Celebrating Wins, Sharing Sorrows & Making Connections

A couple of summers ago, I had this grand plan for a Summer Bible Study to do on my own. It had dawned on me that while I knew information about a lot of the women in the Bible, I didn’t feel like I really knew them. On a personal level. As friends.

As a kid growing up in the church, I knew all their names. I could recite trivia about many of them. In Bible College, that knowledge was reinforced and added to, but only on an intellectual level. I learned about them. I learned from their example. But I still didn’t feel a connection with them beyond the academic.

In fact, I felt disconnected from them as a whole – by time, by experience, by culture, by life. And I wanted to bridge that divide.

With a list of questions in hand similar to what you’d ask a new acquaintance in order to get to know her better, I began my very own Summer Bible Study with high hopes of finally connecting with some of the great women of the Bible. By the end of the summer, however, I had only briefly met the first before I became distracted by the sunshine, my incredibly fun teens and my self-imposed home improvement projects.

Disappointed by such an underwhelming beginning, I decided that I would try again next summer – and with a better plan. I realized I became derailed so soon because I was unorganized and lacked the accountability of meeting weekly with other women. As the next summer neared, I began inviting friends one at a time until I reached my ideal small group number (which was 4). Next, I spent some time organizing my questions & passages into days of the week. Lastly, I got my husband involved. “I need this to look like a bona fide Bible Study or I won’t take it seriously, babe.” As usual, he exceeded my expectations and by the first week in June, I was rubbing elbows, celebrating “wins,” sharing sorrows and making connections with some of the most profound women of my faith alongside some of my favorite friends.

I want to offer you the same opportunity this summer! Invite a few friends to grow with you through the upcoming summer months as you connect with the women of the Bible – and each other. It’s FREE!


Summer Bible Study 1
What difference can three months, a few friends and the Word make in your life? I invite you to find out this summer!


Reluctant Learning

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. – Colossians 3:12

I have intentionally seldom prayed for patience. Additionally, I have been known to chastise people who have voiced a prayer in which they asked God for patience on my behalf. (Why would I pray for something that I know is gained only through opportunities to practice the thing I am lacking?!)

Cultivating patience also involves waiting and I want immediate results (instant gratification). Thankfully, God gives us what we need, not merely what we think we want.

Over the past twenty five years, in the midst of

  • cleaning up spills – again
  • sleepness nights – again
  • answering what’s for dinner for the third time since lunch – again
  • calling poison control – again
  • waiting in the ER with an adventuresome (or accident-prone) child – again
  • teaching little ones how to read – again
  • teaching high school Algebra – again
  • reading through the same books aloud – again
  • training new chores – again

God has given me daily opportunities to develop the very thing I’d been intentionally avoiding. He developed patience in me stealthily over the long haul of raising the next generation.

Norwegian Christian Krohg's "Sleeping Mother with Child," c. 1883
Norwegian Christian Krohg’s “Sleeping Mother with Child,” c. 1883

Patience, it turns out, is worth the years of practice it takes to cultivate it.

PONDER: Which of the qualities listed in Colossians does God most desire to develop in you? List the opportunities He has granted you to do just that…and thank Him for them.

PRAY: Father, I thank You for faithfully providing me with opportunities to grow. I want to be like Jesus, yet I am so reluctant to learn in some areas of my life. Thank You for being patient with me and that Your work in my heart includes the areas in which I am most resistant. Please continue to bring about in me the good work that you have begun.

Holy Kissing – a guest post by Lorinda Fleming

Romans 16-16

Before we moved overseas, we lived in the Southern US, which on the surface is a very friendly culture. We greet strangers and acquaintances with a “Hi, how are you?” You greet friends with a warm hug and a big smile and it’s great! But even at church we don’t just go around hugging everyone, right? We hug those that we love. Then we moved to Russia.  There, it was different. People were not overly friendly, never greeted a stranger in the street, and I was usually grateful to be ignored.  But in the conservative church, we kissed.  On the lips. Men kissed men and women kissed women. Good times. Although at the time it was my least favorite part of church, looking back, I recognize that it was a very important part of fellowship. They took it seriously as a commandment and cheerfully (or not), kissed one another. A dry peck, and a quick hug if you were friends or a loving embrace if you were dear friends. They always made sure to greet every single person.  In our youth group, there wasn’t as much kissing, but the girls hugged each other, and the guys shook each other’s hands, every single one. In a harsh culture, there was a comforting familiarity in that way of greeting each one. No one was left out of the greeting.

