The Powerful Gift of Being Weak { + book giveaways }

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“Should I be honest?” I wondered. “What if I start crying?  What if she doesn’t really have time to listen?  What if she is just asking to be nice? I could keep it simple and tell her I’m fine.”

There I was, standing in the lobby at church waiting for my husband, when an old friend walked up and asked how I was doing. Our then three-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with a severe speech disorder a few weeks earlier, and I was not “fine.”

I was exhausted. I was overwhelmed. I was afraid my little girl may never be able to talk.

Yet I felt like I shouldn’t be any of those things. I should have more faith, more stamina, more strength and courage to navigate the unknown path of special needs parenting.

Sometimes it’s hard to let people know how we’re really doing because we don’t want to be high maintenance, right? We don’t want anyone to feel sorry for us. Or we fear that if we’re honest, someone might perceive our struggle as a lack of faith.

Other times we don’t let people know how we’re really doing because we assume they’re only asking to be nice and don’t really have time to listen. And what if we’re honest but it gets awkward because they don’t know what to say?

Sometimes someone sincerely wants to know and we just don’t want to tell them. That is the place where things get tricky for me. I will tell people I’m fine even when I’m not, because I want to be.

I don’t want to be weak and broken. I want to be okay. I want to feel strong, resilient, and courageous. 

And that is where I stood that day in the lobby at church. Everything in me wanted to keep my guard up, keep my heart sealed off and my lips sealed tight. But I was tired of hiding and pretending. So I took a risk and let my heart, my words, and my tears spill. I shared the hard parts of Aster’s countless assessments, unexpected diagnosis, and the heartache of not knowing her future.

Although Kelly probably had places to go, she stayed with me and listened. She grabbed some tissue when the tears started down my cheeks, and asked if there was anything she could do to help.

When I wanted to be strong, God showed me the powerful gift of being weak.

Paul describes what happens when God allows struggles that make us feel weak. And what God does in our weakness when we’re willing to rely on Christ. How God’s power comes and rests on us.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:7 NIV

Paul had been struggling and asking God to take away the pain. But somehow he realized and accepted that God allowed the hardship to continue to protect him from pride and the danger of becoming self-sufficient.

Tweet: There’s nothing that can hinder community and friendships more than us not needing each other. #CravingConnection https://ctt.ec/x1m0u+There’s nothing that can hinder community and friendships more than us not needing each other. Like Paul, I think God wants us to become more comfortable with our weaknesses because it keeps us dependent on Him and needing each other. 

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We don’t need to keep pretending we’re fine. What we need, to have and to be, is a friend who says “you don’t have to be strong all the time.” A friend who gives us permission to be weak and remind us of the truth we so easily forget: God’s power shows up in our weakness when we’re willing to be real about our struggles and our need for His strength.

Before we went our separate ways, Kelly asked if she could pray for me, right there in the lobby at church. Afterwards she thanked me for telling her what was really going on, and told me that knowing I didn’t have life all figured out made her feel normal.

God is able to work His grace and His strength in our weakness. When we’re willing to be weak, He gets to be strong for us. When we’re willing to be real, others get to see, pray for and get to know the “real” us and the real God we so desperately need and love.


One of our deepest God-given longings is to be known, by Him and each other. I’m so excited to celebrate the launch of Craving Connection, my new all time favorite book about the beautiful, vulnerable, hard and holy gift of friendship. Grateful to have my heart and my story tucked in these pages with thirty other friends from the inCourage community who took turns writing each chapter for you. If you want to invest in meaningful relationships right where God has you, become the friend you wish we had, and embrace the desire God has placed in you to connect with friends, you are going to LOVE this book!

 

BOOK GIVEAWAY: In partnership with DaySpring’s inCourage and Broadman & Holman publishers, we’re giving away 6 copies of Craving Connection!! Three of you will receive t books – one to keep and one to give a friend.

ENTER TO WIN:  

  1. SHARE this post – on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram using the hashtag #CravingConnection and @ReneeSwope.
  2. SHARE your thoughts under this post, and let me know who you’d like to give a copy to.Winners will be randomly chosen next week and notified via email. If you are reading this via email, click here to leave a comment on my blog. All entries must be entered on my blog for participation in the drawing. 

