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Archive for the ‘Growth’ Category

~ 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 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 Cassie Rayl

“I don’t know what I need, Lord. I know I’m emotionally drained; that’s it. I don’t know where I need you to show up, I just know I need to see you. Show me something. Anything.”

The weary prayer was said with peace-filled confidence. My relationship with Jesus has gone on long enough I’ve learned that he hears the prayers of his people, no matter what. Too often it’s not whether he answers my prayer, it’s whether I’m allowing him to guide me in where or how I look for it.

Psalm 86 quickly came to mind. I opened my Bible, half-heartedly preparing myself for the possibility that the seemingly-random psalm might not provide the answer to my prayer. Oh, what little faith I have sometimes!

The psalm opens up with a simple plea from David:

Incline your ear, oh Lord, and answer me, for I am afflicted and needy.

As I read the verse again, the Spirit quickly reminded me he knew how needy and afflicted I was. Sometimes, the beautiful truth of knowing he inclines his ear to his people is all I need to meditate on.

The Creator of the universe listens to my heart. I never need to wonder whether God understands my cries for help. He’s just waiting till I open my heart and simply ask.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

My friend and I rang for the elevator and were relieved to find no one was in it. Playing in the elevator was one of our favorite entertainments through the long weeks aboard the ship taking us to South America. Unexpectedly, my eight-year-old sister dashed around the corner and slipped in right behind us. As we turned to remonstrate with her that she wasn’t invited, a man with a little girl in his arms came running up, and we groaned inwardly even as we held the door for him as we had been trained. It wasn’t nearly as much fun when there were others in the elevator, especially adults or tattletale younger siblings.

As we descended to the next floor, suddenly the lights went out. The elevator jerked to a grinding halt. In the complete darkness, my ten-year-old brain started to fabricate an explanation. The night before I had been careful not to break any rules, but…

You see, our parents had told us we could not go into areas that weren’t reserved for our “tourist” class. However, the floor below us was showing a movie that evening, and it looked intriguing. It was about the sinking of the Titanic. My friend and I figured out that if we sat with our feet hanging through the railing at the top of the stairs on our floor, we could see just enough to watch the movie. At the time, my story-loving heart thought it was thrilling. Now I found myself associating loss of power with a doomed ship. Terror began to descend on me. What if the ship were sinking and we would go down trapped in the elevator, with no hope of getting out to try to swim to the surface?

I’ve always wondered if the man who was with us had also seen the movie. He began to yell something in Japanese, desperately shouting up the shaft of the pitch-dark elevator. His little girl started crying, and my sister dug her fingernails into my arm. I started confessing my sins to God as quickly as I could, bargaining with him to get me out of the predicament.

It was at that moment I ran into one of the great moral dilemmas of my life: Had I disobeyed by watching the movie? I knew my parents had to approve movies I watched in the movie room on our deck, but did it apply to a different deck? I hadn’t physically gone down there, so I had remained obedient, right? Suddenly, my conscience overrode my perspective on myself as a non rule-breaker. I might not have broken the letter of the law, but I realized I had broken the spirit of the law.

In the 45 minutes it took for the ship’s mechanics to rescue us, I experienced a huge change in my heart. I began to realize that just staying within the boundaries isn’t enough. I have to examine my motives and consider the reasons why the rules are made. That understanding has shaped my perspective on what the Old Testament law was about. People found ways to get around the rules. We have an advantage in that God has written his laws on our hearts and minds.

Praise God, we don’t follow rules, but His Spirit.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I love the potential represented by a blank piece of paper. It doesn’t take long before my mind starts whirlingand my love of words fill the page’s emptiness with strokes of black which artistically paint a picture for my audience. There’s such satisfaction as the blank spaces slowly disappear!

I still have days, though, where blank pages and deadlines collide and I don’t even come up with enough intrigue to fill a kindergartener’s primer. Writer’s block feels suffocating and endless, whether it exists for weeks or minutes. There are literary exercises you can perform to think of something, but to this day, whenever I hit writer’s block, my brain conjures up one simple, mundane and wandering sentence:

“I walked into the Throne Room, looking for the Father.”

Every time a blank page intimidates me rather than inspires me, I write that sentence and mutter, “Just show me something, Jesus. I’ve got nothing.”

Hebrews 12:2 calls Jesus “…the author and perfecter of our faith.” It always makes me smile to think of Jesus as a fellow wordsmith who takes joy in weaving a story. But, unlike myself, Jesus is never intimidated by the blank pages of a life.

