Counting the Ways

MEME - Psalm 150 v 2(Suggested Reading: Psalm 150)

During my last appointment with my doctor, I thanked him for helping me improve over the last five years. Although I still struggle with chronic pain, I’m better than I was when I started this trek in September 2012.

I rejoiced over the little things I can do now, like writing for longer periods of time. I reveled in the small victories and even appreciated the battles that God used to strengthen my resolve and remind me how much I need and depend on Him.

It haven’t always embraced His peace. Sometimes, I struggle with discouragement, weariness, and doubt. But God’s been patient as He helps me experience the endless hope of surrender and contentment founded in knowing His ways are good because He is good.

After my appointment, I suffered another bout with severe spasms and a debilitating headache that lasted over 14 hours. The next morning, I praised the Lord. Why? Because those painful flare-ups have lasted for days in the past.

As I thanked the prayer warriors who interceded for me, even before they knew I was struggling, God reminded me about the power of praising Him through all circumstances.

When we begin to count the ways God’s been good to us and practice honest praise, it’s harder to drown our hope in discouragement.

The psalmists practiced honest praise.

They processed their emotions and shared their struggles. They recounted God’s merciful and mighty acts, always returning their focus to His unchanging goodness, unlimited power, and unhindered demonstrations of love.

The Lord doesn’t expect us to stuff our feelings or minimize our hurt. He doesn’t want us to pretend we’re perfect or act as if we never struggle.

He knows us, inside and out, and wants us to be real with Him . . . and others.

God can handle our mixed emotions. He can change our confusion to clarity, as we seek Him in His Holy Word. He can replace our anxiety with confidence, our uncertainty with wisdom and discernment. He can meet us in our weakness and empower us to stand firm in faith.

When we’re feeling weary, battling doubt, or ready to quit, God beckons us to lift our chins, inhale His peace, and exhale a whisper of praise.

The more we breathe in the countless ways the Lord has been good to us, the more we can sing His praises and trust His unchanging goodness.

A praise list begins with one thing that we can be grateful for, one thing we’ll choose to give thanks for. That one thing can incite our endless worship and gratitude as we praise the Father of Compassion, the Maker of the Universe, the Sustainer, Redeemer, and Deliverer whose love transforms us and changes the way we approach life.

One thing.

We can praise God for the heavens, the starry skies that light the darkest nights, the sunsets that make us gasp in awe of His creativity, the puffs of clouds and rays of sun that warm our hearts with hope (Psalm 150:1, NIV).

We can praise God for His miracles, as well as the quiet moments when He simply makes His presence known (v. 2).

We can praise God for His greatness (v. 2). Oh, how the list goes on when we count the ways that God is great. Hallelujah!

Nothing compares to the magnitude of God’s love for us, the depth of His compassion for us, the measure of His sacrifices for us.

His greatness is revealed in His unchanging character, the perfection of His God-breathed words, and the dependability of His faithfulness.

We can praise God with the music we make and as we enjoy the songs nature sings for us (vv. 3-5).

We can count the ways He is great as we appreciate every detail in His vast creation, from the sweetness of honey to the intricate paint strokes on each flower petal He decorates.

Our great God listens to us, even when our prayers are silent tears that slip down our cheeks. Hallelujah!

Our great God remains with us, even when everyone else seems to have deserted us. Hallelujah!

Our great God understands us, even when we don’t understand ourselves. Hallelujah!

Our great God loves us . . . He loves us.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

When we’re counting the ways God loves us, the ways God has been there for us, the ways God has provided for us, the ways God has protected us, our praise will flow.

Hallelujah!

Lord, thanks for the opportunities to reflect on who You are, what You’ve done, and how much You’ve given us. Please fill us with gratitude as we consider all we have, instead of what we feel we lack. Help us appreciate every breath we take as a priceless gift to be treasured. Help us recognize every morning we wake up as another chance to praise You, to get to know You more, and to share You with others. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Ivonne Vargas.

Meme created by X. E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When the Pain Feels Endless?

MEME - Psalm 6 v. 9(Suggested Reading – Psalm 6)

I didn’t want to need a cane. I didn’t want to need medication. And I didn’t want to need help during the 2017 West Coast Christian Writers conference.

I wanted to feel strong, to be strong . . . to be content in the peace of complete healing on this side of eternity.

The whiny tone didn’t take long to bubble up: Why, Lord? How long? When will the pain end?

That pity-party mentality had me teetering on the brink of insanity and shoved me further away from serenity, so I asked God to help me submit to the now.

The only way I could experience that coveted contentment I longed for would be through complete surrender to the freedom of total dependence on and trust in God.

I wasn’t going to get better before the conference, unless the Lord decided to bless me with a miracle.

