Monday, March 18, 2013

Where You Lead.... I'll Follow

My name is D'Lana Dillard. I am so honored to be able to share my story with the women of this wonderful church of which I am a part of! Three and a half years ago, I was given one of the best opportunities I could have ever received! However, before I jump into my faith journey, I need to go back in time. My journey began as a teenager as I developed a great love for kids' ministry. I love to listen to the sound of kids worshipping and see the amazement in their eyes when you tell them what God has done for them! During high school, I built great relationships with several wonderful mentors. I was able to shadow my mentors and learn the behind the scenes of kids' ministry at a very large church in Houston. I would have never thought that even in high school, God was preparing me for an incredible faith journey that I would be able to experience during the summer of 2009.

In the summer of 2008, I took a vacation to visit some friends that had moved from Texas to southern California. While I was there, I noticed this group of interns that were working at the church my friends attended. I always remembered how I grew so close to our youth interns while growing up and I thought to myself, how cool would that be to spend my summer ministering in that way. After I left, God continued to place California on my heart, but I continually put it behind me. During spring break the following year, I was listening to a sermon from that church and they made an announcement that summer intern applications were due by the end of the month. I thought to myself, “What do I have to lose?” So, I got everything together for my application and as I was reading the requirements, I came across one that I did not meet…YOU MUST BE A SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA RESIDENT. I prayed hard about my decision to apply and knew that if God wanted me there, HE would make a way!

Fast forward to the end of April, I began receiving emails that I was going to have an interview (which would normally be done in person) on the phone with the intern coordinator, Amy. We had a great conversation! She heard my heart and I listened to what would be required of me. A couple of weeks went by and I received an email that I was going to be interviewed again by the preschool coordinator, Angelina. We talked for quite some time on the phone and she told me what all they were planning for the summer and some of the things I would be helping with. At this point, I was so excited but getting nervous because I didn’t want to get my hopes up! After a week of waiting and checking my emails every few minutes, I received a phone call that I was being offered the position and would need to be at intern orientation the first Sunday in June. If you know me, you know I am a planner! I had thirteen days to pack up my car and drive across the country to spend three and a half months. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of God breaking me and molding me for my incredible summer!

My mom and I drove across the country in two days to take the biggest leap of faith that I have ever taken! In my mind, I was moving away from my family, missing my best friend’s graduation, moving in with a family that didn’t have room for me but they sacrificed anyway, and going to a city where I knew four people…GOD IS IN CONTROL! The next few months stretched me beyond anything I can really explain and I still can’t fully comprehend. As I am writing this, I am still completely amazed at how I made it through that summer! I was not being paid for my internship and was moving to one of the most expensive cities in America. People at home questioned everything I was thinking but, I knew I had to go! After all, I couldn’t tell God no after I had asked for His blessing…He knew I needed this summer!

During the summer, I built relationships with people that are still going strong today. My supervisor, Angelina, has become one of my strongest mentors and friends. She has taught me, without her knowing, so many things! I learned so much about ministry and life in those three months. Although, I was the outsider who knew very little about California, everyone accepted me for me. My faith was stretched financially, emotionally and spiritually that summer. I was blessed with a small part-time job where I made just enough money to cover my bills. I was given random financial gifts and to this day, I still don’t know where they came from and am so thankful to those who sent them!

As I come to a close, I will always remember what I was told on my first day in the office after a six hour brainstorming meeting…”D’Lana, we will ruin you here…but in a good way!”. I do have to agree with the fact that they ruined the way I thought about kid’s ministry! I will never forget that incredible summer that has allowed me so many opportunities to minister to this day. When God says go, GO! No matter what, if it is in His will, He will work everything out….You may have to sleep on a couch and ride a bike because you can’t afford gas, but believe me the opportunities that I was blessed with definitely outweighed the hardships I faced!

Ruined for Good,

My verses for that summer were:

Luke 17:6  “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

Micah 6:8  “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?”

