A Thankful Heart

Do you ever experience days so dark that you can’t see God’s hand in your life? Mary Weaver tried to save the life of a baby in her care, but when the baby died, she was accused of first degree murder. This Christian lady and her lawyer friend fought hard to prove her innocence. At times it seemed that life had spiraled out of God’s control, but time showed, during the darkest days, God was quietly working for her good.

Mary chose to be thankful, even during her darkest days in prison. Today I’m sharing an excerpt from Mary’s story as a challenge to all of us to keep a thankful heart. At the end I’ll tell you where you can get the entire ebook with Mary’s amazing story for free during this month of December 2019.

Excerpt from Chapter 25 of Edges of Truth by Deb Brammer

Mary Weaver sat on her prison bunk and slipped a family photo from the pages of her Bible. It pictured her with her husband and two children, before she was sentenced to life in prison without parole. She caressed her red-headed son, John and his blonde sister, Catherine in the picture. For sixteen months she had only seen them once a week when her husband brought them to the prison visiting room.

It all started January 22, 1993 when Mary was providing childcare for 11-month-old Melissa. When the baby quit breathing Mary fought for her life, but the baby died later that day. Mary had never done anything to hurt Melissa, but experts were divided on their opinions about her guilt. A life sentence was currently stealing time with her precious children. Mary’s lawyers were seeking to appeal her case, but over a year had passed and they still hadn’t been able to get a new trial. Meanwhile Mary was separated from her husband and kids who were now five and six years old.

Mary felt sure God would eventually free her and clear her name. She was a Christian and she knew God would get her through prison one day at a time. But she grieved for her children and unsaved husband. Months had passed into a year and more and her children were growing up without her. She would never get those years back.

As Mary sat in her cell worrying about her family, a guard appeared at the door. “Mrs. Weaver? You got a visitor.”

Mary set her Bible aside and preceded the guard down the prison corridor. Who could this be? As she stepped into the visitor’s room Catherine skipped up to her in a pink tutu and leotard.

“Mommy, Mommy, I’m going to my dance recital! Aunt Lisa brought me so you could fix my hair.” Catherine jumped around until Mary could hardly get a hug from her.

Mary smiled her thanks at her friend, Lisa Murphy, who had figured out this creative way to include Mary in her daughter’s special occasion.

Mary drew her daughter close. “I’d love to fix your hair. Shall we do French braids?”

“Yes, yes, yes, with pink ribbons!” Catherine bounced with every word.

Mary removed ribbons and elastic bands from Catherine’s ponytail and pulled long blonde strands into sections with her fingers.

“Hold still,” she reminded her daughter as she started one braid. Mary breathed in the fruity fragrance of the superfine hair as she began to weave the strands into identical braids on either side of her daughter’s head, then tied perfect pink bows at each end.

Catherine shook her head to feel her new hairdo. “Thank you, Mommy! I can’t wait to see myself in the mirror.”

Mary surreptitiously wiped tears with one sleeve. “You look beautiful. Can you show me your dance?”

Catherine performed several ballet steps, ending with a lopsided pirouette. Mary clapped loudly. “Good job! Just remember, when you’re in that recital today, I’m going to be thinking about you.”

Catherine gazed at her mom with pleading eyes. “I wish you could come to my recital.”

Mary blinked some tears from her eyes. “Me too, sweetheart, but Aunt Lisa will take pictures and I’ll study them carefully. Just remember that your mommy is very proud of you!”

Mary gave her daughter a quick, prison-acceptable hug and watched the two walk away. Satan whispered, “You are missing her recital and all the other important moments in her life.”

Mary lifted her chin. But God allowed me to fix her hair. God gave me that precious moment. God is good.

She thought of other ways God had allowed her to mother her children as well. God had given Mary a prison job, and her wages had been raised from thirty-eight to forty-one cents an hour. So what if it was only ten percent of minimum wage? The job made her time pass more quickly, and she could use the money in the commissary or craft store. Supporters could also add twenty dollars a week to her prison account. The activities directors had been especially kind to use this money to purchase fabric and patterns for her. Mary had been able to sew outfits for the kids, paint T-shirts, and buy presents for them.

Mary returned to her cell, sat on her bunk, opened her Bible, and prayed. Lord, help me to be thankful for what I have, not to complain about what I don’t have.

