A Year of Faith in Review….

“See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”                                      Isaiah 43:19

Although Christmas will be celebrated tomorrow I can’t help but reflect on the fact that there are only six days left of 2018.  Hard to believe that another new year is right around the corner.  I ask the all to common question of “Where did the time go?”  So I thought I would use this post to reflect on God’s work in my life this year and the hope I have for whatever 2019 holds.

A week before 2018 began, I received an unexpected blessing and endured an incredibly expensive car repair.  The blessing was greatly appreciated-the car repair so close to Christmas, not so much.  But God was faithful and provided transportation for me while my vehicle was in the shop as well as means to afford the cost.  My vehicle was back on the road and driving safely before January 1st, began.

I rang in 2018 singing karaoke with my high school best friend.  Our friendship will celebrate 30 years next year.  In high school and our early twenties we were inseparable.  I even kept a toothbrush at her house because I was always there getting ready for our next adventure or outing.  A falling out divided our friendship for many years but God restored it several years ago.  I am truly grateful.  Although life’s busyness keeps us from getting together as often as we’d both like, I cherish the moments, like New Year’s Eve celebrations, that we can share together.

In February, I was gifted a five day vacation to Las Vegas.  I’m not a gambler nor am I into strip clubs so imagine a pg rated Vegas vacation.  I say pg because I was with more high school besties (friends since 1989) and we did enjoy some adult beverages one evening while site seeing on the strip.  The rest of the time consisted of budgeting buffets, and being the typical tourist taking pictures of everything.  Aside from having 5 days spent with women I adore, my favorite part of this trip was being on the strip at night, watching the fountains “dance” to Dean Martin.  Dean Martin makes me swoon so you can imagine the rush of seeing this elaborate light and fountain show move to Dean’s “Luck be a Lady”.  Pretty sure I was frozen in awe smiling ear to ear.

Sadly, while I was on this trip, much demise was happening at my job.  I learned people had lost their jobs as well as our contract had been threatened.  That job was a contract based job and if it had been pulled would mean me without employment.  It was a very stressful and worrisome time.  Those of us that still had jobs walked on pins and needles wonder who was next.  When I returned from my vacation I actually cleaned out both of my offices just in case I was next on the chopping block.

In March my employer learned that our contract would be valid for one more year but many changes had to be made.  As the months progressed our work environment grew more and more dismal with increase in work load, no room for error or delay.  My whole demeanor changed and it effected my personal life.  I had prayed for years for new employment with many closed doors.  As work grew more intolerable for me, I finally resolved that no matter what, I would not be working at that job by summer of 2019. I knew that mean I would need to reduce my debt in order to explore the idea of taking a lesser paying job but I set a goal and prayed for God to deliver.

In April my dog, who was ten years old, underwent surgery.  This was another expensive out of pocket expense as well as four weeks of feeling like I was caring for an infant again.  She is a very small dog and seeing her in a fragile start was difficult for my children and me because she is not just a pet but a member of our family.  God once again provided the means for her surgery and she recovered fully.

June brought more car repairs.  This time my faith was worn out.  Not because of the financial strain-God provided the means to pay for it very quickly.  However I had to wait two weeks before I could get it repaired and it had become unsafe to drive.  So for two weeks I relied on other people to commute back and forth to work.  This I’m sure was a test of pride for me because I am not one who enjoys asking for help or being a burden to anyone. Thankfully God used friends with more than willing hearts to be my chauffeur until my vehicle was repaired.  God also gifted me a mechanic who not only repaired my vehicle in the time he said he would but also fixed the error of another mechanic’s work for free.

In July my daughter endured a minor out patient surgery.  Although her surgery was a success the first week of recovery was rough for both of us.  She endured a great deal of pain.  The pain made her lose her appetite so she would end up taking pain meds on an empty stomach.  A couple of times this led to vomiting because as most know, many pain meds can make one sick if you take them without food.  Three nights in a row we both endure minimal sleep because the pain would wake her up and then she would wake me up for ice packs and meds.  Add to this many sporting activities for my son who’s a three sports kid and had games, camps, practices and tournaments for all three throughout the summer months.

