How to Overflow with Hope in the Meantime

MEME - Romans 15 v 13 - Photo by Deb Garland -Aug 8, 2018

This year has been as memorable and filled with answered prayers as it has been quick in passing. For the last few months, God’s been doing a bit of refining work in the lives of my family members.

We’re all dealing with different challenges but, by the Lord’s insurmountable grace, not one of those situations has knocked us out or kept us down. Hallelujah!

The trials have brought us closer to God and one another in ways I never dreamed possible.

Perfectly? Not a chance. Personalities don’t always mesh well within families. Hopeful? Absolutely. God’s note even close to being done refining us through these fires.

When we come up against seemingly endless journeys filled with impossible obstacles, it’s often tempting to misunderstand the purpose of the wait.

Though it’s not always easy, God can clear our perspective about the reasons we can hope with bold confidence.

God gives us the power to recognize the benefits of His planned seasons of stillness, the goodness behind His deliberate pauses, the immeasurable and life-transforming reach of His mercy in the meantime.

The apostle Paul shows us how to overflow with hope, God’s hope, by first accepting that hope is not a momentary or stationary state of mind.

Hope is living and breathing faith that assures us that God’s promises will continue flowing, when needed, as needed, and even before we know we have a need.

We serve the God of hope, the One who bases the guarantee of His promises on His unchanging character.

The Lord Himself fills us with all joy and peace . . . all . . . as we trust Him.

All. As. Such simple words jampacked with the implication of perseverance, continual shows of Spirit-empowered courage and strength.

Why does He do this? Why does the Lord choose to fill us, to energize us, to empower us . . . to hope with expectation that’s solid and strong?

So that . . . we may overflow with hope that covers every trial, hope that runs in and through every one of our relationships, hope that changes our vision and revitalizes the weariest of spirits.

We can praise God in the meantime and trust He is always working in and through the moments we wish would zip by faster. But in His perfect love, He stills our jittery hearts and reminds us that He’s got great plans for us in the wait.

How do we overflow with hope in the meantime?

Stick close to the trustworthy King of kings, seeking Him, surrendering to Him, and being dependent on Him.

Hope anchored in the Sovereign Lord keeps our praises bursting through the atmosphere of despair, fear, anxiety, discouragement, and insecurity.

Because of God’s ongoing consistency, we can face changes and persevere with great expectations through every moment of His ordained waiting.

 Lord, thanks for helping us walk with steps solid in contentment and confidence in Your perfect love and all-around goodness. Please help us remember that trust is a verb that tugs us onto the rocky-edges of mountaintop faith. As You secure our footing in Your infallible truth, we can turn to You and count on Your love to carry us, change us, and cover us in Your healing mercy. Please help us breathe in Your everlasting hope and exhale with grateful hearts as we share Your hope with others. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Special thanks to Deb Garland for blessing me with the privilege of using her photo to create this week’s encouragement meme.

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Does God Want Us to Be Weak?

MEME - Psalm 46 v 1 - EDITED May 20, 2018

(Suggested Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:20-31 and 2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

Some questions make us feel uncomfortable. Some questions uncover deep wounds, fears, insecurities, and dashed hopes. Some can’t be answered on this side of eternity.

Browsing through the book of Psalms affirms God understands our need to wrestle with questions, process our emotions, and feel understood and confirmed.

Earlier this week, a reader sent me an encouraging note about a devotion I’d written for Our Daily Bread. After dealing with decades of pain, this reader struggled with the concept of God allowing Paul to live with a “thorn” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31).

“What is somewhat frustrating is that, unlike Paul and other great men and women of faith, I live a very common life and nothing extravagant has happened to me that God has had to purge potential conceit from my life.”

Sorrow filled me as I considered the weariness that led to this beloved reader thinking any life God created would be considered common‒ordinary, unexceptional, mediocre.

Anyone who has dealt with day after day of chronic pain knows perseverance is a gift from God, an extravagant display of faith and breath-by-breath trust in the Lord.

When we can’t take the simple things in life for granted, we may forget the true definition of weakness is lack of strength.

Anyone who has endured decades of pain may feel weary, but they are certainly not weak . . . even when we struggle to take each step.

This reader continued: “When I didn’t have pain and the accompanying anxiety I was a much more peaceful and contented a person than when I feel weak and impotent.”

Hallelujah! Another human . . . just like me.

Who wouldn’t feel more peaceful and content without pain and the anxious thoughts that tag-along with any type of affliction?

I wanted to shout, “Me, too!” But the reader’s next question tugged me into a wrestling match with truth.

“Do you think that God wants us to feel emasculated rather than strong?”

Oh, how a part of me wished I could give this reader a cheerful answer, holding my chin out and declaring with surety that the Lord wants us to feel strong, assured, peace-filled and worry-free all on our own.

That moment of insanity passed quickly.

Does God want us to feel weak and impotent (powerless, helpless, unable, and incapable)?

Does God want us to feel emasculated (ineffectual, feeble, unimpressive, and incompetent)?

I could give useless personal opinions or go straight for the infallible truth-source‒the Bible.

When I struggle with weakness and weariness, I think about the apostle Paul. He lived a “common life” fully aware that his strength came from Christ.