Now we live in a different country, in an even more traditional culture and, guess what. They kiss here, too. But it’s different.  Here it’s the whole culture–not just the church–that is prone to kissing. Again, women-to-women, and it’s a kiss-kiss on the cheeks (left to right). It’s sweet, and all the while they are telling you how good it is to see you again and asking how you are, and how your family is and how your parents are. Even guys sometimes do a cheek-to-cheek thing that is not kissing, or a forehead bump, while clasping each other’s right hands. Every person in the room is greeted with a kiss or a handshake.

When we have people over, there is a ceremony of greeting and kissing that is not to be blown off casually. For instance, when guests come to our house for coffee, our whole family comes to the door, and we say, “It’s good that you came.”  And their reply is, “It is good that we found you (at home).” If it is a man, I will shake his hand while we say this, and if it is a woman, we will be busy kissing each other’s cheeks, asking about the kids, if I’ve talked to my mom recently, if I’m tired (I’m supposed to be, because that means that I worked hard today, but I’m supposed to deny it). If we are really close, or it’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other, we will kiss each other’s cheeks more than twice and give each other a tight squeeze.  (Hahaha!  Some of you are cringing.  It’s okay.  Albanian women are awesome at making you feel greeted well.) While the women are kissing, the men are shaking hands and asking each other the same questions about their families (literally, “households”), work and whatever it is that men ask each other. After the greeting, the guests are either offered slippers, because Albanians do not wear their shoes in the house, or they are told to leave their shoes on because guests are special (or the floor is really cold and there are no guest slippers). Then they are led into the living room to sit, and the wife or daughter of the house brings a bowl of candy and serves each guest a sweet. This was traditionally llokume (Turkish Delight), but nowadays it is very often a chocolate. Then, coffee or juice is served to the guests. There are special customs regarding foods served and each region has their own, but the importance of it is the honor that they show their guests.

Because it’s such a traditional culture and everyone follows the same rules of greeting, they are used to it, but for those of us who have come from other places, it’s another opportunity to rethink the way we do things, especially those of us from the sometimes-too-casual West. Maybe in our Western churches holy kissing would be hard to reinstate as a scriptural mandate, but it would certainly make it easier for me, because when we go back to the US, it takes me two months to remember that no one there does the kiss-kiss thing. So embarrassing! Barring such a change, here are some things to think about. Do I honor the people who come to my home, to my church, to my social groups? Do I make them feel welcome, loved and accepted? How can I show love and honor to the people that I meet when I am out, especially those who are my brothers and sisters in Christ? Is there a way that I can reach out to those who might be on the lonely fringes, who need to a “holy kiss/handshake/hug”?

Meet Lorinda Fleming:

I was born and raised in small town America, living in three different states. I met my husband in Bible college and we were married after our sophomore year. Right after finishing college, we moved overseas and have lived in three countries in Eastern Europe for the past 22 years, working in local churches. We have three teens who are some of my greatest joys in life. I love Jesus and enjoy iced tea, good books, mountains, quiet days in the country, and spending time with my family. I don’t have a blog, but I love to read other people’s blogs, especially if they are written by friends, and it’s an honor for me to be a guest on Ericka’s blog.
I was born and raised in small town America, living in three different states. I met my husband in Bible college and we were married after our sophomore year. Right after finishing college, we moved overseas and have lived in three countries in Eastern Europe for the past 22 years, working in local churches. We have three teens who are some of my greatest joys in life. I love Jesus and enjoy iced tea, good books, mountains, quiet days in the country, and spending time with my family. I don’t have a blog, but I love to read other people’s blogs, especially if they are written by friends, and it’s an honor for me to be a guest on Ericka’s blog.

Forgiving One Another

Jane Eyre quote

Charlotte Bronte penned this inspiring line in my all-time favorite novel, Jane Eyre. I think about this quote often. I aspire for this quote to be fleshed out in my life like it was in Jane’s. The truth of the matter is that this is a constant internal struggle for me. My heart tends to hold on to the hurts inflicted on me, either intentionally or unintentionally, from others. I quickly cry out against others when they are too harsh, too judgmental, or too hypocritical.

When I am the offender, however, I just as quickly excuse my own wrong behavior by saying, “God isn’t finished with me yet.” The inference is that I am a work in progress; I deserve forgiveness because I’m still learning.