Fall brought mourning as our community lost two members only a month apart.  One had cancer.  The other, took his own life.  Watching my sixteen year old daughter walk through grief after losing a friend to suicide is not easy.  There are not words of comfort that can help or heal.  You just have to watch, comfort and be readily available whenever and however they need.  Suicide also opens the door to have the hard, difficult and not always comfortable conversations with your children about depression and self harm.  But God especially shows up through tragedy.  In fact, my daughter, who has questioned God’s very existence clung to faith to hold her through her grief.  Through the first week after her friend’s death, including attending his funeral, she showed very little emotion.  When I asked her about it she simply said, “I’m said but I know that I will see him again so that is helping me get through this.”  Although my heart was broken for her it smiled knowing her faith was being restored through this.

Fall also brought a serious injury upon my son.  One ER visit after a football practice and a cat scan later we learned he sustained a serious concussion.  This injury caused him to miss school, get behind on school work and all together be out of football for three weeks.  It was a very tough season for him as it brought much frustration, anger and impatience.  Not being to even attending practices made him feel like he was no longer a part of the team.  To an athlete, sports are your life.  Going without them for even three weeks can seem like an eternity.  Thankfully God healed my son in time for him to play his last two football games of the season. He’s since moved on to basketball season and still doing well.

Late fall brought a job opening in my children’s school that I was encouraged to apply for.  Reading through the job description, I wondered if I was even qualified for it.  It did have a lot of office duties I was already skilled in but it also detailed things I was not familiar with.  I hesitated to apply because I felt under qualified.  I also expected it would lead to yet another closed door.  In fact, I waited until the very last day they were accepting applications and I scanned mine and my resume to the employer.  I told only the person who had encouraged me to apply.  Two days later I was called to take their pre-hiring exam.  A day after I completed the exam I was called for an interview.  One day after the interview, I was offered the job.  I was over the moon with shock and excitement all in one.  I started this new job last month and it is everything I have ever prayed for and so much more. God has completely wowed me!

It’s now the day before Christmas and although my cup runneth over, the enemy still keeps throwing curve balls.  This month alone I received word that my biological father was on a ventilator, hospitalized, and not expected to make it.  It happened the same day another family crisis was going on.  Two of my siblings shared they were going though divorces.  A community member endured a life threatening stroke.  Other families I know have endured other health scares, financial difficulties or relationship struggles.  The enemy has even attacked my own home with discord between one of my children and me.  I have wrestled with great anxiety over much of it.  But God remains faithful.  As much tragedy that has struck, no matter how many curve balls get thrown, God’s hands can be seen in each circumstance as He performs many miracles and answers prayers in an epic way.

2018 has been a roller coaster year.  But through it all my God has been my one constant.  His faithfulness remains.  He is unshakable.  His word is true.  Through all of this I have learned that I have two choices-I can worry or I can pray.  When I worry, nothing gets done.  But when I pray,  I mean when I actually stand on God’s word and pray it over my circumstances, God moves my mountains or He moves me further up the mountain.  I am thankful for very good and bad experience this year because each one has molded my character and drew me closer to Him.  Character building and deepened faith is all anyone of us can ever ask for.

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Christmas Joy

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.'” Luke 2:10 NIV

We are two days away from another Christmas holiday.  Many have already begun celebrating a season that is supposed to represent peace, love, hope and joy.  It’s the season of giving and receiving.  For Christians, it’s also the season to celebrate Christ’s birth which represents miraculous events that can only be explained through a belief system that supersedes human logic.

Christmas can also be a season of stress, exhaustion, worry, depression and sadness.  In two days there will be children waking up to no presents, not even a Christmas tree and maybe even no food or heat in their homes.  Families will gather for dinner with at least one empty seat reminding them of a loved one whom they lost this year.  Kids will divide their time between households of split parents who may or may not get along.  Somebody is going to get drunk or misuse drugs to self medicate.  Fighting and abuse will increase.  Not every household in our neighborhoods and cities will be filled with love let alone experience Christmas joy.

