Are You Ready to Choose What Matters Most?

Are You Ready to Choose What Matters Most?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

All the things. Good things. Worthy things. Extraordinary people, adventurous journeys, breathtaking beauty, life-changing words, fulfilling service, quiet moments, and soul-stretching creativity.

But how do I choose?

My own life is full of obligation, deadlines, hurry, complicated relation­ships, overdue bills, medical challenges, juggling jobs—all seasoned with occasional bouts of guilt and insecurity. Because I can’t do it all. I can’t be it all. Too often choices are already made for me in the flash of a need to be filled or a last-minute request granted.

I tell myself, “It’s all good.” And, for the most part, it is. I am not strug­gling between the lesser of two evils; more often I’m struggling between two equally good things. My challenge is how to distinguish what matters most.

The Apostle Paul wrote that God offers a path that brings life to us and allows us to pursue that which works to enlarge and enrich our existence rather than diminish or crush our spirit. “For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return” (Philippians 1:10).

We can choose!

It is actually within our power to decide each day how we will live out the numerous interruptions, joys, crises, and surprises that come our way. With endless resources provided by the One who knows us best and loves us most—God, the creator and sustainer of the universe.

When I feel all alone in my secret struggles, I can choose connection instead of isolation. When headlines are frightening, I can choose courage instead of fear. When people break my heart, I can choose healing instead of despair. And when the world is simply a cacophony of chaos, I can choose silence, calm, and serenity.

Are you ready to choose what matters most?

For those tired of living the way you always have, you can start right here, right now!

But there is a caveat—every time we say yes to one choice, we must inevi­tably say no to something else. Nothing good ever comes easy. Are you ready to sacrifice? To let go of much in order to embrace less? To relinquish productivity in order to rest? To break down the polished, filtered, public façade in order to live with authenticity?

Author Emily P. Freeman urges that instead of striving to make the per­fect choice, we should attempt to discern whether a potential decision is “life-draining” or “life-giving.” She says, “Close your eyes, open one hand in your lap and put the other on your heart, and ask yourself, What am I long­ing for in this moment? What is life-giving? . . . No matter the choice you make today or in the future, Jesus is with you. He has gone before you. And he will remain with you no matter the result.” (Your Next Right Thing)

It was for all of us who struggle in this area that I wrote my new book “Life-Giving Choices – 60 Days to What Matters Most.”  I’m so happy to be able to provide a practical interactive way to discover many of the life-giving choices available to each of us.

Will you join me later this Fall (the book releases early November) or even in the New Year (because this book would make a great Christmas gift as well) in Choosing Life?

Maybe my prayer could become your own: Lord, I give up. I’m tired of trying to do all and be all, only to end up disappointing everyone, myself, and, I feel, even You. Will You help me begin to intentionally make choices for life through Your Word and Your way? Starting today, and through Holy Spirit power, I begin. Amen.

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

excerpted from Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

It so helps an author when you PRE-ORDER!

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help you make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order AMAZON.   Or pre-order CHRISTIANBOOK.

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($11.67) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.90) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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Leighton Ford’s Deep Influence

Leighton Ford’s Deep Influence

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Is your influence on others deep or wide?

Today’s culture extols the wide reach. For people in my profession, worth is measured by how many followers we have on social media and how many people come to speaking events or purchase books. Mega­churches are often considered more significant than small country chapels.

The time and investment it takes to go deep in another person’s life—to have that kind of influence—is not so easily measured for the masses.

Leighton Ford was once a young man with incredible gifts of preaching and ministry, and so it was not at all surprising when he became a popu­lar pastor, evangelist, and author. Married to Billy Graham’s sister, Jean, he partnered with other twentieth-century Christian leaders and had a wide influence through large crusades.

I was privileged that my very first job out of seminary was on the edito­rial staff of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, which Leigh­ton also directed. I observed firsthand a man of devout faith and integrity. He and Jean were an encouragement to me when I was just getting started, trying to figure out God’s call on my life (and now in their eighties, they continue to be gracious). Leighton’s passion was for raising up leaders all around the world for kingdom work. And he did it well.

In the ensuing years I spent my ordinary days raising four children, serv­ing with my husband in ministry, and writing articles and books. Leighton, meanwhile, buried his young adult son Sandy and began to reevaluate his own life. He released his responsibilities of the Lausanne Committee to oth­ers and decided to follow the nudge of the Holy Spirit in stepping out of the limelight and quietly investing in young men and women through spiritual mentoring.

In the midst of his own suffering, Leighton sensed God’s clarification on what was most important—not conventional success but work done quietly and without fanfare. He chose deep.