Oh, I believe He could have. I still pray for and believe God can grant me a miracle of instant healing. But I’m learning how to lean into longsuffering, not always gracefully but willingly submitted to the Holy Spirit.

So, I packed my cane, accepted I’d have to take pain medication, and planned to make time to rest during the conference. Peace, smiles, and gratitude replaced my pouting, scowls, and grumbling, allowing me to witness God working in ways I’d never be able to imagine.

The pain didn’t go away, but neither did my joy.

I met speakers, teachers, and other conference attendees with ailments. Some used walkers. My husband hobbled around on crutches, still recovering from knee surgery.

The Lord allowed me the privilege of hearing countless testimonies of how He sculpted suffering into beautiful messages of grace, messages writers could share to minister to others for His glory.

Cancer didn’t stop books from being written. Depression didn’t hinder Bible studies from being published. Gods’ faithful scribes relied on the Holy Spirit and shared the words God gave them during their wilderness journeys.

The Lord used every beautiful voice, crafted every brave story, and redeemed every broken dream.

Some spoke from a place of deliverance. Some, like me, continued to write from the trenches of the wilderness, still hurting, still hindered, but still hoping in the One who is able to do above and beyond anything we could ever begin to imagine.

I still grieve when I consider the fact that, though God is absolutely able to bless me with a miracle of His healing mercy, physical healing may not come on this side of eternity.

But as I inhale His promises and exhale pure peace, the Holy Spirit empowers me to whisper praises to the Father.

God will reveal His glorious purpose in His perfect timing.

Pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, is not fun. But it’s not worthless, either.

Knowing this truth helps, but it doesn’t make praising God through the hurt any easier. And it doesn’t stop me from falling apart, from grieving, pouting, or crying out in desperation when frustration, weariness, or despair set in.

But peace prevailed after I realized it’s okay to feel, to struggle, to process mixed emotions, to wail, and to admit I need God to be my strength and sustaining hope.

The psalmists affirm that God invites us to process raw feelings when we’re overwhelmed and hurting.

David pleaded for mercy and healing, admitting his agony courageously (v. 2). He despaired over the passing time, wondering when his suffering would end (v. 3).

He asked for deliverance, confident in God’s “unfailing love,” in spite of his agony (v. 4). He confessed his weariness from weeping (v. 6). He acknowledged his loneliness, grief, and feelings of being under constant attack (v. 7).

Still, David stood firm in proclaiming God not only heard but understood and accepted every one of his prayers (v. 9).

Why should I love God when the pain feels endless?

Because no matter what we’re going through or how we feel, the Lord is God. He is able, loving, sustaining, and ever-present.

We can love God through the most devastating valleys, trusting He knows suffering firsthand, knowing He suffered excruciating pain for us . . . for you . . . for me.

Jesus endured physical and mental agony, as mockers spit on Him and abused Him verbally and physically.

He suffered emotionally, after being abandoned, rejected, and betrayed by those He loved.

Christ, God in the flesh, underwent the most agonizing pain spiritually, as He willingly chose to be separated from the Father when He took on our sin, so that we could be saved through His selfless act of sacrificial love on the cross.

There is no pain we can possibly experience that can outweigh the suffering our Lord and Savior willingly endured for us . . . because of His great love for us.

David sang God’s praises with confidence, no matter how rough the road he traveled, no matter how deep the pain he tolerated: “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)

We too can expect the Lord to answer.

Whatever God’s answer to our prayers, we can trust with complete certainty that His will remains saturated in His infinitely satisfying love for us.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Myriam Acfalle.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When He Doesn’t Seem to Care About Me?

MEME - EDITED John 11 v 40Waiting can cause doubt quicker than a wasp sting causes a welt. Whether I’m waiting for an answer or relief, faith can falter in the stillness, the silence, and even in the slow-paced progression.

It’s easy to think God doesn’t care about me when I feel like my prayers are falling on deaf ears. It’s harder to admit my dislike of waiting may be rooted deep in my selfishness and pride.

I want to know now, have it now, do this or that now, even if I’m not ready.

While God considers all of His beloved children all the time, I often succumb to the desires of my sin nature. I behave like a needy, spoiled, only-child. I insist, even if that insistence is passive aggressive, that the world revolves around me. I demand immediate attention, gratification, even rescue . . . now.

I don’t want to wait my turn or give up my spot so someone else will be blessed. I don’t want a no, so someone can receive their yes. Why can’t we all have what we want? What I’m really saying is why can’t I have what I want.

Self-first is as destructive as self-help.

Both attitudes defy God’s interdependent design for His church and hinder me from developing the selfless loving heart that best reflects my Savior’s.

