Hope For the Soul

carole180I receive emails from many of you, pressing on along the path of God’s calling, and although I do hear of your your celebrations, I also hear of discouragement, of fatigue, of doubt. All normal emotions in any ministry, but as Christians set apart for service by our risen Savior, we must learn to keep those emotions, those moments of hopelessness, where they belong–tucked far beneath God’s Words of truth. Our doubts and fears say we’re not good enough, not talented enough, just plain not enough. but God’s word says we have all we need in Him.

Today, my sweet friend and a fellow ACFW member, Carole Brown encourages us to focus not on our fears and insecurities, but instead, what our Savior wants to do in and through us.

As an interesting side-note, I scheduled Carole to appear here at least a month ago, before I got my contract and before I wrote a post about that. Is it a coincidence you’re reading, yet again, someone’s story of perseverance that led to something awesome?

I think not. 😉

Please note: Carole Brown is giving away a copy of of her debut novel to one of you, randomly selected in the comments. 🙂 

Hope for the Soul By Carole Brown 

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick: but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 ESV).

Quitting time. Is there ever a right time for such an action?

It was 2011, and I was quitting. I’d worked and struggled and relearned and traveled and joined groups. To no avail. It was waste-basket-1217806-mtime to quit, to acknowledge tug toward authorship was useless. Writing was not for me; I really had no talent. It was time to move on.

Until an older lady in a church sat me down figuratively and discussed all laments together. The essence of her encouragement was: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Struggling and unbelieving I reluctantly agreed to give writing another try. Throughout the rest of the year and into the next, I prayed: “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Fast forward to April, 2012: I attended a writing conference and met with an editor who asked for my manuscript. Hope burst forth like a July 4th fireworks display. In December, 2012, I signed a contract with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.

What does all this teach? There is ALWAYS hope.

Many times I’ve heard of Christians who quit right before victory comes in their personal lives. The wife who quit because of pressure from her unsaved husband; the couple who call it quits when just a little more effort would have smoothed things into happiness; the young man/woman in college who gave up because of the wrong choices; the highschooler who took his life because of the bullying.

Life has a way of not just showering, but down pouring the feeling that there is not hope.

In my novel, The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman, there is hope, but Caralynne can not see it. Why? Because:

Ÿ Her upbringing in the cult is filled with misguided doctrine. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, circumstances and life give us cards we don’t know how to read or what to do with. We don’t even know we are to do something with them. Ignorance and lack of knowledge prevents us from seeing the hope right in front of our eyes.

Ÿ sad-silhouette-1080946-m Her doubts in God inhibit her ability to see clearly. When we focus on our own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, it becomes difficult to see God’s light shining even when it’s on the table of our lives there to encourage us and lead us on the right path. We draw curtains on the windows of our hearts, keeping out the shining light and hope God yearns for us to rest in.

Ÿ The hardness of her heart and her determination to blame God. When evil causes havoc in our lives, when the bad seems to conquer all that’s good in our lives, when trouble seems to be unavoidable, then it’s oh-so-easy to point a finger to the all-knowing God of the world. Humans have a strong need to blame and all too often, God is the recipient of that blame.

Ÿ  Her own desires blinded her effectively from seeing the blessed HOPE SHINING THROUGH THE DARKNESS. The bitterness and revenge in her heart was so over-powering and so huge, Caralynne couldn’t see around those mountains. Many times hurting people will scoop even more dirt onto the mountains of doubt and disbelief that are keeping them from seeing God’s strength for our times of weakness. The hope he gives that will strengthen us. As the scripture says, His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Remember, hope may be deferred, but when it comes, vitality and strength and the glory of God shelters us with his tree of life. We can rest contently beneath his branches because he is our hope–eternally.

Have you faced hard times when all hope seemed gone? How did you get through it?

