Wednesday, July 30, 2014

she's a principal with principles

I'm not convinced the United States of America is truly a Christian nation anymore. The USA was founded on Holy Scripture inspired by God and established as one nation under God. People used to have the freedom to speak His Name and pray aloud to Him, anywhere at anytime. That's not where we are today. 

But God's people can't respond to how things appear to be... we are told by God to "walk by faith, not by sight" ( 2 Corinthians 5:7). You see, God is always going to have His way and I know He will never give up His sovereign rule and total control of the entire universe! Nope. The Father has His faithful people positioned in every facet of the American Marketplace: corporate offices, restaurant employees, bank tellers, supermarket checkouts, public school staff members, physicians, nurses, landscapers, post office workers, personal trainers in gyms, school bus drivers, musicians in Hollywood and housekeepers of country clubs! 

But I'm just going to focus my experience in three public schools for now. For the past few years I was privileged -- honored and excited, too --  to host little devotional gatherings with staff and faculty at three local public schools: Creekview High School, Hickory Flat Elementary and Macedonia Elementary.  In keeping with the law, I was only allowed to host them either before or after school hours.

These women who showed up at our gatherings were not just teachers, principals and staff members but wives and moms, too, and think of it... also a sort of "second mom" to the little ones during the day. These women of God really love Jesus. They pray privately asking God to help them do their job with excellence. And they pray for each other and for their students and students' families! Yep.

Two days a week I would arrive at two of the schools before the sun came up to share a devotion out of my Totally Devoted series. The faithful ladies of each group made huge sacrifices to gather to study God's word! They already had a long day ahead of them but they were willing to come in earlier than required to get filled with the power of God's word. We were usually finished around 7:30 am and  I would walk back to my car so I could leave before the buses arrived to unload precious cargo.

Macedonia Elementary was the only school where I met with the ladies after school. I purposely arrived early so I wouldn't get caught up in the school bus traffic. Which meant I was able to park my car and walk through the two lines of towering school buses. I never thought of describing a school bus as towering, but standing next them -- and so many of them at one time -- was intimidating, and I'm rather tall myself! They looked like gigantic caterpillars all lined up in two neat rows.When I entered the school building I had to sign in and the cameras in all of the schools recorded me coming and going, too. 
Bus drivers waiting for the school bell to ring and release the
 Macedonia students...last school year.

I had heard about Macedonia's Principal Tammy Castleberry many times from friends, colleagues, and even from teachers from other schools. There were always very complimentary words spoken about her. "Oh Tammy is wonderful!" "She's very kind and very professional." "She's very giving and is really such a great leader."  "She works long hours and gives so much!"

The fact that Tammy was happy to have me come and lead the devotional gatherings was so encouraging and I had hoped I'd get to meet her sometime. I never expected her to come to the group, knowing she was a very busy principal with a heavy responsibility to lead and encourage her staff and faculty, speak with parents, students and have time for her own duties in her office.

Arrangements were made for us to meet in the faculty break room. We had a great group who made sacrifices to come after a long day at school. But they came. And then Tammy walked in without fanfare, her book and phone in hand. I thought to myself, "But she's the principal! I never thought she'd come! Wow, she's serious about her faith and commitment to God!"  

With her phone on the table it was obvious to me she was 'on call' in case anyone else needed her. And still, she sat down ready to drink in God's truth with the rest of them. We talked about the love and goodness of God. It wasn't too long before someone from the office came to get Tammy. I wasn't surprised, she's the principal. She's the leader there and she makes herself available. 

Macedonia Elementary Principal Tammy Castleberry with a few students 
preparing to load the buses.

Tammy couldn't attend very often and I could see why--she was in such demand. She really was very kind, humble and professional. One of the days she was in the break room with us I shared with the group about my impression of the huge buses lined up in the parking lot. I said, "I couldn't believe how huge those buses are and how little the children are! I saw teachers and staff out there when the children came out, but do you keep little children from darting around those huge buses? And then when I stepped into the passageway between the buses, I glanced both ways on my way into the school building, I saw Tammy standing between the rows overseeing all the activity." And I pointed at her sitting at the break room table and I said to the group, "Now I know. You [Tammy] had this look of saying, 'Not on my watch!'"  We all laughed. And I could see she is committed to excellence in every area.

