When Life Hits Hard, Remembering the Journey and the Mission

About ten years ago, a major upheaval initially leveled me, but then God used it to bring about incredible healing and growth. Ultimately, He shifted my focus off of myself and onto others and His redemptive mission. He showed me He wanted to use me, right then and there, in the middle of our difficult and uncertain circumstances.

This was shortly after Katrina and Rita, which hit the south back to back. We were living in

Picture of a hurricane

Image by Sadiq Nafee on Unsplash

Louisiana at the time, and though we weren’t directly impacted by the storm, a good proportion of those we encountered were.

During this time, we went through a period of unemployment. My husband later received contract work just outside of New Braunfels, TX. To stay out of debt, we sold our home within a week, packed our minivan with everything we thought we’d need, and crammed everything else in storage. Then we moved to TX and into a 500 sq foot, rent by the month apartment, not knowing how long we’d be there, how long my husband’s contract work would last, or where we’d go once it ended.

This was a hard time for me, in part because of things I’d experienced previously.

But God used this period to bring such freedom, to show me His love and constancy, and to heal some pretty deep wounds. He also created a sense of anticipation. I felt certain we were in that place at that time (wherever He moved us and for however long we stayed) for a specific purpose. So each day I began with an expectant, “What do you have for me today, God? Why am I here at this moment?”

He answered that prayer each day and often used our exact struggle to help me encourage others. I was able to love on them with a compassion I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I thought back to this experience as I was reading through Ezra and how the previously exiled Israelites celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles or Shelters almost immediately upon their return to Jerusalem. (Ezra 3:1-6).

This feast was instituted by God when the people were at Mt. Sinai. He’d rescued them from Egypt and brought them to Himself. This was a time of liberation but also of loss. They’d given up everything to follow God (and Moses) into the unknown, into a literal desert but likely also a spiritual dessert. They lived in tents, as foreigners and travelers, and had no idea what lay ahead. All they knew was, when the cloud of God’s presence rose each morning, they followed. When it stopped they stopped. That was the extent of their knowledge.

God brought them to a place of complete dependence. They couldn’t run to the Nile River to catch fish or sneak to an Egyptian farm to snag a fig. God alone provided their food and water in the desert. As they traveled, in essence homeless, among the foreign nations, they were also to remember their mission. They were God’s chosen people, selected to reveal to every nation they encountered, who God was and how mankind was to relate to and interact with Him.

So, when they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles or Feast of Booths, generations later, they remembered their ancestors’ journey, their dependence, and God’s presence.

This festival contained two important elements: light and water. Light reminded them of God’s presence–the pillar of fire that led the people each night as they fled their slavery and journeyed to the Promised Land. Light also played an important part in God’s temple. The people were to keep a candle burning continually, also to signify God’s constant presence.

Water reminded them of God’s protection and provision, of how He’d parted the Red Sea–the seemingly insurmountable barrier between them and safety and the land God had promised. It also reminded them of when God provided water through a rock in the desert, and 1 Cor. 10:1-5 tells us that Rock was Christ.

In all of this, they reminded themselves they weren’t alone or abandoned, and that God still had a plan for them.

For those of us in the middle of hard circumstances, I wonder how many have received the call to missions right where we are, in the middle of our hard. How many of us, like the Israelites, are being, not cast off, as we may be inclined to think, but chosen to reveal the power and presence and love of Christ in the middle of difficult situations. To reveal a faith that extends beyond Sunday mornings and sunshine weekends. Because you are precious in His sight, His chosen and redeemed, His daughters, a royal priesthood, called to proclaim the One who brought you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

Let’s talk about this! When has God called you to serve Him in the middle of a painful or uncertain period, and what was the result? In what ways is He calling you to live on mission for Him today?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

And if you haven’t done so, join Wholly Loved’s Facebook group, a safe, grace-filled place where you can connect with other women seeking to grow in Christ, ask questions and share struggles and celebrations.

Wholly Loved Ministries
Closed group · 411 members
Join Group

 

A place for women to come together, share their struggles, celebrations, and insights, and inspire one another to be all God created them to be.

Learning to Lean

2012 was an incredibly tough, incredibly painful year for me. That was the year everything changed, but it was also one of the  most incredibly beautiful periods of my life because that was the year when, day by day by day, God revealed the depth of His love and the unshakable shelter of His abiding presence. I thought back to Johnnie Alexanderthat painful, frightening time as I read Johnnie Alexander’s beautiful post today.

