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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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!

Moving Slow but Working Hard

“Then Abraham waited patiently, and he received what God had promised.”

Hebrews 6:15NLT

My freshman year of college I lived on the 4th floor of Robinson Hall.  This dormitory had no elevators, only stairs-many, many flights of stairs.  There’s a “freshman 15” saying referencing the amount of weight you gain your first year of college.  The amount of times I went up and down those stairs on a daily basis I am confident I lost fifteen pounds and then some.  Along with the stair climbing you had to walk across campus multiple times a day for classes, meals, etc.  For a girl who at one point lived across the street from her high school, this world of walking a country mile and climbing stairs that equated to scaling the Empire State Building on a daily basis was a tad much.  It was even worse when I was running late.  Speed walking doesn’t get you to class much faster than normal walking and even at eighteen years old, my knees were not built for running, especially carrying several textbooks on my back.  Have to admit, twenty plus years later, I think my freshman year of college was a mini boot camp for this diva.

After I graduated college, I moved back home.  I had big dreams to change the world and ended up with a minimum wage job at a retail store.  My college relationship ended and I found myself partying multiple times a night.  I found a job that was a remote fit to my degree but it wasn’t stable and it wasn’t satisfying.  I came to a realization that I was going in circles.  Going in circles gets you nowhere. Going in circles, simply makes you dizzy.  I took out a map and I picked a city to move to.  About six months later, I was settling in to a city seven hours away from home only knowing two people in the entire area.  I secured a job in the downtown area and gained many lifelong friendships from working there.  I also walked a lot.  You see, in most cities, there are parking structures that cost money to park.  People who worked downtown typically would spend $40-80 plus in monthly parking fees.  Paying for parking was a foreign thing for this small town girl.  So I found free parking, on the outskirts of a rougher part of the city, and I would walk about six blocks to my office in high heels.  At lunch time I would walk a round trip of about another six blocks to grab a meal and eat it at the office.  On the weekends my friends and I again would walk from bar to bar to go dancing.  You basically drove to the downtown area, just to walk to where you needed to go.

It’s been seventeen years since I’ve moved back to my home state.  Where I live, walking to work or to get my kids to school or even to the grocery story is only a possibility if you’re in the shape of marathon runner.  In fact, the only extensive walking I do now is 1-3 times a week on my lunch break as a form of exercise.  Other than that, I am driving every place we need to go.  Now, walking isn’t a form of transportation, it’s simply a form of exercise.

I have been battling with car repairs and unreliable vehicles for the past decade.  Since moving into the home I’ve raised my children in the past 10 years, I have owned four vehicles.  Each one has needed multiple repairs and each one has left me stranded a time or two.  Some repairs have been routine needs like new brakes or tires.  Others have been incredibly expensive and/or major safety issues.  Each one causes a great stress in figuring out where to get it fixed, how to pay for it and how to get to work and other places I need to go while the vehicle is being repaired.  At some point, the repairs get to be more than the vehicle is worth and then I pray extensively for the Lord to provide a better, more reliable and more affordable vehicle.  Each time, God answers.

Two years ago, God provided me with the nicest vehicle I’ve owned in several years.  This vehicle seemed to fit all my needs and even handles very well on bad wintry roads.  It’s needed a few repairs here and there but it’s all been routine maintenance until last year.  At the beginning of the year, I noticed a loud banging sound when I would drive over bumps. I kept checking the area where the sound was coming from and couldn’t see what would be causing it.  One day I got to my office, checked it again and discovered my entire wheel well was broken.  If you know anything about vehicles, the wheel well holds the rear shock into place.  If the well is broken, the shock bangs up and into the trunk area of your vehicle.  Not only is this a safety issue but it’s an expensive repair.