In my experience, there are no “great men and women of faith” who are not fully aware of their complete dependence on God.

Paul reminds us that “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things and the things that are not to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” (emphasis mine,1 Corinthians 1:28-29)

The apostle rejoiced in God’s grandness by accepting the reality of his own lowliness‒meekness, commonness, and humbleness that led to willing submissiveness.

He stated, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (emphasis mine, 1 Corinthians 2:4-5)

God’s power. God’s strength. God’s wisdom.

If the Lord wants us to be weak, why would He offer to be our strength?

Why would He affirm that His “grace is sufficient” for us; His power “is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 2:9).

God knows we’re weak (Psalm 103:13-14). He knows we can do nothing without Him (John 15:5).

God knows because He chose to experience the feebleness of our fleshly existence (Colossians 1:15-20), without giving up His divinity (Hebrews 4:14-15).

We can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

God knows we’re weak, so He invites us to abide in Him, rely on Him, and submit to Him. He wants to give us all we need to stand strong, rooted in His unchanging truth and love.

Like the brave reader who couldn’t see the great courage and strength the Lord gave him to reach out with such vulnerability, I’ve succumbed to the weariness and worry that accompanies just about any waiting season.

Today, my physical pain has been constant and overwhelming. I’ve been trying to write this article for days, but my body and mind are tired and beat down.

Praying and knowing I’m covered in prayer, I’m finally typing this sentence with eyes half-closed and heart wide-open.

In God’s enduring love and sufficient grace, He is our peace, our faithful power source.

“Do I think that God wants us to feel emasculated rather than strong?”

 I’ll let His Word answer this question:

“The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me.” (Psalm 28:7)

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You. Blessed are those whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:4-5)

When our “hearts are set on pilgrimage,” we remember this side of eternity is not our final destination. He doesn’t want us to be weak. Our all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, and all-faithful God wants us to let Him be our strength.

Lord, please help us stop believing the lie that You will never give us more than we can handle, so we can start living in the confidence that You‒our Creator and Sustainer‒will always be our strength. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Have a Hope-Filled Mother’s Day

MEME - 1 Samuel 2 v 2 - May 12, 2018

Suggested Reading: 1 Samuel 1-2

On Mother’s Day, some of us will enjoy quality time with our mothers. Some won’t have that privilege. Others won’t even want to speak to their mothers.

People will be rejoicing over the wonderful relationships shared with their mothers, while others will grieve over broken bonds.

Moms will feel loved and appreciated.

Moms will feel neglected and rejected.

Some mothers will be elated and in love as they celebrate the children God has entrusted to them, whether biological, step, fostered, or adopted.

There will be mothers who willingly sacrifice for their children, while other moms leave their children to fend for themselves.

Happiness. Heartache. Gratitude. Grief.

Life doesn’t just stop because a national holiday pops up on the calendar.

This year, I’m still missing my mother after her yearlong battle with Leukemia in 2014.

I’m at peace as I grieve and celebrate the child I never got to hold, as my wonderful husband and I prepare to announce the name we should have chosen when we lost our first child to miscarriage in 1995.

I’m praising God for blessing me with my loving, compassionate, hard-working son, Xavier, who is now almost twenty-two.

And I’m grateful for the ways the Lord is now restoring a relationship with my stepson, who is loving and kind to me . . . though he prefers not to have his name mentioned in my writing.

Happy and sad. Laughter and tears. Sobs of wailing and songs of worship.

Crying out to God. Relying on God. Praying and believing God is with us.

Even though Mother’s Day won’t be a happy day for everyone, it can be a hope-filled day for those who place their trust in the Lord.

Elkana’s wife, Hannah, understood the desire to be a mother and the complexity of motherhood.

Her husband loved her, cared for her, and provided for her. But he couldn’t heal he infertility (1 Samuel 1:1-5). Hannah was ostracized and endured great sorrow as she longed for a child (vv. 6-8).

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the LORD, weeping bitterly.” (1 Samuel 1:10)

She didn’t mask her pain or approach the God’s throne of grace with a superficial thankfulness or praise. She acknowledged her suffering. She begged and bartered with the One who she knew could help her. She showed no concern over those who would witness her display of desperation (vv. 11-12).

“Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard.” (1 Samuel 1:13)

She poured out her soul to God and refused to pretend everything was “fine” (vv. 13-16).

After Eli, the priest, encouraged her, Hannah moved forward in faith . . . “her face no longer downcast.” Her situation didn’t flip overnight, but her attitude certainly did an about-face (vv. 17-20).

In God’s perfect timing, Hanna was blessed with the baby she prayed for and loved, cared for and dedicated to the LORD. She cared for Samuel and never gave up on him (vv. 21-28).

If God’s people would have celebrated Mother’s Day back then, Hannah would have experienced joy and grief jumbled into a big lump of hope-filled heartache.

Motherhood includes a mesh of emotions and moments worth celebrating and mourning.

Hannah’s prayer reminds me how much more appropriate it feels to wish people a hope-filled Mother’s Day.

Though her scars of sorrow ran deep, Hannah sang: “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2)

She prepared a gift for the son she would embrace and release, celebrate and grieve, visit and leave . . . year after year after year (1 Samuel 2:18-20).

