No Longer Alone

 

We’re taking a brief break from our For the Love series to center ourselves in Christ.

I’ve heard it said one doesn’t truly understand that Christ is enough until He is all that they have. When Jenna Victoria’s world came undone, God showed up. Read on to see how, and may her story encourage you to hold tighter to the God who never leaves nor forsakes.

Going It Alone ~ Not Quite
by Jenna Victoria

When our world gets crazy busy with interruptions or requests, we might envy the many species God created that choose being solo over one-of-a-crowd. From red cross-1448946_640panda to platypus, sloth to skunk or eagle to armadillo—these creatures revel in their solitude.

Frustration with crowds aside, there’s a lot to say in support of seclusion. Especially Christian solitude, as this partial verse in John’s Gospel attests.  For when we are alone, we are not actually alone. Our Savior, our Father in heaven, is with us. How magnificent it is to grasp this truth.

In 2012, I was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer. After a long road of prayers, chemo, a right mastectomy, and radiation, my family, friends, coworkers and I celebrated my being cancer-free in early 2013. Five weeks later, that was no longer true. The cancer spread to the scar tissue of my mastectomy site, and to the left side breast and lymph nodes. Re-radiation, a lumpectomy and more chemo followed. In 2014 and 2015, as treatment continued, friends and family started to draw back. Close relatives and friends who had formerly been by my side, returned to their own lives and commitments – and rightly so. My rock, my one special knight-in-shining-armor then decided at the end of 2015 they had enough and essentially walked away. I was alone, I thought.

As the days and weeks of early 2016 drew out, I clung even more tightly to the One who book-1209805_640never leaves us or forsakes us. I downloaded more than 1000 Christian podcasts from preachers all over the world, and listened to the Word being taught every night. I soaked every drop of wisdom into my brain. I listened to praise & worship songs, studied the Bible and let God’s thoughts fill my thoughts.

In time, that head knowledge became heart knowledge. In my loneliness, I heard the whispered words of my Savior, “I am enough.”  As the cancer is now staged as metastatic, I will always be on some type of IV chemotherapy, but I don’t sit in the infusion suite alone. God is with me. I have contentment and, unbelievably, unshakeable joy in the midst of my circumstances and my solitude. The words “I am enough” wield great power. This sense of peace is not of my strength and ability; it is 100% from God and it did not happen overnight. I chose to embrace God as being enough, and He has become my portion.

It is comforting to know that John, our “companion in tribulation,” was given the words of the book of Revelation to write down, while he was alone, in exile on the island of Patmos.

I’d like to believe he, too, heard those same words from our Lord.  “I am enough.”

It is my prayer that those of us in desert places and filled with loneliness also receive grace to hear them too.

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war-of-the-heart-2

When a vintage snow globe sends Boston dress designer Louise Martin & British B&B owner George Walker back in time to London, December 1940, they race against the clock to reconcile a feud between their families and solve a 75-year-old mystery. As Louise relies on God; and on George for guidance, friendship then love, will the future George envisions strangle her own dreams? Will their love survive generations of mistrust, the Blitz and being stranded in wartime 1940, possibly never to return to their former lives?

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jennavictoriaEver since her grandfather co-created Twinkies, Snowballs & Hostess cupcakes for Intercontinental Baking Company, circa 1959, Jenna’s yet to taste a cake she hasn’t liked.
Jenna is the author of  “fiction that feeds your faith” – Happily-Ever-After romance & romantic suspense stories with a Christian world view. She also writes clean, wholesome romances. Her stories emulate those she enjoys reading…with a heroine who is in grave danger & a hero who is smart enough to get out of her way as she kicks butt & takes down names… and those that feature the sweetest of fairy-tale-ending love stories.

She writes romances that glorify God and His sacrificial love through His Son, Jesus Christ and show how He gives us hope & peace amidst unbearable situations. After her first breast cancer diagnosis in 2012, several reoccurrences and metastasis, Jenna continues to praise God and trust His oversight in her life; and continues to write more books.

Connect with Jenna on her website and Facebook.

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this! First, do you have any words of encouragement you can give Jenna? I cannot imagine going through what she is, and to turn such heartache into an opportunity to proclaim God’s goodness–wow.

Can you share a time when you discovered, in a deeper way than ever before, that God was enough? Share your thoughts, questions, and examples here in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace, because we can all encourage and learn from one another!

Living as a Gift

Photo by Africa taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Africa taken from freedigitalphotos.net

How many challenges and setbacks can an individual encounter before he decides to give up?

I hate to admit it, but if I’d experienced even half of what Dr. Ohaju, director of St. Joseph’s trauma center endured, I fear I may have retreated. Thrown my hands up in defeat and turned down an easier path.