I think that tendency is what God had in mind when He penned (through Paul) –

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. -Ephesians 4:32

Just as God through Christ forgave you. The times in which my life has most successfully mirrored Jane Eyre’s words have been those times in which I have remembered that my offender, too, is a work in progress. God isn’t finished with them yet, either. And by offering the same grace that I expect, I am learning how to forgive, just as God through Christ forgave me.

PONDER: Is there someone in your life against whom you are nursing animosity? Are you mentally keeping a register of the wrongs committed against you? Let’s wipe the slate clean today and choose to walk with them in forgiveness, just as God through Christ forgave you.

Forgiving One Another is one of thirty devotionals I’ve written as part of a friend’s devotional project.  You can read more short devotionals like this by clicking here or the Devotionals tab at the top of this page.


The Heart of a Servant – a guest post by Amanda Erickson


I was so little my daddy had to pull a chair up to the kitchen sink so I could stand on it, tippy-toed, to help wash the dishes. Actually, I’m pretty sure he had me rinsing dishes, as my untrained eye and the desire to rush through this chore almost surely would have resulted in not very clean dishes. Daddy was washing, I was rinsing.

Some of my earliest memories of family holidays are of my Daddy drawing my little brother and me to himself and telling us it was time to clean our Grandma’s kitchen. Not all that surprising was how resistant my brother and I were to this idea – downright resentful some times! But my dad, well, he always did it with a cheerful spirit, often whistling or humming a tune while cleaning up the holiday mess.

There are recurring moments that sprinkle through my childhood memories. Daddy washing up dishes at Grandma’s house. Daddy clearing people’s plates from the table at church functions so they could keep right on talking. Daddy staying until the lights were turned out and doors locked so he could help clean up after a party or event.

“Serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13

Over the past 2 1/2 years I’ve been on the receiving end of my dad’s selfless service. Throughout two tough pregnancies and having new little ones of my own, my dad has stepped in to serve me in ways I never knew I needed. During my pregnancies he’d call on his way home from work (he drives by my house to go to and from work) to see if I needed anything on his way by. Whether it was delivering pregnancy cravings or taking out a mostly empty trash bag because super pregnancy nose was in full swing, he did it. And when my husband is out of town he stops by to help give baths and tuck in tots. Although that may be a little self serving since his my two year old loves seeing his Papa, and the feeling is quite mutual.188349_502463844269_896_n

My dad has the heart of a servant. He serves others and models Christ in a way that makes the Gospel come to life right before your eyes, bringing to life the Scriptural admonition to serve one another in love. Of course as a kid I thought washing dishes at Grandma’s house was some sort of unusual punishment or penance required for enjoying a bountiful Christmas morning. As I grew up though, I realized that inasmuch as Daddy was teaching us to do dishes with a  cheerful spirit (confession: I still wrestle with that), the more valuable lesson he modeled for us was that of selflessly and joyfully serving others.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:5-7

My father-in-law has the heart of a servant. Truly. He is the first person that came to mind when I turned my attention toward the command to “serve one another.” His consistent example to me over the past 25 years has defined and shaped what it looks like to flesh out this command and has served to inspire me toward living the same. While I’ve seen his servant’s heart in action for the past 25 years of marriage to his oldest, my sister-in-law (Amanda Erickson) has been blessed with a lifetime of living and learning from this most gracious of men. May you be blessed in getting to know my amazing father-in-law, Murray Smith, through the eyes of his biggest fan.

Serve One Another

Recently I was laying across the kids’ trampoline in our back yard, pondering what we did with the minions this year for Easter. Our youngest two are teenagers, so gone are the days of hiding Easter eggs around our house & yard so that the kids could search for them like treasure. They are older now, more mature. Not willing to let go of memory-making moments that hold meaning to us as followers of Jesus, or lose the opportunity to invest in my kids’ relationship with God, I decided to try something new. This year the kids hunted Easter-themed geocaches Simon & I hid around the city of Dallas instead of the traditional candy-filled eggs. Each was located at a spot with life-sized art that holds religious significance to us as believers and (I hoped!) would add to their understanding of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them.

"Divine Servant" by Max Greiner, Jr. is on display all over the world. For a listing, visit the website.
“Divine Servant” by Max Greiner, Jr. is on display all over the world. For a listing, visit the website.