With our eyes on the Lord and our hearts completely surrendered and secured by the surety of God’s proven faithfulness, we can move forward in faith when life can’t be explained by pat answers.

“The LORD brings death and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6).

Motherhood, a beautiful yet complicated and priceless gift, wraps us in an array of feelings we never realized we could experience.

Thankfully, the Lord remains unchanging, sovereign in power and unlimited in love and grace.

God was enough for Hannah. God is enough for us.

When Mother’s Day or any day doesn’t feel very happy, we can rejoice in Christ’s sacrificial love for us. We can rest in the peace of His constant and almighty presence.

We can thank the Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer, for empowering us to move forward in faith with hope-filled hearts today and every day.

Lord, thanks for loving us, for knowing our names, and for caring about our deepest needs. Please bless the women who are longing for children, mourning children, and trusting You with their wandering children. Please bless the women who are at peace with Your decision for them to be childless, for women who have adopted or fostered children, and for those of us who are doing the best we can to love the children You’ve entrusted to us. Please be our peace, our strength, and our joy, as we lean into Your endless grace and spread Your truth and love with hope-filled hearts today and every day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Please join me in sharing this post and praying for those who need to experience a Hope-Filled Mother’s Day.

To God be the glory, the honor, and the praise!

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Persevering When God Hits the Pause Button

MEME - Proverbs 4 vv 25-26 - May 2, 2018Blah-days sneak up on me once in a while. The hours pass normally, but time feels like it’s standing still. I feel God’s presence and know He’s working, but nothing else seems to be moving forward.

Today, the morning and afternoon crawled by without a hitch. I wasn’t sad or discouraged. So, I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

Sure, I was tired and still battling chronic pain. But today was one of the better days I’ve had in a long time. Thank You, Lord.

Sure, my husband and I are waiting on the Lord to show us the next step in several areas of our lives. But, we’re at peace and on the same page. Hallelujah!

Today was a good day. Praise the Lord!

So, why the blah-feeling?

Why couldn’t I focus? Why couldn’t I get motivated? Why couldn’t I write?

When my husband called, I shared my dilemma with him. In his wisdom, accompanied with his adorable laugh, he said, “Why don’t you just rest?”

We chatted for a bit longer before hanging up. His simple, but profound question lingered in my mind.

Why didn’t I just rest?

I didn’t have a deadline today. I’m ahead of the deadlines I do have. So, why didn’t I relax and enjoy the downtime?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being still in God’s presence. Why did I feel like I had to do something to be productive?

My blah-day gave me an opportunity to ask God to adjust my perspective and replenish my strength.

Perseverance requires waiting, which is an active verb.

Waiting on the Lord and walking with Him demands our attention in the present and is one of the most productive things we can do.

Proverbs 4:25 says, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.”

We can waste valuable time and energy looking over our shoulders. But stressing over what might be catching up to us, might be ahead of us, or might be coming around the corner will only cause anxiety and extra worry-wrinkles.

My husband likes to say that stress is self-inflicted. I used to think he was crazy when he said that, but now I’m rethinking my approach to stressful situations.

Though sometimes we’ll want to believe we can’t help but worry, Scripture affirms God gives us power over our perspective.

We can “let” our eyes stray to the left or right, or “look straight ahead” and focus on God instead of watching the clock tick-tick-tocking away.

We can “fix” our gaze behind us and fuss over things we can’t change or rely on the Lord’s goodness to be reflected in the ways He’s ordained our steps.

When we’re gazing “directly” at the Lord, we can follow Him in Spirit-empowered obedience.

We can cleave to His unchanging truth, count on His constant and powerful presence, and avoid being ambushed by worry, paralyzed by fear, or distracted by selfish motivations.

Scripture says we should give “careful thought” to the paths for our feet and “be steadfast” in all our ways. (Proverbs 4:26)

“Giving careful thought to the paths” God has set before us can prevent us from jumping ahead of Him.

The Lord knows stillness is a vital part of energizing our faith for the long stretches that require endurance.

Persevering when God hits the pause button in our lives involves patience and stillness, which can cause us to exert lots of energy and show great restraint.

The next time a waiting season surprises us or drags on way longer than we feel necessary, we may tire and even honestly pour our frustrations out to the Lord.

Rather than trying to avoid blah-days, long waits, and pit-stops, we can ask God to help us recognize the value in His deliberate delays.

He’ll secure us in the still moments. After all, He’s already planned how to use these necessary times of preparation for His glory.

Lord, thanks for assuring us that You are in control of the whole journey You’ve planned for us. Thanks for guiding us and reminding us that Your love is enough to carry us through life’s rough roads and tough time-outs. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

How has God helped you deal with a waiting season that surprised you or dragged on way longer than you felt necessary?

 Why is it often hard to feel productive during times of stillness?

 What is the hardest part of persevering when God hits the pause button in your life?

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No Matter What Comes‒Jesus is Still Enough

MEME - Mark 1 vv 1-3 - April 22, 2018

I’ve been praying over what to share on my blog for the last couple of weeks. When I planned on writing, the Lord led me to wait. I believe in obedience when it comes to following our all-mighty and all-knowing God. So, I waited.

During my time of stillness, life around me sped up and threw a few unexpected punches.

My last back procedure led to the expected four to six weeks of sporadic and high-level pain as the nerves die.