These restless feelings slither into my relationships, my writing adventure, and even my attitude toward my healing journey, more often than I’d like to admit.

I know God is working in wondrous way, in and through my waiting seasons. Still, some days are tougher to endure.

Instead of waiting for His answer, I pout and start expecting His rejection. Confident faith fizzles into cowering fear of failure, even when I’m not failing. When I don’t get a quick response, I fear the worst and insist God must not care about me. What I’m really saying is poor me.

Impatience and fear, which are simply different forms of unbelief, chip away at my peace, joy, and even my hope.

If God truly wanted me to do this, He’d act fast and the road would be easy, right? Really? When has anything worthwhile come easy?

Yes. Sometimes the wait brings out the worst in me.

Sometimes that stomping-my-foot stubbornness triggers feeble attempts at praising Him that sound more like whines, “I know You can, Lord. Just do this already. If You care, why won’t You prove it?”

I laughed as I typed that last confession. Lord, help me!

Ever since I started following God, He’s proven waiting is hard but never worthless and my waiting never, never, never means He doesn’t care.

In John 11, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was ill (v. 1-3). The Lord had made His disciples a promise, fully intending to keep His word (v. 4). Still, they were surprised at His extraordinary act of love. Yes. Jesus’s delay in responding to their pleas was a beautiful expression of His great love for His disciples (v. 5-7).

The Lord could have sniffed and cured Lazarus, but His precious ones would have missed out on the glorious plan that would make many others believe in Him, the plan He had set in motion since before the beginning of time.

Jesus affirmed He would remain true to His promises, even though He didn’t have to explain or defend Himself (vv. 8-11).

Whether His disciples understood His motives, actions, or lack of action (vv. 12-13), Jesus’s mission wasn’t about their comfort or meeting their immediate needs (v. 14).

Our loving Savior understands it’s hard for us to see past ourselves, so He walks with us and sometimes reclines next to us, comforting us through our suffering (vv. 14-15). But He never stops caring about us or for us.

Jesus maintains His pre-planned and perfect pace, pit-stops and all, even when we give up our peace to fret over the ticking clock and cry over His apparent lateness (v. 17).

In His absolute goodness, He accommodates for our weariness and weakness, being loving and sensitive about our feelings and our unique relational needs (vv.20-36).

Of course it’s tempting to doubt when we can’t see past our current situation (v. 37). Thankfully, Jesus patiently reminds us what He says is true (vv. 38-40). He does so many things for our benefit, affirming us even when we shouldn’t need affirming, especially when He knows our circumstances seem impossible or hopeless (vv. 41-42).

When God seems silent or apathetic, we can dive into His God-breathed words of Scripture for all the truth we need. We can reminisce on our past encounters with the Lord or ask others for testimonies to strengthen our resolve. We can consider His unchanging character in the midst of our ever-changing challenges.

Would we dare risk missing out on God’s beautiful promise to work in all things, for the good of those, all of those, who love Him, “those who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine)?

Why, oh why, would we settle for patching up wounds in hopes for immediate relief when our loving Father desires to give us a new life?

Why should we love God when He doesn’t seem to care about us?

Because everything we know about our Heavenly Father, everything recorded from the earthly life and ministry of Christ, everything the Holy Spirit reveals through His Holy Word proves He is motivated by the unconditional, unmatched, and unending love He’s proven to have for us.

Hallelujah!

Thank You, Lord, for loving us too much to give in to the demands or pleas that would hinder us from encountering Your almighty goodness and power. When waiting is tough, even when waiting hurts, please help us surrender to You so completely, to depend on You with confidence, so that we can share Your love with contagious peace and radiating joy. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When He Doesn’t Give Me What I Want?

MEME - Acts 3 v 16

SUGGESTED BIBLE READING: Acts 3:1-16

Have you ever had one of those days when jealousy, frustration, bitterness, resentment, or even anger crushed every bit of your joy and gratitude under the weight of discontent?

Have you ever struggled with wondering why God wouldn’t just give you what you wanted?

Over the last five years, I’ve had way too many mini-melt-downs when facing setbacks in my healing journey. I’ve cried out to God with sobs and silent heart-wrenching prayers.

Admitting my weaknesses, I begged for relief, for complete healing, for instant gratification to fulfill my I-want-it-now demands.

Oh, how thankful I am for the Lord’s sovereign goodness.

I’m grateful God doesn’t give in to my hissy-fits.

I praise Him for knowing what’s best for me, for blessing me with redirection and deliberate delays.

The more I see Him working in and through the circumstances He’s carrying me through, the more I’m beginning to realize I should be thanking Him for the silence that makes me turn to Him, depend on Him, submit to Him, and trust Him as He empowers me to surrender to Him . . . even when it hurts.