Today’s post is a partial excerpt of my chapter in Craving Connection, a new book written by 30 different women from the inCourage community,

3 Truths To Hold Onto When Our Plans Don’t Go As Planned

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I had it all planned:
when they would all arrive
what I needed to do beforehand
how I wanted my heart to feel when they got here

Not wanting to turn into “the frazzled friend” I can become when planning a get-together, I banned myself from Pinterest and my own desire for “perfect.”

I planned ahead and recruited help from a friend. Together we would be prepared. Simple appetizers and decorations. A few pretty touches. My biggest desire? I just wanted to be ready early, with time to spare and room to breathe.

I wanted to enjoy this night. I wanted to feel calm and happy when guest arrived. I wanted to greet each friend face to face and let her know she was not only welcomed, she was wanted.

But even the simplest of plans don’t always go as planned.
A crisis at work kept my husband from being able to help me get the house clean. Traffic was horrible and my friend/co-host got stuck on the other side of town, unable to come early to help with setup. I was on my own, with three hungry kids piling into the kitchen asking when dad would be home to take them out for pizza.

I was not calm. I was not happy. Things weren’t getting done and I was coming undone.
My kitchen was a mess. Food wasn’t ready. And just as women started arriving, my tech-savvy-son told me our computer wasn’t compatible with our television, which meant streaming the inRL sessions (a highly anticipated part of our evening) was looking like another fail.

Deep disappointment and a slight sense of panic came crashing in.

Why do I even try??  I so desperately wanted to enjoy this night. These friends. And then I remembered…

CLICK HERE to join me on the (in)Courage blog today, where I’m sharing three powerful truths I learned that helped me 1)reset my perspective 2) see my imperfections as a gift 3)enjoy the party!

I Don’t Really Know You, Yet I Want To

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She stood in front of the stove with her back towards me. Looking down at a glass dish filled with warm chocolate goodness, I watched Michelle slice 2×2 inch squares. Carefully, she cut them just the right size so each person could get at least one brownie.

Michelle is at our house almost every Monday night, usually at least an hour before everyone else arrives for the not-so-small small group my husband and I host. She helps me set out plates and napkins, forks and cups. She notices little things that need to be done and tasks I would never ask her to do — like putting dishes in the dishwasher, wiping crumbs off countertops, and slapping throw pillows against couch cushions to get rid of dog hair.

It feels like we’ve been friends for years, yet that night as I stood in my kitchen watching her cut brownies, I realized …

 Although I’ve known Michelle for several months, I don’t I {really} know her.  Yet, I want to.

I want to know where she grew up, and if she has brothers or sisters.

I want to know what she likes to do with her kids on the weekends.

I want to know why her eyes well up with tears during small group when we talk about God being our Father.

I want to know what she means when she refers to “her past” or “what she’s been through” as though I know the details … because I don’t.

Yet, I want to. I want to know her story.

I knew there was a risk in asking her. I had no idea what Michelle would say, or if she would tell me anything. I didn’t know if we had enough time, but I knew we had extra time that night since group was starting later.

I knew there was a risk in not asking her.  If I did not ask, she wouldn’t know I’m interested in all the pieces of her life that make her the woman she is today. Her past had shaped her, and I sensed in some ways it had also shattered her. Yet I wondered…

 I’m sharing the rest of this story as well as my heart and how God worked in big ways that day over at (in)courage. It’s my first post as a new contributing writer and I sure would {LOVE} for you to join us, maybe keep me company there today since {you} are my people, and even share a little of your story with me there? CLICK HERE to join me at Dayspring’s (in)courage community blog.

When You Have a Burden But Don’t Want to Be One

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My email was supposed to be a prayer request, but it started out sounding more like an apology. Although we needed friends to pray, I was hesitant to ask because I didn’t want my request to be a burden for anyone.