A family member did a free weld repair on it first.  This lasted several months and I was incredibly grateful.  However, in December of last year, the weld broke and replacing the wheel well was unavoidable.  It was Christmas time and very cold outside.  It was also the time of year where it’s dark until about 8am and dark again around 6pm.  My commute to/from work is 70 miles (112 kilometers) and given the time of year, walking to work daily wasn’t a realistic option.  Neither was driving my vehicle in the condition it was in. Given that fact that is was also Christmas time, financially speaking, this kind of car repair would break the bank as they say.  I prayed a lot.  I cried a bit and I reached out to others for prayer and help.  God answered in a mighty way. My vehicle was repaired, I was provided a loaner vehicle while mine was in the shop, my children had an overwhelmingly abundant Christmas and I suddenly found myself in a position to bless a family in need with an abundant Christmas also.  All this happened in a three-week period.  All this happened because God used friends and family and other avenues to provide for my children and me.

About a month ago, my car broke down on the freeway.  It actually just shut down as I was traveling.  Fortunately, it was a slow motion occurrence where I was able to safely pull to the side of the road before losing my brakes and power steering.  I couldn’t get it started for a bit.  It was raining and vehicles were passing me at speeds high enough to shake my vehicle as they went by.  I prayed and asked God for help.  Tried to start the vehicle again with no success.  This happened a few times and I found myself quickly losing my patience.  At one point the high maintenance diva side of me came out and I actually asked God this, “Do you expect me to walk down the freeway, in the rain, in my high heels? Is that what you’re expecting me to do right now?”  He answered by starting my vehicle and getting me to a safe park N ride area.  I was able to call my mechanic who arranged for a tow truck and delivered me a loaner car to get me home that night.  My car was repaired the very next day.  I thanked God for His continued provision and embarrassingly humbled myself when I thought about those who walk in the rain without shoes because they have no other means of transportation and cannot even afford a pair of shoes.  Who was I that I thought I was too important to walk in the rain in heels?

The past two weeks I have battled yet again with another needed repair.  This time, it’s a second broken wheel well.  This one is worse than the first.  The Lord provided the financial means to repair this one rather quickly, however, the body shop doesn’t have an opening to fix it for three weeks.  I drove the vehicle (after consulting with professionals who said it was ok) for the first week.  However, the noises grew increasingly louder and the damage worsened.  I tried to get the repair done sooner with no luck.  I reached out to a few friends for a possible loaner vehicle, with no luck either.  I prayed asking God to show me what to do for transportation over the next two weeks until I could get my car into the shop.  I didn’t ask nicely, mind you.  I had a world class toddler style meltdown over the whole thing.  In fact, I remember two things I prayed out of anger in that moment-1.)  I told God I didn’t want to learn whatever lesson He was trying to teach me and 2.) I was deeply disappointed in His method right then.  I even tried venting to two people I trusted and was told I was venting to the wrong people.  It was a whirlwind moment of deep discouragement.  My frustration grew as I could feel God going silent-just letting me have my rant.   In December God overwhelmed me with help.  This time, it felt like I had been left alone to figure it out.

But then He answered.  He answered by sending a family member to look at the vehicle once again and advising me on how long I could drive it.  He answered by providing transportation for my kids to get to/from school and by giving a dear friend a willing heart to drive me to/from work.  He answered by the generosity of another friend who loaned me a vehicle for this entire weekend.  Although I don’t have a solid plan for this upcoming week regarding transportation, I know He will answer because He promised to take care of my children and me and God is faithful in keeping His promises.

Now, if you’re still reading this, you might be asking, what do car repairs and where I lived in college have in common.  My answer would be this: turtles.  You see my freshman year of college, 4th floor Robinson Hall had t-shirts designed for each resident.  The shirts had a couple turtles on the front and the back read, “4th Floor, Robinson Hall, Moving Slow but Working Hard.”  I was reminded of this motto this week when I watched a turtle attempting to cross a busily traveled country road.   I actually found myself asking God to please help that turtle make it safely across.  Then I thought about how slowly turtles move.  There is no rush or urgency in a turtle.  They simply were not built to move quickly.

