Happy May to you! As this is the month to celebrate our mothers, I also want to take a moment to celebrate all the women in our lives. Though my mama has now been gone over 13 years, I am blessed by close family relationships as well as those I consider as close as family. Though my sister has now been gone 32 years the 31st of this month, I have sisterfriends that are like family. Where there are voids in my life by their passing, oh how the Lord has blessed me with women that fill in those gaps. One of the core values of my home church is that you can't do life alone.
Last month I was asked to speak on the subject of women and relationships for a new mentoring ministry at The Church of the Cross in Bluffton, SC. This required that I put together a new message in the midst of a very busy schedule. Little did I realize the Lord was already writing it for me as I was walking it out. I had been with a beautiful women's ministry in NC in March entitled "S.O.U.L Sisters," and that began the process. My friend Sharon is a runner, and so is my daughter Hannah. I am not, I repeat, NOT. Let me put it this way...my college roommate and friend of 35 years Julie said, "In 35 years of knowing you, I don't think I have EVER even SEEN you run!" Now do you get the picture?
However, Sharon had asked me a few times if I would be willing to do a walk/run sometime in the future. It just so happened that the annual Lexington Medical Center Women's Heart & Sole 5K/Five-Miler was April 22nd, I happened to be home that Saturday, and I agreed. I asked Hannah if she would like to come to Columbia and do it with me. So Sharon, her sister, her daughter, my Hannah and a friend all began training in anticipation of the big race. Now all of these women had run races before. Sharon is currently training for her first marathon, having done her share of halves. This five-miler WAS my marathon, people!
The first time I hopped on my treadmill to begin training, it was hard, I could barely breathe, and one area in particular hurt, badly. I texted Sharon that I hated her, and I hated this. I was literally in tears when I had to run the first time for 50 minutes. I do Zumba, Dance Jam and Cardio Fusion. NOT run. My friend encouraged me to press in and press on. I did. Race day came, and I hurt, again, in the same area. My glutes! In mile five we realized I was running WRONG. All this time I had been telling her that area literally stayed cramped the entire time I ran, and no one could figure out why. UNTIL MILE FIVE on race day! While the rest of the group crossed the finish line, Sharon stayed faithful to her mantra, "No woman left behind!" and she crossed the finish line right by my side, after one solid hour and 13 minutes, where we then received a rose, a chocolate-covered strawberry, a shirt and a beautiful medal. I joked and told the girls I was going to put my medal beside my Miss America trophies and Miss SC crown! That evening my Saturday night plans included ibuprofen and Epsom salts! Before the race, I proclaimed this would be my first and last race. Ever. I had thought I was signing up for a 5K, NOT a 5 MILER. Hannah and I are now training for the Lexington Medical Center's 5K Governor's Run on May 22nd! Never. Say. Never. Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, "Two are better than one."
I recall being very emotional at Hannah and Clayton's beautiful wedding, missing Mom and Shari, so wishing I had them there with me to share in the precious memories being made. One of my favorite pictures the photographer happened to snap is one of my most cherished. Two of my precious sisterfriends and I were on the dance floor, dancing, laughing, and singing at the top of our lungs, "We are family! I got all my sisters with me!" These sisterfriends and I have shared a LOT of life together, good and hard. Together. There are times when we are going to have to walk in our own life races, and maybe even crawl, while others breeze on up ahead! But what an encouragement it was to me when Sharon came back for me, and together we crossed the finish line.The videographer for the local news channel got us on camera coming down the hill, literally hand in hand, finishing together. Iron sharpens iron. Two ARE better than one. I am grateful to celebrate Mother's Day as mom to my two beloved children, grateful for the amazing mother I called mine, and honoring the remarkable women I call my family/dearest friends as we "press on toward the goal to win the price for which God has called me (us) heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14) Girls, we are soul/sole sisters. Let's encourage each other in this race called life.
Blessed Mother's Day to you and yours,
Ministry at a Glance:
After two beautiful weekends in Bluffton, SC at The Church of the Cross and then in Holly Ridge, NC at Folkstone Original Free Will Baptist Church, both on the coast, I was thankful for a bit of a reprieve. I had been asked with about a week and a half's advance to share my story for a Good Friday dinner for International Friendship Ministries by one of my music students' moms. I was to be on spring break from teaching and ministry for a much-needed week of rest. I had helped my daughter and son-in-law with their move into their new home in Charleston the first 3 days of the week after being in ministry the previous weekend 4 hours away in NC. I was weary. This was my first weekend off and home in a few months. But I said yes to the request, feeling compelled to, as each opportunity to share the Gospel is a privilege. As I arrived, there was no air conditioning. It was hot. The sound system was suffering. As the program progressed, the mic became more and more distorted. The students were loud and talked during each person's presentation, making it impossible to hear. Then the mic completely quit working. A pastor's wife (the student's mom) and I were trying to figure out what we could possibly do, knowing not one word I spoke or sang would be heard. I thought about coming all the way home and getting my own mic and speaker but there was no time. She, her son, and I drove a few blocks around the corner, thankfully, to their church, grabbed an amp, and prayed that the Lord would help us fix the problem before I spoke on the drive back from their church. Never in 30 years of ministry have I found myself trying to fix a sound system before I spoke. Usually the microphone jacks won't fit into an amp, but miraculously, the mic had the right adapter on it and just before I spoke, we had sound. I was on my own trying to make sound possible for everyone there. Even the sound man just stood by helplessly, offering no help or suggestions. I will be honest, it was rough. And I was flustered. And I'm not sure exactly what I even said. But as I spoke, they were quiet, listening intently for the first time all evening. I only had 15 minutes to tell a story that usually takes an hour, and one song. I will never forget the sweaty faces of those internationals. I was told later that what stuck out the most to them was the fact that I chose to end my vacation early to simply come and share the Gospel with them. Friends, Jesus paid it all, all to Him we owe. I probably did the worst job I have ever done in sharing my story that night. But you know what I realized? It's not about the good or bad job we do, it's our simply being available to say yes. Yes to the opportunities the Lord places before us to share Him. It was indeed a Good Friday.