A few years ago my husband J.J. was having health problems and needed to have a liver biopsy. His doctor told us it was  precautionary, so we weren’t sure if it would end up being anything serious in the end. And that made me hesitant to tell people about it. Yet I knew I didn’t want to walk through it alone or in my own strength.

Fifteen minutes after I sent my email, several friends started telling me they were praying. Not only did my friends pray – they thanked me for sharing what was going on and for letting them be there for me.

For someone who hates to impose on others, I need to remember that asking for prayer isn’t about putting burdens on my friends. Asking for prayer is about letting our friends walk by our side down a path that we were  never intended to walk alone. {today’s post is a partial excerpt from my #AConfidentHeart #Devotional book}

Is it hard to ask others to pray for you?

Let’s stretch ourselves today and let others walk beside us  in prayer by sharing a burden and then praying for one another. Briefly share one things we can pray for you by clicking “Share Your Heart” below this post. Then  leave a prayer or say “I’ve prayed for you” under the request left before yours. Ready.Set.Pray.

He works {all things} together for good?

“I need extra praying power. I had a biopsy Thursday, and now I’m waiting for results. Having a tough time, both because of the pain and the unknowns.” 

As I read Michele’s text, my heart ached. Why God? Why now? Why this? Why Michele? Hasn’t she been through so much already this year? 

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Michele’s reaction has been a  lot more mature and faith-filled than mine. She is determined to trust God’s promise to make {all things} work together for good.

And even in this place of not-knowing how He will keep His promise, she’s courageously sharing her story on her blog. Holding out the same hope she is holding onto – Michele wants God to use her not-knowing to help others who may be wondering how He’ll keep His {all things} promise to them.

From Michele’ s blog:

“I did everything I could to prevent it. But, in the end, it didn’t matter.

It was time for my regular check-up with my cancer surgeon. The one who did my surgery in 2010. The one I’ve seen every two months since. As of December, I’ve been cancer-free for three years.

Which is why I never again wanted hear these words: “Michele, I think we need to do another biopsy.”

My heart sunk when she told me. It’s what I feared; what I’d tried so hard to avoid.

But no amount of wishing and wanting changed the reality of what was.

So now, I wait. Life hovers.

This not-knowing place is all too familiar. It’s a place with which every survivor is well-acquainted. A space between suspicions and answers, between illness and wholeness.

I know I’m not alone here. We all have our unknowns. Those God-awful not-knowing spaces that shred us with worry and steal our peace.

The adult child who left home without looking back.

The marriage on the brink of a dissolution.

The church that might close its doors.

The struggling child who may never be “whole.”

The once-precious friendship that flounders.

The financial predicament without a solution.

The mental illness that scares you to death.

I’ve lost count of my not-knowing spaces. These are the places I most dread, when I have neither answers nor control. A painful limbo, a long stretching between what is and what will be.

But life doesn’t have to end in the middle of not-knowing. 

It’s possible to laugh, dance and celebrate all the goodness of this life, even knowing it could change tomorrow. Maybe especially then.

I’ve decided this: I will not put my joy on hold.

I will not wait for the phone to ring before I decide to laugh and dance. Not this time. It’s a cost I’m not willing to pay again. Instead, this time I choose to live.

So how do you keep living when your world has stopped?

Tell yourself the truth. Fear thrives on three lies: (1) I am alone, (2) I am powerless, (3) I am without hope. In the absence of answers, fear fills in the gaps. Instead, tell yourself the truth: You are never alone. God’s power thrives in impossible situations. And there is always, always hope.

Don’t get ahead of the calendar. This is a tough one for me. Somehow I think by worrying I can wield control. As if anticipating what might come next week or next year will help me cope with it once it happens. This is a lie. Worrying about tomorrow only serves to rob you of today. Instead, take each day as it comes. No less, no more.

Take stock of all the goodness. Even in the not-knowing, there is good to be found. The smile of a friend. The kindness of a family member. The warmth of the sun. The touch of a hand. The world may be collapsing around you, but beauty is hidden in the rubble. Reach for it, like treasure. Then, write it down. The person anchored in upheaval is the one determined to dig up the gold.

