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Archive for the ‘empathy’ Category

~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 Viki Rife

I had struggled to walk across an icy parking lot on my previous stop, so I was determined to park as close to the door as possible on this one. There was one parking space only a few cars down—all the others were at the opposite end of the strip mall. I pulled into the space, trying to leave a bit of extra room to get out because the big black car on my drivers’ side was sitting over the line into “my” space.

I had forgotten, however, how limited my movement was because of a recent neck injury. As I started to get out, the car door touched the black car. I pulled the door back and tried again, holding the door carefully. As I maneuvered my foot onto the parking lot, however, I slipped on the ice and my door hit the car again. I tried once more, and my door touched the car, but at least I was out now. I carefully looked over the side of the black car and saw no sign of damage.

Walking gingerly alongside my car, I saw someone get out of the black car and head for me. A young woman, very irate. “Why are you beating up my car?” She exclaimed. “What do you think you’re doing?”

I’d like to say that I apologetically explained myself. But that isn’t what happened. I said, “There’s no damage. And by the way, you’re parked over the line.” With that I turned and made my way to my appointment, as she yelled after me that there were other parking spaces I could have used.

By the time I reached the door, I was thoroughly ashamed of myself. I think of myself as someone who is kind, caring, and concerned about others. But all I found in my heart was bitterness and a self-serving attitude. If things don’t go my way, it takes very little to get my defenses up.

The lesson I learned? The incident was a good reminder that I’m not as pure inside as I would like to think. I still react in fleshly ways on the slightest provocation. Praise God, though, there is hope. He is still working on me!

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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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~ Written by Viki Rife

I used to think people who talk to their plants were a bit strange. Not any more.

I caught myself talking to my geraniums a few days ago. They’re having a hard time. All summer they thrive and bloom on the deck, enjoying the sun and fresh air. In the winter I bring them into my improvised greenhouse in the garage. They have a grow light, controlled temperature (although colder than they’re used to), and I still water them. But each year, they start looking dejected after the move indoors.

So I felt sorry for them, and as I cut off dead leaves and blooms, I found myself whispering: “I know you weren’t made for this. You were meant for much more. Just hang on through this season, and in due time you’ll be out in the sun where you can truly thrive.”

Then it hit me: God must look at me the same way. I wasn’t made for this world. It is so artificial compared with what He intended when He created us! I picture him watching me struggle along through life in less than ideal circumstances, and I hear him whisper: “Just hang on through this season. When you come home to Me you will truly thrive.”

Of all the things I’m thankful for today, this is the greatest: I can hang on during this season of life on earth because I know greater things are coming. Deeply grateful that I have a future and a hope.

For our God, death is the fulfillment of what He created us for. He will help us hold on until we can bloom in all His glory.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Being thrown into a pit wasn’t a part of his plan. Of all the dreams God had given Joseph, I hardly imagine his dreams of his family bowing down to him would involve his own enslavement. And yet, as we’re told in Genesis 37 and following, slavery was a key season in Joseph’s story.

Still, as Joseph sat in the pit his brothers threw him in (Gen. 37:23-24) to await being sold, his mind had to be whirling with questions. Wasn’t he the favored son? Why would God give him such favor if only to waste it in slavery? Was his father’s God even real, or had the dreams been a result of too much time in the sun? Weeks ago, Joseph had a handle on what God was doing.

Now? In the pit? Not so much.

As the story unfolds, God uses Joseph’s enslavement in immaculate and miraculous ways. Joseph’s God-given wisdom and insight eventually led him to be a trusted advisor to his master, the Egyptian Pharaoh. Through that trust, Joseph was able to advocate for his people when famine wrecked the known world.

What Joseph initially thought was the death of his future became the gateway to God’s goodness.

More than ever before, this election season has left Christians nervous and hesitant as we await the nation’s future. No matter which political party we’re referring to, truthfully, there are areas where we are all muttering, “How can this bring God glory?”