One of those young men he discipled reflected recently: “Even though Leighton’s new ministry was humble and obscure com­pared with his rock-star stadium evangelist status with the Billy Graham team, his original vision to make a difference in people’s lives has been fulfilled in a beautiful and unexpected way. Over the decades Leigh­ton has continued to walk with a small number of people in a deeper way as “an artist of the soul and a friend on the journey.” And over time, the ripple effect of one dedicated life has been felt around the world, across generations, and into eternity. . . . His influence is deep and wide. And he is now at home in his own skin, truly content with his life and calling.” (Ken Shigematsu, Survival Guide for the Soul)

It takes courage to walk away from big. It takes a person who is absolutely confident in God’s unconditional love and acceptance. One convinced that if God is calling them to be Jesus to the world, He will provide every oppor­tunity for that to happen. Big ones. Small ones.

I believe it is a sign of security and contentment when we are able to embrace with joy the small opportunities—the one-on-one encounters—with as much enthusiasm as we celebrate the loud and large.

This is a goal for my current season of life. And, like Leighton, I am find­ing great meaning and purpose in going deep with a few—people whose names you don’t know. Yet.

What is your own calling?

Mark Labberton, president of Fuller Seminary, says, “The vocation of every Christian is to live as a follower of Jesus today. In every aspect of life, in small and large acts, with family, neighbors and enemies, we are to seek to live out the grace and truth of Jesus. This is our vocation, our calling.”

That calling—that which we consider our first thing—never changes. But how our specific calling is manifested in varying details and seasons are next things, and they will evolve over our lifetime.

Jesus says to us as He did to each of His disciples, “Follow me” (Mat­thew 4:19). Be careful with your choice and your response—your influence has the potential to be both deep and wide.

                                                                                    under the mercy, Lucinda

excerpted from Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most by Lucinda Secrest McDowell, November 2019, New Hope Publishers  

This week Leighton Ford’s newest book, A Life of Listening, was released and I am honored to serve on his launch team and privileged to have read this amazing memoir during the summer.

Here is my review: “What comprises a life when we take the time to listen to all the voices that have influenced us through the years? Leighton Ford has  offered us an exquisite life tapestry woven with threads of both dark and light in his new book A Life of Listening. Reflecting on eight decades of international ministry, family tragedy, influence, and true vocation, Leighton becomes to the reader, as he describes himself, “an artist of the soul and a friend on the journey.” Most poignant to me (I adopted three of my four children) were both the struggles and insight from his long journey of realizing the legacy of both his birth parents and adoptive parents. I’m grateful that grappling with one mother who let go and another who held tightly contributed to Leighton’s encouragement of women in leadership. I’ve always appreciated how Leighton Ford chose, in mid-life, to turn his back on wide influence through the masses and focus on deep with a few. As I continue to learn of many younger leaders who call him their “friend on the journey” I know that this man’s life legacy is truly both deep and wide. A Life of Listening is an important book to read – not only for the spiritual truth suggested for anchoring a life, but for the authenticity of a true Christian leader. How precious to have this rare glimpse into the life of a man I’ve always admired and respected. Perhaps the most important message of this book is most clearly revealed in Leighton’s response to a young pastor questioning his calling: “Remember God is an artist. He doesn’t do copies. He does originals. And if you are called here, God will do something new through you.” Thank you, Leighton Ford, for calling us to be true originals in the hands of the Artist. Lucinda Secrest McDowell, author Life-Giving Choices and Ordinary Graces

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order AMAZON.   Or pre-order CHRISTIANBOOK.

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($11.67) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.90) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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When the Worst Thing Happens

 When the Worst Thing Happens

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

mikelopez

Mike McDowell age 32.

What does a 34-year-old man do when he hears these two phrases only days apart: “Congratulations, you have a baby daughter!” and “I’m so sorry to tell you that your wife has liver cancer?”

He makes a choice to move forward into each new day, trusting in God’s strength and seeking to fulfill his calling as loving husband and father.

He perseveres.

At least that’s the way my husband, Michael McDowell, faced life when he and his first wife, Inka, were confronted with the unthinkable as a young couple.

In the Bible we are told to “persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.”  (Hebrews 10.36)  But what if the will of God involves walking through the suffering of someone you love? Holding your family together while juggling work, childcare, medical appointments and household; all the while watching the love of your life grow weaker, cancer diminishing her vibrant young life?

“At first the whole thing was surreal,” Mike recalls. “I remember standing in the kitchen on the telephone, absolutely stunned and speechless, hearing the doctor’s prognosis that was about to turn our lives upside down. Yet, through much help, we sought treatment and surgery for Inka, cared for the three kids and felt hopeful that the cancer was completely eradicated.

“By the end of the year we were all devastated when the cancer returned with a vengeance.”

One thing that helped Mike keep going was the example of his own parents who had survived the death of their seven-year-old son Greg, battled financial hardship, and struggled with their own medical challenges. “I learned at an early age to never give up. And my whole ministry at the time – InterVarsity outreach to college students which required raising support each month – taught me that God could be trusted to provide, no matter what the circumstances.”

As Inka’s condition worsened, she wanted to be near her family in the Netherlands, so Mike transferred there and moved everyone into a Dutch flat, never realizing he would be a widower within the month. He remained there, learned the language and kept his two sons and daughter well cared for an additional two years before returning to the States.

