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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

~ 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 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

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 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 Cassie Rayl

The news didn’t bring me joy. I was more than angry—I was incensed! A man was being nationally applauded for a good deed in his community. However, I knew he was more evil than good, more manipulative than gracious, and more selfish than considerate.

 First good deed in sixty years, I bet! I muttered under my breath as I read the article. The guy didn’t know me from Eve, but I had briefly connected with one of his victims, and that was—in my mind—all I needed to justify my (short-sighted) fury.

 As I added fiery accusations to the mental fight I was picking with the guy, I heard the Spirit whisper, “But child, what if he’s found Me?”

 The simplicity of the question stopped me in my tracks. Jesus came to set sinners free…even the sinners who we never thought would want freedom in the first place. No sin is too great, no lifestyle too deplorable to receive His grace.

 Christmas is the season we spend more time than normal meditating on the coming of our Savior. Oh, what a celebration! But Christ’s coming is equally that of the Great Reconciler, and though it’s something I celebrate, it’s also a great challenge to my soul.

 Has Christ’s coming truly changed my heart? Have I made room in the Throne Room for everyone Christ loves, or merely those I like?

 Am I doing my part to to keep Christ’s love in Christmas?

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~ Written by Viki Rife

I realized the Pilgrims were kindred spirits the year I turned nine. Up until then, I hadn’t thought much about people who landed in the United States, half a world away from where my family lived, and celebrated a season of thankfulness. Because Thanksgiving wasn’t a holiday in the country where my parents were missionaries, the fourth Thursday of November was just another school day a few weeks before the start of summer vacation.

That year, my parents decided to put on a Thanksgiving dinner to share our culture with some of the people they were working with. Mom was seven months pregnant with her fourth child, and I suspect she was craving stuffing and pumpkin pie. Dad talked to some friends who said they knew a butcher who might have turkeys, so the day before the celebration we all piled into the car to drive across the city to check it out.

We three kids waited in the hot car for what seemed like an hour before Mom and Dad came out of the butcher shop empty-handed. That shop didn’t have turkeys, but they referred us to someone in another part of the city who might have some. That shop ended up referring us to another, and so it went.

Four hours later, we still had no turkey. It was starting to get dark. We were all hot, tired, and irritable. The tension in the car was palpable. Frustrated, I said, “I bet the Pilgrims didn’t have this much trouble getting a turkey for Thanksgiving!”

My parents laughed and my younger siblings wanted to know what Pilgrims were. As Mom and Dad explained, with me jumping in to share what little I knew, the mood in the car became thoughtful, almost reverent. We talked about what it meant to leave family and friends and struggle in a new land. We talked about gratitude and why it was important.

I think it was my little sister who said, “Can we pray that God will give us a turkey?” Somehow it suddenly seemed important to celebrate such a crucial holiday. We prayed as we drove to the last-hope butcher. Sure enough, they had a (very scrawny) turkey.

The next day, we sat down to a feast reminiscent of the pictures I’d seen in magazines. All was great until we bit into the turkey. It was one tough bird! Before we could complain, Mom said brightly, “I bet the turkey the Pilgrims ate was tough, too.” We laughed, and I decided I could really identify with those Pilgrim children.

Tough turkey and all, we had a lot to be thankful for.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

I’ve read the words hundreds of times. But yesterday, I saw 1 Corinthians 2:8 for the first time:

“…the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…”

Every five-year-old who grew up in a Gospel-teaching church knows Christ was crucified because of the ignorance and sin of humanity. But what would the outcome have been if they had understood the mystery of God’s wisdom?

Obviously, the Son of God would not have died. But, if He hadn’t been crucified, would we ever receive the gift of redemption, and the glory of eternal life? No, we wouldn’t.

Sometimes, I run into the Throne Room and scream, “I’m too blind, too broken, and too immature to understand what You’re doing, Jehovah! This isn’t working. Use someone else. Use someone who isn’t as off-the-mark as I am, okay? I’m messing You up.”

But then, in the gentleness I’ve only ever experienced at the hands of my God, He whispers to my heart, “You are not sinful enough to dethrone My glory, Child. Humanity was too blind to see the wisdom of my Son, yet I used even that darkest night of His crucifixion to bring about the gift of life.”

I serve the God whose power is never erased because of sin or death. Oh, what a Savior!

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~ Written by Lorena Oplinger

My brother Kevin is 15. He looks like a typical healthy teenager. When Kevin was four, however, he was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.