I could learn a great deal from Dr. Ohaju, not only about perseverance but about gratitude, humility, and what it means to have a servant’s heart.

I met this man during a very frightening and stressful time. My mom-in-law had gone into the emergency room with stomach pain and a distended abdomen. After an emergency scope, she was rushed into surgery where Dr. Ohaju saved her life.

I shudder to think what might have happened had God not placed my mom-in-law under his care that week, and it was a good week that she spent in the hospital as she began the difficult and painful process of recovering from major surgery.

While dealing with a cancer diagnosis. That stung, and created all sorts of questions and uncertainties. You could feel the apprehension in the room, a tension that instantly dissipated whenever Dr. Ohaju walked in. God’s love flowed from him and instantly set us all at ease. We knew immediately not only that we were in the presence of a brilliant and compassionate surgeon, but also that, through him, God had absolutely everything under control.

That’s what happens when we surrender our gifts and passions into God’s hands; He uses 12227841_1007588982632353_5276246818269330802_nour every act as a love letter from us to His hurting world. As he did for us through Dr. Ohaju, and as he does for numerous impoverished Nigerians to this day, also through Dr. Ohaju.

He grew up during the Nigerian Civil war, also called the War of Biafra. It was a brutal, terrifying time where innocent people were slaughtered and masses of children and the elderly were abandoned. Many starved to death.

During this time, Dr. Ohaju did whatever he could to survive while helping his family put food on the table. One would find him standing outside the train station, waiting to sell oranges or bananas or whatever he could find to hungry travelers. He went to school in starts and stops, when he was able. Until it came time for him to enter sixth grade, when, in Nigeria, one must pay to go to school.

There was no way Dr. Ohaju’s family could pay his tuition.

Until one day, a teacher had mercy, and offered him an opened doorway. One of many to come. Because God saw something in Dr. Ohaju—God saw past his devastating beginnings to the gift that poor little boy would one day grow to be.

I’ll be telling his story, which is quite extensive and nothing short of miraculous, over the coming year through a separate blog, but first, I’ll share the ending. Well, not the ending, as his story is still unfolding, but what this godly man is doing now.

By God’s grace and with the help of others, Dr. Ohaju came to America where he pursued a degree in medicine. It was an incredibly difficult and long journey. One marked by heartbreak, for while he was in America, his father, back in Nigeria, died. From a treatable condition. Like so many others in Dr. Ohaju’s homeland.

3d188271-22e4-4042-e130-87a7c8f5c5f3Many Nigerians are dying daily from illnesses and diseases that are easily treatable, a tragedy Dr. Ohaju is determined to do something about through the medical missions nonprofit he started. In 2004, the VOOM Foundation, named after his deceased father, was born. The mission’s goal: to bring medical care to the poor and indigenes of Nigeria. (You can read more of his story HERE.)

And you can help. I encourage you to check out his foundations website and visit them on Facebook, and prayerfully consider donating to his cause. I also invite you to visit a blog I’ll be starting at the end of this month titled Truth in Fiction where I’ll be sharing bits of Dr. Ohaju’s story in more detail. In addition, I’m hoping to capture the essence of his story in a full-length novel, one he’s graciously agreed to help me with.

In the meantime, pray for us both: pray that he stays encouraged and focused on the call God has infused in his heart, and pray for me that I can capture the beauty, miracle, and perseverance of his story in novel form.

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What thoughts came to mind as you read about Dr. Ohaju’s story? How do you typically respond to setbacks? Have you ever sensed God calling you to something that felt so incredibly difficult, maybe even seemed impossible? If so, how did you respond? Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other!

A Dying Daughter Asks a Question Her Mother Couldn’t Answer

TeresaPollardCroppedWatching your daughter fight for life must be unbearable. Hearing her gut-honest questions–questions that appear to have no answers this side of heaven–is unfathomable. So how did Teresa Pollard answer the heart-wrenching question–why do bad things happen to good people? Not with words, but with love. Today, after her daughter’s death, she addresses the question again. Not with anger or bitterness nor a raised fist at God, but instead, with the answer that can only come from surrendered faith.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

By Teresa Pollard

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope.      Romans 5:3-4

There are several important themes in our novel Not Guilty, but possibly the main one is:  why does it seem sometimes that bad things rain on good people like monstrous thunderstorms, while (at least for a time) bad people keep getting away with their malicious and evil deeds?  Candi Pullen and I both lost our daughters at very young ages, so it’s a theme that’s become extremely important to us even though the novel was actually written before either death occurred.