A prison sentence made it easy to slide into self-pity. Unfairness could defeat her but only if she let it. Instead she thought about The Hiding Place, a prison library book she had recently read. Corrie ten Boom had hidden Jews in Holland during World War II. The Nazis had caught her and thrown her into a bitter cold prison for four months, then a women’s extermination camp in Germany. Except for her sister, who was imprisoned with her for a time, Corrie had almost no contact with her family. She and her sister existed in overcrowded, filthy cells with little regard for sanitation and little to eat. They were allowed no exercise or fresh air.

Like Mary, Corrie was unfairly imprisoned, yet Corrie’s sister challenged her to focus on what she had. Corrie accepted the challenge. In solitary confinement she hungered for human contact, but she thanked God for an ant that crawled into her cell and provided a bit of company. In one of her prison cells, for one hour a day, she could stretch herself out tall and feel the sun shine on her head and chest. She thanked God for the sunshine. Later, at the extermination camp, she slept piled on a straw-covered platform with many other prisoners, sandwiched between other crowded platforms. Fleas infested the stinking straw, but Corrie even learned to thank God for the fleas. The tiny insects kept the guards away from the overcrowded bunk, where she hid her precious Bible.

Mary closed her eyes to shut out the conversation of the other inmates lounging right outside her cell. Her prison cell was the Ritz Carlton compared to the ones in the book. “Thank you, Lord, that my family is safe and that I can see them every week. Thank you that I have other gals to talk to. You’ve even given me a roommate who seems to be a true Christian. Thank you that I can feel safe in prison, that other inmates haven’t given me trouble, that the guards treat me with respect. Thank you that I have a Bible and I can read it openly, whenever I want. Thank you that I’ve grown closer to you in prison.”

The State had stolen her family. The first year they seized all her possessions, even her clothes. Only now they allowed her to keep a few things of her own. The State could separate her from her home and family, but they couldn’t take God away from her and they couldn’t take her away from God. She would focus on him and the things she was allowed to enjoy. Today that meant fixing her daughter’s hair for a special occasion.

***

God showers us with so many blessings every day that we sometimes get used to them and claim them as rights. When we have them we don’t appreciate them, and when we don’t, we complain.

This Christmas time is a great time to focus on what we have. What has God given you today?  

Mary’s story challenged me constantly during the two years it took to write it. You can get Edges of Truth: The Mary Weaver Story, the whole ebook, for free, along with Christian books by 19 other authors, here.  Current subscribers to Deb’s Book Blast have already received a link to download Edges of Truth for free.

You can find the companion Bible study book here for 99 cents. I Survived! uses illustrations from Mary’s story in this study of 5 Bible characters who survived disaster.

Have a Christ-filled Christmas and take some time quiet time for reading quality Christian books during these last days of 2019.

Going Against the Flow: Straight Talk about Purity for Girls

In America 40% of all babies are born outside wedlock. In New Zealand it’s nearly 50%. Today childbearing women of all ages tend to have fluid relationships, sometimes moving in and out of relationships and dragging their kids with them. So for teenage girls in our churches, purity goes against the flow. Friends, teachers, and media all around them tell them virgins are losers and no one waits for marriage anymore.

In recent years I felt a definite nudge from the Lord to address the issue in our mission church. Maybe you’re thinking about holding some classes in your youth group or having a purity weekend. Today I’m going to share the main ideas I covered with my girls in four weekly sessions.

Knowing my Heart: Who am I in Christ?

Some of the first girls to lose their virginity are girls with very low self-esteem. Also, Christian girls who have already lost their virginity may feel that they have ruined God’s plan for their life. They may feel like trash. So I felt this was a good place to start talking about purity.

A close look at 2 Timothy 2:20-22 tells us that a wealthy house has all kinds of containers. Some, like a tin can, hold trash. Others, like a crystal goblet, are used for honored guests. All are useful, but some hold a position of honor. If we keep ourselves pure we can be one of God’s treasured vessels. The way we dress, the movies we watch, the things we thinks about, our relationship with guys, can determine what kind of vessel we are for God.

God made me special and has a special plan for my life (Psalm 139:13-16). God loves me so much he sent Jesus to die for my sins (Romans 5:8). He wants me to live a pure life. I need to build my relationship with Christ day by day. This will help me keep my purity and keep me from desperately grasping for any guy who will be my boyfriend.

