Praising The Lord In All Things

This article was originally featured in Reflections magazine a publication of the United Pentecostal Church International.

We sat holding our newborn baby, watching as the doctor drew a diagram. It was a heart. He drew what it should look like. Then he drew it with the four abnormalities of the congenital defect known as tetralogy, the condition with which our first son, Ryan, was born. At first, my untrained eyes didn’t even recognize the blueness around his little eyes and lips. We found ourselves in the midst of a journey for which we were so unprepared, a long walk of faith. But in those first few moments that day with the heart specialist, our world changed forever, and I was about to join the ranks of the “hospital moms!”

As home missionaries to a western Chicago suburb, we expected sacrifices and hardships, financial and personal. But we never expected anything like this. In fact, over the next six years Ryan underwent four complex open heart surgeries, at three months, eighteen months, four years and five years of age.  And, each time, the surgeon was working only millimeters from Ryan’s coronary artery. Thankfully, the Lord understands when we question our circumstances, knowing that we see “through a glass darkly.” These were certainly the “desert of our days,” and our faith, like never before, would have to stand the test of fire. Like the three Hebrew children, we came to realize that faith is not merely knowing “God is able to deliver us.” We too prayed, “but if not,” as the operating room doors closed before us, only to find that same God standing with us in the midst of the fire.

Each was supposed to be the last, yet we came to the day we had to tell Ryan that he needed a fourth surgery. I will never forget the difficulty of explaining that to a five-year-old with vivid memories of his hospital experiences. For two years he was the poster child for the Chicago Metropolitan Heart Association. At the news of the surgery his blue eyes filled with tears. “What did I do wrong?” he asked. Quickly, we reassured him that he’d done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the test of faith had come yet again. But, at age eight, when a previously inserted patch began to leak, and surgery was inevitable, the miracle came! My husband was preaching a camp on the east coast when, in the middle of the service, the Lord spoke to him that He had just healed Ryan! The doctor soon confirmed it, the leak had, indeed, sealed off. This time God had chosen to deliver from the fire.

Our hospital journey, though, was not ended. We had now been blessed with two more sons, Jonathan, two, and six-month-old Nathan. The very week of Ryan’s miracle, Jonathan, began limping and could barely walk. The doctor, after blood work and scheduling orthopedics, reassured us – lightning rarely “strikes twice in the same place.” Still, we felt something was very wrong. His fever spiked and he became lethargic. Then, suddenly, I had a sense of “knowing” exactly what was wrong. I shared it with my husband. With news now about the second of our sons, we received the call from our concerned family doctor, “I hate to have to tell you this, Reverend and Mrs. French.” Then, he said the very words I had spoken to my husband earlier, “Jonathan has leukemia!” We were to leave immediately for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial.

In the early morning hours, though dazed, the first miracle in this fiery trial became clear. As Jonathan was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, God had given me a word from Him. Then, the Lord said to me, “I spoke to you to assure you that I am here. I know all about it. My face is turned in your direction.” As battle-weary as we were, I desperately needed extra grace, so the Lord prepared the way, a peace beyond understanding. Nevertheless, the seemingly endless chemo, the needles, the non-sedated bone marrow aspirations, the spinals – were all incredibly difficult. But, early into treatment, I was blessed to hear Sis. Nona Freeman minister on the subject: “Praising the Lord in All Things!” God used it mightily. God was reminding me of the source of my strength amidst the trial – the power of praise!

Praise God for his mighty power! Twice God delivered Jon as he went into life-threatening septic shock, as doctors worked feverishly over him to save him. One day a newly purchased minivan suddenly appeared in our driveway, keys and all! Later, at a particularly low point, Jon could barely eat, yet the doctors allowed us to take him to his great grandfather’s funeral near St. Jude hospital. So we took him, as well, to a special service nearby for prayer. My husband’s unsaved step-father joined us and wanted to hold his grandson as they anointed him. The Lord’s touch was instantaneous, with Jon immediately asking his grandpa for something to eat! Powerfully moved, grandpa returned the next week and received the Holy Ghost!

The mountain of medical bills was miraculously wiped out, with one especially huge sum forgiven in total because they inexplicably lost the account! The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire. Both Ryan and Jon are well and active in the church we pastor in Atlanta, Ryan serving as Assistant and Jon as a vital part of our youth and music ministry. To God be the glory.

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Rebecca French, alongside her husband, Dr. Talmadge French, has faithfully served the members of Apostolic Tabernacle in Jonesboro, Georgia, for five years. They have been married and leading in numerous ministry capacities for thirty-eight years. Rebecca’s greatest joy is that her three sons, their wives, and her three grandchildren serve the Lord.

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I’m A Loser, And You Can Be One Too (How I Lost 50 Pounds)

Hi. My name is Ryan and I’m a loser. Specifically, I’ve lost 50 pounds over the last 10 months.  If I can do it you can do it too (relax, there’s no sales pitch embedded in this article). I’ve really hesitated to write about this subject because it is such a drastic departure from my usual writings, and because it is such a deeply personal topic. Having said that, I find myself answering the same questions over and over again about my weight loss. Overwhelmingly, people simply want to know the magic secret to quick weight loss, and that leads me to the first lesson I had to learn on my journey to losing 50 pounds.