Macedonia Elementary Principal Tammy Castleberry with a student
 who's preparing to board her bus for home.

The US may not be a Christian nation any more, but God continues to raise up His faithful servants who humbly desire to do what's right and gives them positions the marketplace for such a time as this. Tammy Castleberry is one of those faithful ones. And this kind of heart for God is what can change the world. One person at a time. 

"Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt His name together!"
Psalm 34:3

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

how would you answer Him?

One morning with a large mug of organic coffee within reach I was reading my Bible and basking in the sweet and powerful promises of God's faithfulness...."For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake His faithful ones." (Psalm 37:28)..."The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, His mercies are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:23-24)

Oh yes! God is faithful when we are faithful and God is faithful when we are not. "If we are faithless, He remains faithful--for He cannot deny Himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)

"For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness
 of the LORD endures forever." Psalm 117:2  

Ahhhhh! Yes! Thank You, Lord. These words are so comforting and empowering! And throughout Scripture there are so many more loving promises! God's love for His children runs deeper than we can imagine. How can we fathom the depth of His love for us as He willed His Beloved Son Jesus' torture and agonizing death on the cross...for OUR sins! Jesus was faithful to go to the cross to obey the will of His Father and then He rose from the grave. That's more love and faithfulness than I know how to measure.

And yet, even though there's a constant overflow of His faithful lovingkindness toward me personally, I still can worry, fret and fear.  What's with that? I know it's prevalent in the Bible, even among His amazing disciples.

Jesus was in a boat with His disciples when a storm was wildly raging over them. Jesus was sleeping through the storm. But the disciples freaked out and anxiously woke Him up. (I would probably do the exact same thing, sorry to say.) They said to Him, "LORD, save us! We're going to drown!" He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm." (Matthew 8:25-26)

This morning I wondered, what if Jesus said to me when I was in an anxious moment, "O you of little faith, why are you so afraid?"

Am I the only one who cringes at that question?

"He did not do many things there because of 
their lack of faith." (Matthew 13:58)

I think there are only a couple of honest answers anyone could give to Jesus' question. I noticed in that passage the disciples didn't answer His question. If I had to give Jesus an answer I think I would have to say something like, "Because I'm not trusting you" or "I don't really believe You are who You say You are" or "I don't believe You have authority over all things" ... or "I don't believe You really love me and have forgiven me"... I hope I would give Him an honest answer -- as bad as it would sound coming out of my mouth. Yep. Awful isn't it?

When Jesus went to His hometown of Nazareth to teach in the synagogue the people questioned His integrity and "they took offense at Him...and Jesus did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith." (Matthew 13:58) Whoa. 

My ESV Bible commentary on Matthew 13:58 says: "Jesus' refusal to do many miracles in Nazareth was not because He needed the faith of people to empower Him, but because miracles are of little value to those without faith." Oooh!

You'd think if we really believed God and took Him at His Word, we'd be always looking adoringly up to Him instead of toward celebrities and other materialistic idols of this world. You'd think we'd be craving more and more of His powerful, affectionate presence in our lives! You'd think we'd want to spend more time with Him, in daily devotional times, in regular congregational worship, small group studies,  and boasting about His greatness to others! 

Will we boldly choose to follow Christ and then shout it from the rooftops? For HIS glory. For HIS fame. For HIS renown. 

When we get to the place where we're [almost] totally consumed with the love, power and presence of God, our praises will drown out our fears. And maybe He won't have to ask us that question so often.

p.s. I'm hosting a new marketplace gathering for girls -- from college age to empty nesters --  who are longing for encouragement, truth, and need a reason to celebrate life! I'm inviting you to join me in a six-week study on the book of John. The title,Totally Consumed, describes the relationship between Jesus and God the Father. They have something so precious and you can have it, too.
We'll gather Mondays from 9:30 am - 11:30 am, beginning August 25 at a very charming location!
Studio 121 
121 Brown Street in Historic Downtown Canton

And if you want to stay and have lunch please bring a brown bag lunch... and our refreshing time will continue!