Allow yourself to be loved.  It’s okay to lean on someone else in your not-knowing place. It’s okay to say, “I’m weary,” “I’m scared,” or “I don’t know what to do.” Say it outloud. Write it down. Allow someone who loves you to hear the truth of your heart. Only then is the burden shared. Only then does the waiting place become a haven of relationship.

It’s been a week now. And Michele didn’t get the answer she (we) prayed and hoped for. Her biopsy results came in: the cancer is back. She’s cried and wished God’s plans were different. But she told me last night she has this Holy peace, almost like bubble-wrap, around her heart. A peace that could only come from knowing God is working {even this} together for good.

What messy not-knowing place are you in today? Which one of Michele’s four “ways to keep living” do you need most?

Roman8.28 CanvasENTER TO WIN
Slip a note with your thoughts or a prayer for Michele in the comments below. Each comment will be entered to win this gift from my sweet friend and amazing artist Emily Burger.

Emily is giving away a beautiful Romans 8:28 framed canvas print! It comes ready to hang, or it can be set on a desk for a great reminder of God’s promise in your life! The canvas  is 6 by 6 inches, and the frame around the outside makes this piece approximately 8 inches square. Emily is ALSO graciously offering us {ALL} a 10% discount this week!


Use the code RENEESWOPE at checkout on Emily’s site, and 10% will be taken off your total purchase. Find her beautiful {scripture art HERE} and {canvas prints} HERE.

This gracious discount is for your benefit only. I will not receive any proceeds from this offer.


A Sunday Afternoon Prayer {& Giveaway Love-Links}

 

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Jesus, as I look at the week ahead,

my heart is tempted to get ahead of {YOU}.

Tempted to do instead of be.

Tempted to strive instead of rest.

And yet {YOU} are there, waiting to meet with me.

Waiting to quiet my thoughts with YOUR peace and perspective.

Waiting to refuel my heart with Your peace, love and joy.

Help me pull away to a quiet place today and … Let {YOU} love me.

 

Giveaway LOVE-Links

Enter To Win A PRAYER JOURNAL
Last Thursday, an email to my blog subscribers included an incorrect link for entering to win a prayer journal. To enter to win, CLICK HERE  and let us know how Sheila’s prayer spoke to your heart. Simple “Share Your Thoughts” below the post to enter to win. We are leaving that drawing open until this Wednesday, so everyone can enter to win.

Enter to win 2 “A Confident Heart Devotional” {Blog Tour & Book Giveaways}
Last week a few friends shared excerpts from my devotional book on their blogs plus a giveaway for 2 paperback copies. You can read my posts and enter to win by clicking on their names below. Will you thank them with me and let them know you’re hopping over from my blog?? Be sure to hop over this evening {Sun, Feb 16}. Winners will be announced Monday 17th.

You’re An Overcomer

Have you ever had a friend whose words felt like a hug? It is a rare jewel, but one I have found in my friend Holley. Last week she released a book I’ve been eagerly waiting for because I couldn’t wait to share it with you! I’ll share more of my thoughts about it, but first I wanted you to hear from Holley’s heart: Sara Torbett - Sunflower

 Photo Credit: Sara Torbett

Her shoulders slump as she slides into a chair in my counseling office. Her eyes and face speak volumes before she ever says a word. “I feel defeated,” she whispers. I nod. It’s understandable. The battles she’s faced. The way she’s fought. The war waging in her world. I dare to smile just a bit and say, “You may have lost some skirmishes, but that’s not who you are. You’re still an overcomer.” She leans forward, smiles back, shakes a little of the tension off her shoulders. She looks stronger already. When we have a weak moment, a bad day, a tough year, the enemy of our souls taunts us. “You’ve lost,” he hisses. But that isn’t true. The reality is, we can’t lose. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:37) Oh, we get knocked around in this life. We have bumps and bruises. Even our Savior left this world with scars. But that doesn’t mean we’re defeated. This matters because it changes how we fight. Imagine being a soldier who’s going into battle. Your commander tells you, “We have already won. All you have to do today is go in there and obey my commands. Victory is sure.” You would fight with less fear and more faith, less hesitancy and more certainty, less regret and more intensity. This is what’s true of us. Even when the disease returns. Even when our spouse decides not to stay. Even when we relapse after promising we won’t ever again. I don’t say that lightly—oh, how those blows hurt. We ache. We feel the pain. We are human, and that is inescapable. Yet we don’t have to let our wounds define us. What happens to us is not who we are. Even in those moments and circumstances, our identity remains secure. What has happened to you that has made you feel defeated? Now add God’s perspective to your answer above. In all these things, even in ________________________________ (the answer you just gave), I am more than a conqueror through him who loved me. Defeat is not your destiny. What we are called to do is simply this: to stand {Eph. 6:10-17}. Not to conquer the world. Not to be the greatest warrior ever. Not to never feel weak or afraid. Just stand. Stand on God’s promises. Stand on faith. Stand on the hope that victory is sure. You have already won. You can’t be defeated by anything in this life or the next. You are an overcomer. XOXO Holley Gerth