Monday, March 4, 2013

Being the Mom God wants me to be

My name is Jessica Thomas and it gives me great joy to say that I’m a mother. While we were never certain how we were going to have a family, there was one thing for sure that I knew in my heart of hearts—one day I would be a mom. My journey to motherhood has been my testimony and through it God revealed His healing, faithfulness, grace, and the power of prayer. I am so thankful and honored to be blessed with the very best from God above, the blessing of two beautiful daughters-Aubrey Hope and Avery Grace. 

God has entrusted Aubrey and Avery to my husband Jason and I. Even before they were born, we dreamed of them, we imagined them, and we prayed for them. Now that they are here, we hope for them, we love them, and we thank God for them. Just like any other parent, I want so much for our children. I want them to be raised in a home where they feel safe and loved, I want them to be happy and void of struggles or worries, I want them to be able to maintain the innocence of a child’s heart, I want them to be able to have the opportunity to have an education, I want them to be healthy and have access to health care, I want them to be surrounded by a community that will support them through the good and bad, and I want them to have a relationship with Jesus, I want for Jay and I to be intimately involved in their spiritual growth, and…the list could go on and on. When I think about all these things, there is one dream that I esteem as being most important and that is that they know Jesus and have a personal relationship with Him. Many times my mind becomes clouded which what temporarily seems important for their well-being and recently God has been working on my heart to redefine what it means for me to be a mother. God wants my focus not to be on what can I do for them, but what can God do for them.

So what does that look like? Our phenomenal children’s pastor, Sherri Campbell, performed an excellent illustration at the baby dedication class held for all parents that wish to have their children dedicated to the Lord. By using cheese ball puffs, Sherri demonstrated the number of hours we as parents have in comparison to the time church has towards the development of our children’s spiritual growth. As a mother, with subtracting sleep and school time, I have approximately 3,000 hours every year to influence my children’s spiritual growth. On the flip side, church has only 60 hours every year with my children teaching them about Christ. It couldn’t be more obvious as I was staring at lots and lots of yummy cheese puffs in comparison to a small container that looked anemic in comparison. God has trusted me with his children and has therefore called me to the greatest responsibility that could ever be bestowed on me—to be a mom, a mom that puts Christ first in our mother-daughter relationship, a mom that submits to her husband, a mom that loves her husband, a mom that abides in God’s commandments, a mom that forgives, a mom that loves unconditionally, a mom that serves, a mom that takes every opportunity to share the love of Christ in and outside our home, a mom that prays, a mom that gives thanks, a mom that …I could keep on going. What an important and impactful role we as moms have on the lives of our children. Thank you God for making it obvious to me (through food because for those of you that know me, food is the way to my heart!) that the greatest influence on our girl’s spiritual growth happens right at home and perhaps even more important, with ME! I ask myself, do the girls see Jesus when they are with me? 

I pray that God will give me a heart that overflows with the desire to invest in my children’s relationship with Christ. What can I do? First, I need to grow personally. I need to be in God’s Word, I need to be having fellowship with other believers, I need to be a prayer warrior, I need to worship, I need to serve…in short, I need to make my relationship with Christ my top priority. Second, I need to be a Godly wife. I need to have a relationship with my husband that is God honoring and that my children can see Jesus through the love we share and through our actions. I want them to never doubt our devotion to each other or to God, our morals, or our beliefs. Next, as a mother, I need to be intentional about the influences around my girls. I need to strive to set my girls up for success in their social circles. I need to encourage interactions that will have a Godly influence in their lives and foster unconditional love.  The bottom line is that I need to be intentional and passionate about developing Aubrey’s and Avery’s relationship with Christ. I hope and pray that when I go to heaven and see God face to face that he will look at my journey as a mother and he will say: “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I will close with some versus from Deuteronomy which I pray will be the cry of my heart…

“And you must serve the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourself wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on your doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  (v. 6:5-9)