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~ Written by Samantha Freds

I’ve been struggling with a deep desire of the heart that, in all honesty, is yet unmet. While praying faithfully I have waited impatiently. I know my perspective is limited, but I can’t understand the why in the waiting. It feels unsafe to hope.

Has God ever given you a Bible verse at just the right moment? Maybe you were scrolling through Facebook and there it was, pretty script and all. Have you been doing your daily reading and the words practically leapt off the page at you? I had a similar experience with these words several months ago:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Since the day I read those words, Romans 12:12 has played over and over in my head. It has almost become a personal mantra. One day, a few months ago (before social distancing was a thing), I was walking through Target when I saw a canvas with a Bible verse on it. Sure enough, it read, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” It was the last one available one.

That verse now hangs on the wall in my kitchen. I read it every day. And while I know God was speaking directly to my situation when He gave me that verse, the words have taken on a greater meaning in light of the pandemic. Just yesterday I realized God was preparing my heart for this time of uncertainty and isolation with that verse.

I am amazed by the provision and providence of the Almighty God. I am still waiting and praying as faithfully as I can for my heart’s desire. But I know that in these overlapping seasons of waiting, God is good.

Because of who he is, I can be joyful in hope.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I knew I could have done better. I walked off the stage, mentally chiding myself for choosing worship songs which had been played so often I could lead them in my sleep.

There’s a theory among worship leaders that if a song is more than five years old, it’s inadvisable to use it in worship sets anymore. The average copyright year of the songs we sang this particular Sunday had been 2002.

That fact alone bothered me more than it should have. I heard the enemy whisper, “You aren’t effective anymore. Stop trying. You’re failing.” I spent the rest of the service mentally fighting lies with Biblical truth, but peace still felt unobtainable.

As the service ended, a friend tapped me on the shoulder. With tears in her eyes, she explained how one of the songs—one of the oldest, in fact!—had been exactly what she needed to hear. She took it as confirmation that God was with her in her current struggles.

I heard God whisper to my heart, “It’s never about you, your leadership ideas or your theories, Child. It’s about being willing to let Me color outside the lines of your expectations in order to bring glory to Myself.

“Remember, I can use anything; even the things you consider ineffective.”

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~ Written by Samantha Freds

For the past few years I have asked God to give me a word for the year. One word to study and to grow in throughout the year. There’s nothing distinctly biblical about the practice but I’ve found it to be very formative. Whenever I hear my word I am reminded that God is interested in transforming me.

The first time I tried this I started praying in September for what word God would have me focus on in the next year. I was tempted to choose something like “intentional” so that I would be reminded to try harder and be more disciplined in my spiritual journey. I had big plans for the year! My Heavenly Father knew me better than that.

The word He kept putting in front of me was “dependent.” So, I spent a year being reminded to stay connected to the Vine – to depend on Him for everything. It was a year of uncertainty. I quit my job, moved to a new town and went back to school to start on a completely different vocational path. My life felt out of my control and I had to learn to depend on Jesus (something I will always be learning).

This year my word is “present.” I don’t know exactly what’s in store, but I chose the word because I’ve sensed for awhile that I need to be more present. More aware of the hurting, needy people God places in my path. Willing to allow interruptions to distract from my to-do list. Perceptive of the fact that God is always present in my life. Content with the current. For the next 52 weeks I am committed to learning how to be present.

Will you join me in that endeavor? Has God placed a different word and direction on your life?

May you be blessed in the coming year by the presence of the Most High God.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

The news didn’t bring me joy. I was more than angry—I was incensed! A man was being nationally applauded for a good deed in his community. However, I knew he was more evil than good, more manipulative than gracious, and more selfish than considerate.

 First good deed in sixty years, I bet! I muttered under my breath as I read the article. The guy didn’t know me from Eve, but I had briefly connected with one of his victims, and that was—in my mind—all I needed to justify my (short-sighted) fury.

 As I added fiery accusations to the mental fight I was picking with the guy, I heard the Spirit whisper, “But child, what if he’s found Me?”

 The simplicity of the question stopped me in my tracks. Jesus came to set sinners free…even the sinners who we never thought would want freedom in the first place. No sin is too great, no lifestyle too deplorable to receive His grace.

 Christmas is the season we spend more time than normal meditating on the coming of our Savior. Oh, what a celebration! But Christ’s coming is equally that of the Great Reconciler, and though it’s something I celebrate, it’s also a great challenge to my soul.

 Has Christ’s coming truly changed my heart? Have I made room in the Throne Room for everyone Christ loves, or merely those I like?

 Am I doing my part to to keep Christ’s love in Christmas?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I realized the Pilgrims were kindred spirits the year I turned nine. Up until then, I hadn’t thought much about people who landed in the United States, half a world away from where my family lived, and celebrated a season of thankfulness. Because Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday in the country where my parents were missionaries, the fourth Thursday of November was just another school day a few weeks before the start of summer vacation.