He recently shared how he was able to persevere through so many hard times. “I cannot imagine going through the life I’ve lived without a solid sense of God’s presence, love and care for me at all times. Three ways I experienced this:

  1. The body of Christ ‘held up my arms’ like Aaron did for Moses in the Bible. When I was too tired or perplexed to handle a situation I would often find someone else quietly cleaning our home, or (in a most generous surprise) anonymously providing a final family trip for all of us to Hawaii. I still meet people who remember praying for Inka back in the 1980s – those prayers sustained us.”
  2. I found that in the midst of horrific change, God never changes. One way this sustained me was through my own spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, the sacraments, and Bible reading. Those are the touchstones not only for my life, but for the lives of countless saints through the ages. There’s a reason we commit God’s Word to memory in the good times – so that it can be remembered in the bad times, and bring hope.”
  3. Lastly, in order to persevere, I simply learned to take the next step.”

“We cannot survive on our feelings. Many times I didn’t feel like getting up to change my daughter’s diaper or bike the boys to school, but actually those very ordinary routines were what kept me going. Yes, it’s hard to be a single parent, but knowing those precious lives depend on you is a great boost to focus beyond your own pain,” Mike concluded.

What situation has interrupted your life recently? What was your very first reaction? Run? Pray? Scream? Confide in a close friend? But what did you actually do? Take some time today and examine your own strategy for choosing to persevere through tough times.

I want to honor my husband, Michael McDowell, who has modeled perseverance for family and many others his entire life. Life continues to confront us all with the choice to give up or keep going.

Will we persevere?

under the mercy, Lucinda

NOTE: Just to fill in some blanks, in case you are puzzled. When I married Mike 35 years ago, he was a widower with 3 small children. I went through the court process in Seattle and adopted Justin, Timothy and Fiona as my own —  both in my heart and legally. However, we have stayed in close touch with all of his late wife Inka’s family in the Netherlands and many of them joined us for our two daughters’ weddings recently. God is faithful.  ~ Excerpted from Day 13 in “Live These Words” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order AMAZON.   Or pre-order CHRISTIANBOOK.

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($11.67) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.90) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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Are You Too Weary to Climb that Mountain?

 Are You Too Weary to

Climb that Mountain?

 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

How much farther to the top?” I panted to my hiking companions. My Furman friends and I loved to spend weekends climbing in the Great Smokey Mountains, but I inevitably seemed to drift into that unenviable position of ‘bringing up the rear.’

“Not too far, Secrest. You can make it. Keep going,” one of them yelled down.

I turned and leaned my backpack against the incline, gazing at the autumn palette of color vividly displayed on the valley below. How could the view higher up be any better than this?

“Look y’all! Turn around. From here it looks like the top to me! Couldn’t we just pretend we‘re already at the summit?” I pleaded.

Desperate for a rest, I was quite willing to accept this partial view as a reward for our day’s climb.

If I had, I would have missed so much.

I made it to the top in my favorite shirt!

A grander panorama of beauty awaited me at the peak. A celebration of friends reaching the top together. A feeling of accomplishment for having completed the journey.

To this day, old college friends still tease me, “Remember, Secrest, ‘Looks like the top to me!’” they laugh.

But actually it’s a sobering thought to think that I almost gave up before reaching the summit.

What they did was to encourage me – to keep going. They fleshed out that word that means to ‘inspire courage’ in another person, often to take important and meaningful steps.

And I’m not just talking about climbing mountains.

Have you ever been too weary to keep climbing? Are you desperate for someone to call out to you with encouragement?

Knowing how much I need verbal support, I determined early in life that I would  “encourage each other and build each other up.” (I Thessalonians 5.11)

The Greek verb here is parakaleo, which means ‘to encourage or comfort, to come alongside, to beseech.’ It appears in the imperative and is a continually commanded action – keep on encouraging.

Words are powerful tools. They can crush. They can build up.

Perhaps the best words of encouragement any of us will ever hear remind us we are truly loved — “God loves you.”

“In our competitive workplaces, schools and world, we won’t hear much talk about love. These are the places where the language of being the beloved competes with the language of earned acceptance. Our various communities — healthy families; safe friendships; churches — are where we look forward to being accepted, embraced, touched and recognized for who we are.” (Henri Nouwen)

But there is no way we can encourage someone unless we are in relationship and aware of their struggles, challenges and feelings. We need to be involved and to listen actively and yes, even to sometimes ask the hard questions.

C.S. Lewis once said that “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Sharing words of encouragement shows others they are not alone.

When was the last time you had that “You too?” moment?

I’m so thankful my friends cheered me to the top of that mountain so long ago. And I’m also grateful for other voices through the years that have believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. Those who took action and reached down to lift me up when I fell.

My Furman Mountain Climbing friends – mid ‘1970’s (that’s me, back row third from right with hat on)

The softest voice that resonated the loudest was Jesus extending His grace to me – a gift I didn’t deserve and could never earn. When I finally opened that gift – truly received His grace — my whole life changed. Recognizing myself as the beloved, helped me to stop judging, stop performing, stop striving.