Sharing my Heart: Different Ways to Date

When I was a teenager, Christian leaders basically said, “You should date a lot so you can figure out what kind of person you want to marry.” I was not really in a position to date because there weren’t many Christian guys in my circles. Even in Bible college a lot of the guys all decided to date a few popular girls. If you never dated you felt like a real loser.

Today Christian young people and singles have more choices. We talked about marriages in the Bible (Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, common biblical marriage patterns). Then we talked about contemporary dating: common dating, Christian dating, arranged marriages, courtship, and making up your dating model.

Then we talked about some good principles with whatever model you choose.

  • Build your relationship with Christ first.
  • Bring wise counsellors into your relationship.
  • Don’t start too young or get too serious or too physical too fast.
  • Start by becoming good friends. Don’t confuse love with hormones.

Guarding My Heart: Tips to Protecting Your Purity

Sometimes Christian teens want to remain pure, but it seems nearly impossible. We began with some of the lies Satan tells:

  • God is keeping something good from you. (Really he’s protecting us from hurting our relationship with him, getting STD’s, having our hearts broken from someone who isn’t committed to us, from pregnancy and abortion.)
  • Virgins are losers who can’t get a guy to like them.
  • As long as you don’t “go all the way” you can do whatever you want before marriage.
  • Saving yourself for marriage worked long ago, but no one does it today.
  • Today it’s impossible to save yourself for marriage.

While it can be hard to keep yourself pure, these tips make it much easier.

  • Make a promise to God to keep yourself pure and live for him.
  • Replace wrong thinking with right thinking. Keep your mind pure.
  • Dress modestly.
  • In a relationship with a guy, stay public, stay vertical, decide how far you will go in advance. (This comes from And the Bride Wore White by Dannah Gresh.)
  • Build your relationship with Christ.
  • Make yourself accountable to someone you trust.

Giving My Heart Away: Looking Ahead

Love is blind. When we’re in love, we feel like we are thinking clearly. The media says: Follow your heart. Sounds good, but what this usually means is: Follow your hormones. Rely on your emotions. Gary Chapman calls this period the “in-love obsession” and says it lasts about two years.

Young girls need to look ahead and think about what they really want in the one they want to marry. Some things, like being athletic or good looking, may be whims or preferences. But they need to think about the things that are most important to them. They should avoid dating anyone who doesn’t have these things. Once they start dating and that guy makes them feel special, it will be hard to think objectively about him. We’ll talk about the qualities of a guy who will be a loving spiritual leader.

I found my girls eager to talk about these things and agreeable to what I said. But I sense they need to talk about these things, with a Christian teacher as well as Christian peers. I believe it helps them to voice the desire and necessity for purity with others who will support them in that decision. It’s not easy to go against the flow every day. We need to challenge unbelievers and support Christian teens. Do the guys need this too? Certainly, but this time I’m working with girls.

Resources:

Dannah Gresh’s book

Free printable Vows of Purity for guys and girls

Purity jewelry

My Art Spotlight Mysteries shows a fictional example of a couple dating carefully, with an eye on purity. There are some careful kisses before marriage and a mention of “thinking like a married man” that points to the marriage being consummated. Purity, different methods of dating, and relationships are clearly mentioned in the second and third book. In book one they just get to know each other.

 

 

 

Making a Positive Impact on Others


Did you ever leave church or a social gathering more discouraged than when you came? Maybe the majority of your conversations were largely negative. Sometimes our conversations just get in a negative rut and it’s hard to reverse and go in a better direction.

What can you do? Everyone has problems and needs a listening ear. You want to show concern, even when you can’t solve their problems. There’s a time to weep with those who weep. But we also want to make most of our conversations uplifting.

Today’s world is a desert thirsty for encouragement. If you are in ministry you have a constant need to connect with people, sometimes the same one over and over. We often talk about the weather, which may not be pleasant at the time, or ask how the person is, which may not be pleasant either. Then how can we steer the conversation in a positive direction?

Negative Subjects

The biggest enemy of positive conversation is negative subjects. Yes, we need to take a stand against the evils of the world, but sometimes these negative subjects dominate our conversations. It’s hard to have uplifting conversation about abortion, gun control, political leaders we don’t like, immorality in the world today, unemployment, or high prices. We may need to talk about these things sometimes, but we need to balance them with the positive aspects of life if we want to encourage ourselves and others.

