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Archive for the ‘Truth’ Category

~ Written by Viki Rife

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for fox pups. A mother fox uses our barn every few years to raise her litter. When I watch these furry little balls of energy playing on the lawn by the barn, my heart melts. I love how the first time the mother brings them out, they have to leap high with each step just to get through the grass. I love watching them wrestle with each other, tumbling over and over as they roll down the hill. I hold my breath when a car whizzes down our road, hoping they don’t run in front of it.

As I enjoy and protect the young foxes, however, I manage to deliberately forget they won’t be cute balls of fur for very long. A time will come when I’ll hear a neighbor complaining about losing their free-range chickens. Or, as happened a few years ago, we’ll wake up to find the remains of a fawn in our yard. Cute, fluffy little foxes become sly and wily big foxes who can do a lot of damage. I know the foxes don’t belong in our neighborhood, but I overlook that knowledge and let them stay in our barn.

Unfortunately, I often view my pet sins as innocent bouncy balls of fur, instead of foreseeing their sneaky, deadly outcomes. I give them a safe place to grow, and I even enjoy their antics for a season, until they are big and strong enough to bring consequences into my life. They are so hard to get rid of once they’ve taken over! Lately I’ve been using the fox metaphor to keep reminding myself: “This seems like a tiny, innocuous sin, but someday it will get the best of you. Don’t let it stay in your barn. It has no place in your life.”

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~ 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 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

Out for a walk during a break at the South Focus Retreat last week, I passed an animal that had been killed on the road. I didn’t think much of it until on the way back, I saw a bald eagle land near it. The
eagle tried to pick up the roadkill, but could only get it about six inches off the ground. The eagle flew less than a foot before it sank to the ground, the meat still in its claws. As I approached, it tried time and time again to fly with its burden.

It reminded me of the conversation I’d had earlier in the week with a friend about Isaiah 40:31, which talks about how those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength and will soar with wings like
eagles.

This eagle certainly wasn’t soaring. Why not? Because it was trying to carry something much too big for it! Does that sound familiar? It sure struck me. God says we will soar with wings like eagles, but even
eagles can’t soar when weighed down like that. Our worries and cares were never meant to be carried by us. God wants us to put our hope in Him so we can truly soar.

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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

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 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 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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