Please contact me for more info and to RSVP:

We are the body of Christ.
We are the light of the world.
"Glorify the LORD with me; let us exalt His name together!"
Psalm 34:3

Monday, July 7, 2014

fear can derail us

As God's children we should not be waiting for the best time to begin to serve Him. Waiting for a job. Waiting for a raise. Waiting to graduate. Waiting until I get older. Waiting until I get established. Waiting until I move into a bigger place. Waiting until the kids get older. Waiting for someone to tell me what to do. Waiting until I take a nap. 

Meanwhile there's an entire culture out there that doesn't believe Jesus is The One who can bring them out of their own darkness and fulfill and satisfy the deepest longings of their hearts. They want to know they matter. They want to know why they're here.

God has told us what to do: "Love the LORD your GOD with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself." (Mark 12:30)

The moment we're saved we are on assignment to spread the gospel all over the earth. "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15)

We are to shine the light of love and hope of Jesus Christ to our dark world. "Let your light shine before others so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:16)

We are supposed to be serving God NOW. Every day. Where we are. With what He has put in our hands. What we do and where we live become our God-ordained pulpits. "The GOD who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from us. 'For in Him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are His offspring.'" (Acts 17:24-28)

So what's our problem why don't we wake up from our stupor of unbelief? I know from personal experience that fear yanks us off the the right track. It derails us from our God-given purpose. Our assignment from God becomes distracted by our fears. Then if left unchecked they become runaway fears  producing a train wreck in our minds and hearts. And then add the loss of valuable time to get back on track of believing the truth of God's word which states:

"God did not give us a spirit of fear but a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)

So there ya go: fear is not from God so we cannot accept it, right? Fight back with truth! God gives us power and love and a sound mind. So what are we waiting for now?

Whether we're employed or unemployed -- if we are a child of God -- we should be shining the light by serving someone nearby, showing kindness, and sharing the love of Christ. Whether we live in a tiny apartment or showcase house -- we still have a place to "practice hospitality" (Romans 12:13).

Fear makes us afraid to step out and try something new and exciting that God is wanting us to do. We know it's God prompting us but we just wait until "later." We're afraid we might fail. We're afraid of what people will think of us. Jesus came to earth to give us "life in abundance" (John 10:10) but we give into fear instead. We just stop in our tracks instead of trusting Him with the new amazing adventures He has for us.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-7)

And when we get off track He's always there to get us on the right one! "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it" (Isaiah 30:21).

How can life ever be dull or boring when you're a child of God? He is our Constant Companion and the Creator of the Universe! 

That's why we can stay alert, faithful, fearless and on assignment. He promises this to His children! "The LORD will fulfill His purposes for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever" (Psalm 138:8).

psalm 34:3

photos copyright 2014 polly balint
copyright 2014 polly balint totally devoted

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

People in the Loop: She Smiles When She Talks

When I told my friend Diane Oberkrom I wanted to write a story about her and title it "she smiles when she talks" she laughed. I told her, "You really do smile when you talk, you know!" 

She smiles when she answers the phone and when she bakes her latest mouthwatering treat from her Soul Food Market kitchen.

Diane Oberkrom, owner of The Soul Food Market, is giddy over the recipe she calls, "Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Cushion." 
Actually it is a gourmet sandwich cookie. 

Her life has not been an easy journey but she is trusting a Higher Power than her circumstances. Diane is a widow and a single mom to son Augie, who's a rising senior at Creekview High School. "I think I was just born with a happy disposition. I've always been a smiler," she said, smiling of course.

Diane was raised in the church. Her parents and grandparents are Christians and have lived lives of faithfulness to God. It's all she's known growing up. "I have always been easy going and I try to do what is right -- not perfectly of course. But I didn't get mad at God when my husband died -- I certainly didn't expect it to happen, of course! He died in his sleep. Augie was 8 years old at the time and he asked me what actually happened to his dad. I didn't plan to answer him the way I did, it just came out of my mouth. I said to him, 'Jesus came to our house and took Dad with him.'  I've just always trusted Jesus.'"

While Diane was a successful corporate banker working in downtown Atlanta she kept having dreams night after night of starting her own bakery. She'd awaken in the night and write down recipes for cookies, cakes and cupcakes.  She dreamed of putting Bible verses on business card-size tags and attaching them to each morsel. You know, in the same way fortune cookies have a message attached.