Preparing Yourself for Positive Impact

Matthew 15:18 says, “Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart.” (NKJV) So if I have a positive heart, I will say positive words that will encourage everyone around me. What positive things can I think and talk about to balance out all the negatives of life? Here are some ideas:

1. What new thing can I thank God for today?

2. What small success can I celebrate in my life or the lives of others?

3. What everyday thing have I been overlooking that could bring me joy?

4. Have I found something in a book or blog recently that has encouraged me?

5. What nice things have other people done for me recently?

6. What advantages do I have that make my life easier than life 30 years ago?

7. Who could I call that I haven’t talked to for a while?

8. Was I expecting some bad thing to happen that turned out better than I thought?

9. What’s one nice memory I haven’t thought about for a while?

10. What ordinary people do I have in my life who bring me joy every day?

As we think about answers to these questions this week, we can become positive people who are ready to make a positive impact on a negative world.

 

God’s Invisible Work

Are you feeling discouraged in your ministry today? Maybe you’ve been working hard, but you see few results for your labor. You’ve analysed your ministry to see if you could makes changes to be more effective, yet you don’t feel the Lord’s leading you to make changes. You’ve poured yourself into the lives of people who are making bad choices. It looks like you are accomplishing very little. You’re trying to be faithful, but if what you’re doing isn’t working, why not quit?

Wouldn’t you like God to speak to you today and give you words of comfort? He has. “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” (Hebrews 6:10 NKJV)

God sees your work. If you are following his leading and serving him to the best of your ability out of a heart of love, he is pleased, even if you can’t feel it. God often works beneath the surface.  He may be doing his greatest work at a time when it looks like nothing is happening.

A friend recently told me, “Satan is really working. I’ve told all these friends about Jesus and they just aren’t responding.” Within days of hearing that I read these verses in my devotions. “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7-8, NKJV)

Most people don’t respond to the gospel the first time they hear it. Many times it takes years of exposure to the gospel before they are ready to believe. Over the years they meet various Christians who show an attractive picture of who Christ is and plant gospel seeds. The unbelievers remember bits and pieces of things they hear, but mostly they resist the message.  All these things seem to do no good. Then one day someone witnesses to them and “suddenly” they get it. They’re ready to be saved. But actually the decision wasn’t sudden. All the words by Christians that they seemingly ignored were actually helping to prepare them for the sudden decision.

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, NKJV)

God hasn’t forgotten your work. He is working in hearts. Your labor is not in vain. May you experience his joy in your ministry today.

Helping Missionaries on Difficult Fields

 

Ten years ago Max Missionary was appointed to the field of Boondockia (fictional country.) Max and his wife, Maxine, looked forward to a glorious future of planting churches in that needy country. But Max feels he has failed. He just can’t figure out what went wrong.

 After being appointed, Max and Maxine spent their first three years on deputation. Max gave challenging messages that showed his burden for the Boondockians, but many churches felt that was not enough. They wanted snake stories, and Boondockia is too cold for snakes. Max, although earnest, was not flashy. Their support trickled in slowly.

 Once on the field, Max and Maxine worked diligently for two years in language study, trying to master Boondockese. Before long they got used to the different sentence structure, but Max had trouble remembering the eleven different tones and when they changed in a sentence. Maxine did better with the tones but had trouble forming her glottal stops. After two years they did not master Boondockese, but they had a good foundation and were determined to continue working on it.

The couple spent the next two years trying to build friendships with the Lower Boondockians and tell them about Christ. Finally one lady said she would believe in Christ if Max taught her English. He decided she wasn’t ready. Max could not start services because they were due for furlough and there was no one to take over the work. No one showed much interest in Christianity anyway, since the Muslim state religion forbade worshiping Christ. Max decided to wait until the next term to begin services.

After furlough Max started services in their home. They passed out 10,000 fliers advertising their services and showed attractive Christian films once a month. Once in a while someone besides their family even came to the services. One Sunday three Boondockians came. Max walked on air for a month.

But Max is getting a little discouraged. He has held services every Sunday for the last two years, but only one person has been saved. That person moved away after a few weeks. Visitors don’t want to come back because there are so few people in the services. No one has come to the services for the last month.

Just yesterday Max got a questionnaire in the mail from a supporting church. They want to know how many people he has led to the Lord in the last year, how many he has baptized and the average attendance for his services. This church wants to support missionaries “who produce fruit.”