While dealing with elevated pain levels and fatigue, my husband shared some news that left us facing a few challenging situations and seeking the Lord’s direction with a couple of big decisions.

My check-up appointment with my doctor became a painful procedure that led to a glimmer of hope in my healing journey.

My doctor thinks he finally found the root of the injury in my upper thoracic back, which could help him determine a treatment and healing instead of pain-management. Praise the Lord!

God can heal me with a whisper or a thought. He can heal me through my doctors. He can also choose to empower me to continue trusting Him through this physically and emotionally draining affliction.

On Tuesday, a friend asked me if I would “rather be healed or write with great beauty and passion.”

I responded: “I’d rather honor God’s choice and trust His will, not my wants.”

Yet, by Thursday, I still couldn’t write this post.

With so many life-altering decisions to make, so many unknowns, so much pain, frustration, discouragement in my life and in the lives of loved ones, all I could do was stare at the blank piece of paper. (Yes, I still write my first drafts with an old-school pen and pad.)

I opened my Bible and asked God what He wanted me to learn, or re-learn, so I could share.

I leaned into His grace, totally at peace . . . and waited . . . until I landed in the Gospel of Mark.

John the Baptist reminded me of my purpose as God’s beloved child.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make His path straight.” (Mark 1:3)

John the Baptist reminded me who was in charge.

He “who is mightier” than I‒Jesus (Mark 1:7).

He who baptized me with the Holy Spirit‒Jesus (v. 8).

The Father is well pleased with the Son‒Jesus (v. 11).

My Heavenly Father is also pleased with me, His beloved child.

God loves us . . . completely.

No matter how we struggle.

No matter how often we fall short or fall flat on our faces.

No matter how much we feel overwhelmed by our weaknesses, frustrations, discouragement, worries, and even doubts.

No matter how long we’re battered by the winds of worry as we wait in the wilderness of what-else-can-go-wrong.

God remains sovereign, loving constant and caring (vv. 12-13).

He knows we’ll face temptations.

He’s ready to meet all our needs.

He’s not surprised by whatever the “wilderness” looks like in our personal lives.

The Lord empowers us to navigate the obstacle courses riddled with pain, heartache, tough decisions, shaky ground, long lines, depleting resources, and foggy horizons.

His ordained paths lead straight to the center of perfect will . . . according to His well-planned timing . . . not ours.

We don’t have to fear God’s deliberate delays or detours.

We can trust His compass, believe His complete goodness, rely on His proven faithfulness, and surrender to His Word.

No matter when, where, or how we land on this path God has planned for us, we’ll be safe in the refuge of His life-restoring love.

No matter what comes . . . Jesus is still enough.

Father God, thanks for giving us confidence in Your abilities, Your trustworthiness, and Your never ending supply of love. Thanks for reminding us that we don’t need to know what’s ahead because we can trust You no matter what comes. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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We Can Count on God . . . No Matter What!

MEME - Easter - Job 42 vv 2, 5 - March 31, 2018

Suggested Reading: Job 45:10-17

We don’t have to be overwhelmed with life-altering problems, suffering great loss, physically hurting, disabled by discouragement, or overwhelmed with worry to be tapping-our-foot-and-crossing-our-arms-impatient with God.

We can feel desperate for a breakthrough, even when we’re not quite sure what we’re hoping to break through.

How can our weary-of-waiting souls be refreshed when we can’t hear past our own exasperated grumbling, whining, or exaggerated sighing?

How can we glimpse hope when we can’t see past our hand-painted murals of if-onlys and what-ifs?

How can we experience the joy of gratitude and contentment when we’re scribbling comparisons and complaints in tattered wish-my-life-were-different notebooks?

Sometimes, all it takes is a slow drip of discontent to tempt our eyes to wander over our neighbor’s fence.

After my health took another dive, my slow drip of discontent burst into waves of disheartenment crashing against the weathering rock-wall of my resolve.

When will things get better? What else can go wrong now? Will I be able to take much more?

Even the minor inconveniences felt like huge blows.

Yet, with a loving outpour of mercy, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a man of great faith who endured immense personal devastation, who persevered through unfathomable suffering. Job.

When life’s circumstances socked him in the gut, punched him in the jaw, stomped on his head, and busted down the door to his grieving heart, Job spoke honestly to God.

Approaching the Lord with raw emotions and hard questions displayed Job’s depth of faith.

How did the Lord respond?

Scripture says He spoke to Job “out of the storm” (Job 38-41).

God didn’t explain Himself, reason, or promise to comfort to Job. He simply invited Job to reflect on the unquestionable majesty of His Creator and Sustainer of all.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4)

“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place, that it might take the earth by the edges and shake the wicked out of it?” (v. 12-13)

“Do you send the lightening bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?” (v. 35)

“Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread its wings to the south? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?” (Job 39:26-27)

Did Job wrestle with the reality of God’s bigness . . . of his own smallness? I know I have.

Did he cry out in awestruck wonder when the Lord listed the evidence of His glory? I know I do.

Did a humble whisper of worship trickle over Job’s trembling lips as he spoke? “I am unworthy‒how can I reply to You?” (Job 40:4)

Instead of allowing Job to withdraw in defeat, the Lord said, “I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (v. 7)

He affirmed His majesty. “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” (Job 41:11)

Everything . . . including all of His beloved children. And God cares for those He loves.