I still require time to process my emotions and am thankful for those amazing prayer warriors that intercede with prayers on my behalf when I’m way-beyond-my-breaking-point.

Don’t quit. Trust the Lord. God’s timing is perfect. God’s path is flawless. His faithfulness never disappoints.

Those are messages I need to hear, reminders that comfort me and help me dust off discouragement and press on with renewed hope.

When I release my selfish need for gratifying my sinful nature, which desperately wants to avoid suffering by any means necessary, I discover peace resides in the eye of the storm.

Cleaved to the Rock of Ages, Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, I discover peace and joy ingrained in the fibers of my being.

That peace and joy become a part of me, instead of a feeling dependent on my circumstance or my emotional state. That peace and joy, rooted in an unshakeable hope in Christ, become a fragrant offering to others.

Often, it’s when we feel like we have nothing to offer that God uses us to affirm His faithfulness and encourage others toward persevering faith.

We may not be able to take away anyone’s pain or meet all, or any, of their physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental needs. But we know the One who can replenish empty wells, restore damaged roots, and rejuvenate weary souls.

Completely dependent on the abundance of God instead of our own power, or lack thereof, we know Christ is the best we have to offer others in need, no matter what their needs.

When the apostles Peter and John were headed to the temple to pray (Acts 3:1-16), a beggar asked them for a temporary fix (v. 3).

How often do we sell God short, begging for temporal solutions and quick relief when He offers so much more?

This beggar focused on his current problems.

Blinded by selfish expectations, he saw the apostles as a means to swift satisfaction. What could he get from them to make his present situation more bearable? (v. 5)

I admit there have been times when I’ve approached God and others with that same needy attitude.

The apostle didn’t mince words when he responded to the beggar’s request. He told him to look beyond the now. He cast a vision of hope and healing that this man, who’d been lame from birth, had probably never dared dream possible.

Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” (v. 7)

The beggar had asked for a quick solution to his present needs, for temporary relief of his surface problems.

The apostle introduced him to Life.

The lame man walked and jumped, praising God (v. 8). His existence became a testimony of the Lord’s power and mercy, causing others to stand amazed at what the Lord had done (vv. 9-10).

But the miracle didn’t end at this man’s ability to walk.

When this man received his deliverance, he could have said thanks and settled right back into the safety of complacency we often confuse with contentment.

But Scripture says “the people saw him walking and praising God” (v. 9). He moved forward, bringing God glory with every step, every breath, every word he spoke when he explained what had happened to him.

He became a living testimony of God’s loving mercy and life-changing power.

Peter gave God all the credit He deserved (vv. 11-12). He pointed to the Savior with adoration and grateful worship, turning the focus back to the foundation of their faith−Jesus, always and only, Jesus (vv. 13-16).

Because of our human frailty, we often desire instant gratification and relief.

We’re often limited by our inability to hope, to believe there is more to life than just getting by or surviving.

God offers us unlimited freedom, joy, power, and peace that cannot be constricted by our past or current struggles or strife.

What a sad moment it would be if God granted us what we wanted, only to discover He was prepared to offer us an abundance we’d never imagined possible.

Why should we love God when He doesn’t give us what we want?

Because our all-knowing and never-changing Lord is loving, faithful, trustworthy, and good.

Our Heavenly Father sees beyond our begging for bandages, our frail hopes to alleviate discomfort for now.

Our Good Shepherd uses every experience in our lives to refine our character.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, our loving Lord Jesus Christ makes us more like Him, preparing us to walk the path from better to the Father’s best.

Lord, You are worthy of all our praise and all our trust and all our love. When we’re tempted to be deceived by our selfish sin-nature, help us remember You will never disappoint us. Prepare our hearts and minds to be forever changed by Your goodness, as we surrender our wants and stand firm in the center of Your perfect will. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Describe a time when you were upset that the Lord didn’t give you what you wanted, only to realize He had something better in store for you. 

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Do You Want to Get Well?

meme-psalm-6-vv-2-3

(Suggested Reading: John 5:1-14)

During my last procedure, medical assistants in blue smocks, shoe coverings, and caps bustled around the pre-op room as one of my favorite nurses led me to the middle of three gurneys. “I’ll bring you a warm blanket.” She handed me an open-back gown and clutched a fistful of curtain. Metal rings scraped on the metal bar as she swooshed the fabric walls closed.

Soft moans confirmed the pain of the patient in the make-shift room next to me. I understood how one wrong move could cause a flood of tears.

I prayed for my medical team and thanked God for the prayer warriors who were interceding for me through social media. I prayed for the hurting stranger on the other side of my curtained shack.

