a look at what I sent you, and get back to me? I need to talk to you…” And there, I’ve been sucked in before you can say Ticonderoga.

Third, if you reeeeeeeeally want a Sabbath, go on a cruise.

No, this is not an out-of-reach fantasy. 
Stick with me here for at least another moment before saying, "I can't afford that."

Years ago, the church sent us on our first cruise for pastor appreciation. My husband says we never truly knew what vacation was nor took one, until we went on a cruise.  How glorious it is to be competely away -- really away, for a bit. 
 We have had the best conversations, uninterrupted -- on our cruises.

When we go on a cruise  we're out of reach, totally. Unless you pay an astronomical fee for internet or phone -- you are out of pocket for everyone except for the person/people you're with. 

Don’t think you can afford a cruise? Think again. Larry and I usually cruise for between $300-400 each.  We upgraded this past time for $50 more because I wanted a window.  We've never gone less than five days. We have taken five day, seven day and eight day cruises.

This is our favorite getaway because it’s inexpensive all things considered – all inclusive, and we’re really truly away. I highly recommend it!

And with that said – some people will have a zillion questions like, “How do you get a cruise that cheap?” Anytime people find out how many cruises we have been on they ask how we do it. So…I’m going to interview my husband in my next post, about that. 

Look forward to my next post when I’ll interview my hunk of burnin’ love. We just came back from the Cayman Islands, Roatan, Belize, and Costa Maya without the phone ringing even once! We were blissfully unaware of anything but our family for a whole seven days.  

Stay tuned for my interview about all things cruises, with the man…

Photo credits: All photos by Deanna Shrodes 

Monday, February 16, 2015

When You Don't Get What You Expected

Tired to the bone is how I feel after I have spent a week or more preaching in Africa.

Most times, the trip involves preaching more than once a day and there's nothing more I absolutely love. But it is also exhausting -- pouring out physically, spiritually and emotionally.

At the end of the trip I'm soooo ready for a little bit of R & R, and my friends, missionaries Bill and Barb Kuert, never fail to disappoint. We have the most amazing adventures! This last time was no exception and our son Jordan was there, which was extra special.

On our last morning there, we were out on safari a few hours before breakfast, which was scheduled to end at 9 AM.  Jordan, Barb and I had been up for several hours and riding around on the African plains, working up an appetite and pulled up in front of the lodge with about five minutes to spare before we could get in on breakfast.

Walking up to the restaurant, one of the staff members spotted us and said, "Mrs. Kuert, before you  eat breakfast there's something we'd like you all to see."

"Okaaaaaaaaaay," Barb reluctantly answered.

She realized we were five minutes away from missing breakfast and all of us were so hungry. We began to walk along a trail with the staff member and I found myself kind of irritated by it. 

This detour was not what we expected!

In low tones I whispered to Jordan, "Where in the world is she taking us along this trail? And why do we have to do it now, of all times?" He didn't seem phased by it.

We kept walking for a few minutes, and finally ended upon this scene...

Much to our shock, the hotel staff had created a special private breakfast just for the three of us! We would dine on a balcony overlooking the salt lick, where many animals would come to. What a breathtaking view! There were linens and china, and even champagne. Yes, we passed on it. The meal began with a buffet of fresh fruits and fresh squeezed juices and cereals. And our own private chef who cooked up individual orders of omelets, meats, potatoes and all the trimmings! We were absolutely astounded by this blessing. They attended to our every need throughout the meal, treating us as kings and queens.

To what did we owe this blessing? The favor of God, and the manager said that because Bill and Barb had given them so much business, they wanted to provide something special and chose that day to do it. How amazing!

The unexpected gave way to amazing exhilaration! What we thought may be the loss of our breakfast ended up being the provision of an extravagant blessing.

How often do we become irritated by the unexpected only to realize, God had something better for us?

I am starting to realize this principle more, every day in every way. A few months ago, a hotel contract fell through that my assistant Erika and I had been working on for months. I was really down about it for a few days and went to sleep and woke up repeating to myself, "I can't believe we lost the contract".  Nothing irritates me more than hard work down the drain. I couldn't imagine what good would come of the loss of that many months work. But then, when we least expected it, a much better offer came along -- so much better that we secured the next contract for two years! It was so more than anything we previously hoped or dreamed. It wouldn't have been possible had we been locked into the former contract.

I haven't always gotten what I expected -- and can now see how many times that has been an indescribable blessing. 

God has something better up His sleeve than I know about at the time. My place is to trust Him.

What are you angry about that didn't work out as you expected?

Is it possible that something better is around the corner?