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Archive for the ‘family’ Category

~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Two years ago, my mom bought me a lilac bush for our first home. Her gift left me—someone whose thumb is more brown than green—equally elated and terrified. I was even more scared when she told me it wouldn’t bloom for at least the first year. How in the world am I supposed to know if it died or not? I thought in a panic.

The bush was dutifully planted where I would see it every day and remember to water it. I inevitably forgot about it, anyway—just like every other “brown thumb” I know. Occasionally, I’d water the plant faithfully for a few weeks, but overall, I was just too exhausted by life to spend much time nurturing it.

Imagine my surprise when my husband announced one day from his view of our backyard, “Hey! It’s blooming! The lilac bush. It actually has flowers on it!” I had considered the bush just another lost cause, but it had survived multiple years of not-so-great care and bloomed anyway.

Sometimes, it can seem like we all have a spiritual brown thumb. We come before the Throne of Grace and mutter, “This is all I have the energy to offer, Lord.” Seeds of belief and strength have been sown, but it’s hard to keep the faith when our faith feels dormant.

If that’s your experience, take courage. Maybe you’re like my lilac bush, and God’s allowing those seeds of truth to rest hidden in your heart for a time. Just because I couldn’t see the lilac bush’s growth didn’t mean it wasn’t there. If God can make a plant bloom after years of dormancy, he can do the same beautiful transformation in our hearts as well.

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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

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 Cassie Rayl

No one told us bonding with our son would feel impossible during pregnancy. Our first pregnancy resulted in our daughter being stillborn. To say we were cautious and hesitant to invest in our second child’s development would be an understatement. We wanted to be excited for our son, who we decided to name Judah, but what if he wasn’t placed in our arms, either?

Talking to Judah throughout the pregnancy often felt hollow as I battled deep anxiety and fear. Often the joy would be ripped away and replaced by immense sorrow with the thought, “What if we bury our son like we buried our daughter? What if we never get to witness the look of recognition on his face when he hears our voices?”

I forced myself to sing hymns out loud, telling myself I was singing to Judah as a compromise. If I couldn’t pour into him by bonding with him through motherly chatter, at least he could learn my voice some other way. I spent the entirety of my pregnancy begging Jesus to let that be enough, fearing it would be inadequate.

My husband, Peter, struggled just as I did. Only in the last weeks of my pregnancy could he bring himself to nickname Judah. He said very little, but what he did say always made our little boy flip in my womb in excitement over hearing his daddy. Still, I worried Judah hadn’t heard his dad enough to know his voice if and when he was placed in our arms alive and thriving.

I had no reason to worry. Judah made his arrival a month early and miraculously strong. There was one moment in the NICU, I’ll never forget. Judah was uncomfortable and scared, and though he would breathe more easily when I sang over him, he wasn’t calming down. The instant Peter leaned over Judah’s crib and said, “Hey, little dude, it’s okay,” Judah opened his eyes, stopped crying and just studied his daddy. He knew that voice, and he knew that voice was grounded by love.

Watching that interaction reminded me of my own spiritual journey with the Father. I don’t always feel like I hear God enough. I sometimes feel as if it’s been so long since I’ve heard him, I wonder if I’ll recognize his voice when I do. Yet the moment I do hear my Heavenly Father, the moment I can focus on his presence, all I hear is love. In the end, all I know is the Father wants me where I belong: In his arms listening as he declares his love for me.

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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

 If respecting Sean was hard, loving him was harder. From the day we met everything he said was mean, disrespectful, lewd, crude, and rude. He was one of those older gentlemen any decent person would follow around, if only to mutter, “I’m sorry; he shouldn’t have said that” to Sean’s latest victim. There was nothing wrong with Sean; he just didn’t like people.

The only thing he seemed to hate more than people was Jesus Christ. When most of his family came to the Lord, that somehow made his negativity worsen. We all watched the years go by thinking, “Lord, no heart is too hard, but will Sean ever see you?” In our human estimations, it definitely didn’t seem like it!

Just hours before he passed away from a fast-acting illness, the proverbial scales fell from Sean’s eyes, and he begged his family to lead him to the Lord. What victory! Sean would end his harsh life knowing full-well the saving grace and mercy of his savior, Jesus Christ. We all rejoiced him into Heaven, relieved that his fight was over.

Well, almost all of us. A young woman pulled me aside and simply asked, “How can Jesus have mercy on such a horrible man? It seems to me he’s the last person who deserves Christ’s mercy. Sean was evil!”

