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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I was up all night. I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t know how to process my feelings. This week a friend asked me to watch her kids. She was in a tough spot. I knew she was desperate, so I said yes. It was wonderful. The kids had a fun time. I did, too. I expected to sleep well. I didn’t.

Just one day with her kids had exhausted me. She must feel like that every day! She is a single mom going through a rough time. My heart was breaking for her. I wanted to take her pain away, but I couldn’t.  What does it look like to bear one another’s burdens in a healthy way?

I called a friend to help me put it into perspective. She said, “What you did yesterday, watching her kids, making her dinner, was bearing her burden with her. Today you are trying to carry something that is not yours to bear. You have to give your broken heart to the Lord in prayer. You can always think of other ways to help her, but you have to leave the rest in God’s hands.”

Her words reminded me of a story Hannah Whitall Smith told in one of her books:

A friend found a butterfly cocoon and kept it to watch it open. When it began opening, she found it struggling to break free. After a while she couldn’t bear to watch it any longer.  She used her sewing scissors to delicately help the butterfly break free. Soon afterwards she noticed something was wrong. The butterfly’s wings were limp and just dragged behind it. It later died with lifeless wings.

Later she met a specialist and asked him what happened. He explained the struggle of a butterfly to leave its cocoon is what brings blood and life into its wings. Without the struggle, the blood cannot pump into the wings, making the them lifeless and useless.

My heart is heavy for my friend right now. I can pray and help when she needs me. The rest is up to her.

~ Written by Samantha Freds

There is an odd tendency in golf when two people (who aren’t exactly professionals) ride in the same cart. Both players start hitting the ball in the same direction. The first golfer hits to the right and sure enough, the second one hits in that direction, too. One player ends up in the sand trap and the other golfer follows close behind. Now, there are always a few unique shots, but the pattern seems to emerge nonetheless.

I’ve heard it called, “Ride together, golf together.”

The same thing happens in life. It’s unintentional and not all at once. Slowly but surely, though, we start becoming like the people we ride with. We begin to think, talk, act and even look like the people we encounter most frequently.

Ride together, golf together.

The tendency isn’t good or bad on its own, though. It depends on whose shot we are following out on the course and in life.

While we are familiar with this concept when it comes to choosing friends and other influences, we often forget its importance when in regards to prioritizing our time. Spending quality time with Jesus is not about accumulating knowledge or checking off a list. It’s about letting His life mold ours.

When we spend time in the Word, in prayer and in worship we inevitably begin to look more like Jesus!

I Found It!

~ Written by Viki Rife

I finally found the place I had always dreamed of—that place where I would find perfect peace. You see, when I was a child, I had to have allergy shots every week. I would throw a fit every Thursday when the time came to go to the clinic.

My mom finally sat me down and helped me see I just needed to get used to it. She advised me to imagine a beautiful place and pretend I was there instead.

I knew exactly what to focus on. A painting I loved showed a babbling stream running downhill through the rocks, surrounded by forest trees and ferns. I dreamed of walking along the little path that wound alongside the brook. I pictured myself sitting on the rock under one of the trees and reading, journaling, maybe even trying some sketching. I would be completely at peace.

It became my mental go-to place when life got hard. Going to the dentist? Picture myself in my happy place. Waiting for a tow truck for a broken-down car? Mentally spend that time in my beautiful forest.

One day while traveling we passed it—a place that looked like my perfect place. We had to stop and enjoy it!

I stepped out of the car to the rich smell of balsam fir. This was even better than I had imagined. I hurried toward the little path. The fern slapped at my legs and the going wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. Then I felt a stinging sensation, followed by another and another. The little pools among the stones formed a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes! Soon I started sneezing uncontrollably. The strong scent of the firs was too much for my sinuses. I headed back to the car. As I tried to skirt the ferns, my foot sank up to my ankle in mud.

I had fallen in love with a two-dimensional picture! I never imagined the realities of my idyllic scenario. It helped me realize how I’ve deceived myself all my life. I keep thinking the next season of life will be easier/happier/freer.  I look at others and assume their lives are easier than mine. The truth is that the life of my dreams not very realistic.

It was a wake-up call. Life just isn’t going to meet my expectations. The real thing is sometimes hard. However, I’m glad I experienced the real thing. I no longer waste my time dreaming of the day life will be perfect.

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

As a teenager, I hated singing harmony. I strongly disliked not being the first voice people heard in a song. Why do you listen to music, anyway? It’s certainly not for the often repetitive and unnoticed notes sung in the background! Melody is where the strength and the beauty lie, and I wanted to get the credit for making that beauty happen.

Through the years, I learned how short-sighted my musical view was. Making music isn’t about what notes are heard the loudest, or even what part is most valuable. Music is about different notes coming together and not downplaying their differences. Melody is beautiful, but without the harmony, it’s not nearly as rich and impactful as it could be.