She followed that dream of establishing The Soul Food Market in 2005. It began as an online bakery.  The soul in the name isn't from a menu of collard greens and cornbread. Nope. The dream was to delight the palate of her guests as well as nourish their souls with the Good News of Scripture. She was compelled  to attach a Scripture tag to each cookie and cupcake she baked. Bobby Greene of Greene's Blueprinting in the Downtown Loop has always made Diane's Scripture cards.

The Soul Food Market blessed the gals at the Totally Devoted gatherings 
every week with mini muffins and encouraging Scripture on each tag.

She smiles broadly when she answers the phone for takeout orders and catering gigs. Yes, she's been catering weddings, conferences, bridal showers, baby showers and birthday bashes. You give Diane a theme for your next event and she'll prepare your food in the colors and tastes that complement your party. 

She's shipped gift boxes of her goodies to all 50 states and three countries. "I wanted to be a disciple to all nations and the salt of the earth but instead of just salt I'm the flour, sugar, butter and salt! In the Downtown Loop I wanted to reach as many people as I could. So on Saturdays we'd pulled a large red wagon full of our food and serve the farmers at the Farmer's Market since they couldn't leave their truckloads of vegetables to come to The Soul Food Market. I have also pulled the red wagon to the courthouse and lawyers' offices to deliver their lunches and desserts." 

Her business grew and she was led to a storefront in the Historic Downtown Canton Loop:  the kitchen/lunch counter inside Yawn's Books & More on Main Street, owned by Farris and his mother Nadine Yawn. Diane's menu kept growing. She was serving lunches to local attorneys, jurors from the Cherokee County Courthouse across the street from Yawn's, and drop-ins who heard about the Soul Food Market.

Diane (wearing the hat) prepared lunches for our weekly Totally Devoted gathering at 
Yawn's Books & More. 
Yawn's Co-owner Nadine Yawn in sitting next to Diane.
 I pulled Diane away from her lunch counter long enough to get her in the picture. 

From the beginning she has named her creations like a loving mother gives pet names to her beloved children. And she's not just giving whimsical and clever names to her sweet treats but also her lunch menu of salads, soups and sandwiches. She named cupcakes after city officials such a chocolate cupcake with chocolate butter cream icing and a Chocolate Malted Milk Ball inside -- was named "Tall, Dark and Handsome" in honor of the firemen. 

When Elvis Impersonator Damon Hendrix came to perform at the Canton Theater, Diane sold freshly made grilled peanut butter sandwiches, banana and bacon sandwiches and two desserts in honor of Elvis -- and Damon's performance. The "Love Me Tender" dessert was a banana cupcake with peanut butter, butter cream frosting and bacon crumbles and the "Blue Suede Shoes" cupcake had blue butter cream frosting.

Diane Oberkrom at her counter inside Yawn's Books & More,  holding the cupcakes honoring the Elvis Impersonator performance by Damon Hendrix 
at the Canton Theater.

Diane moved into her business a couple storefronts from Yawn's. She was continuing to serve local business owners and county and city officials. She also provided a weekly lunch for our Totally Devoted gathering. 
Diane Oberkrom (standing) in The Soul Food Market space on Main Street.

Yawn's has moved into a newly renovated location on the other side of the Loop, operating Yawn's Publishing. These upgrades are continuing for several businesses!

Today, The Soul Food Market is creating tasty trademark sandwich wraps and desserts for Peter Williams' trendy new coffee bar called can find Peter and Diane inside the hip hangout in Historic Downtown Canton called Audio Intersection. Did I mention it's the renovated space formerly known as Yawn's Books & More?

Photo dated May 2011

Photo dated July 2014

And meet CupUp Coffee Bar Owner/Barista Peter Williams, who is pictured checking his food case filled with The Soul Food Market's trademark treats. 

Wherever The Soul Food Market is located, Diane is going to be whipping up delicious, entertaining new menu items and always serving them with a smile. That's just how she rolls.

Oh, folks, the Dry Bones of Ezekiel 37 are slowly connecting and coming back to life! Check out the passage for yourself and see how it happens! The Old Testament. The Book of Ezekiel. Chapter 37.

This story is not over. It's just beginning. And it's not my story. It's HIS story.

psalm 34:3