As an added bonus, she’s giving away an ecopy of her novel to one lucky reader, chosen randomly from the comments left on today’s post. 

As you read her testimony, may you be reminded of God’s unchanging, ever-present, love-filled nature. I also encourage you to pray for her, and for one another, as many of you are going through some incredibly difficult situations. You don’t need to know one another’s name or struggle to pray for your sister and brother. God knows. However, if any of you would like to openly share your trials in the comments below, giving me permission to share your prayer requests with my readers next Thursday, please feel free. For the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective.

The Whisper

By

Johnnie Alexander

It would be overly dramatic to say my world was falling apart. But morning after morning, I curled up in my comfy chair—the oversized multi-pillowed one tucked into the bay window—and wondered where I’d be a year later.

As I read both my Bible and insightful devotionals by Sarah Young and Oswald Chambers, I prayed I’d stay within God’s will for my life. But I questioned how to reconcile what I believed was going to happen with what I knew of Scripture.

Ex33-14picGod’s presence was clear during those quiet times as again and again I read the promises of His steadfast love and His provision. Whatever the future held, I was assured He held me in his arms.

During this time of insecurity, I visited a gift shop in our small town. As I walked in the door, my eyes were drawn to a ceramic bluebird perched on a shelf. I cradled it in my hand and smiled at the words on its wing:

Be brave.

I placed it back on the shelf, not intending to purchase it even though it had touched my heart. But when I set it down, I felt a clear and sweet whisper surround me.

It’s for you.

I hesitated a moment. After all, nothing like this had ever happened to me before. And yet I knew the message was real, and I knew who it was from.

More than a year has passed, and my life has taken a path I once thought impossible. I still stumble a little over the D-word, so let’s just say my marital status has changed. While I wish this wasn’t my story, and it Ps32v8picbreaks my heart that this is my children’s story, my trust in God’s promises has only gotten stronger. He had prepared the path I was to walk, with all its pits and snares, before I ever knew I’d be on it.

I left my comfy chair behind but not my treasured bluebird. When I unpacked it, I paused a moment to whisper a prayer of thanks for this reminder of God’s tangible presence.

Indeed, His love is steadfast.

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a; NIV).

“Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (1 Chronicles 16:34; ESV).

***

Johnnie Alexander writes inspiring stories that linger in the heart. Where Treasure Hides, her debut novel, won the ACFW Genesis Contest (2011) and Golden Leaf Award (2014). The first of her three contemporary romances, Where She Belongs, releases from Revell in January 2016.

She also has won Best Novel and Best Writer awards (Florida Christian Writers Conferences), and Bronze Medalist (My Book Therapy Frasier Contest).

A graduate of Rollins College (Orlando) with a Master of Liberal Studies degree, Johnnie treasures family memories, classic movies, road trips, and stacks of books. She lives in the Memphis area where her morning chores include feeding dogs, cats, chickens, and a small herd of alpacas.

Connect with her online:

at her blog, on FacebookTwitterGoodReadsPinterest, and at her Amazon Author Page

Where-Treasure-Hides-682x1024 new coverWhere Treasure Hides:

Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life.

Read the first chapter here!

Buy it here:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Christian Book Distributors

Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow.

As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever?

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! What a gift God’s presence is! I think sometimes I take His abiding, ever-present love for granted and either wallow in self-pity rather than drawing close to and leaning hard on Him, or allowing the busyness of life to steal my joy, praise and focus. But when my world crashes down, I’m reminded, He is and always has been there. When has a particularly hard, frightening or painful time reminded you of God’s constant presence and unchanging nature. Share your experience with us! And don’t forget about our ongoing Call to Praise Blog Hop! Share your thoughts here in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Receive more devotions, author updates, and segments to a serial story only available to newsletter subscribers by subscribing to my joint-author newsletter here:

* indicates required
Email Address *
First Name
Last Name
Before you go, (wow, this is one loooooooooooooooong blog post!) I wanted to let you know my debut novel is still on sale, print and kindle version, for under $3! If you haven’t read it but have been wanting to, get it here! 
And to my Nebraska friends, I’ll be in Lincoln tomorrow chatting with book lovers at the Bethany Branch library, and Saturday, I’ll be signing copies of both novels at Divine Truth Christian Bookstore in LaVista. If you can’t make it but would like a signed copy, call the store at 402-592-4866 and they’ll get ya’ hooked up! 🙂

When God Feels Distant

God created us to be feeling beings, and many times, our emotions can be our safeguard. A knotted stomach can signal danger, frustration or Deb's_Pic_for_Bioanger can stir us to pray. But our feelings can also be deceiving. There are times when we can’t feel God’s presence, but that doesn’t mean He’s left us. In fact, the opposite is true, for God Himself promises to never leave us nor forsake us.

