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Archive for the ‘Belonging’ Category

~ Written by Viki Rife

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for fox pups. A mother fox uses our barn every few years to raise her litter. When I watch these furry little balls of energy playing on the lawn by the barn, my heart melts. I love how the first time the mother brings them out, they have to leap high with each step just to get through the grass. I love watching them wrestle with each other, tumbling over and over as they roll down the hill. I hold my breath when a car whizzes down our road, hoping they don’t run in front of it.

As I enjoy and protect the young foxes, however, I manage to deliberately forget they won’t be cute balls of fur for very long. A time will come when I’ll hear a neighbor complaining about losing their free-range chickens. Or, as happened a few years ago, we’ll wake up to find the remains of a fawn in our yard. Cute, fluffy little foxes become sly and wily big foxes who can do a lot of damage. I know the foxes don’t belong in our neighborhood, but I overlook that knowledge and let them stay in our barn.

Unfortunately, I often view my pet sins as innocent bouncy balls of fur, instead of foreseeing their sneaky, deadly outcomes. I give them a safe place to grow, and I even enjoy their antics for a season, until they are big and strong enough to bring consequences into my life. They are so hard to get rid of once they’ve taken over! Lately I’ve been using the fox metaphor to keep reminding myself: “This seems like a tiny, innocuous sin, but someday it will get the best of you. Don’t let it stay in your barn. It has no place in your life.”

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

Have you have ever seen salmon during spawning season? Thousands of salmon struggle against the current to reach their destination of calm pools where they can lay their eggs. In their pursuit of survival they end up fighting against their own kind.

This past year I have felt like a salmon. First it was masks or no masks, then it was this president or that president, and now it is vaccine or no vaccine. I always admired salmon for their strength and determination, but I never wanted to be one.

I am not alone in all the mixed feelings and thoughts swirling around from the impact of the last year. People talk about a new normal, but aren’t we all reaching for the old one? Although we may get back to our daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly trips, will relationships will get back to the old normal?

I want to be human again. I want to have a simple conversation without conflicting opinions on this or that. I want to talk about what is important like how are you, and how are you managing it? Because that is the real matter at hand.

The last year has unveiled diversity of thought. I find it hard to rest easy re-emerging into friendships because we are no longer focused on common ground. I don’t want to be so shallow as to cut off relationships of those who think differently than myself. I love my people with an undying passion.

The truth is we are called to be like salmon. We are called to go against the flow of this world. We are not; however, called to fight amongst ourselves.

Lord, help us keep our eyes on you through the strong currents.

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~Written by Viki Rife

It was a small thing; it was a huge thing. Although my friend told me the story decades ago, it still burns in my bones.

When my friend was growing up in Cuba, his parents offered a Good News gospel-sharing club for the children in their neighborhood. One boy who often came was a troublemaker. He and his brothers disrupted the group, sassed the adults, and made life unpleasant for everyone. Finally, my friend’s parents told the boys they weren’t allowed to come onto their property.

Every week after that, the boy and his brothers would be waiting outside the fence to my friend’s family farm. As the other kids trudged down the dirt path, the banished boys would pelt them with stones and sticks. They had been a problem when they were attended but were even more of a problem when forbidden to come!

I’ve always wondered what might have happened if some of the adults involved had taken the main troublemaker, if not the others, under their wing. What if some man had offered to take the boy fishing, away from the kids he felt he could bully? What if someone had taken an interest in him and shown him there was a better way to spend his life? What if he had seen someone show him the unconditional love of Jesus?

You see, that boy’s name was Fidel Castro. If you know much about world history, you know the cruelty visited on the Cuban people by this dictator. I know friends who had to live under his regime and were able to escape, but who still bear physical and emotional scars.

Might the history of Fidel Castro have been different if someone who loved Jesus had reached out and shown that love? Because I don’t know, I am committed to reaching out to hard-to-love people with the love of Christ.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

No one told us bonding with our son would feel impossible during pregnancy. Our first pregnancy resulted in our daughter being stillborn. To say we were cautious and hesitant to invest in our second child’s development would be an understatement. We wanted to be excited for our son, who we decided to name Judah, but what if he wasn’t placed in our arms, either?

Talking to Judah throughout the pregnancy often felt hollow as I battled deep anxiety and fear. Often the joy would be ripped away and replaced by immense sorrow with the thought, “What if we bury our son like we buried our daughter? What if we never get to witness the look of recognition on his face when he hears our voices?”

I forced myself to sing hymns out loud, telling myself I was singing to Judah as a compromise. If I couldn’t pour into him by bonding with him through motherly chatter, at least he could learn my voice some other way. I spent the entirety of my pregnancy begging Jesus to let that be enough, fearing it would be inadequate.