When my daughter, Kara, lay dying of cervical cancer, 1100587_hospital_handthis was the question she kept asking me.  She wanted to know what she had done to deserve such an early death.  She knew she was saved and had a home in heaven, but she had a young son who needed his mommy, and she didn’t want to leave him.

I didn’t really have an answer for her.

All I could do was tell her I loved her, and that I knew that God loved her too.

I think one of the first songs I ever learned as a small child was Jesus loves me.  When Kara was born, her daddy sang it to her in the delivery room while the doctors worked on me.  She believed that Jesus loved her, but she didn’t really understand why a loving God would let cancer happen to her.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six years pondering the same question.

The Apostle Paul pondered it too.  He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, in danger from all directions, and in great emotional distress.  Was he some kind of a super Christian who could endure things that just aren’t possible for us normal folks?  No.  He was a man just like we are.  He admitted weakness.  In fact, he said if he had to boast about anything, it would be his weakness, because he knew that it is in our weakness that we find God’s strength.

In the thirteen months between the diagnosis and Kara’s actual death, I shed countless tears.  I ranted at God, and I prayed and begged Him to spare her life.  He said “no.”  I was helpless.  I would have given anything to be able to save my daughter’s life, but all I could do was entrust her to the Lord’s keeping.  And that’s where I found strength.  That’s the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.   We have hope.

This earthly life isn’t the end or even a large part of our existence.  It’s a tiny speck of time.  But it’s the speck that determines where we will spend 248782_carnations_pink_2eternity.  Not only that, but it also determines our rewards in that eternity. One of Kara’s last deeds before she became too ill to go anywhere was to take 300 carnations with messages of hope to patients in the hospital where she had spent so many of her days.   The Bible tells us that God even rewards a cup of cold water given in His name.  I wonder what the reward is for 300 carnations given by a dying mother to bring hope to patients in great need of that hope.

In Psalm 73:3, Asaph said, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  Then God gave him a vision of how the wicked will end—an eternity of destruction.  On the other hand, I know I will see Kara again someday, and we will spend eternity together in heaven.  If you haven’t read Randy Alcorn’s Bible study on heaven, I highly recommend it.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  God isn’t finished with me yet, and I still don’t have all the answers.  I know we live in a fallen world.  I’m still not to the point where, like Paul, I can “exult” in tribulation, but I do know God promises in Romans 8:28 that “all things,” both the good and the bad, “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”   I can understand that somehow they’re for my good and for the good of others.  What we don’t really understand when we’re in the middle of things is that it’s not really about us at all.  It’s about Him.  It’s about the kingdom.  If even one person spends eternity in heaven instead of hell because of our suffering, isn’t it worth it?  Suppose that one person were your son or daughter?  Wouldn’t it be worth it then?

NotGuiltyFrontCover3x4-5Not Guilty by Teresa Pollard and Candi Pullen:

It’s 1974 and Carrie Shepherd, daughter of the minister at Windspree Community Church, is a college senior with plans to be a missionary in Africa. Raped by a masked assailant, Carrie is so traumatized she tells no one until she realizes she’s pregnant. Refusing to have an abortion, she must find the courage to face her family, her fiancé, her friends and a gossiping, angry congregation, which may include her attacker.  Can Carrie find the strength to cope with the secrets, silence, and shame?  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1938708067

Teresa Pollard is from Richmond, Virginia, and was saved at a young age. She has a Masters degree in English and Creative Writing from Hollins College, and has served as a Sunday School teacher and children’s worker for most of the last forty years. Married for forty years, she was devastated by divorce and the death of her youngest daughter, but God has blessed her with a new home and another grandson, and she now resides in Dacula, Georgia.

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I love the song, Blessings, by Laura Story.

In it, she sings about some of our greatest blessings coming through pain and trials. I’ve never lost  a child and can’t imagine the pain those who have must feel on a daily basis, but I have experienced trials. And I’ve found, it is often during my moments of greatest pain that I sense God the most. And it is often following intense periods of struggle that I experience my greatest freedom. But more than that, when I look at our world with all it’s pain and suffering, I’m reminded, and grateful, that this is not my home. No, God has something much better planned for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. But while we are here, through trial and triumph, what He longs for most is that we point others to Him and His life-saving gospel. For this time is short, and often wrought with pain. But eternity? That will be glorious, my friend, if you know the Lord. For those who don’t? Well, there’s still time to send out invitations. 🙂

Let’s talk about this. Are you or a loved one going through a difficult time right now? How might your response to pain reveal the depth of your faith? And what might that say to a watching, hurting world? Pause to think of what Teresa’s daughter did, shortly before her death. She used every last possible moment not to grow bitter or isolate, but instead, to reach out with the love that had taken hold of her, to spread hope.

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.