Job’s circumstances didn’t change. He didn’t wake up and realize his devastation was just a dream. His grief hadn’t faded or gotten easier overnight.

Though his weariness still lingered, hope glinted as he gazed upon the Lord and said:

“I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted . . . My ears had heard of You but now my eyes have seen You.” (Job 42:2, 5)

The confirmation of God’s grandness and Job’s smallness both comforted and humbled him.

“Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust in ashes.” (Job 42:6)

If we’re not careful, we can misinterpret this beautiful interaction between the Father and His beloved servant. We can fail to recognize the Lord’s incredible mercy.

After Job submitted to God, the all-powerful, all-merciful, and all-loving God lifted him to a place of honor as a servant, an intercessory prayer warrior (v. 8).

He accepted Job’s prayers on behalf of this friends (v. 9).

The Lord restored Job. He “gave him twice as much as he had before” (v. 10) and “blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (v. 12).

God wasn’t trying to replace what Job had lost.

Even after the Lord blessed him in abundance and empowered him to move forward, Job still had hard days . . . just like all of us.

Some days were harder than others. Some days were merely filled with little frustrations.

The only constant in his life, in this life, in our lives . . . is God.

Whether we’re feeling inconvenienced or crushed by the complications life tosses our way, the Lord doesn’t compare us or our circumstances with others or measure our hurts against the hurts of others.

When we’re feeling forgotten in the wait or beat up by life, when we’re tempted to slip into discontent, our loving Creator and patient Sustainer continues to love us, extends grace, and remains faithful.

Jesus loves us and remains with us through every trial.

He meets our deepest needs and increases our compassion for the hurting.

He strengthens and heals us‒according to His perfect plan and pace.

As Easter approaches, we can reflect on God’s grandeur and the priceless sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

We can rejoice and place our eternal hope in Christ, our Risen King, as we celebrate Resurrection Day.

We can count on God, no matter what, because He is and always will be unchanging, unlimited, and undeniably faithful.

Nothing . . . nothing . . . nothing can thwart the power of our Lord’s sovereign plan or throw a wrench in His flawless pacing.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thanks for giving us Your Word and being the foundation on which we stand, no matter how rough the road ahead feels or how long the wait seems. Please help us rest in the unshakeable peace of Your constant presence. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

 Happy Resurrection Day!

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Time to Move Forward

MEME - Deuteronomy 1 v 21

(Suggested Reading: Deuteronomy 1:1-10)

Sudden stops, deliberate delays, U-turns, and even moving forward can shake up the firmest foundation of faith.

What’s next? What if I make the wrong decision? What if it’s too hard? Should I wait? Should I walk away? Should I move forward . . . and if so . . . when and where should I go? How long should I stay?

As the Lord helped me through a few more unexpected twists, turns, and time-outs in my healing journey over the last year, I began to feel like I needed to do something.

In an effort to feel useful, to feel needed, to feel like I was a part of something beyond my recliner, I jumped into a volunteer position that seemed so good for me. Maybe if I busied myself, I wouldn’t be consumed with the things I couldn’t control.

I believed in the ministry’s purpose, but the Lord quickly revealed I had slipped into the sidelines of His sovereign plan for my life. The path I thought would lead me to the center of His will ended up stopping me from accomplishing the great things He was preparing for me.

Still, I stayed. Afraid of what others would think of me if I quit so soon after I started, fearing what others would say about me behind my back.

As usual, the Lord allowed a little restlessness to settle in as He shifted the ground beneath my feet.

Then, as my pain increased and my energy decreased, I felt the Holy Spirit drawing me into a resting position.

For months, I prayed for direction as He wrapped me in peace during the wait.

The Lord affirmed my worth wasn’t determined by what I was a part of, what I was doing, or what others thought or said about me.

He reminded me to stay focused on Him, draw closer to Him, and stick to the purpose He had repeatedly affirmed for me.

I prayerfully sought wise counsel from my husband and several writing friends. With confidence, I made some tough decisions and stepped away from a few good things.

As I worked through the wait, enjoying the blessings of serving the Lord by sharing Him with others, I continued praying for direction, clarity, and courage.

God began opening doors widely and quickly.

I embraced the adventure, certain it was time to move forward and step boldly onto the path He’d been preparing.

My waiting season led to a windfall of opportunities to share God’s truth and love with others, while equipping and encouraging other writers to use their beautifully diverse voices for His glory.

If I hadn’t left the comfortable spot where I’d dug in my heels, I would have missed out on all the wonderful things the Lord is doing in and through my life right now.

The Israelites struggled with a poor sense of direction, the longing for comfort and security, and impatient pacing, too. At Horeb, God’s people stood at the edge of their inheritance (Deuteronomy 1:1-5).

The Lord said to His people, “You’ve stayed long enough at this mountain” (v. 6).

The time to move forward had come.

So, led by the Lord Himself, Moses and the people prepared for the road ahead (vv. 9-18).

God gave them all they needed. His unchanging promises secured their path and prepared them for the journey (v. 19).