There is no magic secret to quick weight loss! Ok. So there are unhealthy ways to lose a quick few pounds here and there. Usually, they are “gone today and back tomorrow” kinds of pounds that leave us feeling unhealthier than before we started. Pills that make your hands shake and your chest hurt, or diet plans that work but don’t create sustainable lifestyles like the Adkins diet or the many juice diets. Like millions of other people, I’ve tried gobs of those schemes over the years but they failed me miserably in the end. Sustainable weight loss is not an overnight process or a one-time commitment; it is a lifestyle change.

I’m not a health nut or an exercise enthusiast. By nature, I’m a couch potato. Most of my favorite activities involve sitting down. I’m also not one of those people who hate unhealthy foods and enjoy kale (or any of the other foul tasting health craze foods). I like carbs, butter, and Blue Bell ice cream as much as the next guy (or gal). Neither do I think the whole world should be skinny and obsessed with jogging. However, as a 31-year-old man who has already undergone four open-heart surgeries, I do want to be healthy and live to see my children grow up and hopefully their children too.

Now that we have established that there is no magic weight loss pill, allow me to share with you the basics of how I lost 50 pounds and a few tips that may inspire you too.

Calorie counting. This is the most well-balanced way to safely and sustainably lose weight. Calorie counting is incredibly simple and yet extremely hard at the same time. I don’t think I could effectively calorie count in a pre-smartphone world. At the beginning of my weight loss journey, I downloaded the free app called MyFitnessPal (there are all kinds of other great free calorie counting apps available as well), and it really made the calorie counting process less obnoxious. You simply input your height, weight, etc. and the app tells you how many calories you should consume per day depending on how many pounds you want to lose each month.

Count every calorie. The most difficult thing about calorie counting is being honest with yourself about what and how much you eat at each meal. When I first started I was shocked by how many calories I was consuming per meal. The great thing about calorie counting is that you can technically eat whatever you want. Technically, you can have french fries but you find yourself drastically reducing portions in order to stay within your calorie allowance. In other words, you naturally eat healthier in order to eat more. For example, a handful of french fries contains far more calories than a big bag of baked potato chips, so I usually choose more chips over fewer fries.

The key to being successful with calorie counting is to actually count every calorie even when you know that you’ve blown it (and you will blow it). The temptation will be to not input your calories when you know you’ve really gone over your allotted number for the day. However, that moment of truth is very important. Looking at it and seeing it for yourself will help keep you motivated and on track. Also, a day or two of not counting because of excuses quickly becomes weeks and months. Make counting your calories a daily habit (a lifestyle).

Count your calories before your meal whenever possible. If you’re like the average American you do a lot of eating out and it’s important to calculate those calories before you eat, otherwise you’ll choose your meal, eat it, and then find out that you can’t eat dinner because you just ate all your calories in one sitting. At first, this will be very hard, very inconvenient, and very obnoxious but as time goes by it will become second nature. In fact, after a while, you’ll know by memory how many calories certain foods contain and the process will flow naturally. You’ll be able to count and no one will even know that you’re counting.

If it’s not awesome, don’t eat it. That’s become a new theme in my life. I was one of those people who loved to eat just for the sake of eating. I would eat huge portions of things that I didn’t even enjoy all that much. Calorie counting makes you a selective and picky eater. I still splurge and have plenty of days where I eat way more calories than I should, but I don’t splurge on things that aren’t awesome. I don’t splurge for the sake of splurging. If I blow it I want it to be worth it. Whenever you’re tempted to splurge, ask yourself this question, “Is this something awesome, or will I just regret wasting calories on it later?” Of course, it goes without saying that if you indulge more than you abstain you won’t lose weight. So splurge within reason and splurge selectively.

If you know you’re going to blow it fast until that meal. Most people have a social calendar that requires them to attend meals where they are not in control of the menu and it would be rude to not eat what is provided. This is a regular occurrence for me, and I have found that if I know that I have a calorie busting meal scheduled into my day I fast up until and sometimes after that meal, or at the very least I severely restrict my intake.

Managing calories must become a mindset. What I’ve been describing up until this point is really just having an overall understanding of what and how much you intake on a daily basis. It’s not that we can’t snack or eat three square meals a day, it’s just that we have to manage amounts, which makes us pickier and choosier. This leads nicely to my next weight loss journey truth.

Not everyone will be supportive of your weight loss journey. Ok. So most people are supportive of the idea of their friends and family losing weight and being healthier but if it inconveniences or hinders their lifestyle in any way, they often become frustrated and sometimes even hostile to the process. This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of making a lifestyle change. Do it anyway. As you make progress and prove that your new lifestyle is more than just a fad they will get on board (if they are a true friend).

