God has been so gracious and kind to allow me the privilege of interviewing a precious sister in the Lord.
Renee Swope was born in New Orleans, and raised in North Carolina since she was twelve. During her senior year in college, she fell “head-over-heels” in love with our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, and her life has never been the same.
Although Renee felt God call her to share her story of how He used her journey through depression and a myriad of other trials to draw her to His Son, for the next ten years, she kept her personal story a secret because she feared rejection. But in 1999, Renee mortified that part of her flesh that told her she couldn’t do it and proclaimed God’s promises as she fully surrendered to the Lord and prayed, “Okay Lord, I will trust You. I will tell Your story. Even to just one, even to a small Bible study and even if You call me to a share with a larger group. I will do whatever You want me to do for You have set my heart free! I want to be a display of Your splendor, not my own.”
With this proclamation of full surrender and trust in God, Renee willingly participated in the Master’s work as He refined and shaped her into a gifted speaker who engages her audience with the raw realities of life, personal struggles, and victories in Christ Jesus. She does all this without watering down the Gospel and its message of humility, repentance and gratitude that comes with saving faith.
From the very beginning of her story of how God revealed His will for her in 1989, to witnessing His plan come to fruition ten years later; she shares with us how she’s still learning, and still growing. With child-like awe, Renee continues to be wooed and amazed by our sovereign Father God’s intimate love, comfort and guidance He provides for each of His children. Through her role as a wife, mom, speaker and staff member at Proverbs 31 Ministries, she feels that she is living out her life passage, Isaiah 63:1-3.
I am delighted to share this interview with you as this is the time of year where all God’s children contemplate why we are here and why we celebrate our Savior’s birth.
And now, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce to you, our precious sister Renee Swope, daughter of the Lord God Most High, married to her best friend, J.J., mother of two blessings: Joshua (13) and Andrew (11).
Renee is an author, speaker and co-host of Proverbs 31 Ministries’ radio show, and also serves as Executive Director of Radio, Speaking and Devotions.
Renee, would you share with us how you first got connected with Proverbs 31 Ministries?
After my husband accepted a job offer in Charlotte, NC, my mom, who didn’t even live in Charlotte, happened to find the Charlotte Observer Sunday newspaper in her driveway. There was a huge article in the “Faith and Family” section about a few women in Charlotte who were college grads that decided to become stay-at-home moms and start a ministry to encourage other SAHMs. It was called The Proverbs 31 Homemaker.
My mom cut out the article and placed a sticky note on it that read, “These sound like the kind of friends you need. I hope you find them when you get to Charlotte.”
Aren’t moms great!? Well, I decided not to wait until we moved to Charlotte to find a friend. I needed advice for where we could find an apartment, a pediatrician and a church. My heart was especially drawn to one of the women in the article because her husband owned a Chick-fil-A and she was expecting a baby in May. I had worked at Chick-fil-A in high school and I was pregnant with our first child around and due in May, too. With these two things in common I thought it was surely a sign that we were meant to be friends!
I called 411 to get a number for the TerKeurst family. I still can’t believe I did that. Lysa answered the phone, and I blabbered to her the whole story. She probably thought I was some lunatic but she was so sweet and offered the name of her pediatrician, suggested some areas of Charlotte to consider for apartments and encouraged me to call her when we got to town.
Wow Renee, that’s an incredible story of God’s providential care in your entire move to Charlotte! I’m constantly in awe of how God connects His children together, even before we ever meet in person. In what capacity did you serve/work at first with Proverbs 31 Ministries?
A few weeks after we moved to Charlotte, I called Lysa again. We had lunch at Chick-fil-A of course, and became friends over chicken nuggets, sweet tea and two sweet babies who were born just a week apart. I learned all about the ministry and the women involved. It was small at the time, with a newsletter circulation of about 75 family and friends.
That day she mentioned the editor was transitioning out of her role and they needed someone to fill it. I had publishing experience so I told her that I might be able to help.
She’s such a great recruiter! I started volunteering for the ministry in September 1995, working from home. Each month I’d collect articles and cut out clip art to paste in the layouts. We’d copy the newsletter at Kinko’s and meet in one of our homes to put labels and postage on them for our monthly mailing. We didn’t have a website or email back then! It’s amazing what God has done and how He has used very ordinary women to reach women across the world in extraordinary ways (now 13 years later) through our website, magazine, radio, online devotionals, speakers and so much more.