Turtles crossing the road is very common where I live.  Many times, humans intervene by picking up the turtles and moving them out of the road in an effort to save them from getting smooshed by vehicles.  But other times, the turtle has to get across the road by the grace of God only because there is no human intervention.  That was the case of this particular turtle.  Nobody was stopping to help it.  I saw a few cars drive around it and hoped anyone encountering it would do the same.  Aside from darting cars, from the outside looking in, that turtle was on its own to make it safely to where he or she was journeying to.

In life, and especially when dealing with a broken down vehicle, I feel like a turtle.  I can see where I need to go, I can develop a plan on how to get there, I usually choose the shortest route possible and then race off to the finish line.  That’s when I encounter delays or other roadblocks that slow my pace down or bring me to a sudden stop.  Delays and roadblocks trigger my impatience.  There are things in my life,-plans, goals, etc.-that I want to happen in hare speed, not turtle speed (if you’re not familiar with the Tortoise and the Hare story this analogy may not makes sense so google “The Tortoise and the Hare” for a better understanding.)  I especially get impatient when I know how to get something done but delay puts me in a position where I cannot get it down on my timeline and I have to depend on others for help during the waiting process.  I am a very impatient waiter (unlike Abraham who waited “patiently” and received the Lord’s promise.”   God knows this.  He also knows I learn best when He answers with “daily manna” instead of delivering everything I ask for all at once.  Because this year is the year He is developing my character to reflect how He designed me to be, He is slowing my life down to turtle speed, putting me in positions to be dependent upon others and in position to be totally dependent upon Him.

I’m gonna be real right now and admit that this form of character building, I. Do, Not. Like.  But God tells us in James 1:2-4 to “count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let the steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (ESV).”  The NLT version uses the word “endurance” instead of steadfastness.  This word “endurance” is also found in Romans 5:3. “we can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.” Verse 4 ties it all together with this; “And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation (NLT,)”  Instead of acting like a toddler, God gently reminds me that I should be rejoicing through these trials because He merely developing more of my character through them.

If you’re going through a trial, even something as trivial as lack of transportation, remember this-God uses all circumstances to refine us, especially the ones He knows will really put us through the test.  Our fiery furnace doesn’t have to be something major.  It could be taking the same “test” over and over again until we learn to not let that circumstance rattle us.  Maybe your test is a different financial struggle, dealing with a toxic person, having the same argument with your spouse with no resolution in sight, struggling with a rebellious child or something more intense like battling with a life threatening illness or job loss.  Whatever the circumstance, you may be feeling like you’re going in circles, this journey seems endless, God is silent and your trying to walk through heavy traffic (get through this situation) at a turtle’s speed.  There will be times you will feel like God uses others to pick you up and carry you to where you need to be quickly.  Other times in this journey you will feel like everyone is bypassing you and you’re at the mercy of your own strength to get across that road.  Just remember this, whether a human moves that turtle or the turtle makes it across because travelers choose to swerve and avoid it, God’s divine intervention is what truly gets that turtle safely across the road.  No matter how God delivers your miracle, know this-it’s coming from God, in His time and in His way.  Don’t give others more credit than they deserve and don’t be a hare trying to rush through life on your own.  It’s in the turtle speed that we notice more around us and are even gifted moments of pausing (like when you’re waiting for someone to pick you up.)  You’d be amazed at how beautiful life truly is when you’re not rushing and you’re not rattled.  You just keep going, moving slowly but working hard.  You do what you can, and then trust God to do the rest.

One last note-as each vehicle passed that turtle, it never once stopped or hid in its shell.  It kept its eyes toward the direction it was heading and it kept moving forward. That is the epitome of unshakable faith.  When we’re faced with delays, roadblocks or feel like we’re metaphorically trying to cross a road through heavy traffic, there’s a confident trust we can exude by keeping our eyes focused on where God is leading.  We must continue to move forward believing He will get us to the other side completely unharmed.  God used that turtle to teach me this:  I can look at the problem and worry about how to solve it-or I can look to Jesus and trust Him to bring the solution even if it means hours, days, weeks or years of roadblocks and delays.  God used Abraham’s journey as a testimony that He is never late but always on time in delivering His promises, even delivering car repairs.