Even when our life choices slow down His plot, or sin patterns fill our lives with mistakes which take years to erase, He still thrives writing on the pages of our lives. Not once does Jesus sit down, contemplate furthering the story of our individual lives and think, “I’ve got nothing on this one.”

If we truly trust Jesus as the ultimate Author, we can always trust that he can make beauty out of nothing, and gold out of our biggest mistakes.

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~ Written by Viki Rife

As I picked up my computer bag to pack up at the end of the week, the temptation to just not bother began to take over. The whole week seemed to have been spent on nothing but tiny details, troubleshooting, and unexpected setbacks. It felt like nothing at all had been accomplished.

I’m putting in so much effort and just spinning my wheels, I thought. Maybe I shouldn’t even waste my time trying. Nothing I do really has any significance in the long-term.

My computer cord caught a small clear-plastic ball and knocked it off my desk. As I picked it up, I realized I hadn’t really paid attention to it for a long time. It was something I had bought twenty years ago. It had inspired me then. The ball is full of sand, with two halves: One has a perforation that says, “Perseverance moves mountains….” “The other half has holes and reads:” …one grain of sand at a time.” It doesn’t take long to see the sand sift through and form mountains every time I turn it over.

It hit me that twenty years ago, when I bought the desk ornament, I had been feeling the same way. It felt like I was getting nowhere. But now I can look back and see what God has done in those twenty years. Impossible dreams have become reality. Many things that didn’t turn out my way actually turned out better.

All I have to do is give my little grains of sand to God. He’s the one who moves mountains, and each grain does matter.

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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

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

As a teenager, I hated singing harmony. I strongly disliked not being the first voice people heard in a song. Why do you listen to music, anyway? It’s certainly not for the often repetitive and unnoticed notes sung in the background! Melody is where the strength and the beauty lie, and I wanted to get the credit for making that beauty happen.

Through the years, I learned how short-sighted my musical view was. Making music isn’t about what notes are heard the loudest, or even what part is most valuable. Music is about different notes coming together and not downplaying their differences. Melody is beautiful, but without the harmony, it’s not nearly as rich and impactful as it could be.

I see a lot of similarities between how I viewed music when I was younger, and how so many of us struggle in viewing people who have different passions than our own. No matter what you’re passionate about, if Christ is at the center of that passion, you can rest assured it has an eternal impact and purpose.

If, however, God gave us all the same exact passions, his love for his people wouldn’t be as deeply defined for those around us. It’s not about which purpose is most important; nor is it about making everyone passionate about the same exact thing. Christ’s love is most beautiful when we learn to trust that our passions are put together for a reason.

Unity never means uniformity. Unity means different passions being refined for one purpose: Christ’s love reaching a dying world.

Don’t make the same mistake I made in music. Learn to rely on Jesus to make every difference you see in your neighbors a thing of beauty. Without their differences, your life wouldn’t be nearly as rich.

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~ Written by Tabby McMonagle

I don’t want to brag but I am an expert on being oblivious. It is human nature to be self consumed and society encourages it. Being oblivious feels comfortable. I was so oblivious I was oblivious to being oblivious.

For years in my oblivion, I was running the show in my Christian walk. I believed I was allowing God to be in charge. The fact was I saw God as my puppet and I held the strings. I told Him what to do and how to serve me.

One day I found an old journal. As I flipped through the pages, I watched my prayers go from humble fervent requests to micromanaged demands. I realized my daily Jesus time routine went from something I enjoyed and needed to a reason I deserved God’s love.

One day it all came together. All the little hints turned into a picture that I then recognized as myself. It was not the picture I had in my mind. I was an ugly prideful twit. I had to repent and ask God to help me.

My Heavenly Father began to readjust my thinking in my times of prayer. Slowly but surely, He held up the mirror. I could only see a little piece at a time.

I’d like to say I did this willingly and all went well and quickly. It did not. I was ashamed of what I saw and who I had become. I wept bitterly, and had a long pity party.

In attempts to fix myself, I allowed lies from the devil to comfort me. I began to believe I’d never be enough for God. I stopped writing. I even stopped praying. I was mad and hurt, but I still made feeble attempts to seek HIm.

One night I woke up and heard the words “God doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.” I realized that was the lie I had been clinging to.

I repented. I asked God to help me be a servant like Him. I surrendered myself up to His work and asked Him to transform me. I couldn’t do it myself.

With God’s help I am stepping out of being oblivious to become more self-aware for God’s glory. Won’t you join me and ask God to continue His good work in you?

Humble us, Lord, that we may receive Your grace.

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