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Written by Cassie Rayl

With a child-sized Superman cape over his shoulders, the little boy hero walks the streets of Birmingham handing out McDonald’s chicken sandwiches to the homeless. At four years old, he recently learned the meaning behind the word “homeless.” He told his daddy he wants all his allowance to go towards buying sandwiches so he can “show love” to the people in need in his hometown.

Watching the news story about Austin made me tear up for several reasons. First off, he’s adorable. Second, my family has been closely impacted by the trial of homelessness, so I take Austin’s joy of being a Good Samaritan personally.

But most importantly, I’m in awe of his childlike faith and his confidence that he can impact the world for the better.

He obviously doesn’t care that his monthly allowance only buys a handful of sandwiches. He doesn’t approach only the “acceptable” people on the streets. He doesn’t stop to weigh a person’s potential success rate before helping them. He and his daddy walk through Birmingham giving out food until there is no food left—simply because Austin wants to show love to the best of his ability.

What if we as adults had that type of faith? What if we served the “least of these” simply to show them love, with no ulterior motive?

Would Christ be easier to see and His love feel more tangible?

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“I love watching you walk by my house every day. You don’t know me, but thanks for being you. You’re a breath of fresh air. Something is different about you.” The complete stranger who spoke those words had caught me mid-bite and mid-giggle at a local restaurant recently. I wanted to laugh harder at the awkwardness of his statement. But the look of confusion in his eyes made me choke on a possibly humorous response.

I stuttered out a shocked, “It’s Jesus, Sir. It’s all and only Jesus.” He smiled sadly, and responded, “Yeah, okay. Well anyway, just wanted you to know. Have a nice day.”

Jesus-induced joy has always been a piece of what makes His followers stand out from the crowd. But in our current culture, when violence, fear, and cynicism have become a main event, joy is so rare it’s confusing to those who don’t know our Savior. Some days, choosing joy feels like a sacrifice of praise. I’ve come to the realization, though, that if I don’t choose joy, I’m missing out on testifying about Christ.

If we truly live in the truth that our Savior is alive, how can we not choose joy despite our circumstances? It’s what makes us different, and obviously, the world around us is watching.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

The feds are watching our barnyard. There’s actually a sign to let people know.

The sign says, “Do not climb tower! Federally protected migratory bird nest.” It’s by the cell phone relay tower that sits in our barnyard.

The endangered osprey first appeared about six summers ago. We saw them circling the tower with precious building materials, fighting to gain altitude because of their load. Soon, we heard the unmistakable cry of the fledglings in their nest, always hungry.

By the next summer, there was no doubt the nest had attracted the attention of officials. We would arrive home to find conservation officers parked in our driveway, intently peering at the top of the tower through their binoculars.

I find myself wishing that human babies were protected the way these eggs are. While I love sharing our barnyard with these interesting birds, something inside me cries about the injustice of the mixed-up priorities of our society.

This issue is only the tip of the iceberg. My prayer is that, as a country, we will learn to value what God values. Will you join me in that prayer? God is able to turn our countrymen’s hearts to His desires as we band together in prayer.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I know when people drive by on our road they think we´re crazy. There are at least two reasons for that. First of all, every fall when the apples start to fall off our trees, we let them sit on the ground and rot. The mess is visible from the road. We might be in the yard raking leaves, but the apples lie undisturbed.

The second reason appears at this season of the year. That same area under the apple trees does not get mowed. We carefully skirt around it, leaving tall grass blowing in the spring breeze. 

We have a very good reason for breaking the cultural rules of our neighborhood. If we leave apples on the ground, and if we don´t mow that area, the conditions are ripe for the growth of Morel mushrooms. Retailing at about $50 a pound, this delicacy draws people into the woods in droves for the spring tradition of mushroom hunting.

In other words, what doesn’t make sense to others makes perfect sense to us. All we have to do is wait patiently until the right time, then step out our door and gather our highly-prized feast.

It makes me wonder how many times I judge people’s actions without recognizing the treasure growing in their “mess.” Maybe I should try harder to give them the benefit of the doubt! 

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~ 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. 

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~Written by Erin Shuler

There it was—the full blow! It was time to make a choice. Was I in or was I out?

For a long time I have had an idea of where God was calling me. I was so excited to follow it and see what would come of it! God placed a desire on my heart to leave the comforts of home as I know them and pursue Him through caring for and loving on orphans in Africa. After visiting Africa for the first time, I came home ready to leave everything behind and dive right into the life I felt I had been called to live. But time passed, and even though I knew my calling hadn’t changed, I felt myself wishing it would.

Driving down the road one day, I realized for the first time how alluring the idea of the American dream was to me. I didn’t realize how hard a fight it was going to be to walk away from ideas that had been engraved in me since birth. I finally realized the impact of what a decision to move across the world was going to mean. It was no longer just giving up a career I didn’t want anyway or money I could have made. I was missing out on all the big and small things that would happen in the States while I was absent. It meant possibly missing my siblings’ weddings. It meant missing the birth of future nephews and nieces. It meant losing the chance to be a part of the lives of people I suddenly realized I wanted desperately to be a part of. It meant risking relationships I already have and can’t imagine not having. It meant no house with a white picket fence, no being one of those soccer moms, no elaborate thousand-dollar weddings or expensive car. 

I realized for the first time that day I had spent my entire life filling my head with ideas that matched the American dream. When I pictured my future, I never saw myself in Africa. I saw myself in America with the “perfect home and family.” So could I still do it? Was I willing to give up what was asked of me?

The truth is the life I have is not mine. It was given to me with the intention that I use it to bring God glory. My purpose is not to live the life I dream but rather the life I have graciously been given to further the kingdom of Christ. Christ has loved me and I in return will love. I will fall in love a hundred times over with every smiling face and every child I hold and touch.

I will love well because Christ has perfectly loved me.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

An incident when I was 15 years old triggered one of my deepest crises of faith. My family went to visit “Aunt Bertha,” a beloved missionary friend who had served in Argentina for many years. She was one of my earliest spiritual mentors, although she wouldn’t have called herself that. Her passion to reach people with the gospel inspired me. She truly treated me like her niece.

But now she was bedridden with arthritis, completely dependent on others to care for her. I could hardly stand to be in the room, my heart was so grieved. Why would God allow such a precious daughter of His to be sidelined way before her time? How can I trust a God who lets such things happen to His faithful ones?

I struggled with the question for decades. I couldn’t think about her without asking, “Why?” Then one day a missionary friend shared with me that as a young woman considering missionary service, she had been taken to visit Aunt Bertha. In their conversation, Aunt Bertha told her, “Don’t feel bad for me. These years of being laid up have given me a new understanding of my Savior. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!”

The “why” was too big for me to understand at the time when I first asked it. Now, with increased spiritual maturity, I can catch a glimpse of the gift God gave Aunt Bertha. When He gives us Himself, there’s nothing else we could possibly want!

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