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Archive for the ‘Delight’ Category

~ Written by Viki Rife

There’s something appealing about a diorama. A visit to several museums over the weekend reminded me how much I love them. Whether it’s a bird’s eye view of a city, a recreation of a historic community, or a fairy garden, miniatures that allow us to see “the whole picture” can be a real delight. I’ve always wished I could insert myself in the scene. It would be pointless, though, because I would not be seeing all the adventure, only limited parts of it.

I’ve always thought of our world as a kind of diorama from God’s point of view. He sees the whole big picture. But He chose not to just see the big perspective. Jesus inserted himself in the world’s scene so he could experience what it’s like to live our lives with a limited perspective. The Father sees the whole picture of what he’s doing, but Jesus knows firsthand what life looks like from our vantage point. Although we can’t see what’s over the next hill, Jesus longs to remind us that the Father can. And he is our perfect advocate, because he knows both the Father’s vantage point and our own. I hope dioramas always remind me of this beautiful dynamic!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Where do we go when we’re a mess? The prodigal son of Luke 15 went from having a lifetime supply of resources to absolutely nothing. He was so impoverished he would have gladly eaten the slops he fed his employer’s swine. Verse 17 quotes him saying, “…I’m dying here of hunger!”

People who find themselves that desperate probably don’t have the ability to conjure up enough soap and water for a shower, much less clean up their lives . Despite the mess the son had made of both his inheritance and his personal health, he went back to his father.

This chapter is often used as a story of a compassionate father (Jehovah), who gladly receives his prodigal son when he decides to return. A slightly less-common approach to this story is to focus on the way the son returned. He came back to his father despite the fact he had nothing, was as physically gross as the pigs he ate with, and had nothing of value to offer in exchange for restoration and forgiveness.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt your Heavenly Father calling you to return to him, and your quick inventory of your life is the hopeless equivalent of pigs’ slop? It’s easy to tell ourselves we’ll come back when we have something of value, but before we know it, we give up trying because we never feel like we have enough.

May we all take our cues from the prodigal son. May we come back anyway. The truth is, God doesn’t see our worthlessness. He just sees his child, and honors the value of our return—mess and all.

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~Written by Viki Rife

It was our last Zoom meeting together before summer break, and it was bittersweet. Yes, Zoom fatigue is real, but the need for each other was more real. We exchanged ideas for handling everything from teenagers socially distancing from their families to the longing to keep some of the lessons we learned during the lockdown. We confessed our struggles and our joys. We reminded each other of the good things the pandemic had accomplished in the spiritual growth of our ministry communities.

We had been meeting monthly over the past year, women ministering in different states from around the country. We shared our stories of quarantines and family adjustments to a very unusual year. One dear sister kept reminding us that although we were online, we were indeed meeting face to face.

This band of sisters has blessed me with their honesty, determination, and humor. We are all at different ages, different stages of life, but we have one Savior and one purpose—to bring God glory. These conversations have helped us through many hard times. Who knew others were struggling with the same thoughts that were haunting me? Who knew some had found viable solutions? And who knew I would have something to contribute to this group of warriors who are fighting for the souls God has given them to shepherd?

In the end, we all agreed that even if things open up, we want to keep meeting in the fall. Let me encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to be part of such a community. Women of Grace USA offers a number of opportunities to dialog through online encounters, book clubs, and classes. Keep an eye open for upcoming gatherings and find out what a rich blessing God has given us in our sisters.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Our New Year didn’t come in the way I had hoped. Although our plans hadn’t been huge, New Year’s was potentially the last holiday my husband, Peter, and I had before our son, Judah, arrives in early April. Ideas of games, movies, junk food and laughter were all I had thought about for days.

Instead, there were bowls strategically placed between the bathrooms so  I would be prepared any time my nausea hit. Peter militantly checked my blood pressure, managed my new medications, and gently understood when sleeping seemed better than looking at his face. As miserable as I was, I giggled every time Judah kicked my ribs.

Relief was on the horizon, though. My medical team had jumped into action, and as soon as my body adapted to new medications, I’d be okay. Still, I wasn’t focused on Jesus, joy, or Judah. I was adamantly focused on how God hadn’t given me what I wanted for the New Year.

At some point in my pity party, I heard the Spirit whisper to my heart, “Will you sing me a song? Will you bring in the New Year praising me anyway? You’re obviously miserable. Will you actually let me help you refocus? Or would you rather just hear yourself complain?”

The songs started out quite begrudgingly, let me tell you. Honestly, I started singing out of mere obedience. Before I knew it, though, I wasn’t focusing on my discomfort, missed plans, or even my fears over my health or the health of our son. I was just singing to the Man who first called me Beloved. My thirty-minute, possibly-off-tune worship session ended in joy simply because God had shifted my perspective from myself to Him.

I’m fairly certain we’re all realizing that the strike of midnight on January 1st didn’t make our lives a bed of roses. As Christ has continually challenged me, I extend that same challenge to you: When your heart is filled with what you don’t have and what you can’t control in this new year, praise God anyway.

Even in times of uncertainty, focusing on our First Love is always the answer to finding freedom and living in joy.