“See, the LORD your God had given you the land. Go up and take possession of it as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, told you. Do not be afraid; do not be distracted.” (v. 21)

When the Lord plants us by a mountain, or even in a valley, He’ll give us the grace we need for the seasons of stillness and preparation.

When He calls us forth, He provides the supplies, the energy, and the pre-ordained steps for the assignment He’s entrusting to us.

We can avoid distractions by being patient as we seek His will and the wise counsel of others. And we can be courageous when we remember we can fully rely on the Lord’s strength, His goodness, His faithfulness, and His unchanging character.

We won’t know what lies ahead in this world. We won’t know how long or how hard the road will be. But we can be certain that our loving Father is always in control.

We can depend on the Lord as He remains with us during every sudden stop, deliberate delay, and U-turn.

God will remain true to His promises as we rest in His presence and when He calls us to trust the firm foundation of our faith and move forward with boldness.

Lord, thanks for being loving as You lead us, one step at a time. In Jesus’s name, Amen.  

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Walk by Faith . . . with Jesus in Sight!

MEME - Matthew 14 v 27 - Feb 14, 2018

(Suggested Reading: 14:22-33)

As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I appreciate that God has blessed me with a vivid imagination. When writing flash fiction or novels, I enjoy creating intriguing story-worlds and relatable characters.

I orchestrate plots that push my characters toward life-altering decisions. I nudge them closer to the edge of desperation, causing them suffering and loss before allowing them to slip into a hope-filled final scene.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize I often use fiction to process my real-life feelings. Still, the stories aren’t true. The high stakes that each character faces aren’t real. My wild imagination creates circumstances that test and threaten my characters, but they have nothing to lose . . . no skin in the game. Being blessed with an endless imagination works for creating fiction, but can cause real-life problems.

The habit of imagining the worst that can happen can tempt us into excessive worry or fear.

Fretting over things-that-could-be can raise stress levels and sink hope into the depths of an imaginary world that has no business meddling with real emotions or relationships.

When my eyes are zeroed-in on the what-ifs that cloud my vision and interfere with real-life, it’s hard to focus on God‒the Creator and Sustainer of true life.

A creative mind can lead to a worry-burdened heart.

So, His Spirit empowers us to understand His Word, through which He reveals His unchanging character. As we rely on the Lord, He helps us avoid the pitfalls that can make our faith falter at the most inconvenient times.

In His goodness, He gives us opportunities to pump up our spiritual muscles, usually after He’s proven His trustworthiness and generous provision.

When Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus group (Matthew 14:13-21), the disciples witnessed a miracle. The Lord used what little they had to accomplish more than they could have dreamed possible.

Still, they fretted over things they couldn’t even control. They allowed fear and doubt to sway them from trusting God and doing what He’d already proven possible with them.

Oh, how many times have I done the same thing, Lord?

Scripture says that after Jesus fed the five-thousand-plus group, He “immediately” nudged the disciples into a faith-stretching situation (v. 22). Then, He made Himself scarce. While Jesus prayed on a lonely mountain (v. 23), the disciples rode a boat with the current . . . into a brutal storm (v. 24).

Beaten by the waves and discouraged by the force of the gales against them, the disciples trembled instead of rejoicing at the sight of the Lord’s power in action (vv. 25-26). Jesus comforted them (v. 27).

While Peter’s response could be interpreted as testing Jesus, I often wonder if the disciple was making sure that he, Peter, was in his right mind as he sought clarity and direction (v. 28).

Is that You, Lord? What do You want me to do? I’m too scared to step out in faith. I need You. Command me. Make me brave. Help me hear You, see You . . . trust You. (Paraphrase totally mine.)

Peter hopped out of that boat, “walked on the water and came to Jesus” (v. 29).

Peter walked on water.

After he had already made it to Jesus, he realized what he’d done. As the disciple stood within reach of the Lord, his eyes flicked to the left . . . and probably to the right. The reality of the impossibility of his circumstances hit him.

Scripture says Peter “saw the wind,” (v. 30) but wind can’t be seen. What he actually saw was the power of that wind, the effect that wind had on the waves.

What Peter failed to consider was the power of the One who created and controlled both the wind and the waves, the very One who had empowered Peter to walk on water (v. 30).

In that instant, Peter’s faith wilted at the realization of his own inabilities. I can’t possibly walk on water! What was I thinking?

In that instant, he began to sink into doubt . . . and into the raging waters (v. 30).

Once again, I stand in awe and am comforted by the compassion and love of Jesus’s immediate response (v. 31).

How many times have we persevered in the power of Christ and flicked our eyes to the right . . . and probably to the left?

How many times have we lifted our gaze off our Lord’s promises and proven power and toward the impossibility of our circumstances?

How many times has God proven His faithfulness, nudged us lovingly into faith-stretching situations, and gently affirmed He is always right on time and right where we need Him?

As disciples of Christ, we know we can do nothing without our Lord.

 We know He hears us and will lift us out of deep waters and shower us with unlimited grace.

 We know we have no need to worry or fear the things we can’t control or those horrible what-ifs our overactive imagination can whip up.

And God knows we forget sometimes. God knows we need Him to patiently extend mercy and compassion, as He strengthens and refines us.

He will continue nudging us on, pulling us up.