Although I didn’t share her sentiment, I understood it. How often have I decided Jesus’ limitless mercy was enough to cover my sins, but not the sins of those who left so many wounded? Jesus easily forgives my sins. Things like: gluttony, dishonesty, and pride. But isn’t there a different scale for the “bigger” sins which consigns the sinner in his wretchedness where he deserves to be?

The reality is, we can’t short-change the mercy of God over someone we believe has committed a greater offense. If we do that, we completely change the story of salvation and what makes Jesus different from any other false god.

We’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. Jesus’ mercy isn’t fair, but it is what makes his love large enough to rescue the world.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

When our church opened up again after the shutdown, a friend who was going through a rough time asked to come with me. Naturally I said “yes,” but wondered how I would juggle my usual Sunday interactions while keeping her from feeling abandoned in this strange, socially-distanced world.

Sure enough, we had just found a seat when someone asked me to help them find something. That mission accomplished, I was just heading back to sit down when someone stopped me to ask a question. Others joined the conversation and it was important enough I didn’t feel I could leave.

You know how awkward it is, though, to be left alone in a strange place with a bunch of people you don’t know. Every minute seems like an hour! You’re not sure what to do with your eyes, how to not find yourself staring at people as they pass by, etc. I was gone for over ten minutes!

There was no need to worry. What I love most about our church is that we truly act like family. Each time I glanced over to see how my friend was doing, someone had stopped to talk to her and get acquainted. Probably at least five people engaged her in conversation during that time.

When I sat down, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, “I feel so welcome here!” As the service began, I found myself gratefully worshipping the God who brought my brothers and sisters together at our church. They saw my friend was alone and went out of their way to help. I don’t have to minister to people by myself. They didn’t act as if she was just my responsibility—they took it upon themselves.

They have my back!

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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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He opened the hatch of his truck with a grand flourish. As I walked out to greet him, I chuckled as I tried imagining what deserved such grandeur from my date on the night he was meeting my family.

He piled my arms with Christmas presents before he loaded his own arms with even more. He shrugged comically as he said around the boxes, “I think this is it, but I’ll come back and look in a bit to make sure.”

My family graciously received the Christmas presents from this perfect stranger, but Michael was quick to realize it made all of us—even me—incredibly uncomfortable. Trinkets, games, books, and candy lined a couch as everyone in my family had the same mental thought. What’s the point?

I honestly believed he was doing so much to impress my parents. When we finally had a moment alone, I discovered that wasn’t the case at all. “I assumed you never really experienced a Christmas full of presents as a kid since you were missionaries. I thought every family needed to experience being overloaded with stuff at least once. Based on your reactions, I guess I was wrong.”

Achieving simplicity for Christmas is difficult when you’ve forgotten what it means to truly long for something money can’t buy. As Christmas makes its appearance this year, I’m hearing more and more families confess, “It’s just going to be simple this year—really simple.”

It’s not wrong to lavish our loved ones with gifts and grand memories. However, maybe the simplicity of this Christmas comes at the exact moment we needed to step away from all the “extra” and just focus on Jesus. He doesn’t care about how big or small our gatherings, celebrations, or gift exchanges are.

He simply cares about whether we’re focused on what his love means for our lives, whether or not our Christmas feels “normal.”

Have a Christ-filled Christmas!

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I was just a teenager when I started losing everything. While friends were learning how to drive, getting their first kiss and dreaming about college, my life was filled with hospitals. At first it wasn’t that horrible: I got out of school early on appointment days, and got to sleep as much as I wanted. Epilepsy was hard, but it wasn’t impossible.

But then, the seizures drastically increased. I was taken out of school, my circle of friends became nearly nonexistent, and my life goal was to survive multiple brain surgeries and be able to tell people my name.

My family was comforted by the song, “Give Me Jesus.”  I had little else to lose as a 15-year-old who was confined by the cage of her own body. Singing, “You can have all this world, but give me Jesus” was heartfelt yet simple. Why would I want to cling to this world? All I wanted was Jesus!

Decades later, I think back on that time of desperation and I smile. God gave me abundantly more than I could ever ask or hope. As my medical baseline became more and more normal, I started falling in love with this world simply because I now expected to live. Proudly proclaiming that Jesus is all I ever wanted got harder.

My heart started mumbling, “You can have all this world, but make sure I have my comfort. Don’t even think about touching my loved ones. You can have all this world, but make sure I’m in control, with a little slice of Jesus because he’s still a great idea.”

In reality, stating, “Give me Jesus” is so much more than vocalizing our stance as devoted christians. It’s a declaration of divine trust. “No matter what happens, Lord, I only need you.”

What would happen if we allowed ourselves to live fully submerged in that trust?

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