There have been days during my healing journey that I praised God for using my experiences to give me deeper insight and genuine compassion toward others who were hurting. There have also been days I begged the Lord for relief from chronic pain, for an end to my suffering.

I’ve cried out the prayer of David: “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:2-3, NIV)

I’m writing this post as I recover from one of the worst pain days I’ve had in months. Jesus’s words brush against my tear-stained cheeks.

“Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6b)

The Lord was addressing a man too sick to care for himself for almost four decades.

Four decades.

That man must have begged for relief. He might have cried for mercy. He may have wondered if it would be easier to give up.

So, why did Jesus ask if the man wanted to get well?

If this man didn’t want healing, he wouldn’t have been waiting at the pool near the Sheep Gate. He must have known he would never be the first one to the water with no one to help him. His wait must have felt useless and lonely.

Still, though clearly focused on his lack of resources and strength, the hurting one clung to a fraying thread of hope and waited on the Lord.

Would healing come today?

Jesus, in His all-knowing love, knew the man’s road to wellness wasn’t going to end near the Sheep Gate. The Lord reveals a bigger plan when He encounters the man at the temple in verses 14-15.

“See, you are well again.” (v. 14)

The man wasn’t always afflicted.

“Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (v. 14)

Some may suggest this statement confirms the man’s sin nature caused his suffering. But as we read Scripture, we’re assured God doesn’t punish His beloved children for sport. In these words, I recognize the same invitation the Lord has extended to me, the invitation He extends to all people.

Stop sinning. Obey Him, which translates plainly to love God. What is the something worse that may happen? Eternity separated from God.

Jesus gave the man a reason to believe without a doubt, a miracle that touched close to home, and then invited him to enter an intimate, committed relationship.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15)

The journey toward this man’s wellness required a first step of faith, so the Messiah said to the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

Get up! Believe. Take action.

Pick up your mat. Don’t forget past experiences, but accept the freedom God has granted.

Walk. Move forward. Believe the Lord with ongoing confidence and persevering faith.

The man responded to Jesus in loving obedience.

Christ could have chosen to say yes to a partial healing, and even no to healing on this side of eternity, but He chose to say yes to this man’s miraculous and immediate healing.

Because my Creator and Savior is God, He has the right to determine how He answers my prayers as I follow Him in loving obedience.

Knowing this truth doesn’t mean the wait goes without struggle, though.

Sometimes, I need to process through complete melt-downs, whining pity-parties, and full-blown-on-the-ground-face-down-sob-prayers.

As God’s Spirit kneads His truth into my mind, His Word affirms His deep love, His constant and mighty presence.

I hear the question Jesus asked the man as a personal invitation.

Do I want to get well?

Well (hygiē), meaning “healthy, sound, cured, freed.”

Do I want to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually well, even if my God-ordained steps toward healing include long-suffering?

The path toward wellness begins with a personal encounter with Jesus, and leads to His call for loving obedience through faith.

As Christ followers, our primary goal is holiness, which often requires traveling through painful valleys. But by God’s incredible grace, we don’t have to feel as alone as the man by the Sheep Gate.

When Jesus stirs our hearts and asks if we want to get well, we can answer yes.

We can rely on His timing and rest in the goodness of His character, as we rejoice in the perfection of His plan.

And, we can reach out to others and receive the support of His people, physically and through the priceless gift of intercessory prayer.

Lord, thanks for reminding us You are always with us, always working, and always enough. Your grace penetrates through the moments when weariness and discouragement overwhelm us in the wait. Please help us submit to Your purpose and Your plan, even when we can’t see the hope around the bend. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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How do you feel when God doesn’t choose to bless you or someone you love with healing or pain relief?

How does the Lord comfort you during the wait?

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Photo taken and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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“You Don’t Look Sick”

meme-1-samuel-2-v-1

“You don’t look sick!”

Whenever someone threw those words in my face using an accusatory tone instead of a grateful amazement, which happened more often than I’d like to admit, I bit my tongue and prayed.

Would people would be happier if I walked around in mourning clothes and wailed at the top of my lungs whenever I felt pain?

Trust me. I’ve been tempted to do just that, especially during my all-too-familiar fall-apart or pity-party moments.

In the beginning of my healing journey, shortly after one of my many procedures, a woman I hadn’t seen in a while approached me while I sat on a bench and waited for my husband to bring the car around. My day had started out great, until severe back spasms and nerve pain cut my outing short.

The woman greeted me and opened her arms to give me a hug. I raised my hand to stop her from getting too close, smiled politely, and explained I couldn’t hug her because I was in pain. Though she insisted she would hug me softly, I apologized and declined her kind gesture.

I-Want-A-Hug frowned as the lady who sat on the bench joined our conversation. With a scowl, she said, “If you stopped smiling so much, maybe people would believe you’re hurt.”

