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Written by Cassie Rayl

With a child-sized Superman cape over his shoulders, the little boy hero walks the streets of Birmingham handing out McDonald’s chicken sandwiches to the homeless. At four years old, he recently learned the meaning behind the word “homeless.” He told his daddy he wants all his allowance to go towards buying sandwiches so he can “show love” to the people in need in his hometown.

Watching the news story about Austin made me tear up for several reasons. First off, he’s adorable. Second, my family has been closely impacted by the trial of homelessness, so I take Austin’s joy of being a Good Samaritan personally.

But most importantly, I’m in awe of his childlike faith and his confidence that he can impact the world for the better.

He obviously doesn’t care that his monthly allowance only buys a handful of sandwiches. He doesn’t approach only the “acceptable” people on the streets. He doesn’t stop to weigh a person’s potential success rate before helping them. He and his daddy walk through Birmingham giving out food until there is no food left—simply because Austin wants to show love to the best of his ability.

What if we as adults had that type of faith? What if we served the “least of these” simply to show them love, with no ulterior motive?

Would Christ be easier to see and His love feel more tangible?

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Please tell your story to my daughter,” my friend wrote. “She needs to know there’s hope.”

As I read my friend’s request, I was shocked at the bittersweet emotions her plea conjured up within me. I was thankful she saw Christ in my journey, and there was nothing I wanted more than to point others to my Jesus. But to share my story meant I had to journey down a memory lane I tried so very hard to forget.

After sharing my story, I was reminded of the biblical practice to lay down stones of remembrance. In 1st Samuel, the prophet Samuel laid down an “Ebenezer” to remind all the generations to follow of the victory God had granted Israel. Every time the Israelites walked by the Ebenezer, it was to spur on memories.

They had two choices. They could either remember the strain and heartache of war, or they could remember that Yahweh was their Victory. Regardless of the memory the Ebenezer stone made them focus on, they had to remember the battle itself.

No one likes to think about heartache, or talk about a season where they felt abandoned by God. Too often, I’ve begged God to erase my memory of those times because the memories are too hurtful. But then I’m reminded that without the memory of pain, I wouldn’t have proof of God’s faithfulness.

My Ebenezer stone isn’t the heart filled with scars. No, my Ebenezer stone is my soul’s redemption handed to me by my ever-faithful God.

~ Written by Viki Rife

What is it that makes kids want to help in the kitchen? There is something in the human soul that longs to be a part of creating something, of contributing to the community.

It takes a lot of patience on the part of the parent. Letting a child help can double the length of time it takes to prepare a meal or bake a batch of cookies. But something happens to a child in the process of helping. The child develops new thinking skills and begins to understand the chemistry of ingredients. Competencies develop that the child can build on.

It’s important for us to let our children help, even if it makes it harder to get a project done. Sometimes I wonder if God does the same with us. He certainly could run the world without us, if He chose, but He allows us to be a part of what He’s doing in the world. That joy we see on the face of a child who is helping in the kitchen? It reminds us that God wants us to experience the joy of working with Him.

~ Written by Janet Minnix

My insecurities were having a heyday. They were telling me I didn’t measure up, that I wasn’t spiritual enough, because I wasn’t like her. Resentment began to build.

I struggled to internalize the truth that I was God’s unique creation. I printed Ephesians 1:3-12 from the Living Bible and placed it with my devotional notebook, chewing over phrases like “we who stand before him covered with his love” and “because of what Christ has done, we have become gifts to God that he delights in.” Precious, life-giving truths, but I seemed to sink deeper into a pit. I was in bondage to the sin of comparison.

Years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll preach on Galatians 6:4: “Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else” (emphasis added). I’ve never forgotten the title of his message, Comparisons are Odious. Those words echoed through my mind as I struggled to stop comparing.

I have read that when dealing with feelings of resentment toward someone, you should pray for that person. I tried that. But I seemed to run out of words.