***

Besides being a member and active participant of many writing groups, Carole Brown enjoys mentoring beginning writers. She loves to weave suspense and tough topics into her books, along with a touch of romance and whimsy, and is always on the lookout for outstanding titles and catchy ideas. She and her husband reside in SE Ohio but have ministered and counseled nationally and internationally. Together, they enjoy their grandsons, traveling, gardening, good food, the simple life, and did she mention their grandsons?

Connect with her here online at her blog, on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Her novel, The Redemption of Caralynne Hayman:

The Redemption of Caralynne HaymanHow far would YOU go to avenge a daughter’s cruel death? Cara is considered rebellious and inappropriate to befriend. Dayne is the apple of Elder Simmons’ eye—until he takes a stand against their teachings. Can his prayers and love reach Cara and show her the way to redemption? Will Cara realize God’s love and forgiveness before she goes too far?

Order your copy now!  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1938499948/

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Carole asked if we’ve faced hard times when hope seemed gone. I suspect we can all answer that with an emphatic yes! Maybe some of you are in those times this very moment.

I’m not even going to pretend to have the answer or explanation to what you are facing, but I can say, if you belong to Christ, there is hope. Always. I can also say, looking back on my life, God used some of my most painful moments to bring about the most intense growth and healing. Will that help me stay strong during my next trial? I hope so, but if or when I doubt, may I, like Carole say, “I believe! Lord, help my unbelief.” (Original quote taken from Mark 9:14-27)

Join the conversation in the comments below or at Living by Grace on Facebook.

Additional resources you might find helpful:

God Meant it for Good by R.T. Kendall

Thinking Right When Things Go Wrong by John C. Hutchison

Unshakable Faith (a Bible study) by Kathy Howard.

Taking on the World

Many of us have enjoyed watching the Olympics, myself included. I’m awed by such strength, talent, speed. But my admiration is heightened because I know how many hours–years–worth of diligent and focused training is behind each gold. Today my sweet friend and host of Living Joyfully Free, Lisa Buffaloe, encourages us to view our faith with the same focus.

Taking on the World

By Lisa Buffaloe

I love watching the Olympics. I’m so amazed at those who train and prepare their bodies to be the absolute best. During the Winter Olympics a television announcer commented that one particular Olympic athlete thrived on pressure. What if we had the same attitude when life gets difficult? 

I started wondering how fun it would be to think of life as the Olympics. Just think, we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” rooting for us, holding up signs cheering us on. We could live each day as though it’s a grand adventure, and hardship and trials, are merely methods for refinement and growth. 

And at the end, for those who call Jesus Savior, there is always a prize – life everlasting, joy forever, and peace in God’s presence.

After the Olympic competition the athlete was asked what was next in his life. His reply, “I don’t know. Sleep, and then take on the world.”

Sounds like a great plan. Woo hoo! Let’s get some rest, rise up, and with Jesus take on the world!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” Hebrews 12:1 

Think of life as an Olympic event with a great cloud of witnesses, the angels, and friends and family who have gone before you, cheering you forward and Jesus by your side. What ways do your challenges take on a different light?

Prodigal Nights, (a 2011 Women of Faith writing contest finalist):

For two returning prodigals

will the challenge to live “good” withstand the allure to be bad?

 

After a nasty divorce, Bethany Davis returned to college and lived up to the low standards set by gossips. Her dad’s stroke has now brought her home, and Bethany finds herself in a dilemma—how can she get beyond her past, learn to trust again, and live a “good” life?

Bethany’s father’s involvement in the defense industry adds excitement to her expectation of a boring life back home. However, bodyguards, stalkers, and international secrets are the least of her problems—opening her heart to trust again is a totally different matter. And the mutual attraction with her new team leader, Jason Ross, spells the possibility of big-time heart trouble.

Jason’s days of wild living are over, and he’s determined to prove to himself and God that he’s on the right path. When Bethany steps into his office, he sees the girl of his dreams, but is she God’s gift or Satan’s temptress?

Buy it here!