My husband, Peter, struggled just as I did. Only in the last weeks of my pregnancy could he bring himself to nickname Judah. He said very little, but what he did say always made our little boy flip in my womb in excitement over hearing his daddy. Still, I worried Judah hadn’t heard his dad enough to know his voice if and when he was placed in our arms alive and thriving.

I had no reason to worry. Judah made his arrival a month early and miraculously strong. There was one moment in the NICU, I’ll never forget. Judah was uncomfortable and scared, and though he would breathe more easily when I sang over him, he wasn’t calming down. The instant Peter leaned over Judah’s crib and said, “Hey, little dude, it’s okay,” Judah opened his eyes, stopped crying and just studied his daddy. He knew that voice, and he knew that voice was grounded by love.

Watching that interaction reminded me of my own spiritual journey with the Father. I don’t always feel like I hear God enough. I sometimes feel as if it’s been so long since I’ve heard him, I wonder if I’ll recognize his voice when I do. Yet the moment I do hear my Heavenly Father, the moment I can focus on his presence, all I hear is love. In the end, all I know is the Father wants me where I belong: In his arms listening as he declares his love for me.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

She wasn’t really my aunt, but all my childhood I called her Aunt Bertha, a common courtesy for missionaries who worked together. Her apartment was always open to my family. She especially took an interest in me. When I was young and fighting health problems, our family traveled to her city and stayed with her for treatments and my surgery. When there were complications with the surgery, she was like a second mother to me, letting my mother get some rest. I trusted her with all my heart.

When we moved to her city several years later, I would stay at her house when my parents had to travel so I wouldn’t miss school. We’d ride our bikes (she never drove a car) to market and to care for her ministry responsibilities. The conversations during those bike rides were deep and inspired me in ministry.

Aunt Bertha had a problem, though. Her rheumatoid arthritis was progressing, and she was finally told she needed to leave the mission field. She returned to the US, moving in with her brother and family.

I was fifteen when my family had a chance to visit her. She lay engulfed in a hospital-type bed that seemed to fill the room. My heart was broken, and in my teenage awkwardness I couldn’t really converse with her. My parents were puzzled by my lack of engagement.

The problem was, at that moment I became very angry with God. Here was this precious woman who had done so much for His kingdom, lying helpless! Is this how He rewarded His faithful ones?

In the decades that followed, I couldn’t think of her without feelings of pain and anger. God just didn’t make sense. I served him, but there was an underlying root of distrust.

One day I attended a women’s retreat where the speaker was a missionary to the same country. She shared that before she ever left for the mission field, she had the opportunity to meet a former missionary who was in her last days on earth. She shared that the veteran missionary told her that her disability was the most beautiful thing that had ever happened to her. “The past ten years have been the best of my life!” she told the new recruit. “I have gotten to know God in a way I could never have imagined. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world!”

At that moment, my bitterness melted away. God had taken care of Aunt Bertha in ways my physical eyes could not see. Since then, I’ve watched His faithful ones suffer and seen similar responses. We can see their suffering, but until we experience it ourselves, I don’t think we can ever know how God cares for His own.

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

Her mind had to be running in a hundred different directions. She knew the cultural expectations. The woman was more than aware she had broken the Law. When the religious leaders found her committing adultery, she must have started envisioning the pain of countless stones hitting her body.

She had committed sin; her crime was known. Death by the hands of those more righteous was her penalty. And yet, this rabbi—Jesus, son of Joseph—spoke words which somehow kept the righteous ones from carrying out their punishment. Whatever he said made the ruckus stand still, but she wasn’t sure what was to happen next.

The screaming and taunting may have died down, but she had already sealed her own fate. She knew she was as good as dead. Even though there was an unusual sense of peace and introspection in the air, I imagine she kept her eyes closed—begging for time to speed by and death to come quickly.

But it never came. Instead the gentle, firm voice of Jesus spoke to a broken woman in front of a shrinking crowd. “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” He asks. When she responded that no one had, Jesus responds simply yet profoundly, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

I’ve sat in the rubble with that woman before. I know what it’s like to stand condemned. How many times have I gone before Jehovah, the Holy Judge, and ignored the grace in his eyes? Somehow, I’d forgotten that his love is deeper than my sin, and he truly can turn my life around. Sometimes, it can seem easier to swallow punishment rather than accept grace.

Yet, if we, just like the adulterous woman in John 8, look up and focus on Jesus, we quickly realize he wants to give us life! The only thing holding us back is our hesitation to trust that his mercy can truly make a difference.

What hope we’d experience if we simply trusted the Judge.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

When our church opened up again after the shutdown, a friend who was going through a rough time asked to come with me. Naturally I said “yes,” but wondered how I would juggle my usual Sunday interactions while keeping her from feeling abandoned in this strange, socially-distanced world.

Sure enough, we had just found a seat when someone asked me to help them find something. That mission accomplished, I was just heading back to sit down when someone stopped me to ask a question. Others joined the conversation and it was important enough I didn’t feel I could leave.

