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~ Written by Viki Rife

I walked into the guest room and reached for the light switch. My finger encountered a thick powdery substance. I sighed. Here we go again!

In the past month, I have experienced the same thing over and over. I reach for a coffee cup and it feels gritty. I go to use an appliance and it’s gray instead of black.

When we started our remodeling project, I had no idea how very much drywall dust can find its way into every nook and cranny of a house. The sanding part of the project is over, but I keep finding places that need to be cleaned. How in the world did such thick dust get into rooms that were closed off?

I can’t help but compare it to how the Lord lives in us as He remodels us. Sometimes his work in us stirs up more dust, and we realize we need to go in and clean something we thought was safely closed off. It can’t be just a quick job—confess and walk away. It has to involve a thorough check of what we have been doing and how far the wrong motives have gotten. Every crevice needs to be carefully examined.

Slowly, I’m learning to appreciate the remodeling God is doing with my life. And, hopefully, I’m becoming more prepared to cooperate with Him in the job of removing the dust of sin from every corner of my life. 

Urgent Bells

~ Written by Viki Rife 

The kid down the street couldn’t resist ringing doorbells. He’d move along the row of houses, pushing buttons and hiding when someone opened a door. Ten times a day wasn’t too often for him to interrupt our lives.

Just ignore the doorbell, right? But my dad was the pastor, and because we didn’t have a phone in those days, the ringing of our doorbell could mean someone was in crisis. There was no way our conscience would allow us to ignore the doorbell when it rang. I felt tyrannized by that unpredictable bell.

Recently I realized that I’m caught in that tyranny again. This time, it’s my smartphone. It lets me know when I get a text, an e-mail, or certain Facebook posts or messages. It lets me know if there’s an Amber alert, or a Silver alert, or a weather alert. It reminds me that I have 17 tasks to do this day, or that I have an appointment, or that someone from a group text I was sent two days ago has finally gotten around to responding.

Because I am a conscientious person, I feel obligated to answer. Even if someone sends a mass Facebook message to all their friends that says, “Have a good day,” I feel I should at least acknowledge it with an emoji. I feel tyrannized by my phone. Because I travel a lot, people often don’t realize that I’m in a different time zone, so they send a text that awakens me at unearthly hours.

Yes, my phone has a button to turn it off. I have been turning off notifications on apps that intrude. But my parents are both in poor health, and I want to be available if needed. And I feel ambiguous because sometimes people are waiting on my answer to accomplish what they need to do, and are frustrated that it takes me so long to see their message and respond.

The way my brain feels right now, I understand what Jesus meant when He told His disciples to come aside and rest. The constant demands of everyone at any time was taking a toll on His relationship with His Father. I’m finally allowing myself to let go of the guilt for not being at everyone’s disposal constantly, and making conscious efforts to sit quietly, uninterrupted, at the feet of Jesus. Only He can teach me to live at peace in a frantic world. 

~ Written by Viki Rife 

I admit it was rather crazy. Trying to climb a mountain in the dark with only a flashlight can be unnerving. There’s no way to get the big picture of where you’re going. You take what looks like a way around a big boulder only to meet up with an enormous cactus. You have no choice but to turn around and try the other side, with no assurance that it will be any better. Sometimes you end up going sideways, for what seems like an eternity, hoping to eventually break through and get a little bit higher. The whole time you’re hoping your flashlight is enough to keep the mountain lions at bay.

The climb up the mountain from our camp was an annual tradition for our youth group. I remember the alarm going off at 3:30 and the temptation to wimp out and stay in a nice warm bed. I did not like the uncertainties of the climb. But each year I dragged myself out of bed and made the trek. Why? Because of the exhilaration of standing at the summit and watching as the first rays of the sun began to touch the mountains. Their beauty was breathtaking. We would stand until the sun touched the valley below. It truly felt like the top of the world.

My life often reminds me of that climb. I don’t have the big picture of how to get where I’m going. I encounter obstacles that seem insurmountable. Sometimes it feels like I’m not making any progress at all. And I live with the uneasy feeling that something is about to attack.

But someday I’ll reach the summit. When I see the Son, the hardship of the journey will seem insignificant. I’ll be so glad I chose to take this adventure toward knowing God! 

~ Written by a Viki Rife

She was a bitter woman. She had lost everything. Every conversation demonstrated her conviction that God had betrayed her.

We know the story of Naomi. The first chapter of Ruth eloquently expresses the bitterness in her spirit. But there was a surprise waiting for her. The story takes a turn no one expected. And she never got to see the end of the story. Her joy at the birth of a grandson was only a tiny glimpse of God at work.

We get the privilege of hindsight, of knowing that generations later her descendant through her daughter-in-law Ruth would be a mighty king, and that the Messiah would be his descendant. We get to see how carefully God kept His eye on her.

We are no less valuable to God than Naomi. We will spend eternity rejoicing in how God used our trials and disappointments to accomplish His purposes for the world. Where will your story end? If you know Christ, it never will!

~ Written by Sharon MacMillan 

If there were ducks to be placed in a row, they would be fluttering in all directions. My husband and I feel like we are in a Stage Nine hurricane. Circumstances around us are blowing out of control. We’re trying to finish study projects. Fix up our home to sell. Move to Texas in May so I can get to Japan by June to help my son’s family welcome their twins. I catch my frenetic self over-thinking how to solve things, only to be set back to where I started. I feel like I’m lying face down in the mud, like a storm-blown fence, waiting for someone to help me up so I can move on to the next set of circumstances.

Then I remember to whom I belong. I am the daughter of the Almighty God, the Master Builder, the Perfect Manager of everything. I go into His presence a bit shy for being so slow to turn my mess over to Him. But I don’t find condemnation or see a finger pointing. I see arms that welcome me in. His presence is the place of peace, safety, security, and help. What was I thinking, trying to manage life without Him?

Then I realize He’s arranged my hurricane so I would come to Him. He wants to teach me something from his treasure box of riches. His Word reads, “I will bless the Lord who has given me counsel, my heart instructs me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord before me because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.”

My heart feels the warmth of His love. I read on. “You will show me the path of life; in your presence is fullness of joy. At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

God is delighted and honored as I answer those who say, “How did you get through all those circumstances?” I tell them, “It was the Perfect Manager who helped us. He’s known for doing all things well.” 

She Said Yes! 

~ Written by Nicole Miller

The story was not a new one, but on this day it resonated with us in a way that amazed us. We were sharing with our SMM (Sisters Mentoring with a Mission) girls in our after-school discipleship ministry the story of Abram. God asked him to leave his homeland and go without knowing the details. We asked them, “What do you think his response was?” They had a variety of answers ranging from “maybe he had questions” or “maybe he hesitated.” They landed on the answer, “Abram said yes!”

As we asked the girls what their responses would have been, many of them replied that they would have said yes too, even if they had questions. It’s easy as young people, and even as adults, to hope, even believe deeply, that we will always respond “yes” when God asks us to do things. Knowing this, my co-leader Santina and I wanted to draw in a bit of our own story and tie it into the 7th grade girls’ lives.

We had previously asked the girls how important SMM was to them now that they are in middle school. The answer was unanimous: “Very important.” So we shared with them, “Last year when you asked us to have SMM in the middle school we could have said no.”

The look on their faces was showed their shock. They couldn’t believe we could have made that choice. When they asked about it in the elementary school SMM last year, though, we had no idea how to make a middle school program happen. But it felt as if God was asking us to do it. So we answered yes without knowing how it would happen. Through our efforts, but mostly God opening doors, we were able to start our after-school SMM in the middle school this year.

As we retold this story, we wanted to share the complete picture with our girls. So we kept going back. If Santina hadn’t decided to serve in SMM several years ago, she would not have met these girls when they were in 4th grade. In fact, if she hadn’t said yes to going to Grace College she would not have been able to say yes to SMM.

Following this line of thought brought us back to a series of “yeses.” If I hadn’t said yes to leading the elementary SMM, there would never have been a program in the first place. On and on, the series of single “yes” moments went. A simple opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to God may seem like a small moment, but you never know where one “yes” will lead. This train of thought was a great lesson to teach our girls, but ultimately it gave us as leaders joy and hope.

Sometimes ministry can begin to feel tedious. It is easy to lose sight of how big God’s story is. As we took time to connect to these girls’ lives, God moved our hearts to recognize how precious our “yeses” have been. We have had the chance to know one another, to know our girls, to serve God, just because of a mindset of simply answering yes when God asked. 

~ Written by Pat Ashcraft

Barbara was the youngest of four children. Born in the early 1920’s, she lived through the depression. When she was seven, her mother died and she was raised by her dad and grandmother. She later met and married Bob Mason; together they had five children in six years. Their first child died at childbirth.

Barbara was very intelligent, funny, and outgoing. Everywhere she went, she was the life of the party. She was a good mother, wife, friend and neighbor. At the age of 33, after several years of problems, Barbara was hospitalized for the first time for bipolar disorder.

I know all this about Barbara because she was my mother. I am the youngest of her children.

My mother’s life and our family were greatly affected by her illness. In our house growing up, we never used the words “mental illness.” Our dad would just say, “your mom is sick, try to help out more.” We were all adults before we knew what her diagnosis was. We never discussed with anyone else that our mother was mentally ill.

My oldest sister took over running the household. My next sister took care of mom but also learned to cook at a young age. My brother coped by ignoring everything and keeping busy outside the home. I was the “baby” and was cared for and protected by the older kids. I probably had the most normal childhood, as I was allowed to be a child and not take on adult duties.

All of us had various issues that affected our schooling. It wasn’t until 12th grade that anyone asked me if there were problems at home. Even then, I didn’t tell the principal that life was a total upheaval at times because of my mother. At that point, I was soon going to graduate and leave home, so it seemed like a moot point.

When I was 16 years old, my mother was having a very bad manic episode. She hadn’t slept or eaten or stopped talking for about five days. She was totally confused. She would pick fights over the smallest things. We were all exhausted.

My dad decided to put her in the car and drive her to the hospital. She knew that meant another stay in the psychiatric ward and didn’t want to go. I was helping my dad get her shoes and socks on and helping with her coat. She was fighting us every step of the way. I was thoroughly disgusted with my mom. I had had enough of her and all we had to live with. I was tired and angry that I didn’t have a “normal” mom. I said to my dad, “How can you stand this?” He stopped what he was doing, looked at me and said, “I don’t ‘stand’ anything. I love your mother. And when you love someone, you take care of them. Don’t you ever say anything like that about your mother again.” Wow, what a lesson in love.

When my mother was at her worst, her least attractive and most difficult to deal with, my dad chose to love her. What a picture of God’s love for me! When I was at my worst, ugly from sin and full of pride, God chose to love me. He sent His only Son to save me. That’s unconditional love at its best!  

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