Lisa Buffaloe is an author, speaker, happily-married mom, and host for Living Joyfully Free Radio. Her past experiences—molestation by a baby-sitter, assault, rape by a doctor, divorce, being stalked, cancer, death of loved ones, seven surgeries, and eleven years of chronic illness from Lyme Disease—bless her with a backdrop to share about God’s unending love and that through Him we find healing, restoration, and renewal. She is the author of Grace for the Char-Baked and a contributing author of The One Year Book of Joy and Laughter.

Visit her online:

www.LisaBuffaloe.com

www.ShoutLife.com/LisaBuffaloe

What stage are you in? Are you in training as God prepares you for a new challange? Or has God opened wide a door for victory, and if so, can you look back and see the training He guided you through? Tell us about it! Join us Saturday at Living by Grace as we talk about following after God with diligence, focus, and persevarance.

Perseverance

This month flew by and our summer right along with it. 🙂

Last month, God taught me to walk with an eyes-wide-open approach, ever-alert to the open doors He provided. This month He’s been teaching me perseverance. I’m a doer by nature, and I like to see results, but walking by faith means obeying even if we never see the why or what. It means giving, expecting nothing in return, loving even when our love is spurned, and committing to a life of prayer even if it feels our prayers amount to naught.

It means clinging tight to God’s promise that tells us our work in the Lord will be rewarded. The ultimate reward, I believe, will be seeing men and women gathered at the throne of God, having crossed over from spiritual death to life. But as we continue to share God’s love with others, we need to remember, each person reaches that bridge at a different bend. Only God knows when. All we can do is obey with full, faith-filled, love-saturated surrender, leaving the rest to Him.

Virginia Hamlin’s story, Transformed by Love, touched me deeply. Watching the same homeless men and women come in and out of Taking it to Streets every Wednesday and Friday, I can easily become discouraged. (You may remember the post I wrote about this very thing the previous Saturday. You can read it here.) But Virginia reminded me to keep moving forward, to keep loving, to keep serving, because we never know when our Melodie will arrive.

“My husband and I were involved in our church’s compassion ministry for over five years from 2002-2007.

We helped prepare 100 meals each Sunday to feed the homeless in a local park. (We enlisted the help of other s to serve and sometimes play worship.) My husband would give a message and then we would break bread with the homeless. Yes, we would sit down at the picnic tables and get to know people. It was during one of those times that I was inexplicably drawn to a woman, Melodie, who was seated alone. We only talked briefly, but I knew God had ordained the meeting. I invited her to our home Bible study and ….” (Read the rest here.)

In Are You in Over Your Head, Katie Ganshert’s post reminded me it isn’t about me–my abilities, talents, or resources. Instead, it’s about the awesome, all-powerful God standing behind me. Watch her vlog here.

Tanya Eavenson reminded me to love without an agenda–unconditionally, with no strings attached. This is a hard one. We all want to receive this kind of love from others, but oh, it’s so hard to give out! Unconditional love–the kind God shows us–says, “I love you even if you never love me in return.” It’s a love exemplified in Christ who, while we were yet sinners, while we spurned Him, rebelled against Him, turned our back to Him, He died for us.

“The Bible clearly states in James, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them,  ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” But what happens when the poor aren’t responsive to your help?

I’ve recently been faced with situations like this. How do you share the love of Christ with a man who’d rather live in the woods and give his every last cent to his addiction? Or the woman who would rather sell herself to prostitution instead of receiving help to start over?

Do I give up?” (Read the rest here.)

I’d love to hear from you. What reach out story impacted you most and why? What lessons has God been showing you this month? Is there a loved one you’ve been praying for, reaching out to, for decades? In what ways has God encouraged you to keep pressing on? Tell us about it!

I also want to give a final shout out to my July Reach Out donors:

Elaine Marie Cooper with the Road to Deer Runand the Promise of Deer RunSandra Robbins with Shattered IdentityKatie Ganshert with Wildflowers From WinterJoAnn Durgin with Awakeningand Ann Lee Miller with Kicking Eternity

Do you have a Reach Out story to share? Send it to me at jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com.