You know how awkward it is, though, to be left alone in a strange place with a bunch of people you don’t know. Every minute seems like an hour! You’re not sure what to do with your eyes, how to not find yourself staring at people as they pass by, etc. I was gone for over ten minutes!

There was no need to worry. What I love most about our church is that we truly act like family. Each time I glanced over to see how my friend was doing, someone had stopped to talk to her and get acquainted. Probably at least five people engaged her in conversation during that time.

When I sat down, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I feel so welcome here!” As the service began, I found myself gratefully worshipping the God who brought my brothers and sisters together at our church. They saw my friend was alone and went out of their way to help. I don’t have to minister to people by myself. They didn’t act as if she was just my responsibility—they took it upon themselves.

They have my back!

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

“Oh, no!” I exclaimed out loud as I waited for my appointment. Luckily, I was in the waiting room alone.

As soon as I got home, I set out to mend the hole I’d discovered in my jeans. I lovingly took my time, careful to fix the hole without compromising the comfort of the jeans. After, I observed my work and decided I was satisfied. My favorite jeans had been spared.

A week or so later, I was at my ukulele lessons and found another hole. My heart sank. The realization of what was to come began to settle in. My jeans, although mendable, are nearing the end of their life with me. I am going to have to buy a new pair of jeans.

For a few months now I have felt this tugging on my heart. I have tried to figure it out in vain. I even went as far to tell God I didn’t understand what He was asking me to do. AllI knew was it felt uncomfortable and I didn’t want to do it. This morning in my prayer time I felt the tugging again. Then I thought of my jeans.

Sometimes what brings us comfort works for a little while, but when the time is right, God asks to give up our old rags and turn them in for His new garments. It is not that God’s clothes are uncomfortable, it is that they are new and I have to be willing to take off my old favorite clothes to receive the new gifts God has prepared for me.

Dear Lord, Sometimes I get so attached to what I know that trying new things is hard. Please help me to let go of old behaviors and ways so that You can have Your way in me.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Anna felt all alone. The husband who had needed her care night and day over the past decade had just passed away. Her own health had deteriorated during that time. Now she was left with no friends, no family nearby, and the huge specter of anxiety and depression hanging over her. The isolation of the Covid shutdown had her almost paralyzed.

One morning she decided to make a list of things she could do that day. She grabbed her walker and made her way to the desk, where she found a notepad in the drawer. She started to write: Take a shower. Organize meds into a labeled contained so she would know which ones she had taken. Read a Psalm as a prayer. She was surprised at the satisfaction she got from checking each item off the list.

The next day her list was a bit bolder. Reorganize her sock drawer. Dust one room of the house. Write a get-well card to someone from church. Call Betty, her old high school friend she hadn’t talked to for years, just to catch up.

Betty was delighted to hear from her. Anna was struck by how little it takes to encourage someone else. After that, Anna made a point each day of including in her list at least one item that would bless or encourage someone else.

As time went on, she then started adding some occasion to celebrate God’s goodness each day. Eventually, the day came when she was able to sort and label a box of old photos, all the time thanking God for the memories rather than feeling sorry for herself. As she finished that project, the thought hit her: “I can choose to live in joy. And I’m doing it!”

Anna’s journey from anxiety and depression to joy seemed like a miracle to all of us. But as she summarized it: “Be Thankful. Bless others.”

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~Written by Cassie Rayl

“Is that all you have to say? Aren’t you gonna fix this like you’ve fixed everything else?” My friend’s disappointment in my response to his crisis broke my heart. I really had done my best to always rescue him in the past. Once upon a time, fixing loved ones’ issues is where I secretly found my worth. I truly believed I always had their best interest at heart.

And yet, when my lifelong friend’s world crashed yet again, this time I firmly heard the Spirit whisper, “Do not steal my glory, Child.”

Tears came to the surface. I obediently gritted my teeth and repeated, “I’m sorry you’re angry. I’m sorry this doesn’t make sense. God is big enough to hear those complaints and handle your anger.” As I knew would be the case, my words did not go over well.

Our phone call ended on a sweet note, but I could tell he felt like I had ripped the already-shaking ground out from under him. But I couldn’t stop mentally repeating what the Spirit had just whispered moments before, “Don’t steal my glory.”

As is often shared among Christians, “Our ways are not God’s ways.” It’s tempting to find an easier path. It feels better to tangibly do something for a loved one in crisis, rather than stand in the wings merely praying. It’s more comfortable to try doing God’s work for him rather than stand by and watch someone suffer.

Right?

But when we push ahead of God, we steal his glory. Spiritual growth is born in crisis, and if we take away the crisis, we cripple the other person’s ability to see Jesus for who he is.

After all, in the end, do we want people to need Jesus and know he can handle anything, or need us and watch as we fail them every time?

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