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~ Written by Viki Rife

The day started with an early morning phone call from a neighbor who had an emergency and needed help. When I got back, I had a half hour left until my alarm, so I crawled back in bed. Immediately the phone rang again. A friend had to take her child to the hospital and needed someone to pray with her. I finished that conversation and headed for the shower, only to receive a tearful call from another friend whose boyfriend had broken up with her.

When I finally made it to work, I had a message that an initiative we had been working on wouldn’t work, and we needed to develop a Plan B. I hadn’t factored that extra time into my weekly plan. At noon I met a friend for lunch. She spent the time explaining to me that if I didn’t cancel my weekend plans to accompany her to a protest, I must be racist.

And so the day went. I arrived home that evening exhausted and emotionally drained. Curling up in my favorite chair, I poured out my frustration to God.

“I can’t do this!” I told him. “How am I supposed to manage all this?”

I’m almost certain I heard a tender chuckle as the Holy Spirit planted his thoughts in my head: “Who do you think was running the universe before you came along?. Why don’t you let me take it back?”

Humbled and at peace, I sat and enjoyed the quiet with my Lord as he took back what was his to begin with.

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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

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

Three days before Christmas, as I prepared for my morning devotions, I sat and just cried instead. It was the third anniversary of my father’s death, and we lost my mom this year as the shadow of Covid-19 kept us from ministering to her as we would have liked.

Through my tears, I finally was able to open my Bible to the bookmark where I had left off. I read:

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord,for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:6-10).

It was a timely reminder of the joy my parents are experiencing and what I hope to experience some day. However, more than comfort, it gave me resolve for the upcoming year.

For many of us, 2020 is the year we’d like to forget. The fact that 2021 is starting under the same cloud has been weighing on me. But courage says that whether we are in our body or away from it, we make it our aim to please God. That’s all I have to do: seek to please him every day, even when the media is assaulting me with threatening headlines or my body is experiencing symptoms that could be Covid. Seek to please him whatever happens in 2021.

How would the world change if we truly walked by faith, not sight, and sought to just please God? So many anxious, fearful moments would be avoided! So much anger and bitterness would be dissolved.

Please God. Just seek to please God. May that be our focus for this new year!

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~ 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.

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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.

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~ 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!

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~ 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!

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~ 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?

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