Cardio exercise will help you lose those pounds faster and allow you to eat more (it’s a win-win situation). I’m not talking about lifting weights or bulking up, I’m simply talking about speed walking, 30 minutes on a stationary bike, or something like that to get your blood flowing. You can certainly still lose the weight without the exercise if you just count calories, but when you do regular light exercises, multiple times a week, you can input those into your calorie counting app, and for every calorie that you burn you can eat an extra calorie that day (if you burn 300 calories speed walking you can eat 300 extra calories that day guilt free). The basic idea is to speed up your metabolism and your body will actually burn more calories throughout the day. Think of exercise as a mechanism that ignites a calorie burning oven. I didn’t start using the stationary bike (my exercise of choice) until about the halfway point of my weight loss journey, and the difference was drastic. I went from losing about a half a pound a week to losing a whole pound a week.

Do not let your failures be final. Millions of people give up on their weight loss goals because of one day or one week of dieting failures. Expect to mess up and plan to get back up. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Also, don’t be discouraged when you don’t see immediate results. Usually, visible results are about a month delayed (if you have a month of diet perfection you won’t see those results until about four weeks later).

You will feel better long before you look better. This is either good news or bad news depending on your perspective.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Not to over spiritualize weight loss, but as I have learned to exercise self-control in my eating habits it has been easier to exhibit self-control in other areas of my life as well.

Try to make it a goal to not eat after a certain time in the evening. Certainly, there will be exceptions to this some days of the week (probably because of social calendars), but try to set a time (maybe 7pm or 8pm) where you simply will not eat after that point no matter what. This will give your body plenty of time to digest your meals and keep you from sleeping on a full stomach and bogging your metabolism down.

Good news! Once you reach your weight loss goal (and you must set a goal) you get to eat more calories per day. That’s right. The number of calories that you can eat to simply maintain your weight is substantially more than you can eat if you are trying to lose weight. And after an extended period of time eating less than your body needs, eating just enough will seem like a feast. I promise.

If I can lose 50 pounds you can too. I mean that sincerely. I don’t have super willpower or exceptional health savvy. I’ve never been nor am I now athletic, naturally active, or extremely outdoorsy. I’m not particularly fond of fruits, veggies, or other healthy foods. I love all the bad stuff like cheese, soda, butter, bread, anything fried, pizza and the list could go on and on. To top it all off, I really don’t enjoy exercise either. But I do enjoy feeling healthy and knowing that I am doing all that I can to ensure that I will live a full life with my little family.



5 Tips for Introverted Leaders

Pastors and leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and personality types. I definitely fall into the introverted category (here’s a great article for inward pastors entitled 7 Ways to Thrive As an Introverted Pastor by Ron Edmondson). I was a shy kid and I kept pretty quiet in college too. I am one of those strange people who actually likes to read and study. But budding leaders are usually pushed out of their comfort zones into a more outgoing demeanor. For the most part, this is a positive progression but at times, it can be taxing on the spirit of an introvert.  Here are five tips that have helped me overcome the weaknesses and maximize the strengths of my introverted leadership style.

1. Resist the pressure to be something that you’re not. There’s a lot of pressure on pastors and leaders of all kinds to be dynamic. However, it’s important to remember that outgoing, highly extroverted leaders are not necessarily dynamic by virtue of their personality alone. In fact, those personality types come with their own set of struggles and weaknesses. Early on in ministry, I found myself trying to imitate leaders whose personalities were miles apart from mine. Before long I was miserable and felt like a complete failure. Did I need to mature and address a few character flaws? Yes. Did my entire personality need to be discarded before God could use me? Certainly not. In the Bible, you will find various leaders who had very different temperaments and yet they were all mightily used of God. And yes, many of them were introverts.

2. Resist the temptation to retreat within when under pressure. I would be lying if I told you that I had this little piece of advice down pat. I don’t. It’s normal for us introverts to pull away and become very inward when we are hurting, stressed, attacked, or feeling pressured. Grandma always said, “Isolation is the Devil’s playground.” She was right.

3. Surround yourself with people who understand and value you and your personality. Because it’s my default setting to retreat inwardly at unhealthy moments I strive to surround myself with people who understand my personality and respond accordingly. Cultivate relationships with friends and family that sustain you. Keep people close who will lovingly remind you to set the book down and leave the office from time to time. People who truly love and care about you will walk the healthy line between respecting your temperament and helping you adjust the flaws.

4. Know your personality limitations. I purposely didn’t call them weaknesses because not all limitations are weaknesses. Every leader should have a good measure of self-awareness. If understanding the personalities of others is important; understanding what makes you tick is paramount. For introverts, we can’t maintain the steady social schedules that our highly extroverted friends can. Find a balance that is healthy for you and learn your limits. Just as importantly, learn when to break out of your personality and be what is needed for the moment. For example, there are times when even the quietest individual must speak up, speak out, and speak long.

5. Know your personality strengths. We introverts do have strengths that we should use and we should use them often. Because our minds never quite seem to shut down we can be very thoughtful and considerate. We have a greater capacity for compassion than most, and we make good listeners when needed. We’re less likely to say something foolish in the heat of the moment. Our love for study and meditation makes the fundamental spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading a natural part of our daily routines. We speak with conviction and sincerity. When we are loud, forceful, energetic, or angry it gets people’s attention because it is never contrived or overblown.