I see a lot of similarities between how I viewed music when I was younger, and how so many of us struggle in viewing people who have different passions than our own. No matter what you’re passionate about, if Christ is at the center of that passion, you can rest assured it has an eternal impact and purpose.

If, however, God gave us all the same exact passions, his love for his people wouldn’t be as deeply defined for those around us. It’s not about which purpose is most important; nor is it about making everyone passionate about the same exact thing. Christ’s love is most beautiful when we learn to trust that our passions are put together for a reason.

Unity never means uniformity. Unity means different passions being refined for one purpose: Christ’s love reaching a dying world.

Don’t make the same mistake I made in music. Learn to rely on Jesus to make every difference you see in your neighbors a thing of beauty. Without their differences, your life wouldn’t be nearly as rich.

~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I am tired of wearing a mask. I’m tired of trying to figure out what is safe for my family. This pandemic is causing a whirlwind of emotions. My mind has gone from fear, to seeking God, to “I am throwing in the towel.”

My ears ring with voices saying different things. One voice says, “Just trust,” while another reminds me not to test God. I hear, “Hug your friend,” which is countered by the hesitation of respecting her space. Part of me says, “Business as usual, I want to go shopping without a mask;” reality encourages caution.

This morning, I read in 1 Samuel 8 how the people asked Samuel to appoint them a king. He thinks they are rejecting him:

“And the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt…so they are doing to you also” (1 Samuel 8:7-8 NKJV).

The people were afraid. They thought a king was safer than God.

We are so predictable! We get fearful, impatient, and seek our own wellbeing. I was ready to throw caution to the wind, give up my patient and humble spirit and quit trusting God.

Thankfully 1 Samuel reminded me this morning that God is ultimately in control. I am called to wait on the Lord, be patient and have faith.

This is not about me. It is a season. Masks are important where we live. We are taking extra precaution for my husband’s work, our family, and to teach our children to follow recommendations for our own safety and for those we care for. All these things I can give to God.

My frustrations and rebellions will only hurt me and my family. God is in charge of this pandemic. I want to throw in the towel. God calls me to trust in Him.

So, I’m holding the towel!

Cheer On!

~ Written by Samantha Freds

“Hey Sam, you ready for the game tonight?” she asked almost rhetorically before continuing down the hall. I watched as she and her friends popped their heads into one classroom after another informing whoever was in the room they had a game that night and asking who was going to come and watch.

Of course I was ready for the game! It was my game after all. I would be one of the players out on the court giving it everything I had. They would be on the sidelines—cheerleading.

This was a frequent scene in the halls of my high school and it used to drive me crazy. I just wanted to yell, “It’s not your game!” I see such a response for the ugliness it is now, but I didn’t get it back then.

I’ve come to realize the gift in cheerleading. I never went around telling people about the home girl’s basketball game that night at 7 o’clock. I couldn’t be concerned about who would be at the game. I needed to focus on playing well.

But when the fourth quarter came around and we needed an extra helping of encouragement to finish strong, the cheerleaders were there. They faithfully kept the crowd they had rounded up shouting from the sidelines. Unfortunately for our team, most of the time victory was out of reach by then, but it mattered—we still had people cheering us on!

There is incredible power in encouragement. The cheerleaders at my high school knew it, and they were invested enough to consider the game their own.

Who can you be a cheerleader for today?

~ Written by Sharon MacMillan

Recently, I pulled out my mom’s photo album and came upon some family memorabilia. I eagerly shared my recently-discovered treasures with my two sisters. There were recitals, high school plays, charity sports events, school projects, etc. I sent up a brief ‘thank you’ to my parents for all they had poured into our lives.

There were no pictures, though, of the arguments over who would dry or wash the dishes. What about the complaining over what someone had done to the other? We had differences in personalities which strained our relationships. As we left home, those rifts became a habit for me that alienated my sisters from me and me from them.

What happened? My sisters had wanted to connect with me but in my insecurities, I had mastered the art of isolation and self protection. . It gave me a false sense of security and comfort. This pattern of sin also developed in other relationships: people I didn’t feel an affinity for at church, people in my neighborhood who seemed different from me, and people in my own family whom I said I loved, but only conditionally. It was painful to face this truth.

As I began confessing these attitudes and behaviors to my sisters, healing began. I saw a readiness in them to listen to me and love me in my vulnerability. I found a oneness with my sisters when we prayed together. . A new humility emerged, and surprisingly, God showed up and began to work in us. We celebrated answers to prayer. We were united in love with our Father.

I recognized I had distanced myself from my godly neighbor and her family because I didn’t understand our ethnic differences. I confessed my sin of isolation to her. We prayed together, feeling love for one another, free to explore a deeper relationship

This is why Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lamb of God was slain. It was to save us from our hiding, our alienation, our own boundaries of comfort that end up dividing us and hurting others. Instead, we take on the risk of knowing God, becoming one with Him and His Son.

God’s big household of faith is a currently a messy family with all our self-protections, isolations and misunderstandings. Now wouldn’t be a good time for a family photo. But Jesus prayed for us and that prayer is certain to be answered:

“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory, which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. . . And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You love Me may be in them and I in them” (John 17:24-26).