She walked away before I could respond. That was probably a good thing, especially since I still struggle with sin and could have easily said something I regretted later.

My husband pulled the car up to the curb and got out to help me into the car. I cried and ranted, as he listened, all the way home.

Later, I asked God to help me forgive the woman’s thoughtless comment. I knew that that she didn’t mean to be hurtful. I knew she didn’t understand the Lord was holding me up, often one breath at a time. I knew she couldn’t know His loving presence was more than enough reason for me to keep smiling.

It’s a blessing when people say “I don’t look sick,” as long as it’s said in a tone that celebrates God’s grace.

I praise the Lord that I can smile, as He gave me opportunities to keep sharing Him and trusting Him. I’m thankful He empowers me to pray for others, encourage others, and even use writing to minister to others.

Still, that comment stung. And it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time, a person’s thoughtless words hurt or discouraged me in the midst of my battle with chronic pain.

It’s not that I didn’t want to hug that woman. I’m known as a hugger. But I have damage in both my shoulders that have been repaired by surgeries and are being treated by injections and physical therapy.

I endure constant pinching of my nerves and a joint jammed between my rib and spine in my upper thoracic back. Because of the area in which my injury occurred, the surgery to remove that rib has been deemed too risky.

So, this is my life, until God decides to heal me or give me more relief.

A simple movement, sitting too long, standing too long, walking, and even taking a deep breath, can trigger debilitating spasms in my back and trapezius muscles. Sometimes, those spasms and nerve pinching pain lead to headaches similar to migraines.

So, no, I don’t “look sick.”

And by God’s immeasurable grace, even when I’m experiencing pain, He empowers me to smile, to love, to serve, to praise Him and encourage others, for His glory!

During a trip to Michigan, that I was able to participate in by God’s incredible mercy and might, my beautiful sister in Christ, Jami McKelvie Amerine contacted me and asked if she could include a portion of my story in one of her heart-touching articles, “You Don’t Look Sick.”

I am excited about what the Lord is doing in and through her writing, so of course I agreed.

As I read her words, I grieved. Jami doesn’t “look sick.” She smiles and encourages others. She doesn’t wear mourning clothes or wail every time she’s hurting. So, I never noticed the pain in her eyes. All I noticed was her radiant smile and her loving heart.

I was just as guilty as the I-Want-A-Hug lady, and any other person who had hurt me with critical looks or an accusatory and condemning tone when they said I didn’t look sick.

I’m asking God to help me be more aware of the hurting, to see beyond the smiles, even if they are genuine Spirit-empowered joy in Christ.

I’m asking Him to help me pour out compassion not criticism to those who don’t understand how hard it is to live with chronic pain when your suffering isn’t always physically apparent.

I’m thanking God for being my strength, my peace, my joy, and my hope.

I’m grateful that His loving grace is so wonderfully sufficient that I don’t “look sick.” I want to keep it that way.

Hallelujah!

“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

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Please take a moment to read and share Jami’s post, and to pray for the hurting, especially those who don’t “look sick.”

Please also join me in praying we will all be more understanding and compassionate with one another.

We never know how much physical or emotional pain is hidden behind a smile empowered by God’s sufficient grace and life-transforming love.

To read more about my healing journey, click here.

To learn more about Jami and what God is doing in and through her life, please visit her website and encourage her at Sacred Ground, Sticky Floors.

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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The Power of a Wonder List

MEME - Psalm 9 v. 1

Today I found out another friend received a cancer diagnosis. As I grieved for her and her family, I approached God’s throne of grace with pleas for a miracle of His healing mercy. Then, I started to think about all the hurting people I know.

I thought about the people I’ve been praying for, the people who encourage others as they trust the Lord during their own battles.

A tender heart can feel overwhelmed when surrounded by an abundance of bad news and sorrow. What begins as empathy can slip into a codependent need to fix things. We can be tempted to question how God can be trusted when suffering continues to trickle into our lives and the lives of those we love.

When my spirit feels weary and worn, as I endure my own struggles and pray for others who are hurting, I head straight to the psalter.

As the psalmists pour out their anguish and their praise, God reminds me that He understands our need to process our emotions. He affirms who He is and what He’s done, assuring me that He is the same compassionate and capable God that He’s always been.

Today, as I prayed for my courageous friend and the others who are walking through storms with persevering faith, the Lord led me to the following verse:

“I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.” (Psalm 9:1)

The Bible is full of Wonder Lists, testimonies of God’s unchanging character and the personal and powerful ways He initiates encounters with His people.

When I can’t find the words to pray, I read the Bible and listen to praise and worship music. The God-breathed words in Scripture and the song lyrics of Christian music based on Scripture often become my prayers.