“What am I supposed to tell them?” he asks Maxine. “That after they’ve supported us for ten years, we’ve seen only one person saved? There’s no place on the questionnaire for the hours I spend several nights a week with Mr. Quaptrx trying to answer his doubts about Christianity. Or the time we’ve spent building relationships with others. What are we doing wrong? Are our last ten years for nothing?”

Max is typical of many missionaries who work on “slow fields.” Though he feels like a failure, he is just the kind of missionary needed in Lower Boondockia. He may not be flashy, but he is faithful, persevering through fruitless, seemingly nonproductive times. Boondockians are beginning to trust him. Max has given several a foundation for faith in the Word of God that will eventually lead some of them to trust Christ.

If Max will be able to stick it out for a few more years, he will plant a small church, the first one, in the city where he works. But right now he’s ready to quit.

Churches need to realize that not all mission fields are alike. On some fields people are saved in great numbers in a relatively short time, and it’s possible to build large, successful churches in a few years. On other fields, no matter how diligently the missionaries work, few souls are saved. It takes many years to build a small church. These are the “slow fields.” Given enough years, these fields should become more productive; but in the beginning it takes faithful missionaries with staying power.

In the case of a difficult field, a missionary is still just getting started after the first term or two. A missionary who will stay on the field for life is the best investment. If he quits after his first term much of his time is lost, and a lot of money is lost too. Consider a missionary couple who spends three to four years raising support, two years in language school, and another couple of years to complete their first term. The cost of living, travelling, setting up house, and study for those years could easily exceed a quarter million dollars. It makes sense to stand behind missionaries on slow fields and encourage them to serve as long as the Lord leads them to do so.

How can your church help missionaries on especially difficult fields?

 1. Recognize that different fields have different results.

Let your missionaries to slow fields know you don’t expect the same kind of results from their fields as you do from some others. Tell them you understand the heartbreak they feel when they work hard and see few results.

2. Realize that it takes different kinds of missionaries for different fields.

The flashy kind of person who makes outstanding first impressions on deputation may not last on the slow field—or any other field, for that matter. Learn to recognize the faithful missionary who has a quiet determination to persevere, no matter what. This kind of missionary is often overlooked, but may end up doing the best and most lasting job.

3. Make sure your missionary acquires good language skills.

If he does not get the language down, he is more easily tempted to give up and go home. Don’t put other expectations on your missionary during his time in language school. Churches that demand a missionary have an additional ministry greatly handicap his ability to learn the language. A missionary in language school needs your prayer and encouragement—even though his prayer letters may not have much to say. He needs to have enough financial support to meet his language school needs. Language school is often very expensive, and missionaries may have to cut down on the hours they take or avoid refresher courses because they can’t afford to take more.

4. Make sure your missionary has adequate financial support for every area of need.

This will take a lot of pressure off his shoulders. For example, he should have enough support to educate his children and take a vacation to get some rest. He won’t be able to stay with relatives, so even simple vacations may get a little expensive. Encourage your missionary to take a vacation and assure him he doesn’t have to feel guilty about the money and time spent. Many missionaries do well to get two or three days off a couple times a year.

5. Take the time to encourage your missionary.

Write him personal letters that show you have taken the time to get to know him and his field. Packages can be helpful when you have made the effort to find out what he will enjoy and the best way to send it. When possible, develop a friendship with him on deputation or furlough. His life may be so transient during these times that many people are afraid to make close friends with him.

6. Let him know you trust him.

Some churches are afraid to trust missionaries. They’re afraid appointees will never make it to the field so they don’t start supporting them until they leave for the field, or maybe until their second term. (If all churches did that, no missionary would ever get to the field.) Or they’re afraid their missionary isn’t working hard enough. It’s far more likely that he’s overworked and does not know how to cut down his hours. Missionaries working on slow fields especially need to know that their churches understand and trust them. The lack of results is hard enough to bear without their churches’ criticism.

7. Don’t forget to pray specifically for your missionary.

You can’t do that without reading and studying the prayer letters he writes. Your missionary tries hard to live up to the commitment he has made to you by working faithfully. Are you living up to the commitment you made to him by praying faithfully and specifically? Your missionary may be wondering why he is failing when he’s working so hard. Could it be you aren’t doing your part by praying?

In 40 years of ministry on two continents I have sometimes felt like Max and Maxine Missionary. But God sees and rewards faithfulness year after year.

As a former pastor used to say during my college days, “With God the hardest field can be the harvest field.”