There is a future photo of God’s family album revealed in Revelation 5:9-13. Our Eternal Father is there on His Throne, popping His buttons as siblings from every tribe, tongue, people and nation on the earth bow before His Son, singing praises to the Lamb slain for the sin of the world. Everyone has eyes only for Him. How long our Father and His Son have waited for this moment! God has answered the prayer of His Son so beautifully as His children begin to look like their Brother in unity and love.

Always remember that in his great mercy, our Father lavishes his patience on us as we endure the process of becoming like Jesus. Let’s live with this picture of unity at the forefront of our minds!

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The trail sits across the road from my childhood home. Like countless other trails in the forests of Alaska, it remains hidden in plain sight. Only those who’ve wandered off the beaten path know it exists. Depending on how deeply into the trail you wander, you may even forget there’s a busy road and populous neighborhood 200 yards away.

It’s gorgeous. It’s simple. I’ve always been scared of it.

For some unknown reason, the trail represents my deepest trauma. As a young adult, just looking towards the trail gave me unrelenting anxiety, fear, anger, and panic. The fear of reliving the source of my trauma—whatever it was—guarded my feet from walking through the trail’s beauty for over a decade.

I recently had the chance to pass by the trail for the first time in several years. Initially, each step away from the safety of the sidewalk was hesitant and cautious. I couldn’t stop glancing around me, ready to confront danger. Why am I doing this? I thought angrily as my heart started to race.

A critter scurried by my feet, distracting me from my fear. As if for the first time, I noticed how the sun plays with the leaves on the trees. I saw the life thriving around me. In what had once represented spiritual death, I could finally see life. I could finally see Jesus.

Freedom and redemption don’t always feel “good.” But when we focus on Jesus and let Him be the center of our stories, he turns ashes into beauty and makes our ashes beautiful. If redemption feels hard, press into him anyway. In his perfect timing, he will be all you can see.

~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I don’t want to brag but I am an expert on being oblivious. It is human nature to be self consumed and society encourages it. Being oblivious feels comfortable. I was so oblivious I was oblivious to being oblivious.

For years in my oblivion, I was running the show in my Christian walk. I believed I was allowing God to be in charge. The fact was I saw God as my puppet and I held the strings. I told Him what to do and how to serve me.

One day I found an old journal. As I flipped through the pages, I watched my prayers go from humble fervent requests to micromanaged demands. I realized my daily Jesus time routine went from something I enjoyed and needed to a reason I deserved God’s love.

One day it all came together. All the little hints turned into a picture that I then recognized as myself. It was not the picture I had in my mind. I was an ugly prideful twit. I had to repent and ask God to help me.

My Heavenly Father began to readjust my thinking in my times of prayer. Slowly but surely, He held up the mirror. I could only see a little piece at a time.

I’d like to say I did this willingly and all went well and quickly. It did not. I was ashamed of what I saw and who I had become. I wept bitterly, and had a long pity party.

In attempts to fix myself, I allowed lies from the devil to comfort me. I began to believe I’d never be enough for God. I stopped writing. I even stopped praying. I was mad and hurt, but I still made feeble attempts to seek HIm.

One night I woke up and heard the words “God doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.” I realized that was the lie I had been clinging to.

I repented. I asked God to help me be a servant like Him. I surrendered myself up to His work and asked Him to transform me. I couldn’t do it myself.

With God’s help I am stepping out of being oblivious to become more self-aware for God’s glory. Won’t you join me and ask God to continue His good work in you?

Humble us, Lord, that we may receive Your grace.

~ Written by Samantha Freds

You know what it’s like to face a giant. The broken relationship you can’t mend; the bill you can’t pay, the habit you can’t quit. Some opponents just seem too strong, some obstacles too monstrous, some problems too complex, and some situations too painful for hope of victory.

The young shepherd boy, David, once stood in the shadow of a literal giant—the champion of the Philistine army. Goliath was over nine feet tall. His coat of armor weighed almost as much as I do! The fact that he stood arrogantly on the battlefield that day was proof that he’d never lost. No one had ever faced Goliath and lived to tell about it.

Cue David. David was confident he would defeat the giant, even without the armor of a soldier. If we pause and read the story of David and Goliath with fresh ears, David’s confidence is crazy! He is only a young shepherd. While David spent years walking the hills with his sheep, Goliath was training for battle. Then we read why David was so confident:

The Lord who rescued me from the claws of the lion and the bear will rescue me from this Philistine!” David had seen God’s hand of protection and provision before. Goliath was not the first giant David had faced. He wouldn’t be the last. When David stood in the Goliath’s shadow, he remembered the giants God had already given him victory over.

God is bigger than any giant His people face.

God reminded the Israelites over and over, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, who rescued you from the bondage of slavery.” God wants us to remember who He is and what He has done.

By remembering that, we can be confident in Him when we face our own spiritual giants.

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