Chicken nuggets, sweet tea and two babies – sounds like another wonderful speaking topic on friendship and how to work in ministry together! 😉 I love your one-minute radio spots! How do you come up with the topics and what to say in just one minute that would bring the greatest impact to women on a specific topic?
Thanks! I love it when someone tells us that the one-minute we have to speak into a woman’s heart really does make a difference. Our goal for the Proverbs 31 radio show is to help a woman pause in the middle of her busy day to get a sense of God’s peace, purpose and perspective. First, I try to put myself in a woman’s everyday setting; imagining where she will be when she hears the show: running errands, on the way to work, at her desk, driving carpool, or hurrying home. Second, I think about lessons God’s taught me over the weeks leading up to my deadline i.e., what I’m worried about, what I’m learning in my marriage, what I’m struggling with, how I’m enjoying my relationship with God or a friend, and how I’m trying to balance my role as wife, mom and a working woman. Blogging also helps me think of show ideas. Reading through my posts reminds me of what God’s been doing in my life. I also love reading women’s comments and their blogs because they show me where women are and what we all need for encouragement.
Renee, that’s really amazing how God has helped you tailor a one-minute radio spot to speak to numerous women who need to hear His voice through you. I’m encouraged by your prayers and intentional effort you make to impact our daily lives with the truth of Christ in only one minute. Thank you so much!
What came first, your speaking ministry or your role in the Proverbs 31 Ministry?
My role with Proverbs 31 Ministries came first. I joined the staff as the editor of the newsletter in 1995 and served in that role until 1999. Later, I sensed God calling me to transition into a volunteer role with less time commitment. It was very hard at first! I missed being part of the staff, but I also knew it was what God wanted and what I needed. For the next two years, I served in various capacities which included: promotions, helping with office administration and fundraising projects. But mostly, I spent my kids’ nap times digging deep into God’s Word and letting Him dig deep into my heart in a way I never had before. I would write down Scriptures and journal about everything God was teaching me. I learned so much about Him and His heart toward me. I learned to find my identity in Who He was and what He had done, instead of seeking to feel significant based on what I could do or who I was. That was an important process for me, as it is for each of us; to find value in Christ alone.
I’m so thankful you listened to the Lord, even when you didn’t quite understand all the reasons. I know many sisters in Christ have greatly benefited from your obedience. How did your speaking ministry begin?
My speaking ministry started through my home church. During my “digging deep” season, I offered to write a small topical Bible study that tied in with a 3-part series of supper seminars my pastor’s wife had taught. The leaders had been praying for a gift to give the attendees of the seminars, and asked me to write the Bible study. At the end of the last supper seminar, 1000 copies were given away. In the spring, I was asked to teach a class based on the study I’d written. The next fall, I wrote another study and taught two more series. That was my first speaking experience. During the summer of 2001, I attended the Proverbs 31 Ministries first annual She Speaks Conference. At the end of this conference, P31 offered a certification process for those who felt called to speak. It was such a natural fit. For the first few years, God grew me and my messages through local opportunities which included: continuing to teach at my church, speaking to women’s small groups, and occasionally speaking at local dinner events and MOPs groups.
I love how God takes our offerings (your offer to write the Bible study) to help others, and uses our token of love to birth His greater purpose for us. What is your role in the P31 “She Speaks” Conference and how did this conference come about?
I am a part of the P31 leadership planning team and one of the speakers at our She Speaks Conference for women’s ministry leaders, speakers, writers and bloggers. The first She Speaks Conference was held in 2001 to equip and encourage women in their calling to share the story God is telling through their lives based on Proverbs 31:26, “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” Our whole team and staff speak and/or serve at this annual life-changing event that we host in the Charlotte, NC area each year.
When it became obvious God was calling you into a speaking ministry, how did you choose the 10 topics you would speak on?
Every one of my topics is birthed and developed in my heart through life experience and whatever God is teaching me. My messages reflect my greatest struggles, desires and passions: reading God’s Word and making it come alive in my heart and in my everyday relationships; hearing, recognizing and listening to God’s voice and not the enemy’s accusations; living a purpose-filled and balanced life; developing authentic and Christ-centered friendships that complete and not compete; being a purpose-driven mom; bringing out God’s best in my kids and my husband by being their greatest encourager; experiencing the power of prayer and praise in my everyday life. Wow, I thought having 10 topics was too many. Maybe I need to add more!
