Calming Life’s Storm

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”  Psalm 27:13 NIV

In the midst of a world pandemic we are surrounded by scary statistics, rising death tolls, overcrowded hospitals, limited medical supplies, etc.  We’re told the safest place to be is home.  People wear masks and other personal protection equipment when they have to go to public places.  Personally, I have even resorted to “washing” my groceries before bringing them in the house.  Why?  Because our world is fighting against the spread of a scary and unpredictable virus that continues to wreak havoc and steals our hope and our freedoms.

Life, as we know it, has been put on pause for an indefinite time period.  People have temporarily lost their jobs due to businesses closing down.  High school seniors lost the last few months of their high school careers because school buildings closed in mid-March and have been ordered to remain closed for the duration of the school year.  Spring athletes like baseball players and track stars will have no season this year.  Weddings have been cancelled or rescheduled.  Family gatherings are halted.  Grandparents can’t see their grandchildren except through their picture window or via video technology.  It’s as if the world itself has stopped turning and is standing still on its axle.

For many, this sudden change in lifestyle, cancellation of plans and loss of  tradition has brought much despair.  Others wrestle with anxiety while trying to hold their family together with little or no income.  Still for others it brings anger, resentment, sadness and even fear.   Watching TV or scrolling through social media only adds to these emotions due to the barrage of false and overly exaggerated information that pours through both media channels.  Even in the comfort of our homes we cannot escape the eerie silence and chaotic noise of COVID-19.  It’s almost like that dreary calm in nature when the skies are dark and the trees are motionless just before the madness strikes as a destructive storm blows through.

I can imagine the disciples knew that exact dread and fear when their boat sailed right into a deadly storm.  Mark 4:37 describes it as a “furious squall…that broke the waves over the boat making them nearly swamped.” (NIV)  I  imagine twelve men scurrying around, panicked doing everything that can to keep the boat from sinking.  Although verse 38 tells us they ran to Jesus asking Him to save them, based on their history of unbelief, I think they tried to save themselves before running to Jesus.  Here’s the kicker of this story.  Jesus was in the stern, SLEEPING!  When the disciples woke Him, He stood up, “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ (verse 39) Then He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

I think Jesus could be asking Christians of today’s world these same two questions-Why are we so afraid?  Do we still have NO faith?  Does His word mean nothing to us when we need it most?  Jesus reminds us in John 16:33 that “in this world [we] will have trouble. But take heart! [Jesus] has over come the world.”  In Deuteronomy 31:6, God told His chosen people to “be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you.  He will not leave you or forsake.”

We do not have to be afraid or in dread of a deadly disease.  We can be at peace through this tumultuous whirlwind the Coronavirus has brought upon us.  We do not have to entertain anger, despair, grief or fear.  We can choose joy, gladness, gratitude and hope.  How? Taking His word for the very truth that it is and standing on scripture that combats every negative emotion that floods our spirits.

Are you angry because your plans have been ruined and you feel stuck at home?  God’s word says “…human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20.  Ecclesiastes 7:9 warns to “not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.”  Instead of anger, God tells us to “Consider it pure joy…whenever we face trials of many kinds because…the testing of [our] faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3 NIV)  We combat anger with choosing joy.

Are you anxious because you’ve lost your job, maybe have no income and unsure how you will meet your family’s basic needs?  God is our Provider.  In fact, in Matthew 6: 25-27 (NIV), we are told this; “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body…is not life more than food…? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet [our] Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are [we] not of more value than [those birds]? Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Worrying doesn’t grow a money tree or put food on your table.  But prayer and faith can.  We don’t have to have big faith either, just the faith the size of a mustard seed.  Isn’t that ironic?

Have the cancellation of milestone events (graduations, weddings, etc.) left you grieving what you or your loved one are missing out on?  Are you crumpled in a pit of despair?  Grab on to hope and don’t let go.  1 Peter 5:10 promises us this: “The God of all grace, who called [us] to His eternal glory in Christ, after [we] have suffered a little while, will Himself restore [us] and make [us] strong, firm and steadfast.” Milestone events may not happen exactly as were planned or even in the traditional manner we looked forward to.  But that doesn’t mean they will not happen.

If it’s a part of God’s plan, it will happen.  Sarah and Abraham are the perfect example of that.  Sarah’s dream of becoming a mother fell to the wayside as she grew to be past the child bearing age.  She “thought outside the box” even and tried manufacturing her own family using Haggar. But God’s plan was for Sarah to bear a child, not adopt one.  Even though Sarah laughed at God’s promise, Hebrews 11:11 tells us that “by faith…Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered Him faithful who made the promise.”  Sarah laughed at God-clearly her faith was the size of a mustard seed.  BUT-God is a god of His word and He always keeps His promises.

Lastly, have you been paralyzed by fear-fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of this virus itself?  Then memorize these scriptures and follow these commands!

     1.) “Do not fear..when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not [even] set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:1-2)

2.) “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified, do not be discourage for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

3.) “Tell everyone who is discouraged, be strong and don’t be afraid! God is coming to your rescue…” (Isaiah 35:4

4.) “Do not be afraid…The Lord your God Himself will fight for you.” (Deuteronomy 3:22)

5.)  “...do not be afraid, just believe.” (Mark 5:36)

God is in control.  God is bigger than COVID-19.  This pandemic did not surprise Him.  I do not know His “why” for this world crisis but as He tells us in Isaiah 55:8; His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways the same as our ways.  He doesn’t call us to find the “why” in every situation.  He calls us to trust Him and take Him at His word. He also calls us to obey His word.  Right now I believe, He is telling us to “Be still and know that He is God.” (Psalm 46:10)

In the end of this terribly long pause, God will be exalted among the nations.  Until then, we can stave off anger, despair, grief and fear by  setting our minds on things above and turning off the earthly things.  When the news and social media posts feel like cataclysmic waves crashing into you life’s boat, remember these strategies and trust that just like he did for the disciples, Jesus is calming this life storm too.

