How Story Could Change the World

How Story Could Change the World

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

“Daddy, please tell us a story!” we begged.

We had just finished another supper of corn bread, Georgia field peas, baked ham, fresh tomato slices, and, of course, sweet iced tea. My sisters and I had cleared the dishes, and now came the time we eagerly awaited as we sat at the family table. Which one would it be? The one about great-grandfather Pratt, an inventor who had the first car in Atlanta and kept the formula for Coca-Cola in his safe (for his buddy Asa Candler)? Or the one about Daddy’s childhood pet frog Puddin’ who croaked so long and loudly one night that Grandfather shot him? Maybe we’d hear again of how sixteen-year-old Daddy wrote the manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and offered his high school band, The Stardusters, to play there – receiving a very polite letter declining the offer.

We didn’t care which one he chose. We loved a good story and Daddy told the best.

We also had family devotions around the table and heard other stories – of God’s great love for a people who too often rejected Him, of saints and sinners all used by God to do incredible things, and of miracles, mangers, and meanderings through the wilderness.

And some nights Daddy pulled out his reel-to-reel tape recorder and thrust the microphone in our faces, “interviewing” us about life, our school activities – urging us to recite a memorized poem or scripture or song.

Is it any wonder I grew up loving stories?

I still do. Not only that, I’m grateful to be living a story, one that is totally unique and utterly unpredictable. But most of all, I rejoice that I’m part of God’s great story of a kingdom that never ends. It is my deepest prayer that I will live my story with honor and be faithful to the end. I’m a writer who wants to shine as a storyteller like Jesus.

Because the world today is enchanted with stories. We not only want to read a good book or watch a thrilling movie; we often become totally absorbed in the characters – both fictional and real. We’re eager to see the plot resolved, journey completed, mystery solved, or lovers reconciled. Stories help us deal with life.

Eugene Petersen said, “Story is the primary way in which the revelation of God is given to us. The Holy Spirit’s genre of choice is story… Moses told stories; Jesus told stories; the four Gospel writers presented their good news in the form of stories. And the Holy Spirit weaves all this storytelling into the vast and holy literary architecture that reveals God to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the way that he chooses to make himself known. Story. Story is the primary means we have for learning what the world is, and what it means to be a human being in it. No wonder that from the time we acquire the mere rudiments of language, we demand stories.”

We long for meaning in our ministry, purpose in our passion, and worth in our walk of faith. The opening Scripture certainly reinforces the view that Jesus was a theologian who told stories. Eternal truths were communicated clearly through parables structured around everyday experiences such as planting seeds, borrowing money, or welcoming home a rebellious teenager.

All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy: I will open my mouth and tell stories; I will bring out into the open things hidden since the world’s first day. Matthew 13.34-35 MSG

Are you sharing your own stories? Beginning at home with your family, but also extending to anyone who will listen? As a writer, you have the opportunity to reach around the world with your stories.

The world is full of people angrily spouting their opinions. The internet is clogged with judgment and condemnation. But harsh tones turn off listeners. What people are longing to hear are stories. Of good triumphing over evil. Of the downtrodden who overcame great odds. Stories of adventure, truth, valor and courage. Stories that draw us in and hint that perhaps even we could be like that person. Real stories of those who are broken just like us. But then, they rise… They make discoveries and transform into more than they ever imagined. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2.9)

How will the story of your life unfold? When will you share it?

“Let those who have been set free by the Lord tell their story.” (Psalm 107:2)

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!

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Mercy Way Back in the Cove

Mercy Way Back in the Cove

Lucinda Secrest McDowell

My 1968 Ford rattled across the rickety bridge deep in the hollows of Kentucky, literally driving on a wing and a prayer. Rounding the bend, the scent hit me before I even caught sight of the Caudhills’s place.

The old weathered house stood on a hill. On the porch and throughout the yard were piles and piles of old clothes that well-meaning people had donated to the family. Unfortunately, no one had bothered to sort through them—a task that bewildered the Caudhills. And so, the piles just sat there—crumpled, wet, and moldy.

As I arrived, Jim, a handsome tow-headed boy of ten, ran down to greet “Miss Cindy.” Every day I took him to the nearby hollow where I directed a recreation enrichment program for the mountain children. Jim was beautiful and bright—a ray of hope amid the squalor. He lived with his mother, aunt, and uncle—all of whom had intellectual disabilities. They stood tall and formidable on the porch waving goodbye. I often wondered what they thought about my taking Jim away each day.

I was here partly due to Catherine Marshall’s Christy—a fictional tribute to the author’s mother, which I had already read three times. I wanted to be just like my heroine, Christy—to serve the rural poor with Christ’s love, to bring them hope and a better life. Renting a small room from an old widow, I learned how to quilt, clear fields, wash my hair in rainwater buckets (we had no running water), use an outhouse, endure being teased as an old maid, and eat biscuits three times a day.

In that summer of my twentieth year I traipsed around Kentucky in my cutoff overalls and long braids, determined to save the world—or at least this tiny part of it in the Eastern Kentucky mountains. By the time I had returned to university in the fall to finish up my senior year, God had planted precious seeds of mercy in my heart and mind.

Their world had changed me.

God’s grace stepped in and redeemed my efforts that summer. He took a young, privileged, sheltered student and opened my eyes to a world of need, softened my heart to hear His voice, and brought me to the end of myself so that I might allow God to work mercy through me.

At the beginning of my third decade, I slowly began to embrace what the Lord asks of all his people in Micah 6:8, “To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

But how do I continue to extend mercy daily to widows, orphans, and the less fortunate (which is most of the world) every day? I must admit, this question haunts me. You too?

I believe it begins by noticing, right where we are. If we follow God’s lead and walk through the open doors (no matter how scary), He will put people and situations in our path that demand a response.

At the height of the Rwandan genocide, the US Department of Justice loaned one of their young lawyers to the United Nations to direct a team gathering evidence against the perpetrators. This Harvard graduate named Gary Haugen was so changed by this experience that he founded the International Justice Mission. The mercy that stirred his heart compelled him to dedicate all his efforts to bringing immediate relief to victims of violence and oppression around the world and to pursuing prosecution of perpetrators who abuse power to violate and suppress the weak—“the least of these.”

Mercy costs us. What will it cost you and me today to show mercy and kindness to one another?

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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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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