I challenge each of us to look back at the story of Joseph as our next national leaders are revealed in the coming days. There was nothing good about most of Joseph’s story. Joseph was left uncomfortable and stretched for most of his life, but he leaned heavily on God despite the unpredictability of his future.

In the end, Joseph could say with confidence, “God used it all for good.”

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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 Cassie Rayl

The once-sweet child reared his head and backed as far away from me as possible. His whining quickly escalated to screams and crocodile tears as he discovered I, the very mean aunt, wasn’t going to relent about giving him medicine.

“I know you hate this, Buddy. I do, too. But you need this. You’ll feel better before you know it. Trust me. I promise.” My attempts to reason with a panicked kindergartener fell on deaf ears. I decided to hold him tight and do what every guardian or parent has done—force the nasty liquid down his throat for the split second he wasn’t screaming.

In just a few moments, his gulps of air turned into sighs, his tears stopped, and his eyelids got heavy as the medicine went to work. Rest was the only thing which would help my nephew recover from what ailed him.

I’m not much different than my nephew—even as an adult. I often envision myself in the Heavenly Throne Room screaming, panicking, and resisting a new lesson or change God has made obvious to me. My life is fine the way it is. I did not give him the go-ahead to fix things his way instead of mine.

Yet when I finally calm down, trust Him, and let Him lead me to true healing, I see the truth. The reality is, He knew what I needed and is always willing to do the hard thing, even when I’m not.

And when I think back on those seasons, though I may remember some of the pain, I remember how I can see Christ more clearly because of the changes he made.

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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 Viki Rife

The chatty young cashier and I joked about the kinds of things people have been stockpiling and having to wear masks. Then as she handed me my receipt she said seriously, with fear behind her eyes, “Some people say these are signs the world is about to end.” She watched me, apparently waiting for a response from me. Just then the bagger asked a question, and she turned to take care of the matter. I had missed my chance.

The question has haunted me, though. I can’t imagine what it would feel like to expect the end of the world without the framework the Bible gives us. It just so happened that I had been reading in Luke about the final week of Jesus. As I read Chapter 21, I was struck by the contrast between the way the cashier seems to view “the end” and how God calls us to respond.

Jesus talks about people fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world (vs. 26). For his followers, however, he offers these words of encouragement:

“And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified” (vs. 9).

“This will be your opportunity to witness” (vs. 13).

“By your endurance you will gain your lives” (vs. 19).

“Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (vs. 28).

What a different perspective he calls his own to have! He then adds this caution: “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life [I wonder if that includes toilet paper], and that day will come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34-36).

Is the world about to end? We don’t know the day or hour, but we have some pretty clear instructions on how to respond! Praise God, we have nothing to fear if we keep his perspective. Let’s use our opportunities to share the hope we have.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I understand Thomas the doubting disciple all too well.

Thomas was the only disciple not present when Jesus appeared after His resurrection. As Thomas’ fellow disciples tried their hardest to convince him their Savior lived, Thomas stuck to his unbelief. He saw with his own eyes the death of his Lord. He heard the mourners. He saw the look of grief in the eyes of Jesus’ mother.

In a moment of passion, Thomas firmly exclaims to his friends, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

Where others see shameful doubt, I see precious honesty. Thomas wanted to believe, but what he understood of the world wouldn’t allow him to do so. And in a moment of grief and vulnerability he laid out very plainly what he needed before he could believe.

A few verses later, we witness Jesus meeting Thomas in his doubt, looking deeply into his eyes and saying, “Put your finger in the nail scars, and your hand on My side. Now will you believe?” (Paraphrased)

All too often, we focus on the fact that Thomas should have believed without seeing. But what about focusing on the mercy of the all-powerful God who did not quench the questions which stood between Thomas and complete belief?

This Resurrection season, let God meet you in your doubt. He has the answers. Your doubt doesn’t shock Him. He has what it will take for you to believe.

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