Sadly, I don’t always get it right.

Sometimes my words and actions discourage, instead of encourage, but God’s grace reminds me that there is always a second chance, to try again.

There is always an opportunity to turn around, face the mountain, and keep climbing.

Who will you encourage today?

under the mercy, Lucinda (aka “Secrest” in college)

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.86) or “Dwelling Places” ($9.98) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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What Do We Do with Random Acts of Violence?

What Do We Do with Random Acts of Violence?

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Will we ever get used to the news of a mass murder of innocent people? In a church? In a theatre? In a school? In an office? In a nightclub?

I hope not.

I hope we remain horrified. And utterly saddened. I hope we never get blasé or resigned to this kind of life.

Because then “they” would win. The ones who hate. The ones who crave power or fame or just some twisted sense of belonging to something big.

I will not live in fear! Not for myself, not for my children and grandchildren, most of whom reside in large prominent cities – high target zones.

randomactsBut I will cry. For the ones who are lost. And for the ones they left behind who must relive the violence and loss over and over again. And I will cry out. Against terror. For laws that might protect. I will cry out that there must be a better way.

God — the One who created us and loves us all —  knows lament. Have you read the Psalms lately?

 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall. But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me. (Psalm 13)

How long, O Lord? How long will the wicked be allowed to gloat? How long will they speak with arrogance? How long will these evil people boast? They crush your people, Lord, hurting those you claim as your own. Who will protect me from the wicked? Who will stand up for me against evildoers? Unless the Lord had helped me, I would soon have settled in the silence of the grave. I cried out, “I am slipping!” but your unfailing love, O Lord, supported me. When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. …But the Lord is my fortress; my God is the mighty rock where I hide. (portions of Psalm 94)

Are you devastated by the random acts of violence in our world today? 

What do we do with our pain? 

 I don’t have all the answers. But I know we need to both Pray and Act.

I begin by turning to God in lament. In lament, a petitioner addresses God on some occasion of calamity. This is a process.

If you (like me) are feeling helpless and hopeless, may I suggest you join me by reading one of the Psalms of Lament in the Bible and then, using the same elements, experience your own Prayer of Lament:

  • Be still and enter God’s presence. Invite Him to sit with you in your sorrow and confusion. This is usually best done in silence.
  • Talk through the painful or evil situation that happened which is causing such grief and horror. Articulate your feelings as you think of the suffering and injustice.
  • Wait and allow God to speak into your heart and soul as you continue to intercede in prayer for the people, places and circumstances of this tragedy.
  • Identify with those involved and call out to God in honesty. Yes, lament. Articulate your complaint and confusion and even anger to God. He can take it.
  • Know that our God is a God of compassion. Take time to confess your trust in God’s power and provision – in His sovereignty. Use your own words.
  • Listen for God’s word of assurance to you. And then write those words to yourself and perhaps share them with your community so desperate for answers. Sometimes the greatest answer is God saying “I am here.”
  • Conclude with an offering to God that you will praise Him for who He is – and that you know the end of the story is His ultimate victory.

In the face of violence, tragedy, fear, anger, pain and grief, we pray first then look for positive actions to embrace.

It’s a beginning…

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.86) or “Dwelling Places” ($9.98) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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 The Power that Lifts Up When We Fall

 The Power that Lifts Up When We Fall

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

My first thought was, “What am I doing sprawled at the bottom of these stairs?”

Beside me, I noticed my purse in the corner and one shoe lying nearby.

I didn’t know exactly how I had fallen down the stairs, but as I was bundled off into an ambulance, I knew I was in big trouble.

My mind raced with the ambulance.

I thought about how great the weekend conference had been going and how well-received my first two presentations had been. I remembered eager anticipation of a free afternoon exploring the quaint Amish countryside.

A trip to the Lancaster emergency room had not been on my agenda.

Now here I was – injured in an unfamiliar city. Tears streamed down my face as I prayed for God to help guide me and be with me in this strange hospital.

God’s promise “Fear not, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 43.5) calmed me during the hours of treatment for a broken leg and the dread that engulfed me after hearing I’d be immobilized all of November and December.

“So, what’s the subject of your talk tonight?” the technician teased after she had heard my story.

“God’s Presence in the Midst of Suffering,” I weakly replied, the irony all too apparent.

After vulnerably receiving lots of help in getting dressed later that evening, I rolled into the meeting room and invited the ladies to gather around my wheelchair. And very quietly and gratefully I experienced the reality of Acts 1.8Receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.”

“Let’s have a fireside chat about Christ’s presence in the midst of our suffering,” I said. Armed with power from on high and a slight dose of painkillers, I found the strength to speak and pray with them all evening.

My pain subsided. I sensed a power go through my words; but more importantly, a peace came through my willingness to be a living example of a surrendered soul. My natural responses of panic and worry faded, replaced by serenity and trust.

