When Life Feels Like Constructing a Puzzle

JESSICA ROAN|GUEST It happens every Christmas vacation. The anticipation, the buildup, the excitement. My boys can hardly stand it. They are so excited to sleep in, have time off, and do what they want to do.  Then reality sets in. They don’t sleep in but awake at 6:30 am and are bored to tears by 8:30. Then the pestering starts. “Mom, I’m bored. What should I do?” Now, I can’t translate in any language well, but I can read pre-teen and teen boy well. They don’t really want me to tell them what to do. They know the options. They want me to tell them they can have screen time and watch television or play video games. Ugh. Raising kids in a virtual world is a daunting task. So, this year, on a whim in the aisle at Barnes and Noble, I asked my son to pick out a puzzle. It was beautiful, a picture of an idyllic Mediterranean setting. So, hoping to provide some screenless family time, we broke open the bag and started putting together the puzzle’s boarder. We have completed a few larger puzzles a before this, usually with my mother’s expert help, but I’m sorry to say that two months later, our scene is missing more than a few pieces. We are getting there, and we will finish it, but our “holiday puzzle” has sadly outlasted the holidays. A Puzzling Life Life is a bit like an unfinished puzzle. Sure, we have the promise of “everything we need for life and godliness,” but that doesn’t mean each day doesn’t require trial and error, just like constructing a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. For example, sometimes a piece simply doesn’t fit where I think it should. In our recent puzzle adventure, we complained that pieces didn’t fit in spaces where it seemed they ought to fit. This is true in our spiritual lives as well. I often have specific plans and expectations for the way God should do things. More specifically, I think I know who I ought to minister to and what that ministry should look like. Often, however, God brings me a person I wasn’t expecting with a ministry opportunity I didn’t plan for at all...

When Life Feels Like Constructing a Puzzle2022-05-03T21:39:29+00:00

John 15: Trust and Obey

CB CAMPANO | GUEST “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.” As I reflected recently on John 15, this simple yet profound chorus that I leaned on years ago flooded my mind. The recurring theme in John 15 is Jesus’ plea to his beloved disciples to abide in Him— that is, to stay vitally connected to Him so they may be assured of his love, experience his joy, and produce good fruit. I imagine like you, in days of clarity, there is nothing I desire more than to fully abide in Christ, to completely trust in my Savior’s unwavering love for me in all circumstances. But there are days, when I forget the mercy of God in my life and the how of abiding in Him eludes me. In John 15: 9- 11, Jesus reveals to his disciples a not-so-secret secret to abiding in Him, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  There, we have it. Keep the Lord’s commandments and we will be assured of his tenacious love for us. We will be happy in Jesus. Obedience is a Fruit, Not the Root How inconsiderate it would be for me to stop there! Inconsiderate for many reasons but especially because I would be trivializing the fierce battle we face this side of heaven. Though the call to obedience is not complicated, obeying God’s Word, as we know all too well, is terribly difficult. Our soul’s trifold enemies— the flesh, the world and Satan—war fiercely against this call to obedience. Putting sin to death is painstaking work for fallen creatures like us. This said, sisters, we must endeavor to pursue holiness of life for the glory of God and the good of our own souls. The Lord promises that obedience enables us to abide more deeply in his love and experience his joy more fully. I have, by God’s grace, experienced this to be true in my own life and have seen it to be true in the lives of many I have counseled.

John 15: Trust and Obey2022-05-04T00:29:27+00:00

The Presence of Joy, Even in the Midst of Tears

KATIE POLSKI | CONTRIBUTOR I lost my dad to cancer when I was twenty-three years old. We were close, and my dad was, in many ways, an anchor in my life, so I struggled immensely in the months following his death. One of the cards we received during this time had Nehemiah 8:10 printed on it: “The Joy of the Lord is my strength.” I remember staring at the words longing to understand what it meant to have joy in the midst of my pain. A few years later I sat in my sister’s living room while she battled the side effects of treatment for breast cancer. The world felt weighty. I pushed back tears as I looked through her music, hoping to find something uplifting, joyful. I saw a song entitled, “Joy,” so I played the music anticipating a fun and light tune. What filled the room were the words of the familiar childhood song: I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart… But the singer sounded…sad. It was almost as if she was crying as she sang the heartfelt words. I dropped to my knees and prayed. Is this what it means to have joy in you, Lord? Can I cry while remaining joyful?

The Presence of Joy, Even in the Midst of Tears2022-05-04T00:30:38+00:00

John 14: Trusting the Way, the Truth, and the Life

MARIA CURREY|GUEST “Why do you think God needs you to go and potentially be in harm’s way?” Even while blasting my question, in my mind, I heard myself saying, ‘This is what he has trained his entire life and career to do and be,’ yet, my protective and possessive instincts wanted to keep him home and away from any potential danger. My husband answered me, “I know this is what God wants me to do and the way He is directing me. How about if you go and get alone with Him? Pray, and listen for what He says to you.” A late spring day fifteen years ago that seems like yesterday, the impact no less powerful. I slipped away, my husband more than willing to watch the kids; I thought I was taking myself for a walk, when actually, God directed my steps to a nearby lakeside bench. I cried out audibly to God, “Father, I know in my mind that You called Craig and me to this Army life decades ago and that this is truly his calling— to be a man after your own heart serving in the military. You called me with him to be messengers of Your light and life on this military mission field. But why, at this later point in his career, does he need to go into a completely hot war zone? —when our kids are college bound, eighth grade and fifth grade? They really need their dad! Isn’t there another option?” A selfish, hot explosion of prayer flew into the air. “God, isn’t there another WAY?”