I noticed that you’ll be adding three (3) more great topics to your speaking ministry: What Happens When Women Pray, Living Waters: Receive, Rest, Renew and Remain and Without a Doubt: Living Confidently in Christ. Would you please share with us how and why God led you to speak about these new topics and when you’ll begin offering them?
Oh, you saw that I am adding more already. I’ve started offering my new topics for events that are booked for 2009 and 2010. All of them were birthed through life lessons that I’ve learned over the past couple of years.
What Happens When Women Pray is a retreat where we unpack some powerful truths and life lessons Jesus taught about prayer. We also talk about what it looks like to live a life defined by conversations with God – where we talk to Him and listen to Him in what I call “all-throughout-my-day prayers” and then we talk about what happens when we stop talking and start walking out what He has revealed to us through prayer in our relationships with our family, our friends, and those we work and serve alongside.
Living Waters: Receive, Rest, Renew and Remain is a retreat where we first talk about positioning ourselves daily to RECEIVE what God wants to give us through a “really knowing me” kind of relationship with Christ where we find all that we’ve ever wanted: unconditional love, assurance, acceptance, and grace. Only then can we REST in Him. We can stop worrying and live rested instead of rest-less lives as we learn to follow His lead and take on His burdens while trusting Him with ours. In the next session we RENEW our minds with His truth and live like we BELIEVE HIM! We close the retreat by discussing the need to REMAIN in a constant place of dependence on Christ – allowing Him to live His life in us and through us so that we can do all things through Him who gives us strength, peace, joy and purpose.
Without a Doubt: Living Confidently in Christ is my newest retreat topic. This message was birthed through my own exhausting battle with doubt and based on victory I found in God’s word from one of my favorite stories in Judges 6 about Gideon. Through it I’ve learned: how to see myself the way God sees me, how to be encouraged by God’s promise to always give me His presence and power, and how to trust Him to become who He’s called me to be, and defeat my own enemies of doubt and fear. Doubt has been a struggle for most of my life and I never realized it’s a struggle for almost all women. I’m excited to be able to talk and teach about it from God’s Word so we can overcome its destructive power and live confidently in Christ!
AMEN to that sister! These new topics are just as fabulous as your original ten! There are many women who really need to hear the messages of hope in Christ alone–in spite of our temporal circumstances and fears.
I’m very interested in your workbook entitled: Shaped with Purpose. Would you please share a little bit about this workbook?
I wrote my Shaped with Purpose workbook after my own 2-year journey of discovering and then embracing God’s purpose for my life, instead of living out everyone else’s purposes for me. 🙂 It’s a 25-page guide to help a woman discover and understand the one-of-a-kind woman she is; designed by God with a unique blend of spiritual gifts, heart’s desires, abilities, personality and experiences that shape His calling and purpose for her life.
Thank you once again for your faithfulness to our Lord, His calling on your life and your willingness to be so transparent for Christ’s glory! Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you something very personal. I understand that you’re in the process of adopting a daughter (or two) between the ages of 4 – 10 from Ethiopia. Can you tell us how God revealed His will to you in this area, your first reaction, any challenges and/or victories in Christ along the way?
In October 2008, I spoke at a women’s conference with my dear friend Lysa TerKeurst. When we got there I bought a t-shirt that said: “Live Dangerously ~ Christ’s love moves me to extremes (2 Corinthians 5:14)“.
I had no idea how prophetic that quote would be over the next 24 hours. That day, I had this deep sense that God had brought my life full circle. Later I sat in the audience listening to Lysa teach her message, “What Happens When Women say Yes to God.” Although I’d heard her stories, and even lived some of them with her, I sensed God was not giving me a review of Lysa’s story; He was giving me a preview of my own.
You see, my husband J.J. had been praying for almost three years that God would give me the same desire he had to adopt. During Lysa’s last message God clearly spoke to my heart about my fears. He answered every concern with huge confirmations through Lysa. And in my heart I knew He wanted me to give away the kind of love I had been given when I was adopted as His child through Jesus Christ.