Thank you to the churches that hosted me this past month, it was a delight to be with each of you. Church of the Cross in Bluffton, SC; Folkstone Freewill Baptist Church, Holly Ridge, NC; International Friendship Ministries in Columbia, SC and Sandy Springs Baptist Church in Pelzer, SC.
Congratulations to Allison, Randy, Abby and Hannah on the birth of their son/little brother, Ryan Harrison Hodge. He was born on Friday, April 7 at 11:27 a.m. and weighed 7 lbs. 7 oz.
Welcome back, Allison! Oh how I missed her over the few weeks she took off for a brief maternity leave. Two are DEFINITELY better than one, and I thank God for you, your excellent organization, and efficiency in running the ministry offices. How grateful I am that the Lord put us together to serve Him in ministry and life.
On the Road Again:
Friday, May 5th - Sunday, May 7th
Smokey Mountain Women's Retreat
Thursday, May 11th
Midland Park United Methodist Church
North Charleston, SC
Saturday, May 13th
Crosspoint Baptist Church
Sunday, May 14th
Fellowship Baptist Church
Mother's Day Service
Looking way ahead, I will be speaking in October at the Sister Circle Girlfriend Getaway weekend in North Charleston, SC. Registration is open and I would love for you to join me there! You can register here http://www.lesliehowardministries.com/
Available Piggy-back dates:
* July 28-30 I will be in the Hilton Head Island, SC area, and I am available for a 5th Sunday night concert on the 30th.
* August 26-27 I will be in Suwanee, GA, and have that Sunday night, August 27th open.
**For these dates, there would be no travel expenses, simply a love offering and a place to lay my head. Message me if this would be a blessing for your church.
*Summer Love-Offering Concert Series now being scheduled*
Friends, pastors, worship pastors, and women's ministry leaders, as you are looking at planning your church's special events, I would love to come to your church. In the slower summer months, I offer my Summer Love-Offering Concert Series, a worship service for the whole family. All I ask is for travel (mileage) and a love-offering. Every Sunday in June, July and August are available on this basis, so contact me today before they all get spoken for, as the calendar has already started filling up! I always look forward to the summer concert series, sharing my story, original music, hymns, worship songs, even something special for the children. It's a great way to reach out to your community with the love of Jesus.
Available Sundays are:
June 4th (evening- in Seneca, SC morning)
June 11th (evening- in Autryville, NC morning)
June 18th (evening- in Greenwood, SC morning)
June 25 (morning and evening- needs to be local to Columbia, SC)
July 2nd (morning and evening)
July 9th (morning and evening)
July 23rd (evening- in Charlotte, NC morning)
July 30th (evening- in Hilton Head, SC morning)
August 6th (evening- in Hopkins, SC morning)
August 13th (evening- in Lexington, SC morning)
August 20th (morning and evening)
August 27th (evening- in Suwanee, GA morning)
My birthday was made extra sweet when family and friends showered me with love, visits, calls, texts and surprises. Thank you all.
Speaking of birthdays, happy birthday to my brother Robert, on May 6th!
Congratulations to my beautiful "niece" Sydney Caldwell on her marriage to Josh Detwiler.
Cookie and I loved spending a few days in Charleston helping Hannah, Clayton, Blue and Shadow settle into their new home. Happy 1-year anniversary to the Little lovebirds on May 15th!
A Note from Allison
My husband is a hunter, using all kinds of weapons and hunting all kinds of animals. Every year as bow season approaches he gets down his arrows and puts new broadheads on the end to make them sharp. He put new "feathers" (or fletching) on the back to help them stay straight as he shoots them. He takes time to prepare them and make sure they are ready to go, because once he lets them fly out of his bow, there's nothing else he can do but watch and hope he's aimed correctly and that his preparations will ensure that the arrow stays on course and it sharp enough to do it's job. Psalm 127: 3-4 says that "Children are a heritage from the Lord...Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth." I've heard this verse my whole life, but not until this week did I really take the time to contemplate and ponder on it. My children, all 3 of them now, are truly blessings from God above. I feel honored and humbled that He has entrusted them to Randy and I. And as I think about them as arrows, I have to wonder have I prepared them. Have I tried to make sure that they have a good foundation of their faith to ensure that they stay straight and on course. Have I equipped them with the knowledge of who God is and what His word says so that they are sharp enough to face any situation before them. So I pray, a LOT! Lord, give me wisdom on how to parent my children, strengthen me in knowledge of you so that I can adequately teach them who you are, God help me to raise good arrows prepared to take on life and show the world who you are!