That year, my parents decided to put on a Thanksgiving dinner to share our culture with some of the people they were working with. Mom was seven months pregnant with her fourth child, and I suspect she was craving stuffing and pumpkin pie. Dad talked to some friends who said they knew a butcher who might have turkeys, so the day before the celebration we all piled into the car to drive across the city to check it out.

We three kids waited in the hot car for what seemed like an hour before Mom and Dad came out of the butcher shop empty-handed. That shop didn’t have turkeys, but they referred us to someone in another part of the city who might have some. That shop ended up referring us to another, and so it went.

Four hours later, we still had no turkey. It was starting to get dark. We were all hot, tired, and irritable. The tension in the car was palpable. Frustrated, I said, “I bet the Pilgrims didn’t have this much trouble getting a turkey for Thanksgiving!”

My parents laughed and my younger siblings wanted to know what Pilgrims were. As Mom and Dad explained, with me jumping in to share what little I knew, the mood in the car became thoughtful, almost reverent. We talked about what it meant to leave family and friends and struggle in a new land. We talked about gratitude and why it was important.

I think it was my little sister who said, “Can we pray that God will give us a turkey?” Somehow it suddenly seemed important to celebrate such a crucial holiday. We prayed as we drove to the last-hope butcher. Sure enough, they had a (very scrawny) turkey.

The next day, we sat down to a feast reminiscent of the pictures I’d seen in magazines. All was great until we bit into the turkey. It was one tough bird! Before we could complain, Mom said brightly, “I bet the turkey the Pilgrims ate was tough, too.” We laughed, and I decided I could really identify with those Pilgrim children.

Tough turkey and all, we had a lot to be thankful for.

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I don’t cry easily, but there is one thing that inevitably brings me to tears: a soldier’s homecoming. The videos are everywhere this time of year. Whether it happens at a football game, a school event or the front door, military men and women reunited with their families gets me every single time.

Perhaps that’s because I know the feeling.

“Sami! Wake up, Daddy’s here!” My brother tried to shake me awake. “You better not be joking,” I groggily replied, afraid to get my hopes up. We hadn’t seen Dad for months and we were not planning to see him that weekend, either. He was stationed in Florida at the time and we were visiting Grandma in Connecticut.

Dad had served twenty-one years in the Air Force before becoming a pastor. He was still in the Air Force Reserves while pastoring a small congregation in New York. He put thousands of miles on the car traveling from New York to Massachusetts, where he was stationed, to fulfill both duties. But after September 11th he was called up to active duty. That’s what eventually sent him to Florida.

My mom, brother and I were scheduled to see Dad around Thanksgiving. Our plane tickets were purchased and the countdown had begun. Instead, that early morning in Connecticut, our family had our own soldier’s homecoming moment. There’s no video, but I don’t think any of us need one to remember it.

Dad had been deactivated early and drove through the night to see us. Although he would continue traveling from New York to Massachusetts until his reserve time was complete, we wouldn’t be separated for months at a time again. I know my mom has never been happier to cancel a trip to sunny Florida! And, thanks to an inner ear infection that hit me at the perfect time, our plane tickets were refunded. God’s blessing in disguise!

I can relate to the sacrifice of our military men and women from a child’s perspective and I know I’m one of the lucky ones. I praise God often that my dad came home.

To all the veterans and their families: Thank you for your sacrifice and service.

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~ Written by Lorena Oplinger

My brother Kevin is 15. He looks like a typical healthy teenager. When Kevin was four, however, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

Kevin was a healthy baby boy. He was born without any complications. However, during the early stages of his physical and mental development, something inside his brain began to change. In preschool his teachers started noticing some distinctive behaviors and attitudes in him. Kevin was having a hard time understanding and following their instructions. His learning and communication abilities decreased gradually to the point he could no longer keep up with his classmates.

I never saw my parents so heartbroken. It was painful for my mom to absorb the news and accept my brother’s medical condition would prevent him from reaching his full potential. It is hard for many moms, including mine, to embrace the challenges of raising kids with disabilities.

There are times when we just can’t explain or understand why things happen the way they do. But regardless, God’s grace is so abundant! He has shown us his grace by giving my parents the peace, patience, and persistence to endure this challenge for the past 11 years.

Kevin struggles with anxiety, stress, mood changes, and some other behavioral issues produced by social environments. He is also experiencing the physical and emotional changes caused by puberty. He is a very smart boy and is becoming more self-aware of his medical condition. A couple of days ago, he told my parents that he is asking God to make him normal because he wants to be like the other boys. He doesn’t want to deal with mental or psychological issues any more. My parents are surprised to see that Kevin is now communicating his feelings, desires, and thoughts; something he never did before.

My parents are strong believers, and for them this is a huge sign of hope from God. My mom even said, “I know that God is working in Kevin’s life. He is answering my prayers!”

My family has realized both the blessing and challenge of raising a child with disabilities. Through this, they have learned God has a plan and purpose for all of us. Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture and understand why things happen the way we least expect. Perhaps we only need to recognize that God is sending us undercover blessings.

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NIV).

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