If you are struggling to sense and receive God’s ever-present love today, I hope you find the following post, written by my dear friend and fellow ACFW writer, Deborah K. Anderson, encouraging.

Through the Eyes of Bear by Deborah K. Anderson

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

(Psalm 46:1 KJV)


Several years ago, my father-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer. At the same time, my elderly mother suffered a second mini-stroke, followed by a fall. In addition, I was going through personal trials of my own. I desperately needed a touch from God.

No matter what I said, though, or how hard I prayed, I couldn’t hear God’s voice or feel His presence. I pressed on anyway, hoping to move the heart of God.

“God, where are you? Why do all these things keep happening?” I hung my head and wept.

A few moments later, my cat Bear sashayed into the room, bellowing. I adore my cat (and all other animals for that matter), but I didn’t want to be bothered. I felt as though I was ready to snap.Bear_&_Tuncie_2

I looked down at him, and as usual, the black ball of fur tugged at my heart with one glance.

“What are you crying about?” I picked him up, scratched behind his ears, and kissed the side of his face. I knew if I coddled him a bit, he’d go back about his business. Soon, he began purring, so I put him on the floor. Within seconds, he started meowing again.

“What is wrong with you?” I said. He just looked at me. I was sure the poor critter was sensing my feelings, so there would be no shutting him up any time soon.

 

I headed downstairs, hoping to find a quiet place to pray. As I reached the last step, Bear’s paws came padding down the stairs behind me.

Please, God, make him go lie down or something. I can’t take much more.

But the little critter persisted following me through the house, no matter where I went.

I finally ducked into the living room, thinking I had lost my private-eye kitty. Seconds later, he jumped in lickety-split behind me.

“MROW!”

I threw my hands up. “Okay. That’s enough! What are you crying about? I’m standing right here in front of you. Why do you keep howling at me?”

As I looked in my animal’s eyes, something strange happened.

I’m standing right here, in front of you, too, daughter, so why do you keep crying and asking where I am? Why do you keep 1104793_crosswandering around looking for me?

Tears filled my eyes as I looked at Bear. He had suddenly grown quiet, his golden eyes wide in wonder. I then noticed how he’d tugged at my heart without ever making a sound—the same way I had tugged at God’s heart, only I didn’t realize it at the time.

I picked up Bear and rested him over my shoulder. I began stroking his fur. Soon, he was purring, content in my arms.

“Father, forgive me,” I said.

It still amazes me how God used my cat’s eyes to open mine. Perhaps it was because of the love I had for this beautiful creature. God knew how to get my attention. Whatever the reason, I’m so glad that He did.

When the storms of life come our way, it can be so difficult to see, especially when the rain begins pelting us. But God is always there, even when we don’t think that He is. It’s during those times we can find rest in His arms.

Deborah has written stories for Focus on the Family, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and numerous other publications. She is a member of TWV, ACFW, SCBWI, FCW, and YALITCHAT.ORG. Married 31 years, Deborah and her husband enjoy country living in the Midwest. She also spends her time rescuing cats, reading novels, and taking nature walks. Deborah recently completed a supernatural suspense novel for young adults. You can contact her at: DAnderson955@aol.com. Visit her blog at: www.deborahkanderson.com. 

Let’s talk about this! Share a time when, during a time of sadness or difficulty, God made Himself real to you or let you know He was with you. We all have moments when our feelings betray what we know to be true. What do you do when God feels distant? Do you have any verses you like to remember or meditate on? One of my favorites is James 4:8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. I claim this as a promise, reminding myself that the moment I turn to God in prayer or worship, He is already taking three steps toward me, whether I feel His presence or not.

We’d love to here from you.

Let’s talk about this!

Share your thoughts and God-moments with us in the comments below or join the Facebook discussion at Living by Grace.