Soon after I returned home, a beautiful potholder quilt made by all the conferees arrived with this note, “Thanks for showing us the power of the Holy Spirit to persevere and be used even when the going gets tough.”

I believe that “God’s divine power has given us everything we need” (II Peter 1.3) for all the unexpecteds that come our way. Yes, the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is available to every believer. But that doesn’t mean we always choose to live in that power. It is up to us to willingly receive it.

The power and strength of God live within us by His Holy Spirit and the revelation of that truth releases spiritual power in our lives which strengthens both our bodies and spirits. The Greek word dunamis is often used in reference to the power of the Holy Spirit available to us. This word is the root word for dynamic, dynamo and dynamite. Dynamite power, by way of the Holy Spirit, enables us to be more than conquerors (spiritual dynamos) and stronger people.

“The anointing of Holy Spirit power is the difference between what you can do and what God can do. It’s the place where the power of God and the favor of God intersect. It’s the difference between the natural and the supernatural. It’s the difference between the temporal and the eternal. It’s the difference between success and failure.”  (Mark Batterson)

Are you tired of trying to live an unlimited life with only limited power?

Be filled with God’s Spirit today – and then, watch out world!

 “O Holy Spirit, as the sun is full of light, the ocean full of water, Heaven full of glory, so may my heart be full of Thee. Give me Thyself without measure, as an unimpaired fountain, as inexhaustible riches. Suffer me not to grieve or resist Thee. Come as Power, to expel every rebel lust, to reign supreme and keep me Thine; Come as Teacher, leading me into all truth, filling me with all understanding; Come as Love, that I may adore the Father, and love Him as my all; Come as Joy, to dwell in me, move in me, animate me; Come as Light, illuminating the Scripture, molding me in its laws; Come as Sanctifier, body, soul and spirit wholly Thine; Come as Helper, with strength to bless and keep, directing my every step. Magnify to me Thy glory by being magnified in me…Amen.”  (Puritan Prayer “Valley of Vision”)

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

~ Excerpted from Day 22 in Live These Words” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.86) or “Dwelling Places” ($9.98) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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Have You Opened the Gift?

Have You Opened the Gift?

 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Every single day of my life I thank God for His gift of GRACE to me.

Every day.

What is that grace that literally “saved a wretch like me”? (thank you, John Newton for writing the hymn “Amazing Grace”)

My own definition  is: “Grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve and can never earn; mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve.”  

Hardly profound.  Definitely life-changing.

But grace can only change a life if the gift is received when the gift is offered. According to Ephesians 2.8-9 “by grace you are saved through faith, this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast.”  If you are a follower of Christ you have been given the free (not earned) gift of grace. The question is, “Did you open that gift? Did you appropriate it in your life?” Or are you like I was for so many years, just carrying around the gift in a beautiful package but never quite embracing all it could mean for me personally? I did, eventually, though.

God’s vertical grace reached deep down into the pit of my own making and pulled me out and reminded me that striving and trying to be ‘good enough’ to earn His favor was simply not the definition of “receiving a gift.” And that, in turn, helped me totally change the way I view life and others – seeking to offer horizontal grace to those I encounter.

“Grace is something you can never get but only be given. The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you. I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.” Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking

It has been almost thirty years since my “Grace Tutorial” (an intensive learning time between my Professor/God and me) commenced.  I continue to be ever grateful for both Grace and Mercy extended to me – neither of which I deserve. I simply cannot stop speaking and writing on the transformational and redemptive character of God’s grace! And I am ever indebted to so many people along the way who have been formative on my journey —  some of them in very personal ways, some of them in ways they will never know because we haven’t actually met. But isn’t that God’s economy — using our words and our stories to touch lives of people we may never know this side of heaven?

Back in the early 1990’s I happened to be at the bookstore at Mt. Hermon Conference Center in California and as I walked the aisles, a brand new book literally fell off the shelf and into my hands. It was called The Ragamuffin Gospel and it was by an author I had never heard of – Brennan Manning. I was a  poor clergy wife and mother of 4 young kids at the time, but one look at the subtitle “good news for the bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out” and I knew I had to buy it. Reading that book changed my life.

Brennan Manning, who called himself “Abba’s Ragamuffin,” was, like me, a sinner saved by grace. In fact, his final book was an autobiography entitled All Is Grace.                   “My life is a witness to vulgar grace—a grace that amazes as it offends….This vulgar grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us. It’s not cheap. It’s free, and as such will always be a banana peel for the orthodox foot and a fairy tale for the grown-up sensibility. Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try and find something or someone that it cannot cover. Grace is enough…”—Brennan Manning (1934-2013)

Do you believe that Grace is enough? Enough to help you face that ‘impossible’ thing in your life? Enough to help you change – to make a 180° turn from going your own way to going God’s way? Is grace enough to give you hope and courage when everything else seems to bring despair and discouragement? Is grace that you received enough to turn you into someone who extends mercy all ‘round?