John 14: Trusting the Way, the Truth, and the Life2022-05-04T00:34:51+00:00

When the Holidays are Hard

ALICE KIM|GUEST It’s been several years now, but there was a time when I stared at the bright red poinsettias that adorned the stage and the luminescent lights that outlined an oak stained cross and asked, “What difference does the gospel make?” I had neither anticipated nor was prepared for the unraveling of trust in my marriage. It felt like someone had, without warning, yanked the rug from under my feet. I fell hard. I was angry, hurt, confused, grieved, and struggled to hope. I was desperate to know that Jesus invaded the not only the cosmos with the hope of the gospel, but also my life and my home. When the Holidays are Hard We often equate this holiday season with time spent with family. But some of us feel pressured to shelve somber feelings related to our families like grief, disappointment, anxiety, and fear for joy, excitement, and gratitude. Just as a department store wastes no time the day after a holiday to move outdated merchandise to the clearance aisle in the back corner, the expectation is that we need to move on and exhibit only emotions that fit the occasion. But strained relationships marked by resentment, hurt, blame, contempt, silence, and unforgiveness are only magnified against the backdrop of picturesque captions of smiling family portraits in coordinated outfits, highlighting proud moments and notable achievements from the past year. If this is our experience, how can we reimagine the hope, joy, and awe of the Christmas story without dismissing the tension of living in the already-not-yet with ruptured and failed relationships? How can we invite the gospel to break through and transform our lives?...

When the Holidays are Hard2022-05-04T23:29:56+00:00

Trusting God in the Foster Care Journey

SHEA PATRICK|GUEST I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I start a new book, I immediately turn to the end of the story to see what is going to happen. In the same vein, I often read spoilers to know what is going to happen in a television show I am watching. I want to protect myself from being surprised by a bad ending. My desire to know the end before I even start is constantly challenged by our involvement in foster care. Our family has had multiple children in and out of our home, and there is only one thing that you can count on with foster care:  you have no idea what is going to happen when the Department of Social Services (DSS) is involved. Many aspects of our family life— where we live, what kind of trips we can take— are subject to the whim of a court that does not even know our family. For someone who likes to be in control and make plans, not knowing the future can be a nightmare. I am learning I can put my trust in one sure thing: God. Trusting God in the Beginning When we take in a foster child, it is often on short notice. The state (DSS) calls and tells us a case worker is on the way with a child. Many times, the grief the child feels is overwhelming and heartbreaking. There have been times when our other children woke up in the morning with a new child in the house who was not there the night before. It disrupts family patterns and routines. Immediately, I jump into planning mode, arranging doctor visits, school registrations, counseling, and other services. I secure clothing and other needed items. These plans are difficult to make when I don’t know how long a child will be with us. It’s overwhelming to know where to begin. Often, I return to a verse in 2 Chronicles: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The Lord lifts my eyes from the craziness of the circumstances and walks with me through the next steps He would have us to take. Trusting God in the Middle Often in foster cases, the child’s birth family is still involved. DSS schedules visits for the child to visit with parents and siblings. When we first began fostering, I admit things were very black and white for me. I assumed that because these parents had children in the system, they must be “bad parents.” The more that we have been involved in foster care, the more I have seen how this is not true. As we have gotten to know the child’s biological parents, we often see how a bad decision or a string of bad decisions have ramifications for everyone. God enabled us to build relationships and show compassion to those whose children we care for— to honor their birth families and existing relationships. It has been humbling to see how the brokenness in other families often mirrors the brokenness in my own, creating common ground. Involvement in another family’s story can be messy, but we find time and time again that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18)...

Trusting God in the Foster Care Journey2022-05-04T23:31:21+00:00

The Red Carpet of God’s Faithfulness

BETHANY BELUE|GUEST My grandmother was a librarian. Each time I visited her little white house she would have a new book waiting for me. From a young age she gave me a love of story, a love of diving into someone else's thoughts and words bringing adventure to life. To this day, I love getting lost in someone else’s story. I love those beginning chapters that set up the plot, the page-turning chapters when you don’t know what’s going to happen, and then the best part: when it all comes together to a satisfying conclusion. Recently, I’ve been challenged to think about my own story. What do I see in the twist and turns, the moments of not knowing what is going to happen next, and the parts that could be considered an adventure but don’t always make sense?   A Red Carpet of Faithfulness At 29, I was a single girl living in New York City, on the cusp of a big life decision. I’ll never forget sitting in a downtown Manhattan office building with a sweet friend seeking her advice on what I should do. I wanted her to tell me exactly what to do (or maybe what not to do). She was the type of friend who could be honest with me, but in a gentle way. To my surprise, instead of telling me what I should do, she began asking questions about my life. She asked me to recount different seasons of my life when I was unsure of what to do and what led me to take the next step. She sat there quietly, just listening, and then she said something that changed my life in a significant way. In her soft voice she said, “Bethany when I hear your story, it makes me think about a red carpet. As you look back on your life, you see the red carpet being rolled out for you. However, that red carpet isn’t a carpet at all, but God’s faithfulness in your life...