God will keep on cupping our face in His mighty and merciful hands, as He reminds us to believe Him, to trust Him, and to keep our eyes on Him and His abilities . . . no matter how high the waves rise or how strong the winds blow around us.

Then, and only then, can we truly walk by faith . . . and only with Jesus in sight.

Lord, thanks for affirming Your faithfulness and power does not depend on our abilities. Though we may be tempted to focus on our troubles and lean toward anxious thoughts, please help us remember we can rely on You‒the Maker and Sustainer of the wind, the water, and everything else in this world You’ve created. Help us look to You and cry out to You, embracing our powerlessness without You, and thankful that crying out to You is considered a powerful act of faith . . . because we know You will answer according to Your perfect timing and perfect will. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy

MEME - Genesis 45 v 8 - Jan 22, 2018 Blog Post - Honoring God When Loving Family Ain't Easy

Note to Reader: My heart aches for those of us who have been wounded by the sins of abusive family members. Please note I’m not referring to abuse when referencing conflicts or wounds caused by family members in this article. If you or someone you love is suffering abuse of any kind, please contact a professional and seek help immediately. I am praying for you as I write this note. You are not alone.

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Honoring God When Loving Family Ain’t Easy

While some folks enjoy healthy and holy communication within godly familial relationships, some of us endure more than our fair share of seemingly endless family drama.

Too many of us are grieving over estranged relatives or heartbroken watching loved ones reject family as they battle addictions.

A few are tired of those who blame others instead of taking responsibility for their poor life choices. Some struggle with family members who instigate arguments, shame or belittle, hold grudges, judge harshly, or gossip.

Family members mock or persecute us because of our faith. Some have lied to us or about us, stolen from us, cheated us, and some have even verbally, emotionally, or physically abused us. (Please see Reader’s Note at the beginning of this article.)

How are we supposed to respond to folks who exaggerate or deceive to prevent others from knowing who they really are or what they’ve really done to us or others we love?

But wait . . . what if some of us are the people I’ve just described . . . or have been that person in the past?

What if we’re the ones who need to seek forgiveness and ask God to change us and help us make amends and work toward restoring or renewing relationships with those we’ve hurt in the past?

The fact is, it just ain’t easy honoring God when we realize we’re all imperfect people who have a tough time loving our kin or being lovable ourselves.

Over the last couple of years, the Lord brought me through some heartbreaking relational conflicts. I wrote a six-part series entitled “Radical Forgiveness” as I prayed over broken or barely surviving relationships with family members. As of today, I have continued praying over several of those still-broken relationships.

Family strife is a fact of life that we don’t have to allow to steal our joy or destroy the genuinely loving relationships we can experience with God and others.

It’s tempting to get stuck on the merry-go-round-of-complaints, get caught up in being angry, get even, or get as far from the drama as humanly possible. Instead, we can take a closer look at how God worked in and through familial discord in Scripture to help His faithful servants thrive despite family strife.

In Genesis, we see how Jacob favoring Joseph caused his other sons to hate their younger brother (Genesis 37:3-4), so much that they sold him into slavery (v. 28). They even lied to their father for years (vv. 34-36).

God remained with Joseph and blessed his life (Genesis 39:2-6). Though he wasn’t exempt from more painful trials or injustice (vv. 9, 11-20), the “LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love” (v. 21). Whatever Joseph did, “the LORD made it succeed” (v. 23).

Instead of allowing his experiences to taint his attitude or shake his faith, Joseph honored God by living with integrity and treating others with love, compassion, and kindness (vv. 6-7).

Two years of being wrongly imprisoned didn’t stop Joseph from glorifying God (Genesis 41:14, 16). Rejoicing over the family the Lord gave him through marriage, Joseph proclaimed, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house” (v. 51).

Joseph was happy. What could possibly go wrong?

Well . . . those scoundrels who sold him into slavery showed up. For the first time in years, Joseph stood face-to-face with the strangers he recognized as the brothers who betrayed him and his father. Though Joseph wasn’t upfront with his siblings when they came begging for help, he didn’t fake forgiveness either.

God gave him time to process his emotions (Genesis 42-44). Even though Joseph had plenty of reasons to be mad, he didn’t cast blame, hold a grudge, run to Pharaoh and gossip about his brothers, or demand punishment.

Joseph accepted how God had caused him to thrive despite his suffering. He didn’t waste time trying to prove to the world that his brothers were wrong for what they’d done.

Instead, Joseph trusted that the Lord had remained in control and stayed with him through everything that had happened in his life (Genesis 45:5-9). He knew from experience God could bring good out of painful circumstances (Genesis 50:20). So, Joseph didn’t fear extending grace, or being generous in love and kindness (v. 21).

As we deal with challenging familial relationships, God can empower us to surrender to His mercy, live in the freedom of forgiveness, and love others as selflessly as He loves us.

God will stay with us, protect our reputations, guide our steps according to His perfect will, and enable us to experience peace and joy as we choose to honor Him . . . even when others do not.

Unfortunately, since we’re all imperfect people who live in a fallen world, family members will hurt us and we’ll hurt those we love. But we can protect our mental, emotional, and spiritual health by placing our trust in the Lord.

We can ask Him to help us make time to process our feelings, remain calm, and be courageously and respectfully honest with Him and others.