I look at my life today. Just doing it seems impossible. I am overwhelmed with lists. I am  behind in writing deadlines. I am underfinanced in what I need to cover. But I am simultaneously overcome with Gratitude for joys that abound.

For gifts that keep coming to my door (not boxes, folks, the other kind of Gifts…) In fact, I wrote an entire book about those very gifts — Ordinary Graces

The only possible response? Thank you.

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.86) or “Dwelling Places” ($9.98) at AMAZON.com — best price online 

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A Long Line of Powerful Women

A Long Line of Powerful Women

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. —1 Corinthians 4:20

She had no idea she had any power. All she thought she had was beauty. And a big secret.

estherEsther was a Jewish orphan living in Persia with her cousin Mordecai. The Bible tells us she was so beautiful that when King Xerxes was looking for a new queen, “she won his favor and approval” (Esther 2:17).

So he put a crown on it.

Though she’d won the love of Xerxes and earned the trust of her court attendants, Esther neglected to tell her new husband she was Jewish. After all, her people were in danger of annihilation due to the vengeance of Xerxes’s right-hand man, Haman.

Since Queen Esther was firmly established in the palace, Mordecai begged her to intervene with the king and save the Jews from Haman’s attacks. “Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

It was time for an important choice to be made and this queen knew her only power resided in God. So Esther’s immediate response was to ask the Jews to fast and pray with her, “When this is done, I will go  to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (v.16).

When was the last time you were asked to do something for which you felt unprepared? Did you recoil in fear or go forth in Holy Spirit power?

God immediately answered Esther’s prayers—granting strength and courage to face her king and gain his favor even though she entered his presence unbidden, an act normally punishable by death. She used her audience with the king to reveal Haman’s true plan against the Jews and entreated Xerxes to save her people with a royal edict. He not only gave her what she asked, but he punished Haman’s deceit by hanging, and he elevated Mordecai to rule his household.

Most importantly, God’s people were saved, and to this day the Jews celebrate Esther’s role through the annual feast of Purim. “In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating” (Esther 8:17).

God uses women to help bring about His kingdom through “living by God’s power.” This is why we were created.

In the biblical account of creation (Genesis 2), after God created man, Scripture records, “But still there was no helper just right for him” (v. 20). The original Hebrew language used for the word helper is ezer, which can either mean “strong helper,” as God is a strong helper, or “strong power.”

In the book Reclaiming Eve, the authors suggest the original meaning of this verse might be, “To end the loneliness of the single human, I will make another strong power, corresponding to it, facing it, equal to it. And the humans will be both male and female.”

That’s what you are, sister, a strong power!

“For not only has God identified you as his image-bearer, but he also chose back in the garden of Eden to identify you as a strong power. Nowhere in these two primary keys that unlock your identity do we find a hint of female inferiority or a whiff of male superiority. Instead, we find the beauty of an interdependent relationship formed by a God of relationship.” (Suzanne Burden, Carla Sundberg, and Jamie Wright, Reclaiming Eve)

Did you know that we come from a long line of strong women? Like Esther, let us go forth for such a time as this…

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

 Today’s blog is excerpted from my newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.86) or “Dwelling Places” ($9.98) at AMAZON.com — best price online

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How Much Do You Want Freedom?

How Much Do You Want Freedom?

 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

fccinside1It doesn’t exactly look like a place of Total Revolution. Total Transformation. Freedom. Yet it is.

It is completely and utterly white. Puritan. No stained glass windows. No ornate decorations. Just a simple Meetinghouse built in 1761.

And I am standing in the same place that faithful patriots assembled one Sunday afternoon in order to pray before they marched off to Lexington Massachusetts to fight against England for freedom! As I glance around, I am reminded of the great ‘cloud of witnesses’ who have gone before me.

fccinside3My home church is called the First Church of Christ because it was the first church gathered in Connecticut back in 1635. We still worship in the 18th century building and we are still embracing freedom. Are you?

Historian Lois Wieder explains that our forefathers and foremothers likened England’s persecution of her colonies to the Old Testament persecution of the Hebrews by the Egyptians; encouraged their people to enlist and support resistance efforts; and when war actually came, saw divine intervention in all colonial victories. They were serious about freedom!

freemilitia“The Sunday following the Lexington alarm was a busy one in Wethersfield. The Broad Street or First Company of the Sixth Militia regiment prepared to march to Boston. They attended the morning service as a body and sat in the gallery. Dr. Marsh preached and everyone in the church was in tears. Final preparations were made and in the afternoon families and friends gathered in front of the Meetinghouse where Dr. Marsh offered a prayer.”  (from “A Pleasant Land – A Goodly Heritage” by Lois M. Wieder, 1986)

During the Revolutionary War, General George Washington worshiped at my church three times. Sunday, May 20, 1781, was particularly notable because it was during this meeting Washington had with the Count de Rochambeau that the Battle of Yorktown was planned. The following Tuesday the generals and their aides met in Old Wethersfield to hold what has been called ‘the most important conference of the war.’