The Red Carpet of God’s Faithfulness2022-05-04T23:45:19+00:00

A Fear Unlike Any Other

CHRISTINA FOX|EDITOR When I was a child, there was a song titled “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” It was sung as a kind of game to teach children to identify what makes things the same and what makes them different. Often there was a photo of three or four items and the child had to choose which one did not belong with the others. This is true with the word “fear” in the Bible. God’s word talks about three kinds of fear, but one of them is unlike the others. Fear in the Bible For those familiar with the Bible, it is common knowledge that “do not fear” is a frequent command found throughout Scripture. This command is often found in the context of divine revelation, such as when God’s people were called to fight a battle or when a prophet warned of pending punishment for sin. This command was intended to comfort God’s people and to encourage them to trust in him. One such example is when Moses led God’s people through the Red Sea: “And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever” (Exodus 14:13). When the Bible says, “do not fear,” the word fear refers to terror or panic. There are two types of this fear in Scripture. The first kind is often called “natural fear.” It’s the kind of fear that comes naturally to humans in a post-fall world. We live in a world where there are natural disasters, pandemics, losses, violence, political upheavals, and more. We all know what it’s like to approach a dangerous situation and our heart starts pounding and our adrenaline spikes. We quickly move ourselves to a place of safety. Natural fear gets us to run out of a burning building or find safe shelter in a thunderstorm. Natural fear is something even our Savior felt as he faced the cross that was to come (see Luke 22:39-46). The Bible also mentions another kind of fear and this is the kind of fear that rules over us. It governs our choices and directs our path...

A Fear Unlike Any Other2022-05-04T23:59:28+00:00

Turning from Fear to Faith

Have you ever said to someone “Just trust me?” We often say these words because we love the person and believe we have greater wisdom than they do in a particular situation. Likewise, our heavenly Father loves us so much that He wants us to trust Him. God Is Trustworthy God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness is rooted in His covenant. He has initiated a relationship with His people. This relationship does not depend upon our faithfulness but His, and it is secured by the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. We see God’s trustworthiness as the history of salvation unfolds from Genesis through Revelation. In the entirety of the covenantal structure of Scripture, we learn that God is faithful to fulfill His promises. As Paul says, “For all the promises of God in [Christ] are Yes, and in Him Amen” (2 Cor. 1:20). Because God has been faithful to us and saved us, we can trust Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary’s Trust in the Face of Fear At the appointed time, God sent the angel Gabriel to a virgin named Mary. The angel told her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). Mary was very troubled by the angel’s saying. However, the angel instructed her not to fear because she had found favor with God. She would have a son, and this son was to be named Jesus. He would be great and called the Son of the Highest. He would reign forever in an eternal kingdom. Mary questioned how this could be. The angel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that by God’s power she would conceive. The child she would carry would be called the Son of God. Mary replied to the angel, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). Mary’s story displays what it means to trust the Lord. First, when Mary had every reason to fear, she responded in faith. Think about the last time you were gripped with fear. Maybe the career path you had chosen wasn’t going as you had expected, and you feared the outcome. Perhaps you, or a loved one, received a diagnosis that was difficult to hear and that drastically changed your lifestyle. Maybe you were headed on vacation and feared for your family’s safety, especially your young children’s. Perhaps you were afraid about how the difficulties in your marriage were going to turn out...

Turning from Fear to Faith2022-05-05T00:07:12+00:00

If the Lord Wills

There is a short-term mission trip truth that many of us understand: The one going on the mission trip usually receives way more than the people to whom we are hoping to minister. And that was true last summer when I visited some old friends of mine in Kenya. A team of women from my church went to teach at a women’s leadership conference and put on a medical clinic. It was fantastic. If the Lord Wills As we arrived, we started reconnecting with women I hadn’t seen for years. It felt a little like old home week! I was laughing and chatting with a friend of mine when I remembered something about her. This woman would rarely make a statement regarding her future without ending that sentence with the phrase: “If the Lord wills.” It was like her own personal punctuation mark. She’ll say something like, “Sue, I will see you in the morning, if the Lord wills.” My friend is a farmer and lives her life a little more hand-to-mouth than some of us do. She lost her daughter tragically and has a deep faith in the Lord. She knows exactly what it feels like to pray for rain, food, clothing, and all the Matthew 6:25-33 things. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes forget that the Lord has a plan, a sovereign plan, and everything we have is from his hand. One of the most difficult days for me since this whole crisis started last March was when I began to clear my calendar of upcoming events, both professional and personal. I mean, I wasn’t simply postponing things or rescheduling. I was removing them from existence. It hurt. Many of us have experienced grief and loss of many kinds during this season...

If the Lord Wills2022-05-05T00:19:16+00:00
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