On Maundy Thursday we visited the first geocache, which depicted Jesus as the “Divine Servant.” Once the kids located the bronze statue (pictured), we shared with them that Maundy Thursday is the remembrance of the last meal that Jesus shared with His disciples – the Last Supper. As we examined the details of the “Divine Servant,” I opened my Bible app and began reading John 13. It is hard to explain the emotion I experienced as I read the text with this life-sized representation of the very words in front of my eyes. It was powerful. I felt like I was witnessing Jesus’ servant’s heart, live. His humility, in person. His love, in action. And it made me think…

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. -Galatians 5:13

What does my freedom look like to those with whom I share life? Is a servant’s heart displayed in my actions? Does my life more often display His humility or the indulgence of my own flesh (my own desires)? Are my actions spurred by a love that extends beyond myself? In short, does my life add to others’ understanding of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them?


Accepting One Another – Part 2

I shared on Monday that we are continually influenced by what we read, by what we watch, and with whom we keep company. Characters in books, on the screen and in person all have the potential for contributing to the shaping our view of self, the world, and those around us – for good or evil. Hugo “Hurley” Reyes is another such character that has captivated my attention in regards to navigating relationships with others.

Our favorite survivors of Oceanic Flight 815; Hurley is on the far right with the orange undershirt.
Our favorite survivors of Oceanic Flight 815; Hurley is on the far right with the orange undershirt.

Lost was a complicated & mysterious show with an elaborate cast of interwoven plane crash survivors that wholly captivated my attention (the last few episodes notwithstanding). A cast favorite was Hurley, a young lottery winner who spent some time living in a mental institution before he took up residence on the island. Hurley wasn’t the cleverest on the island. He wasn’t eye candy for the ladies. He wasn’t the protector. He wasn’t a provider. What Hurley was, was everyone’s friend. Hurley had a way of seeing past the facade that every other person on the island worked hard at maintaining and accepting each person as-is. He fleshed out the idea that who each person was prior to the crash didn’t determine who they were on the island. Hurley didn’t focus on the past. He accepted people as they were in the present, flaws and all.  

“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7

PONDER: If your life was viewed on the screen, would your acceptance of others bring praise to God, as Paul writes? If you struggle with accepting people as they are in the present (as-is, flaws and all), spend some time today reflecting again on Romans 5:8.


Accepting One Another – Part 1

I am a highly impressionable person. I believe we all are in varying degrees. What we read, what we watch, the company we keep – all of these have a hand in shaping our perceptions and perspective. We vicariously learn through the experiences of the characters we come to know on the screen or in the pages of a book, whether for good or evil. One such character that has shaped my perspective on relating to others is Lorelei Gilmore from Gilmore Girls.

Lorelei is in the front row, red shirt. Her daughter, Rory, sits next to her. Her mother (Emily Gilmore) stands behind her.
Some of our favorite residents of Stars Hollow (and Hartford, CT) gathered around Lorelei (front row, red shirt), the original Gilmore Girl.

Gilmore Girls was a fast-paced, cleverly written show littered with pop culture references and witty banter. I was drawn to the main character (Lorelei) from the first episode in 2000. Lorelei, having become pregnant at sixteen, was now the mother of a sixteen-year-old daughter herself. What drew me to her character was that she accepted people at face value, for who they were at present, not who she wanted them to be. This was starkly contrasted against her own mother’s character whose snarky comments usually left little room for doubt that Lorelei was a constant source of disappointment to her.  Lorelei usually managed to find humor even in the most humorless of people or circumstances. She was keenly aware that she didn’t have it all together. That perspective freed her from easily taking offense when those around her didn’t have it all together, either, allowing her to accept people as-is.

Romans 15:7 – Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

PONDER: If you have trouble accepting people as-is, ask yourself this: How did Christ accept you? (Hint: Read Romans 5:8.)

Thoughts on Practicing {Biblical} Hospitality from…

Guest post by Andrea Young. You can connect with Andrea on Instagram.
Guest post by Andrea Young. You can connect with Andrea on Instagram.




The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers. (google.com)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2, ESV)

A more direct translation of Hebrews 13:2 is, “Of hospitality be not forgetful, through this indeed unawares some have entertained angels.” That word – hospitality – is translated from the Greek philoxenia. According to Dr. Mike Burer, “It’s a compound word which combines the noun for friend (philos) and a noun which could mean either hospitality or stranger/alien (xenia). Put them together and you get the idea: either treating a stranger like a friend, or providing hospitality to a friend.