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~Written by Viki Rife

It was just another gray morning in the Midwest, not helped by the prospect of an early morning doctor’s appointment. It had been a rough night, mulling over a number of challenges, disappointments and “what ifs.” As we drove past the lake, the rising sun broke through the clouds and aimed straight for the opposite bank. Suddenly, it felt like the world was transformed. The colors of the trees left us breathless. The whole world now seemed alive and vibrant. It only lasted five minutes, but it was worth stopping and savoring the moment.

Sometimes I forget that my God is light and can see colors and nuances I can’t. Sometimes I feel like I’m trudging along in a gray, dreary world. Then, when I stop creating my own clouds and let His perspective enter my thinking, His light helps me see what is really there, in all its glory.

I keep this picture handy to remind me that what I see isn’t the full story. All it takes to change my view is to open the way for God’s light.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

Our yard has two bluebird houses; at least, that’s what they are supposed to be.

I’m pretty sure no one can see an Eastern Bluebird without falling in love with these small, colorful birds. When I first moved to Indiana, they had all but disappeared from our area. Thanks to the efforts of concerned citizens and the Department of Natural Resources, we learned that providing the right kind of housing could make it possible for them to return.

So we have two houses with all the specifications. There’s one problem: sparrows also like the same kind of facilities, and they are much more aggressive than the happy little bluebirds.

Sparrows took over the first house this spring. We set up another, armed with the information that a certain kind of halogenic streamer placed near the birdhouse would deter the sparrows but not the bluebirds. It worked! A cheery little bluebird couple started making its home in the second house.

Then one day I came home to find sparrows trying to get into the second house. A piece of farm equipment had come by and apparently torn the streamer off and carried it away. We never found it.

I rushed around trying to find a substitute as the bluebirds watched from the safety of a high branch of the nearby apple tree. Finally, I was able to find another streamer and attach it. The sparrows stopped trying to get in.

But it was too late. The bluebirds had given up. All summer that second house stood empty, with a half-finished nest bearing witness to the bluebirds’ defeat.

I keep asking myself: Why didn’t they try again? Why didn’t they stick around a bit longer to see the sparrows back off? And the one that makes me the saddest: Did they give up because they saw me by their house? Did they choose not to trust me?

It’s convicting because I’ve done something similar with God most of my life. I give up too soon. I assume the bullies in the world will always get their way. And when God steps into the picture, I assume he’s a threat instead of a Helper.

Those two bluebird houses are a stark reminder of what happens when I don’t trust my God. What a crucial lesson!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

With seeping sores, old clothes, and maybe even missing limbs, no one wanted to be around them. They were not merely ostracized—they were left for dead. They were not only disliked—they were feared.

Lepers. The worst curse of the day was to be called a leper. No matter your religious belief, if you contracted leprosy, you spent the rest of your life in a colony of other sufferers, begging for death, yet continuing to live. Leprosy stole everything of value from you in a moment’s notice and left you to suffer the consequences.

Luke 17 tells a story of ten such people who met Jesus—the Miracle Maker. The passage tells us the group of lepers saw Jesus “…at a distance.…” Because they expected the same treatment from Jesus as from everyone else, they only dared to yell for the Savior’s assistance, rather than approach him and ask for His touch.

Jesus, being the gracious, merciful Man He is, didn’t need to touch them. He simply spoke over them, telling each to return to the priest, because they were clean. After years and years of agonizing pain, scorn, loneliness, and fear, they immediately obeyed Jesus’ command.

Who wouldn’t have? Well, there was one. One noticed his body healing, took a U-turn, and knelt at Jesus’ feet merely to worship and thank him for the healing. Reuniting with his loved ones could wait; basking in the presence of Jesus couldn’t.

My spirit is always challenged when I read Luke 17. Do I call to Jesus because I want something from him and nothing more? Or do I call to Jesus because I know what he gives me is simply the overflow of Who he is and I’ve learned that being in his presence is enough?

Am I the leper who goes back to Jesus? Or do I run away as soon as I get what I want because I didn’t really want to know him in the first place?

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~ 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.

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~ 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.

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~Written by Samantha Freds

I grew up under the impression that to be a good Christian I had to develop a daily routine of “quiet time” with God. This period of time should consist of personal Bible reading and prayer. It should last for no less than thirty minutes, but a full hour or more would be admirable. Furthermore, it would be best if my “quiet time” was in the morning, otherwise I was telling God that He wasn’t as important as whatever else I chose to start my day with. Maybe you can relate?

Now, I’m not denying the importance of daily connection with God. We do need to spend time in the Word! I even see the value in intentional connection in the morning. It’s a good way to set the tone for the day. But I think the idea that everyone has to connect to God through quiet, morning Bible reading is unfair. God created each of us uniquely and He is not limited by our traditional ways of relating to Him.

Gary Thomas wrote a book called Secret Pathways where he presents nine modes of connection with God. Several of them lend themselves to the expectations engrained in me as a child. But several others break the mold in a very powerful way. Some individuals connect to God most naturally by taking a walk outside – admiring the little details of creation and the Creator. Other people find connection by caring for a person in need or by fighting injustice. Still others find connection with God through the liturgical traditions and rituals of the church.

These things count! There is no “right” way to connect to God. In fact, Jesus demonstrated many different ways of connecting to the Heavenly Father during his earthly ministry. He spent time in quiet prayer, he fed thousands, healed hundreds, studied the Scriptures and cleared the temple, to name a few.

May you be freed to connect to God in a variety of ways.

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