A personal Wonder List confirms God’s constant presence and divine intervention in my own life, and fills me with hope as the Lord empowers me to encourage others.

I’d appreciate your help in adding to my Wonder List in the comments section of this blog post.

Together, we can praise God for promising He will always work wonders that we can share with the world.

Hallelujah!

Lord, You are able to work wonders beyond anything we can imagine. When our pain feels overwhelming, please help us remember the testimonies of Your past faithfulness in our lives and in the lives of others. When we feel helpless as we watch others suffer, bring to mind the countless times You displayed Your limitless power, endless mercy, and sovereign goodness. Please encourage us to trust You will continue working wonders today, tomorrow, and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen

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Giving in to God’s Inexhaustible Power

Meme - Psalm 59 v 17 My Strength and Loving God

Over the last four years of my healing journey, I’ve been blessed to meet others who understand how being limited physically can lead to a devastating sense of discouragement, loneliness, grief, and frustration.

Not being able to participate in family outings or even commit to events can cause emotional and relational strain.

Focusing on what we used to be able to do or how things were before can send us spiraling into depression. We can beat ourselves up with guilt or lash out at others.

Daily battles with chronic pain or an extended healing journey can make us feel useless, feel like a burden, or feel forgotten.

It often seems easier to pretend we don’t care, to minimize our emotions in an effort to pretend we’re stronger, or to pretend we’re “fine.”

I’ve experienced all of the above at some point in my personal battle with chronic pain.

But, I’ve also learned the secret to finding peace and joy in the midst of physical and emotional chaos is giving in to God’s inexhaustible power.

Like the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:7-8, I’ve pleaded with the Lord to take away the thorn in my flesh.

Though Paul doesn’t identify his thorn, mine comes in the form of constant, debilitating pain.

I’ve succumbed to melt-downs and begged God to heal me and make me strong again.

Though I’ve tolerated inconsiderate comments from those who insist I’d be healed completely if only I had enough faith, the apostle’s testimony breathes encouragement into my weary heart.

The Lord didn’t criticize Paul’s admission of weakness, silence his supplication, or relieve him of the thorn in his side.

When the apostle declared his desperation, the Lord reassured him with these words:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

God’s grace is a manifestation of His regenerating favor.

His freely-given lovingkindness is plentiful, more than enough to sustain us.

Our admission of weakness is a prerequisite to our acceptance of our total dependence on His power, which is magnified when we realize how absolutely helpless we are without Him.

While this complex connection can rouse fear in the bravest of warriors, the Holy Spirit fuels our strength when we surrender to our irrefutable need for God.

When our reserves are empty, Christ’s power infuses us with resilient faith.

We may not be able to explain how, but we can be certain He will bring us through.

King David also shows us how to trust the Almighty in the direst circumstances. He declares trust in God with confident faith:

“But I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. Oh my Strength, I sing praises to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” (Psalm 59:16-17)

God doesn’t just give us strength. He is our strength.

The Lord doesn’t just provide a sanctuary during our time of need, His constant and powerful presence is our sure stronghold.

Whether we’re stricken by physical or emotional turmoil, we can lean into our weaknesses with complete confidence in our loving Father’s ability and willingness to carry us through.

Hallelujah!

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.” (Psalm 68:19)

Lord, thank You for being our Strength, our Sustainer, our Stronghold, and our Savior. Please help us accept our great need for You as a gift that prepares us to succumb to Your inexhaustible power. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and meme created by X. E. Dixon.

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Trusting the God of All Comfort

MEME - 2 Cor 1 vv 3-4

On Monday night, I pleaded for God to take me home and end my affliction.

By Tuesday morning, I thanked Him for not saying yes to my desperate cries. As I recuperated from another night of high level pain and nonstop spasms, I rested secure in God’s constant and mighty presence.

With my nerve ablation failing, the continual stabbing pain in my upper thoracic back and rib cage has increased.

The constant hurting overwhelms me. But when the spasms spread from my upper thoracic back to my trapezius muscles, which happens almost every day, I start begging God to intercede.

I know from experience that those spasms can lead to a debilitating tension headache. These headaches last for hours, cause severe nausea, and have occurred almost once a month since 2012.

My powerful pain meds or massages don’t alleviate the pain. Ice packs, heating pads, or being slathered in Icy Hot don’t help. All I can do is sob prayers and wait until the muscles stop flaring and the pain subsides.

For a few days after an episode, I’m physically, emotionally, and mentally drained.

It would be easy to isolate myself and crawl into a ditch of depression.

But when doctors first diagnosed my injury and began a treatment plan, God nudged me to invite others to share my journey.