I opened my heart and my hands and asked Him to remove my fears and fill them with His peace. Immediately, I closed my eyes and the face of a little girl with chocolate brown skin appeared in my mind. I knew God was telling me to go home and share with J.J. that God was calling us to adopt a daughter (or two) from Africa. My heart emptied of all fears and filled with joy as I said “Yes, Lord. I will!”
Soon after I said “Yes!”, I felt the Holy Spirit whispering to my soul, “You can trust Me. It is done.” I strongly sensed God had gone before us and prepared the way. In the days that followed He revealed what He had already done.
- God provided money – we found out that my husband’s company reimburses $10K per child in adoption expense.
- God provided time – we got our paperwork done quickly.
- God provided direction – my friend Deanna called that week to tell me they were adopting three children from Ethiopia which happened to be the country we were leaning towards because we sponsor a girl from Ethiopia through Compassion International. That same week J.J. found out his co-worker, who is a Christian, was born and raised in Ethiopia. Both women have been such a source of encouragement and prayer.
We are a year into the process and still waiting. This fall we thought we’d found the two girls God wanted us to adopt, but there was a miscommunication and another family is adopting them. I was so sad and felt as if I had a miscarriage. But something beautiful happened in my heart through that loss. God showed me how to love them through prayer and let go of them through a letter I shared on my blog. Even through all of the ups and downs God’s given us incredible peace. We know that what has already been done in Heaven will, in God’s perfect timing, be done on earth.
I thank you deeply for being so transparent with us–allowing us to see right through you and your pain, so we can see the goodness and sovereignty of Jesus our Lord. Your letter to Shasho and Zenie was used by God to exhort me not be afraid to be real in my pain, while still trusting our sovereign and good LORD.
On a bit of a “lighter”, yet important note, would you please share some Christmas traditions you and your husband have implemented in your family to keep Christ the center of Christmas?
We hide all of the “baby Jesus” figures so that our mangers are not complete until Christmas morning. Also, we don’t open our gifts until after Christmas breakfast, so that we can give gifts from our hearts to Jesus. We set a place for Jesus at the table and give Him our red “You are Special” plate. We have small candle holders clipped to each plate and as we go around telling what gift we want to give from our hearts to God and each other, we light our candles.
It’s so special! Now, I have to admit that this was not a popular new tradition when I suggested it a few years ago, but now we love it! Our hearts are in such a sweet place once we go to the tree to open our gifts. Plus it makes the day and the fun last so much longer.
I love this tradition! I can see how it would set a person’s heart and mind in preparation for the real Reason why Christians celebrate Christmas. In closing, do you have a Scripture verse or passage that God has recently laid on your heart that you’d like to share?
I was recently re-reading the story about Mary, finding out God wanted her be the mother of His Son (Luke 1:28-38). Mary responded with complete surrender to God’s calling, making herself available, because she knew that above all else she was “the Lord’s servant.” Then she answered with confident faith: “May it be to me as He has said.” At the moment Mary declared that she was a woman who not only believed in God, but really BELIEVED God!!! God not only used her faith, He honored her faith.
He brought another woman (Elizabeth) into her life that would remind Mary of God’s favor. Elizabeth celebrated and encouraged Mary’s faith when she exclaimed: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.” (v.45) I want to be a woman who believes God, and also a friend who encourages others to live like they believe Him, too! “For I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” (2 Tim.1:12b)
You’re an inspiration, dear sister. Thank you so much, Renee, for taking the time to allow us the privilege to have a glimpse of how God is faithfully completing His work that He begun in you. May the Lord our God bless you and your family with a Christmas filled with His miracles!
©2008, Sunny Shell
About the Author:
Sunny’s been an oddball her entire life! Raised in Alexandria, Virginia in the early 1970’s, she was the only Christian, in an immigrant, Korean-Buddhist household, where she is the youngest of three children.
When she was only four years old, the Lord of hosts, miraculously provided for a bus to pick her up every Sunday to take her to church, where she first heard the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that she might intimately know His agape love for her. And this truly was the best and greatest news she’d ever heard….and it still is!
Sunny is in the process of writing her first Bible Study entitled A Wife’s Biblical Submission which she is currently teaching online. She has been a guest contributor for the Internet Café Devotions and is a monthly contributor for At The Well.
Visit her website: