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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

With seeping sores, old clothes, and maybe even missing limbs, no one wanted to be around them. They were not merely ostracized—they were left for dead. They were not only disliked—they were feared.

Lepers. The worst curse of the day was to be called a leper. No matter your religious belief, if you contracted leprosy, you spent the rest of your life in a colony of other sufferers, begging for death, yet continuing to live. Leprosy stole everything of value from you in a moment’s notice and left you to suffer the consequences.

Luke 17 tells a story of ten such people who met Jesus—the Miracle Maker. The passage tells us the group of lepers saw Jesus “…at a distance.…” Because they expected the same treatment from Jesus as from everyone else, they only dared to yell for the Savior’s assistance, rather than approach him and ask for His touch.

Jesus, being the gracious, merciful Man He is, didn’t need to touch them. He simply spoke over them, telling each to return to the priest, because they were clean. After years and years of agonizing pain, scorn, loneliness, and fear, they immediately obeyed Jesus’ command.

Who wouldn’t have? Well, there was one. One noticed his body healing, took a U-turn, and knelt at Jesus’ feet merely to worship and thank him for the healing. Reuniting with his loved ones could wait; basking in the presence of Jesus couldn’t.

My spirit is always challenged when I read Luke 17. Do I call to Jesus because I want something from him and nothing more? Or do I call to Jesus because I know what he gives me is simply the overflow of Who he is and I’ve learned that being in his presence is enough?

Am I the leper who goes back to Jesus? Or do I run away as soon as I get what I want because I didn’t really want to know him in the first place?

~ Written by Viki Rife

When the toilet paper shortage hit earlier this year, it brought back the long-forgotten memory of an experience I had while part of a missions team in college. The country we were in was experiencing great political turmoil, accompanied with economic scarcity. Our team was staying in an unused Bible institute dorm and fending for ourselves.

There was no supermarket, only the meat market, produce stand, drugstore, general merchandise store, etc. The lines were long at each.
We decided to divide and conquer. Each would go to a different place to purchase what we needed for the next few days. I was assigned to get toilet paper and coffee.

The line was clear down the sidewalk. I stood in a windy drizzle for about an hour before I was finally able to enter the comparative warmth of the small store. When my turn came to be waited on, I learned there was no coffee available, and the sale of toilet paper was limited to one per customer. It wasn’t a double roll, either. It was the sorriest, thinnest, roughest toilet paper ever!

You can imagine how carefully our team of six stewarded that priceless roll. We prayed for a miracle comparable to the little boy’s loaves and fishes that fed 5,000. And amazingly, it was enough!

I’ve thought about the experience often this year. Abundance and scarcity are words that are defined based more on our expectations than on some mathematical equation. What one person sees as scarcity (one package with eight rolls of TP) would have seemed like abundance to our team.

I’ve been convicted as I’ve realized I sometimes treat God as if he weren’t giving me enough. I have a mentality of scarcity because I expect much more than what he knows I need right now. I want to stockpile, not just physical resources, but spiritual and emotional ones as well. I want to be able to see for myself that I will have everything I might need.

A part of the Jewish Passover is singing Dayenu. This song of gratitude recounts the ways God led them out of Egypt and settled them in the Promised Land. Its words point out that even if he had only done one of his gracious acts, it would have been enough. That’s the spirit we need to live with: acknowledging that God doesn’t owe us anything and whatever he does do for us is enough. With that mentality, we can truly acknowledge that no matter what happens, he is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

We went to Maui on our honeymoon, and decided to go snorkeling for first time. As I approached the water, I assumed it would be your typical beach entry. To my surprise, it dropped straight down, like falling into the deep end of a pool! I was caught off guard; however, I was quickly distracted by the beautiful depths around me.

I was in God’s aquarium.

The waves were crashing by the edge of the drop off which made it a challenge to get out. My husband, being a stronger and more experienced swimmer gracefully exited the water. I, however; bobbed around in the crashing waves, looking ridiculous.

When I finally made it to shore I was wrapped up and spit out by a wave. My suit, half hanging off my body, was full of sand, as well as every orifice in my face. I was a pitiful, disoriented mess. My husband had to rescue and help me.

Unlike my time in Maui’s waters, at the beginning of the pandemic I had a better handle on things. I was caught off-guard but I found things to be grateful for. Everyone I knew was freaking out, and we were all being held to the same standards. We were all even struggling on what to do with our groceries, but we found community in our frustrations.

Now, each state has its own rules, everyone has to make decisions based on their own health restrictions or work guidelines. Nothing feels the same, except we stopped bleaching our groceries. It is hard to feel grateful now. I don’t feel like we are all on the same page. Are we all just stuck in the waves?

I can’t look ahead, behind, or beside me. I have to be grateful for the mana given each day. I don’t know what tomorrow brings. I might find myself wrapped up and spit out by a wave, but I can rest in one thing.

God will get me to shore.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The once-sweet child reared his head and backed as far away from me as possible. His whining quickly escalated to screams and crocodile tears as he discovered I, the very mean aunt, wasn’t going to relent about giving him medicine.

“I know you hate this, Buddy. I do, too. But you need this. You’ll feel better before you know it. Trust me. I promise.” My attempts to reason with a panicked kindergartener fell on deaf ears. I decided to hold him tight and do what every guardian or parent has done—force the nasty liquid down his throat for the split second he wasn’t screaming.

In just a few moments, his gulps of air turned into sighs, his tears stopped, and his eyelids got heavy as the medicine went to work. Rest was the only thing which would help my nephew recover from what ailed him.

I’m not much different than my nephew—even as an adult. I often envision myself in the Heavenly Throne Room screaming, panicking, and resisting a new lesson or change God has made obvious to me. My life is fine the way it is. I did not give him the go-ahead to fix things his way instead of mine.

Yet when I finally calm down, trust Him, and let Him lead me to true healing, I see the truth. The reality is, He knew what I needed and is always willing to do the hard thing, even when I’m not.

And when I think back on those seasons, though I may remember some of the pain, I remember how I can see Christ more clearly because of the changes he made.

~ Written by Samantha Freds

Earlier this summer, the hydrangea plant in the landscaping around my house started sprouting an odd-looking stem. When I first saw it I thought, “That’s a weed, I should pull it up.” But then I started to look closer and suddenly wasn’t sure exactly what it was. The leaves, though a darker color, looked like the rest of the plant. They all had jagged edges. I lifted the leaves to trace the stems to the roots and I could not separate the stems of this thing from the flower. I thought, “Let’s just see what happens. I don’t remember what it looked like last year.” So I left it.

Before long, the weed completely took over! You could hardly see the hydrangea under the looming weed. And it took everything my husband had to wrestle it out of there. We attacked the root with a shovel and took turns twisting and pulling until finally he was able to yank it out.  When he did, we realized that the root of the weed had grown about a foot directly into the roots—the foundation—of the flower.

That is exactly what happens in our thought life when we do not take captive the thoughts that threaten us, threaten our identity, security and freedom in Christ, the reality of who we are because of Him. It’s what happens when we let thoughts run wild about other people. When we compare ourselves to them or make quick judgments about them.

It’s what happens when concerns and worries about our circumstances plant themselves so strongly in our minds they threaten to steal our joy. And it is certainly what happens when our thoughts tempt us toward all kinds of destructive habits and attitudes. Even while everything on the outside still seems to blend in, that pesky little thought is burrowing its way into our very core.

We don’t have to be held hostage by our thoughts. Instead, we can tell them the truth about who God says we are in Him!

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I don’t know what I need, Lord. I know I’m emotionally drained; that’s it. I don’t know where I need you to show up, I just know I need to see you. Show me something. Anything.”

The weary prayer was said with peace-filled confidence. My relationship with Jesus has gone on long enough I’ve learned that he hears the prayers of his people, no matter what. Too often it’s not whether he answers my prayer, it’s whether I’m allowing him to guide me in where or how I look for it.

Psalm 86 quickly came to mind. I opened my Bible, half-heartedly preparing myself for the possibility that the seemingly-random psalm might not provide the answer to my prayer. Oh, what little faith I have sometimes!

The psalm opens up with a simple plea from David:

Incline your ear, oh Lord, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy.

As I read the verse again, the Spirit quickly reminded me he knew how needy and afflicted I was. Sometimes, the beautiful truth of knowing he inclines his ear to his people is all I need to meditate on.

The Creator of the universe listens to my heart. I never need to wonder whether God understands my cries for help. He’s just waiting till I open my heart and simply ask.

No Rule Broken

~ Written by Viki Rife

My friend and I rang for the elevator and were relieved to find no one was in it. Playing in the elevator was one of our favorite entertainments through the long weeks aboard the ship taking us to South America. Unexpectedly, my eight-year-old sister dashed around the corner and slipped in right behind us. As we turned to remonstrate with her that she wasn’t invited, a man with a little girl in his arms came running up, and we groaned inwardly even as we held the door for him as we had been trained. It wasn’t nearly as much fun when there were others in the elevator, especially adults or tattletale younger siblings.

As we descended to the next floor, suddenly the lights went out. The elevator jerked to a grinding halt. In the complete darkness, my ten-year-old brain started to fabricate an explanation. The night before I had been careful not to break any rules, but…

You see, our parents had told us we could not go into areas that weren’t reserved for our “tourist” class. However, the floor below us was showing a movie that evening, and it looked intriguing. It was about the sinking of the Titanic. My friend and I figured out that if we sat with our feet hanging through the railing at the top of the stairs on our floor, we could see just enough to watch the movie. At the time, my story-loving heart thought it was thrilling. Now I found myself associating loss of power with a doomed ship. Terror began to descend on me. What if the ship were sinking and we would go down trapped in the elevator, with no hope of getting out to try to swim to the surface?

I’ve always wondered if the man who was with us had also seen the movie. He began to yell something in Japanese, desperately shouting up the shaft of the pitch-dark elevator. His little girl started crying, and my sister dug her fingernails into my arm. I started confessing my sins to God as quickly as I could, bargaining with him to get me out of the predicament.

It was at that moment I ran into one of the great moral dilemmas of my life: Had I disobeyed by watching the movie? I knew my parents had to approve movies I watched in the movie room on our deck, but did it apply to a different deck? I hadn’t physically gone down there, so I had remained obedient, right? Suddenly, my conscience overrode my perspective on myself as a non rule-breaker. I might not have broken the letter of the law, but I realized I had broken the spirit of the law.

In the 45 minutes it took for the ship’s mechanics to rescue us, I experienced a huge change in my heart. I began to realize that just staying within the boundaries isn’t enough. I have to examine my motives and consider the reasons why the rules are made. That understanding has shaped my perspective on what the Old Testament law was about. People found ways to get around the rules. We have an advantage in that God has written his laws on our hearts and minds.

Praise God, we don’t follow rules, but His Spirit.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I love the potential represented by a blank piece of paper. It doesn’t take long before my mind starts whirlingand my love of words fill the page’s emptiness with strokes of black which artistically paint a picture for my audience. There’s such satisfaction as the blank spaces slowly disappear!

I still have days, though, where blank pages and deadlines collide and I don’t even come up with enough intrigue to fill a kindergartener’s primer. Writer’s block feels suffocating and endless, whether it exists for weeks or minutes. There are literary exercises you can perform to think of something, but to this day, whenever I hit writer’s block, my brain conjures up one simple, mundane and wandering sentence:

“I walked into the Throne Room, looking for the Father.”

Every time a blank page intimidates me rather than inspires me, I write that sentence and mutter, “Just show me something, Jesus. I’ve got nothing.”

Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus “…the author and perfecter of our faith.” It always makes me smile to think of Jesus as a fellow wordsmith who takes joy in weaving a story. But, unlike myself, Jesus is never intimidated by the blank pages of a life.

Even when our life choices slow down His plot, or sin patterns fill our lives with mistakes which take years to erase, He still thrives writing on the pages of our lives. Not once does Jesus sit down, contemplate furthering the story of our individual lives and think, “I’ve got nothing on this one.”

If we truly trust Jesus as the ultimate Author, we can always trust that he can make beauty out of nothing, and gold out of our biggest mistakes.

Still Safe

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The young boy had captured my heart, and it seemed, despite his mental differences, I had captured his. My journey of building a friendship with Zach had been simultaneously monotonous and riveting, and looking back, I can’t remember when I became “his.” Zach was safe with me, and he knew it.

Zach’s greetings were special, heartwarming, and even entertaining. Regularly, he’d smile wide, kiss my hand and adamantly ask me in Sign Language, “You’re mine? You? Me?” As long as I answered affirmatively, his day was made.

Our ritual became a highlight of my day. As Zach got older, though, he quickly realized he was not my only friend, and the ritual became almost an hourly occurrence. I did the only thing I could think to do: I answered his questions almost every time.

Decades later, I have to smile at the glimpse of Jesus’ patience and love I saw through my friendship with Zach. Sometimes, even after 25 years of following Jesus, I find myself feeling just as unsure of myself with Jesus as Zach felt with me. Even though I know I’m safe, loved, heard, and even cherished, I climb up into Jesus’ lap and whisper, “You? Me? You love me? Still?”

Sometimes, my patience ran out with Zach, and I didn’t answer his need for affirmation. But Jesus always answers me. Often, it’s in a whisper which I have to quiet my heart in order to hear. Occasionally, Jesus’ affirmation of love comes across loud and clear.

Regardless of how, I’ve learned over the years that I’m safe with my Jesus, and I can’t imagine a life where I didn’t need Him.

~ Written by Viki Rife

As I picked up my computer bag to pack up at the end of the week, the temptation to just not bother began to take over. The whole week seemed to have been spent on nothing but tiny details, troubleshooting, and unexpected setbacks. It felt like nothing at all had been accomplished.

I’m putting in so much effort and just spinning my wheels, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t even waste my time trying. Nothing I do really has any significance in the long-term.

My computer cord caught a small clear-plastic ball and knocked it off my desk. As I picked it up, I realized I hadn’t really paid attention to it for a long time. It was something I had bought twenty years ago. It had inspired me then. The ball is full of sand, with two halves: One has a perforation that says, “Perseverance moves mountains….” “The other half has holes and reads:” …one grain of sand at a time.” It doesn’t take long to see the sand sift through and form mountains every time I turn it over.

It hit me that twenty years ago, when I bought the desk ornament, I had been feeling the same way. It felt like I was getting nowhere. But now I can look back and see what God has done in those twenty years. Impossible dreams have become reality. Many things that didn’t turn out my way actually turned out better.

All I have to do is give my little grains of sand to God. He’s the one who moves mountains, and each grain does matter.

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