Obeying the Lord’s leading to join an interdependent community of believers online has saved my life.

As I’ve shared praises and prayer requests on my blog through social media, I witnessed the Lord working in ways I would never have dreamed possible.

As God comforted me during my pain, He increased my compassion toward other hurting people.

As we joined forces online, prayerfully supporting and encouraging one another, others who read our comments joined in. Before I knew it, God blessed me with a community of loving people praying for me along with complete strangers. Friends of mine became friends with one another. Our prayer circle grew and grew and grew.

Every time I struggled with pain, my heart ached for others who were hurting.

When I could have focused on my seemingly unbearable misery, God helped me share so that others would be encouraged through their moments of despair.

Though our circumstances were different, not one of us could escape the impact our physical, emotional, or mental affliction had on us and those around us.

Our stories became testimonies of enduring hope, for the hurting and those who knew hurt could be lurking around the corner.

Soon, friends began sharing how their faith deepened when they read the transparent posts I shared and the interactions between people in the comment section. Only God could bring about this beautiful ripple effect.

The Lord’s power and mercy were magnified as He continued using hurting people to minister to other hurting people.

He comforted each individual, then empowered that person to share the comfort He’d given them with others who desperately needed to be comforted.

I wish I could take away the pain others have to endure.

I wish God would grant me complete healing.

I know He is able.

But as He continues to carry me through the moments that feel impossible to survive, I can now see how He purposes suffering through a beautiful cycle of Spirit-empowered comfort.

Some of the bravest people I’ve met online intercede for me in prayer, even when they’re suffering through their own afflictions.

When I witness someone trusting the God of all comfort as He carries them through a tough day, the Holy Spirit strengthens my resolve.

If they can depend on His faithfulness, so can I.

If they can praise God even whether He decides to heal them or not, so can I.

If they can share with transparency and inspire others toward persevering faith, so can I.

If they can comfort others with the same comfort they received from the God of all comfort in their most desperate times, so can I.

We can do all these things and more because the Holy Spirit helps us trust the God of all comfort, who will never waste a moment of our suffering.

Hallelujah!

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

And as we place our confidence in Him, we can rest secure in knowing that the suffering will not last forever. He will remain true to His word and trustworthy to His people, enabling us to sing with Spirit-empowered courage:

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.” (Psalm 30:11, NIV)

Lord, thank You for reminding us that You are with us, comforting us and strengthening us when life on this side of eternity feels impossible to bear.

Thank You for every blessing that flows from Your sovereign goodness, even our moments of suffering and affliction.

We know You are in control, purposing our pain to magnify Your power and our complete dependence on You.

Help us trust in You as we receive Your comfort and, in Your power, comfort others who need a reminder that the troubles of this world will pass.

Our hope is in You, Lord. Hallelujah!

In Jesus’ name, Amen

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:2-5)

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Meme created by  X.E. Dixon

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The Joy of Remembering God’s Faithfulness

MEME - Psalm 126 v 3 - JOY

As I reflect on all the pain and heartache in this world, I’m overcome with an overwhelming sense of grief.

The physical and emotional affliction I’ve endured, since my relapse in 2012, often tempts me to slip into a slump of depression.

Being isolated makes it easy to succumb to lingering negativity, douse myself in discouragement, and comfort myself with a barrage of complaints.

A recent bout with constant high level pain led me to beg God for relief. I cried out for His mercy, asking Him why He wasn’t choosing to heal me.

I declared my belief. I proclaimed Him as almighty, able to do the impossible, and good.

I even started listing the ways I’ve trusted Him in the past.

After my sobs subsided, God gently grounded me in His grace.

He tugged my thoughts toward the countless ways He’d provided for me, and for others, in the past.

My good, good Father had carried me through nights I believed to be unbearable.

I’d witnessed Him working in and through the lives of others, as He refreshed my hope and strengthened my faith in Him.

The Lord had used my personal suffering to deepen my compassion for others. And as I shared how He’d helped me, He continued to encourage others.

God’s faithfulness inspires our joy.

His altogether goodness, dependability, lovingkindness, and generosity stir our elation.

When our minds wander toward self-pity, we can list the ways the Lord has come through in the past.

When our hope dwindles, we can acknowledge the ways God has done more than we could have ever dreamed of asking.

When physical and emotional weariness threaten our fragile faith, we can revel in the Author and Perfecter of our faith.

We can rejoice in His limitless and enduring strength.

Once we ponder all the wonderful works God has done, from Creation to the cross and in His intimate intervening and sustaining power in our personal lives, clinging to negativity and despair proves pointless.

We can process pain with the promise of hope and experience the joy of remembering God’s faithfulness.

Hallelujah!

“The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” (Psalm 126:3)

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