You're Going to Be Okay Cover

On the back cover:
If you need a friend to walk with you through the hard stuff in life, to cheer you on with encouragement, to help you find strength and joy in the midst of life’s difficulties – this book is for you! God writes love and assurance on the canvas of hearts through the hands of Holley Gerth.
In each chapter you will learn how to hold onto hope, hold on to who you are and hold on to all God has promised – knowing and believing that no matter what, “You’re going to be okay!” ~Renee Swope
 

ENTER TO WIN (This giveaway has ended, but I’d still love to hear from you!) a copy of Holly’s new book, “You’re Going to Be Okay” by clicking “Share Your Thoughts” under today’s post. You can share your heart or simply fill in the blank: In all these things, even in ________________________________, I am more than a conqueror through him who loves me. {I’ll be praying over you by name today!}

The God of Every Story

There’s something about the end of the year and Christmas that stirs up stories in my heart.

Stories that make me laugh.

Stories that make me grateful.

Stories that make me shake my head in disbelief. {i.e. head-on collisions with monkey bars}

Today, in my Proverbs 31 Encouragement for Today devotion, I told the story of my melt-down Christmas several years ago. It wasn’t my best day, but God intersected that story and used my hard place to show me more of His heart and His perspective. He redeemed that day and it completely changed the way the story ended. {If you’d like to enter the giveaway and download the Christmas Prayer, I’ll share how at the end of this post.}

Do you ever think about your story and wonder what it would be like without Jesus?

Today, I’ve invited my very good friend, Melissa Taylor, director of P31 Online Bible Studies, to join me as we share a story God’s been writing for a while – in our lives and the lives of countless other. And, because you’re here today with us, I have a feeling you are part of this story too!

I wish I could sit with you over coffee and hear your story today.

I would love for us to talk about how “we” can link our ARMS, our HEARTS and our PRAYERS together and ask God to do something immeasurably more through us. Will you seek Him with us for prayer and provision as we raise money needed in our ministry to keep bringing Jesus’ hope, truth and love to women and families around the world.

 It’s a big number [$300,000]. An intimidating number. But it’s not too big for God.
Will you be part of God’s story with us today?

Every amount MAKES A DIFFERENCE: $5, $10, $25, $50, $500

Every gift MATTERS.

If you feel called to give, I’d love to be able to thank you.
 Click “share your thoughts” and let me know in a comment under this post.

Also, just this week a Foundation offered a MATCHING GIFT!!
You can find out more at these links below:

Give a One-Time Gift

Become a Monthly-Partner

My Gift to YOU: Download my Christmas Prayer to print or share.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.  Ephesians 3:20

OrnamentChrist-Centered Christmas GIVEAWAY worth OVER $35!

Whether you give or not – I’d love to hear from you today!

Is there a way God has used Proverbs 31 Ministries to impact your life and shape your story?

Each of you who leave a comments or story under today’s post will be entered into my Christ-Centered Christmas GIVEAWAY worth over $35! It includes a copy of my NEW Confident Heart Devotional book, A new P31 Women’s Devotional Bible, and Laura Story’s new CD –  “The God Of Every Story.”