Then one day, as I was talking to God about my feelings and faulty perceptions, the Holy Spirit brought to mind a song I had sung in college choir. The words are from the Priestly Blessing in Numbers 6: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

It seemed God was telling me to pray that blessing for her. Here were words when I had no words; a biblical prayer for her well-being when I felt stymied. I began to pray those words, or sometimes sing them mentally, when thought of her and resentment started to build. Gradually it became a habit to pray the blessing when she came to mind. And as I pray for her blessing and peace, I’m finding that the struggle with comparison is melting away. God is giving me peace as well.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Rarely has God woken me up in the middle of the night to sit at His feet in prayer. Typically, when I’m awakened past the midnight hour, my prayer is a simple, “Jesus, please, put me back asleep.” But the other night, my eyes weren’t tired, my heart kept racing, and I heard the Spirit whisper, “Get up, Child. We need to talk.”

I’ll be honest, I laid in bed counting ceiling tiles for a few minutes. My alarm would officially wake me up in five hours; God could wait till then, right? But before I knew it, I was on the couch with my prayer journal in hand. The second I wrote the words, “Hi, Abba Daddy,” the tears flowed with heart-wrenching intensity.

In the previous 48 hours, my hopes and anticipations for the future had been crushed. No one knew about it other than my husband, and life had continued on at a breakneck speed. The only healing I’d allowed my heart was a quick, “Thanks Jesus; you’re sovereign. We’re trusting you.” I hadn’t taken the time to realize how broken my spirit was, or to acknowledge the self-resenting lies my disappointments had created.

I learned that night what it meant to be honest before the Lord. I had to let myself weep till there were no more tears. I had to actively acknowledge the lies before the Spirit could refresh my heart with truth. I had to sit in silence before God could administer healing I didn’t realize I needed. I had to be broken before I was ready to receive truth which brought me closer to the heart of my Heavenly Father.

There are moments God requires us to go through more pain before He brings healing. It doesn’t make sense at first. But the reality is, God is not afraid of our tears. He knows exactly when all we need is to be held and reminded that we’re loved.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Fine. I’ll do it. Please don’t make me do it forever, though.” That was the final prayer of surrender I uttered as I agreed to pick up a leadership role I’d always dreaded picking up. I knew the catch, though. Telling God I’d go willingly—or at least not kicking or screaming—meant He’d take me up on it!

I found myself sounding like King David in the Psalms, just maybe not so eloquent. “How long, oh Lord? Six months? A year? You wouldn’t make me lead like this for longer than a year, would you? Oh. You would. Well, can I ask you not to? Please hear the despair in my voice and turn to someone else!”

I did my responsibilities to the best of my ability and never a second more than the time constraint first agreed upon. My surrender to God’s plan wasn’t exactly genuine. Every morning as I switched from “participant” to “leader,” I could hear my heart whine like a toddler, “Are we done yet?”

One day, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Stop looking at your watch and start looking for Me. Love the people I’ve called you to serve as I love them. Rather than praying about your inconvenience and discomfort, pray their hearts find Me.”

Sometimes, I think we get caught up in being disappointed that God has called us to something against our will. While we’re distracted by God’s differing opinion, we miss out on so many people’s lives we can touch, hearts we can bless, and even lessons we can learn.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I love watching you walk by my house every day. You don’t know me, but thanks for being you. You’re a breath of fresh air. Something is different about you.” The complete stranger who spoke those words had caught me mid-bite and mid-giggle at a local restaurant recently. I wanted to laugh harder at the awkwardness of his statement. But the look of confusion in his eyes made me choke on a possibly humorous response.

I stuttered out a shocked, “It’s Jesus, Sir. It’s all and only Jesus.” He smiled sadly, and responded, “Yeah, okay. Well anyway, just wanted you to know. Have a nice day.”

Jesus-induced joy has always been a piece of what makes His followers stand out from the crowd. But in our current culture, when violence, fear, and cynicism have become a main event, joy is so rare it’s confusing to those who don’t know our Savior. Some days, choosing joy feels like a sacrifice of praise. I’ve come to the realization, though, that if I don’t choose joy, I’m missing out on testifying about Christ.

If we truly live in the truth that our Savior is alive, how can we not choose joy despite our circumstances? It’s what makes us different, and obviously, the world around us is watching.

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