Authors, agents, and publishers, if you or one of your authors/clients would like to donate a book to one of the Reach Out gift baskets, shoot me an email at the above address.

When God Says Wait

A while back we talked about times when God says no and trusting in His love even then. This trust rests in our knowledge of His character:

God is good

Good is love

God is faithful, powerful, and sovereign

God is always with us

It’s largely about a change of focus. Will we focus on the closed door or on God and His unchanging nature?

But what about when God says wait? Sometimes I think that is harder than a thousand closed doors! It goes against our “do” nature and pricks at our insecurities. What if we surrender our all, keep walking, and God doesn’t pull through?

Lately, I’ve felt like I’ve wandered into the perpetual waiting room, and it’s easy to assume the not-yets mean no. It’s much harder to keep walking when the road continues to climb, the finish line shrouded from view.

Our faith is tested most, I believe, during times of waiting. The longer the wait, the more faith we’ll need.

For those of you waiting … for a job, an opportunity, a loved one to come to Christ, whatever, stop and meditate on the following passage. Take time to recall the history of each life mentioned and how long they waited.

Psalm 105 (I’ve pulled out the verses that impacted me most, but you can read the entire passage here.):

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.
Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts. 
Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Look to the Lord and his strength;
    seek his face always.

When you can’t see the future, spend time recalling the past. Remember God’s goodness, His faithfulness. Most importantly, draw near, focusing on His strength working in you.

He is the Lord our God;
his judgments are in all the earth.

He remembers his covenant forever,
the promise he made, for a thousand generations,
the covenant he made with Abraham,
the oath he swore to Isaac.
10 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree,
to Israel as an everlasting covenant:
11 “To you I will give the land of Canaan
as the portion you will inherit.”

12 When they were but few in number, 
    few indeed, and strangers in it, 

(You can read the full account of each event mentioned by clicking on the following sentences.) God’s promise to Abraham came when he and his wife were old and barren. God’s promise came to Jacob when he was fleeing the wrath of his brother, Esau. Joseph received his divine promise when he was a young man, hated by his brothers. Shortly after he was thrown into a cistern, sold into slavery, and falsely imprisoned. And then there was Moses, a man trained and educated as a prince, later hiding out in Midian ….
13 they wandered from nation to nation,
from one kingdom to another.
14 He allowed no one to oppress them;
for their sake he rebuked kings:
15 “Do not touch my anointed ones;
do my prophets no harm.”

16 He called down famine on the land
and destroyed all their supplies of food;
17 and he sent a man before them—
    Joseph, sold as a slave.

To the observer, this would have seen like a step backward. How could these men be chosen people? A great nation? Was this how God treated His own? Why would He allow this famine and Joseph to be sold into slavery? We’re blessed to have the entire account, so we know the answer to all the whys … but Joseph and his father Jacob didn’t. They had to trust and cling tight to what they knew to be true.
18 They bruised his feet with shackles,
his neck was put in irons,
19 till what he foretold came to pass,
till the word of the Lord proved him true.
20 The king sent and released him,
the ruler of peoples set him free.
21 He made him master of his household,
ruler over all he possessed,
23 Then Israel entered Egypt;

Jacob resided as a foreigner in the land of Ham.

While in Egypt, the Israelites were oppressed and enslaved. What happened to God’s promise? I wonder how many gave up hope, how many turned away …. 
26 He sent Moses his servant,
and Aaron, whom he had chosen.

Israel’s redemption didn’t come quickly nor easily. It took centuries for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Centuries of trusting or fretting, surrendering or rebelling, focusing on God and His promises or the obstacles marring their way.
37 He brought out Israel, laden with silver and gold,
and from among their tribes no one faltered.

Let’s talk about this!

Are you waiting on God for something? Does it feel like you’ve been waiting for ever? Perhaps so long that you’ve begun to wonder if you’re heading in the wrong direction? Join us at Living by Grace as we talk about perseverance and how we can do that during “the waiting period.”