We can ask God to help us create and respect healthy and holy boundaries, as we honor Him with our words, attitudes, thoughts, and actions.

We can trust the Lord to give us all we need to keep on praying for and working toward building stronger familial relationships.

And we can thrive as we honor Him . . . even if our closest family relationships end up being connected through Christ’s blood (The Church) instead of our genealogy.

Father God, thanks for helping us honor You in the ways we love others in healthy and holy ways. Though sometimes it’s unsafe, unhealthy, or unwise to restore a broken familial relationship, please help us trust we’re all in Your hands as we choose to forgive and pray we will all be forever changed by Your love and grace. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

How can we benefit from extending forgiveness to someone who doesn’t apologize?

How does it help to know forgiveness doesn’t mean excusing, ignoring, justifying, or minimizing sin?

How does it help to know reconciliation doesn’t require us to pretend things are fine or the same as before (restoration), or better than ever (renewal)?

How can we honor God when we can only show love from afar, because a familial relationship is reconciled through forgiveness on our part, but not physically or emotionally restored?

How can we honor God and love family members who do not want a relationship with us?

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Radical Forgiveness Series

Part 1: Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer (July 7, 2017)

Part 2: Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God (July 15, 2017)

Part 3: Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims (July 24, 2017)

Part 4: Radical Forgiveness is Possible (August 5, 2017)

Part 5: Radical Forgiveness Diminishes the Power of Hate (August 14, 2017)

Part 6: Radical Forgiveness Requires Us to Accept God’s Forgiveness First (August 23, 2017)

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Don’t Worry! God Knows We’re Weak!

MEME - Matthew 6 vv 33-34

Over the years, people have asked for prayer and apologized as they admitted struggling with worry, which usually stems from doubt and fear. Scripture affirms we have no reason to feel guilty or be ashamed in our weak moments.

We’re only in week two of the Our Daily Bread Bible in a Year reading schedule and we’ve watched quiet a few worry-warts processing their feelings and then persevering under God’s care.

Eve worried the Lord was holding back on her, while Adam feared taking responsibility for his actions (Genesis 3).

Abram worried God wouldn’t protect him if the Egyptians found his wife attractive (Genesis 12:10-20), and later, she doubted the Lord would keep His promises (Genesis 16:1-6).

The name changes didn’t stop them from wrestling with worry. Abraham claimed Sarah was his sister . . . again . . . when he had a run-in with Abimelech (Genesis 20:1-3). Their son, Isaac, followed their fearful footsteps and lied about his wife being his sister when he settled in Gerar (Genesis 26:9-11).

The line of worriers didn’t end there. Isaac’s son, Jacob, feared he wouldn’t have enough and deceived his father while stealing from his brother . . . with his mom’s help (Genesis 27).

We could claim these folks straddled the line between faith and fear-based worry because they hadn’t met Jesus face-to-face. But the disciples wrestled with a fair share of worrying, too.

They walked and talked with Him every day. Yet, Jesus still found it necessary to teach about the anxious, fearful worries that often stemmed from unbelief.

Why? Because our Lord and Savior knew we’d need assurance of His sovereign goodness and loving care.

Though Jesus warned about placing prosperity on the tippity-top of our priorities list (Matthew 6:19-26), His red-flag led to a comforting promise of His ongoing provision and protection.

When my husband lost his job a few years ago, these verses took on a whole new meaning. Sure, it’s easier to proclaim our trust when we’ve got a safety net in a savings account and a steady income. But when we can’t save ourselves, when we can’t fix a situation, God is still able to do above and beyond all we can imagine. Hallelujah!

While God provides for our needs and affirms His power as Creator and Sustainer of all, He also assures us that life isn’t centered around what we can consume or wear (v. 26).

He invites us to consider the futility of anxiety, the wastefulness of allowing worry to dominate our thoughts.

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (Matthew 6:27, NLT)

In my experience, the answer is nope-not-a-chance-and-in-your-dreams.

Obsessive worry can actually steal our peace, smother our joy, and even cause health and relational problems.

When we experience hard times, when situations work out in ways that seem unfair and sad in this world, worry has a way of sneaking up on us.

It’s tempting to fret, especially when we or the people we love seem to be buried under the growing burden of financial strife, physical suffering, or emotional trials.

What about the homeless and those who suffer in other countries?

If we start listing all the things beyond our control, of course we’ll be whacked over the head with worry.

Focusing on our endless limitations and inability to fix everything, may lead us to a form of idolatry when we shove God into the margins of our lives and become obsessed with excessive worry, anxious thoughts, and fear.

This is much different from being concerned and planning to be a good steward of our finances and health, as a responsible adult.

Don’t worry! God knows we’re weak and has planned accordingly.

He knows we’ll worry, fear, doubt Him, and have anxious thoughts. But in our weakness, our loving Lord and Savior remains strong.

He invites us to seek Him first when we’re in need (v. 33), living in this moment as we walk by faith and hear His voice assuring us, guiding us, and eventually washing our worries away.

When we come to the Lord honestly, He can bring us peace, even when we don’t get relief.

Lord, thanks for the empowering us to trust You’ll carry us through every moment in our lives, as we remember You ordained our days before one of them came to be. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

“Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously and He will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:33-34, NLT)

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