Based on the rest of the verse, this is the idea the author of Hebrews was instructing his audience of late 1st century Christians: Treat strangers like friends. In the context of the late 1st century, this probably meant inviting traveling strangers into your home to eat and sleep. I would be unlikely to invite complete strangers into my home to stay. It’s a condition of the times. So how can a modern Christian live out this exhortation?

When I see my friends, I greet them warmly. I want them to know I am happy to see them! I ask them about their lives, and I listen with interest. And I often do invite them into my home – frequently to eat, and occasionally to sleep. I cheerfully take on the house-cleaning and food preparation that signals to my guests: I am glad you are here! I want you to feel happy and comfortable. I want you to stay as long as you’d like. I am sensitive to your needs and will do what I can to accommodate you.

I do not often extend this to strangers with which I have occasion to interact. My introverted nature is on high alert in the presence of strangers, and it takes an extreme amount of energy to break through that self-imposed barrier to treat strangers as friends, especially when the interpersonal stakes and potential for rejection are high. Too often, I think to myself, “Someone more extroverted and well-spoken will greet that new person at church”, or, “That person probably doesn’t want to talk to me anyway,” or frequently, “Rather than get stuck in a conversation consisting of mind-numbing small talk with someone I don’t know, I’ll just sit here and look at my phone like I’ve got something terribly important to do….”

When Ericka asked me to write my thoughts on hospitality, I was planning on writing my thoughts on how to be a good hostess, and although related to hospitality, being a good hostess does not necessarily make one hospitable. For those friends I do invite into my home, I manage quite well as a hostess. I find it enjoyable – the planning, the preparation, the eating and drinking and the merry-making. It fills up my heart to make other people happy with food and conversation. But am I extending this to those who I do not (yet) call my friends? To strangers and newcomers? Or do I hide behind my sinful nature, afraid of rejection or unpleasant entanglement?

As with all other virtues, I will never perform this perfectly. I will practice hospitality. I would like to be a more hospitable person to strangers. How wonderful it is when you are the stranger, and someone makes you feel warmly welcomed! It is such a spirit-lifting experience to make a connection with a stranger who smiles at you, talks to you, asks you about yourself and seems interested in listening to you. It can transform your day, and in some cases it can transform your life. What barriers do I need to knock down in order to approach others that way? You never know who they might be, or what impact you might have.

Step 1: Smile more often.


Practicing {Biblical} Hospitality

The Hospitality of Abraham, unknown artist, held at the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece
The Hospitality of Abraham, unknown artist, held at the Benaki Museum in Athens, Greece

When I decided to look at some of the “one anothers” of the Bible during the month of April, practicing Biblical hospitality was an obvious place to start for me. I have a few friends that truly excel in offering hospitality. I do not…and here’s why:

  • I begrudge the level of cleaning that I feel “needs” to be done in order to have guests.
  • I stress over a menu for eaters that inevitably will not appreciate my culinary skills as much as my family does.
  • I exhaust my creativity in mustering new ways for everyone to connect during & after dinner.
  • I lament the energy required to stay up until the last guests (finally) decide to go back to their own homes.

The entire process is literally draining for me from start to finish – physically, socially, and emotionally.

I purposed, however, to step outside my comfort zone this year and grow in this particular area. “You don’t necessarily have to be good at it,” I encouraged myself, “just obediently practice it. You can do that.”

So what is Biblical hospitality?

1 Peter 4:9 – Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Romans 12:13 – Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Without grumbling.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.

In reading just these two examples (there are more!), I am stopped in my tracks. I have allowed my own checklist to overshadow God’s simpler one. I realize that I have been focused more on meeting my own needs than on the needs of those I have welcomed into my home. I have been practicing having company, not Biblical hospitality.

What about you?

PONDER: Are you offering true Biblical hospitality, or are you having company? Is the hospitality you offer free of grumbling? Are you sharing with the Lord’s people who are in need, whether it’s physically, emotionally or socially?

PRAY: Father, thank You for our home in which we can practice Biblical hospitality. Grant me eyes to see those in need, that I may practice on them. Help me to focus on meeting others’ needs more than my own. And help me to learn to practice hospitality without a single grumble in my heart.

Practicing Biblical Hospitality is one of thirty devotionals I’ve been asked to write this year as part of a friend’s year-long devotional project.  You can read more short devotionals like this by clicking here or the Devotionals tab at the top of this page.