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.

Happy Endings

“I thank you for answering my prayer and giving me victory!”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭118:21‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I love Christmas movies. I love them so much I start watching them before Halloween. Although the storylines are predictable, each one is heart warming, romantic, filled with hope and an unshakable belief in miracles. Each one always has a happy ending also. Who doesn’t love that?

This may sound ridiculous and a little like I see the world through rose colored glasses, but our real lives can very much be like a Christmas movie. I’m not referring to an eternal state of winter, homes decorated with Christmas trees and stockings hung 365 days a year. Life isn’t always heart warming or romantic either. What I’m referring to is the hope, the belief in miracles and the happy endings that most Christmas movie storylines encompass.

In the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, George Bailey is down on his luck. He’s facing bankruptcy, poverty and loss of his family business. He’s in such despair that he contemplates taking his own life. At his lowest moment, he meets Clarence the angel, who shows him what life would be like if George never existed. George realizes just how much his life choices positively impacted his family and town and chooses to live. What he later learns is, the whole town came together to help financially sustain the family business. In the end, George is reunited with his wife and children with a restored faith and Clarence the angel earns his wings.

The Bible is full of happy endings too. Every trial and tribulation, every story of captivity ends with God’s deliverance and victory for those who obeyed and trusted in Him. Abraham goes from childless to the father of all nations. Moses is an abandoned child raised by Egyptians. He spends 40 years in the wilderness after murdering someone and then is used by God to deliver His people from the very Egyptians Moses was raised by. Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, thrown into jail because of a lie and raised up by God to be the Governor’s right hand man saving multitudes during a famine. Daniel was taken into captivity and elevated by his captor. Even when he was thrown into a lions den, God delivered him and elevated him once again. Jesus Himself was tortured and murdered but conquered death when He rose from the grave three days later.

Why did all of this happen? Because God’s victory is inevitable and He clearly loves happy endings. Don’t just take my word for it, feel free to check out each example in His word and read about His victories first hand. The Old and New Testaments are full of testimony showing God’s ultimate power and victory.

I have no idea where you’re at in life right now. Maybe you’re at the top of the game and you think life couldn’t possibly get any better. Maybe believing in happy endings comes easy for you because you’ve never experienced anything shattering or disappointing. But maybe you’re in a constant state of chaos and unrest. Life keeps throwing you one crisis, heartache or disappointment after another and you’re barely holding on. Maybe you’re like George Bailey and have even contemplated taking your own life. If that’s you, stop right now and pray. Pour out all your hurt and sorrow to Jesus and ask Him to comfort you. He may not change your circumstances immediately but he can take away the hurt and pain if you seek His comfort. He is with all of us in the best and absolute worst of times and He’s always ready to comfort us in our time of pain.

When you’re done praying, resonate on this: what you are going through is a season. It may feel like a lifetime. It may even feel like a curse. But it’s honestly, just a season. Recognizing that your situation is temporary can strengthen you to persevere. It can also increase your hope in God’s ability to deliver you. God didn’t stop delivering His children when the Bible was done being written. Every person’s redemption story is merely an extended version of His word. Our testimony is a living chapter of the Bible. Instead of the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John-these books are titled by our own names and hold the stories of God’s unique work in each of lives. But living books don’t come in print-they are books filled with stories that can only be told by the one God wrote the story for. No matter how many twists and turns your story holds. I am confident it holds a happy ending. God needs you to endure the conflict so you can live to tell the story of His happy ending for you.

Some of you reading this have experienced tragic endings. You’ve lost loved ones in horrible ways and you’ve experienced things no human should ever go through. The idea of a happy ending may even anger or enrage you. All I can say is, I’m living proof that God can turn any tragedy into a happy ending. Death is a permanent loss that leaves a huge void. The idea of living without your loved one brings no idea of a happy ending. But God is faithful and can still produce one. It comes down to healing, believing and surrendering.

Happy endings come when we allow God to comfort us and heal our wounds. Happy endings come when we stand on His truths and believe Him at His word. Happy endings come when we surrender to His will and His way. If God promises to fight for us, we have to believe He will no matter how long it takes. When God tells us to be still we have to obey. Trying to manufacture our own miracles only delays His promise. Getting in God’s way produces Ishmael results when God promises us an Isaac. Surrendering takes great discipline and a trust to know that God always keeps His word. But the obedience of surrender also brings great reward including God’s happy ending.

Keep in mind one thing: although Christmas movies have predictable happy endings, God’s happy endings aren’t the same. God may allow a loved one to die from cancer. But their happy ending is perfection in eternity. God may allow a marriage to end. But he may bring provision as your happy ending making the transition back into singlehood a little easier. God may not give you the job you’re hoping for. His happy ending may be in the form of a different job that exceeds your wildest dreams. God may not heal you from a chronic disease. His happy ending may be in the strength and ability to prevail in spite of chronic pain. God’s ways are not our ways. But His ways are always perfect and victory is always His. That happy ending is 100 percent guaranteed!