Staying the Course

This has been a long week. Okay, a long year, with a lot of uphill climbs and mental and emotional stretching. As I’ve mentioned before, if left on my own, I’d choose the path of least resistance, but God’s called me to a higher standard. And as I look at my experiences over the past year–which quite honestly has been a total brain-saturation learning experience–I began to realize I’m in training. (This past month I think God’s training program hit overdrive!) I have no idea what God’s training me for, but that’s not my concern, is it? My concern is to continue forward in full-surrendered obedience, trusting His wisdom and His plan.

About a week ago, I received one of those “reply all” emails. The thrust of the email said thus: “Everything is falling into place for you, therefore you must be in God’s will.”

That could very well be true, because I firmly believe if God’s in it, God will do it. But in my experience, God normally puts me through a few high-knee drills to get there. Of course, He always leaves it up to me to stay the course or go running for the sidelines. So far, I’m staying the course, and I’m beginning to learn a lot about myself–and God.

Today I’d like you to join me at two places. First, stop by Friendship, Faith, and Frappes to talk about closed and open doors and what they might or might not mean in our faith walk. To expand on this further, on Words That Keep, I talk about what happens when we get stuck in the interim, halfway between where we were when God first called us and where He wants to take us. If you’re looking for your easy-breazy, red carpet, read and pray about these posts. Then, join me at Living by Grace as we talk about perseverance, struggle, commitment, and what it means to set your face as flint when you follow after God. For those of you with sweat dripping down your face, legs burning, as you continue that steep uphill climb wondering why God hasn’t lowered the ski lift … don’t give up yet. Struggle doesn’t mean you’re not in God’s will. In fact, quite likely, it means the opposite!

Join us at Living by Grace as we evaluate our lives like an athlete focused to win.

Endurance Training

A few years ago, I coached a middle school track team. Most of the kids were there to flirt, or gab, or…Okay, so I have no idea why they were there, but it certainly wasn’t to improve. During endurance training, they’d jog (or should I say, walk-shuffle-jog-shuffle) when I passed, only to resume their turtle pace as soon as I was out of view. Or so they thought. I suppose they never realized the span of our peripheral vision.

The lack of drive in most of the students irritated me, or perhaps confused me would be a better term, but honestly, I didn’t give them much thought. Instead, I focused on those that clearly wanted to be there–to learn and improve.

There was one boy in particular. He puked after every turn-out. Every one. At first I was concerned. I searched the internet for nutritional information, then relayed what I learned to him and his dad. Perhaps it was a salt deficiency. Maybe he was hungry, or hadn’t fully digested his food.

One by one, every reasonable explaination was eliminated. So, I began to watch him closely, then it made sense.

The boy gave his all, 110%, each and every practice. 

I ran track and cross-country in school, and know what it feels like to cross the finish line spent, nauseas and trembling from exhaustion. In fact, most coaches would tell you if you’re not spent at the end of the race, then you didn’t give your all. 

There’s nothing worse than standing on the other end of the finish line knowing you could have done better. Only now the race is over.

The Bible often equates our life to a race. In Hebrews 12, we are told to run with perseverance and to endure rigid training, knowing every tear, every struggle, every exhausting disappointment and panic-invoking computer crash, has a purpose.

Hebrews 12:1-13

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

God Disciplines His Children

 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

   “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

 7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

 12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. 13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

 When I coached, I focused most on the athletes that worked hard. If they were going to give their all, I’d give them mine as well. And I pushed them hard. I ran along side them, saying, “Faster! Faster! Faster!” during our sprints. I watched them closely, pushing them to their brink, then allowing them to recover just long enough…but as soon as they caught their breath, I pushed them again.

Can we expect any less from God? Would we really want less?

Athletes know there’s no middle ground. You either go after the gold with everything you’ve got, or you get out of the race.

What race has God mapped out for you and how diligently are you training? Are you giving it your all or just trying to squeak by?