Personally I have seen life threatening illnesses attack family members and community members.  There are people who will be fighting for their lives over the Christmas holiday.  I have also seen marriages and relationships recently come to end.  In two days there will be people experiencing Christmas without their spouse or significant other whom they lovingly shared this holiday with in the past.  If children are involved, they will be spending this holiday away from at least one of their parents adjusting to a new normal.  People have or will lose their jobs or perhaps have been jobless for months.  In  a season that is supposed to be happy and joyful, suffering seems to insurmountably increase.  So the question is, how do we find joy in such desperate and heartbreaking circumstances?

The answer? Joy in all circumstances is found when we turn our focus to Jesus.  Christ’s birth is the perfect example of bad timing and finding joy amidst dismal situations.  Mary was a virgin who’s fiance’ thought she gave herself to another man.  Joseph married a woman pregnant with God’s baby and couldn’t consummate the marriage until after Christ was born.  The mockery and judgement they must’ve endure would be enough for even the strongest in faith to question God.  But then in the end stage of Mary’s pregnancy they have to travel a distance for census purposes.  This was not flying coach or calling an Uber.  This would consist of riding a donkey or camel for days.  There was no telephone or internet to make reservations ahead of time so when they arrive in Bethlehem they find no lodging available.  One innkeeper offers them his barn to sleep in.

I’m going to interject right here-this is Mary, carrying God’s child.  God, the creator of all universe, all powerful and all knowing, knew Mary and Joseph’s story all along.  Nothing surprises Him.  God knew before He ever put Jesus in Mary’s womb exactly how Jesus would enter this world-in a barn among farm animals.  This was not a clean or sterile environment.  I can only imagine that this was not the ideal place Mary would have chosen to give birth to any of her children, but especially to God’s son.  If Mary’s faith was like mine, she would’ve had super high hopes for an elaborate birth and be sorely disappointed when she was laboring in a barn.  But when it was all said and done, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 NIV)  Jesus was born into a world filled with sickness, disease, addiction, abuse and heartache.  He was born into this world because it was filled with such sadness.  His purpose was to save us all from the demise of a fallen world.

Cancer, stroke, heart disease, pneumonia, divorce, discord, anxiety and debt do not care that Christmas is 2 days away.  Bank accounts don’t magically have excess for Christmas presents and special holiday dinners.  Loneliness doesn’t take a vacation on December 25th.  Christmas doesn’t gift the return of a loved one who passed away.  There is nothing in this list that exudes joyfulness or describes Christmas as the most wonderful time of the year.  Yet God calls us to joy.  Choosing joy means praising God amidst the storms that heap pain, sorrow and devastation.  Choosing joy means clinging to God’s promises and faithfulness even when He feels so far away and we question what His plan is.  Choosing joy means gratitude for another day to celebrate Christmas even though our worlds may be crumbling.  Choosing joy means knowing God’s timing is always perfect and victory will always be His even when it seems as though our enemy is winning.  If nothing more, choosing joy is simply an act of obedience because God tells us to choose joy in all circumstances (Philippians 4:4.)

Christmas carols celebrate joy.  Decorations are adorn with the word “joy.”  No matter what we are facing today there is always a choice to live in our feelings or to choose joy.  Joy in all circumstances will always bring peace that exceeds human wisdom.  When you know that kind of peace your faith will soar because you will finally believe God’s promises will be fulfilled no matter what chaos is happening right now.  Every circumstance reflects a season.  Christmas is a season of joy in spite of our circumstances.  Take time to sing the lyrics to this Christmas classic today and every day this week with a mindset of choosing joy.  When you hear these words, “JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD HAS COME…” Belt it out with a heart that chooses joy and watch how unshakable your faith becomes.