Kevin was a healthy baby boy. He was born without any complications. However, during the early stages of his physical and mental development, something inside his brain began to change. In preschool his teachers started noticing some distinctive behaviors and attitudes in him. Kevin was having a hard time understanding and following their instructions. His learning and communication abilities decreased gradually to the point he could no longer keep up with his classmates.

I never saw my parents so heartbroken. It was painful for my mom to absorb the news and accept my brother’s medical condition would prevent him from reaching his full potential. It is hard for many moms, including mine, to embrace the challenges of raising kids with disabilities.

There are times when we just can’t explain or understand why things happen the way they do. But regardless, God’s grace is so abundant! He has shown us his grace by giving my parents the peace, patience, and persistence to endure this challenge for the past 11 years.

Kevin struggles with anxiety, stress, mood changes, and some other behavioral issues produced by social environments. He is also experiencing the physical and emotional changes caused by puberty. He is a very smart boy and is becoming more self-aware of his medical condition. A couple of days ago, he told my parents that he is asking God to make him normal because he wants to be like the other boys. He doesn’t want to deal with mental or psychological issues any more. My parents are surprised to see that Kevin is now communicating his feelings, desires, and thoughts; something he never did before.

My parents are strong believers, and for them this is a huge sign of hope from God. My mom even said, “I know that God is working in Kevin’s life. He is answering my prayers!”

My family has realized both the blessing and challenge of raising a child with disabilities. Through this, they have learned God has a plan and purpose for all of us. Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture and understand why things happen the way we least expect. Perhaps we only need to recognize that God is sending us undercover blessings.

“We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5, NIV).

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

Out of all twelve disciples, I’m the most like Peter, I think.

In John 6, Jesus asks his followers, “Are you going to leave me, too?” Peter pipes up with an interesting mix of conviction and frustration replying, “Where else would we go? You have the words of life.” My heart lurches in empathy at Peter’s attitude. To leave Christ means leaving life itself, but would I have ever guessed how difficult pursuing Life himself would be?

Probably not.

Again in Mark 10, Jesus tells the disciples a parable of a rich man; explaining that no one can come to Christ on their own. Peter again, somewhat argumentatively, protests, “We’ve left everything for you!” Translation: “What, Master? What else can we leave to be worthy of gaining Heaven? We’ve left family, jobs, expectations, security, all of it.

“What. Else. Do. You. Want?”

It’s easy to focus on where I fall short as a follower of Jesus. I wish I trusted him, loved him, and hoped in him more fully. But despite my attempts, I find myself weeping like Peter does after he denies Jesus, muttering, “Jesus? Why do you love me? Why do you want me?”

But it’s then I realize I’m putting the focus on the wrong Person in these snapshots of my life. I’m not the main character; Christ is. It’s not about my lack of faith; it’s about His faithfulness. It’s not about my lack of trust; it’s about his insurmountable love which accepts me where I am.

I may be the most like Peter, but Peter and I know the same Jesus. And that’s what matters.

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~ Written by Cassie Rayl

“Sis? A little help, please?” My brother puffed out behind his stack of books while he attempted to open the door to the stairwell. His grunts made it obvious he wanted me to treat his predicament with urgency. Usually, I would’ve jumped at the chance to get an atta-girl from my eldest sibling, but not right that second.

“Ty, can’t you see I’m reading my Bible?! Ask someone else.” I remember looking back at my Bible absolutely peeved Ty had dared take me away from its sacred pages. I knew Ty needed me, but wasn’t my time with Jesus supposed to take priority over all else? Couldn’t Ty appreciate my attempts at becoming a more pious saint?

Although the memory still makes me cringe, it now makes me chuckle at my childish perspective on what it meant to spend time with Jesus.

Over 15 years later, I constantly find myself revisiting my “Devotions corner” and huffing out a quick, “Sorry, Jesus. Where were we?” Seemingly on a daily basis, just when I’m sitting down to spend time in the Word or my prayer journal, my husband needs help with a project, my phone rings with an urgent need, or I need to get the cookies out of the oven for Sunday’s fellowship time before I can focus in the Throne Room.

It’s easy to feel guilty about those moments; especially if you grew up in the “Quiet Time” culture where your 15 minutes in the Psalms came first. But if we treat our time with the Lord as a checklist, we forget the heart of God—the ultimate Servant.

What would it take to see our acts of service, the times we sacrifice our moments of peace for a need in front of us, as a way to spread the love of Jesus by our actions? What if more times than not, Jesus is nodding at the person asking for our focus and saying, “It’s okay. I’ll teach you my heart while you serve them”?

How much more sincerely would people see the Body of Christ if we saw our mundane service as worship to the invisible Audience of One?

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