As I worship in our Meetinghouse this Fourth of July weekend, I can’t help but wonder ‘Is this the pew where George Washington sat?’ My mind imagines that Sunday when so many of the parishioners were coming for spiritual sustenance before embarking on a journey from which they might never return. Were they excited? Were they exhilarated? They were going to fight for freedom! And they were willing to lay down their lives for freedom if that were required.

St. Paul wrote, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery… You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5.1, 13)

freedomblogHow much do you want freedom? And what are you willing to do to throw off chains that bind, so that you might embrace the freedom Christ offers — freedom from anything or anyone who enslaves you?

Paul reminds us yet again in that “Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6.14) Ahhhh, grace. The gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. And can never lose. The gift that sets us free. From performance; from shame; from paralyzing fear.

During this month of July – Independence Day month – why not ask God to help free you from anything that is binding and preventing you from experiencing the life He wants to offer? Imagine yourself as a patriot – a soldier in the militia – coming to church to pray before you head out in battle to fight for freedom. Thus fortified, you and I can face anything.

Raise your Sword and sing heartily the words of Charles Wesley’s glorious hymn “And Can It Be” with me:

  • “My chains fell off!
  • My heart was free!
  • I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
  • Amazing love!
  • How can it be
  • That Thou, My God, shouldst die for me?”

under the mercy, Lucinda

“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.86) or “Dwelling Places” ($9.98) at AMAZON.com — best price online

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What Elisabeth Elliot Told Me

 What Elisabeth Elliot Told Me

by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

This week is the fourth anniversary of author Elisabeth Elliot’s entering “through gates of splendor” to her heavenly Home. How well I remember that June morning when her daughter Valerie shared her final moments with me in a phone conversation —  the funeral and burial in Massachusetts; and then when Mike, Val and I visited her grave together one year later (2016) near Boston, singing together “Thine is the Glory…” 

This year the whole world now has new access to the life of this servant, through Valerie Elliot Shepard’s beautiful new book Devotedly  containing previously unpublished letters and journal entries from her parents Elisabeth and Jim. This work of love and diligence is both beautiful and remarkable. Not only is the writing exquisite (which causes me to deeply mourn the almost lost art of letter-writing and journaling) but the thoughts, struggles and commitment of these two young people inspire no end!

I have personally gifted at least a dozen copies of Devotedly this year and will be giving another one to one of YOU, my readers this week. All you have to do is post a comment on this blog and then I will make a random draw on Monday July 1 to someone who will greatly enjoy this hardcover volume, containing lots of photos…    

EE1977

Lucinda and Elisabeth 1977

            Many years ago when I was studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, I lived with Elisabeth Elliot as her student lodger. By then she had already written 20 books and was well-known for taking her young daughter, Valerie, to live with Auca Indians in Ecuador – the same ones that had speared her husband, Jim Elliot, and four other missionaries to death. By the time I first heard her speak, at ‘Urbana ’76,’ her second husband, Dr. Addison Leitch, had just died of cancer.

            Though I was a disappointment as a housecleaner (her words, not mine) I did pretty well at my other duties – transcribing Jim Elliot’s journals for her current manuscript (on a typewriter), driving her to the airport for frequent speaking engagements and organizing events in her home. We shared many lively breakfast conversations (yes, we did have differing opinions on a few things), hosted hymn sings and dinner parties, and even shoveled out of the Great Blizzard of ’78. I loved her sense of humor, her stories and enjoyment of parlor games. I don’t remember there being a television in the house at all.

            We were certainly an odd couple – me with my gushy southern type-A personality and her with her reserved New England demeanor and dry wit. But somehow God brought us together in a friendship that lasted 38 years. As I review my journals from that time so long ago I am amazed at how much of my own Life Story and message was shaped by my exposure to Elisabeth’s teachings during that formative season.

            Reading in my journal about a Sunday dinner I cooked for Elisabeth, her mother and sister, and four of my friends, I treasure the notes from that conversation. Jim Glasgow, a seminarian from North Carolina, commented that so many people he admired had gone through great suffering. “Do you feel that’s necessary in order to become a man or woman of God?” he asked Elisabeth.

            That evening I scribbled as much of her answer as I could remember in my journal. “She said ‘yes’ she believed we must know the cross in our own lives — Philippians 3.10 ‘that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death…’ That we must suffer for the Lord even though we don’t seek out the suffering, nor do we have anything to do in choosing the fashion it will take. Sometimes this means allowing ourselves to be joyfully inconvenienced, not seeking our own way, but serving others. Daily prayers for another can be an opportunity of laying down our lives for someone else.”

           I remember her warning us that our generation was not prepared to suffer or even be inconvenienced. I wrote “She pointed out that we must learn discipline and submission to authority in order to better be able to submit more wholly to God. Discipline should be exercised in our daily devotions, in our studies and in our love life. We must become responsible for that with which God has entrusted us now so we can be better prepared for all He has in store for us later.”  Do you remember the very first time you heard such powerful and challenging teaching as a young follower of Christ? I was like a sponge, soaking it all in…

            This particular journal entry (October 30, 1977) closed with my own lament “Oh! How can I remember all she said – it was so profound. I can’t possibly do it justice writing it down here. But there are at least 2 basic things I want to begin putting into practice right now:

  1. Discipline in all areas, but especially my devotions and studies.
  2. Daily seeking ways to ‘suffer’ for God through discipleship and serving others.”

                Today I find myself older than Elisabeth was when I lived with her. I am a seasoned mentor, utterly dependent on God’s mercy through all my life’s experiences, and yes, suffering. I am also, by God’s grace, a person He uses to touch others through my writing and speaking. I still find that remarkable – that the Creator and Sustainer of the universe would choose me to have even a small part in helping to further His kingdom.

            I smile as I read the postcard Elisabeth sent me shortly after she married a third time and moved down to Atlanta while I stayed in her Massachusetts home. I had sent her an article of mine which appeared in the seminary newspaper. “…The parable is very good, I think. Perhaps it would be more effective if a wee shorter in the description of your failure, and a little longer on the remedy. You definitely have a flair for writing. Have you tried to do anything for Christian magazines? Spring is lovely in Georgia, isn’t it? Today I get a NOW hairdo to replace the THEN one….E”

            After my graduation a few years later, Elisabeth spoke strongly into my life concerning God’s call and purpose. “Cindy, God has given you a gift of writing and it is your duty to offer it back to Him.” And so I do.

           EEbook Once Elisabeth told me that each of us is given only about two major themes/messages and that everything we speak and write about flows from that core. As I reflect on her life and international influence through her 30 books, Gateway to Joy radio program and many seminars, the messages that resonate most clearly seem to be:

  • Offering our suffering and circumstances to God, knowing that nothing is wasted – laying it on the altar and asking how we can learn and grow through this.
  • Serving others through the discipline of having a my-life-for-yours attitude every time we pray for someone or encounter a God ordained interruption.

           I don’t know if it is written in any of her books but one of the most powerful things I remember her telling me was “Suffering is having what you don’t want and wanting what you don’t have.”  I’m delighted that her final speaking series Suffering is Never for Nothing has also just been released as a beautiful new book which I highly recommend. 

                        Some years ago Mike and I drove to Boston and took luncheon over to Lars and Elisabeth’s home so that I could say some important things that needed to be said. After all she had told me through the years, I very much needed to tell her what she had meant in my life. This was during her final quiet years and though the conversation was somewhat one-sided, it was precious and special and I was gratified that she seemed to remember me. 

            May I close with the words of a letter Elisabeth Elliot wrote to a very, very young Cindy Secrest back in 1978: “Amy Carmichael of India said ‘all weathers nourish souls.’ It’s true. All situations, all circumstances, all privations and abundances are opportunities to be spiritually nourished – if we respond in faith. This lesson has been laid before me again here. There are things that are not to my liking about the situation, of course. So what! ‘I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content’ (Philippians 4.11). You are dear to me, Cindy. In the will of the Lord we’ll see more of each other. You are in my prayers – keep me in yours, please. Lovingly, Elisabeth”

Who has had an impact on your life that you remember with gratitude today?

What messages of your own life will people remember long after you are gone?

(Be sure and share a comment on this blog to enter my giveaway of Devotedly by Elisabeth’s daughter Valerie Elliot Shepard. I will name the winner on Monday, July 1. Meanwhile, think about your own two or three life messages. And be sure to share them with others.) 

under the mercy, Lucinda

Lucinda Secrest McDowell, M.T.S., is a storyteller and seasoned mentor who engages both heart and mind while “Helping you Choose a Life of Serenity & Strength.” A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, McDowell is the author of 14 books and contributing author to 30+ books. Her books include the award-winning Dwelling PlacesOrdinary Graces,  Live These Words, Refresh, and the soon-to-be-released Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most. Lucinda, a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, received Mt. Hermon “Writer of the Year” award and guest blogs for The Write Conversation, Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference Blog and (in)courage. Whether co-directing  “reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,”  pouring into young mamas, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Lucinda’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things.  Known for her ability to convey deep truth in practical and winsome ways, she writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at http://www.EncouragingWords.net/ 

My newest book “Life-Giving Choices ~ 60 Days to What Matters Most” is a devotional journal which can help any woman make the most important choices every day. Coming out this Fall from the good folks at New Hope Publishers, it is available now for pre-order HERE for only $10.99 – 30% pre-order special price

©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell        www.EncouragingWords.net 

NOTE: Did you enjoy this blog? If so, would you consider entering your email in the above right form and subscribing to it by email? I assure you I won’t overload your in-box, but would love to send you these ‘encouraging words’ each Wednesday. Thanks!

ORDER My Devotionals “Ordinary Graces” ($10.99) or “Dwelling Places” ($11.99) at ChristianBook.com — best price online

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